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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Late Fate

I am always late. I have been late my entire life. I don't know how to be on time. I've been working on this problem for my entire existence. It is the nut I cannot crack.

It's not like I run hours behind, usually not. No, my every day problem is that I am running five or ten minutes late. It seems like this should be an easy problem to fix. Just get ready for whatever ten minutes sooner, right? It's not that easy.

I have tried every possible hack to get out of the door on time to no avail. There is some internal disconnect in me that makes time management very hard. I have no instincts here. Whenever I try to start getting ready to leave such that I will be on time, I have to fight all my internal clocks screaming that it is a ridiculous amount of time, that it should not take nearly so long, then time melts into the ether, I don't know what happens, and I am late again.

I do not have the ability to accurately measure the passage of time. I read once that a classic symptom of ADHD is to ask the person to estimate when three minutes have passed. The person with ADHD will say that the three minutes is up when approximately 90 seconds have passed. I have the opposite problem. I call three minutes after five or six minutes. Time not only flies, it evaporates. I do not know how to fix this.

I'm not looking for tips here; I'm explaining the situation.

But occasionally, the stars align. Somehow a miracle happens and I leave the house on time. Not wink wink, drive like a madman on time, but regular person regular on time. Do you know what happens almost every time this minor miracle occurs?

There is an unforeseen and unavoidable traffic jam, and I'm late anyway. That's what happens.

All my heroic effort gets rewarded with the exact same outcome: late as usual. It makes it hardly worth trying.




This post brought to you by the traffic tie-up on a road I wasn't even driving on, which made the dump truck drivers crossing at my intersection feel entitled to run their red light and block my road through three light cycles.

I'll also note there are other cultures in the world in which my deficits would not be considered moral failings. I wish I lived in one of those.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Math Book

See that I am posting two days in a row. I am as shocked as you are, but this is too weird, creepy, providential not to share.

Back in the spring, the plan I made for Sam's 2nd grade math curriculum was to complete the Saxon 1st grade book and then skip ahead to the Saxon 3rd grade book, since I had been assured the 2nd grade book was essentially a repeat of 1st grade material. I own the Saxon 3 teacher book, picked up at a used curriculum sale three years ago, and do not own the Saxon 2 book so this plan was very convenient for my finances.

All summer I had the nagging thought that I needed to locate the math book, but I wasn't terribly concerned about it. I knew I owned it. I also knew there were limited places it could be in the house. I have kept the homeschooling materials fairly contained. I thought the task of finding the book would be simple and quickly completed so I procrastinated.

On Friday, Sam and I completed Saxon 1 so the day for finding the book could not be put off any longer. We were scheduled to start Saxon 3 on Monday.

About midday on Saturday, I went upstairs to where I am almost 100% sure the book resides. The book is not there. Huh. Well, I must have put it in one of the great piles of books I created over the summer. It's not there either. Hmmm. Maybe it's just been buried under papers in the downstairs bookcase. No. Did I find it already, forget I had found it, and it's already sitting in the holding spot for this year's materials? No. Is it buried on the bench upstairs? No. Is it in my room in the corner of used school stuff? I don't have time today to dig it out and look. I'll have to try that spot tomorrow.

Where on earth did I put this book? All afternoon I would think of another place it might be, go check, and come up empty.

Finally as I was getting ready for bed, I had the flashing thought that maybe I had let someone borrow the book. I don't remember giving it to anyone. It was as close to a false memory as a memory can be, but what the heck. The thing is that the last time I definitively remember seeing this book was right before I got pregnant with Ella. I have lost a lot of memory cells since then.

There are a limited number of people I could have possibly lent the book so it wouldn't hurt to ask around. Because I wasn't sure if I was making it all up in my head out of desperation to explain how I lost a giant spiral-bound book, I was hesitant to reach out. I decided to swallow my pride, and approaching midnight, I sent out a text to five or six people asking if they had any idea about my math book. Then I turned off my phone.

This morning when I turned my phone back on, I had a cascade of negative answers waiting on me. No one knew anything about my math book. I didn't really think so since I didn't really remember handing it out. I'll have to dig out that corner in my room after all.

Here is where it gets weird.

We went to Mass. Afterwards H, the woman who manages the homeschool lending library at our parish and was one of the recipients of my desperation text, approaches me and says K, a woman from a different parish, had dropped off a few of hodgepodge books to donate to the lending library this week. Coincidentally, one of the books in the box is exactly the Saxon 3 teacher guide I am searching for. H says that since the homeschool library already has a copy of the book and these new donations have not yet been entered into the library database, she is just going to give me this book. If ever my book turns up, I can donate the extra copy then.

What is the likelihood the exact book I am looking for is donated the very weekend I need it? As I am contemplating this profound coincidence, H goes to get the book for me. I am blown away.

But Wait! There's more!

She arrives with the book. Again I am amazed this book should happen to surface at the moment I need it. I take the book and begin to flip through the book as one does.

And there, on the first page I open, is my own handwriting staring back at me. There is my hastily drawn, messy numbers in purple colored pencil. This is my MO.



What?! How?!

I take this book to my sister, who is unaware of the subdrama. "Does this look like my handwriting?" "Yes." "I THINK SO TOO!!"

I flip some more and find more evidence of my own handwriting.

Reader, this *IS* my book. The front cover is even creased in the same spot.

How did K get it? It's so improbable she borrowed it from me because she is a homeschooling veteran with many years of experience under her belt. She was homeschooling Saxon math before my kids were in school. Yet she had it and just so happened to decide to donate it the very week I needed it. And H just happened to be included in a text I almost didn't send and decide to give me the book.

I. I...don't really know what to say about this. I am astounded.





N.B. I should probably put my name in my books. Lesson learned.





Saturday, November 10, 2018

Housekeeping Techniques

We are now far enough into the school year to assess how successful my summer projects were. Hard to believe it's been three months since I last posted about The Purge. I even have one last post about my closet languishing in draft.

On the whole the summer was a mixed bag. On the one hand, I am super pleased with my cleaned laundry room. I love walking into the room and knowing nothing is going to fall. The bookcase is not going to throw things at me. I don't have to contort myself with the laundry basket to make it across the room. It is a solid win. Also my closet is great. Spoiler from yet to be published post: I purged clothes, trashed a pile of stuff, and reorganized the school supplies. I can actually walk to the back on the closet. I can hang clothes without stepping over and standing on a pile in the floor. Again, this is outstanding.

However, on the other hand, this is not what I spent most of the summer doing. I spent the vast majority of the summer digging out the pit that is the upstairs. On this front, it's hard not to feel like I wasted so much time. Nothing is as bad as when I started in June, but nothing is clean anymore either. There's still too much up there. The children dump and walk away and then dump more on top. It's too difficult to keep them out of the unpurged boxes and so it all gets mixed back together.

I knew when I chose--and I did choose--to walk away from the upstairs and clean my closet, this would likely be the result. It just took so long to get everything organized, I had severe decision fatigue being upstairs, and I needed to get away from that stuff. This decision fatigue is probably why it was so difficult and took so long to clean out my closet. It's very mentally taxing to have to make decisions over and over and over. That sounds stupid to say, but it's true. Nevertheless, I needed to complete some project that was under my control to maintain and not subject to the sweet mercies of children. 

That's the summer recap: trying not to despair over all I didn't get done and trying not to think about the fact that next summer I will actively need babysitting again in order to work and probably won't get much of it. (I don't even know how to find a daytime babysitter that isn't a daycare.) But I am super happy about my closet and the laundry room.

Anyway. So I realized something about my housekeeping style this week. I may not get everything put away, but if the surface is clean, I will not pile. If I leave an item out that ought to be put away, it may look like I have forgotten about it, but I have not forgotten about it. I see it and WILL NOT put anything on top of it. If I should need the surface, I will put the stray item away. However if several things are piled up, it moves mental categories from 'simple task' to 'project.' Projects are mentally intimidating so projects get procrastinated. The problem arises that, since I do not live by myself, other people see the stray item as an invitation to pile. A table I have cleaned off quickly gets overrun while the item at the bottom is something easy to put away. I don't have wider lessons to draw here. I only noticed when I am likely to pile and when I don't. Maybe I should always put everything away every time, but that's not how life works.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Progress or Sanity

Another attempt at a fast post. We'll see. My inability to post regularly is related to a different problem I have been unable to solve. I am going to use the female pronouns throughout because we have mostly girls and I want to protect the innocent and the guilty.

This year I have four students with school work. Three of those students require an intensive time investment from me just by the demands of their grade levels. One of those four students needs minimal input from me.

My minimal time student completes her work in a reasonable fashion. Our daily interaction consists of listening to a narration or two, correcting her math work, reciting a dictation selection if scheduled, and checking all the boxes on the checklist. This routine is basically smooth. A hiccup every now and again, but dependable.

One of my time intensive students is excited to learn. She cooperates. She completes her work in lightning fast time, and is a joy.

Two of my time intensive students require constant redirection and are like dragging stubborn mules through the mud. The younger of these students needs my assistance for 90% of her work so daily I drag this stubborn child through her work because I see it as my work too AND WE ARE GOING TO DO IT. Our daily meeting, inevitably, eats far more of our school time than I can afford to spend, but appropriate progress is made because I insist.

The older of these students, theoretically, should be able to work independently on the work that does not require me. Reality says this does not happen with any due speed.

My day is spent running from fire to fire. If I only had one uncooperative student, I would have much more time to repeatedly redirect the one. As it is, I have two students working on vastly different subjects who both need to be stood over all day. And a 1yo toddler. Don't forget about her. If I had more than one room downstairs, I might could set up zones to walk through and redirect. But I don't.

What I actually have is one room downstairs. This room contains the cooking and the eating and the schoolwork and the toddler area and usually three children and me. I used to have an alternative work table (read: piece of plywood on a keyboard stand) in my bedroom, but there's a crib there now. Upstairs I have a husband, working and making phone calls, in an area open to the downstairs, which requires continual shushing of children. Also upstairs is one dependably working student in her room and one student in her room who spends a lot of time doing...something. They both want to be upstairs to avoid the noise and chaos of downstairs. Both feel their dignity insulted if I insist they work downstairs. If I am being honest, it is easy for me to lose track of this daydreaming student upstairs in all the demands of the downstairs crew.

My dilemma is how to prioritize her work. If I put down a hard deadline after which I am no longer available for school in the afternoons, which I desperately need to do, she makes very little progress in her work. I assign the same assignments week after week after week as she accomplishes a day and a half worth of work over the course of an entire week.

If I insist that all the work scheduled for the day be completed in the same day, two things happen. First my attention for the constant redirection isn't available until late in the day, which means I will have to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening (and night?) making sure the work is complete. The second thing is that after the time gets later than her perception of "The End of The School Day," her work turns to garbage. There is crying and crying and crying and no effort and pages of sloppy work with wrong answers. I don't feel like we are accomplishing anything except torturing all of us.

What generally happens in reality is that she does what she does until I finish readalouds and then she gets my full attention until it is time for supper. This time between readalouds and supper is not long enough for her to get all her work done and she usually loses focus before supper time anyway. My afternoon is busted and she is still behind.

I also have to consider the line between being her teacher and being her mother. I do not want our family life consumed by her school work choices. I am capable of grabbing onto that incomplete work and shaking it like rag doll in a dog's mouth, but I am making a conscious choice not to do this. But, argh, I want to check off that checklist. The unchecked boxes drive me mad.

I should probably spend less time working with the younger stubborn one, but this is difficult for me to accomplish in the moment. I always second guess how long it actually takes and the time flits away. I need a hard stopping point with this one too. 

So it seems I have a choice between progress or sanity. I can preserve my ability to do anything aside from school--and I do mean anything. I am currently not cooking or cleaning or exercising or doing much of anything aside from dragging children through schoolwork and tending a baby--by establishing firm deadlines, the consequence of which is to allow her to fall very, very behind. It is hard for me to imagine a meaningful consequence to avoid this outcome. Or I can continue dragging, dragging, dragging. The work will get done, eventually, but I won't be doing anything else.

An aside: I have talked to the pediatrician about the focus issue. Her answer is that if the child can focus and follow through on tasks she wants to complete, it is not ADHD. I am...not convinced of this explanation. I am not sure it is ADHD, but I am also not sure it is not.

(Okay, this post took nearly two hours to write, half of which was spent baby wrangling. Not terrible, I guess.)


Saturday, October 6, 2018

Swimming Summer

Back in April, I bought a summer pass to my local rec center in order to try to get swimming worked into our family's summer activities, and more specifically it is a low impact exercise for me to strengthen my core. The pass was $150 for five months, May through September. I thought I'd give an update for how it all worked out.

We did, indeed, go swimming more than we ever have in the past. This outcome was not difficult to achieve since one swimming outing per summer was a high water mark. However, I think the summer pass is a little deceptive.

The rec center has two pools, an indoor pool and an outdoor pool. The outdoor pool is the expected domain of children. The indoor pool is for rec center swimming lessons, lap swimming, and water aerobics. It isn't that there isn't open areas in the indoor pool to swim and play. It's that children get hard looks if they are present in an unstructured way. How to say this? The body language of the older people seems to indicate that perhaps a truce has been violated. So the outdoor pool it is.

The outdoor pool suits the swimming desires of the children nicely, except it is only open from Memorial Day until the day before county's public school starts. That's the first week of August.  All this means that in reality the five month swimming pass only equals two and a half months of swimming in the outdoor pool. (Why is the outdoor pool season so short when even today, October 6, the high is 88 degrees? I do not know.)

My initial goal was to get to the rec center once a week all summer. So how'd it go?

We did not go to the rec center at all in May. We were behind in school and I was unwilling to take time away and risk extending school into June.

June arrived and I was determined. We went once a week the first three weeks in June. During the last week in June, the four older kids spent the week with my parents, but I was not going to skip my swimming trip. I dutifully brought Ella to childcare to stay by herself and went to the pool. I was pulled out of the pool within ten minutes because Ella never stopped screaming.

The first week in July was very busy with travelling so we skipped the swim trip. The next week, the kids had swimming lessons every morning, but I managed to squeeze in an exhausted trip one afternoon because I didn't want to miss two weeks in a row. The next week, the children had VBS. I had learned my lesson about attempting solo trips without anyone to keep Ella company in the childcare room so I did not go. After VBS, we then were afflicted with a GI virus that took two entire weeks to slowly work its way through the family. No one was seriously ill, but you didn't want those children in a public pool either. July did not go as anticipated.

Now it was August and I was set to resume the weekly swim trips. I put off the trip to the end of the week because schools were starting mid-week and I thought the pool would be less crowded afterwards. Well, it was less crowded. It was empty because it was closed. I can't fault the rec center because they had had signs up all summer stating the close date. I had just never paid full attention to those signs until the day I walked into the building with five children expecting to swim in a closed pool. It didn't occur to me the pool would close in August. It was this day I discovered children are not terribly welcome in the indoor pool.

After this, I pretty much gave up on going to the rec center. I know that my pass was technically good through the end of September, but the thought of trying to convince children to go with me to placate Ella while I went swimming and they...dribbled basketballs? It didn't seem worth the effort. And then school started and we were already behind. Heh.

In totality, we went swimming six times over the summer. Was that worth paying $150 for a pass? Honestly, I don't know. Is $25 a swim too much to pay for three hours of swimming for six people? Probably. Is it totally out of line? Maybe not. I can say truthfully, I would not have gone at all if I didn't have the pass, even though paying at the door would have wound up costing half as much.

I am not sure what I will do next summer. Given the extremely short outdoor pool season, I think you have to plan to go more than once a week so when the inevitable off-weeks happen, you will have gotten your money's worth in the workable times. I am not sure that next summer will be amenable to planning multiple swimming trips a week. I only completed about half the work I intended in The Purge this past summer. If past experience is any indication, I will start next summer with the rest of the house still unfinished and in need of attention. I can hope to get some bigger house projects done during the school year, but I know better than to plan on it.

I should be able to go solo next year too, but it is hard to make the schedule work on a regular basis for solo trips since just getting there and coming back home eats up most of an hour.

I am glad I spent time in the pool this summer and found my buoyancy again. I think it was good for all of us to have goals for leaving the house instead of spending every day neck-deep in housekeeping. I also kinda wish I never left the house the entire summer so I could be finished with more of the house. I have learned that in this season of life, balance means inching forward almost imperceptibly while completing almost nothing. I'll have to reassess in the spring.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Prioritization and Pockets

I have another Purge post coming. I started it the second week of August before life and responsibilities snowballed on my head, and the post stalled out before pictures could be added. We are now in the full swing of school.

I have had a hard time prioritizing the blog since I stopped working--or, um, leaving my house to work. I ain't stopped working yet. When I was working, I had long, long stretches of time with nothing to do. It was easy to write in the 8-9 hours a day I sat in front of a computer in utter silence with little company. My problem back then was that I had way too much downtime and few productive ways in which to spend it.

In a little cosmic joke, I now have the exact opposite problem. Now I have no downtime. Ha! Ask and ye shall receive? Well, there are definitely worst ways to spend one's time, but if ever I get a stretch of 3 or 4 hours, I usually have bills to pay or taxes to do. Blogging drops down the list fast.

A secondary problem is that I cannot figure out how to write posts faster than I do. My approach to blogging tends to be long set pieces. It's my approach to conversation too, which is probably why nobody likes talking to me. (I kid, I kid. Kinda.) But given the long form approach, a post takes 3 or 4 hours to write. I need to learn how to break it up into shorter pieces of work, or gasp, write shorter posts. This problem of too big chunks repeats itself all over my life so it is something to practice.

So I endeavor to post more, even though I will likely fail. I feel like I have written this post before about shorter, more frequent blogging, but I am too lazy to go looking. 

***

And now the pockets.

Yesterday my phone fell out of my pocket at least half a dozen times. I would be completing innocuous tasks like walking across the room or bending down to pick something up off the floor, and the phone would crash to the floor.

Dave witnessed one of these episodes and I vented my frustration to him.

He said he noticed my phone was sticking halfway out of my pocket.

I said to him it was the result of the terrible, terrible design of women's pant pockets that I could not carry my phone in my pocket.

He looked at me, dubiously. He said that he doubted phones were meant to be carried in pockets. They are too big, he said, as he patted his bulletproof plastic phone carrier attached to his belt.

I said my phone would definitely fit in his pocket. He gave me a look. I walked across the room and deposited my phone into the giant abyss of his pants pocket. The phone disappeared. He had to reach into his pocket to find where the phone landed. He could probably could carry two or three phones in his pocket.

Reader, he started laughing.



Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Purge, Part 7

It occurs to me at this late date I should have subtitled all these posts. Oh well.

Okay, so this probably wasn't a great idea for getting all the things done I want done, but the truth is I never expected it to take as long as it did. I thought a couple hours one afternoon and then I would move on to greater heights. How wrong I was.

What am I talking about?

I purged my hanging clothes. I thought it would be easy. It was not easy.

When last we met here, I had cleaned the laundry room and decided the obvious next step was to clean the upstairs bathroom and purge a few toy bins. It made sense to prioritize a few smaller tasks to make housekeeping maintenance easier. However my motivation for those particular tasks was low. After spinning my wheels for several days, I decided it was stupid to let time slip by while procrastinating the things I did not want to do, and I should do another large task that I wanted to do. I looked towards my closet, which has been a source of crammed, wrinkled angst, and thought I will purge my clothes this afternoon. And so I began.


After I got all my clothes out of the closet, I realized I had probably made a big mistake. This job was going to take more than an afternoon.

Let us catalog all the ways purging your closet is not a fun activity:
  • How do you try on clothes while wearing a baby? You don't.
  • How do you decide if you like the item you tried on while the baby screams on the floor? You can't.
  • How do you know if this shirt is still relatively fashionable when you absolutely remember wearing it just a few years ago? Or maybe that was a decade ago? When *did* I last wear this?
  • How do you figure out if these pants are worth keeping even though they don't fit right now, but will probably fit in six months? Maybe? Unless the slowest possible weight loss while still being able to detect weight loss rate of a pound every six weeks stops altogether. What *do* I do with this pile of pants? 

  • How do you decide which old favorites to let go because they have seen better days while suppressing the urge to re-imagine them as quilts? Even though you don't sew!
  • How do you keep from imagining possible scenarios of use for every single item you find?
  • How do you decide between this shirt and that similar shirt? Or if you should keep the skirt that has no matching shirt but you love it? Or if this shirt in the great color that should be cute but maybe the cut looks odd on you is worth the closet space? Or maybe the cut doesn't look odd? Maybe it's your own perception? How do you know?!?

  • How do you make these decisions without some person, knowledgeable about the issues and sympathetic to the cause, sitting there metaphorically patting you while listening to you natter on like a neurotic?
  • How do you even meet people willing to do that? How might I acquire one? 
  • How does Facebook decide that you shouldn't even have access to the virtual world of advice by helpfully refusing to show your pleas for assistance to more than single digit numbers of people in groups with dozens of members?
Where was I?

Oh yes, the closet. 

After a long and cranky week in which my clothes were spread all over the downstairs in ginormous piles and several existential crises, I filled an entire diaper box overflowing with discards from my clothes closet. 



After. Yes, I know it looks almost exactly the same as the before, but it's different. Believe me, it's different.
I probably didn't purge enough, but I did the best I could. Now on to the rest of the closet! Surely it won't take more than a few days, right? 

I have two weeks now before school has to start. I want the kitchen reorganized. I know for certain that large job will not happen when my attention turns to school so it has to happen soon. I also have to organize all the school books and, um, plan the school year. I am also teaching a music class twice a month to three different age groups. The room to procrastinate that little planning task is shrinking fast. A complication is that outside obligations are beginning to take their slices of time since pretty much everyone else around here has started school.

As a result, my room is probably not going to be touched, but if the closet is made functional, I might be able to work on my room in fits and starts after school is in full swing. After I finish the closet, I will move to the kitchen. The end of the summer is in sight. 

Ella, chewing furniture


Monday, August 6, 2018

The Purge, Part 6

After last week's hormonally induced panic and a conversation about a rejiggered schedule, it has been decided that Algebra has to start on time, which is Aug 20th, but every thing else and all the other students can wait until after Labor Day. I am trying to take the wise housekeeping advice that a clean house makes schooling more efficient. It is against my nature to prioritize in such a way, but I'm trying. So I still have another month and suddenly the mental block against the laundry room organization evaporated.

The laundry room serves several purposes. First it is the, um, laundry room. It isn't big enough to store anything more than the active laundry, but I need places to collect dirty kitchen towels and cleaning rags and store laundry sundries.** It is also the most easily accessible bathroom for guests. It is also home to a bookcase that stores most of the arts and craft supplies, the kitchen tablecloths, and some books.

I jumped into the cleaning on a whim. I'm not sure what happened. I started picking collected junk off the dryer and then before I knew it, I was outside spraying bins out with the hose. Because of the unforeseen nature of the cleaning job, I don't have any true before pictures. But here are a few kinda before pictures:




The machines didn't take all that long. I wiped up the collection of sticky, congealed laundry detergent and the lint. I cleaned out all the bins, some of which had wandered to the garage, with soap and the garden hose. Why the garden hose? Well, the reason the bins fell out of use is that we had a mouse. Mice poop. The bins were moved, but not cleaned. Disaster ensued. The laundry area, spiffied up:





Between the toilet and the washing machine, the red bin is for collecting dirty kitchen towels. I wish I had a pole for letting them air out but I don't. On top of the dryer, the left blue bin is for laundry supplies. The right blue bin is for collecting cleaning rags. My goal is to do a weekly load of rags to keep us in the cleaning mode.

After the laundry area was complete, I turned to the disaster of the bookcase. So much stuff crammed in there. So little room for sorting.


I broke down science and craft kits. Please, people, no more kiddie kits from Target. I tested markers. I sorted crayons. Why is it hard to throw away broken crayons? The problem with purging and organizing is that success is defined by forcing myself to go against my natural inclinations. There must be something to be done with crayon bits, right? No. No, there's not.



Here are my bags of collected beeswax Advent candles. I am going to meltdown and repour those candles one fine day. It might be years from now, but it will happen.





Let's dissect the above picture. This is me sitting on the floor between the toilet, a stool, the sink, the bookcase, and a trash bag sorting a variety of objects with Ella asleep on my back while I listen to a podcast. Both of my legs are asleep in this picture and I am in no small agony. Nevertheless I persisted.

After 2.5 days of work and a 13 gallon trash bag crammed full, the clouds parted, angels sung, and my laundry room was again functional. Nothing will crash onto your head when you take something off the bookcase.



I moved the loose leaf school paper into a bin and the drawing paper into a bin. The construction paper, which has always had its own box, was moved back onto the bookcase. I consolidated most of the kits into quart freezer bags inside a different bin. There is a crayon box, a chalk box, a marker box, and a colored pencil box. Long may they all be separated. There is even enough room, I think, to move some remnants of art supplies that are in the closet under the stairs to this bookcase. If this is true, it will be amazing.

As for the housekeeping portion of the bookcase, I need to buy another bin to put the tablecloths. This bin will live underneath the school paper bin. I also need to take the sides off of those two clementine crates on the shelf. One of those crates will hold clean handtowels for easy replacement in this bathroom. The other will hold clean rags for cleaning this bathroom. This system is going to work great!

(A small lament for clementine boxes. Where have they gone? It's been several years since I have found them in the grocery. They have been pushed out by those upstart California Cuties, which come in a stupid plastic mesh bag. Has anyone seen any genuine Spanish Clementines lately?)

My next task will be to clean this bathroom--I mean disinfect clean, not organize clean--and then clean the upstairs bathroom. After these two bathrooms are clean, my dear children will have a daily bathroom job so that maybe we will never be embarrassed by dirty bathrooms again.

After the bathrooms are set up, I will return to the toy purge. And then ?probably? my bedroom. I have two solid weeks for cleaning. Then I will take a week on the kitchen, hoping a week is all it takes. Then I will plan out the school year. It's going to happen.




**I love the word sundry. It aptly describes so much in this house.


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

What Now?

I am hitting a lull before the panic of school grabs hold of me again. My target date for starting school is August 20th. I feel like September 20th would be better. Perhaps October? I know that theoretically I am in charge of my own schedule, but I have not really internalized this wisdom. I have been told more than once by people who are wiser than I am to get the house situated before I restart school. That school will be easier and smoother if the household is organized and we are not always having to dig for all the things. I intellectually understand, but emotionally feel guilty for prioritizing anything over school. And so I don't. And then it's a mistake. You'd think I would learn, but we will see.

Anyway, assuming I do start school on August 20, I really only have two more weeks to work on the housecleaning. The week before the 20th will be designated for getting the school stuff ready. The week before that is for the kitchen, which will take me the entire week to clean. So that leaves me the rest of this week and next week to pull an area or two out of the red zone.** What should I do?

Because I realize I am not going to get it all done, I am fighting the urge just to shove it all. I have already decided the papers won't get touched--this really vexes me. The papers will take a week or two all by themselves and I just don't have the time left. Other areas are not going to get done either. I don't see how I get to the books. None of the storage closets will be visited. The art supply bookcase, such as it is, will probably remain unkempt.

I know it is probably unreasonable to expect to have cleaned out the entire house of the course of a handful of weeks, but I wish it weren't. Realistically some of this will have to wait until next summer. There are worse things, I suppose. Maybe I can try to complete a few projects during the year, knowing I will be limited. It is just frustrating to know we will be troubled by issues borne of areas of knotted chaos in the house that I had to deprioritize. I need to focus on maintenance so my next stretch of time, whenever that is, can continue forward momentum and not revisit old junk piles. 

We have also been slowed by a GI bug that is working its way through the children. The virus has knocked swimming right off the agenda for the past two weeks. You just don't bring children with unpredictable bowels to a public pool. So I haven't been swimming either. It's disappointing. 

But I do have a little time! However I am having trouble deciding where to go so let's have a vote. I think I will be able to squeeze in five to seven work days before I will have to move on. Here are the possibilities with estimated time requirements.


  • My closet. Full of clothes that should be organized and/or purged. The floor has school supplies and birthing supplies from 2013. The shelves are full of bathroom supplies, old medicine, and sundry. TIME: 2 days, maybe 3.
  • The upstairs toy purge. The toys are put away, but there are too many. As long as we keep a thumb on it all, it should be okay, but if it gets away from me, too many toys means a MESS. TIME: maybe 2 days
  • The laundry area. Clean up the yuck and create drop zones for different soiled items. TIME: 1 day
  • My part of the bedroom. My dresser is full of papers and stuff. I haven't fully cleaned off my dresser in years. I have several times gotten it mostly clean, but had to stack a bunch of stuff back because I didn't get finished. It is a perpetual problem I hope to resolve. Getting the upstairs paperwork back in order would help here, but that is not happening now. Also a nightstand full of stuff. Also another side table full of maternity and baby sundries. TIME: probably 3 or 4 days
  • The bathrooms. I really want to create areas in each bathroom for daily cleaning supplies to facilitate cleaner bathrooms. TIME: Maybe 2 days. Probably requires the laundry drop zone to be finished first.

That's all I can conjure right now. What is my must do and what can be left for next time, even if next time is next June. Help me find my motivation again.



**And I just looked at the calendar and realized I have one less week than I thought. Ack. Blargh. Maybe I should delay school until September. But Algebra! Or heck, I don't know, invent a time machine. Did you ever watch the oldie but goodie 80s show _Out of This World_ where Evie could put her palms together and stop time? I need that power.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Random Observations

Some of the same people who urge me to require the older children to do their own laundry so they can "learn some responsibility" would be shocked and appalled by how many times the three, I mean four, I mean five year old has made her own lunch.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Purge, Part 5

The schedule of July has had me dragging out the bonus room work for weeks. A week of swimming lessons plus an additional week of dual session VBS commuting meant work upstairs never continued for long before duty called elsewhere. We are still swimming and walking and softballing too. 

Ella and I walking the church parking lot waiting for the evening edition of VBS to end.

The bonus room is not extremely functional. Like most rooms in this house, it functions as a glorified hallway. Since the upstairs bedrooms are small, I strive to keep most of the toys out of them. (That's the goal, anyway. You saw how well that worked in practice. Oh well. Try, try again.) A consequence of keeping the toys out of the bedrooms is that the bonus room is the official designated toy room. It is the hallway to the bedrooms AND the playroom, but wait, wait, there's more! It also has to function as an office space. Because of all these different functions, the bonus room is going to have to be completed in stages. 

The first stage of bonus room cleaning is getting the toys and sundry in order, which means in all these pictures, pay no attention to anything that looks like office stuff. Yes, I see the piles of boxes full of papers and the desktops piled high, and the bookcases in total disarray. I know it's there, but I am not getting to that part right now.

So, the before. This room is terrible, but it isn't quite as terrible as it looks. Just a couple of weeks, the children got all their sleeping bags out and then didn't get them put away--mostly because the bags went on the top shelf in the girls closet, but the short people could not get a stool in there because the floor was unfindable. That particular problem has been fixed. All that to say, a lot of what is piled on the couch was easily put away in a handful of minutes after the girls' room had been cleaned out. 



But still. It's pretty terrible. It has been ignored for a long while. A major problem in this room is that previous cleaning attempts by people who are not me have involved shoving a bunch of crap indiscriminately into boxes, making a neat pile of the boxes, and declaring the room clean. Then in short order a child, looking for something particular, dumps out several boxes until she finds the object of her desire. The other contents of those boxes may be spread around or shoved back in the box or shoved into a different box. The essential organizational structure of toy storage died an ugly death.




The approach I took in tackling this room was to first designate different storage boxes, whether canvas or plastic, for different kinds of items and then sort every free-floating item in the room into these containers while throwing away lots of junk and trash. After all the free-floating stuff was sorted, I then sorted box after box of doom and chaos into appropriate locations while still trashing more junk.


All of this was very slow work because I never got to work for very long stretches. As I cleared a box, I stacked it in the corner out of the way. I am amazed at all the empty containers.


I honestly haven't done a lot of purging of toys yet, beyond junk and trash, because I felt like I needed to get like together with like before I could make any decisions. The one area I did purge out is the dress up clothes. We have entirely too much and they take up so much room. I had to get rid of some of it in order to make room for storing other toys. 


There isn't much to say here about process. I sorted and sorted. I ended up filling three diaper boxes full of giveaway items and a giant 30 gallon black trashbag. I eventually I vacuumed. Here is Ella in the carrier, while I vacuum out the very crumby couch. 


I am thinking about adding a bookcase or cubby something in this spot where the plastic bins are stacked. Any thoughts? I know we have too much furniture for the space in the house, but are low on bookcase space. 



For your amusement, I once tried to bring the playpen upstairs by myself without breaking it down, which did not end well. I watched Dave do it multiple times so I could do it too, right? Um, no.

Yes, it's stuck. Or at least stuck for short people.

At long last, after more than two weeks of work in short spurts, the toy area of the bonus room has been cleared, sorted, and organized.



Yes, I am sitting comfortably on the orange couch.

I still have a box of puzzles to make sense of and all the games, but I had to stop because I was suffering from decision fatigue. I am delaying actually purging out the toy categories until after I do a few other tasks because of the decision fatigue.

After this area was completed, I moved on to clothes sorting, but I didn't take any pictures because really, clothes in plastic bins. I have sorted two sizes, have one more to go, and am well on my way to filling another diaper box of giveaways. This is just the clothes that over overflowed our storage bins, not the clothes in the children's dressers. That's another day. And later today I will be going to my town's biannual consignment to buy Even More (redacted) Clothes! Because even though we have many overflowing bins of clothing, we don't have all the sizes necessary. Such is life. 

There it is. Stage One of the bonus room complete.  I am undecided if I should return to the bonus room to purge toy categories next or if I should move on to my bedroom. This will be, of course, after recleaning the living room again. Because if I have learned anything, it's that the living room needs to be redone after every project in any other room. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Mid-Summer Panic

It has long been a part of my general personality to get the doldrums in July. You wait all year for glorious June and then, all of a sudden, it is freaking July. I abruptly discover the year is rushing by and all those summer plans probably are not going to materialize. Everything feels out of reach.

I come by this disposition honestly. A high school marching band career, majoring in instrumental music, which means marching band, and marrying a high school band director means, for all intents and purposes, the year is over come the second week in July for any independent goal you might have. Even though we have not been slaves to that particular schedule for over a decade, it is embedded deep in my psyche.

This summer isn't any different. I felt the first twangs of that old, familiar feeling when the children went to visit my parents and I had only gotten the living room and one small bedroom cleaned up before they left. In the middle of that week while cleaning the girls' room, I realized it would take me all week to finish and the panic arrived in earnest. I felt the promise of summer crashing around my feet. I had hoped to finish the girls' room and be well into the bonus room** before they returned home, but that bedroom took much longer than I anticipated. Isn't that the way it is? It all takes much longer than anticipated.

The week after their trip was the 4th of July so obligations outside the house limited my ability to make progress at home. This past week involved daily swimming lessons, which were excellent, but only left bits of the afternoon available to work on the bonus room. The past two weeks have been spent working on the upstairs in my least favorite way--in 45 minute chunks.

I hate that feeling of never gaining traction, where you know you have been working but the volume of stuff means no one else can really tell. Also I have been hampered by the fact the bonus room is a major thoroughfare. I cannot set up an organizational system for sorting and purging and just leave it. It has to be set up and put away every single day lest someone get trapped in a house fire.

I am also attempting some version of balanced living. I am trying to walk everyday and take the children swimming once a week. No matter how hard I try, going swimming busts the entire day. Two children have rec softball a few nights a week. But right now, balanced feels more like an opportunity to do several things badly.

This coming week, the kids will be at our parish's VBS program. I should get a long stretch of time every morning to get the bonus room finished. Maybe then I can move on to the kitchen or my bedroom. I hope to get more accomplished. History tells me I won't.

The local schools start in two and a half weeks. I am feeling the pressure to get to planning the next year, but I am not in a headspace to do it since I have been focused on housecleaning. The store displays oppress me. I am supposed to have chosen the curriculum I need for a tutorial I am assisting with next year by Monday if I want the tutorial to pay for it. Tomorrow. I guess I'll have to buy it myself whenever I get around to thinking about it. Call it a housecleaning tax.

I don't know what I will get finished. I am starting to pare down my goals. It almost certainly will not all be completed like I had hoped. The closets, except maybe my own, will probably not be touched. I want to finish the bonus room, sort and purge children's clothing, clean the kitchen, clean my room and my closet, do the paperwork, get some of the bookcases in order, plan the new school year. We will see how far down that list I get.

I will keep on working and walking and swimming, doing what I can do, while swallowing that mid-summer panic that time is up, my obligations supersede my preferences, and I am never going to be finished.

In the meantime, throwing away crap is harder than it seems. It feels so wasteful to toss that perfectly good piece of plastic that should have never existed in the first place. I have to gird myself for all the plastic crap that is going to meet my trash bag this week. And what do you do with this pile of dress-up clothes?





**I don't know what to call this room. We call it the bonus room, but that implies it is over the garage, yes? It's not. It is a long rectangular room with the upstairs bedrooms adjacent. It's like an upstairs living room. What might you call that kind of room? 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Swimming Lesson Economics

When people discover you have five children, they immediately gasp and lament how expensive children are. I generally shrug. Children are about as expensive as you allow them to be. Yes, there are definitely expenses that add up over time and birthing them safely is a humdinger of an expense, but most childhood "requirements" are nice options if you can afford it, but otherwise it's really not a big deal to skip when you can't afford it.

And then there are swimming lessons. Swimming seems like an important life skill that should be prioritized if at all possible.

Our history with swimming lessons is a bit fraught. We do not have a pool. Our neighborhood does not have a pool. The nearest available pool is at the local rec center, which requires a membership to use. Swimming has not been a regular part of our lives. Money and time. Money and time. One reason I sprung for the summer rec membership is to help get my kids in a pool more often.

The rec center offers swimming lessons without a membership, but they aren't very good since it is generally one 16yo girl paired with five or six swimmers for 30 minutes. Lots of blowing bubbles in the water, not a lot of stroke instruction. With a price tag of $90 a child, it's not a good deal. We have resorted to them over the years, but I'd rather find something better.

The majority of the private lesson instructors in this area requires that you have access to a pool. As I said, we do not have access to a pool. Once I scheduled lessons with a woman who was highly recommended who told me she could arrange pool access for us. She charged $100 per kid with a four to one ratio. She cancelled the Friday afternoon before the Monday the lessons were supposed to start because she could *not* arrange pool access for us. This happened to be the same week Marian was born. I might have cried.

Fast forward a couple-three years and I found a woman who offered lessons at her house every June, and only in June, for $100 a child with a two to one ratio. It was a drive--35 minutes--but swimming lessons, right? The week went well and I felt I had finally found a solution to the swimming lesson problem. Come the following March, she sent out an email declaring she was no longer offering lessons because she was expanding her regular work. The swimming lesson problem was not solved.

Last year, I couldn't even think about lessons. I told the children I'd think about it in September after the baby was born and look into off season lessons. I did not look into off season lessons.

This year back at the beginning of April, my sister happened to mention a swim school in her neighborhood. She thought I knew about it. I did not know about it. It runs all day long, all summer long.

The school was almost full for the summer, but by some miracle, the instructor had one four slot set of lessons available in the morning for a week in July. *This* week in July. It costs $125 a child. I was lucky to get them signed up. Every available slot was gone by the end of April. It felt like divine intervention. The schedule could not have been better.



The set up of this swim school is that the owner of the pool is a swim coach. He employs his swimmers to work one on one with each student. There are only four students and four teachers in the pool at a time. Since I have four children in need of lessons, we nicely consume exactly one session all for ourselves.

As I drove over this morning, it occurred to me that he makes $500 for each and every full session since that is what the lessons in this full section are costing me. My mind boggled with the possibilities. If you run 30 minute sessions back to back for eight hours, you can gross 80 thousand dollars over the course of the ten week summer swim season. It was amazing to consider.

My mind immediately jumped to my former wage. I earned around 42K in take home money working full time, 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year. Could you really make more money giving swimming lessons over the summer? Also why aren't I a stronger swimmer and have a pool and only work 10 weeks a year?

It turns out he does not run back to back sessions, but a new sessions starts every 45 minutes. This is only 10 sessions a day for a total of 50 thousand dollars, gross, over the summer.

I do not know how much he pays his teachers, but they are teenagers. They cannot be demanding top dollar, I wouldn't think. I would guess his expenses can't be more than half his gross. Don't you think a teenager would work for $500 a week giving swim lessons? That sounds like a generous wage to me, but I don't know about modern expectations.

An easy speculation, making a ton of assumptions, is that he clears, after payroll, taxes and other expenses, between 20 and 25 thousand dollars a summer or approximately half of my professional working wage. Wow. He could tweak his setup and make more if he wanted. He could squeeze in more lessons or employ fewer teachers by offering a 2-1 ratio instead of one on one. He could do some of the teaching himself. He could only employ one other person, have a 2-1 ratio, teach, and clear as much money as I made working all year round.

You really can make a livable, if not extravagant, wage giving swimming lessons during the summer and do nothing else. The mind boggles again. All you have to do is know how to swim well enough to coach, have a steady supply of teenagers wanting to be Michael Phelps, have your own backyard pool, and live in a climbing suburb full of parents for whom swimming lessons is a non-negotiable. Easy, right?

As for me, giving all my many children access to swimming lessons has turned out to be very expensive, indeed. 





Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Purge, Part 4

At long last the week arrived. The children were all gone. Well, not all the children were gone. I had exactly one lonely Ella with whom to contend. She spent the week quite fussy in the suddenly silent house. Now the moment of truth arrived where I would face down the dragon of the girls room. 

This room hasn't been cleaned with any urgency since the Darwins visited our humble abode for an overnight back in 2015. Even then there was a lot of artful hiding rather than true organization. This time, I wanted to sort and organize and clean in earnest.

Here is how the room looked before I started, but I cannot call them before pictures. You see, when I cleaned out Sam and Marian's room the previous week, the older girls felt something move within them and decided maybe living in a trash heap was not an ideal situation. They brought in a 30 gallon garbage bag and filled it half full with detritus, found all their dirty laundry and put it in a basket to be washed, and located fifty, yes FIFTY, stray dirty socks whose matches lived in the stray sock bag. Thus the room in these pictures, believe it or not, is noticeable cleaner than it might have been a week prior. 





So there it is. Weep with me.

Honestly, taking on this room was psychologically challenging. I was hoping to have already been finished with it before the children left for Grandma's for the week.  I knew I would run across items that would require consultation. There are so many papers that looked like trash to me. I didn't want to throw away some treasure, but I also needed a lot of these papers gone. 

Every day I entered this room with my headphones on, wearing a baby, armed with a garbage bag. 


Occasionally I would convince baby to spend some time in the play pen. Inexplicably, I did not take any pictures of these magic moments, but here is the corner of the play pen, which took up a large portion of the open space of the room. I pulled the nightstand out into the next room in order to make room for the playpen.


It took me three entire work days to pull all the stuff out of all the places. If there was a spot where a paper (or sock or chapstick or barrette or tiny something) could be shoved, it was definitely full of stuffs. Oh, the garbage I found. It looked as if entire bags of candy had been eaten while the wrappers were tossed thoughtlessly to the floor. I do not understand. I am not strict with candy. They eat candy probably four days a week. My only real rule is that they do not take food--any food--upstairs. And yet candy wrappers were shoved under every available surface in failed clandestine attempts. 

So how did I pass the time as I worked? Back when I was working in an office, I listened to many, many podcasts, but since I have been home, my opportunity for listening has been extremely limited. I took the opportunity to fire up all the back episodes from Catholic in a Small Town. I yelled out in horror as Katherine announced she is now commuting over an hour each way to work in Atlanta. Noooooo. Don't do this on purpose!!!! I am now caught up to April and am waiting with bated breath to see how this is going to turn out. Will Kat say, "Take this job and shove it?" Stay tuned.

Once I got everything cleaned out, I had so many piles to sort. I had intended in the beginning to sort into piles as I pulled all the stuff out of all the places. I began strong, but I soon lost the motivation. So many piles. So many places. So much stuff. I eventually began tossing items in the general direction of where I thought it might end up. The decision fatigue was setting in hard. This is where I profess my love for Legos because I know exactly what to do with a Lego. It goes in the Lego box. 


As I sorted the giant piles, I listened for a while to the memorial service for John Ward on YouTube. Ah, John Ward. How can I ever explain it? He was the voice of my childhood. We listened before we could ever see it. Before cable sports, there was the Vol Radio Network and always John Ward telling us what happened. You think your radio guy was the best, but you're wrong because John Ward was the best. THE BEST. It was sad realizing no one in my house could possibly understand. 

Eventually, I whittled the piles down to reasonable. I purchased a paper box for each child which they will be allowed to keep their papers in. All papers in the box. All paper outside the box must be trash, right? 

After five long working days and a full grocery bag of trash to accompany each day, the room was ready to be vacuumed. Vacuuming took a long time. I vacuumed under every surface. I even moved the bed.


I had to vacuum a literal pile of dirt. A potted plant fell a long time ago. I am not sure when. Years may have passed. I really don't know. The vacuum had to be emptied three times as I vacuumed this room.


Finally, the room was finished. Really finished. It isn't perfect. I did not sort shoes or drawers or books. Yet it is so, so, so much better than before. The afters:





 
When the girls arrived back home, they were so excited and even grateful. I think they were paralyzed by the mess and did not know how to fix it. We talked about practicing the habits that will keep the room clean. These habits will be strongly reinforced in the next few weeks and I certainly hope I never have to spend five days cleaning out this room ever, ever again. 

Next up: the bonus room. It's sadly not much better than the girls' was. 

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Purge, Part 3

School ended about two weeks ago and the housecleaning has begun in earnest. Except not really. Between my swimming attempts and so many doctor's appointments--Marian got five shots and didn't even cry, but those eyes got pretty wide by the end--and other obligations, I have only just begun. The thank yous I said I would do before I started cleaning aren't finished either. I decided to take a write a little, clean a little approach. Also the week my children are gone on vacation to my parents' house has arrived and I am nowhere near working on the kitchen. That's the way it goes. It always takes longer than you ever expected.

Anyway, on to the first room! Well, the first official room. The first room was actually the living room, which had descended into a bit of squalor by the end of the school year, but is always in a semi-messy state so it doesn't really count even though it did take a bit of time.

The first official room is Sam and Marian's bedroom. The befores:






So there it is.  Yes, Marian, age 5, still sleeps in a crib. Yes, we have a bunk bed that has boxes of clothes in need of sorting and suitcases on top instead of a mattress. Baby steps. 

Even though I am calling this part of The Purge, this is not the part where I purge. My strategy in the bedrooms is to get all the toys that do not belong out of the room, pick up the trash, and create a little bit of order. The real purge will happen in the room adjacent to the bedrooms, but again, baby steps. 

There is not much to say about process here. Ella enjoyed her stint in baby jail, AKA Marian's crib. 


I filled two grocery bags worth of garbage in this little room. Does everyone's children take scissors to cut paper into little pieces of confetti to sprinkle all over their floors? Just mine? In the course of clearing the floor, I moved the pile of stuffed animals and discovered a half filled black trash bag. Who? Why? How long?



This discovery did lead me to develop a new theory of garbage collection. 

I am about to reveal one of my neuroses to you. I feel guilty about throwing away garbage bags that are not full. Isn't it wasteful to under-utilize a bag? I should not throw it away until it is full, even if it takes a few days because then I am not wasting space or plastic.  I am being efficient with my supplies.

This, friends, is nuts. 

My new theory is that I should throw away the bag at the end of every session, even if--gasp--it is not full. My peace of mind in guaranteeing the removal of garbage is worth more than the efficient use of the never-ending supply of free plastic bags from the grocery store. I have learned through hard won experience that if you don't throw out that half-full bag, the children will helpfully redistribute the garbage for you or, inexplicably, pile their stuffed animals on top of it. What's sad is that I really had to come to terms with this idea. 

So in addition to my two full grocery bags of trash, I threw out the buried 30 gallon bag that had been sitting at the bottom of a pile for an unclear amount of time. Small victories. 

And behold, after two days of work, the results:





It's not perfect. I need to put hooks behind the door so their bags have a place to go. The top of the bunk bed still has suitcases and boxes of clothes that need better homes. (The clothes are in line to be sorted after the upstairs toy room is purged. Maybe?) The stuffed animal solution of cramming them all into that one laundry basket is not great. Maybe I should get a second basket? Trying to get the children to part with any of them is like pulling teeth. I have dusted nothing, and I need a solution for their personal papers so that they don't get spread all over the house. But it is a good start.

The next room is the big girls' bedroom, which is a horror. A horror. Wish me luck!