Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Stuff I Love: The Beautiful Life Management Planner

I'm one of those people that likes to research a product really well before I buy it. I also find that I can be a bit of a spontaneous shopper, as well, but when making a major purchase, I like to get the goods on it first. I rely greatly on reviews, Consumer Reports magazine, and the web site Consumersearch. If we're in the market for a specialty products (such as Josh's hiking items or homeschool curricula) we go to sites that are more specialized.

One of my greatest pet peeves is review of a product that goes something like this:

OMG! I like totally love this! It looks really cute and my boyfriend likes it. We haven't tried it yet, but I totally give it 5 stars!

Or something like this:

I thought this would be bigger. I know the package says the size, but most items like this are bigger. I guess it works okay, but I'm only giving it one star.

Or this:

I didn't like this book. One star.

My main complaint are reviews that are made far too soon, like before a product has even been used, or a week into using it. I want to hear from the people who have used something for a long time and found it to be a success or failure. And I want to know precisely what makes it a success or failure in their estimation.

So, with this review of the Beautiful Life Management Planner, I stand to be one of my own pet peeves. Honestly, I've only had it for a few weeks, and I've only used for a little more than one week. But I am so excited about it, and many people have asked me about it, so I want to share the deets on what it is and why I love it.

I need to go back a bit in time. At last year's homeschool convention, my sister-in-law and I were looking at a popular planner marketed to homeschool moms and, while we like it, it still didn't seem to be versatile enough to warrant the price tag. Because not only do we need a teacher's planner, but a household management planner, an appointment book, a record of goals and accomplishments, shopping lists, menu sheets, and a long-term, year-at-a-glance- type perspective. I walked away with my usual inexpensive Rod and Staff school planner and continued using a cheap spiral notebook to keep track of all the other things.

The spiral notebook worked to an extent, but it was full of random lists, phone numbers, and such that got junky and confusing really quickly. Shortly after we moved into our new house, as I unpacked a box of books, I came across a thriftbooks purchase, Open Heart, Open Home by Karen Mains. I thought it was a perfectly suitable book to read at the start of our new adventure, in a new house and town. Our heart has always been hospitality, and this book really renewed and reinvented that vision as I read it. One particular chapter greatly stressed time management. While I consider myself fairly disciplined with my time, I was convicted that I do a lot of time wasting. And that isn't conducive to answering any call of God.

As it relates to opening our home, nothing makes inviting people over more stressful than racing around the whole day before they come, cleaning the house. And then racing around again Sunday morning before church to get the meal ready or worrying about what to make in the first place. It doesn't take much for me to call off the notion of inviting people over- unmopped floors included.

I had barely begun considering how I could manage the house better when I saw an ad in a homeschool magazine that offered a free article called "Planning to Be a Blessing". Something about that title really caught my eyes and I think hits the nail on the head- planning my days, weeks, years better can result in being more of a blessing to my family and others. The ad was for a company called Grace Works and mentioned that they sold a variety of planners. I didn't waste much time checking out their website.

What I saw, I loved, and knew right away that this was what I had been looking for! Grace Works offers a variety of planning pages to help the natural-born organizer or the organizationally challenged! I would say I fall closer to the former type. I love making lists, checking them off, and get a sense of accomplishment from this (hey, it's the little things in life!). However, I don't necessarily have a lot of practical know-how on how to organize a full life of homeschooling, keeping the house, ministry, bills, appointments, etc. And I am not a natural-born cleaner (I didn't inherit that gift from my mom!)

There are two main planning systems that Grace Works offers. The Simplicity system and the Beautiful Life Management System. The Simplicity system has a basic set of planning pages that include a place to jot down things to do, errands to run, upcoming birthdays etc. It can be supplemented with a variety of practical and wonderful sheets including an itemized grocery list, menu sheets, prayer log, devotions log, exercise and nutrition sheets, and even one designed to write down memories, like the cute things your children say that you don't want to forget.

I purchased the Beautiful Life Management system starter set. This system offers much more detailed instructions regarding home management- specifically, it assigns cleaning tasks to each day of the week and a number of minutes to spend on them. This was the primary selling point for me. I have long known I need some kind of system of household chore maintenance. I tried Fly Lady but she just wasn't my thing. I am more of a pen and paper girl than a virtual girl, so logging on to Fly Lady was half the problem.

The thing I love about this system, however, is that it goes far beyond telling you what chores to do each day. It has several divided sections, the first being your BLM sheets, one for each day. Not only are the household tasks listed, but there is also a place to chart your water and vitamin consumption, exercise, your schedule or food log, your list of things to do, reminders to prepare for dinner, and a place to write down a special memory at the end of the day. I honestly can't think of anything that is missing from the sheets or that there isn't room to add if you need to.

There is also a divider of "Keeping in Mind" pages to jot down errands you need to run, a quick shopping list, letters or cards to write, and short and long term projects. The divider for this section has on one side a place to write down 10 quick and easy meals in case you get in a bind and need a supper idea pronto! The other side has lists of additional things you need to do to keep your home maintained (for me, it's things like matching socks, vacuuming around the wood stove, and giving the kitties their flea treatment each month). Another divider is for your personal devotions, a sheet called Morning Latte. It's a great tool for accountability to be spending time with the Lord each day. Another divider includes a year at a glance fold out calendar and then 12 months worth of individual calendars. Another divided section is for frequently called phone numbers and addresses. The final divider has sheets called Mountains of Success, a place to chart goals you have set for yourself. The starter set also comes with a 4 CD workshop by the system's creator. This is such a blessing, inspiration, and a great tutorial on how to use the system and not be enslaved to it. The kit comes with a pack of tea, too, to encourage you to sit and relax and get to know your planner.

As I said, I am a pen and paper girl. I don't have a mobile phone that sends me a reminder on Mondays to clean out my refrigerator. The Beautiful Life Management system fits into a 5.5 by 8.5 heavy duty spiral binder that I can put in my purse and take with me everywhere. (Today it's going to Caleb's ortho appointment with me, the paperwork all filled out and tucked inside, along with directions on how to get there).

I bought a few additional sheets to supplement my system, because I'm such a list keeper. The menu planning sheets and itemized shopping lists are invaluable to me!

There were fleeting thoughts as I looked at the available pages online that I could come up with something like this myself. I'm so glad that thought came and went quickly and that I invested the $40 to get this planner! The guess work has been done for me and I find that this feels much more official than if I had created something myself.

Let me share how it has already made my life easier.

On Saturday, we had company coming for dinner, a young couple we've met at church. I'd only been using the system and planner for one week, but on Saturday, I found that the only thing I really had to do was dinner prep! All week I had been faithful to do the recommended chores each day and I found that my house was clean and presentable (not spotless, not without strewn toys, etc) and that I wasn't ashamed to have anyone step into it. I got to enjoy my Saturday! Even with company coming.

The second Monday of using the system rolled around and I found that my pantry was still mostly orderly and my refrigerator clean. I didn't even need to spend the assigned number of minutes on each of those tasks, so I ended up cleaning my oven (whoa!) and straightening the cupboard we use the most, the one that holds coffee, tea, sugar, flour, bread, and our vitamins. I can see how, if I remain faithful in following this, it will get easier and easier because I'm doing preventive maintenance!

I read a verse yesterday in 1 John 5:3 telling us that if we love God, we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. It's wonderfully freeing to not live under rules, but to live under grace and to obey God out of pure love. I was reminded that my commandments to my children should not be burdensome, either, but that our relationship should be based more on love. Then obedience to the commands we do give will not be a burden, but they will hopefully want to respond out of their love for Josh and I.

I mention this verse because for some, using a system like this sounds like it would be completely burdensome, following rules each day. For some it would be like pulling their fingernails out! I get that. Again, I tend to want to be organized, to follow a list. However, who really, in their natural self, wants to live within parameters? So often we try to for a time, then get tired of it, or frustrated, and give up. I'm trying to keep in mind that this system is not designed to be burdensome, but, as they say in the included workshop CDS, it's designed to be my servant and to work for me, not the other way around. Even though I like that feeling of control that I get from following the rules, the freedom I gain from this should play out in love...

Being able to spend more time loving my husband and kids, playing with them, listening to them, because I'm not worried about mopping the floors. I do that on Friday. It assures me that I will get to the tasks, but all I need to focus on is what is planned for today.

I'm not freaking out and grouchy because we have people coming for dinner and everything is a mess! Or I can't find the paperwork I need for the ortho appointment. I tucked it in my planner on depapering day. Less stress = more love!

I feel more relaxed about having people over. Again, our home is lived in, but the bathrooms aren't gross and I'm not exhausted by the time they arrive.

My husband can walk through the front door and sigh in contentment (as he did last night) that the entry is finally empty of boxes of books.

I sigh in contentment because I deliberately planned for healthy meals ahead of time, bought the right ingredients, and watch my kids eat good stuff instead of what I could quickly throw together for lunch.

For me, these "commands" (which are only suggestions) in the BLM system are not burdensome, they are refreshing and helping to purposely live out the call God has put on my life.

I hope you'll check out the Grace Works site and see what they have to offer, especially if you're looking for a way to better plan your days and months. I have been so blessed by this product (and no , I don't receive any perks for writing this blog! I just like to pass on a great thing and give praise where it is due!). I think the name of their company speaks volumes... God's grace works, rules don't. These planners are designed to help you be a blessing to the people you love and to answer God's call on your life, not to enslave you to a set of rules. With Christmas and the New Year coming, this could be the very thing you'd like to put on your wish list or buy for yourself to get a great start on a new year!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Musical Memory Lane

The people who know me best know I am a huge fan of music- and more than that, I'm full of ridiculously useless information that pertains to pop music. I know the artist, the song, probably even the year the song was released, and the movie it was in too. Sometimes I'm appalled that others don't know these things. My favorite era for music was definitely the 80s. Just today I heard True by Spandeau Ballet and it took me back to Sixteen Candles and Jake Ryan and his red Porsche.

I recently heard, and wasn't surprised, that CDs will be obsolete soon. Because downloading an MP3 is so convenient, and cheaper than buying a whole CD, it's no wonder. I'm a bit embarrassed to say I only got an MP3 player a year ago- and it's not even an i-pod. As I told the Starbucks barista every time he offered me a free itunes download, I'm just not that cool. But now that I've got a generic MP3 player, I can't believe I lived without it. Just like when I got my first CD player. How did we manage fast forwarding and rewinding our cassette tapes all those years? How much time did we waste trying to find a certain song?

We've still got a few cassette tapes kicking around. What I'd give for a Memorex of mixed songs I recorded off the radio! As I continue to unpack odd boxes, perhaps I'll come across one. Our box of CDs was sitting upstairs, waiting for a new home until earlier this week. As I glanced through the various titles, I realized I barely, if ever, listened to most of them. Typically I'm listening to my i-pod(ish) thing. So the box of CDs became another thing to weed out and purge.

As I perused the titles, there were a few I just couldn't part with. Some of these CDs I've had for years, like more than 12, going back to when I first became a true Christian. These little round discs are like a landmark in my life. The songs bring back incredible memories of God's faithfulness to a 19 -year-old girl that had finally found Him. Some of those songs were the encouragement and strength I needed to keep me trudging upstream when I so easily could have headed back downstream. I hear them today, and I cry or smile, caught up in one of those moments back then.

I put on Margaret Becker's greatest hits album from 1991, Steps of Faith. I owned a cassette copy of it around the time it was released. I was only 14 or so, but oh how here words resonated in my soul. I wanted a passion for holiness, I wanted to dance in the streets of innocence, I wanted to know who I was, that a Holy God would call me by name. It all seemed so far out of reach and I gave up trying to grasp it. Years later, when I bought a CD copy, the same words refreshed my soul. The war inside of me was over and I marvelled at how the Lover of my soul had wooed me even years ago with these words.

A few other CDs from that "era" in my life that I couldn't part with are 40 Acres by Caedmon's Call, which plays in the back ground now. Nicole Nordeman's poetic debut Wide Eyed, Sixpence None The Richer's Collage, and Watermark's self-titled album (along with every other one they've produced) remain in my collection. They are full of memories I couldn't possibly throw away.

I continue to be a big music fan, mostly of the old stuff. When I go bowling with the girls, we own the high-tech digital jukebox and drive the young crowd crazy with our selections. Journey, Bon Jovi, Blondie, Def Leopard. It's full of fun.

In this "era" of my life I'm most likely listening to Christmas music, the Rat Pack and other crooners, and anything that might motivate me to run on the treadmill. Music sets the tone to my life.

And the soundtrack is always changing.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Stuff I Love!- Maybelline Instant Age Rewind Dark Circles Eraser

I consider myself fairly low maintenance when it comes to my appearance. Yes, I do seem to be getting to the hair salon quarterly rather than biannually as of late, but you'll still find my hair in a pony tail nearly every day. I color it at home, too.

As for make-up, I'm pretty much a foundation and lipstick kind of girl. You'll probably never see me without lipstick. But mascara, eye shadow, blush... it's just not my thing.

I've never been a fan of concealer. Typically we're told to purchase concealer a shade lighter than our skin tone. It applies like spackle and looks cakey and dry, or else it rubs off in the process of blending it.

All women have a feature they are trying to accentuate... and probably a dozen they are trying to hide. Since having Petite, I seem to be plagued by dark circles under my eyes. I figure it's hormonal. I've had very little success in covering them up, either with foundation or concealer. Once in a while, I sense the rut I am getting in with either my hair or make-up and head to Rite Aid for some kind of pick-me-up. Last week was such a time. As I perused the make-up aisles, I saw the display for Maybelline NY's Instant Age Rewind product line. The Dark Circle Eraser specifically caught my raccoon-like eyes. After minimal consideration, I figured I'd pay the $7.99 and give it a shot.

And I am so glad I did! I got the Neutralizer shade which I later read on the package was for more difficult dark eye circles. Score for me! After unwrapping the tube, you twist the tip until product reaches the round-tip sponge applicator. This in itself is novel, as most concealers look like a tube of Halloween white lipstick or have a skinny wand. The concealer goes on smooth as satin and blends beautifully, without wiping away. It doesn't look or feel cakey and doesn't make my undereyes so pale that I look like a clown! As soon as I applied it, I fell in love with the product. I also used it on a few- ahem- pimples on my chin. Aren't the 30s crazy for skin changes???? I applied foundation (a new one I had picked up the same day) over the concealer and was so, so pleased with the results. It looked so natural and my undereye circles were hidden.

But another true test is how well the concealer holds up. I'm happy to report that it stayed put til I washed it off at the end of the day. I looked just as bright-eyed as when I first applied it!

I don't know all the science behind this product, but typically these "age rewinding" cosmetics offer light-reflecting properties. Whatever the science, I have used it for a week and feel confident telling you that I love this stuff! Now you may never see me without lipstick or with dark circles!

*I'd love to know if there are any "beauty" products you swear by! What stuff do you love for your skin???? Tell me, tell me!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Stopping to Smell the Apples

Yesterday I took my girls to Rowe's House of Apples for u-pick. This is the place we would stop when I was younger, on our way back to Connecticut, for fresh Maine apples and old fashioned homemade doughnuts. It's a place full of nostalgia for me.

We were sad to see the big sign that said "U-Pick is All Picked Out" as we drove in the parking lot. I took the girls in the store and was immediately greeted with the familiar smell of cinnamon, apples, and fresh fried doughnuts. We got a dozen doughnuts and I perused the varieties of apples available. Macouns, Liberty's, Honeycrisp, McIntosh, Cortland, and several other varieties I wasn't as familiar with. While I eyeballed the bags of giant Honeycrisps pretty hard, Isabelle chose a bag of Cortlands. Cortlands it was.

It was a bright sunny day at home and my kitchen warmed right up and soon all I could smell was something like Rowe's House of Apples. I leaned over the bag of Cortlands and gave them a sniff. Oh, goodness, I sighed. I leaned in and drunk in the smell. It was that wonderful scent I had always equated with that place of nostalgia, but it was in my home, in a bag of delicious apples.

Each variety of apples have their own distinct smell. I suppose the popularized McIntosh is what I am most familiar with, due to all the candles and the fact that I grew up in a McIntosh apple loving home. Yesterday I kept finding myself leaning in to smell the Cortlands. This morning when I went downstairs to make the coffee, their scent greeted me first thing. No doubt my nose will be in them all day again. I may forbid everyone from eating them just so I can keep enjoying their delicious scent.

It's a very busy season around here, one that is full of unpacking and trying to find a home for everything. Many trips to Home Depot and Target have been made. Shuffling the mess from one room to another is commonplace. In the midst of all this settling in, the kids are needing us. And wanting things that seem so absolutely ridiculous right now. Things like learning how to play Monopoly or cribbage, painting fingernails, making cards out of all the craft supplies, and creating a canopy bed. Like we have time for that!

It sounds silly, but those apples taught me a little lesson today. They are a sweet, simple pleasure I am enjoying in this literal and figurative season I am in. And how important to enjoy it! Today my son asked me if I wanted to make a turtle with him out of these cool green foamy things he got for Christmas a few years ago. He had been asking me to do various things with him all afternoon and finally it occurred to me that this was a time to stop everything else... the unpacking, organizing, and cleaning... and savor a sweet moment with him.

It was better than the smell of the Cortlands. I just had to stop and drink it in.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The In-Betweens

The change of season, though not official, seemed to sweep in rather abruptly this year. From hot sweltering air to cool and decidedly crisp breezes. I confess I'm loving it. I know many are feeling ripped off by the rather short summer season we had, but this early fall seems rather appropriate to me. Each morning I wake up, the sun is a little more hidden. It's hard to tell if it will be hot or if it will be cold. I inevitably dress in the wrong clothes and end up pulling on a hoody or ripping it off. It's the in betweens around here. Definitely not summer but not fully fall.

I can so relate to the in-betweens right now. Hasn't this been where I've been for the past six months? That just makes me cringe. Half a year of this. One foot in our home of eight years, another foot dangling somewhere close to our new home, but not quite grounded yet. Hanging.

For 77 days I'd wake up every day and wonder- is this the day? Will someone come look at our house and want to buy it? Will we be moving soon? It was a very short sale time considering the market we are in, yet the dangling continued with the wait for closing. Hurricane Irene threatened to be my worst nightmare. My friends all laughed at me, but I spent some serious time praying that a tree wouldn't fall on my house and jeopardize its sale(I take credit for the downgrade of the storm's rating- LOL). The relocation company we have been working with created more red tape and headaches than it did actual help. The person we are buying our new home from doesn't seem altogether trustworthy. One day before closing, no one can find our appraisal. Until both feet are planted somewhere, and all deals are final, I remain in-between.

I'm not worried about any of this. I've had my share of frustration. But deep inside I've had an overwhelming sense of peace. It's been my compass through these past six months. As difficult as waiting is, as hard as it is to say goodbye (though I don't say goodbye- I avoid it like the plague), as wide open as the next six months seem, peace is guarding my heart.

Our home has been sold and in the meantime we have been staying with my parents. It's a great novelty to the kids though I think we are all getting anxious to set both feet in our new house. Last week we went out with our best friends to celebrate the sale of our house and a birthday among us. Sara and I hopped into the smelly lotions store and I bought some smelly house stuff. The cashier asked for my home phone number. It occurred to me- I didn't have a home phone number anymore. I didn't have a home. I'm in-between homes.

I'm learning more and more how much I love having a home. Though it's certainly not all about the place, for a homebody like me it is a big part of it. I've never been nomadic. I love settling down. I love having a daily routine, my own bedroom to run to for a moment of quiet and a place to decompress. As frustrating as crayon on the floor can be, if we are home, at least the kids aren't coloring on my mother's floor! And I really miss preparing dinner for my family every night and maybe even the dishes it creates. I miss that safe place where I can shut the world out. I'm tired of living out of a suitcase and rotating the same four tee shirts through my wardrobe! When I packed our bags for this in-between time, it was still warm and summer-like. Consequently, we are all missing jackets, I have no socks, only two pair of jeans, no sweaters, no long sleeves.

Emotionally, I'm in-between sadness and sheer excitement for the future! It's difficult to leave behind eight years of friends and my parents and our church and our town. I hate seeing my kids say goodbye to their friends and none of them really understand it. I do and I'm the one who starts to cry. When I think of the things that really can't be the same, I grieve. But when I think of all the blessings that are ahead of us, I am elated. When I think of Josh coming home to us every night, I get that sense that all will be right with the world again. After all, he and the kids are my home.

Sara pointed out to me that the day the movers come to bring our belongings to our new house, it's the first day of fall. A new season. How fitting. How perfectly fitting.

"To everything there is a season; A time for every purpose under heaven." Ecclesiastes 3:1

The in-betweens will be officially over.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I'll Keep Asking

Each night when I put the kids to bed, I pray for the family that will buy our house. I pray that they'll take good care of it and have lots of love in it... and that they will come quickly! Brown-Eyed Girl asked me, in an overly tired and grumpy sort of way, "Why do you pray about someone buying our house every night?"

"God tells us to pray without stopping. And to ask and keep asking. And to seek and keep seeking. And to knock and keep knocking," was my reply.

Prayer doesn't have to be any more complicated than that. Lord, this is what we ask for. We seek your face for the answers. We'll keep knocking til we get them. It's that last part that I struggle with.

The command to ask and keep asking, seek and keep seeking, knock and keep knocking implies that we are not going to get what we ask for right away. It tells us that God is not a genie in a bottle that we rub. We don't make a wish and- POOF!- there it is.

Do I like that? Of course I don't. I have a finite mind that thinks it knows what is best for me. I can't see the future and all that God has in store for me. I just see today and what I need and want today. I tend to ask once or twice for something, then grow weary of the seeking and knocking. Cause if God was going to give it to me, and he's able to give it to me, why wouldn't he? So what's the point of continuing to ask? If he was going to answer my prayer, he would have by now, right?

Those are real thoughts I think sometimes. I'm a human, not a giant- especially in the area of faith. I walk one day at a time sifting through what I think and what I know to be true. The only truth I know is God's Word. But much of it must be taken on faith.

As I struggle with the continuous knocking, the Lord sends little reminders of truth my way, typically in the form of my children. Last night we had a bit of a lightening and thunder storm. One of my kiddos was very anxious about it and asked me to pray that it would stop. So I did. But the storm didn't stop.

"I think you prayed the wrong thing!" he exclaimed when another clap of thunder came quickly on the heels of my "Amen."

"I prayed that it would stop, buddy, but sometimes our prayers don't get answered right away. But the storm will stop."

I paused mentally and took note of my own words. I know the truth and I have no problem sharing it with my children, but I often struggle to speak the truth to myself. Is my storm any different than my child's storm? It, too, has an appointed end.

Until then, I hope to continue in prayer and live these words of truth:

"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

Luke 11:10-13

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


We're in somewhat uncharted territory, Josh and I. We're selling our home. I pretty much don't count the first time we sold a house. That was a house we only lived in for a few months, in the very early days of our marriage. It's a lot different this time.

I love this house. It's the only home my children have ever known. Mister was six weeks old when we bought it. He was a bit colicky in the evenings as a wee one, but the day we moved in to this house, he stopped crying. When we walked him through for the first time, he looked around so intently. He's always been a very intuitive child. He knew it was home.

I love how safe I feel in this house. It doesn't rattle in the wind. It doesn't let in the draft. My neighbors are kind and trustworthy. When I close the doors, I sigh with contentment. I'm home.

I love the memories in this house. A church began in our living room. A German exchange student met Jesus as her Savior in my kitchen. We've had birthday parties, Christmas parties, and countless guests in this house. Fifteen guys showed up of their own accord to put on a roof on this house for us. I've brought two babies home from the hospital to this house.

I love that I know this house. I know how much it costs to heat it. I know that in order to shut the pantry door I have to twist and pull up on the knob to get it to latch. I know how to get to the bathroom in the dark without running into walls. I know how it smells.

I love what I still don't know about this house. I still use the wrong light switch to turn on the hall light. I turn on the stairway light instead. I do the same thing in the garage breezeway.

Eight years isn't really a long time to live in one place. Josh grew up in the same house until he went to college. His parents still live there. I was from a more nomadic military family, but once my dad became a "civilian" and settled down, I spread my roots and bloomed. I've grown a lot of roots in the past eight years and figured I'd grow a lot more here. I chuckle a little and think that I'm glad one of the terms for moving is "being uprooted" and not "chopped down". It's a reminder that the only thing I'm really losing is the soil I'm in. The transplant may be a shock at first, but I will get used to it. And I will blossom again.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Act Your Age (or) The Golden Girls Go to the Mall

There’s nothing like going to the mall to make you feel old. Particularly if you are, well, getting old. Especially if you are still a teenager, trapped in the body of a thirty-something.

Let me explain.

Sara and I went shopping yesterday in hopes of hitting some President’s Day sales. We wanted to go to the stores we rarely go to with kids in tow. TJ Maxx was our first stop. Borders and the mall were also on the radar.

While driving down to the big city for our shopping excursion, we actually discussed how we are perpetual teenagers deep inside. We still secretly care too much about what people think, want to look young and stylish, want to fit in, and just want to have a good time with our girlfriends. We get pretty silly when we’re with them.

Every shopping quest seems to come down to one particular thing for me: the hunt for the perfect pair of jeans. Even though I didn’t leave the house with this in mind, it quickly became my goal. I tried on a pair of Seven jeans at TJ Maxx that were a bit destructed, something I have been wanting and something Sara is “ethically opposed to”. She won’t pay for ripped jeans (Sara, you’re sounding like a mom!). The jeans were too big and too long, but it was okay cause I didn’t like the signature 7’s on the pockets (Sara did). I got that taste for finding the perfect pair of jeans and couldn’t let it go.

Here’s the thing: I knew where to find them. I had tried on the perfect pair of jeans back in September. As I recall, my shopping day went very similar to this most recent one. I went to TJ Maxx. I bought a pair of jeans that were okay. I liked them well enough, but they were kind of … matronly. Like I said, the quest is for the perfect pair of jeans. I got that taste and decided to do something I had never done, go somewhere I had never gone….

I went into … gasp…. I can’t even say it. I can’t even tell you which store I went in. I’m so ashamed. I said I’d never go in there, and I did….

The sales girl was so cute. I could barely look her in the eye when she asked if I needed any help. “I’m looking for a pair of destructed jeans. NOT skinny jeans!” I laughed nervously.

She laughed like a giggly fifteen-year-old. “I totally know what you mean!” And she graciously showed me the flare and boot leg pants.

They didn’t fit. Thankfully. I can’t admit to you how much they cost. But I can tell you that if they had been the perfect pair of jeans, I would have paid for them.

I moved on to the next store, with little hope of finding what I wanted. But amazingly, I did! When these jeans came on, I knew they were it. The ones. Perfect. Comfortable. Flattering. Very flattering. Destructed. Hip.

But, they seemed a little big (I was worried the stretch in them would stretch too much) so I had the store order the next size down for me. When they came a week later, it was like I had gained 10 pounds and they looked ridiculously tight. I sadly returned them to the store and didn’t bother to order the next size up, the ones I had tried on in the store. But for the past five months I’ve been thinking of those jeans. They looked great. No weird pockets. No gap in the back. They made my legs look longer. They were fabulous.

So yesterday I decided I wanted them. No more dreaming about them. We had to go to the mall to get them. We had planned to go there anyway, but to the smelly lotions store. Veering off course into one of the preppy teenage clothing meccas wasn’t part of the plan. My goal was to get in there and get out before someone assumed I was buying the jeans for my teenage daughter.

I was thrilled that they had the jeans in my size and even tried them on to show Sara, just to make sure I still thought they were perfect. She agreed they were fabulous. And they were on sale for a deep discount - $5 off. What’s with these preppy clothing meccas? Don’t they know moms want things for like 80% off? Oh right, moms don’t shop here. Not for themselves anyway.

I was on a shopping high once I had my little brown bag with my jeans folded inside. I had the perfect pair of jeans! Woo-hoo! Life is good! I feel like I’m seventeen! I can’t wait to wear my new jeans!

But then it happens.

Sara needs a Dairy Queen fix. The mall is close to closing down so there’s no one in the food court. This adorable girl is working the counter at DQ. She’s skinny, turbo-tanned, a frequent user of Crest Whitestrips, and looks fabulous in a yellow Dairy Queen/Orange Julius T-shirt. If I wasn’t nice, I’d hate her. I never looked good in any kind of t-shirt. And her jeans? The same ones I just bought, only 19 sizes smaller.

You think I’m kidding.

Sara makes friends with everyone. In fact, before we left town for the day, I had to stop and get gas. Sara goes in the store to get coffee and takes forever. Why? The girl at the counter loved her earrings. So they end up talking at length about jewelry. I think they even exchanged numbers. Sara plans to go back daily to visit her new friend and show off other cute earrings shw owns.

This little Dairy Queen is not to be exempt from Sara’s life purpose :“Can you and I be friends?“ Sara starts telling her about how her very first job was working a DQ. “Do you still have those 50 pound buckets of ice milk you pour in the machine? Oh those things were so heavy! My hands would hurt at the end of the day from making Blizzards. The machine vibrates soooo much.” The girl stared at her with a bit of a blank expression, but laughed politely.

“Oh, back then.” She smiled.

Okay, stop. Did you hear that? Cause Sara and I heard that. And at the exact same moment, I’m guffawing at Sara and she’s guffawing at the Dairy Queen.

“Back then?” I snort.

Sara takes her Blizzard from the girl’s hand and says “Yeah, thanks a lot! Have a nice night!”

She was not friends with that girl anymore. I don’t think she even got a chance to turn that Blizzard upside down and show us it wouldn’t fall out of the cup. We were out of there.

We laughed the whole way out of the mall. And we laughed some more on the way to our next stop, the mecca of bargains for middle-aged women. On our way, we made a checklist of all the benefits of our age. Things like bling on the fingers, professional foil jobs versus a $5 box of Clairol, driving your own Honda, not Daddy’s, and having one hot husband to spend your life with. (We’re really not that superficial).

We laughed so hard. Inside, we’re still teenagers. Even though we pretended to be offended by the girl’s innocent comment, we weren’t.

But to shake off any bad feelings, we acted our age. Our age inside, that is. We tried on goofy hats and posed with hideous purses. We sent silly photos and text messages to the boys we love. We played car karaoke on the ride home. Being a 30-something isn’t all that different from “back then”, when we were young little Dairy Queens ourselves.

So the moral of the story is this: Grow old gracefully. And make sure you have someone to laugh about it with.

Really? That’s the moral?


And find yourself the perfect pair of jeans. (Hint: They’re probably at the mall.)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Hazards of Home Education

I'll be among the first to tell you that homeschooling is not for everyone if the argument comes up for debate. In some circles, with some people, when I admit that my children don't go to public school, I get a defensive reaction kind of like "Oh, so you think EVERYONE should homeschool?" Gee, I hope I don't come off that way.

So, for the record, let me reiterate: homeschooling is not for everyone.

I've been making a mental list of what I've deemed "The Hazards of Home Education". I find myself in the most difficult homeschooling year ever, mostly due to having a busy toddler in the house. It's absolutely wonderful, but absolutely crazy at the same time. Most of the precious things in my life are like this- my relationship with God, my husband, my kids, my friends, my family- you get the picture. Wonderful, but crazy.

For home education to accomplish what you desire it to(and for each family that is different) it takes blood, sweat, and tears. It's not for the faint of heart. You give up your career, the paycheck, your "free" time, and the perks of sending your kiddos away for 7 hours a day (admit it homeschool moms- it has its perks!). My desire is not to paint myself as a "homeschooling martyr". Honestly, I gave up my career long before my kiddos came along. I could care less about supplementing the family income, and I really love what I do. But it ain't always easy...

Here are my workplace hazards, the Hazards of Home Education (at the Mathews house anyway)

1. My house is never, ever neat and tidy the way I would like it to be. I greatly dislike stuff being everywhere. I remember with fondness the early days of our marriage and the first two years of Mister's life when things were so organized and neat and somewhat sparse. Now I live in the land of Littlest Pet Shops and Legos everywhere I turn. I step on them, I pull them out of my baby's mouth, I find them in the cupboards, on the piano, in the sink. Which leads me to my next point...

2. Toys are not conducive to getting school done. We generally school at the dining room table, which is inevitably littered with the above mentioned toys plus oodles of others. Picture books too. All a major distraction when I'm trying to teach my children. I can remove them before school begins, but inevitably something shows up to draw their attention away from me and the lesson at hand. One of the delights of homeschooling is the familiarity of your classroom- it is also one of the major annoyances.

3. The telephone. It rings and, even if I intend to ignore it, my children think it must be answered. They've begun answering it for me. My math tutoring is interrupted and all focus is lost.

4. The internet. My greatest asset in homeschooling! What would I do without it????? Last week I used it to get a lapbook on Leonardo DaVinci- for free! But how easily I can find myself on the computer social networking instead of devoting my time to my kids.

5. Food is a hazard when you home educate. It is readily available at all hours of the day. Not only is it another distraction during a lesson, but it's easy to eat and eat and eat whenever the mood hits you (for me, most anytime). And when food- and it's companion, drink- end up getting on my homeschool supplies (and they do) I am ready to make a rule that there is no food allowed in the dining room. Because it's also the school room. Do you see what I'm getting at?

And the crumbs... need I remind you of my blog title?

6. Guilt. Guilt for having a messy house, enforcing rules like no toys at the table, and for checking my friends' facebook status when I run downstairs to grab a forgotten book. Guilt for losing my patience while trying to teach a math concept. Guilt for not doing more outside activities. I know all mom's have guilt... you just add more varieties of it when you keep your kids home with you all day.

7. Social deviance. I mention this one kind of tongue-in-cheek. It's the first question my husband always gets when he tells coworkers we homeschool our kids. It's what my dentist's assistant asked me about and what my hygienist asked me about and what the kids' pediatrician asks me about... "What about the social? Do they get to see other kids?" Should I really get started on that one? Oooo, I'd like to.... but I'm not going too. I'll just assure anyone that of course they see other kids. But I also have to admit that they are perhaps not like the "typical" child of their age- which may not be a bad thing entirely. My kiddos have some habits that would probably be "peer pressured" out of them if they were immersed in a classroom all day- things like whining, being a poor sport when losing a game, tantrums, nose picking... Things I get to handle instead.

8. Exhaustion. On every level. Physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally. And it's not just me. But it's mostly me. One child finishes all their work for the day, but there's still one more. And then there's the toddling baby to play with and read to and keep from climbing on the piano (newest trick) and throwing valuable things into the trash (like Kitchenaid attachments). As soon as I sit down, I heard the shrill cry of "Mama?!" No coffee break. No teacher's lounge. No study hall monitor. No ed techs. Nothing. No one. Nada. Just me.

I could add little things to my list like- nobody raises their hand if they have a question. They just start talking all at once. They decide they need a pee break in the middle of my science lesson instead of going during break time. My red pencils disappear. I really like my red pencils. They make me feel like a real teacher. Please stop using them to color with.

The things I love about home educating are also some of the things that drive me crazy about it. It's wonderful being able to stay in where it's warm, in your jammies if you wish, and snuggle in my bed while reading a great book to the kids. It's excellent to monitor what they eat and be the one to give them a good diet. It does my heart good when they have questions about what we are learning. I love their innocence and their ignorance too. I wouldn't change what I do for the world and I pray I never have to.

I wouldn't mind a roll of bright yellow or orange CAUTION tape though, to rope off the dining room. Just to keep me from getting too serious about all these "hazards" of homeschooling around here.