Talking to Strangers

Happy Thursday, everyone!

Since we’re getting ready for a Friday wedding, today has felt more like Friday than Thursday in many ways, and Amelia and I have been having a wonderful busy time. We have been seeing close friends (apparently we are girls who do lunch, something we’ve always wanted to be, and now we’re at a soccer field watching Daddy referee. Sort of.

Actually it proved too hot for a hungry, sleepy pigeon, so we’re going to try again in a little bit and just now we’re having a nap in the car while mommy writes this.

In between, we stopped at Starbucks to enjoy a lovely little birthday gift and air conditioning and I struck up a conversation with some ladies near me who were wrapping up the last of their grading for the year. They were both experienced high school teachers discussing the challenges of introducing technology in the classroom, keeping unmotivated students engaged, and other difficulties they face every day.

Now some of you might be surprised at my interest in such issues, especially those who’ve heard me talk about my hopes to homeschool Amelia. And it’s true that I am deeply concerned about the impact of current federal and state education policies on a system already stressed by too many children with wildly varied needs. But no matter how Neal and I decide to address these issues for Amelia, this concern is exactly why I’m so interested.

So anyway, the big thing this teacher said about the challenges she and her colleagues gave in the classroom, other than the constant pressure of No Child Left Behind and Common Core and other movements that increase testing and try to quantify teacher performance, is that there is a major paradigm shift teachers need to make in order to adequately prepare children for our connected and information-rich environment. I’m not sure I agree with her, so I’m asking you what you think.

Essentially, she believes that teaching content is not and should not be a teacher’s focus. Instead, teachers should emphasize the importance of data literacy over subject matter learning. Today’s children will have lifelong access to any information they need with a simple internet search, so the goal of education shouldn’t be to provide information, but instead the tools needed to effectively search for, analyze, and use found information.


Now We Are Thirty

Hey, guys! I’m here briefly with a recap of the weekend. As you know, I’m working part-time from home, and that seems in practice to mean that I will have weeks with no work at all and then a couple of weeks or a few days when I have a lot that needs finished. That’s where I am this week, which makes the twenty minutes in which I wrote this absolutely stolen time.

It was a busy and exciting weekend, though. Friday I hit the dreaded milestone birthday, but rather than feel grumpy about it I had a good sit-down with myself and informed me, “Me, I can’t think of any reason to feel a lot of self-pity for the fact that I am possibly now middle-aged. After all, me, when I look back on my accomplishments this decade it’s looking pretty good. I’ve made up for the failures of the decade before by going back to school and finishing a degree (not that degree, but that’s for the best, me and I agree), I’ve bought a house with Neal that I love, and I’ve even managed to eke out a fairly last-minute slide into motherhood.” Granted, I have certainly learned to beware of goals that require stuff to happen I can’t actually control, but this hasn’t saved me from a vision of myself at forty with two beautiful beloved babies, well on their way to growing up, but still. Life is wonderful, and it is more wonderful at thirty than it was at twenty, and I have little to be afraid of as I face the future.

Amelia treated me to a couple of very special presents for my birthday, too. With the collusion of her daddy she presented me with a very interesting and intimidating GPS athletic watch. I’m going to keep an eye out for a little kid’s bike trailer because running is highly unlikely (I’ve tried running, even completed a 5K, and we don’t suit), and the watch will have to accustom itself to working only at the most glacial of paces, but it’s a good bite of accountability on my fitness goals, just sitting there waiting for me to take it. Far more precious was the gift she gave me Thursday all by herself: a quite deliberate roll from tummy to back, executed with much fanfare from mommy and completely self-satisfied complacence from infant. She has since repeated the trick several times and for various audiences so it’s official: my baby can roll over. One way, anyhow, but I’m not sure how motivated she feels about going the other way.

I am not sure if this forum will hear from me again before the weekend; as I mentioned I have lots to accomplish. But just for a preview of upcoming information, here’s what I’ve been working on house-wise:

  • A plan of attack for the incoming stuff dilemma. This weekend has been arranged to include a quick shopping trip for supplies, and hopefully by Monday or Tuesday I’ll have a delightful solution to present.
  • Keeping the house clean and tidy. True confession, no progress whatsoever has been made on floors, beyond a good sweeping. However, great strides have been taken against clutter, fueled by having some friends over for dinner Saturday night, and really very little work remains for full kitchen recovery and nearly all of that involves a load of dishes that, against all my good resolutions, I didn’t do.
  • Some preliminary planning for a good material-goods purge. I think with some work (and clear eyes on the prize and not the stuff) that I can make some fantastic progress on the clutter I loathe. Mostly by stuffing into bags or my car and making it go away.

To Shoe or Not To Shoe

So Neal and I are advisors for a group of young college students at the nearby state university, and occasionally invite them up to visit us en masse. And, sweet things that they are, they all cheerfully take their shoes off and leave them in a giant sloppy pile at the door rather than track dirt or slush or pollen (depending on the season) through my house.

I’ve never asked them to do this, and I tend myself to walk around full-shod, but I’m thinking about it now as I strive to keep the house tidier all the time. What do you think about shoes in the house? Do you wear them? Do you take ’em off? Do you find it makes a difference in dust and mess on your floors?

Cleaning Won’t Fix It: Problems of a Low-Storage Home

Hello again! Amelia and I had a wonderful weekend visiting my family. We got to see everyone, had a wonderful picnic followed by delicious cake and homemade ice cream, and even attended a parade! Naturally, Amelia and her younger cousin (they are two days apart) were much petted and loved on, so yesterday and today Amelia is making it clear that the swing is not a cool place to sit and where’s a grandparent or an aunt when you need one? Add that to a doctor’s appointment with some new vaccinations yesterday, and I just didn’t get this post written when I wanted to.

I am happy to report, however, that her doctor is pleased as punch with Amelia’s growth and accomplishments, as is only proper. She’s a beautiful, wonderful girl and I’m glad we continue to suffer no significant health problems after her early start.

Back to business: I promised to report on problem areas in my house, and I’m going to do so now. This is not really intended as an exhaustive list. There are a lot of areas where things are less than perfect, obviously, but today I want to talk about systemic areas. Not necessarily something that we need to just do a better job with, but rather something that isn’t a matter of simple maintenance.

Incoming Stuff

Our house, well-loved as it is, has a couple of little quirks that present challenges in staying organized. And the three things I’m going to talk about today are all related to those quirks. The first is the fact that there isn’t a dedicated entryway or foyer. The front door opens immediately into the dining room, and more than half the time we use the garage door anyway, which opens right into the living room. Neither entry is particularly close to a closet or storage area. This means that there’s no great place to set up a ‘landing strip’ for mail that needs to go in or out, wet shoes, coats, and so on. And in consequence these things tend to land wherever they fall: on the breakfast bar, the dining table, the coffee table . . . whichever flat surface is most convenient when we walk in the door.

This is a major problem. Not only is this the cause of a lot of the clutter in the house, it’s also created difficulties with lost and misplaced bills, disorganized exits from the house (especially troublesome now that we have a baby to tote along with us with all associated paraphernalia), and general mayhem.

Proposed Solution: Create a landing strip by the garage door that makes use of containers and wall space to manage the following items:

  • Keys (these currently have a small hook rack by the door that’s been pretty successful, but I’m not opposed to moving that some if necessary for the whole solution)
  • Coat Rack or Hooks (we have a coat rack by the front door, but that’s not where we usually enter or leave, plus it’s covered in huge numbers of coats so it’s difficult to grab or add one)
  • Shoe Storage
  • Mail Sorter
  • Tray for Man Pockets (Neal tends to empty his pockets as he walks through the house to change after work, and there’s a little trail of earbuds, inhaler, wallet, ID tag, and so on that stretches from the breakfast bar to the nightstand and dresser, to his desk in the office)
  • Trash Can (for junk mail)
  • Mirror (for quick spit-up checks)

Towels and Linens

Our house has no linen closet and minimal bathroom storage, but we have lots of linens and towels and bathroom dohickeys. Currently these things are stored in a chest in the living room, a flatpack cabinet in the office closet, a dresser in the office, stacked in the laundry/pantry, and a series of cubbies wedged into the tiny bathroom. Amelia’s towels and linens are stored separately. Moreover, that piecemeal space is inadequate to the volume of things we need stored, and clean linens often end up living in the bottom of laundry baskets as other loads are folded and put away on top of them. There just isn’t a place for them to go.

Proposed Solution: Sort through the collection to make sure we need everything we have. Try to bypass Neal’s cute but obnoxious-in-small-house need to assure me that the towel that’s nearly ripped in half still has useful material and should be kept for the garage or dirty work rather than tossed (He can’t throw anything away, and even has difficulty disconnecting with stuff enough to donate it.) to get excess stuff out of the house. Consolidate storage.

Long-Term Plan: Supplement storage consolidation by ripping out current bathroom cabinetry and replace with open shelves and basket/bin storage.

The Combination Laundry/Pantry/Utility

WP_20150511_002Not only is this room desperately trying to be all things to all people, it’s an incredibly awkward space to begin with. You walk in from the kitchen to see the washer and dryer directly in front of you, the utilities to your left behind a floor-to-ceiling curtain, and a window and some shelves for pantry storage to your right. But there’s a little nubbin of space to the right of the washing machine that is barely three feet square and contains two doors. It creates this odd square cutout in our bedroom that’s almost as awkward as it makes the laundry room. We are currently using a combination of steel restaurant style shelving and a plastic shelf along the back wall of the odd bit for pantry storage.

WP_20150511_003The trouble is that, with so little good storage space in the rest of the house, this room gets dumped on. It is just full of stuff, and nothing is working. I need it to be much tidier and more organized to support more cooking at home.

Proposed Solution: Just getting it cleaned and organized is going to do wonders. Again, this is going to require a purge; I know there’s stuff in there I don’t need or use.

It’s Friday!

And I am not cleaning my bathroom; instead I’m driving with my beautiful girl to visit my parents for the annual dog party*!

*Also a fine time to celebrate my birthday, and my grandma’s, a week early this year so more family can attend.

So rather than a long or serious post, I just thought I’d share a couple of fun articles in honor of the occasion.

5 Grown-Up Things You Should Be Doing in the Kitchen by the Time You’re 30: I’ve got a week, guys. Although I am happy to say I am cleaning up on number 1, good on 2-4, and have been guilty of offenses against number five involving take-out containers that I do solemnly swear to mostly straighten up on (hey, you know those black containers with the tight clear lids some Chinese places use? I’m fine with those).

Find Out What Your Name Would Be If You Were Born Today: Sophia, apparently. I share my name with a ton of 80s babies, but I love it. So glad I’m not Barbara, my 1950s name. In other news, Gertrude would apparently be a strong contender for my girl’s name at the turn of the century. I like it.

Love Me Some Scheduling

Good morning and happy Wednesday! Amelia and I are happy to see the blue skies today after several days of grey and chill. I had a bowl of cereal today and am feeling very excited about my leftover beef short rib for lunch. Would anyone be interested in a semi-regular post about what I’ve been cooking and how it turns out? I’m never going to be a food blogger with fancy photos and unique recipes, but I try recipes from all over the internet and a pile of cookbooks, and I could point people to some really good ones.

I’ve been looking back over my list of tasks from Monday, and I think I can clean it up a little more. The daily tasks continue to be dishes and straightening the kitchen (so far so good, although I took care of some of last night’s dishes this morning because I’d meant to unload and reload the dishwasher before bed and realized that a couple of power blips Monday had meant that the load I started then didn’t actually ever finish. Whoops.), a daily load of laundry (which didn’t happen yesterday because when Neal washed his soccer referee uniforms Monday night he grabbed a whole bunch of other stuff to throw in with them and got me ahead of the laundry game), and generally clearing clutter as it’s created (which will soon become a post of its own as I think there are some kinds of messes that need some better solutions).

So as for weekly tasks, we have, with daily assignments:

Monday: Dust all those ridiculous thingamabobs.

Tuesday: Clean the litterboxes. I hate this the most so assigning it to Tuesday gives me the most time from today before I have to do it. Maybe this is too honest?

Wednesday: Sweeping and vacuuming the bedrooms/office. I’m totally going to do this today. We’ll assign clean sheets to this day too so that I’m doing all the bedroom clean up in one day. Also, Amelia woke up at three AM last night—she usually sleeps beautifully all night long but it happens—and spent the rest of the night cuddled up with me. Everything was fresh and clean when I woke up at six and switched sides with her, but I’m pretty sure her diaper leaked on my side of the bed before we both woke up for good. Yes, my chore list is self-serving. I thought we established this with the litterboxes.

Thursday: Sweeping and mopping the public rooms. I don’t really want to, but that’s the whole point of this, isn’t it?

Friday: Clean the bathroom. That way it’s always fresh before we have any weekend guests. This is actually, of all the tasks on this list, my favorite. I know, it sounds crazy, but I hate tasks that deal with clutter, and I LOVE tasks that are just simple scrubbing, and the reward for my labor is obvious and immediate. Yes, cleaning a bathroom can be icky, but that’s what makes a clean bathroom so nice and luxurious. Just trust me.

My mother-in-law pointed out that washing the windows every month is probably more than I actually need to do it, and she’s right. Especially since we don’t currently have a dog sticking his nose and feet all over the back sliding door. But I think I’m going to aim at washing a few of the windows each month. If I wash the nursery and office windows one month, the dining, laundry, and bedroom windows another, and the kitchen and living room the third, all my windows will be washed four times a year and the task will never involve that much actual work. I’m not taking responsibility for the windows in the garage. I’m pretty sure I can’t reach them from the inside right now anyway because there’s stuff stored in front of them.

So this is the list. You will notice that I have tried to be very pragmatic about the fact that I don’t like housework. Just because I’m trying to be more proactive about it doesn’t mean that’s going to change. It’s boring. And I break my fingernails a lot. But I’m no longer going to use that as an excuse not to do it, just to organize it in such a way that gets me working on it as little as possible, but doesn’t require me to play catch-up on the weekends when I’d rather go places and do stuff while my family is all together.

Coming up: identifying areas that just aren’t working for us. You know what I mean: those areas that are always a horrible mess no matter what. Those items that seem to be always littering all the surfaces because you don’t actually know where they go. We’ll locate the good, the bad, and the ugly either later this week or early next.

Progress and New Plans

Progress and New Plans

Well, it’s nine a.m. as I start writing this and I am awake and dressed. I had a slice of banana bread and some grape juice; not the healthiest of breakfasts, but it existed and it is in my belly and that is goal one. My kitchen is not pristine; there are a couple of glasses and a cereal bowl to put into the dishwasher and a pile to put away and the floors are a mess, but there are no dirty dishes from cooking over the weekend. Neal, being the incredible guy that he is, apparently read this blog Friday and rather than commenting much about it, he got up before I did Saturday morning and cleaned all the extant dishes and the countertops so I would have a fresh start today.

Be still, my heart! He’s so totally taken.

Yesterday was my first Mother’s Day and it did not disappoint! My MIL was over for the weekend (I’m still trying to talk her into moving over here. It’s a great idea and she totally should.) and she cheerfully changed diapers almost the whole day. I think she and Amelia both enjoyed it and I got a break. Amelia, with her Daddy’s collusion, got me a clothesline to be installed later this week or whenever it quits raining, and in the afternoon we went to the fish store and I finished populating my little fish tank. It looks fantastic and my new fishie Spike has already gotten a very good start on cleaning the algae problem we had developed while the tank languished in new-baby-induced neglect.

Designing a Chore List

Now that the pleasantries are covered, it’s time to get down to business. I promised last week that Monday morning I would start developing a housecleaning schedule so that I can keep the house cleaner every day. Now, this is my list only, so tasks Neal takes care of and will continue to take care of aren’t on it. These include:

  • Mowing: Mom keeps volunteering me to do all the mowing, but Neal keeps assuring me he’s got it.
  • Weeding: Routine weeding of the garden is something Neal will continue to take care of. He loves his garden and it’s relaxing for him to work in it. This is not to say that I will not help him with a big comprehensive weeding task anyone who looks at our yard can immediately see we need. That’s not going on the chore list though.
  • Cleaning the Garage: Not touching that baby with a ten-foot pole. ‘Nuff said.

So, let’s take the rest of the tasks and divide them by frequency. Later this week, I’ll assign them to a schedule by day. Hopefully I don’t always need to be so regimented, but I am in the process of setting up a new routine, so let’s make it as routine as possible.

Daily Tasks

  • Dishes: As previously mentioned, no more letting the dishes stack up. Let’s add wiping down the countertops to this task; this will be easy to do quickly each time the dishes are finished.
  • Clearing Clutter: This feels like a stressful task now, because rooms are cluttered. However, if I make a point of clearing any clutter I leave each day as I make it, it’s going to get under control really fast. This will also become a routine chore for Amelia as soon as she’s big enough to put her own toys in a bin, so it’s good for me to get started now.
  • Sweep the Kitchen: I don’t think the whole house needs to be swept every day (if you disagree, try not to cringe too loudly. Baby steps!), but the kitchen floor tends to develop a light dusting of sorted-through kitty kibble and scraps of onion paper with surprising speed. It would take like ten seconds to whisk it all up after the dishes are done each evening.
  • A Load of Laundry: Between cloth diapering, spit up, and the fact that Neal and I stubbornly continue to wear clothes all the time, it’s fairly easy for us to accumulate enough to run something through the laundry every day.

Weekly Tasks

  • Sweeping and Vacuuming: I think I can split this into the living and dining room one day and the bedrooms another. I’ll see once I start thinking about daily workload.
  • Cleaning the Bathroom: Self-explanatory, I hope.
  • Clean Out Refrigerator: This might be more of a monthly task. With me at home there seems to be more of a rotation going, plus leftovers are actually getting eaten. However, once it’s not a huge chore every time it might be a good habit to clean it out before I go to the grocery store each time. That’s more like twice monthly. Hmm.
  • Dust: This task is why I hate tchotchkes. Although I love an excuse to spell the word. Unfortunately, Neal accumulates tangible mementoes. He’s just that sort of person.
  • Launder Bedding and Towels: Yes, laundry is on my daily list, but I think sometimes I need an extra reminder to do this particular load. I want to eventually replace all my towels with plain white ones so that when I do this load I can drop some bleach in it and keep everything super bright.
  • Clean Litterboxes: Our cat, Miles, has two. Oh wait, one in the garage so three. Yes there are more kitty toilets than people ones in my house.
  • Mopping Living/Dining/Kitchen: This doesn’t have to be a big task. If I do it regularly, it’s little more than a barely damp cloth and a bit of cleaner. Maybe I can make up some Mrs. Meyer soap in a spray bottle so I can just spritz as I go (like the floor cleaners you drizzle in front of the mop) instead of making a big nasty bucket. Would this work?

Monthly Tasks

  • Wash Windows: Yup.
  • Clean Under Sofa: Our sofa weighs about a metric ton and a half. I can move it myself, but not without scratching the floor. So I’m not going to commit to a deep cleaning under there every week. I’ll just stick the vacuum attachment under there blind every now and again.

This is not as long a list as it feels when you look over the house and realize uncomfortably that you’re a slob. It really isn’t that bad, so why does it always feel so overwhelming? Le sigh. I’m going to go drop a load of baby clothes in the washer.

See? It’s working already!