Friday, June 29, 2012

Simplifying Our Lives/Home: Paper Clutter

"'s only your fault if you don't hate yourself enough to do something about it!"

One of the things I am most looking forward to about homeschool this fall will be the absence of paper being sent home with Bear from school every day. HOLY MACKEREL, they send home a lot of paper.

When I was able to corral it, it wasn't too bad because I'd just stick most of it in our recycling box and take it right back to her school to their recycling dumpster. But while the idea of going through backpacks as soon as children enter the house is lovely in theory, let's be real. It rarely happens. There is other shit going on and checking to see if she spelled "smile" correctly on her spelling test doesn't always come high on the priority list. Especially since I know she can spell "smile" and I don't really care if she got it right or wrong on an arbitrary exam.

I digress.

Anyway, because of school, the mail, stOOpid flyers that people stick on my mailbox and door, crap Husband brings home from work, etc., etc., we always have a shitton of paper clutter. And it gets stuck everywhere. Tables, counters, the stairs, the floor, the top of the dog crate, the couch, on the refrigerator...everywhere.

Now that one major source of paper clutter is being eliminated, I'm focusing on bringing the rest a bit more under control. Here are some of the things I've been doing:

1.) Dealing with mail as soon as it comes in the house. I know that everyone has read this tip, but that's because it's logical and it really works. I bring the mail in and stand at the counter sorting it. Husband's mail goes into his personal drawer, Bear's mail is handed to her, my mail is set aside to open when I'm finished, and any and all junk mail/catalogs/non-identity theft friendly mail gets dropped in the recycling. Bills are entered into the budget spreadsheet and set in their place on the desk. Anything that could compromise our identities and does not need to be kept or filed goes in the shredder.

Well, okay. The shred pile. I'm not perfect. But I do try to run the shredder at least once a...month. Give or take.

2.) Canceling subscriptions. I will enjoy the lack of clutter more than I will miss my magazines. Enough said.

3.) Using less paper. I'm a girl who likes her notebooks. I love making lists, and making sub-lists on my lists. I will not stop doing this. But my new plan is to keep one notebook for corraling all my notes. I love notebooks with sections (these are my favorite) so I can keep things a bit more organized. I can have one section for random notes or thoughts I jot down (blog ideas, things I want to look up, etc.), a section for things like grocery and to-do lists, and other sections for...whatever. This is far more efficient than the various mini-legal pads I have laying around, full of disorganized notes and lists and ideas.

I'm also going to stop printing off weekly chore charts for Bear and instead create a more permanent (but changeable) chart from an old cookie sheet and some chalkboard paint. I haven't done it yet, but it's on one of my lists...somewhere.

How do you control the paper chaos in your home?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Working on Our Reading List for School

"In some cultures they only eat vomit. I've never been there, but I read about it—*in a book*."

source / original source
Slowly but surely I've been building a basic representation of what our homeschool year might look like. While it's impossible to know exactly where we'll go and what we'll do every day, or to include all the conceivable lessons I'd love to get to (so...many...ideas...), what I do know for sure is that we'll be doing a LOT of reading.

Last week I began compiling a preliminary reading list. It's long, and it's not getting shorter anytime soon (that's what she said), but I'm fine with that. Some of the books on the list will tie in with units of study I'm hoping to cover. Some will be used as practice for learning the parts of a story. But most of them are just for the pure joy of reading and nothing more.

Of course, I'm of the mind that learning during reading is automatic and doesn't require a lesson plan, so I certainly don't feel any guilt about not having worksheets to go along. There are a few books with which I want to tie in some specific learning activities, but I think it's more important to make the reading a pleasurable experience for Bear, and for her that means limiting the "school-y" stuff.

I'll probably talk more about our reading selections as we dive into school in September. I'll share with you our thoughts on the books and what we get out of them. Maybe I'll even have Bear do a guest post. :)

We like to re-read a lot of our favorite books during our bedtime reading ritual, so the books we read in conjunction with schooling will probably (at least mostly) be new to either her or both of us. Believe it or not, I've never read Sarah, Plain and Tall, so I'm planning for us to read that one very early. I think I'm as excited about experiencing new children's literature as Bear is (if not more)!

What is some of your favorite children's lit? Anything (classic or contemporary) that I should consider?

Monday, June 25, 2012

4 Weeks to a More Organized Home

 "I've got three weeks to whip you...into shape."

The first week of July I'm going to (try to) start Money Saving Mom's 4 Weeks to a More Organized Home initiative. We've already got a nice head start because of all the uncluttering and purging we've been doing, but I like the idea of tackling one "assignment" each day.

Graphic courtesy of
I'd like to invite you all to join me! Each Friday, I'll post pictures and recaps of my progress. If you're a blogger, feel free to do the same and link to your post in my comments. You can download the checklist at the link above. Take pictures, and don't forget about the "before" shots. Don't be shy, girl. Our closets are nasty, too.

I'm especially looking forward to the couch-cleaning assignment. I sat on our couch the other day after finally getting most of the yard sale stuff out of the way and it smelled really, really musty. Ew.

I'm really kind of excited...about cleaning...

And this is how I know that I am old.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Things I Don't Care For—Part Two

 "F***in' Chuck Norris."

I feel like I've been a little bit too positive lately, so it seems like a good time for a fresh installment of Things I Don't Care For.

Adults and the word "yummy"

What makes this one even worse is that I do it, too. But I'm self-aware enough to hate myself for it. When did "yummy" become a word that grown-ups use in a non-ironic way or when talking to each other as opposed to their children? It sounds ridiculous.

I blame Rachael Ray. I don't think this was a phenomenon before that bubbly bitch came along and started dumbing everyone down with her thirty-minute meals and her sunshine farts.

Toothpaste on my boob

You know what I'm talking about, ladies. It goes right along with "deodorant on my black tank top" and "spaghetti sauce on that belly roll I keep tucking in to my waistband".

Non-napping children during naptime

Because regardless of what I say before I go into my darkened room to put Bug down for his nap, Bear WILL want/need something the second the baby gets drowsy. It never, ever fails. Even locking the door is pointless because SHE WILL KNOCK.

Magic fabric-of-space-and-time-ripping coffee grounds

You know—the ones that somehow manage to get into your mug, regardless of how impossible it seems. They give me The Anger in a major way.

Keyword whoring

Especially by sites that don't really need to do it, like Amazon. I try to search on Swagbucks everyday to earn my points, and usually I just plug in random shit to see what happens. One time this happened:

Click to enlarge

Okay, so maybe keyword whoring has its place. I won't pretend I didn't snort at that one.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Our Simple Father's Day

"No, it's... people have different translations for different things and that's a special bond that you have with uh... with your mail-order wife. I think that's nice. It's fine. "

I told you about how we usually celebrate our parent-honoring holidays last month around Mother's Day, but we had to modify our plan somewhat this year. Husband and many of his coworkers had to put in twelve hour shifts on Sunday, so he worked from 10:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. On Father's Day. Nice, huh?

My MIL got Bear and my nephew these mugs to decorate. :)
So instead of him picking a restaurant from which I would pick up carry out for us to eat in front of the television, he asked us to bring him Penn Station for his lunch break. We all ate together in the comfort of our Jeep and let him open his gifts.

And then he went back to work and got home at almost 11:00 p.m. and that was that.

I also sent him in with a dozen cupcakes to share with the other guys who had to work twelve hours on Father's Day, and I'd like to think it was a nice treat for them, but it still sucks the big one.

I also got to chat with my own dad, who lives about an hour and a half or so south of us, and that was nice. He reads this crap, so I'm giving him a shout out here.

*waves enthusiastically* Hi, Dad!

I hope you all had lovely Father's Days and at least got the chance to chat with the special dads in your lives. Did anyone do anything special?

Tangent Alert: Before anyone gets all, "OMG, some people don't even half dads are there dads is in the army in AFGANASTAN you should be thanksful!!!!!111"—I know all this. I'm not whining. I'm not complaining. It's not about me. Believe me, I wasn't calling my best friend to complain about my husband working the weekend when her husband was deployed. 

But regardless of the fact that it could be worse, it still sucks for those guys and their kids. It can always be worse. We're lucky people, and I know my husband and children know this. Well, Husband and Bear know this. Bug just kind of goes along with whatever right now. He's pretty chillax.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Charitable Giving

 "I do have to switch some funds. The charity I like to work with is gonna take a hit."

It's one of the first things most people seem to mention when they talk about what they'd do if they won a major lottery. Pay off debt, buy a new car...and give. I believe (because I choose to believe) that most people would love to do more volunteer work and charitable giving because most of us really do want to use our blessings or gifts or luck or whatever you want to call it to benefit the greater good.

Research charities at
We all get bombarded by organizations looking for assistance. There's a good reason for that: most of them stay afloat almost exclusively on donations and, if they qualify, grants. And most charitable organizations are doing some good work. I think it's important to be informed when giving, carefully researching to make sure your money is being well spent, but if you're not, well that's none of my business and no one has to justify their choices to me. What "well spent" means is different to everyone.

In theory, I like to choose a charitable giving budget early in the year and decide where that money will go, but it doesn't always pan out that way. As important as I think giving is, if we need new tires on our car, that is our priority.

We've recently begun living on a cash budget, a strategy I believe has been advocated by Dave Ramsey, but since I've never read his books or heard him speak, I can't say that with any certainty. I'll discuss our cash budget in more depth in another post at some point, but basically for us it means that we pay our bills and then take out a set amount of cash to keep filed away for certain expenses. I'm bringing this up because in the fall, once we've sort of gotten it down pat and worked out the bugs, I plan to add a charitable giving allotment to that budget.

At this point, our giving is a bit more spontaneous. We support friends' charities with small donations if we're in a position to do so when the fundraising is actually happening, and I'm definitely trying to work in more volunteer hours for our family, but it's so sporadic. I'd really like giving to become as normal to my children as breathing and sleeping, but I have to adopt that mindset on my own first.

As far as the organizations to which I'm motivated to give, they tend to be either things that my trusted friends are passionate about or things which directly affect my family's quality of life. By that, I mean that we're more likely to give to our local NPR affiliate than perhaps a noble-but-distant medical research organization in Oregon. Or a local literacy* or children's wellness program as opposed to a fabulous-but-well-funded hospital. Or our local library. These are things that matter deeply to us, and because of that, we're more likely to commit to supporting them.

What are your thoughts on charitable giving, and how do you decide where and how to spend your money? Do you have a regular budget or is it more sporadic?

*I had mistyped the word "literacy" on my first pass. YES.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Tiny House Family

 "I'm White Goodman, owner, operator and founder of Globo Gym America Corp. and I'm here to tell ya that you don't have to be stuck with what you've got."

Source: Tiny House Blog
I really love this story from Yahoo! Finance. This family took a financial setback and made it into an opportunity to live the life of their choosing. They built (by hand!) an itty-bitty house on three acres and saved like crazy so they could pursue the things that make them happy.

If that's not custom-building a life, then I don't know what is.

I tried to embed the video, but it didn't work. So HERE'S THE LINK. And you can read the Tiny House blog HERE.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

On Working From Home

"How would you like to take a break from that fine lead-based paint... and learn about Dodgeball?"

When I finally completed work for my bachelor's degree in May '11, I already knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to stay home with my kids and freelance as a writer. This was the perfect solution for us, assuming I could make it work, for many reasons (which are discussed below).

Fortunately I'm a girl who has a lot of really great people in her corner, and the work has been steady yet never overwhelming. I rarely work more than fifteen hours a month, but what I bring in covers my student loan payments and my tumbling fees, with some left over. I genuinely love what I do, I regularly work with fantastic people, and I get PAID for it. Does it get any better than that?

On the other end of my job, I take care of our home. I know that there is a mentality that homekeeping is not a "job" because it doesn't earn a paycheck, but I disagree. I think that it's just as valid as any office job. The point of a job, after all, is to ensure that we have a place to live, food, clothing, and other essentials. Part of my job is maintaining that home, buying, cooking, and serving that food, and buying and maintaining those clothes. I don't think homemakers should martyr themselves (I see it a lot and it's annoying), but I also don't think we should accept the attitude that what we do is somehow "less" than those who report to a boss.

The point of this post is not to get into a debate about staying home or not. I just felt that the above point was valid and I was compelled to state it. Moving on.

My job has many perks and many downsides, just like any other job. I view it the same way, too. I require neither sympathy or pats on the back, because like everyone else, I'm just doing my job. Well, okay, I do require validation from my husband, but that's different. Anyway.

Here are some of the "perks" of my job:

1.) We don't have to pay for childcare
2.) We save on commuting costs and wardrobe necessities for an office job
3.)  I get to set my own hours and be my own boss, working as much or as little as I chose to depending on the needs of our family.
4.) I don't have a "boss," which means that if my dishes don't get done for any reason (too busy, sick kids, just don't friggin' feel like it), no one rides my ass about it.
5.) I have the option of not doing things because I just don't friggin' feel like it.
6.) If there's an overwhelming day and the chores suffer, Husband can (and does!) help pick up the slack. He's not above loading a dishwasher because it's "not his job."
7.) I can snuggle a baby anytime I want.
8.) I can sit quietly and have a sweet, bright girl read to me or braid my hair.
9.) Most of the time, our days are ours to plan as we wish.
10.) For my homekeeping work, I get paid entirely in these perks. For my writing work, I get paid in money.

And here's the trade-off:

1.) There is no day off. Even when Husband is off and helping out, diapers still have to be changed, laundry still has to be washed, etc.
2.) Getting sick at the same time as the kids. Enough said.
3.) Running errands can be extremely challenging, to the point of not being worth it much of the time. Even though months of practice at getting out of the house with two kids has allowed me to streamline my system as much as possible, it's still not fun and I often prefer to stay home.
4.) The boredom. OH, the boredom. Thank heavens for Facebook and my DVR. And Bear. It's nice to have her to talk to, even if the conversation is somewhat edited from that I might have with my friends.
5.) The flipside of our days "being ours" is that sometimes it's hard to find time for the things that HAVE to be done, like writing for deadlines and whatnot. Not that I've ever missed one, but sometimes it's tight and I'm coming in under the wire because Bug has been particularly clingy and Bear is having a meltdown because I told her to brush her teeth and the phone is ringing somewhere in the house but I can't find it because the dog is barking so loudly at the UPS guy who is delivering a package that appears to be some sort of gift but has no return address on it anywhere and OMFG where is my Calgon/wine/tranquilizer gun?
6.) Cleaning. When cleaning all the things is part of your job, you have to do it at least most of the time, and that sucks because cleaning sucks.
7.) The lack of interesting conversational offerings. When someone asks me what I did with my day, I almost feel sorry for them. Dude, I changed diapers and folded towels and tried to teach my baby how to blow kisses. And while all that might be beautiful and fulfilling to me (um...), I can see your eyes glazing over from across the room. And I don't blame you.
8.) Dealing with the view that staying home and taking care of a family and home is somehow lesser and isn't really a job. I disagree, because as I said above, isn't the point of a job to help create and maintain a home?

There are more perks and more downsides, and those change and evolve as we do. But in a nutshell, that's my job and I enjoy it most of the time. I think that if you can say that, you get to call it a win.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Simplifying Our Lives/Home: Packing

"You kidding? I got a closet full of 'em. I call 'em 'keepers.'"

Now that we've had the yardsale and gotten rid of all (ahem) the cluttery stuff, Husband and I have refocused our attention on the processes of finding land and preparing the house for sale in less than a year (!).

I'm just going to come out and say it—I friggin' HATE moving. I hate packing. I hate cleaning. I hate carrying boxes and furniture. I hate cleaning some more, and carrying some more, and then unpacking. I dread the entire process, from start to finish. So in an effort to not rip my own spine from my back out of sheer frustration and annoyance next year, we're doing what we can to simplify the process.

What's packed as of 6/10/12!
We have the advantage of knowing (approximately) when we'll be moving, assuming the house doesn't sit on the market for twenty-seven months or some shit (please, God, no...). So we're able to plan accordingly. Now that we have our big totes back at our disposal (they were full of yardsale stuff), we've decided to begin packing (let's throw in another set of parentheses here because we can).

Yep. Packing.

The plan is to tackle a little bit every week, packing up anything that we don't really need in the next year. Things like our high school yearbooks, photo albums, books, dress shoes, and those boxes of random shit that we all have but for some reason cannot part with regardless of how useless it is because we just KNOW that something in it is worth money but we can't be bothered to do the research but we're totally going to get to it at some point.

I have a small box like that. Shoebox size. Clutter, yes, but I refuse to punish myself for it because it's so small.

(That's what she said.)

So this week I packed up everything in my armoire except for the stuff I will truly NEED in the next year or so. I made a list of the tote's contents on an index card and taped it to the lid so that we can easily reference it when we actually move. We're going to continue doing that until all non-essentials (and non-staging items) are packed up and ready to go. I hate last-minute, mad-dash packing more than any other part of the process, so we're trying to make this as easy on ourselves as possible. We'll begin with our bedroom, and once that's finished, we'll move on.

The nice thing is that if I find that I really do need my gold peep-toe slingbacks, I know where they are. But I probably won't, so I packed them.

I'm excited that it feels like we're really on our way now! This weekend we have an appointment set to go look at some acreage, and it feels like it's all beginning to come together. Whoo-hoo!

Friday, June 8, 2012

It's Almost Time for the Olympics, Y'all!

 "The object of the game is to eliminate the opposing players. Once all the players on a team are eliminated, the opposing team wins!"

John Cheng/USA Gymnastics
You may not know this about me, but I am a HUGE gymnastics fan. And by that, I don't mean that every four years I get excited because one time Mary Lou Retton got a gold medal and Nadia got a perfect ten. I mean, I am a FAN. Gymnastics is to me what football or basketball are to many people. I follow it very closely, year-round. I know who the players are and what they bring to the (vault) table. I know that Kerri Strug did not, in fact, win the gold medal for the Americans in Atlanta with her stOOpid ankle.

I'm a fan. Not an expert, to be sure. But a real, diehard fan.

And this means that tonight, I'll be cuddled up with at least one of my children and either a glass of wine or a cup of tea to watch night one of the women's National Championships. Not live, because I am singing the National Anthem at the Relay for Life during that time, but on replay as soon as I get home. And on the last full night of our vacation and the first evening home, I'll be doing the same for Olympic Trials, except that will be live or there will be ho-smacking.

I can't express to you the excitement of an Olympic year to a gymnastics fan. Our lives play out in quadrenniums. We watch our World Championships and our National Championships and the few other competitions that receive media coverage during that time. We take guesses and analyze odds to figure out who has the best shot at making any given team. We lament the poor decisions of the governing bodies and celebrate when the right people actually win.

But the Olympics, every leap year, are always looming. The Olympics are the Big Show, the Graduation, the Broadway stage. They're what we wait for.

And they're almost here!

Do you watch the Olympics or keep up with any Olympic sports?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

We FINALLY Had Our Yardsale—Part Two

 "Well, if you can't raise fifty-thousand dollars with an impromptu carwash, I guess it just wasn't in the cards."

At last.

On Saturday morning, we carted all the stuff out of our living room and into our yard. The ad in the community paper had run. The Craigslist post was up and had been renewed. The signs were hung.

The turn-out was...a little meh. Again. But it was better this time, and we moved enough stuff that I feel okay about it.

I was surprised at how few books sold, even though most were in excellent condition. I guess lots of people have e-readers now (myself included), but we had tons of kids' books, too.

So anyway. Sunday I took all the leftover crap to Goodwill, the books to Half Price Books, and the kids' clothes to Once Upon a Child. We set aside a few things that we think are worth trying to list on Craigslist, but the vast majority of stuff went right to the Goodwill drop-off. And I gotta tell ya'—it feels GREAT. We still have stuff sitting in our living room, but there's not much, and if it doesn't sell, we'll just donate it. There is a light at the end of this tunnel. I have my big plastic totes back, which is going to allow us to move on to the next phase of our Getting the Hell Out of Here: Decluttering Edition plan. I might talk more about that later. I don't feel like it right now. It's been a long few months.
Come on, girl. You know you want me. Let's not pretend.

So if anyone's in the market for a tv/vcr unit, board games, surround sound speakers, a sub woofer box, or a dining room table, you let me know. I might have what you're looking for.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Ronald McDonald House Experience

 "I'm here to tell you, you're perfect just the way you are. But if you feel like losing a few pounds, gettin' healthier, and making some good friends in the process...then Joe's is the place for you. Don't forget that Youth Dodgeball classes are forming right now. So come on down and learn a great game the way it's supposed to be played. Right, kids?"

As I mentioned last week, we volunteered with a group of homeschool families at Ronald McDonald House on May 29th. If you aren't familiar with RMH, take a moment to check it out at the link above. It's a fantastic organization.

I didn't tell Bear ahead of time that it was a homeschool function because I didn't want her going in with any preconceived notions. She was excited about helping people, especially sick kids, and I didn't want to jade that for her. I also thought it would be nice to let her meet and grow to like some homeschool kids without any prejudices.

And she did. She bonded quickly with another girl her age, and after they'd been playing for awhile, Bear learned that the girl is a homeschooler. She was pretty shocked. She told me later that she'd thought everyone else there had gone to "normal" (*eyeroll*) school and that she was the only one who "had to homeschool."

So on that front, it was a great experience for her. I didn't push it or do a, "See, I TOLD you!" dance. I just asked if she'd like to hang out with that little girl again sometime, and the girl's mother and I agreed to make plans.

Strawberry pink lemonade cupcake
As far as the volunteer work, I wasn't able to help as much as I would have liked because I had a certain Bug strapped to my chest, but I did cut some olives one-handed and helped where I could. It was pretty awesome watching everyone in action. Bear grabbed a pair of gloves and jumped right in, and I think it was rewarding for her. We brought a few ingredients and I made some strawberry pink lemonade cupcakes for dessert. I may have left a few at home. Possibly.

I didn't take any photos of us working because I wasn't sure about the rules on that, what with the Children's Hospital patients and lots of kids there, in general. So instead I took a picture of my pretty cupcake*.

So yeah. It was a really great experience. I think next time I'll try to get a sitter for Bug so that I can be more helpful, but I at least know what to expect now. Bear wanted to stay there so we could help again at breakfast. I love her altruistic spirit. She really does care deeply about helping other people. I could learn a thing or two from her.

Maybe she'll be homeschooling me, too.

*Get your mind out of the gutter. This is a family show. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Klean Kanteens

"Could I get a bottle of water? Hey, aren't you Peter La Fleur!?"

In our slow-yet-ongoing effort to reduce our exposure to nasty shit, we decided that we needed to invest in better water bottles. Namely, in Klean Kanteens.

Daddy, Mommy, Bug, Bear
Now you all know how I feel about forced alliteration, especially of the "K" variety (I'm looking at you, Kardashians), but I've decided that this brand is one of the likely few exceptions. The bottles are stainless steel, partially dishwasher safe (the painted bottles are not, but the caps are), and frankly, super cute. There's no krap in them which will give me The Cancer. And they make insulated varieties if you want to carry hot liquids or prevent cold ones from sweating.

Well, ours came yesterday, and I'm super excited. We got one for Bug some time ago from Park +Vine, but as much as I love to support local businesses, we got a multi-purchase discount and free shipping through the website. And I didn't have to drive/park in Cincy.

The verdict? We love them! Even though the ones we have aren't dishwasher safe, they're not hard to clean. I had sweet tea in mine the other day and I just rinsed it out with some soap and hot water a few times. Easy-peasy. The cap is fine in the dishwasher.

I'll probably eventually get an insulated bottle for my coffee, but for now I'm happy with my Earth-friendly, chemical-free water bottle. Even if it does engage in alliteration abuse.