Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving! 

It is one of my favorite holidays, with the food and family and laughter and games.  Memorial Day is also pretty great with the start of summer festivities, the first BBQs, and the pool opening; and I love the fireworks and live music on the 4th of July; Oh! and St Patrick's Day as the weather is finally breaking a bit and the green parade of leprechauns usher in Springtime...  I'll stop... The point has been made; I just love holidays... especially Thanksgiving (and Christmas with the lights brightening the otherwise darkest of days...)

My Dear Yoga Guru from Northern India is very wise.  Honestly, I could listen to her talk all day.  Along with yoga poses that relax, strengthen, and stretch, she also gives very sound advise.

Firstly, she would like us to pardon the turkey.  That advice is admittedly just straight crazy.  If pushed, I might consider being a vegetarian everyday of my life EXCEPT Thanksgiving.  

Secondly, and especially applicable given my recent response to a messy playroom (and to be honest, my attitude wasn't great yesterday either),

"Don't pick a fight with your family over Thanksgiving"

and it is with that bit of wisdom that I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving.  May it be full of peace and patience.  May you (and I) spend the season with love, gratefulness, and blessings overflowing from our hearts.  May every person we meet (from those under our own roof to those eying for the last $199 TV on Black Friday) feel valued and respected and cherished.  In addition to being thankful for the food and the trappings, may we all be appreciative of the strengths and weaknesses, the quirkiness and the quaintness, the helpful habits and the annoying traits, of all those people surrounding us.  May we replace exacerbation and frustration with a very quick eye-roll and genuine laughter (with them, not at them-- especially to my family whom I am sure are quite done with my holiday spreadsheets).

In short, especially on Thanksgiving, may we all (special reminder to me) truly embrace what the OT, NT, Moses, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all agree upon; the back-stories may vary but the central point remains:

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart 
and with all your soul 
and with all your strength 
and with all your mind; 
and, love your neighbor as yourself."

and as spoken by the great Dr. Rupert Simms,
let all the rest of the minutia go...

 Aside to the family I spend time with during this season... I love you all to death and can't wait to give thanks, eat, laugh (with you, and I will do my best to only occasionally laugh at you), visit, play games (my mom sent a new one that seems fun), make crafts (thanks to Pinterest, I've got a good one this year), and eat some more with you. Blessings and Love <3
 *and thank you to my Dear Sister for finding the perfect quote :0)

and now with this self-motivated pep-talk out of the way and an adjusted perspective, 
I'm off to turn up the FP, turn on some music (NOT X-mas), steep a ginger peach tea, 
and cheerfully ready for the festivities.

Also to quote my Dear Guru, 
Shanti Shanti Shanti
Peace individually, collectively, and universally 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Crazy Clean

Nothing creates a bond that turns siblings into best friends quite like the common enemy of a crazed mom on cleaning day. Today, that crazed mom was me.

I'd like to say that I did if for the kids; they've been bickering a bit and their relationship needed a boost, but in reality, it isn't a strength, but I have an extraordinarily low tolerance for crap in my own home.  No need to get all self-conscious, it honestly doesn't bother me in other people's homes.  I was raised this way (with a low tolerance for crap) and I've routinely been known to accidentally throw really unflattering melt-downs when my house, and hence my psyche / inner chi, are a mess.  There are definite triggers:
  • stepping on Matchbox Cars / Legos / Polly Pockets / Squinkies / Littlest Petshop / marbles / darts
  • drinks, dishes, & snacks left in sticky piles as if our suburban split level came with a brownie to clean up after us.
  • garbage on the floor (seriously!  There is a garbage can within arms reach but the klennex is on the FLOOR?!)
  • dirty socks on the couch (just gross)
  • drawers crammed and unable to shut with what was previously perfectly clean & neatly folded clothes
  • art projects, homework, magazines, books, or random scraps of paper (especially candy) left lying all over
  • lack of sleep & hormones (In the spirit of honesty, my blow-outs might possibly tend to be a little bit cyclical)
  • the list goes on, but these are ones that popped in mind today.
It was my DH who first saw the pattern years ago and decided that something needed to be done.

messy house + lazily laying around  =  psycho wife
orderly house + cleaning up (before relaxing) =  much more lovey wifey

The Goal:  fewer cleaning sessions that start like this***

Over the years, we've grown into a comfortable spot (the kids might consider it more like a military base).  I have fewer melt-downs ( a couple a year rather than a couple a week) and we are all a bit happier for it.  I try to lower my expectations and the other members of the household try not to pull any triggers.  Generally speaking, if someone stops by the house, it is basically straightened.  There may be laundry in the family room in the process of being folded or an unmade bed or or a couple of pots air drying in the kitchen, but for the most part, it is straightened (don't mistake that for clean which is a whole other thing).  This doesn't happen by accident. I have a instituted a fairly strict multi-part system adopted by asking everyone with a clean house how the heck they kept it that way*:

--  Use phone time with friends to be productive.  I'd love to embrace the old-school friendships of my Dear Grandma and "just sit down and enjoy the visit" but it frankly isn't practical.   Pick-up little stuff and swifter the floors/corners while chit-chatting; multi-task and do all of the simple stuff while catching up.  The time goes by super fast and when the phone call is done, the house is much better.  It is amazing what can get done in only 10 minutes.  As a side note, make sure these things are quiet.  A friend should never need to know that you are multi-tasking.  For example, avoid doing the dishes or starting a load of laundry or cleaning toilets.  You also shouldn't need to exert much effort, like carrying in the groceries, or painting the hall.  Good tasks are things that take no concentration or effort:  dusting, sweeping, wiping down counters, organizing the junk drawer, clipping coupons, and picking up, sorting, &/or putting away laundry.

--  It is motivating to clean with a sound-track.  I made a playlist on my ipod called: Cleaning (a link is here with a couple of the songs but beware, most of them show my age and all of them are super cheesy).  It contains a group of songs that get me motivated to live simply and clear out my life.  An hour of music is a good beginning; at the start of the playlist, feverishly clean for exactly one hour.  Putting a limit makes one's time more productive (eventually, try to exercise a bit while cleaning).  When those songs are over, the beds are made, dishes done, shoes away, floors swept/vacuumed, chaos moderately averted, and sanity partially restored.

--  On the good days, when I haven't just accidentally screamed about the current state of affairs until I am hoarse, we have a cleaning party.  By the time kids can walk, they can put things away.  Tell them where it goes and they need to march (hop, skip, jump, or gallop) it over to the bin and put it away.  Most kids don't enjoy cleaning but are better in a orderly environment.  If I am having fun, they are usually having fun.  Albeit the cleaning goes slowly, but if it is a game (with music), it works just fine.  As a side note, I usually don a British accent (mine is terrible and sometimes turns Southern or Australian) and pretend to be Mary Poppins, or butlers in a grand mansion.  Sometimes my DD hops everywhere like a bunny and calls me sire.  I also learned not to make them clean up a mess from a child that I insisted they invite over, but their own friends, they clean up after, generally without my help.

--  Keep a garbage can and laundry basket nearby and whatever doesn't belong in that room, put in the laundry basket.  Carry the basket from room to room, all the while putting things into it and taking things out.  My DS is really good at running things up and down to the right rooms.  I was reminded by another FM to never under-estimate the power of a race, especially for boys.

--  Regularly people come over and ask for a copy of our Family Expectations.  It hangs proudly on our wall and was devised shortly after a seriously dramatic (and embarrassing) melt-down by yours truly.  My DS and I had gotten particularly frustrated with each other over expectations and he felt like there was always "something else" and I felt like he was doing barely anything but complaining. Our DS needs thourough expectations and a list; he comes by it honestly, I love lists and need to physically cross things off.  He also functions better with consequences and rewards.  We've been using various degrees of this list for about 6 years (in the beginning it was a much more simple checklist and a marble jar, later it turned more detailed and had money attached).**

--  Our family loves electronics and nobody (even me) relax in front of them until the house is in order and our work is done.  Electronics / Screens (even Pinterest, FB, the Blog, or a book) are not begun until the house is as it should be, not perfect, but acceptable.  It is our family's relaxing reward for a job well done.

Publicly displaying my neurosis like this makes me a little sheepish. I try really hard to appear laid-back and not so high strung (I doubt I'm pulling it off).  In college I attempted to deny my instincts and never made my bed, but eventually, my true colors came through.  I love people who live on whims and glide through the day, I'm just not cut out for it.  I get really stressed and more than a little crazy when my life isn't organized.  Rather than driving him nuts, thankfully, I found a DH who rarely rolls his eyes at me; he at least feigns genuine when he tells me that he loves our orderly home and would not want it any other way.  My kids are better when our lives are orderly.  I don't know if it is because I am better and I hold a barometer for our family or if they are genuinely just better.  Either way, our life feels happier****.

*DISCLAIMERS:  This system didn't really come into full effect until our youngest was 4.  One of my favorite Frugal Mentors told me that my life will come back into focus when my youngest is 4.  She was totally right for me.

**The family expectations list doesn't work for all kids.  My DD was over-whelmed (partly because she could barely read).  She is naturally a very orderly child and does this stuff anyway just to make me happy, so we don't use the list very much for her.  It was originally laminated so that it could be carried around, crossed off with a dry erase marker, and then cleaned every day.

***My DD is not thrilled that I included this picture from when she was 2 but it illustrated my point so well.  In reality, she is a good cleaner and doesn't complain, she just gets the job done.  This picture was from the day after Halloween and she had a very rare, sugar hang-over melt-down.  In the scrap-book is a picture of her happily smiling and dressed as Pinky-Dinky Do and then right next to it is this picture, with the day after effects of Halloween.

****I want to make it clear that it is my lack of ability to cope that has made me orderly.  Just because my house is rarely in shambles, doesn't mean that I have my act together (my poor kids will attest to that today).  The reality is that in the midst of chaos, I'm absolutely insufferable.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Feigning Happy

Years ago, as a new mom, I was a total mess.  I had pretty severe postpartum depression; this was back when even successful celebrities hid the reality of their "baby-blues" and other moms gaped in horror at the mere hint of  being unhappy; as they hugged their children close, assuming you were about to throw any child within arm's reach off a balcony.  I loved my kids and my family but everything was just off.*

Parenthood (and life) was very different than I thought it would be.  Our first born was rarely happy (to be honest, neither was I) and we were always exhausted.  We were broke; my DH was in grad school (a place I longed to be); I had been good at my job but was now only part-time; I loved God but was frustrated by how judgmental and filled with minutia "the church" had become.  I had been reflective, creative, and fun before kids and then had these babies who sucked me dry (literally and figuratively).  I was embarrassed to be depressed and wanted to be happy and elated with these adorable healthy children, but felt like a shell of who I had been.  Plato's shadow.  I couldn't imagine why my DH would want to come home from his successful job to this life of chaos.

The early years are much of a blur (probably for the best), but I distinctly remember a time when my DH wanted to give me a break and took both kids for the day to see his grandparents downstate.  I should have been excited (or at least relieved) to finally be alone but instead, I was incapacitated.  I didn't call a friend, or catch up on sleep, or clean the house, or read a book, or do a project, or go shopping, (this was pre-Pinterest and FB), or take a bubble bath, or get a pedicure, or start a blog, I literally just sat down and cried.  I sobbed the entire day.  I got out colorful markers and tried to write a list of things that I liked to do, or should do, or even needed to do but ended up dehydrated and staring at a blank sheet of paper.

After that day was over, I was determined not to be a person who lost their entire identity in their children, or even spouse or job or "the church".  From then on, I made a change.  I mentally visualized what a scrapbook of a happy family life looked like, and over time, incorporated those things:
  • I signed myself up for a stained glass class (it still hangs in our LR as a constant reminder). 
  • We invested in a gym membership with child-care and got myself back into shape (honestly it was more like a resort, just walking in was a relief, not to mention that I was able shower in peace - the irony of a public shower being a luxury is not lost on me).
  • We listened to lots of fun music and had parties in the living room.
  • My DH surprised me with an Audible subscription for my birthday so I could listen to books on my Palm Zire (that really dates this story) while driving to work, cleaning the house, or using the elliptical.  
  • I started taking tons of digital pictures, especially of the happy times. I wanted to make fun and lasting memories with the kids so we went to children's museums and parks and hikes.  We took art classes together and went to the zoo.
  • On the many long evenings without my DH, the kids and I ate salmon outside on the patio and played games and read.  I invited other spouse-less people over for dinner and laughed and drank life-preservers (an OJ & rum drink that I made up to cope with life) until it was dark.
Life (mine in particular), was much better but it was still rough.

Admittedly, most self-help books don't do it for me, but I had read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People years before and thought it deserved a re-read / listen.  It is different from the self-help genre as it is really just principles that successful people use, even if they aren't written down.  Pre-kids, I liked to write, so that's what I did.  On January 1st, 2006 (my DD was 2), I sat down and wrote my mission statement, in relation to my role as a mom and wife.  It sits in front of my desk and I re-read it every week to stay focused.  My mission gave me purpose and soon, rather than feigning happiness, I became genuinely happy, not instantly, and there are still hard times but they are in perspective.  Our marriage is stronger.  Our kids are more disciplined.  My part-time job became fulfilling.  Our home, fun and relaxed and a place we all want to be:

One's philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is best expressed in the choices one makes. 
- Eleanor Roosevelt

I am choosing to be healthy, happy, passionate, & balanced in every area of my life:  body, mind, heart, & soul.

PHYSICALLY - through regular exercise, conscious eating, and a healthy lifestyle
MENTALLY - through reading for fun and for reflective insight, both current and classic
SOCIALLY / EMOTIONALLY - through laughter and deep friendship
SPIRITUALLY - through prayer, meditation, and worship

INTEGRITY - and honesty will stem from the deepest part of my being and course through every aspect of my life.
CHARACTER - My principles, values, and demeanor will not be waned by fear or money or unmet expectations or the weather
GOD - God will be my constant; He will be my encouragement and my strength and my peace

RELATIONSHIPS - friends & family will feel loved, accepted, valued, & respected; I will generously help with my skills & abilities.
UNDERSTANDING - I will listen to understand completely and judge rarely in my marriage, family, friendships, and work.
GROWTH - I will provide space and flexibility to change and grow naturally, without drama or a battle.

TEAM - My family will be part of my team, with varying personalities and leadership roles, but working together as a unit
MARRIAGE - Time and energy will be spent dating, loving, and enjoying my DH; listening and growing with him.

PARENTING - I will love, guide, nurture, and protect my children, sometimes from themselves; allowing them to be individuals with purpose and integrity.

ENVIRONMENT - I will travel, enjoy, protect, and care for nature and Earth.
ORDER & CLEANLINESS - I will facilitate an atmosphere that is organized, clean, comfortable, safe, and happy.
FRUGALITY & MODERATION - Money, time, energy, food, space, & belongings will be used wisely, efficiently, & without waste.
PROACTIVE - rather than being reactive, I will be responsible for my future by making plans and considering the impending natural consequences of my choices.

January 1st, 2006 (31 years old) 
my mission is not new, but now on paper, something tangible, my mission has been given a voice.

*I did not make it through my PPD without medication.  My DH pulled me into a hug one day and told me that it was heart-breaking to see me like this.  He held my hand and brought me to my doctor and we discussed options.  I was fortunate to have friends and family for support but very few who had been through this before.  It was something that from the inside, I honestly didn't know the extent or more aptly was unable to objectively see myself or the situation.  I was simply putting one foot in front of the other (which is apparently NOT what normal happy moms do).  It was hard for me to tell the difference between over-tired / over-whelmed / unmet expectations / selfishness / incompetent parenting and TRUE DEPRESSION; I kept thinking that I just needed to buck up and get over it but couldn't. I hated the medication as I felt like I was in an emotionless fog but it was much better than my melt-down filled, un-medicated existence.  Eventually, I was weaned off but probably would have been unable to make the changes necessary without medication to help ease the transition.  Now, when I see a new mom with that all to familiar vacant look that goes straight to her soul, I can't help but talk to her, and encourage her that she isn't alone, and that it is okay to get help and most of all-- with time and some effort (& sometimes  medication), it will get better. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Feigning Middle Class in Suburbia is having a grand re-opening. I realized today (while wasting time and definitely NOT doing laundry) that the blog design was original and from 2007 with only moderate tweaks here and there.  It was pretty and simple and very me.  Times have changed and my blog deserves a more streamlined and hip* look.

The default view is "magazine" although, if you prefer the old-style, the "side bar" option is probably the closest.  Flipcard is also kind of fun.  It takes a little getting used to but over-all, it seems easier to read.  The preview only shows the first paragraphs, so click the post title, picture, or date banner to read more...

I'm not sure that I really get why a chosen blog opens into a whole new screen, but they can still be shuffled through chronologically with the little arrows at the top left of each blog post.

For those fellow bloggers who have been afraid to transition to the new Dynamic Views, I was too!  They just sat there taunting me for weeks!  The name itself is just scary!  It feels very final when hitting "apply to blog" although after it is done, there is an option to "revert to previous template".  I didn't try it because I happen to like the new one but at least there might be options.  Here is my take before making this dynamic major life-changing decision:
  • Dynamic is Better:  
    • There are more options to personalize the look.  
    • I love how much easier it is to see old posts
    • It seems cleaner and easier to navigate. 
  • Dynamic is Different:  
    • no longer are there options to adjust the width 
    • those fun little gadgets / add-ons are not supported, yet (word on the google street is that someday they will be)
    • the picture used on the side bar is automatically chosen, not picked by the Blogger.  I believe it is the first picture of the blog, but I could be wrong.
    • I was really excited about the option to use my own background picture but it doesn't seem to work the same as the ones that they supply.  Instead of staying stagnant, it continually repeats when scrolling down the page.  It is kind of quirky and annoying so I used a stock picture for now.
  • Dynamic is Worse:  
    • There doesn't seem to be an option to edit posts right from the blog.  Sometimes after glancing over my writing, I realize that it could have been worded better or there is a grammatical error.  At this point, I need to go into Blogger, find the post, and correct it from there.  It seems crazy but I honestly don't see another way.  (SEE REVISION)
    • There is also not an option to preview the blog before posting (also seems crazy, but it is true!)
    • The stats are off.  The numbers seem right over-all but each blog is hard to tell if it is popular or not.

*do chic people still use the word hip? or since I've used the word hip does it make it decidedly not so?! 

11/19/11 - REVISION! Happy to say that next to the blog title they (whoever they may be) have added a little pencil and can now easily be edited!  

1/25/12 - I've given up on Dynamic Views for now.  The stats are all off, I miss the gadgets.  I will go back someday, but for now, I'm sad to say that the negatives seem to out-way the positives. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Minivan Confessions

(the Suburban / PBS version of Taxicab Confessions)

The carpool of 10-year-old boys have just finished soccer practice, under the lights, and in the rain; they are streaked with mud and happy as can be.  Everyone is laughing and boisterously singing along with the pop and hip-hop on the radio... until...

"Sexy and I Know It" by LMFAO comes on...  

at which point, one of the boys from a neighboring school appallingly groans, "Ugh... that reminds me...  I had the most traumatic day of my life at the Robert Crown Center today!  Boys, you'll learn things you never wanted to know.  Puberty isn't even the start of it...  I can't even talk about it..."

My dear (and MUCH younger) 8 year old daughter proceeds to inquire what Robert Crown is and the boys, nearly in unison, respond with things like, "You don't want to know... you'll see in 5th grade... hold on to your innocence..."

--and then the minivan goes excruciatingly silent--

except for a stifled chuckle from yours truly...

as a side note, my DD just came out of bed to ask me if way back in the 70's people could see in color...