Monday, April 30, 2012

An Open Letter to Mother Nature

 "I'm not saying I'd like to build a summer home here, but the trees are actually quite lovely."

Dear Mother Nature,

Hey, Girlfriend! How goes it? I feel like we haven't shot the breeze in for-EVAH, though to be fair, the breeze is kind of your thing, so maybe that's on you. How are things? Are you well? Have you talked to Tampax about those commercials yet? I know you were really offended, so I hope you've got it all sorted out. I wouldn't know—I watch everything on the DVR, so commercials aren't really an issue, but I do feel for you.

So I was hoping to touch base with you about a few things. See, Husband and I are working HELLA hard to get the house in tip-top shape to sell next year, and we want to have a yardsale to get rid of a shitload of unwanted (but super awesome!) stuff. I know you've got a lot on your mind, what with winter basically bailing on you completely this year and the weather people all up in your biz-nass, but would it be possible to maybe just consider giving us a dry, sunny Saturday this weekend? It's just that the past FOUR weekends have been rainy, overcast, and generally unpleasant, and you know how people are. They're all, "It's raining! I don't want to stand in someone's muddy yard and give them money for their water-logged old crap! Waaaaaaaa!"

Am I right?

So look, no pressure, but if you could just consider it. Enough of the April showers—let's see some of those famous May flowers!

Oh, you're sick of that line? Sorry. Sorry for that. April showers/May flowers are out. My sincerest apologies.

And you know, if you need any help crafting that letter to the tampon people, you let me know. I'm on your side. That bitch looks nothing like you. You're so much prettier than she is.

Affectionately yours,


Friday, April 27, 2012

Perception and the Like

 "You ARE the Brute Squad."

The question was raised by a trusted acquaintance of mine whether referring to my daughter as "Spazz" or "Spazzy" is inline with my anti-bullying stance. It's a fair question, because I know it came from a place of genuine concern and was not an attempt to "call me out" or "get me". Not to mention that once you put your life out here on the interwebs, you open yourself up for inquiry and even criticism, and if the comments or questions are reasonable and presented with logic and care, I think it's important to talk about them.

Let me give you backstory as to why I chose Spazz for my daughter's internet nickname.

My girl has ADHD, which I know many people are skeptical of and that's fine. The ADHD thing is a whole other blog post, so I don't want to go off course about it here. Anyway, her naturally dramatic personality sort of goes into overdrive when she's feeling really unfocused and out of control. Once when she was trying to describe to me how it felt, she said that sometimes her "brain feels like it just has to spazz out!"

So since then, we sometimes refer to her brain's overloading as "spazzing out". When I first nicknamed her here, I don't remember why that term came to mind. Maybe we'd been having a rough morning, perhaps it was on my mind for other reasons, but it came to me and because I have never thought of it in terms of cruelty or as an insult, it just stuck. It's not a real-life nickname we have for her, as she already has about fifty-seven of those. But I just went with it here. And I never gave it a second thought.

However, even though I know that my intentions have never come from anywhere other than a place of love and respect, I also know that perception often overshadows reality. And it's hard to make a point if people are confused about your credibility. I don't want to be seen as a hypocrite, especially when my intentions are so opposite that perception.

I thank my acquaintance for pointing out the disparity for me, and for giving me the benefit of the doubt rather than assuming that I am being unkind to my daughter. It was an excellent point, and I would hate for anyone to walk away from here thinking that I look down on my kids or see them as lesser than myself somehow. No way. My kids rock so much harder than I ever have, and I am basically awesomesauce on a juicy steak. So that's, you know, saying something.

So henceforth, the Girl Formerly Known as Spazzy shall be called Bear (from a real-life nickname) and her sweet baby brother will be called Bug (also from a real-life nickname).  Thanks for reading my drivel, and for allowing me to be human.

A Few Thoughts on Our Decision to Homeschool Next Year

"It was a fine time for me. I was learning to fence, fight—anything anyone would teach me."

I was never, ever going to homeschool. Understand, I loved the idea of it, and I have never (as an adult, that is) been skeptical of the practice, even when I believed it wasn't for me. I have always defended my homeschooling friends against the antiquated and disproven ideas about a lack of "socialization" and parents being "unqualified" to teach their children.

Seriously, if you want to evoke a quick eyeroll, tell a homeschool parent that you're concerned about their child's socialization. Hilarious.

So yeah, while I've always been open-minded (or maybe just informed?) about the practice, I did not believe it was right for me. And because the world revolves around me and what's best for me, me, me, that was that. We couldn't afford private school, so public school was our obvious route. And it has been for four years now.

And it's been awful.

See, when I imagined homeschooling vs. public schooling in our family, I always pictured the ease of sending Spazz off to a nice, brick-and-mortar institution where she'd do some good learnin', make some friends, and we'd continue her education at home through homework and basic daily life. I never expected her education to begin and end at the classroom door, but I also had no intention of shouldering it alone. After all, I went to public school, and I turned out...well, I turned out.

I believe a child can get a good education almost anywhere. I really do. If the parents work in collaboration with the school, many children thrive just fine in a traditional school setting. No matter how you slice it, parental involvement is key. What matters is that the best choice for the family and for the child is made, and no one can make that choice except the family itself.

But here's the thing. We all know that every child is different and has different needs. I'm not going to spend an hour detailing the process Husband and I have undergone to reach this decision for our family, because frankly it's been exhausting and I could do an entire blog series on it. But the catalysts came down to 1.) our waning faith in the way things are being taught/the current educational climate and emphasis on testing vs. critical thinking and 2.) Spazz's daily tears about the ongoing bullying and lack of response she's endured for four years (despite our active engagement with the teachers and the administration. Yay, socialization!).

But the teachers have 20+ other kids to take care of, Jen! You can't expect [fill in the blank].

Actually, I can expect my daughter to be protected. But you're right—with 20+ other kids to take care of, that's not always possible, as teachers are human and not infallible. So I'm stepping in to protect my child. It all works out nicely that way. And let me make one thing clear—I am VERY pro-teacher. I think teaching is one of the most challenging, frustrating, under-appreciated professions in the world. This is not a rage against teachers. It's a response to a badly broken system.

Hey, look! It's science, y'all!
At my daughter's school, science, art, music, physical education, and library are "extra" classes. They attend each once per week for around an hour. While I will concede that an hour per week is probably fine in library since they are reading in class (and at home, in Spazzy's case), the other four classes seems far more important than they're getting credit for. I know that in the context of the current national attitude in public schools, our kids are lucky to have the arts at all. I just don't agree that these classes should be seen as "extra" or "supplemental".

We're all smart people here, so I'm not going to link you to six dozen articles and studies that assert the importance of music, art, and physical education in creating a whole person. We all know this, and if you don't, here's Google. I was very surprised to find that science was not included in the daily curriculum, but then I live less than an hour from the Creation Museum, so I guess it shouldn't surprise me.

Spazzy is in third grade this year, and her classroom has been evacuated—literally—three times because of violent, dangerous behavior by three different boys in the class. When I say violent, I mean a broken chalkboard, broken window, broken DESK, desks being tossed over, scissors being thrown, etc. Violent, angry outbursts by three different kids in her class on three separate occasions. And those are just the ones in the actual classroom. Two of these kids have been removed from the lunchroom by force after becoming out of control, and then there are the daily bad behaviors.

One of these violent boys happens to be the bully who has been harassing Spazz since kindergarten. I do not feel that my child is safe in that school, and I don't believe things will necessarily be better at another school. We don't live in the shady part of town here. It's older, it's not the ritzy area, but it's not dirty or gang-ridden. Kids with serious emotional and mental problems can be found anywhere, and this is not the way I want my children to be "socialized".

In a nutshell, based on our daughter's needs and our desires for her, public school is no longer the right fit for our family. So we're going to try homeschooling for the fall semester and re-evaluate before over the holidays.

So yes, in answer to your question: I am fully confident that I am qualified to teach my daughter. It will be a learning curve, no doubt, but I'm committed to doing what's best for my child, and at this time, Husband and I believe that this is it. There will be bad days. There will be fantastic days. You know—just like with anything that's worth doing.

I know this sounds a little bit defensive and angry. That's because it is. I see the looks on people's faces when you say the word "homeschool". People imagine weird, anti-social kids who dress according to a religious code and don't know how to talk to people. I know them well—I went to (public) school with a few of them.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Unsolicited Pregnancy Advice

 "Is this a kissing book?"

No. No, I'm not. Not even an off chance.

But because my baby brother, Superman, and his lady, Lois, are expecting, I thought it would be fun to talk about all the obnoxious, unsolicited, and unwanted pregnancy and parenting advice we've all had to endure.

One of my favorite examples, and the one I shared with Lois the other day as a joke, is the famous, "OMG, don't change cat litter!" freakout. It usually comes from a well-meaning teenager who babysat her little cousin last summer and had to change the cat litter because her pregnant aunt "could have, like, died!" It's not that the whole avoiding-cat-litter thing isn't true; it's just that it's literally one of the first things a pregnant woman hears from EVERYONE—whether she has a friggin' cat or not.

What were/are you sick to death of hearing from unwelcome advisers? It doesn't matter if the advice is based in fact or fiction, disproven or commonly believed. What made/makes you want to slap a well-meaning bitch?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Getting the Hell out of Here: Part Six

"Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something."

Sell this Bitch

So selling the house is, bar none, the most intimidating piece of this process. For us, I mean. We've never sold a house, the market is not great, and our home value has dropped around 10% since we bought it. Not as bad as some people have it, granted, and we owe less than what's it's worth. But not by much, and we refinanced in January 2009.

Even if we actually got full value for our house (doubtful), by the time you factor in closing costs and fees and all that, we'll be lucky to walk away breaking even. It's scary times, peeps, which is why getting the house in tip-top selling condition is absolutely crucial. We have to squeeze every drop of value out of this place.

So what's the plan, Jen?

Well, I'm glad you asked. Are you sitting down? Are you ready to hear my terrible, ill-advised, likely-to-backfire-all-over-the-place idea?

We're going to try to skirt closing costs by giving a by-owner sale a shot.

*waits until laughter dies down*

I know. Believe me, I know. Every time I see a "For Sale, By Owner" sign in someone's yard, I roll my eyes and think, "Fools." There is a reason that real estate is a specialized profession. It takes knowledge of the market, the legalese, the process, current home trends, buyer habits, etc. There's more to it than staging with Sabrina Soto's pretty handmade wall treatments and slipcovers.

I know. And Imma do it, anyway.

Actually, it had never occurred to me to even consider attempting a sale by owner until I read about how Andrea Dekker and her husband sold their home on Craigslist in three days, during the economic whatsahoozit.

It's a risk. There are no guarantees, even with a realtor, and I have no delusions that because this strategy worked for a blogger I like, it will magically work for me, too. We're not stOOpid people, and I'm not going to just slap a For Sale sign in my yard and wait for the offers to roll in. If we don't see the kind of traffic/interest we need in a month, we'll re-evaluate before the house sits too long.

My only real conundrum is how we'll show the house. I firmly believe that homeowners should be scarce when potential buyers are touring their home, but I'm not about to let strangers wander around my home, either. No telling what weird shit people might be into, and I don't need someone dipping my toothbrush in the toilet just for the hell of it. We'd probably have to work something out with a few friends, exchanging favors for their time in showing the house for us.

The thing is that, like almost anything, it can be and has been done. And like anything that will succeed, the process requires careful thought, research, and painstaking planning. I believe in us enough to feel like we have as good a chance as anyone, as long as we're properly prepared. And we will go ahead and research agents so that we have a name or two on hand if needs be. We don't intend to approach something this important without careful thought and preparation.

I know you're shaking your head and silently judging. It's fine. If the plan fails, you get to be right, so good for you. But if it works...well, I think it's worth a shot. Worst case scenario? We end up with an agent. :)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Pinterest in Real Life: Blueberry Lemon Yogurt Bread

"This is true love. You think this happens every day?"

Blueberry Lemon Yogurt Bread. YUM.
This weekend I tried a new recipe that I've had pinned for some time. I made sure to get everything I needed from Kroger and with my Green B.E.A.N. Delivery last week so that I'd have no excuse to put it off. See, I like baking—but I LOVE having baked.

Anyway. The bread is awesome. I love the texture of the blueberries against the sweetened lemon flavor. The bread has sort of a pound cake consistency, which I like, and the glaze is just enough to give it a cakey sense without gloppy, sickeningly sweet icing.

The only problems I encountered were that 1.) I forgot to take my eggs out of the fridge an hour or so before prep to let them warm up, and 2.) my blueberries sank. The berries are supposed to sit throughout the bread, and I have no idea how to make that happen. Anytime I make something with heavier add-ins, they sink to the bottom and it drives me nuts. So the flavor is uneven and the bottom is a little bit soggy, but honestly it's okay.

Does anyone have tips for preventing ingredient sinkage? Other than tossing the stuff in flour, which I did. I'd love to hear them.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Simplifying Our Lives/Home: Magazine Clutter

 "Let me put it this way. Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates? Morons."

This post is a continuation of my simplification series. Call it "part deux" or even "deuce".

*snicker* I said deuce...

Eliminating magazine clutter

Part of my stockpile
I admit that I'm a bit of a magazine junkie. Currently, I have six subscriptions. Now this is not a post about saving money, as I only actually paid for one of those subscriptions. One is a yearly gift from my dad and stepmom and the other four I got for free.

So the problem isn't the spending—it's the clutter. I used to be pretty good about rotating my magazines in and out of the bathroom and into the recycling, but now that I have so many, I have piles of unread issues in cabinets, on counters, and in drawers. It's a little out of control.

All of my subscriptions should expire sometime this year, at which point I am not going to renew any of them. It makes me a little sad, but not so sad that I'm changing my mind. In the meantime, I've made two piles—one stacked high with magazines I've already read or probably just won't, and one with magazines that I want to read before they go. That includes my beloved Writer's Digest. And if I decide I can't live without something, I can always subscribe via Kindle. No clutter, no storage, no paper waste.

My new goal is to read one magazine per day from the second pile until I'm all caught up and then take the whole stack to Half Price Books. I won't get much for them, but a little cash is better than no cash, so I'll take it. Then I can walk next door to Michael's and buy the candle wicks I've needed for weeks so I can make my homemade soy candles.

How do you control magazine clutter?

Friday, April 20, 2012

"Progress, Not Perfection."

 "There's a shortage of perfect breasts in the world. It would be a pity to damage yours."

My dear friend Katie always says, "Progress, not perfection," when talk turns to goals and problem solving, and I've sort of tried to adopt that as my mantra. It's brilliant in its simplicity, and these days simplicity is the name of the game for me. I want a slower, more meaningful life, and I feel like adhering to the idea of working towards that goal rather than punishing myself for not having yet achieved it is the way to go.

In our Pursuit of Happyness, we're working hard to unclutter and prepare the house for sale. This is an area I've always struggled with when the idea of "perfection" comes up. I've made the mistake of believing that if it doesn't look like it belongs in a magazine, it's not clean and people are judging me. So I give up and just rarely entertain, because I'm sure my friends' eyes are settling on the unfinished trim work and unswept floor and thinking how disgusting and lazy I am.

Way to give my friends credit, right? You'd think the people in my life were all judgmental assholes, but that's not the case at all.

So anyway...back on topic. I'm working on forgiving myself for allowing actual living to go on in my home rather than rushing around fluffing pillows every time poor Spazzy sits on the couch or keeping Windex in a holster on my belt. I've tried to do this and succeeded for a thoroughly exhausting, completely wasted day or two, and it's just not sustainable.

Progress—not perfection.

Here is my kitchen at the point I consider it to be clean most days:

Click on the photo to enlarge

Not bad, right? The dishes are done. The floor is swept. There are no raw meat juices on the counter, and the table is sticky cereal-free. It's clean enough.

The floor needs to be mopped, but I have two kids and a large dog. Mopping every day is impractical. There's a book-and-paper pile on the counter, but it's actually been pared down, and it's not hurting anything. There are craft supplies stacked on top of the (filthy) toaster oven, and don't even ask to see the inside of the microwave. The walls could use a good wipe-down, but you know, so could all the walls in the house, and my son prefers that I play with him and that matters more.

People live and love in this imperfect kitchen. We do the same in every imperfect, unrefined room in this house, and life doesn't (and shouldn't) stop for a dust rag.

So if I have a little time and all of the necessary maintenance is finished and my children are happy and I've kissed and hugged my husband, I might make a little progress. But I'm choosing to be okay without perfection.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Getting the Hell out of Here: Part Five

"I'm starting him on the machine tonight."

Ready the House for Sale

It was the summer of 2006. We had a galley kitchen with subtly mis-matched counter tops, about three inches of counter space, and enough cabinets to store...nothing. We also had a dining room with no table in it because it was being used as an office/playroom-type thing. Spazzy had just turned three, and we decided that because moving was out of the question, we'd do better to remodel the main floor.

So we did. And we mostly finished it. Mostly.

That said, even though the big, open kitchen with all the glorious storage and prep space is fully-functional, it was never quite completely prettied up. See, Husband and I are neither one big on tackling anything that seems like "extra" or "unnecessary" or "boring". So we have unfinished trim work, missing quarter round, and unpainted doors all up in our biz-nass. There are lots and lots and lots of little projects that need to be done.

For example, we need to stomp the ceiling where we moved walls around and shit:

We need to cut, paint, and hang the trim around the coat closet (and paint all the other trim in the living room white):

We need to touch up paint, and buy/hang closet doors in the bedrooms because the old ones were those super cheap crappy ones that fall off the track every thirty seconds and so we just took them down and threw them away. There are walls to be painted and tile to repair and carpets to clean.

There are a LOT. OF. PROJECTS. And that's just inside the house (and an incomplete list, at that). We also have a backyard that needs some serious TLC after almost three years of wear and tear from our massive dog, and the front yard is in desperate need of some semblance of landscaping. The roof needs to be replaced. Really, the old-ass windows do, too, but we can only afford to do one or the other, and we decided that a new roof was more urgent. I think buyers will be less turned off by the thought of replacing windows than replacing a roof.

Now we do have plans for all of these things. We just need to get off our lazy asses and get to the execution phase. The good news is that Husband is very handy, and I am a killer Lovely Assistant. In addition to my skill at painting-while-drinking-wine, I am also very good at holding boards while they're being cut, handing people tools (or "thingamajiggies"), and corralling children into safe spaces while loud, dangerous work is being done.

We did actually manage to give our mailbox a makeover. It's not an expensive mailbox, and we probably could have just bought a new one, but we want it to match the "shutters" on the house. And since I'm planning to paint those navy blue, we just gave the whole mailbox set-up a nice facelift.

Before & After—Mailbox Edition

So yeah. Getting the house ready to stage for sale is a big part of the next year of our lives. Our goal is to tackle a project at a time as we have the cash for it (no charging anything!). I've been using the money we have set aside for this to buy Home Depot gift cards at Kroger when they have the 4X fuel points deal so that we sort of get some of the money back via our gas tank.

Has anyone else gone through this process? What was it like for you? Any tips/advice?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Simplifying Our Lives/Home: Tech

 “I do not accept excuses. I'm just going to have to find myself a new giant, that's all.”

There's something to be said for the ever-growing trend in simplification. The idea intrigued me when I first began reading about it, but it seemed so far-fetched, like it might work for other people, but never for us. After all, we are a tv-watchin', internet-browsin', Dorito eatin' bunch. We have so much stuff in our little bitty house that the thought of trying to unclutter and simplify the whole place was just overwhelming.

And it still is. But the thing I eventually realized is that all the reasons I had for not simplifying were actually the reasons we should be giving it a shot. I tend to see any undertaking as all-or-nothing, something that must be done perfectly and without compromise, or it's a colossal failure. That mindset has held me back my entire life, and the more reading I've done, the more I've come to realize that most of the overwhelmed feeling I carry around is rooted in the overwhelming way we live.

So what are we going to do about it? There is no one right or wrong way to commit to simplification. My family will never be total minimalists, nor will we ever be paragons of financial virtue.

No, our approach (like anyone's approach) must be custom-tailored to suit our unique family. This is the first post in a series about some of the specific steps we've decided are manageable and helpful in our family's efforts to cut down on the physical, mental, and emotional clutter.

Limiting tech

Too much tech is bad, m'kay?
Okay, I'll admit, we've mainly only done this with the kids so far, but eventually I'd like to cut down on some of mine and Husband's screen time, too. And we firmly believe in zero-to-near-zero screen time for children under two, as recommended by the AAP. So no screen time for Babydactyl as much as we can possibly manage.

The revolution sort of started with Spazz, though. One evening she threw a colossal tantrum while in the shower and, in a terrific example of a classic parenting "don't," I engaged. At first I told her that the tantrum had cost her her technology for one day. But the more she kept going, the more I added on until I had banned her from her DSi, the computer, and any and all tv for a solid month.

Over the top as a punishment? Probably. But it turned out to be a proverbial blessing in disguise. It's likely that, after a week of good behavior, I would have reduced the length of the banning somewhat in an effort to be a rational person. But after only one week, Husband and I saw a side of Spazz we hadn't seen in a very long time. She was bored and whiny for a few days, sure, but for close to a year she'd relied on her tech for the bulk of her entertainment. Yet once that initial period of discontent passed, she began pulling out toys and games she hadn't touched in forever. She finished an abandoned latch hook project that had been in a drawer for over a year. She asked to go outside, and she started re-reading favorite books.

It was fucking awesome.

Husband and I talked and decided to let the irrational-but-surprisingly-excellent punishment stand. She asked for a reduction a few times here and there, but she didn't freak out when we said no. I felt like I'd gotten my daughter back because I was seeing her in a way I hadn't realized I'd been deeply missing.

So Husband and I talked, and when her tech was reinstated, it was with new guidelines in place. She is now limited to 30 minutes per weekday of any kind of tech (aside from her Kindle—she can read all she wants), and 60 minutes on weekends. If she wants to watch a movie on the weekends, we do let her watch the whole thing, but that's it. No extra tech time.

And you know what? Half the time (if not more), she forgets to even use her time. It's not cumulative, so once the day is over, the time is gone, but she hasn't even missed it. So those of you who were gasping and hollering, "Why, I do declare!" as you fell gracefully to your fainting couches when you saw the tv in my kid's room can suck it. It doesn't even get any channels. It's a DVD or VHS (yep) set-up only, with major limits.

If you're feeling like your kids are too plugged in, I honestly cannot recommend some sort of enforced limit highly enough. It's worked out great for our family, and it might be worth a shot for you, too!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Top Five Reasons I Cannot Wait to Have More Bathrooms

 "Excuse me...pardon me, please, it's important...Fezzik, please?"

One of our absolutely non-negotiable requirements for the new house is that it have no fewer than 2.5 bathrooms, one of which will be en suite in the master. The house we're planning to build actually has five, which is probably excessive, but you know what? Even with more bathrooms than people, my kids will still find a way to need the bathroom I'm using at the exact moment I am using it. I guarantee it.

The only bathroom in the house. :/
I think most people probably agree that one bathroom isn't really enough in this day and age even for just three people, let alone four plus guests, but let me break it down for you. Here are the top five reasons I cannot wait to have more bathrooms, and most of them involve poop. So if you're not big on TMI, walk away now, because I'm not going to hold back.

1.) I am brushing my teeth and my daughter walks in, sits down, and poops. She poops, two feet from me, while I am BRUSHING MY TEETH. She does not see the problem with this, unless she's the one who needs the bathroom and someone else is doing number two. Then the smell is unacceptable.

2.) I am in the shower and my daughter walks in, sits down, and poops. In addition to the same issues mentioned above, this also means that my towels are tossed on the floor, usually on the side farthest from the shower.

3.) Husband, Spazz, and I all seem to be on the same, um, schedule. This is a major problem, especially if we've had Gold Star for dinner. And Husband is sneaky. He'll saunter up to me with a smiling baby, pass said baby to me with an "Aw, do you want to see Mommy?", and then dart for the bathroom.

4.) On a less...personal...note—three people, one sink. Toothpaste in the sink is disgusting, but there's something even worse about someone else's toothpaste in the sink. Husband cleans up his toothpaste, but he also trims his beard over the sink with his electric trimmer, and he's not so great about cleaning up that part. My worst crime is leaving my makeup bag on the counter. Husband and Spazz are just gross. The master bath in the new house has separate-but-equal sinks and counter spaces. Both kids will have their own sinks and counter spaces. It's going to be glorious, because obviously everyone will take full responsibility for their own space and their own mess and I will never have to clean up after any of them again.



5.) Shower product overload! Okay, I admit that this one is mostly my fault. I have my shampoo, conditioner, body wash, exfoliating scrub, and shaving cream, not to mention little bottles of free samples I've gotten all crammed in on one or two or all of the shelves. Husband has body wash and a shampoo/conditioner combo. Spazz has shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. 'dactyl still bathes in the sink. So yeah, this one is on me, but it takes a lot to look this good every day:

So yeah, I'm looking forward to having a nice garden tub and separate shower in our master bath. With a lock on the door. And maybe a deadbolt. And soundproofing. And an escape hatch.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

On Forgiveness

 "Oh, Westley, will you ever forgive me?"

I've been doing a lot of reading lately, scouring blogs and websites for inspiration and ideas about living a more simple life with less clutter and distraction. During that time I've come to realize that not all of the clutter in my life is physical. Aside from the boxes and piles of stuff (and the extra five pounds that I totally classify as "clutter"), there's a whole lotta mental and emotional storage that needs to be sorted and either reordered or purged.

I have a good life, chock-full of people who love me and whom I love right back. There is inexplicable kindness and generosity coming my way almost daily. I feel overwhelmed sometimes, in a good way, by the goodness that people regularly show me, and I often wonder why so many top-notch, grade-A people love me. My husband works hard in a steady job with benefits. My children are healthy and bright. I have everything I need and some of what I want. I have a good life.

And it's time I made room in my brain to appreciate and enjoy it.

I've never fancied myself one to hold grudges. Not against people I love, anyway. I can hate someone I've never liked for a long time, but the people I love tend to get a lot of free passes. And that's not necessarily bad. We should forgive the people we love.

Except that I kind of don't. I may not hold grudges, but I do hold resentment (there's a difference), and I'm often crippled by a sense of unfairness. Waaaaaa, right? Life's not fair, bitch.*

The thing is, with so many positive forces in my life, I'm depleting the light with a gloomy, grumpy, overcast attitude. I've realized how much negative emotion I've held onto my whole life and it's exhausting. So the next step is to let it go.

I'm taking a little time each day to work on forgiveness. I'm examining my old hurt feelings, starting with the least significant, and giving them their due meditation. I'm choosing, one at a time, to let the old resentments go and to celebrate the good stuff. And I'm working on becoming a person who is equally deserving of the forgiveness that I'm sure I need from plenty of people who, like me, have just let it stew under the lid.

I'm not saying it will be easy, and there are some nasty feelings I have toward some people that part of me doesn't even want to let go of. They're comfortable, familiar, steady. I know how they feel in my mind and the idea of letting go of them feels foreign and impossible. So I'm starting with the easy stuff. If you've ever borrowed a sweater from me and not given it back, consider yourself off the hook very soon.

I believe that part of building this life I want with my family means uncluttering all the corners and closets. So I'm going to try, because life is short and happiness is worth it.

*I forgive you for the name calling.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Getting the Hell out of Here: Part Four

"...never get involved in a land war in Asia!" 

Find Land on Which to Build

After Husband and I decided that subdivision living was out and wide open spaces were in, the search for land was on. At first, I was just searching to get an idea of what the kind of land we were interested in was going to cost us. We knew we wanted 5-10 acres, ideally already cleared for building and accessible to utilities, in either Boone or Kenton County.


So one night when my brother-in-law was over, we were all chatting about our plans, and BIL mentioned that he, too, wanted to build his own home. He wants to open a garage and work for himself repairing cars (he's awesome at that shizz) and live in a nice apartment above his business. Well, in his beer-induced state of mind, he suggested we go in together and buy a chunk of land to share.

Don't get me wrong—I loved the idea. But I also know that some ideas sound awesome when you're drinking and then cease to sound so awesome when your brain comes back to you. So while we all agreed that that would be fabulous, I planned to drop it and let BIL off the hook easy if he changed his mind by the light of day.

Only he didn't, and I'm really glad. BIL is one of our very best friends, and the father of our nephew. We loved the idea of having our kids' cousin living part-time right next door, and sharing a property line with someone we already know we like. And with a good 7-10 acres each, we still have enough space to not feel like we're together all the time.

Anyway, that's a lot of backstory for a simple plan. We've been looking for a piece of land that suits our needs (space, location, zoning, access, etc.) and have taken a look at a few spots. We've expanded our search area a bit, too. Once we find something, we're going to go ahead and buy it before we're ready to build. That gives us time to start doing any clearing that we can do ourselves or with help from friends and to offset some of the sudden expense that goes with building a house. A likely scenario is that we'll build our house first while BIL tries to sell his, and if he needs to, he'll live in our guest suite while his place is being built. We both have small houses with some undesirable features (well, lack of features, really)  to unload, and it won't be easy, but we're committed to helping each other out.

So yeah. We're actively looking for the right piece of land at the right price so that we can custom build the homes to suit our custom-built lives. :)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Great Kiddie Bedroom Purge

 "I wasn't nervous. Maybe I was a little bit 'concerned' but that's not the same thing."

Image: Hyperbole and a Half
In an effort to follow the simplification process outlined in Simplicity Parenting and to run forth with our Plan to Get the Hell out of Here, Spazzy and I spent her Spring Break purging her room like madwomen. Each day during Babydactyl's nap, Spazz and I took our trusty garbage bags to her room and chose a project to work on.

On Sunday we tackled two toy bins, cutting the number of dolls and doll accessories she has by half and eliminating many broken or outdated toys.

On Monday, we pulled everything out from under the bed and sorted it, getting rid of anything that wasn't important and putting away anything that was. I also finally talked her into getting rid of her Dora talking house. And by "talked her into," I mean I pointed at the house and her Barbie castle and said, "Time to choose. They both take up a lot of space. Which one stays and which one goes?" She put up surprisingly little fight and the Dora house is now sitting my living room, ready for the yardsale.*

Tuesday we tackled the Pet Net, which was bulging with stuffed animals despite a major purge for a yardsale less than two years ago. Last time I let her keep two animals for every one that she let go. This time I did the opposite, and we cut the number of animals from 78 to 26. Granted, most of the ones she kept are larger, but I know that most of them are friends she truly, truly loves. I feel good about our progress.

My little Spazz is very attached to her stuffed animals. She carefully hugged and said good-bye to each animal as it went into the trash bag, and asked several of them to please do their best to make another child smile. She nearly had me in tears. She projects a lot of emotion onto things, especially stuffed animals, and I had to try my best to help her understand that the people who gave her the toys are not going to be hurt or upset with her for purging them. She loved and enjoyed them, and then she outgrew them, and that's okay.

We also hit her stack of books. We got rid of anything that was too young for her, with the exception of one book that was signed by the author, and two that were gifts (one from a special teacher and one from her high school mentor last year). She kept the series that she hasn't yet read or will re-read, and we made a small stack of books that she's okay with parting with if she can please read them first. I'll keep that stack in my room, and she has until school starts back next week to finish them. Then they go in the yardsale pile.

Wednesday, after a lovely walk 'n talk with my friend Sarah and her precious new baby, Spazz and I attacked her clothes. We went through the dresser drawers and the closet, cutting her wardrobe in about half. The top drawer is now divided into two sections—socks and underwear, and accessories. All of the winter things that might still fit next year have been moved to storage, save for a few pieces for the chillier spring days, and the summer clothes are easily accessible and have been tried on for fit. All of the crappy, store hangers have been pitched. It's a much more streamlined set-up. We had to get past some of the, "But Kara got that for me on vacation when I was four!" items, but I think I finally got her to understand that Kara (or whomever) does not expect her to keep too-small t-shirts for the rest of her life, just because they were gifts. She did really well, and I'm proud of her.

Far fewer games and storage items. And half the clothes that were hanging were dirty, so I threw them in the wash. ???

Thursday we decided to tackle the art supplies. The bottom two drawers of her dresser are dedicated solely to her crafty and artistic pursuits, and they needed some whittling. We went through every pencil, every piece of scrap paper stuffed in those drawers, and carefully decided what was worth saving. She still has tons of art supplies, but since art is her favorite hobby, I'm fine with that. And her stuff has a home, so that's what matters as far as organization goes.

It doesn't look like a magazine photo, but that's because we own things that are not beige, white, and pale blue.

Friday we took a break, but Saturday we finished our purge. Anything that hadn't been sorted and organized yet was, including the tops of her dresser and bookcase and her locker. I think all told we cut her possessions by at least a third. But probably closer to half.

It's a much more impressive pile in person. Every bag is hella full.

Go ahead. I know you're thinking The Thoughts. Let them out. "OMG, Jen, Spazz has a tv in her room? Why do u let yer babys to watch tv???!!!111 U probly are'nt as good as a parent as MEEEEEE!!!!1111"

Simplicity Parenting advocates purging without the child present, and I do see value in that. Believe me, I plan to go back in and do a fresh sweep of my own this week while Spazz is back in school. But I think as parents, we also have to be careful to respect our children's space and to know what works best for our kids. Spazz needed to be involved in this process, and I think that despite the emotions, it was good for her. She is a kid who needs to be shown the process of purging, because I could totally see her becoming a hoarder if we don't carefully set a good precedent. So I try not to let her feel powerless and I make sure to give in on one or two things so she feels some sense of control.

If it were up to me (okay, technically it is, but you know what I mean), I'd go in with boxes and garbage bags and pick the place dry. I'm not a pack rat. I have a few things that are probably more sentimental than practical, but I am very adept at separating emotion from things. I love the people who gave them to me, and that's enough. But my child is not like that, and I have to teach her responsibility while also respecting her space and her feelings. It will be different in every home and for every child in every home.

One of the ideas that stands out most to me in Simplicity Parenting is that, "Your child has better things to do than to be a walking advertisement for mall stores or brands." It's not that I'm going to throw out all of my daughter's t-shirts just because they say Old Navy or Justice on them somewhere. But the idea of buying items that serve only to further advertisers' agendas is very disturbing to me. So in our purge, one of the things I kept in mind while deciding what items held value for Spazz and what didn't came down to the ways she could use them. If she has twenty t-shirts, all well-fitting, and four of them just say, "Old Navy" across the chest, why keep that? She's not a billboard. I looked at her toys the same way, and it was very empowering.

Spazz is very excited abut the idea of helping with the yardsale and keeping the profits from whatever she sells. The child is surprisingly excellent with money, always carefully saving until she has enough for whatever it is that she wants, plus some left over. She doesn't ever like to be completely broke. And she carefully weighs her purchase decisions. I'm sure I've mentioned at some point that she saved up and bought her own Kindle.

So anyway, it's been a big week for us in terms of bonding, simplifying, and learning some valuable life skills. I'm immensely proud of my little Spazz, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the effects of having a more calm, relaxed, efficient bedroom will play out for her temperament and her ADHD symptoms.

Spazz in her newly purged and cleaned up room.

Is anyone else undertaking any major organization or purging projects this spring? How do you involve your kids in the process?

*We're having a yardsale with our neighbors on 4/14 or 4/28, depending on the weather.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Stretching out: My Body

"It's not my fault, being the biggest and the strongest. I don't even exercise."

I've been taking an adult tumbling class one night per week since March 8th. In a span of six days, I had two separate doctors tell me that while my weight is fine, I really need to add some sort of exercise to my routine, and I've always loved gymnastics, so I signed up for adult tumbling.

I took recreational gymnastics on and off for years as a kid, but I was never very good. The few skills I had were pretty, with nice form and execution, but I was afraid of going backward and I just never really got completely past it. At one time, for a brief period, I had a standing back handspring on the mats, but I never moved it to the hard floor, and then I lost it when I stopped taking classes.

So my goal at this point is to have a good standing back handspring, unspotted, by May 10th. That'll be my 10th class, and I'm really pretty close right now, so I think I can do it.

Forgive the askew-ness. Spazzy took it.
I can't express to you how liberating it is to find myself slowly but surely quieting the fears and just going for it. Even though my attempts often fail to achieve the desired result, I can feel myself getting stronger, more capable, more tuned into how my body fits in the space it occupies. The skills I'm learning are simple by gymnastics standards, and I have friends who are gymnasts who will not be particularly impressed by a back handspring. But then, that's not the point.

For me, this is what yoga or meditation or Pilates is to a lot of people. It's not quiet or serene, but it's my opportunity to push myself in every way to a higher plane. I'm using muscles that have lain dormant for years. I'm facing fears that have always held me back. I'm testing myself every week, trying to be better, working to improve.

It's escapism. It's time with other adults who get it, who understand what it is to feel like they're capable of more than their bodies would have them believe. It's pushing, pushing, pushing, past self-doubt, past a disquiet mind, past limitations that we've put on ourselves.

I effing love doing this. I leave and I ache, but I crave that ache, because I feel like I've earned it. It belongs to me, wholly.

I believe our bodies deserve to be honored, and I've never felt more at peace with mine than when I'm coaxing it to fight against age and fear. It is as it should be.

How do you stretch your body? I don't believe there's one right way, though I know a lot of people who are addicted to running. Running has never done it for me, but I get it. I really do.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Reconnecting with Spazz

"This is a special book. It was the book my father used to read to me when I was sick, and I used to read it to your father. And today I'm gonna read it to you"

So a few days ago, Spazz came to me and tearfully told me that she feels lonely and like Husband and I never have time for her. As I fought back tears, I had to admit that this was pretty legit. Husband works long hours, and between taking care of Babydactyl and running my home and a small business, I'm booked much of the time. And because she's old enough to handle a lot of her own daily care, Spazz sort of got left on the curb after 'dactyl was born. It's easy to forget that companionship is every bit as much of a human need as food, shelter, and clothing, all three of which we do a great job of providing for her. But we'd really dropped the ball on spending time with her, and right then and there, I committed to changing that.

Staged photo of me reading to my kids
So the plan is that every day after school, I am all hers until at least 4:00 p.m. I may have to hold 'dactyl while Spazz and I play a game or talk about our day, but the time is all about connecting with each other. No dishes, no laundry, no emailing clients. Just Spazzy and me. She's on Spring Break this week, so we've also been working together to purge the clutter from her room (of course, once she goes back to school, I'll be re-purging...).

We're also revisiting an old tradition that has come and gone since she was little. We have, at various times in her life, made our way through books and series by reading a chapter together every night before bed. Last summer, after I graduated from college and was very pregnant with my son, I took the entire summer off to just take care of my body and devote those final precious months of her life as an only child to spending time with her. It was wonderful, and I miss having that time together.

So anyway, long-winded explanation aside, she wants us to re-read all of the Ramona books, which I think is an outstanding idea, since they're probably my favorites. We've also got some Judy Blooms we haven't gotten to yet. We've started with Ivy + Bean, though, because she loves them and I haven't read them. I love having her at an age where the books she enjoys are entertaining for me, as well.

I'd love to hear how some of you connect with your children, especially after a period of distance (physical or emotional). Sorry this post is a little mushy, but if we can't be mushy about our daughters, what good are we as parents, you know?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Our Simple Easter

 "Doesn't sound too bad. I'll try to stay awake."

My family is not particularly religious, though we do place value in spirituality and respect for the spirituality of others. Despite our heatheny ways, we do celebrate the major religious holidays, because we were raised in homes where that was done, even though religion was never really emphasized in our childhoods.

So yeah, while we don't go to Sunday services or anything, we do try to make Easter a family affair. Some years we travel to Chicago to visit Husband's family, but often we stay home because gas is hella expensive for such a short visit. 

This year we're staying home and celebrating one of our typical, low-key Easters. On Saturday afternoon (Husband has to work at 2:00) we'll color eggs as a family. That night we'll hide the kids' Easter baskets and let Spazz find hers (and probably 'dactyl's, too) in the morning. We'll let Spazz have a few pieces of candy while I make a breakfast of pancakes, bacon, and fresh fruit, and then we'll pull on some comfy jeans or shorts (depending on the temps) and head out for an egg hunt. And then Husband will go to work.

Spazzy hunting eggs on our low-key Easter two years ago. As you can see, we don't get too fancy-like. :)

It's nothing fancy, but it's become somewhat of a tradition. We don't get all dolled up or fix a huge dinner. We just make the day about spending time together and letting our kids have fun.

The kids' baskets are going to be low-key, too. As you know, I've committed myself to a pretty major purging project, so we don't want to bring a ton of crap into the house. I hate cellophane basket grass, so I usually line the baskets with tissue paper that I already have or use nothing at all. We keep the candy to a minimum.

In the past, we've been guilty of stuffing Spazz's basket with any and every little trinket we could find that she might like. Not so much this year. We're spending no more than $20 per basket, and that's only because we're making the gifts do double-duty as wants and needs. Spazz is getting some Starburst jelly beans that I got for free after coupon at Walgreen's, a $15 Amazon gift card for her Kindle, and a few hair accessories. 'dactyl is getting some onesies and socks that he needs, a box of teething biscuits, and possibly a hat of some kind.

Nothing fancy. Nothing that will create clutter. Nothing over the top. That's our simple, happy Easter.

How does your family celebrate Easter? Do you put on your Sunday best and start the day in a church service, or do you find yourself up to your elbows in ham at 8:00 a.m.?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Getting the Hell out of Here: Part Three

 "Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something"

Purge the Toxins

Like many (I'd even say most) families, ours has an abundance of stuff. We have clothes that don't work for us anymore but for some reason still get to occupy valuable closet space. We have things that we know we don't want anymore, but are sure we can get a decent chunk of money out of but are too lazy/overwhelmed to list on Ebay or Craigslist. We have boxes of "memories" full of stuff we have to strain to remember.

We have a lot of crap. It's not an uncommon problem.

What we also have is a very small house with little storage, and that's where the problem becomes a bigger problem. There really is no "out of sight, out of mind" in our house. And one of the first lessons of staging a home for sale is to unclutter to the maximum.

So, in the interest of furthering our dream to move on and start out in our new home on a clean slate, here's what we've (read: I've) been up to:

1.) Nothing new comes in.

The butter dish. *What* a splurge.
Okay, so that's not totally accurate. Our kids have to have new clothes on occasion, and I did buy a butter dish on Amazon the other day (with a gift card!) because the stick of butter I use for my toast was just sitting out on the counter and it looked kind of foul. And the butter dish is the one that goes with the dishes I want, anyway, so I don't feel too bad about it.

But yeah, the basic idea is that we are purging, not restocking. Husband and I don't need many new clothes, and we'll buy what we need and only what we need when we do. We have everything we need to comfortably survive another year in our home.

The exception to this rule, aside from genuine needs, is upgrading things that will be necessary for staging. For example, Husband and I have never owned a proper bedding set. We have our nice sheets, and we have a few random comforters that we rotate out when Babydactyl pees on one, but our bedroom decor is very disjointed and unfocused. So I am saving up to purchase a nice, matching bedroom set and curtains for us, but it will go with us to the new house, and at least one of the random comforters will be donated or yardsaled when we get it.

And how am I funding that purchase, you (didn't) ask?

I'm glad you asked.

2.) Sell the stuff that has decent value.

Spazz's old play kitchen
A little at a time, I've been purging toys and clothing on Ebay and Craigslist. I'm not trying to do it all at once because that would be too overwhelming, and I have a year to do it all, so I'm taking my time and not letting it kick my ass. I've sold all of my designer jeans because I'm about three pants sizes smaller than I was when I got them, and because they were kept in excellent condition and I was able to sell them for a nice sum. Same with my maternity clothes. That money has gone into the "new bedroom set" fund.

We've also sold a few of Spazzy's old toys. I sold the play kitchen she'd had for over seven years on Craigslist for $35 and gave her the money. She saved up and bought herself a Kindle, so now we're purging her books. It's all about streamlining and simplifying.

3.) Sell the stuff that has any value.

Not everything is worth enough money to make the hassle of Craigslist or (even worse) Ebay worth it, but it still has enough value that I hate to give it to Goodwill. Yeah, I'm selfish like that. So the maternity clothes that didn't sell, as well as some of the baby stuff that 'dactyl has outgrown, is going to Once Upon a Child as soon as I have time to get out there. Right now, it's taking up space in my bedroom. But I know that its days are numbered, so I don't let that stress me out.

We're also going to have a yardsale sometime in the next few months. Basically, anything that OUaC or Half Price Books didn't want will go in the yardsale, along with a ton of other stuff we no longer have a use for. That money will likely go toward further home improvements/preparing the house for sale.

4.) Donate the rest.

Whatever doesn't sell at the yardsale goes to Goodwill. Once it leaves my house, it's no longer welcome back in. End of story.

So that's my plan. It's tedious, but when you break it down into manageable parts and give yourself a decent amount of time, it's far less overwhelming. I feel like I'm taking steps to make our dreams come true every time I sell a sweater or drop off a load of books somewhere. I think that's what custom building a life is—tiny steps toward a beautiful end product.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What's in my Kindle Queue

 "When I was your age, television was called books."

Here are a few of the books I have lined up to read during all that peaceful "me time" we work-at-home-moms are so blessed with. Well, once I'm finished with that House Hunters marathon and this awesome box of bon-bons, that is.

1.) Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids

This book has phenomenal reviews on Amazon, and it seems like just the sort of thing I've been looking for. I'm about half way through it, and it's had a pretty big impact on me so far. What I'm liking about it is that it's not a "do this, don't do that, this is how you're damaging your fragile children" how-to guide. It's more of a discussion about how simplifying our lives and homes benefits our children, and I feel rejuvenated every time I read a little bit. 

With Spazzy's ADHD, she responds very well to routine, structure, and predictability, and I feel strongly that the more stream-lined our home life is, the better off she'll be. And the better off we'll all be, too. We'd like to get her to the point where medication is no longer necessary for her, and I believe it's possible for her, but we have a lot of chaos to cut first. This book has been a great launching point for me so far.

I'll post a review of this book once I get through it, but it may be awhile. Ellen's on, you know. 

2.) Catching Fire

Of course I've already read it, silly. But we're going to read it together as a family on our way to Florida this summer, so it's on my mind. :)

3.) Deadlocked

It's not out until May, but I'm looking forward to the next installment in the Sookie Stackhouse saga. 

4.) Where We Belong

I love, love, love Emily Giffin, and I can't wait until July when her latest novel comes out. I'm a huge fan of her style, and the way she walks the line between fluff and heartfelt realism. She's one of my personal writing heroes. I will always spend money on her books. Now if Curtis Sittenfeld would please give me something new soon...

5.) Divergent

A friend who also loves The Hunger Games recommended this Veronica Roth series to me. I borrowed the first book online from the library, but something screwy happened and it failed to load to my account, and then the lending site was all, "You're last again, bitch!" So whatever. Anyway, I'm going to read it at some point this summer.Or preferably even this spring, but we'll see. It can take me a good month to get through a book these days.

Only ONE non-fiction title in the bunch! Whoo-hoo! What's on your reading list? Anything I should absolutely, positively add to mine?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Things on Which I Will Spend Our Hard-Earned Money

"Oh, what I wouldn't give for a holocaust cloak!"

I recently read a great post on one of my favorite blogs in the world, Simple Organized Living. Inspired by Andrea's thoughts, I decided to completely rip her off and do a post with an identical idea. So before anyone says, "OMG, you totes stole Simple Organized Living's post! Plagiarizer! Thief! Scoundrel!", I am openly admitting to my scandalous intellectual theft and flattering Andrea by imitating her. 'K? Glad we got that settled.

So here are five things that I believe are (for us) worth a bit of a splurge, as well as a few things that (again, for us) are not.

1.) Good sheets

Ohhhhhhh, yeah. I am a TOTAL sheet snob. We own two sets, and both are 1000 thread count. I got them on Amazon for decent prices, but they were still splurges. And after five years of rotation, they are splurges which desperately need, um, re-splurged. But you know, the moment I find room in our budget, I will replace them with equally luxurious sheets with no guilt and no regret. Husband and I agree that our humongous California king-size bed was one of the best purchases we ever made, because it not only accommodates his 6'4" frame, our mutually agreed-upon need for "space" while we sleep, and our hippie co-sleeping ways, but it's super comfortable. I refuse to taint (*snort* I said taint...) that comfort by sleeping on sandpapery sheets.

2.) Organic groceries

This mutant apple was grown without chemicals.
Okay, so as I've said before, my cupboards and refrigerator are not perfect specimens of organic, natural virtue. There are frozen pizzas. There are pudding cups. There are Doritos and Grasshopper cookies. And that's not all.

BUT. When it comes to certain items, I never, ever compromise. I always buy organic produce (fruits and veggies), milk, beef, pork, and chicken, among other things. Some of our snacks do have gross, faux versions of these items in them, but for the most part, our meat and dairy are organic. And slowly but surely, as I find more organic products that I like and which offer convenience similar to that of their conventional, processed counterparts, I'm phasing out more and more of the fake crap. I like knowing that my kids are eating apples that haven't been poisoned, you know?

3.) Dishes

Um...what? Jen, you have 12-year-old Corelle sets that are holding up just fine! When have you ever splurged on a dish?

Fact is, I haven't. When I bought the husband, he came with the dishes, gifted to him by his parents when he moved out of their house. Like a dowry. I got dishes (which I get to wash) as a dowry. Whatever.

Anyway—after almost ten years of marriage, we've never replaced them, because they're fine. But I have picked out the next set of dishes I want in our lovely new home, and when I find them on sale, I will buy a place setting or two and put it aside. But even on sale, the ones I love are not cheap-o, and I'm fine with it. I feel happy when I look at them. I imagine serving my family and my guests with them. And since I'm not running out and dropping hundreds on them all at once, it feels like a fun process rather than a spontaneous splurge. That's a pretty importance difference to me.

4.) Haircuts

I like nice haircuts. I like having Heather do them, and Heather does not work at Super Cuts. So I save a little by waiting 10-12 weeks between cuts instead of only 6-8, and even though by the time I go in my ends are sort of begging to be set free, I love my nice haircuts and I choose not to give them up.

I also make up for the expense by doing my own nails and letting a little more time lapse between brow waxes than I'd like. I still feel great about myself, but I'm not spending any more than I would if I went somewhere cheaper more frequently. It's not for everyone, but it works for me.

5.) A few nice clothing items each year

I get a lot of our stuff at the Gap Outlet. We're lucky enough to live near one, and I can get a pair of $60 1969 Sexy Boot jeans for $10. But I will spend a little each year on a few nice things, usually good shoes for Spazz for school, nice jeans and/or the boxers that Husband likes best, and a new cashmere or other great fabric sweater or two for myself.

But I will not spend top-dollar on:

1.) Water

I'm not saying I never drink bottled water, because on occasion, I do. But that's really only when I'm dying of thirst and I have no other options. The water from our fridge (that's how you know I'm from Kentucky—I say "fridge") is really awesome, and I bought a Brita pitcher to use when the fridge water randomly freezes up. And FYI, the pitcher was free after rebate. I can easily fill up one of my BPA-free mugs with water and be just fine.

The kids' Valentine's Day gifts
2.) Non-Christmas/Birthday gifts for my kids

We do actually buy our kids nice gifts for the major gift-giving holidays, but for things like Valentine's Day and Easter, I look to my coupons and my favorite blogs to help me score cheap and free candy and even toys. Spazz's Valentine's Day gift (a personalized card, a small box of chocolates, and a kid-friendly copy of Anne of Green Gables) cost me $2. Total. 'dactyl's was a little more expensive, but that's only because I used the University of Kentucky outfit I had bought him anyway as his gift, but his personalized card was free. Look, he outgrew his old UK onesie and he needed a new one for March Madness! Don't roll your eyes at me.

3.) Greeting cards

I used to drop $3-4 on cards for every occasion, but that got very old, very fast. Now I stock up on the $.99 cards at the drugstore and take advantage of the frequent free card codes from and to keep my supply at the ready. I already have (personalized) birthday cards for both of my kids, my nieces, my mother-in-law, and several other people, and I didn't pay a cent for them. I just wait for the codes and think ahead.

Talk back to me. What's worth it to you and what is absolutely not? I know haircuts are a big one that most of the frugal people I know choose not to spend tons of cash on, and they're all still sexy beasts, so tell me what makes sense to you and what doesn't. I won't judge. Much.