Thursday, February 25, 2010

Lightening Your Load...

I've been doing a lot of decluttering in my life the last few months: spiritually, mentally, and especially in my physical living space. I'm finding a lot of joy in finding new homes for my stuff at The Salvation Army, Freecycle, other people's houses. I am finding some mental peace in reorganizing things so that it has a better place (you know, "a place for everything and everything in it's place?") and is not so prone to being strewn across the floor.

And what precipitated all this, you ask?  Well, I hold the A&E show, Hoarders, directly responsible.  If you've seen the show, you probably are nodding along with me right now. If you haven't, you definitely need to watch an episode. One is all you need to scare you straight.  Why?  Because we all deal with stuff -- excessive amounts of it.  In America, we are pretty much bred to buy it, trade it, and hold on to it. We hoard it. Just the sound of that word makes me shiver. It's an unattractive sounding word. You can just hear the connotation of negativity in its mere utterance. I just sit back in wonder and horror at the some of these people who literally get buried alive in their homes -- sometimes by their own waste (soiled adult diapers piled all around them!). It's terrible. But, it really happens. These people have a mental disorder and usually some sort of trauma that has caused them to fixate on stuff. Many consistently choose their stuff over relationships.

As soon as I am finished watching an episode, I immediately want to start organizing or going through something to get rid of because I'm terrified of something like that every happening to me ( I in danger of being a reverse-hoarder?) But, more than that, it makes me determined to teach my children the following:

1.) We own stuff (by the grace of God).
2.) Stuff doesn't own us (there is nothing we have that will ever override people).
3.) Stuff is just...well, stuff.

Just to clarify, I'm not referring to family heirlooms, or that tapestry you picked up when you traveled to Belgium. Rather, I'm talking about all the things we accumulate over the years of living this life. I think you know what I mean. Stuff.

I'm not saying stuff can't be important or even necessary. However, there can be a tipping point where it starts to hurt, rather than help. And, instead of it being a blessing, it can quickly become a burden. I firmly believe that in America, we put too much importance on having stuff. We know, but sometimes forget, that in the end our stuff won't be around hundreds of years from now. Although I dearly love (love, love, love) my KitchenAid mixer that I waited 10 years to get and finally bought for myself for our anniversary, I'm pretty sure I won't care about it's lucious yellow sheen and multi-attachment usability when I'm dead.

While I'm at it, the other thing we're guilty of is not taking good care of the stuff we have. I can't tell you how many times I've watched a hoarder finally dig through years of layers and grime and find something that is very significant and precious to them and then wail and cry about how they didn't love their stuff enough to take care of it properly.

In fact, I should add another thing to the kiddo lesson:

4.) Stuff is a blessing, so we should take care of it like we're grateful for it.

This is something my parents taught me well. My dad was (and is) very fastidious about the upkeep of his vehicles inside and out. He takes pride (in the good use of the word) in keeping them clean and well-serviced. I can't tell you how much it pained him to allow us to eat or drink in the car when we'd be on long road trips. Woe to the daughter who either spilled her lunch or forgot to remove her trash at the next pit stop. I used to roll my eyes, but guess who is obsessive now about having her kids, "take your junk out of the van when we get home?"  I see the value of not riding around in a veritable garbage heap (and as a parent, you know how quickly that can happen -- have you seen "Mom My Ride?").

I might have even taken this lesson to the extreme at the expense of my poor husband. I have to admit that I made his car an object lesson of this principle with some of the children. Let's just say that he doesn't share the same point of view about keeping his car neat and tidy. My opinion is that how well you treat something determines....well, how you treat it. For instance, if you drive a pigsty, then why would you care if you dump an entire plastic bag worth of spit-covered and cracked sunflower seed shells all over the know, purely for sake of discussion. And, then once that happens, why wouldn't you throw your grass and dirt encrusted soccer cleats onto the upholstered back seat?  While you're at it, you might as well just crumple up any fast food bags and throw them on the seat next to you. While in the short-term it hasn't made the world stop turning, it has indirectly led to some cosmetic issues with the vehicles that have ended up costing us money to fix later on. It has also made it frustrating at times to try to carve out space for another person(s) to ride along....and, okay, embarrasing for me.

I might have mentioned this once or twice to my seven-year-old. I wanted to explain to her why it's important to take care of things God has allowed us to have. She might have understood a little too well when she announced that "daddy's car is kinda like that lady's house with the adult diapers in it."  (Ah yes, I will neither confirm nor deny that she may was watching that Hoarders episode with me.) husband winced when I laughingly told him what she said (because it was funny and he is definitely not a hoarder), but guess what happened?  The car got a lot neater in the days to come.

I can laugh and point the finger at my husband's car issues, but all those fingers point back at me when it comes to the house. I really don't enjoy cleaning, but I do it because it's necessary -- and definitely not as often as I should or as often as many would think necessary. I have some neat-freak and cleaning addict friends (crazy talk if you ask me!) who love, love to clean; however, there are those of us who think cleaning the bathroom when you see can see the ring around the toilet is enough. I think there definitely is a inclination towards being one way or the other. But, for those of us who really don't prefer to clean and might like some instruction or advice on how to do it efficiently, it can really come down to an issue of stewardship and discipline.

It's just like getting my teeth cleaned at the dentist -- I may not enjoy the process, but I sure enjoy the result. In the same way, I feel a clarity of mind when everything is organized and put away and is all sparkly and pine-scented. I also really enjoy taking a load to the donation drop-off site. I feel lighter -- like I've lost some weight. And, in reality, I have. Every time I let go of stuff, my "burden" gets lighter. And, I like that!

So, here's my challenge. Take a good look around. Set aside some time every day to go through a drawer or closet. Put a storage bin in the garage and over the next month, try to fill it up and disperse the contents to the appropriate person or organization. Let it go. Lighten your load.

You might be amazed at how good it makes you feel.

Update:  I just found an amazing website called The Story of Stuff. On it, there is a 20 minute animated video that discusses the impact stuff has on us, and our planet. I highly recommend that you take a few minutes to watch! Also, there is a book that I think I'll borrow from the library.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Joy Comes In the Morning

This post has been brewing inside of my soul for a few months. Even now, I'm not sure I'm "ready" to write about it, but I figure that it will probably continue to trickle out as the year continues on. Without being trite, I have to say that I really feel that God is making this my theme for 2010.

It all started Christmas Eve of last year. Adhering to our Christmas tradition, we were finishing the last-minute packing of our gifts and overnight items so that we could spend the night at my parent's house, along with my sister and her family. And, just as I was grabbing my purse to head out to the van, I heard the tell-tale whoosh and felt my right ear close up and pop. And, just like that, I turned right around and went and to the medicine cabinet to get my ear numbing drops. In that one minute, I saw what that Christmas Eve would hold for me -- pain, and lots of it. 

For some reason, I started having problems with ear infections after the birth of my first child. I don't really remember having ear troubles as a child. But, that first one I had as an adult was a doozy that left me crying and awake all night long on the couch. I didn't know what to do other than bundle up my 2-year-old and drag my pregnant body into my family doctor's office at 8 a.m. and beg (literally crying) for her to see me. I simply couldn't bear to wait the additional two hours for Urgent Care to open down the hall. 

Mercifully, my doctor saw me right away and I was able to get some prescription analegesic drops (aka numbing) and some antibiotics going. I ripped open that bottle in Target and after about 5 minutes, felt relief for the first time in about 15 hours. It was bad...that pain was second only to childbirth...I'm not kidding. The doctor also told me that I could buy drops over the counter should something like that happen again and hopefully would help me avoid the blubbering on the couch in the midnight hour scenario.

Ever since then, I've kept a bottle of that stuff on hand, and if I had medicated drops for infection, I kept those too.  So, there I was -- grabbing my drops and heading out for what should be a joyous evening with family.  And it was -- except for that persistent throbbing.  I put in my drops, took ibuprofen for the swelling, had my father pray for me...and it all helped. But it still throbbed on. We put the kids to bed; we played games; and we put ourselves to bed. It all worked until about 1 a.m. when I sat upright in bed clutching my ear in agony.

I cried.
I prayed.
I put in more drops.
I took more ibuprofen.
I couldn't sleep so I got dressed.
I went out to the van and defrosted the windshield.
I drove home in the high 30's to get my beloved heating pad.

As I drove home, the refrain of a song we sing at church (that's also a scripture verse from the Bible) called Your Love Never Fails began to play over and over in my head.

"There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning."

I found it on my iPod and turned the speakers up loud (you compensate for my partial deafness) and started to sing in earnest. Returning to my parent's house, I plugged in my heating pad and prayed once more that God would give me relief so that I could enjoy what was now Christmas Day with my family. And, you know what? He did...and I did. I went right to sleep (like a baby) and slept until o'dark-thirty when the kids came to wake us up. Although my ear was completely deaf on one side, it didn't throb...and I was thrilled...ecstatic...and yes, joyous!  It was Christmas!  For our family, it's one of the most significant days of the entire year. Not only do we celebrate and cherish our family time, but we celebrate and cherish the birth of The One who has brought so much joy to the entire world!  It was a true blessing to be able to sit back and enjoy everything pain-free.

It took almost an entire month for my hearing to come back fully in that ear, but after that night, I didn't have any pain. And actually, it became a nice way to get some extra sleep. Noisy out in the rest of the house?  Simply turn over on my hearing ear and, voila!  Natural earplugs!

Since then, there have been additional moments (which will warrant another post) when that verse has come back to me. In fact, it keeps popping up everywhere it seems.  So, I started to pay attention and mull things over. We are definitely living in troubled and painful times. People have lost jobs, family members, retirement, security, health insurance. There seems to be a general sense of panic and bewilderment. And, it's certainly warranted to a degree.!
Joy is coming!
And, it's coming soon...look, the sun is starting to peek it's head up from the horizon!

I don't know about you, but that thought just lifts my spirit! I know, I know, I know that there will be pain. There is pain! But, it only last for a "night."  And that knowledge and anticipation means everything to me.

*For some tips and household rememdies for earaches/ear infections, check this out.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Meanest (Cheapest?) Mom Ever

Yep...that's me. The Meanest (Cheapest?) Mom Ever. Why, do you ask? Because not only will I not pay extra money for friendship grams, grade-school (or preschool) yearbooks, but I also won't pay for school photos. I know...oh the horror!

I'm not against the concept of school photos. It's nice to see those subtle (and sometimes not so) changes a year will bring. It's more that I object to the bland background, uninspired poses, and assembly line approach to them. And, then, just let me be honest here -- the expense. (Retouching $7! Name on wallets $7!)

Believe me, I tried once. I laid out my daughter's clothes the night before, woke up early so I could get her hair perfect, and sent her off with strict instructions not to muss it during recess. I grudgingly wrote out a $22 check for the most basic photo package - a 5x7, 4 wallets. And then we waited with anticipation for a several weeks. Finally, I saw the telltale white plastic-windowed envelope in her hands when I picked her up one day. I eagerly opened the envelope, and....well, at the risk of hurting my daughter's feelings some day in the future, let's just say they turned out less than stellar. She definitely did not heed my advice about not mussing her hair. The photographer definitely did not fix it or tell her to sit up straight. So, what's a cheap and picky mom to do? I got my money back.

C' know that even Ryan Seacrest regrets this school picture...

I then marched her down to Sears later that week and got her photos for $9.99. And I not only got to pick the pose, I got to suggest it!! She looked like the adorable child she is and not the ragamuffin she can be after a hard day's play.

So now, when the order sheets come home in the Fall, I just throw them in the trash and make my Sears appointment. I think I even have Hayden convinced that it's even cooler because she gets her own personal "photo shoot."

However, apparently that's not as easy and clever as I had hoped. Guess what I got today? An order form for Spring photos. Really? How much can our children have changed in five months? And are they going to have both photos in the unnecessary grade school yearbook? Do they think having the children pose with their hands on a flower basket is the epitome of Springtime? And more importantly....does this require another trip to Sears?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Too Much is...well, Too Much!

Alas, I have entered the world of one of those older curmudgeon types who sit around and say, "back in MY day, we didn't...".(fill in appropriate wording).

Is it just me, or is there a lot more superfluous fundraisers and opportunities to waste money at your child's school?

***Disclaimer before I begin ranting. I'm all for public school. I am a succesful product of the institution, and I see a lot of value in it. Disclaimer over.***

However, I am not a fan of the continuous fundraisers that seem to perpetually occur at my daughters' school. I get that we are in troubled financial times and that schools seem to be on the short end of state funding (especially in my state!). However, in the six or so months that school has been in session (minus vacations), we have had as many (and probably more) fundraisers. Let's see, we've had two (maybe even three) McDonald's fundraisers. There was that candy bar fundraiser they handed out the FIRST week of school -- only to be followed by another cheesy catalog of items-nobody-really-wants that was handed out literally the day after the candy bar money was turned in. We've had Boo Grams (special suckers with a piece of paper for Halloween), dessert sales, Box Tops for Education drives, Capri Sun collections...and I'm sure I'm missing something. Isn't there a box I can check at her school that says, "I will write you a check for $____, and in exchange, please don't send home any fundraiser opportunites and/or incite my child to want to sell, sell, sell them so she can receive a $.15 toy and make me the bad guy who has to say no because I could buy her one at Dollar Tree (wait...that's a dollar!). Which will then make her re-visit the topic of, "Mom, are we poor?"

Sidebar about Box Tops for Education: My sister told me when my eldest daughter was tiny that I should collect all the Box Tops I could get my hands on because "one day" she would have a class competition and I could help her win. So, being one who takes her sister's advice, and also one who is competitive by nature, I saved every lovin' Box Top for over four years. When they collected them in preschool, but weren't having a competition with the school, I polited declined to donate them. BUT, this year was the big year. At last, a class competition! I pulled down that baggie that has been on my refrigerator since Hayden was crawling, and sorted them out. I was crushed to realize that about 30 of them were expired (why the expiration date, Box Top people?), but was glad to see that my baggie still contained about 200 good ones -- until I realized that after all my hard work of buying, clipping and saving, I had donated a whopping $20.00 to her classroom. Look at me...Ms. Generous! I'm not ashamed to admit that I tried to find out if I could write a check in exchange for more Box Tops from their website. Sidebar over.

Yet, the fundraiser that got me going was the latest one -- right in time for February 14th. It was a dreary, foggy morning when I saw the PTC parents sitting out at the "sales" table in front of the school as I pulled up in my van-full-o'-kids. I did a horrified double-take and hoped my second-grader would not notice. Alas, she did. And, so it began a little something like this:

Hayden: "Moooohhhhm, do you see those Friendship Grams they're selling over there?"
Me: "Yes, Hayden, I do."
Hayden: "Can I get one?"
Me: "No, honey."
Hayden: "Why not? I really want to give one to my friends?"
Me: "You are giving something to your friends."
Hayden: "I am?"
Me: "Yep...they're called Valentines. Remember? We bought that box of TinkerBell valentines and the suckers to put on them?"
Hayden: "Yeah, but I really want a Friendship Gram."
Me: "Well you are going to get 24 valentines and candy in about 4 days from all your "friends."
Hayden: "But, it's not a Friendship Gram."
Me: (Muttering in my head about the insanity of the fundraising opportunities at our school)

I think I was finally able to convince her that they were unecessary due to the large bounty of candied items she was due to receive. However, I must confess to a minor twinge of guilt when she announced that she didn't even get one Friendship Gram on the big day. (It's my fault....guess who bought her a Boo Gram in October?)

You see...I definitely remember how it felt to be special in grade school. I remember seeing a big balloon bouquet being delievered to my classroom and hoping and praying it was for me. I also remembered how great it felt getting a note from the office telling to report there at lunch time because my dad was taking me out to eat. I really want to do that for my kids. However, I don't want to be manipulated or guilted into it. Call me a cheapskate, but I certainly don't want to spent $10 on valentines for her classmates and then spend another $10 on "special" valentines for the chosen inner circle of her friends. Is that really necessary?

And while we are talking about necessary...I'm in the same boat with the multiple yearbook order forms I have received for both of my girls. The youngest is in preschool. Really? Is she really going to look back one day and say, "my mom didn't love me enough to spend $20 on a paper bound book that has one photo of me in it?" And what would I do with 18 yearbooks x 4 children? I only remember getting yearbooks starting in junior high. I have six...and it's not like I look at them very much...or ever. I'm not sorry I have them. But, I don't feel badly about not having one for every school year of my life.

Maybe I'm too practical. Maybe I'm cheap. Perhaps I'm both. And to tell the truth, I really don't think I'm wrong. So, I'm laying down the law. No yearbooks until junior high, and no Friendship Grams for Valentine's Day. Instead, I'll be the one with a cart full of Box Tops items and pallets of Capri Suns to make up for it! Sure it's only like $.10 each. In 20 years, I'll have donated $20! (Whoo hoo!) On secondhand, maybe I'll just write out a check....

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Enjoy the Ride (or Stop Gritting Your Teeth Until It's Over)

Several years ago a car company (Nissan?) started using the phrase, "Enjoy the Ride," with their marketing campaign. You know...don't just get in your car and speed off to your destination with your foot on the pedal and hand on the horn.  Sit back and enjoy the journey there.  Great sentiment. One I totally disregard as I'm pinning kids down in their carseats in the morning and racing (in a totally non-illegal manner) to school at 7:42 a.m. However, still nice.

Anyway, this slogan came to me last year as I had one of those God-revelations through a Bible study we were doing in our ladies group (that Beth Moore gets me every time). And this time, I attached that thought on my role as mother.

Okay, confession time. I have always liked kids. After all, they are cute, little version of people. They say funny things. I was an established babysitter at age 13.  However, I did enjoy collecting my money at the end of the night and leaving those "angels" at home with their parents.  And, yes, I did graduate to a time that I stopped babysitting because I had a real job and didn't need the money (read extra aggravation and responsibility).

When I pictured myself as a "grown up," it was always married with a couple of kids...probably two. After all, I was one of two.  However, when I married Rylie, I was intrigued by the idea of having yet another sibling (even more fun and more nieces and nephews!) So, I expanded my mind to having three kids. After I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant with #4, well, I graduated to Earth Momma status in my mind.  I'm no Mrs. Duggar with her 19 kids, I know. But, I'm a long way from 2.1 kids too. I started to feel the pressure to make my own laundry detergent and speak in a constant hushed know the one that those mothers can do who have "always wanted to be a mother" and seem to always be serene and unflustered by flying toys and bad behavior in public. You are blinded by the glint off of their halo and the sparkling diamond ring on their folded hands.

But I found that impossible and frustrating. Number #1, I'm not the whispering kind. Number #2, I've figured out that I'm a "why reinvent the wheel if it works" kind of person. Buying the dye-free, fragrance-free, "green" laundry detergent at Costco works for me. And I realized that I wasn't very happy throughout my day. It was more of a "grit my teeth and bear it" type of attitude. Like...wake me when it's 2 years from now and I have my body to myself, diapers are a thing of the past, and sleep and I are good friends again.

But, that's no way to live in the day to day, I found. Yes, it's tough waking up early to get dressed and the kids up and dressed and make breakfast and brush hair and take 4 kids to school at 7:45 to drop off two and come home with two and then start on laundry for six, dishes dirtied by six -- punctuated by the needs of a non-weaned-crawling-into-everything-9-month-old and starting-to-be-defiant-2-year-old. And then adding back in the opinionated-4-year-old and then later, the I-need-a-snack-NOW-7-year-old. But, this is where I am. This is where God has placed me.

We all know that time goes so quickly. I would hate to miss the little moments of joy that parenthasee (my word) all of those caretaker and household duties. I would ramrod right over my older son taking the time to crawl around on the floor with his delighted brother. I would shush my younger daughter's attempt to tell me that she wants to snuggle me because I'm tired of her constant grievances against said brothers.

It's not easy. I still find my fists clenched often by my side when I hear the tell-tale thud, followed by yowl of injustice and stampeding feet my direction ready to tattle. But I don't wish as much for "Calgon to take me away". Maybe it's because I don't expect as much anymore. I have pared down our schedule to the basics.  If I don't get all the laundry done in a day, I try again the next one.  If I get too overwhelmed, I call in the reinforcements. Don't get me wrong, I don't have it all figured out.

But I feel that know...contentment. The "it's all going to be alright" feeling. Maybe not now, but eventually and probably soon. 

Enjoy the Ride. So, I may not enjoy the carsickness, or the flat tires, but I can sit back and enjoy the scenery, the music that's playing and not fast-forward in my mind to the final destination. 

Living the Enough Life

Maybe it's the failing economy, maybe I'm reading my Bible a little closer, or maybe God is just reminding me of something that He showed me years ago when I read an amazing book and then later even as a newlywed. Maybe it's all three. I'm pretty sure that it also has something to do with my 7-year-old daughter asking me one day recently, "Mommy, are we poor?"

I want to live the "Enough" life. The "Enough" life is one where I am grateful for the things (many, many things) that we have aquired, and the one where I don't need to constantly yearn for the next thing -- the next, bigger house, the next newer and nicer vehicle and yes, even the next (and better?) phase of my life.

This is where I am. Yes, it feels like we are jammed into every available inch of this 1340 square foot house, but it's our house. We've sweated and worked to make it truly a haven for the six of us. Families in Africa live in a 1-room hut with more family members. Yes, the door handle in our 12 year old Corolla fell off -- again -- but it's ours. We don't make payments on it...and get's our SECOND car. Again, there are millions of people in the world who don't even own a bicycle. And, yes, every member in the family (except the baby) has one of those too...and a scooter...and skates...but I digress.

The question I am asking myself again is, "just because I can afford it, do I really need it?" If a 12-year-old Corolla works just fine, do I need to trade it in for a newer model -- just because I can? If we do get to the point where we need to buy another -- would another Corolla suffice or should we upgrade to a Camry or better, just because our budget allows for it? And, just because we could squeak into a bigger house payment, should we do that and pretty much be tied there because we can't afford anything else? Or should we put that extra money into our current mortgage, build up equity, maybe even -- gasp -- pay this house off and see what God can do with that extra freed up income?

When I truly take a good look around me, I see that I am (we are) so very rich. "No we are definitely NOT poor," is what I told Hayden when she asked. I told her that we are being wise with how we choose to spend our money. We made decisions based upon how we wanted to grow our family that affect that amount of money we have in the bank. We use coupons and cashback proudly to save money (for more on this, see my page on Money Saving Tips).

But, that's not a bad thing. I told her that we have enough money (more than just enough) and God has been so good to us in that way. But, we are putting that money to work buying food, keeping us warm and dry and inside, saving for their future, saving for their mom and dad's future, planning for family vacations to explore together, making room for soccer and gymnastics and all of those fun things -- and having some left over to give to people who need it.

And that's when I really got it. If I can teach my kids this...if they can grow up living an "Enough Life" with us -- in this world of "gimme more, gimme better" -- and if they can translate that into their own families, I will feel like I have accomplished something amazing.