Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sometimes it is hard to let go and sometimes it's not

I'm getting ready to give my MIL a bunch of stuff for a garage sale. I've been pretty brutal this time. I'm trying to get rid of anything that we aren't using or that I don't love. And I'm even pretty brutal on the "love" stuff. I'm not overly sentimental. Which is good when you are trying to cut down on the amount of stuff you have.

I've never been one who held on to baby stuff - clothes or otherwise. I kept the kids coming home outfits and their baby blessing outfits and that's it. I don't usually keep more than about one size ahead of clothes, and I get rid of clothes they have outgrown as soon as they are done with it. I got rid of the crib when we were done, the high chair, the pack n play (it would have nice with doing daycare if I had kept the high chair and pack n play, but I didn't know at the time, and I picked them up for free, so no real loss). As my kids outgrow toys, unless it is a classic toy like blocks or wooden trains, cloth doll, etc., we give the toy away for someone else to love.

I go through the kids' school papers at the end of the year, and try and just pick one or two things from each month so you can see a progression, but I do NOT keep every scrap of paper.

I only have one tub of things that I've kept of things from babyhood until I got married.

I really try and do the one thing in/one thing out when we get gifts each year.

So I shouldn't have that much stuff, right? Well, like I said, I'm really trying to be brutal now. And I'm looking in every room, every closet, and every bookcase.

Which brings me to my problem area.

Not the books, although I suppose I probably have too many books too, but I'm getting rid of all the books that are not classics or that I'm currently not reading.

But I've got an almost full 5 shelf bookcase of books and binders from when I did my masters degree and some books from when I was working in technical writing. I've got project management books, I've got training books, I've got style guides. I've got 12 binders that contain my notes from courses. I've got my portfolio.

And I can't seem to get rid of it. I doubt that I'd even refer to the things in the binders. So I should get rid of them. The books are all at least 6 years old. I'm sure that the they are outdated. I should get rid of them. Some of the style guides are more like 10 years old. At least. I can't even remember the last time I used them, even when I was working as a technical writer. I should get rid of them.

But I can't. For some reason, to me, it means that I'll never be a trainer again. I'll never be a project manager again. I'll never be a technical writer again. And even though it isn't rational, to me, it means that I'm just throwing my masters degree away. It means that all my education was a waste. Like I said, it isn't rational. I know it isn't rational. But it is how I feel.

I was going to get rid of it anyway. I don't use it. I wouldn't say I love it. It is taking up space.

But I'm not going to. Not yet. I'm just not ready to let it go. I still haven't figured out where all that knowledge, all those skills fit in my future. When I figure that out, then I'll let it go.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Nature finds a way - sometimes . . .

My MIL gave me a lilac bush last year. It had been in her yard for a few years and now she was moving to a new place, but the bush was a gift from her sister, and so she wanted to give it to someone instead of just leaving it at her old place.

I've grown a lot of plants in my yard over the past 8 years. And almost all of them have been successful. So I just sort of assumed that I'd plant it and it would grow.

But it didn't. The leaves just got drier and drier and they all fell off. Then the branches started to look all brittle. It looked pretty dead.

This fall, my MIL asked me about the lilac bush. I reluctantly told her that I thought that it had died. But I had left it in ground. I figured I'd leave it in until Spring. And maybe, just maybe, it wasn't dead. Maybe it just needed some time to adjust to its new home. It looked pretty dead though.

Spring began. The tulips bloomed. The roses started to grow again. The grass turned green. The birds came back. And yet, the lilac bush was still bare. I had hoped, but it looked like my hope was in vain.

I kept meaning to dig it up. One weekend passed. Then another. And another. And then, one day, I was over by the lilac bush and looked over. And what did I see, but little green leaves!! It was coming back! Then there was more leaves. It was alive.

And what do you think I saw this weekend??? Lilacs! Just a few little blossoms. But they were definitely lilac blossoms.

I had given up on the lilac bush. But there was life still in it. Way down there. Sometimes I give up too soon. And not just on lilac bushes.

Post Script - Things don't always work out for me though - with plants or otherwise. I pruned my hydrangea bushes after the first year. I read after I pruned that you shouldn't prune them. Oops. But it said that the blooms should come back the 2nd year after you prune. This year will be the 3rd year, and it isn't looking promising. SIGH.

Friday, May 14, 2010

So I've got a masters degree in Technology and you're doing what?

In my previous post, I talked about all my journeys in education, and how I got a degree in English, started a masters degree in English, but ended up with a degree in Technology. I enjoyed working as a technical writer and as a computer trainer. I did. I got my masters degree in Technology (with an emphasis on Training and Development and Project Management) because I thought it would help me get another job in Training, if I chose to leave the University some day.

I started my graduate degree when Jelly Bean was just a little baby. By the time she turned 1, I just felt like I was missing my kids' childhood (Flower was 3.) They were spending all day at a daycare center, and then 2 or 3 nights a week, Mr. Simple was watching them while I was at class. So I asked my boss if I could go to part-time. He said, Sure. I don't want to lose you. We'll give someone else the supervisory duties and you can go back to just teaching a couple classes. It was great. I spent the mornings with the kids, dropped the kids off at friends house in the afternoon and the kids napped while I went to work for a few hours. Did I say it was great? It was. It was close to perfect.

And then nine months after the perfect job set up, it was over. The university laid off tons of part-time people due to state educational budget cuts. My boss said it wasn't personal. (Sure felt personal to me.) He'd do his best to get me back in at the university. Soon.

I was laid off in 2003. And except for a short stint of working part-time evenings in 2006-2007, I haven't worked outside of the home since I was laid off. A couple of times over the years, I've really tried to get a full-time job in training/project management. I applied to all the large companies in the area. I registered with a couple of technical contract companies in the area. I sent out tons of resumes. I put my profile up on Monster, HotJobs, etc. Over the years, I've had 3 interviews. And since I was laid off, I've never been offered a job in my field.

But of course, I wasn't Not Working either. Since 2003, I've been teaching preschool. It started out as a fluke, and then turned into something that I love. In 2008, I started doing daycare too, and now I earn a fair amount from the daycare. Since 2008 until just now, I have had more daycare children than I have had preschool only children. In 2004, I had another child. In 2008, I started homeschooling. I had wanted to for a couple years before that. I am busy. And I've been able to teach all my children in preschool here at my home. I've been able to homeschool my children the past two years. I've been able to really be with my children. I can say that I haven't missed their childhood. And while it has been hard (really hard sometimes) financially over the years, I would say that I still was grateful that I was able to be home with my children these past 7 years. And of course, I was able to finish that masters degree too.

But lately, the huge amount of money that I owe on my student loan is haunting me. (It is currently in deferment, but it can't stay there forever.) It keeps me up at night. Part of why the amount is so large is because I had recently lost my job and we couldn't live off just Mr. Simple's salary. We should have planned for the possibility, but we didn't. Part of the reason that the amount is so large is because when I started the program, the university was paying my tuition, but when I lost my job, obviously, they weren't paying it anymore. We should have planned for the possibility, but we didn't.

As of this fall, two out of the three of my children plan on returning to public school, at least for a year. As of this fall, I will only have one homeschooler (Jelly Bean), one preschooler, one toddler, and one infant. It makes me feel that now that things are changing at home, that maybe it is time for me to change too. Maybe it is time for me to try harder to get a full-time job outside of my home. Maybe I should try harder to get a job in a field that I have a degree in. Maybe it is time for me to get another part-time evening job.

Mr. Simple and I have spent the last 3 years paying a fairly big chunk of $$ on getting out of other debt. In one more year, the only debt we will have is the mortgage on the house. In one more year, we could put that money towards my student loan. It would take longer than 4 years to pay off the student loan debt. Not to mention, something just feels wrong about paying on a degree (did I mention it was a lot of money?) when I am not working in the field? When at least right now, I don't want to go back to work full-time in that field? When most of that money that would be paid by Mr. Simple? I mean, obviously it has to be paid. I'm not saying that I shouldn't pay for the debt back.

We felt like it was the right thing for me to finish my degree. It still feels like it was the right thing. Maybe one day, I'll understand why, but maybe, I'll never know why. But I really wish that I could have finished without having to go into debt to do it.

And what I really wish is that I could have it all. I wish I could find some job - designing curriculum or doing occasional training sessions - where most of my work was able to be done at home, and that I could do that work in evenings and weekends. It would give me enough money to pay off the loan in 5-7 years and be able to also contribute to our family. But that I would still have time to be able to homeschool my children, and that I could also have 2-3 preschool only children to teach, not for money, but because I love it.

But I usually don't get "it all." I know that the job scenario I described above is not realistic. I'm going to have to figure out a solution. I keep thinking about it. I've thought of some possibilities besides just going back to work full-time in my field or just staying home and using part of Mr. Simple's paycheck to pay it off. I've made some pro/con lists. But I haven't figured out the solution yet. Yet. I'm still working on it though.

Is Life better without TV??

I don't want much TV, but I do watch some. But this article made me think about how my time could be used in better ways . . .

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pomp and Circumstance and all that

Once upon a time, there was a girl who . . . well, never mind, it is Me.

My daughter was asking me the other day if I was excited when I graduated (We live in a college town and graduation was this past weekend.) I said "Well, from high school, when I got my bachelors degree, or when I got my masters degree?"

Because I can't give one answer that would fit each graduation.

Was I excited for my high school graduation? Well, I guess. Mostly, it was more like Finally! I had taken extra classes for many years, and I had received good grades over the years, and so by the time I got I got to my senior year, I was only taking two classes, and I needed neither of them to graduate (I was taking AP English, and Aerobic Dance - hey, it was the 80s, OK?) I had strongly considered going on to college after my junior year. My boyfriend was a year ahead of me, so I could go join him at the same time. I didn't need to take any classes. It made sense to me. But everyone else was against it. My parents didn't think I was ready (I was one of the youngest in my class as it was. And I'm sure the boyfriend thing had something to do with their apprehension.) Other adults said "Oh, you can't miss your senior year! The prom, the parties, all the last things of high school." My friends wanted me to stay. So I stayed.

Bad decision.

I was miserable. All my friends had boyfriends and spent all of their time with them. My boyfriend wasn't there, so I didn't go to parties or prom. My AP English teacher left for a sabbatical 2 months into school and we were left with a substitute who did nothing but sit at the front of the room and read to himself. He expected us to read too, but gave us no instruction on how to prepare for the AP test, etc. My aunt was pregnant with her sixth child and needed help, so I went and helped her for two whole months from December to February. It wasn't like I was going to be missing much in my AP class, or Aerobics, for that matter.

So by the time that May came around, I couldn't wait to just be done. I remember the ceremony being very hot. It was inside at local sports auditorium. There was 650 people in my graduating class. So hot and long.

So I went off to college. I had decided to major in Microbiology. I expected that I would graduate in 4 years, and then probably go on for a masters in Microbiology. And then Life just started happening. My boyfriend had died 3 weeks into my freshman year and that had put my life into a tailspin. I suddenly just didn't have the motivation for school like I always had. And I just didn't really see myself as a microbiologist anymore. I changed my major to English Education. But then I changed schools. And then I came back to my original school. And changed my major to Spanish. Then Communications. And then I just dropped out of school altogether. I worked as a Police Records Clerk and then a 911 dispatcher. And then finally, I decided to go back to school. I had learned about Technical Writing from a friend that I knew while I was working at the Police Department and thought that I would enjoy doing that type of work. So I decided to major in English with a focus on Technical Writing. So I changed schools one last time. After being back in school for two years, I graduated. I was thrilled. I had done it. I had started to believe, back when I was at the police department, that I would never get a college degree. But here I was, 9 years after graduating from high school and lots of experiences under the bridge, graduating from college. (My parents were pretty darned thrilled too. LOL)

So then I went and worked as a technical writer for a year up in Chicago. I enjoyed it, but I was just working as a contract worker and my job would be up in August. I tried applying other places, but my heart just wasn't in it. I decided to apply to graduate schools and get a graduate degree in Technical Communications. I applied to three schools and got into all three. But the only school where I would receive an assistantship and other financial aid was at my alma mater. It was my third choice - I had wanted to experience some place different, and I thought the other two schools had stronger programs. But I didn't have much cash, and so I went with the school that was giving me the most money.

Bad decision.

I was probably two weeks in when I knew that I had made the wrong decision. The program just wasn't what I wanted. I was miserable. And I was stressed out from all the work that I was doing in a program that I didn't like, on top of teaching two sections of Freshman English. And then I met Mr. Simple. Which helped me not be so miserable, but it didn't help me enjoy the program any more. So after a year, I dropped out. Mr. Simple, on the other hand, and all of the friends that I met in the English department, all graduated a year later.

A few months after I dropped out, I was offered a position back at the company that I had worked for before graduate school, but this time, it was a permanent position. I said yes and off we went. (Mr. Simple and I had gotten married over the summer.) I worked there for a couple years and then I worked at another company as a technical writer for another couple years. Then my alma mater called me back again, but this time, it was for a job. They wanted me to come and work as a computer software trainer. So we came back (by this time, I was pregnant with Flower.) I worked there for 5 years.

When I had been there for about 2 years, it started to really bother me that I had never finished my masters degree. So I started taking classes. My focus changed a couple times - at first I was going to get a 2nd bachelors in computer science. Then I was going to get an elementary education certificate. But then, I finally decided that what I really wanted to do was get a masters degree. So I started taking classes for a masters degree in Technology with an emphasis on Training and Development and Project Management. It was great. The school paid for most of my tuition. Mr. Simple would watch the girls (I'd had Jelly Bean by this time) at night so I could take a couple classes. This went on for about a year. And then I got laid off from my job due to state budget cuts.

I still had a couple years of taking classes part-time to finish my degree. What should I do? I really wanted to finish. So we decided to have me finish. We would take out student loans. I would teach preschool to bring in a little money. After another year of going to school, I got pregnant with Super. What should I do? Should I stop? We decided to it was best for me to finish. Super was born at the end of September. I took two weeks off that semester, and then went back to classes. And when Super was 9 months old, Jelly Bean 4, and Flower 6, I graduated.

I was thrilled. I had done it. Despite all the time, job/job loss, births, I had done it. I certainly couldn't have done it without Mr. Simple. He did child care for three years so I could do it. But it was a LOT of money. Money that we mostly didn't have. Money that we had to get through student loans. Money that we used sometimes to help us get through because I was no longer working full-time. But I had done it. I had always wanted to finish a masters degree and now, finally, 21 years after I graduated from high school, I did it. As I walked across the stage, I heard Jelly Bean scream "Yea, Mommy!" and it made me cry.

And so when I see people in graduation caps and gowns, it makes me think. Think of that high school day when I couldn't wait to leave, and that first degree when it was just me and my parents that were proud of me, and that 2nd degree when I had my parents, and all the other Simples there, cheering me on . . . .

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Buy Local, Buy Seasonally . . .

This is one thing that I've really tried to do for the past few years. I don't always do it (I would have to preserve enough food to live through November through April. A great goal, but I'm not there yet.) But I do try and buy as much as I can, especially once the growing season starts. And I am excited to say that Illinois finally has some crops that are available. I buy my local, seasonal food primarily at our local farmer's market, but I also buy some at Naturally Yours grocery store.

According to the Sustainable Table website, the following foods are available in early May in Illinois:
  • Asparagus
  • Cabbage
  • Cherries
  • Greens
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Onions
  • Peas
  • Radishes
  • Rhubarb
  • Spinach
  • Sprouts
  • Squash
  • Strawberries

Friday, May 7, 2010

Well, it is hard for me to have my kids grow up BUT

lately, the girls have become old enough to ACTUALLY help clean the house. (I've been having them "help" for years, but if it was a job that actually needed to be done right, then I needed to do it myself - and most household jobs tended to fall into that category.)

But now, quite a few of the morning chores are done by the girls. (FYI Flower is 10 and Jelly Bean is 8.) I generally alternate who I ask to do which chores, but not always. Mostly, it is just "Flower, you may go do X. And Jelly Bean, please go do that." Here are the types of chores that they usually do:
  • Unload the dishwasher
  • Wipe down the bathroom counters and the toilets
  • Clean the mirrors in the bathrooms
  • Sweep and swiffer the bathroom floors
  • Sweep and swiffer the dining room and kitchen floors
  • Transfer clothes from the washer to the dryer
  • Take the trash out
  • Vacuum the living room, hallway and upstairs bedrooms
  • Dust

And lest you think that I'm just sitting there eating bon-bons while I direct them, I'm usually doing things like folding clothes, putting clothes away, loading the dishwasher, changing diapers on the toddler and the baby that I watch, making bottles for the baby, wiping the counters down in the kitchen, putting stuff away that doesn't belong in the living room or kitchen, vacuuming the preschool area, and doing any of the things that the girls don't get to, etc.

And why don't I do more of this at night, you may ask? Well, the toddler and baby leave around 5:15, and then we eat dinner, and then at least a couple nights a week, we have an outside activity. Super gets in bed by 7:00 pm and the girls are in bed by 7:30 pm. On some nights, I need to do prep for preschool/homeschool the next day. And I have to be in bed by 9 pm because I get up at 4:45 am so I can go to the gym. So oftentimes, I just don't have much time to clean in the evenings. Plus, if I do it in the evening, I would probably start it after the kids went to bed, and I don't want to deprive the girls of their opportunity to be helpful LOL

We usually start chores at 8 am, and the goal is to get everything done by 9 am. Most of the time, we get the chores done around 8:45 am. Most of the time, the girls don't even complain about doing their chores. I'm not lying! I don't know what has come over them, but I'm just keeping quiet and being grateful!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Want to become more of a minimalist but don't know where to start???

Or maybe you like the idea of it, but you think of minimalism as one room, one table, one chair, one bed, one set of sheets, one comforter, and one pillow. Or something like that.

Well, here is a list to help get you started by just cutting down the number of things that you have in each category. Or maybe things that would be less painful to give up than say, your stove or something. LOL

101 Physical Things That Can Be Reduced In Your Home

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

You remember my complaining last summer . . .

about how busy we were? Remember how I confessed that I fell off the Simple wagon last summer?

Well, here we are and it is May. It isn't Summer yet. And I'm trying to look ahead and make things different.

Well, maybe not different exactly. Because both girls will be doing Swim Team this year, and Super is going to be doing T-Ball, so that part of our schedule will stay basically the same. I thought long and hard about having the children involved in summer activities. And I decided that for OUR family, that it is a good fit. But what I can control is how organized about those activities, and what we do with the time that is not involved in sports.

We are still going to do the Library Reading program, but we are not going to Story Hour, and I'm going to be very selective with the Reading Program activities that we go to. We are not going to do Running Club. We aren't going to do any day camps. We aren't going to any playgroup/kid get together activities. I'm not going to do a structured learning time (although we are going to still have some preschool materials out this summer, and the girls are going to continue doing Math during the summer.) But I'm not doing like Bug Week for preschool or anything like that. No circle time. No Helper Jobs. Just the materials. They can use them. Or not. We are not going to watch television. We are not going to watch movies.

So what are we going to do? Well, we are going to spend a lot of time outside. That is for sure. We'll play on the playset. We'll play in the pool. We'll work on the garden. We'll walk on the Trail. I'll read stories. We'll crochet. We will go to the Nature Center. We will go to the Zoo. We will go to the Park. And we will work. Chores will continue. Projects will be done.

And I want to do look beyond our family too. Simple Mom is talking today about 10 ideas to Inspire Community Connections. She talks about things like having a block party or baking for a cause or being part of a solution to a community problem. And I'm not sure yet what we will do, but I want to do at least one thing that helps my children feel connected to their neighborhood, their community.

And in terms of me not falling off the Simple wagon, well, I've been making some changes to eating more simply lately (and healthier), and I anticipate continuing that. I'm exercising. I'm clearing my house of lots and lots of extra "stuff". I'm starting my garden. I go outside, often, and just look at things.

I'm sure that it won't be the perfect Simple summer. But I'm hoping that it is a Good One. Maybe even a Great One.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Looking Beyond Spring Cleaning . . .

I always get that BUG this time of year. Suddenly, I NEED to purge. I NEED to organize, and this year, I NEED to have a garage sale. (Well, I'm not actually having one, but I'm sending a TON of stuff to my MIL for their big apartment-wide garage sale.) I know it is because it is Spring. It just feels right, to come out of hibernation and clear out the area. It just feels right that in the Spring, there is SPACE. This year, I'm feeling even more driven than usual. This year, I really want to try and get rid of some things we aren't using. This year, I really want to try and go through things and only keep what we need. Only keep the best of the best.

I was reading on (In)Courage, and this is what she had to say about Spring Cleaning, and it helped me look beyond just cleaning to clean. Get rid of things just to get rid of them.


"Spring cleaning is merely a band-aid unless you frequently take some time to evaluate your inner life and heart. This is because holding on to clutter is merely a symptom of a deeper heart issue -- and this is the place where the root needs to be nurtured and fertilized. And sometimes pruned.

As we manage the stuff in our homes that God has entrusted to us, the question for all of us is this -- "Where do I put my trust?"

Do I put my trust in the stuff around me? Do I hold on to things because, all glory to God, I'm able to find a use for them around my home or they add beauty to our environment? Or do I hold on to things out of fear?

• Am I scared to sell our plethora of unused children's clothes given by my mother-in-law because it might damage our relationship?

• Even though our unloved Christmas china would sell for a pretty sum, am I holding on to it because I feel like it defines who we are as a family?

• Do I hold on to my old high school notes, the souvenirs from my European trip in college, and the ticket stubs from our honeymoon because if I let them go, I'll forget that they were important?

This isn't to say having stuff is bad. It's not. Many, many times the material things in our life truly are blessings, and in light of these things, we must be thankful. God blesses us richly. Heck, nine times out of ten, He blesses us beyond all we ask or imagine, with things we don't even need. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills.

But while on Earth, we constantly need to be mindful of our status here as stewards, not as owners. And stewardship means to manage well.

Let's manage the stuff that truly is a blessing with honor and integrity, to the glory of Him who gave it in the first place. And the things that are no longer a blessing for us -- let's bless someone else by giving it away or selling it.

Because with spring cleaning, that's all decluttering really is -- thanking God by fully enjoying His blessings in our life, and passing on everything else so that it can bless someone else."


So here's to being thankful and appreciating the things that are truly enriching our lives, but here's also to blessing others with those things that don't. And remember, things are just things, but people are real.