"I've got
money in my pocket
I like the color of my hair
I've got a friend who loves me
got a house
I've got a car
I've got a good mother
and her voice is what keeps me here
feet on ground
heart in hand
facing forward
'be yourself'

~Jann Arden, "Good Mother"

'Tis the week to be as thankful as possible, and I happened to be listening to this song as I was thinking about what my "Thankful Four" list would be, prompted by MommyBrain and SupahMommy.  Doesn't this pretty much say it all?  I think so, but then again, this blog post would be too short.  So I used the song as my starting point, and here are the four I've narrowed down as the best gifts I've been given in life.

1)  Family.  You know from this post how big and wonderful and important my family is.  The value of this in my life simply can't be overstated.  I told my husband once (who is more or less from a family of three) that being part of my family meant that we will never go hungry or be homeless unless we are too proud to ask for help.  There will always be someone who will take care of us until we can get back on our feet.  My family will always mean good advice, loud laughter, delicious food, and a place in the world.  I cannot think of any better gift I can give my son than that of belonging to this bunch of incredible people, and knowing that no matter what might happen to my husband or me, he will still be as surrounded by love and joy as I was.  Of course he and his daddy are my nearest and dearest family, without whom I would have almost no reason to get out of bed.

2)  Health.  Do you ever think about your throat?  I don't, unless it is wickedly sore, and then I think about it all the time.  In general, though, it just goes about its business so I can go about mine, and is more or less unappreciated.  The same goes for every part of my body, because as far as I can tell they're all working just fine (except for my eyes which require contacts, but we had a discussion about it and I've forgiven them).  Every single time I get sick, know someone who is sick, or even read a story online about someone who is sick, I get teary and beyond grateful that my loved ones and I are all healthy, even if it is only for this fleeting moment.

3)  Education.  Of course I'd be grateful for this, given that I'm a teacher.  What I mean is that I'm thankful for the education that I've been given, both in and out of classrooms, because that can never be taken away.  I'm also incredibly fortunate to have been trained in a career that is pretty hard to outsource.  I'm fairly confident that people will always want their ten-year-olds to go to school with teachers who are with them in person.  In this new world and scary economy, that's no small gift.  Finally, I appreciate the education my husband has and his brilliance because it has given me the opportunity to be home with my son as much as I want.

4)  Imperfection.  I thought about this last one for a long, long time.  As I pondered the "be yourself" part of the song above, I realized that I am grateful for my character flaws because I need the challenge to be a better person.  I appreciate the obstacles in life because they have helped me to connect with people I might otherwise have passed by with just a smile and nod, and given me some incredible friends.  I'm grateful for the rain so that I smile in delight when the sun comes out {really, I couldn't stand L.A.  It feels so fake}.  I'm thankful that my husband and I argue once in a while so we can put forth the extra effort of being kind and have a fresh start at this crazy marriage thing.
"Screws fall out, the world's an imperfect place." That's not always such a bad thing. 

My aunt and uncle do "thankful fors" every night with my cousins, and when the kids were here visiting over the summer, we did them with them, too.  What a powerful tradition.  Now I whisper to my son each night before I put him in bed, saying what I'm thankful for and what I bet he is thankful for (yesterday: a playdate with a friend who shared her Cheerios, and new library books about trains and garbage trucks).  It will be really fun to keep doing this as he grows up.  Thanks, Aunt Julie and Uncle Steve, for giving me the idea!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.  I am headed home to Michigan.  Joy!

The new rule in effect

I already have two garbage bags full of clothes ready to go, and I haven't even finished tackling the closet yet!  Someone decided not to take a full nap yesterday (boo).   (See yesterday's post for what I'm up to if you're confused).  Some things were hard to decide on like pajamas, since I have a lot of them that I like and really would wear in front of my in-laws.  However, I forced myself to play favorites with my clothes, and I try not to listen when I hear them calling to me from inside the garbage bag.

I decided the rule was more helpful than my old one about just giving away the things I haven't worn in a year, because there were some clothes hanging around that I do wear, but they just aren't that great.  I must know this deep down because as soon as I asked myself if I would really take them on vacation, I knew I would not, and out they went.  My best example is a white t-shirt with a pink heart on it.  I do wear it under sweaters sometimes, and I like it for Valentine's Day, so I started to put it back in my drawer.  Then I thought about it:  If I were going on vacation in February, would I take this for the 14th?  Or would I take the soft pink sweater and a white t-shirt from Ann Taylor?  No contest.  Goodbye, heart shirt.

A conundrum: what does one do with unwanted underwear?  No one else is going to buy or wear it, but that's a lot of perfectly good fabric to throw out.  If I am honest with myself, I will NEVER use it, even if I cut it up and pretend I will do something with the usable scraps.  So I think that goes into the garbage bag unless anyone has other ideas.

That reminds me, I always feel a little guilty about donating clothes in a garbage bag as though they are trash, when really most of them just aren't my favorites or don't fit me.  But there's nothing so easy for this kind of decluttering than trash bags, so I guess I just have to be grateful there are people who work for Good Will who take it out of the bags, sort it, and make it look nice in the store.

I'll head back to the closet this afternoon and see what's left when the purging is done.  Then perhaps it will be time to schedule my shopping spree.  Black Friday is coming up!

My new rule

As you know from numerous posts here, I'm working on decluttering my mind and my house.  This week I'm tackling clothes.  Wow, do I have a lot of them.  And they are mostly bad - so ill-fitting, in fact,  that I recently posted on Facebook that I'm sure I'm just one bad outfit away from having Stacy and Clinton knock on my door.  (One lovely friend commented that it would be nice to have a shopping spree at least - true!)

Anyway, I'm trying to get rid of all the hideousness so that I'm only left with flattering, well-made clothes, even if it means that I only have five outfits left.  And it will probably come to that not too long after I begin applying my new rule.  Here it is:

Only keep clothes you would wear on vacation.

I realized as I starting thinking about packing for two upcoming trips away from home that I only ever want to take my favorite clothes with me.  You know, the ones that make you feel great when you put them on or smile when you pass a mirror?  The ones you won't be ashamed to wear in front of your mother-in-law who used to be a model??  Oh wait, that might be just me.

Anyway, those clothes I'd take on vacation might be a fancy dress to wear to a wedding, a great pair of jeans that works well with all kinds of tops, or my most comfy sweats.  So, I don't mean I'm going to get rid of all of my work clothes, because sometimes you need a nice outfit or two while away from home.  It just means that the best of any given category should stay in the drawers and closet, and the rest should GO.

I think having fewer clothes will make me much happier.  When I was pregnant with my son, I had a fabulous maternity wardrobe (if I do say so myself).  I had one or two of every staple kind of pants - khakis, black work pants, sweats, jeans - some other mix and match basics like black or white t-shirts and camis, and a few really cute tops that I wore to things like showers.  It was easy to get dressed because I had fewer options, and I was confident that they pretty much all looked good on me because I refused to spend money on anything that didn't.  Ok, my happiness came partially because having a big belly was acceptable then in a way that it isn't now, but my point remains.  Having fewer, better clothes will help me get dressed faster and feel better all day.

That's my plan, and I'm heading upstairs now to put it into effect.  I'll let you know how many bags of clothing I'll be taking to Good Will tomorrow morning!

Multiple personalities

As I juggle two blogs, I often ask myself why I have two in the first place.  Isn't one enough?  (Ok, I actually have three, but my Newbery project blog seems very separate from the writing I do about my life, so it doesn't count for this conundrum.) 

The reason I started this particular one was to have a place to be all the different roles I play, not just The Mama.  Nevertheless, I find myself occasionally wondering where to put a particular thought or post because I know that other parents find themselves here, and there's no real way to separate my being a mom from the other thoughts and dilemmas I'm currently facing.

So, this is just a note to let those parents know that there are occasionally entertaining stories and thoughts about motherhood and my toddler on my other blog. At some point I may meld them, but as I work through trying to figure out what else I'm doing with my life, it's nice to keep grandparent-friendly stories separate. 

I'll be back tomorrow with more thoughts on my happiness project, which still needs a name.  Project Wisdom?  Seems presumptuous.  Project Serenity?  Perhaps, since that's the one I typically lack.  It doesn't sound snappy, though, and I like alliteration, so I may keep thinking about it.  Suggestions welcome.

My Mission: Impossible?

We're back with MommyBrain and SupahMommy for All About MEme Monday.  This week's topic: our very own missions impossible.  This works well for this blog because it will help answer two very important questions:  How the {insert four-letter word of choice} did I end up here? and What do I do now?

Let us flash back to two and a half years ago, when friend and fellow fourth-grade teacher R and I concocted The Plan.  Both of us were transplanted here by the Corporate Behemoth (Microsoft) and our husbands, had just bought houses for outrageous prices, and were now starting to think about kids.  The Mission:  try to balance working and staying home without costing ourselves our entire salary in daycare.

The solution we crafted?  We would share a classroom and the child care.  Every day one of us would drop our infant off at the other's house and head to work while the other would spend the day with the two babies.  It was perfect, right?  It would cost us nothing in day care, we were already teammates who worked together well, and we trusted each other to love and care for our precious little ones.  We got to be teachers and have a work life and still spend the majority of the week with our babies.  Brilliant, right?

Yeah, by now all you mothers out there are laughing and shaking your heads, I know.  We were so naive.  This occurred to me as I was sitting there nursing my son, a year and a half later (when he was about a month old), thinking about how the freaking hell I thought I could handle TWO of these.  I know, people with twins do it all the time, but in that case the crucial point is this:  They are both yours RIGHT FROM THE BEGINNING.  In our case, the boys were not quite five months apart, so that seems like it should be easier, right?

Wrong.  What that age difference really meant was that they were NEVER on the same eating, napping, or awake schedule.  R and I were constantly on the move, barely a moment to sit down, eat, or go to the bathroom.  Suddenly caring for 26 fourth-graders on the work days seemed easy by comparison.  And even that was no picnic as the kids quickly settled into a two-parent routine with their two teachers:  If you don't like the answer one teacher gave, just wait a day or two and ask the other.  If you don't know what the homework is, tell your mom that it's because the teachers told you different things!  Many people underestimate the intelligence of ten-year-olds.  These people have never spent any time with one.

There are many, many other challenging (and wonderful) aspects of our situation, but let's get right to the point.

The revised mission:  Survive the school year with two healthy boys, our friendship still intact, and some shred of sanity.

Let's see how we did:

Well, the boys seem fine.  Now they walk and talk, do all the amazing and aggravating things toddlers do, and love to hang out together (or at least, near each other, unless there aren't two of the same toy, of course).

Our friendship also appears to be unscathed.  My proof?  For my birthday R bought me two tickets to see a play and babysat for my son while my husband and I had a date.  I know she must love me because she did so on the day her sister flew in from New York to visit and told me it was no problem.

As for our sanity?  Well, we had just enough left by the end of the year to decide NEVER TO DO THIS AGAIN.

And that, folks, is how I ended up here, on leave for the year while I concoct a New Plan.

The next seemingly impossible mission?  That would probably be trying to find a part-time teaching job that doesn't require endless hours of communication with a teaching partner (even if I adore her) and the students' parents, one that pays enough for stellar day care on my working days.  Ha.

Also being able to once again park in my garage.  No, I'm not talking about parking a car.  Even being able to park a double stroller would be counted as a success at this point. 

Wish me luck.

P.S.  I know, you teachers out there want to know how our fourth graders did last year.  We don't know.  SInce we got out of Dodge, there are no fifth grade teachers to ask.  This is possibly a VERY GOOD THING.


After doing some thinking, looking over my resolutions, and reading some helpful comments, I think I'm going to combine my categories of resolutions so that I go from 8 to 5.  Five seems manageable.  You can count them on one hand, and being able to do things with one hand is no small feat when you are chasing a toddler.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, you may want to start here.

Ok, so I began with these eight categories in my life:  physical, emotional, intellectual, marital, parental, social, organizational, and career.

First, I decided to eliminate emotional.  After all, isn't my entire happiness project one big emotional goal?  I created the category so I could put down goals like, "Don't complain" or "Don't criticize" (thereby ignoring every rule about phrasing things positively - whatever), but I don't think I need this anymore.  And let's face it, those things can easily go into the marital or social categories.

Next, I decided to combine my career goals with my intellectual goals.  Becoming a better teacher is usually about learning some new technique, rethinking some unit of curriculum, etc., so that's clearly intellectual.  Right now I'm taking a required distance learning course in order to get my next level of certification, for example, and this could be the intellectual goal.  It will bump "Read Newbery books" off the list, but I obviously need no smiley faces on my resolution charts to get me to read.  Reading is what keeps me from getting everything else done!

Finally, I figured I could combine marital and parental into one category of family.  Right now my parenting goals mostly involve making sure SP eats something besides crackers, so I can probably manage to work on that without putting it on the list, though I do like putting a smiley face somewhere if I get him to eat anything green.  How do they just KNOW when something is a vegetable??  I don't understand it, but I figure it might be a survival instinct we are born with and that someday scientists are going to tell us that vegetables are actually killing us slowly.  Then all the kids will say, "SEE??  We TOLD you!"

But I digress.

That brings my list down to physical, intellectual, family, social, and organizational.  The organizational one is temporary, too, since I hope to actually finishing decluttering my know, ever.

So I'm going to try managing with just five - that's one per weekday and time to catch up on the weekend - and see how it goes.

My Christmas wish list

My dear brother asked me last month what I wanted for my birthday, and I came up with three ideas before I finally settled on what would be a reasonable one.  Why was it so hard to come up with a suggestion?  Everything I could think of that I wanted was either a) for my son (ha!) or b) way too expensive.  The solution should have been to tell him that I didn't need a gift because he was the best brother ever just for giving me the chance to ask for something, but clearly I'M NOT THAT NICE.  So we traded emails for a while before I told him I'd love a subscription to Real Simple.

But now MommyBrain and SupahMommy have asked me to go on a virtual shopping spree, and here I get to say what fabulousness I would buy if it were on someone else's tab (and I wouldn't feel guilty about it).  I think the idea was to get new clothes, accessories, etc., but I'm in need of Stacey and Clinton's help for that one, so here are my nonbeauty items that I'm currently coveting...

1) The Nook.  I was wanting a Kindle desperately after my friend Katie showed up here sporting her new one, but then I saw the email from Barnes & Noble for their new e-reader -- IN COLOR.  Joy!  I've had an ebook in the past and liked it, though I did miss the feel of an actual book.  But having an eReader that could let me travel with less luggage would be amazing, and being able to download a new book from anywhere?  How did I ever live without this capability??  Since I make regular trips to the library with The Toddler, I have NO NEED of this.  But that's hardly the point, right?

2) A new washer and dryer.  I want a front-loading washer to save money and water, and a dryer that has a moisture-sensor that will turn off when the load is dry.  Having them on pedestals would be incredible, but with the built-in cupboards we have over our machines in the laundry room now, may not be feasible.  And ripping out build-in cupboards is far beyond my DIY capacity.  So I'll settle for the shiny new appliances just on the ground.

3)  A four-bedroom house.  What, I can't buy a house?  There are no rules to this shopping spree, are there?  Since I live so far from most of my nearest and dearest, we are in need of a guest room that doesn't double as an office (or a someday second child's room).  There are many things about the house we're in that I currently love, but the lack of guest room is going to cramp everyone's style when the next Rasler makes an appearance.  Sure this is still in the hypothetical stage, but a girl can dream of a new house anyway.  Other qualities I want: a laundry room that isn't next to a baby's room (having it on the second floor seemed so brilliant before he was born!), a backyard that opens out into enough space to watch munchkins play on the lawn, and a window seat.  A bigger house would also give me room to buy a piano, which wouldn't ever fit in our current living room.  This house already has everything else I love, including a great neighborhood (and great neighbors!), so if we could move to a house like this, say, down the street, that would be stellar.

4) Speaking of lawns, I'd also like a gardener (one who looks like this?  Bonus!).  No, I'm not trying to buy a whole person, but having someone come in, landscape the place, and then maintain it would be a dream come true.  My husband and I hate yardwork, but we also hate how the yard looks when we try to pretend it isn't there.  Every two months or so, we'll get all pseudo-committed, buy a bunch of products and plants and whatnot, work vigorously for one Saturday, and then leave it all to die by the wayside.  It's not a pretty sight, and it's a good thing our neighbors like us.

5) Finally, I have my eye on a Ford Escape Hybrid.  Trying to get a toddler in and out of my beautiful blue Camry has been difficult lately, especially for my husband who is 6'1".  And if there is a toddler and another one at some point?  Forget it.  Yes, I like not having a car payment, and it's not clear whether a hybrid SUV can save me money on gas compared to my economical sedan, so if the shopping spree fairy could give me the money to buy this car outright, I'm all over it. 

Now you see why I had no ideas to give my poor brother, right?

But...Santa, are you listening??

One (small?) change

My happiness project has stalled out a bit, and I'm trying to take another look and see what's working and what isn't. 

Working on so many different resolutions is definitely not working.  I have a hard time just deciding on one thing to do each month.  By that logic, I thought I'd never get to most of them!  So I chose one for each arena of my life, which ended up being eight different ones for each month.  Am I crazy?  Yes.  Yes, I am.  Acknowledging the insanity and moving on.

I put the eight categories into a table, typed the specific resolutions for each one into the boxes, and put a smile in the box next to the day of the month if I worked on that particular goal.  At the end of the month, if I feel I didn't do a good job on that resolution, I repeat it for the next month, and try to figure out why it didn't work. 

For example, I made a resolution to play with my cats more because they seem a bit perplexed and unloved, both standoffish and needy, ever since The Baby arrived.  Now that he is The Toddler, they are even more wary of being in the same room with us until he goes to sleep.  So I felt like a bad parent and wanted to play with them more instead of just shooing them off the bed and collapsing into it.  After an entire month, I had only done it twice.  TWICE.  I know, you want to adopt my cats because you are now sure I am no good for them.  But they do play with each other, so it's not like I'm making them live alone in a dark closet.  A little sympathy?  Ok, I know, you're still wondering what's wrong with me. 

Well, it turns out that what was wrong was that the toys are all upstairs, and usually I am with the cats downstairs at the end of the day.  By the time I go upstairs, I'm getting ready for bed and don't feel like playing.  I'd moved their toys upstairs for a good reason - so The Toddler wouldn't get into them - but it was making it hard for me to keep my resolution at the end of a long, busy day.  So I made two changes: I moved a handful of cat toys downstairs and stored them out of Toddler reach, but still easy to grab.  I also head upstairs earlier each evening so I have some energy left for teasing cats with long strings (this is also great for helping me keep my get enough sleep resolution this month).

So I've discovered a deeper truth about myself and resolutions:  if there's any logistical barrier, however small, it will keep me from getting it done.  The key is to find ways to overcome these, and usually a small change makes a big difference.

Back to the problem of too many resolutions, well... I'm having a hard time giving up on that idea of working on more than one area of my life at once.  Maybe the key is just to eliminate a category or two.  Will this be another small change with a large effect?  I hope so.

Which aspect of my life is least important at the moment?  My career is certainly on the backburner, but the part of me that resists referring to myself as a stay-at-home mom won't allow me to delete this one, at least not this month.  So what else to cut out?  Here are my categories:  physical, emotional, intellectual, marital, parental, social, organizational, and career.  Perhaps I can combine some of these, at least for this month.

Thoughts welcome, and I'll think about it more and let you know what I've come up with.

*If you'd like to see my resolution chart or effective habits charts, feel free to leave a comment and I'll find a way to send them to you.

Taming the green-eyed monster

This past week I've been thinking about another major obstacle to my happiness:  envy.  I have always struggled with that pesky last commandment about not coveting what others have.  Although I would never want to trade entire lives with someone, it wouldn't really hurt to have a nice house like this friend or a sweet part-time job like that friend, right?

I especially hate when someone has what I want as a result of luck.  My confession:  I spent way too long being jealous and bitter at people who got pregnant on the first try (or without trying) when I couldn't.  I had to bite my tongue to keep from pointing out how lucky they were and how they should be appreciative of it (and probably some of them remember that I didn't always bite the words off before they escaped my mouth.  Many apologies to those dear friends).

Fortunately that particular difficulty resolved itself, but the battle with envy remains.  Though I'm getting better about not complaining about the unfairness of whatever situation I'm fixated on at the moment and how others have it so much better than I do, I still think about it.  A lot.  Too much.

Then I read this brilliant quote by a guest blogger on The Happiness Project:

The happiest people seem to be very focused on whatever they are doing. 
Unhappy people seem to be very focused on what other people are doing.

Yes!  I wish I'd thought to put it so succinctly, but I'm going to remember it and remind myself of it whenever I wish for something I don't have.

What I can't change:
Life isn't fair.
I don't always get what I want.
There will always be people who do have what I want.

What I wouldn't want to change:
The charmed life I currently have.  I often tell my husband that we must have done something seriously right in a previous life to be so fortunate in this one.

What I can change:
I can focus on what I'm doing and look to others only insofar as it helps me reach my goals.  Sometimes people get somewhere by luck, but often it's by making choices that are different from mine.  If I want a house with four bedrooms or a part-time teaching job with my mom babysitting while I'm working (you don't mind, right, Mom??), I need to work toward those goals or accept the choices that I make instead.

I have trouble with goals that focus just on attitude adjustments, though.  I'm going to have to DO something in order to distract myself from those envious thoughts.  I hope that when that monster rears its ugly head I'll take it as a reminder to review my Resolutions chart and refocus.