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.