Category Archives: Life

Why I’m done with New Year’s resolutions

Every year on New Year’s Day I feel anxious for a fresh start. “This is the year,” I tell myself. And I really mean it. I really believe that opening a fresh new calendar will give me the motivation I need to make all the changes I failed to make the previous year.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve ever followed through with a single resolution. The closest I came was the year after Judah was born when I resolved to take at least one photo a day. I made it to July before I stopped making an effort to use my camera each day. Let’s be honest, though, my success was probably more likely due to the new baby who stayed relatively still looking cute. Once he started moving, I was done playing photographer.

This year is no different. I have a whole list of things I’d like to change about myself — get in shape, be more organized, finally get to the home improvement projects we’ve been putting off, be more creative, make more time for the things I enjoy doing.

When I really started thinking about it, I started to feel really bad about myself. That’s the thing about New Year’s resolutions — most of them are pretty focused on what’s not good enough about us. As I ticked off the huge list of possible New Year’s resolutions in my head, all I could think was, “Man, I’m doing a lot of things so wrong.”

I think most of us get enough of that kind of negative self talk as it is without focusing an entire yearly tradition on what’s not good enough about us, what we need to change.

I’m not bashing self-improvement. It’s important to be healthy, take care of ourselves, and banish bad habits. However, instead of making a resolution and setting myself up for disappointment if I fail, I’m changing my perspective this year. I’m focusing on the positive. Instead of thinking about all the things I need to change about myself, I’m surrounding myself with people, things, and ideas that motivate and inspire me to take care of myself and my family in the way that we deserve.

The problem with “New Year’s resolutions” is that when we tie our motivation to a time of the year, the motivation inevitably wears off. Anyone who regularly works out at a gym is familiar with this phenomenon. Every January 1, there is a flood of new faces in the cardio room and the classes. Suddenly you’re waiting in line for a treadmill when just before Christmas 90% of the machines were empty. By Valentine’s Day, the crowds are gone. All of those people who rushed to the gym after the holiday gluttony and resolved to finally get in shape have gotten back to their busy lives.

So I decided — no New Year’s resolutions this year. If I choose to eat better, exercise more, organize more efficiently, or start a new home project, I’ll do it because I’m feeling motivated and inspired to do so in the moment — not because of the date on the calendar. I’m not going to spend the beginning of the year feeling bad about myself because of all the things I need to change.

Do New Year’s resolutions work for you? How do you motivate yourself to make positive changes?

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How to throw a toddler birthday party for cheap

I grew up with three sisters, and I was third born, so birthday parties weren’t a yearly deal for us. We each had a party or two to celebrate big milestones, but my mom didn’t throw a huge party for each of us every year — and I don’t blame her. I probably won’t either.

For Judah’s first birthday, we had a small party with cake and food for family only. This year, I’ve made friends with some families near us who have children around Judah’s age, so I wanted to have a fun kid party to celebrate what we’re hoping will be Judah’s last birthday as an only child. When I started researching party ideas, I was shocked at how expensive most party venues are. I would love to have a backyard barbecue, but that’s not really an option for November in Indiana, and I was afraid to let loose 10+ kids under 4 in my living room. By making a few compromises, we were able to celebrate Judah’s second birthday with all his friends without spending a fortune.

Throw a joint party.

I’m lucky to have a friend whose son is just 5 days older than Judah. It was her idea to combine their parties this year, and I’m so glad we did it that way. We share a lot of friends, so our guest lists would have had a lot of overlap anyway, and we were able to split the cost of the venue, food, and decorations between two families. At 2 years old, the boys didn’t mind sharing their parties a bit, and since we were both pretty laid back about the party, my friend and I didn’t have any trouble planning it together.

Plan ahead.

I was particularly proud of the goody bags, which included a 24-pack of crayons, a full-sized Play Doh, some Play Doh molds, fruit snacks, and a print out coloring sheet. The Sesame Street “Thank You” sign is an Internet printable that my friend found on Pinterest, and we used Zip lock bags to hold everything. I bought the crayons in bulk during the back-to-school sales for 50 cents a box, and my friend got the Play Doh in a Black Friday sale for under 50 cents each, so each bag cost us under $2. And of course splitting the costs between the two of us made them even less expensive. I was happy to hand out fun toys that the kids would actually use instead of cheap things that would be thrown away or lost before they even made it home.

For toddlers, all you really need is a lot of space.

We called the zoo, inflatable play places, museums — all of them wanted $300+ for a 2-3 hour party, not including food. Even though we were splitting the cost, that was just too much for a toddler party. Finally we found a fun play place that’s really just a giant open space with lots of toys where the kids can run around. It cost $100 for 15 kids and 2 hours of play.

Other cheap (or free) options we considered:

  • Many local libraries have conference rooms that can be rented out for cheap or even free.
  • Your home if you have the space for it and the energy/desire to clean before and after the party.
  • A park or your own backyard if weather permits.

As long as the kids have room to run around, you won’t need to plan activities or games. It’s hard to wrangle kids and keep their attention anyway, and you’ll kill yourself trying to plan things. Since we only had two hours, and our boys are too young to have any expectations for gifts, we also asked our guests not to worry about presents. This gave the kids more time to play and saved us the trouble of coordinating gift opening for two active toddlers.

Always buy less food than you think you’ll need.

RSVPs are notoriously inaccurate for kid parties. Kids get sick, they miss their naptimes, things happen. We ended up with about half as many kids and parents as we expected. Add to that the fact that the kids were too busy playing to eat much (Judah ate a single bite of pizza and threw a mega tantrum when we got home because we was starving, pfft). We ended up with about 8 whole pizzas to get rid of at the end of the party (we ordered 15). Keep all of this in mind when ordering, and try not to overdo it. In fact, for very young children, you’re probably better off serving just finger foods and cake and having the party between meal times (2-4 pm, for instance). Trying to get the kids to sit still and eat is almost impossible, and without a big meal there will be more time for play.

Make a cake.

Since the boys were sharing the party, I wanted them each to have a cake. I am hopeless when it comes to decorating, and anything I made would likely end up looking like those failed Cookie Monster cupcakes we’ve all seen on Pinterest. So I ordered a small cake from the grocery store for $15. My friend’s mom is a talented cake decorator who made this adorable Elmo cake for the price of the cake pan and ingredients. Surprisingly, most of the cake did get eaten, so I don’t regret our decision to serve two small cakes. I probably could have saved a ton by baking a simple cake and decorating it with toys he already has (the baker at the grocery store suggested cars or dinosaur figures).

What are your tips for frugal kid parties? I’d love to hear them in the comments.

I’m still here

My three-month break from blogging wasn’t planned. That’s why I never had the chance to post a note explaining my absence. I was always on the verge of posting an update. Tomorrow. Next week. Any day now. Soon.

It started with good news. Shortly after my last post in August, I found out we were expecting another baby. We were elated. Then came the fatigue, the morning sickness, the aches and pains. All of that added to a rigorous teaching schedule and a 21-month-old gave me little time for anything else — not even this blog that I missed so much.

Unfortunately, our good news was followed by heartbreak. At our first ultrasound at 10 weeks, there was no heartbeat. I had a miscarriage at the end of October.

It was painful and sad, but now a month later I’m doing much better. We’re preparing to celebrate Judah’s second birthday (TWO!), and I’m reminding myself daily just how much I have to be thankful for.

Long story short, I miss you guys. I miss this space. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon. I love this blog too much to give it up completely. I hope to start posting regularly again, and I hope that some of my readers have stuck around during my extended break.

To those of you who emailed me, thank you. Your concern means the world to me. All is well. Obla-di Obla-da, life goes on.

What’s new with you?

Reusable vs. disposable — which is best?

Marketing companies have drawn a pretty clear line in the sand between disposable products and reusable ones. Disposable is synonymous with convenience, ease of use, and less work — but you pay a higher price for that convenience. Reusable products are better for your wallet and the environment, but harder work. Is this always the case, though? Like most things, I think it’s way more complicated. Depending on the product and your life circumstances, these rules often don’t apply.

Here are a few examples based on my experience.

Mop and bucket vs. disposable floor cleaning pads

For most of my life, I lived in places with wall-to-wall carpet and just a small space with hard flooring — the bathroom and kitchen. Filling a bucket with water and swabbing the deck the old fashioned way just didn’t seem worth the time with such small spaces. For years, I used a Swiffer wet jet and I was perfectly content with the results. Then I moved into a house with wall-to-wall laminate flooring and a small child. Suddenly, the Swiffer was a huge pain. It took several pads to get through all the floors in our house, and I never felt like they were clean enough.

I finally broke down and mopped the floors with an old fashioned reusable mop and bucket, and I was shocked to find that it was easier. The large mop head cleaned the floors much faster. I used vinegar and just a little Dawn dish soap, so cleaning solution cost next to nothing (and is healthier for my toddler than chemical-filled cleaning solutons). When I was finished, I tossed the cotton mop head into the washing machine in an old pillow case with a load of towels, and let it air dry. It was so simple, and so much cheaper. I’m kicking myself for not switching sooner.

Paper towels vs. reusable rags

I made the switch to reusable rags earlier this year, and I’m happy I did it. Paper towels cost a fortune, they aren’t very eco-friendly, and I’ve found that it’s easier and faster to clean most messes with a nice thick rag. Rags are a little fussy to wash — if you throw them into the hamper wet, they will mildew and stink. It’s also a good idea to put them through a hot wash with vinegar and a second wash with detergent to prevent stink problems. It’s been worth the trouble for me, though.

I do still keep paper towels on hand for some messes, though. I don’t like to use reusable rags or sponges to clean the counter or sink after handling raw meat, and paper towels are the best way to clean glass and mirrors without leaving streaks. Switching to rags 95% of the time has saved us a bundle, though, and reduced our footprint.

Plastics bags vs. reusable shopping bags

This one is a no-brainer for me. Reusable bags are affordable, carry more stuff, and are generally easier for me to carry. The only real downsides are remembering to bring them and keeping them clean (I do ask for a plastic bag to transport raw meat, and I wash my bags regularly). I occasionally request plastic bags for small purchases, because I like to stock pile them and use them as trash bags for the little trash cans in the bathrooms. I figure it’s better to reuse a plastic bag than buy plastic bags for that purpose. Aside from that, reusable bags are a clear winner.

Disposable toilet bowl cleaners vs. a toilet brush

Disposable toilet bowl cleaners are my guilty cleaning secret. The OCD germophobe in me can’t handle the reusable toilet brush. I never felt like I could get them clean, and then I couldn’t figure out how to let them dry without leaving them out in the open in the bathroom, so I’d stick them back in the stand wet and they’d start to mildew or mold and ugh. I can’t handle it. So I pay a small fortune for the convenience and sanitary bliss of replacing disposable toilet bowls cleaners. When I’m done, I pop the cleaning pad into the trash, sanitize the wand, and get on with my life. So worth it for me.

Disposable diapers vs. cloth diapers

This one was a toss-up for me. For the first year of Judah’s life, I absolutely loved my cloth diapers. They saved me money, are better for the environment, and I really didn’t feel like they were too much hassle. Just a couple extra loads of laundry every week. Then my son turned 1. We stopped breastfeeding shortly after his first birthday, and suddenly cloth diapers weren’t so easy anymore. I made the switch to disposables full-time, boxed up my cloth for the next baby, and I’m thankful I did it every time I change a poopy diaper.

So what do you think? When do you prefer disposable over reusable and vice versa?

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The best times to tackle deep cleaning projects

Most people feel motivated to clean and reorganize in the spring. Since most of fall and winter is spent indoors, I prefer to prepare for the long winter hibernation by cleaning, purging, and reorganizing. I’ve been creating a to-do list in my head of things I’ve been putting off all summer, and it got me thinking about how I could make things easier on myself. Is there a most convenient time to tackle the household chores we all dread?

Here are some ideas I’ve come up with. I’d love to hear how you make this stuff easier on yourself.

Clean the refrigerator after vacation.

I tend to be a little OCD about old food in the refrigerator — I throw away uneaten leftovers and expired condiments every week on the night before our trash is picked up so funky food doesn’t hang out in the fridge or our trash can for too long. Giving the fridge a good deep cleaning is a bit more challenging, though, since it’s full of food most of the time. However, right before we leave town for a vacation, I always do a major purge and try to leave the fridge mostly empty so we don’t come home to funky smells. Before restocking at the grocery store when we get home, the first thing I do is take out each shelf and give it a good scrub in warm soapy water, double check condiments and toss anything old or expired, and scrub down the nooks and crannies that aren’t visible when the fridge is stuffed with food.

Clean out the pantry before grocery shopping.

You might be surprised how much food is actually available in your kitchen. Hunt for meal ideas in your canned foods, throw away anything that is no longer edible, and put foods that need to be eaten as soon as possible at the front. Taking stock of your pantry before grocery shopping will also save you some money since you’ll be less likely to buy an item you already have on hand.

Reorganize closets when the seasons change.

Closet space in limited in our 1970s ranch, so we only keep current, in-season clothing in our closets. Out-of-season clothes are stored in giant plastic tubs in the guest room closet. When the weather changes each season, we swap them out. If you follow a system like this one, that seasonal clothing swap is the perfect time to purge things you don’t need and reorganize your space. Take a good hard look at each item before you store it for next season — did you wear it this year at all? If not, it’s probably time to donate it.

For bonus points, use the bedroom closet swap as an excuse to clean and reorganize other closets and cabinets in your house. If you tackle them twice a year, you’ll avoid a huge pile-up that will eventually require heavy-duty cleaning.

Clean your work space on Friday afternoon.

Whether you work from home or in an office, Friday afternoon downtime is the perfect time to purge or file paperwork and clear clutter. If there’s something that will need attention first thing Monday morning, put it front and center on your desk to remind yourself to get right to it after your relaxing weekend.

How do you make deep cleaning projects easier? Please share!

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Losing

I know I’m not the first person to say this — and certainly not the last — but living with a toddler feels like a losing battle. Every day, every hour, sometimes every minute there’s a new battle to wage, a new argument, usually an argument that we just had 20 minutes ago.

I know he’s 19 months old. I know this is his job. It’s unrealistic for me to expect him to follow the rules all the time. I get it. But he’s just enough like me — stubborn and strong-willed and determined to have the last word — that it makes choosing my battles incredibly difficult. Every time he pointedly breaks the rules, he looks me right in the face with that big grin as if to say, “Rules? What rules?” And I’m convinced that it’s so monumentally important that I win this battle, this one right now, otherwise he’s doomed to a life a lawless disregard for the rules. As if letting him climb on the chair or take off his pants will lead him to an inevitable life of crime.

I realize this is ridiculous now as I sit in my silent living room while he naps peacefully in the other room. Obviously toddlers are going to break rules. The best we can do is enforce the important ones, correct them when they test boundaries, and wait for them to grow up enough to understand why it’s not a good idea to climb on the table or throw alphabet magnets into the heat registers. But in the moment, when I turn my back for a split second and find him standing on the table again, I can’t help but feel like I’m losing. To a 3-foot, 25-pound dictator. And it is exhausting.

My husband tells me to choose my battles. I know he’s right. I spend so much time chasing him, correcting him, trying to get him to mind just for the sake of following the rules. I know if I could just relax and let some things go, I would spend less time pulling so much of my hair out and more time enjoying this time. So why is it so hard to “choose my battles” in the moment?

Don’t get me wrong, there are wonderful moments sprinkled throughout the day between all of this chasing and correcting and preventing injury. I know when I look back 20 years from now, those will be the moments I remember. The snuggles and kisses and milestones. The books we read and the games we play. He makes me laugh and melts my heart as much as he drives me bonkers. I’ll remember all of that, and I’ll miss my little baby as he grows up. It’s one of the kind quirks of our brains — as parents, we have a funny way of filtering out the bad days and remembering the good.

But there are hard days, too. Days when I collapse in my bed after he finally falls asleep close to 10 o’clock. The house is a mess, the stack of papers I wanted to hand back to my students remains ungraded, my blog goes another day without an update, the bookmark in the novel on my nightstand that I’ve been reading forever doesn’t move. I feel exhausted and beaten, and all can do is wonder if I’m doing it all wrong. Surely, it’s not supposed to be this hard. Though every account I’ve ever read of someone else’s parenting experiences assures me that yes, it is this hard, it’s probably going to be this hard forever, but I still can’t help but my doubt myself.

The doubt is the worst part. What if I’m not just losing these daily battles? What if I’m failing him? That’s why it’s so hard to choose my battles. It’s so hard to tell which ones are worth fighting when there’s so much at stake.

Often when I’m standing in line at the grocery store, waiting to check out, and Judah is being particularly difficult — squirming, trying to climb out of the cart, grabbing at the credit card reader, picking up grocery items and throwing them on the floor, screaming — some kind older lady always smiles wistfully at me and says, “Enjoy this time. It goes by so fast, and someday you’ll miss it.” Though I question the truth behind that statement (obviously, I will remember the wonderful things about my son at this age, but somehow I doubt I’ll ever stand in line at the grocery store and say, “I miss those nuclear meltdown temper tantrums Judah used to have when I was trying to pay for my groceries.”) Still, I muster the kindest smile I can, and I always tell them, “I know. The days are long, and the years are short.”

And that’s what I tell myself on the bad days. I take a deep breath as I gently pick him up off the table or chase him down to put his pants back on, and I remind myself that it won’t be this way forever. It will get easier. And that’s exactly when I’ll forget all of the worst parts of life with a toddler and long for the good parts again.

One room at a time challenge – Laundry room

After spending the weekend really thinking about my priorities as far as time management goes, I made the decision that decluttering our space should be close to the top of the list this summer. We keep our living areas pretty tidy (most of the time), but behind closed doors, I’ve let clutter take over. There’s really no excuse for it since we’ve barely lived in this house a year. I shudder to think how bad it will be in 5 years if we don’t start tackling it now.

In a burst of motivation on Sunday, I decided to start with our laundry room. I jumped at the chance to take advantage of it during Judah’s afternoon nap so quickly that I completely forgot to shoot a before picture. It’s not that I’m embarrassed to show you what it looked like (well, I am, but I’m willing to do it). I honestly just forgot. Doh. Rest assured, I will remind myself to snap that before picture for future projects.

Since it’s a tiny room, it only took me a little over an hour to whip it into shape. While we were in the process of painting our house, we let the shelf behind the washer and dryer turn into a depository for paint supplies. Months later, it was still crammed with paint cans, brushes, and old towels we’d used to clean up. It was crammed so high with junk that it fell over onto the dryer about once a week. So we picked up all the paint supplies, and relegated them to an unused cabinet in the garage.

Next to the sink, I’d saved a ton of used plastic bags (they fit our bathroom trash cans perfectly, so we reuse them as garbage bags) as well as some broken down diaper boxes that I was convinced I could repurpose. I recycled most of the diaper boxes and crammed the plastic bags into a reusable bag, which I hung from the hook I used to use for my cloth diaper wet bag. (We switched to disposables full time a few months ago when cloth diapering a toddler just became too gross.)

Speaking of cloth diapering, I still had a laundry basket full of diapers taking up space in the laundry room. Since I plan to use them again someday when Judah has a little brother or sister, I packed them up in a couple of those diaper boxes and packed them away in storage.

I also gave the shelf we use for cleaning supplies some attention. Everything was stuffed on there with no method to the madness, and there were more than a few empty bottles even. So I rinsed and tossed the empty bottles into the recycling bin, and then organized the shelves — laundry stuff on top since we use it most, cleaning supplies in the middle, and rarely used or bulky items on the bottom shelf. It’s much easy to find what I need now.

The laundry room is between the kitchen and the den. Both the laundry room and the den are blocked by a gate, so Judah can’t get back there for now. I hate that the laundry room is open to view, though. Since we moved in, I’ve wanted to hang a curtain across the doorway to make our laundry room a little more private. Since this little reorganization cost $0, I finally went ahead and picked up the curtain and rod. It’s just a $20 curtain panel secured to the doorway with a $5 tension rod (it’s actually a shower curtain rod). I’m pretty happy with how it separates the utility room from the den and keeps our “dirty laundry” out of view — especially since it cost only $25.

Is there a room that’s been driving you nuts? There’s no better time to tackle it than today! This whole endeavor only took a little over an hour. I’m kicking myself for not doing it sooner, especially since it’s was so cheap and easy. Sometimes all a room needs is a little spiffing up, and it feels like a whole new space.

Confessions of a work-at-home mama

One of the biggest misconceptions that I find myself correcting since Judah was born is the idea that life without a full-time office job is a 24/7 party/nap/pajama fest. While I continue to feel blessed that I’m able to be at home with Judah during the day and earn an income at the same time, it’s much more challenging than working in an office 9 to 5 (for me, anyway).

I know my fellow moms (and dads) will agree that no matter what your work situation — whether you work in an office, earn income from home, or work your butt off as a stay-at-home parent — time is a precious commodity. I’ll admit, Judah was such a content baby, I spent the entire first year of his life thinking this gig was going to be easy. Then he started walking, and it was all over. Now it feels like I’m always running behind, I’m never as productive as I used to be, and I’ve even turned into a bit of an airhead.

But time management, like money management, is about priorities. Between teaching three classes, taking care of Judah all day and managing his activities, and taking on the most freelance work I’ve ever tackled, this summer has been bonkers for us. I’ve recently found myself lamenting my lack of time for pretty much anything, which means it’s time for me to step back and reprioritize.

So I made a list — a road map of which things on my to-do list are non-negotiable and which things I need to rethink to be more efficient.

Non-negotiables

Play time with Judah – Spending time with him is the whole reason I made the decision to forgo full-time work, so he remains my top priority. Now that he’s a full-fledged toddler he’s more interactive than ever, and it’s not fair to keep him cooped in the house while I work all day. I already squeeze most of my work into his short naptime and after he’s in bed, but I’ll admit that this schedule sometimes leaves me so exhausted that I’m not the most energetic playmate for him. This is something that I’m working on.

I’ve also decided to make time for activities he enjoys like his gymnastics class, a swim class later this summer, and other fun things that can be a pain to fit into my schedule, but worth it for him.

Exercise – I’m still working on dropping about 20 pounds of cheeseburger weight (I lost the privilege of calling it baby weight when Judah turned 1, so now it’s best if I admit it’s the cheeseburgers, not the baby, that are the problem). Exercise is also the best way to control the symptoms of my anxiety disorder, and it certainly ups my energy level. The good news is that Judah has adapted fantastically to the wonderful people at the YMCA daycare, and that hour a day is a great way for him to burn some energy and meet some playmates, so this keeps us both happy.

My Teaching Job – I’ve absolutely fallen in love with this job, and it’s too perfect schedule-wise to give up. They schedule my courses around my husband’s, so he’s home when I’m not, and I enjoy it more than any other paid position I’ve ever had. So I want to do everything I can to continue doing it as long as they’ll have me.

Things to Rethink

Freelance Work – I have this problem. When someone contacts me with an opportunity to earn some money, I can’t say no. No matter how swamped I am or how uninterested I am in the work, I have the hardest time turning it down. This does absolutely not good for me or my schedule. Now that I’m teaching, I can let go of this “feast or famine” attitude. I have steady paychecks. I have enough on my plate already. I don’t want to give up freelancing, but I need to be much pickier in what I’m willing to take on.

Household chores – I can be a little Type A when it comes to keeping the house clean. I don’t want to give up on a clean house — keeping things tidy reduces my overall stress. But I do need to work on accepting help in this area, and lowering my expectations. It’s not that my husband doesn’t clean well; it’s just that I’m a psycho with ridiculous requirements when it comes to a clean house. Letting go of some of my control issues in this area will be good for me and for our marriage.

Extra organization and home improvement tasks – As if I have time for stuff like this right now. But my to-do list around the house just keeps getting longer as the closets and piles of hidden paper get taller. My solution is to get serious about organizing since this will hopefully help my feel more productive and less stressed, and let go of decorating tasks for the time being. I don’t have time for them at the moment, and obsessing about when they’re going to get finished just adds stress. We’re most productive on breaks from school, so I’ll try not to worry about this stuff until we get a vacation.

Blogging – I miss you guys. I miss this space. I need to make more time for it, even if I feel like my brain is fried completely at the end of the day.

So what about you guys? Have any of you found the magic key to work/life balance? Or least found a method of managing it all that works for you? I’m all ears.

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