Author Archives: Karen

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.

Staying cool without air conditioning

Our air conditioner has been out since Thursday. While I’m a big believer that air conditioning is a luxury, not a necessity (the vast majority of people on the planet don’t have access to air conditioning, and many of them live in much warmer climates than the United States), I am honest about the fact that I love air conditioning. It’s my very favorite luxury there is, and I will sacrifice many other things in my budget to be able to afford it. So I’m not a happy camper right now.

Thankfully, the timing could have been worse. This weekend was the tail-end of a 10-day stretch of 100+ degree temperatures. We suffered through an uncomfortable night Thursday, and Friday after my morning class we hit the road to visit Tony’s family and take advantage of their air conditioning, because it was 104 degrees here on Friday and Saturday. When we arrived home last night, the temperature had dropped considerably thanks to some rain, so last night wasn’t too bad thanks to some fans, open windows, and a nice breeze.

It’s sticky and humid with an 87-degree high today, so while I’d prefer to keep the sticky humidity out of my house, at least we’re not baking in unsafe 100+ degree heat while we wait for the repairman.

We don’t know what it will cost to fix yet, but as you can imagine, air conditioning repair is in high demand right now. So the repair guy won’t be here until around 4:30 this afternoon. While we don’t have long to wait (hopefully), the experience made me feel even worse for the people around the country who suffered through this heat wave with no air conditioning or no power — not only did they not have air conditioning, they didn’t even have fans. Not to mention their refrigerators and freezers weren’t working, and in this heat, there’s pretty much no saving anything that requires refrigeration. My heart goes out to anyone who went through that ordeal.

I also realized that because I’ve been privileged enough to live in air conditioned homes my whole life, I have no idea how to go about keep a house cool without it. I did a little research last night to make sure that we’re as comfortable as possible today, and I wanted to share what I learned. It’s helpful information to have if your air conditioner ever stops working during a heat wave, and might even be a good way to save some money. If you can keep your house cool without air conditioning and only crank up the unit when the temperatures go way up, it would cut your summer cooling costs considerably.

Opening the windows isn’t always the best option.

This was the biggest lesson I learned in my research. When it’s hot, my first instinct is to open the windows. But we’ve noticed on warm days early in the cooling season when we’re resisting the urge to turn on the air, it’s actually cooler in the house when the windows are closed.

If it’s warmer outside that it is in your house, it’s actually better to close the windows to keep that hot air from getting inside. The best strategy is to open the windows after the sun sets and the temperatures cool, use fans to pump as much cool air as possible into the house in the evening and night, and then close the windows in the morning when the temperatures start to go up. That way you’ll hold the cool evening air in the house as long as possible.

Close the shades.

If you’re living without air conditioning, the best way to stay cool is to keep the sun from shining through your windows. You can do this by closing the shades, closing the curtains, or installing reflective film on the windows. All of these options are actually good ways to increase the efficiency of your air conditioner as well, so it’s a good idea to keep the shades closed on really hot days and install reflective film even if your air conditioner is working.

Maximize air flow through your house.

When your air conditioner is running, most experts agree that it’s smart to close the vents in rooms you don’t use and keep the door closed so you’re only using energy to cool the rooms you use most. When you’re counting on outside air to keep the house cool, the opposite is true. Open as many windows in as many rooms as possible and leave all the doors open to allow air to flow through the house. If windows are open on opposite sides of a room, it will create a nice cross breeze and cool things down even more.

Create a cross breeze using fans.

You can simulate the effects of a cross breeze by strategically placing fans on opposite sides of a room. Air feels much cooler when it’s moving, so you’ll be more comfortable in a warm room if the air is circulating.

Wear (and sit on) breathable fabric.

It’s common sense that when it’s hot, you should wear light, breathable fabrics like cotton, and dress minimally to keep cool. Also consider the fabric you’re sitting on. I noticed last night that I was much more comfortable on our cotton slipcovered sofa than I was when I sat in the microfiber recliner. If your couch or chairs are made of synthetic fibers like microsuede or a material that doesn’t breathe well like leather, cover them with a cotton sheet. Not only will you feel cooler while sitting on them, but it will also save your sofa from excessive sweat (yuck).

Turn off lights and appliances.

The last thing you want to do in a hot house is turn on the oven or the clothes dryer. Consider hanging laundry to dry if you must wash clothes during a heat wave. Lightbulbs also generate a surprising amount of heat. Keep as many of them off as possible during the day. It might be a little dark inside with the shades drawn and the lights off, but darker = cooler.

Be safe.

In extremely hot temperatures like the ones many people in the United States faced last week, people can become seriously ill or even die from heat exhaustion. If you don’t have an air conditioner, it isn’t working, or you lose your power during a heat wave, make sure you put safety first. Also make sure you and your family are properly hydrated in warm weather, and if it’s over 90 degrees in your house, it might be time to seek emergency shelter. Keep a close eye on children and senior citizens to make sure they’re handling the heat okay, and don’t be afraid to escape to a cooler place.

During extreme weather, most cities open cooling shelters in public buildings where people can escape the heat during the warmest part of the day. Head to a shelter, visit a friend’s air conditioned house, or even just spend the day browsing the air conditioned mall or another cool public place.

Photo credit

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.

Photo credit

Shopping for new cookware? Consider stainless steel.

Tony and I have been married for four years (seriously? Only four?) In that time, we have bought three sets of nonstick cookware. Is it normal for cookware to last under two years? I don’t know. But as any cook will tell you, cheap cookware isn’t worth the cost of its excessive packaging, so replacing the good stuff every year and a half isn’t cheap.

Now before you send me all kinds of tips for how to extend the life of nonstick cookware, let me stop you right there. I cared for this stuff meticulously. Maybe not the first set so much, but the second two? Hand washed with mild detergent, metal utensils never touched it, nonstick safe sponges only, and I carefully stored each piece with a dishcloth in the bottom to keep them from scratching each other. Still, about a year and a half later, each pan started to chip, and I had to throw them away.

I’m not usually super paranoid about chemicals, but using chipped nonstick cookware is one area where I won’t negotiate. I don’t want to eat that stuff, and I certainly don’t want my baby eating it.

About a year ago, after our second set of cookware bit the dust, Tony and I started talking about how we could avoid replacing our cookware in another year. I looked up all kinds of tips for extending its life, and it turned out we were following all of them. We weren’t buying cheap cookware, so that wasn’t the problem. We came to a conclusion: we just don’t like nonstick cookware. It seems like no matter what we do, it doesn’t last long.

We decided it was time to invest in a set of stainless steel cookware. I was nervous. I envisioned stuck on messes that would take hours to scrub away and dinners scraped from the bottom of the pan, burned to bits.

My husband assured me that, as the primary cook in our house, he wasn’t intimidated by stainless steel. In fact, most of the chefs he admires recommend it over nonstick for most uses. Despite my nervousness, we ordered a set.

It’s been almost a year now, and we love our stainless cookware. Not only is it free of the crazy chemicals found in nonstick pans, but it’s surprisingly easier to clean — which I didn’t expect. I find myself scrubbing harder and longer on the nonstick pan we use occasionally, because I can only use those wimpy, nonstick safe sponges. If I’m scrubbing a stainless pan, I can use a steel scouring pad, and any gunk comes off much faster.

It’s also crazy durable. I love that we don’t have to worry about what kind of utensils we use with it, how we store it, how we clean it. A good set of stainless cookware can handle pretty much anything you throw at it.

If you’re going to take the leap, just make sure that you consider it an investment. It’s not necessary to get the top of the line, but you’ll get more mileage out of a good trustworthy brand like KitchenAid* or Calphalon* than you will from an off-brand. We went with the KitchenAid, because it’s very reasonably priced, and we’ve been happy with it.

As far as cooking goes, as long as you’re diligent about watching your stove as you cook (you should be anyway), refrain from turning up the heat too high, and use a nice oil when cooking things that stick (we like extra virgin olive oil), you’ll be fine. If you do burn something to the bottom of the pan? Just whip out your handy scouring pad, and with a little elbow grease, your pan will be good as new.

There are only a few things we cook that we don’t use the stainless. We have a nice nonstick pan that we use exclusively for scrambling or frying eggs. (My husband swears by keeping a special egg pan. He says it’s one of his secrets for perfect eggs, and I can’t argue with him, because the man can make a mean omelet.)

The other essential pan for your kitchen: a good cast iron skillet. We bought ours almost five years ago (for under $20, I believe), and it’s gotten better and better each year we use it. I’m told I’ll probably be able to pass that thing down to my grandchildren.

If you’re sick of replacing your nonstick cookware or wary of cooking with chemicals, give stainless a chance. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

*Affiliate link. If you choose to purchase an item using this link, I receive a small commission for recommending it to you.

The end of No Social Media month

Remember a couple weeks ago when I was all, “I don’t even think about Facebook anymore!” That was true for a couple of weeks in the middle of the month. I experienced some withdrawal for the first week or so, and then for about two weeks, it was almost like social media didn’t exist. I was fine with out it.

As I get closer to the end of the month, though, I’m starting to feel the withdrawal symptoms creeping back. You know what’s funny, though? It’s not Facebook that I miss the most this week; it’s Pinterest. I can’t wait to look at all the pretty pictures of crafts and food and clothes. All of the sudden I’m finding things all over the Internet that I’m dying to share, and I have nowhere to post them. I can hardly wait until tomorrow.

I’m not entirely certain what will happen now. I’d like to say I’ve learned some life-changing lesson about balancing the real world with the Internet. I’d like to say I’ve made a vow to get off the computer and spend more time outside. It’s true that I want those things (maybe not outside if it’s 90 degrees, but I at least want to get out of the house), and I’m sure for the next few weeks I’ll be pretty good about sticking to it. I’ll probably use social media less for a while. But I’m a realist, and I know it won’t be long before I start feeling like I’m wasting time again.

Honestly, though, as I’ve said before: the benefits outweigh the cost. I may lose some time, but what I’m gaining is invaluable information and a support network which I depend on too much to give up.

Based on the experience, though, I do have a few small goals I’ve set for myself to help me find a little balance.

Limit screen time before bed.

These days, the only time I can read is right before I fall asleep. Before this experiment, I hated that I’d get into bed, log in to check Facebook “one more time,” and end up killing an hour playing with my phone. I sleep better when I read, and I like making time to read anyway, so I’d like to leave the Internet behind when it’s time for bed.

Get out of the house.

If I have a lot planned during the day that keeps us running around, Judah and I both stay more active and I don’t find myself wasting as much time. I’m teaching three classes this summer, Judah and I have been spending an hour a day at the YMCA where I work out, and Judah is enrolled in a weekly baby gym class. With all of these activities, staying busy shouldn’t be a problem.

Set limits.

This is my toughest goal, because I’ve tried to do this in the past, and failed miserably. There is never a time when I’m sitting on Facebook and there’s absolutely nothing else I should be doing. Sometimes it’s work that I’m avoiding, but other times it’s something I want to do — reading a book, quilting, spending time with my husband — but I get so caught up in the Internets that suddenly I look at the clock and an hour has passed.

I strive to live my life mindfully, though — mindful eating, mindful spending, and eventually, mindful time management. So I’m going to make my best effort to set hard limits and stick to them. In other words, if I’m wasting time on the Internet, I will tell myself, “You have 15 more minutes, and then it’s time to move on to something more productive.” Setting the limits won’t be hard at all — I do that all the time. The hard part is watching the clock, and actually sticking to the limits I’ve set.

Photo credit

What I did on my summer vacation (without social media)

Let me just preface this by saying that I honestly believe we would have gotten just as much done this month even if I wasn’t taking a break from social media. I’ve been planning all of this stuff since we moved into our house (a year ago this month), and we finally had the time, money, and motivation to get all of it done. The sudden surge of productivity has more to do with both of us having a month off work.

With that said: whew. It has been a crazy month. In addition to visitors or travel plans every single weekend this month (I am not exaggerating), we finally started ticking things off our huge to-do list around the house.

We kicked it off by painting the den and repainting the dining room. We already painted the dining room the same color as the kitchen — pale yellow — but I didn’t like it next to the light blue in the living room. The two colors next to each other reminded me too much of an Easter egg. So we painted the dining room mocha. The den is a fabulous green color — Valspar’s Irish Paddock.

Dining room before:

Dining room after:

And here’s a shot of the mocha and blue side by side — much better than the yellow, trust me:

Den before:

Den after:

The den functions as a dual office, craft room, a place where we can relax and read or watch movies by the fire after Judah’s in bed (there’s a desktop computer off camera that we use for that), and a depository for all things not baby proof (it’s the only non-bedroom in the house that isn’t part of the open floor plan, so we’re able to gate it off). It’s cluttered, but cozy, and I suspect we’ll be able to eliminate a lot of the clutter when we move the bookshelf out and put all the books in the built-ins in the living room.

Now that we’re finished painting, we’re slowly starting to hang some things on the wall. First, we hung a family photo gallery in the living room.

The frames are the Virserum line from IKEA, and they’re dirt cheap — $1.99 each for 4×6 and 5×7 frames, and $4.99 for 8×10 frames. The gallery includes three 4×6, three 5×7, and two 8×10 frames. I love the way these frames look, but a word of warning if you decide to go with IKEA frames: they really are cheap. The hook in the back is really just a serrated edge, and when we hung them with ordinary nails, the three frames on the right fell off the wall when Judah pounded on the other side of it from his bedroom. We replaced the nails with 3M picture hangers, and they’re much more secure now.

On the other side: collages.

The collage on the far left is all photos taken before Judah was born, the one in the middle is a wedding photo, and on the right is pictures taken in the first 4 months after Judah was born.

And a shot for perspective:

I also framed postcards from major cities where we traveled in 4×6 frames and hung them in the hallway. Hopefully someday we’ll have enough to fill the other side of the hallway, too.

Amsterdam, Paris, and London:

Springfield (our first trip together as a couple — my husband is a huge Lincoln fan, and we’re both nerds); Asheville, NC; and the Bahamas:

New York, St. Louis, and Washington DC:

The Outer Banks, NC; Seattle, and Chicago:

 

We have several more postcards, but I couldn’t figure out how to fit them on the wall yet, so we’re waiting until we collect a few more to start hanging them on the other side.

It may not seem like a lot, but all of the painting was done in the late evening (and early morning hours) after Judah was in bed. And you wouldn’t believe the work that goes into hanging and positioning a multiple-photo gallery. Tony measured, calculated, and leveled photos for what seemed like forever. He threatened to frame the scratch paper full of numbers with measurements and calculations next to the gallery just so show people it’s not as easy as it looks. Heh.

We also made a huge dent in the ridiculous jungle in our backyard. Tony and his dad removed several hundred pounds of brush from the overgrown plants in the back, and I planted another herb garden this year. I really hoped to plant a bigger vegetable garden, but between my crazy 18 month old, my part-time teaching job, and my other part-time job freelancing, I just don’t see how I’ll have the time. I’ll be lucky if I can manage a small herb garden.

If you would have told me it would take over a year before our house really started feeling like our own, I wouldn’t have believed you. But it really does take time — and money. It seems like every time we do a small project on the house, it ends up costing at least a couple hundred dollars.

It’s overwhelming to know that this is only the beginning. We still have too many empty walls in the house to count, bleak empty flower beds in the front, an orange master bathroom to paint (eventually), a wall of built-in bookshelves to install (hopefully this fall!), and the million other to-dos that are sure to pop up as we go along. It really is never-ending. I imagine we’ll finish right around the time that we decide to sell. :)

No Social Media Month: Two weeks down, two to go

I just finished my second week without social media, and I’ve decided Facebook is a lot like fast food — when I consume less, I crave less. I’m only halfway through the month, and I already don’t even think about social media. I no longer feel the urge to jump onto a social network to vent or catch up on acquaintances’ lives. Despite the fact that Facebook has been a daily part of my life for over 5 years now, after only two weeks, life feels totally normal without it.

I’ve noticed an interesting and unexpected side effect this week, though. I hoped that logging out of social networks for a month would give me more time for blogging and other more creative Internet pastimes. It has actually had the opposite effect. Without social networks, I find myself putting down my computer and phone for longer stretches of time. Without an excuse to use them throughout the day, I’m not easily reminded that I should be blogging or working. I don’t feel creatively inspired. My computer actually sat in the same spot, unopened, from Thursday night until Sunday afternoon this past weekend. I suppose that was the point of the experiment, partly — to disconnect and find more balance. But the truth is, I miss the creative outlet.

Am I more productive? Eh, not really. It’s true that we’ve been more productive around the house than normal the past couple weeks (pictures to come!), but that has more to do with my husband being home and both of us on summer vacation than my social media break. I’m still finding ways to distract myself.

The big question I wanted to answer, though: is my life better without social media? And the answer is not really. I expected this break to have much broader effects on my life, but the truth is, I really don’t think logging out of Facebook for the past two weeks has made me a better mother, wife, or friend. It hasn’t made me particularly happier, smarter, more creative or more productive. Everything feels pretty much the same only now I’m not spending part of my day connecting with people I wouldn’t otherwise see in daily life.

I do miss my Facebook friends. I sometimes wonder what some of them are up to. Unfortunately, I still don’t feel like I have the time to pick up the phone and call them. It’s something that I need to work on — with or without social media. I hoped without Facebook I would be more motivated to try, but that hasn’t been the case. Now I just feel out of the loop and even guiltier for being too busy to take the time to catch up. At least with social media, I knew what was going on with them. I could congratulate their successes, and even make a call if something they posted alerted me that they needed me. Without Facebook, I don’t have time to call, and I don’t even have a reminder that I should.

It’s been an interesting experiment, and I’m sticking with it for the rest of the month. It has been nice not spending so much time attached to a screen, and I certainly think I’ll take some of the balance I’ve found with me when the month is over. So far the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I have no reason to feel guilty about the time I spend connecting with people on social networks. If it’s not one thing, it’s another, and at least social networks are more engaging, helpful, educational, and, well, social than television. If I had to choose one vice over the other, I think I’ll stick with Facebook.

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