Thursday, July 25, 2019

When Someone Just Gets You

There is nothing like getting a gift that really, truly, has meaning.

Madison just turned nine, and because of travel, we didn't do a "real" birthday thing with her. This was the FIRST time we haven't had her birthday in our house, and a friend party, and a family get together, and all those bells and whistles. We did a mini celebration the day before we left for Florida, spent the actual day on vacation, doing the beach and a fancy dinner, and are peppering in family celebrations as we can. Still haven't done anything with friends. I'm honestly not even sure if that'll happen. It was weird for me, and it was weird for her.

But not BAD. She kept saying, as she opened gifts early, as she woke up in a hotel room to a hastily purchased balloon and muffin from a local grocery store, that it was AWESOME to turn nine on vacation with her best friends, surrounded by beaches and palm trees, about to head into a week of her favorite activity, and that it was really cool.

It just didn't feel like her birthday.

As she gets older, this is going to happen. The world won't stop because of your birthday. We might be on vacation, or you might be in a week of dance intensives, or it might be a rainy summer day.

But she is blessed to have so many people that GET her.

Every time she opened a card or gift, she would squeal and say, "you know me so WELL!", because she has amazing people in her life. Even those who gave her money or gift cards enclosed a note saying WHY they chose what they did, and she actually had tears in her eyes from how many people in her life know her passions and love her.

A good gift can do that.

Take anything really. A gift card to a fancy store can feel like phoning it in, even though the value is high and the store is fancy. But a gift card to a car wash for a detailing can make a busy mom feel like she's seen. A box of fancy chocolate might get a smile and a thank you, but choosing the nostalgia candy that your spouse always gravitates toward on road trips makes them feel like you get them. A pen and journal for a writer means more than an expensive scarf. Standing in line at the brewery for an allotment of craft beer means more than a nice briefcase.

It's all about knowing who someone is. And Madison was blessed to have a very spread out birthday where everyone, from her family to her friends, gets her. They know she loves dance, and got her those practical things that dancers need. They know she has a secret passion for watching old episodes of Dance Moms (don't judge) so they got her Chloe's book. They know she becomes obsessed with certain crafts, so they get her gift cards to Michael's. And they know she gets hooked on book series, so they look to Barnes and Noble. Even her cash gifts were accompanied by notes like, "I know you love your new Instax camera, so I want you to be able to buy film". Perfect.

She's nine, and she's blessed. And that makes me so happy!

Monday, July 22, 2019

No Excuses

First off, I should say that I kind of hate part of the implication of the "no excuses" thing. Yes, extenuating circumstances exist everywhere in life. Not only that, but you don't owe anyone else any justification for anything you choose. If you say something like, "it's not a priority for me", own that, because it's a legitimate reason you aren't doing something.

But it's not an excuse.

Here's why I'm focused on this right now. Recently, I've been in yet ANOTHER slump around the house. The kind where laundry and paperwork and dust bunnies pile up, and I'm just looking at a ridiculous to do list, and then playing Candy Crush while watching TV instead of doing any of it. Then, when I have to answer to anyone (including myself) as to why we're getting take out for dinner again, I say that I've been busy. Or I'm tired. Or that life is crazy. Or that the girls are messy, or Adam's been traveling, or any number of things.

And THOSE are excuses.

I used to have excuses for everything. My car wasn't clean because of the kids, the homeschooling, the commuting, the dog (spoiler: there may not have been a dog). My house looked messy because I hate my floors and there's no point. Paperwork is piling up because I never get time to myself. And I'm not exercising because I don't have time...even though I seem to be able to play Candy Crush just fine.

So I've decided to change my thinking. I am a (mostly) healthy and fit adult with kids who are well into the school age/independent stage. Yes, they're young and learning, and yes, I have to spend a lot of time getting them where they need to be. But I'm not nursing babies or trying to keep toddlers alive.

If I CHOOSE not to do something, I need to acknowledge that I am making a choice. I am saying that mindless game play is a higher priority for me than laundry. That TV takes precedence over housework. That I am choosing to run into the grocery store daily instead of coupon clipping and meal planning. From time to time, that's OK. But I am HOPING, that if I do it enough, I won't like who I sound like, and I'll decide to make different choices, instead of going back to excuses.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Focus Your Energy

Bake the bread, buy the butter.

I'm not sure where I read that, but it's one of those things that really spoke to me. It's kind of become a thing where it's all about making your own everything. Don't buy chemicals when you can make your own...ummm...chemical reactions.

Anyway, there are situations where DIY makes sense. The bread, as it were. Cleaning solutions typically fall here for me. Granted, I'm usually using some sort of traditional base - dish soap, vinegar, etc. But I can make things I like the smell of, that actually work, and that I can make on an as needed basis. Certain cleaners can be pricey, especially car detailing stuff, so finding something I actually like, that works, and ends up cheaper is always a good thing.

But there are other situations where the hassle just isn't worth it - for plenty of reasons. The butter. CAN you make butter? Of course. And plenty of people do. But it's time and effort and the return isn't much. I think about this when I'm working on homeschooling stuff. I can plan and design and print a great curriculum, which will take hours and hours of my time, and cost plenty to print. Or I can look online and buy one.

You can't do it all. I know there are people who claim they can - build their own homeschool curriculum while growing and making all their own food and cleaners. But it's not always worth it to your mental health.

So bake the bread, buy the butter. Whatever that means to you. DIY your cleaners, but buy your curriculum. Buy Eggo waffles, but make applesauce.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Wherever We Go

We just did a LOT of traveling. A LOT. It wasn't even just one long trip, but a few back to back things that had us living out of luggage and on the go pretty consistently over the course of a few weeks.

I know it's summer now, but the flexibility of homeschooling means that we can do this whenever we want, and now the girls are really able to handle it.

But there are a few things we need to make sure we can always do on the road.

We are backseat masters when it comes to packing, keeping the girls occupied, and even dealing with trash. The girls have become responsible for their own things, and even charging their devices, which helps a HUGE amount. They can (almost) pack themselves - I help make the list and then check their work.

First, car schooling. We don't get behind, even when we're on the go. We're actually pretty good at this now. I can have the girls do their independent work AND do some actual instruction with very minimal planning. For us, the keys to this are good audiobooks or CDs, a well stocked backpack, a tablet that I may hotspot if necessary, and a lap tray. I don't get too ambitious (most of the time), but there are days when we can do our entire day's to do list before we've reached our next destination.

And just when I thought I'd mastered everything we need, dance ramped up. I shouldn't be surprised, since dance has always been a huge part of Madison's life. But now she can't get away with taking a few days off from stretching or practicing without losing ground. She needs to keep up.

So we pack a little more. She has a stretch band, a couple of yoga blocks and a mat, and a turning dot that come with us. Obviously, she can't do any of this when we're actually on the road, but she can make great use of them wherever we stop. She has a pretty good routine, but she can also watch YouTube videos if she wants a little more guidance for practicing basics.

And when we're on the road, she makes use of technology. When she was younger, her teachers would often have the parents come in and record the end of her lessons so they would practice accurately. As they've gotten older, they do that less. The girls do miss it, because on a night when you're learning parts of several dances, it can get confusing when you go to practice the next day. So her team started gathering in the changing area right after class and recording themselves doing the new sections. So although she can't dance in the car, she can watch and talk through the routines, and most of the time, this makes a huge difference. She retains it well even without physically dancing it as often as she'd like.

I might have a lot of miles on the car, but we aren't getting bogged down in anything else!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Using a Different Kind of Box

My best hacks as a mom are those that I have totally stumbled upon.

Isn't that always the way? You look at Pinterest, you read articles, and that stuff fails more often than it succeeds. Then you throw something together as a last resort, and somehow, it's exactly what you needed.

Let's start with the dance organization. Competition dance can make a type A mom CRAZY and anyone further down the alphabet ready to sob into her hairspray. You need to have so many precise things for EVERY dance - the right costume, earrings, hairstyle, hair accessory, tights shoes, costume accessories, prop, maybe even more. When the girls only did a few dances, this was no big deal. But now that I have ten dances for every competition, it's about eighty things to have in the FOREFRONT of my mind. Not to mention the makeup routine and all the makeup required, tools for hairstyles (and don't forget extension cords!), spare tights (in multiple sizes and colors), clothes for awards, and an emergency kit that can solve everything from a blister to a loose tap to a lipstick stain, and it's completely overwhelming. Plus, you know, remembering which dance is when (9:19? 11:43?) and how long you have in between them.

So I've figured out EXACTLY how to pack and organize the bag and I am RIDICULOUS about keeping my system in place. The lists I found online are exhaustive but overwhelming and would not help me at all, and all the packing solutions I found had you basically putting everything in one huge container, which was a recipe for losing things, so I've found my way to small, themed packing in containers that I found at Michael's, totally by accident. I was killing time while the girls took a class, found myself in a craft organization area, and discovered it was the organizational dream.  For example - we currently have eight different colors of earrings, so I have them in a beading box. Hair accessories? Each girl has a different color photo organizer. I printed out color coded label listing every specific part to each costume, mounted them on scrapbooking paper, and attached one to each garment bag. So a green costume has a green label and lists all the essentials. I have a small container that I keep in my purse with hairspray, pins, lipstick and a few baby wipes, that I attached a luggage tag to, and I slip a business card sized schedule in every competition. I don't know anyone who makes Michael's their "go to" dance store...but I swear by it.

I could absolutely do an entire series about dance organization. Maybe someday I will. But shockingly, we do leave the studio from time to time, and I've found other areas in my life have unconventional storage solutions too.

When I got crazy over the trash the girls can produce in the backseat, and determined that no car trash can in the WORLD was fitting our needs, and the suggestions of a plastic cereal container or sand bucket was creating more mess, I accidentally figured out that lidded Rubbermaid container would solve ALL our issues. It didn't tip over, the lid was easy to get on and off, both girls can reach it, and a plastic bag fits well.

Pool toys? Hanging make up organizer.

Schoolwork? Giant scrapbooking page protectors.

When it comes to Pinterest, I'm glad to see that so many people have found solutions that work for them, and even when they don't work for ME, they do get me thinking out of the box. Because out of the box is where the solutions live - EVERY time.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Containing the Packrats

My kids are HUGE collectors. If they get one character, they need them all. It doesn’t even have to be things we buy. They create things to collect. If one clay figure is good, five are better. They make cards and signs and other lovely creative things. And I do love that they use what we get for them. No one can accuse my kids of not playing with their toys, or not knowing how to be creative. They might like their devices, but they aren’t obsessed.

Of course, that brings issues too.

Sometimes you have to get creative when you have little packrats. I wouldn’t say the girls are hoarders, but I also know that purging is nearly impossible, and I find totally bizarre collections  - little notes that turn out to be from the dolls, rocks from a parking lot. I know my girls aren’t unique here, so these are my solutions.

1) Everything has to have a home.
We are an organizer’s dream when it comes to containers. My rule is that “on top of my dresser” or “on this shelf” isn’t enough - we need a real home or it isn’t allowed in the house. That way, when I have them clean up, they know where to put things. If you truly can’t give it a home, it probably doesn’t need to be here. This means that backpacks, purses, the backseat of the car, also aren’t “storage spaces” unless they’re organized too.

2) Weekly inspections.
My kids aren’t really required to clean up every night. Our schedule would never allow it, and I know as an adult that it’s possible (probable! ) to get behind. But once a week, with plenty of warning, I go through and make sure that our organizational system is being kept up.

3) Mess goes to the middle.
Most kids who are packrats tend to have very messy “edges” of their spaces. They feel like they’ve cleaned if they have space in the middle, but often this isn’t the case. When my kids start to clean, they’re required to go around the edges and push EVERYTHING into the middle, then put away from there. It might seem counter productive, but it’s actually a huge help.

4) Keep them aware.
Twice a year we do a big purge, but during our weekly cleaning and inspection, especially if they’re having trouble, I point out that elimination makes the job easier. I don’t try to overwhelm them and do it all at once. But while we’re squeezing books on the shelf, I’ll suggest choosing ten that we don’t need anymore. If the stuffed animals no longer fit, it may be time to give a few to someone else.

I know my kids aren’t special in this regard. They may never be minimalists, but we can keep the pack rat tendencies contained!
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