Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Psome pself psycho analysis

Sometimes I wonder how I come across on this blog. For instance, on my post about feeling weird, did I sound like I am not grateful to stay home or that I don't love being with my kids all day? Because I am grateful to be able to spend all day with my girls. The problem with e-relationships is that they provide such an incomplete picture of someone.

By nature, I am critical. I don't mean judgmental, though sometimes I am that, too. I mean that I look for what needs to be fixed or corrected. For instance, if I got such a low score as a 96% on a test (as if!), I would review the entire thing to find the 4% I didn't get right. Then I would carefully study that material so that I would really understand it.

I asked Ryan if he would describe me as critical but fair, and he said I am better described as fair but competitive with myself. I try to find out how to be better, and that usually means I think about what isn't great and come up with a plan to make it great.

So, in the case of giving up my career to stay home with kids, I acknowledge that that decision was awful in some ways and then figure out how to maintain all the good things about teaching while staying home. That is a reason I blog, started a book club, and keep in touch with former students.

Anyway, this all came up because of the anniversary of 9/11. I was telling Ryan how odd it was that my dad would call me on that morning ten years ago to tell me about the World Trade Centers. Not having kids of my own yet, I couldn't understand why Dad felt it important to call me. Couldn't I have just heard about it on the news? But now that I have kids, I know why he called. When I am scared or stressed or feeling out of sorts, I want to be with my children. I want to know they are okay, and then I am okay.

We then started talking about how else we are different now that we are older and have had different life experiences. I said that I have probably become even more competitive, to use Ryan's word, and spend more time figuring out how to squeeze more quality out of life.

Our time is so short, you know? We don't have time to drift through life unaware of ourselves, of how we come across, or of how we make people feel. But we also can't spend our days regretting our previous days.

I know I have blind spots. I know there are areas of my life that need improvement. I know I am failing my girls in some ways. But that's the beauty of relationships, right? I want those close to me to hold me accountable, to tell me when I am being narcissistic, elitist, and difficult.

I know what my life is supposed to look like: the Bible makes that clear. The Beatitudes, Proverbs 31, and the fruit of the Spirit all give me concrete characteristics to strive for. The Spirit makes us more holy, more intentional, more of a "pleasing aroma" to God.

Regret is a waste of time, but reflection can make life richer. Growing older is fascinating, and growing older surrounded by people who love you? It's awesome and humbling and rewarding and painful. But mainly awesome.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Why I have no traction on my to do list

I have a running "to do" list. Well, I actually have many to do lists, but I am thinking of one in particular now. On this list are things like "steam clean carpets" and "stain decks" and "wax wood furniture" and "sweep porch." It is the list of those bigger, nastier projects that are only tackled a few times a year. (Who am I kidding? These are done once every two years.)

I never actually do any of the things on the list. I just end up re-writing the list to make me feel better. Currently, it is on really nice stationery and written in my very best handwriting with a pretty-colored ink. But still, nothing has been crossed off.

Instead of being productive, I find myself re-arranging my mantle, ordering Coralie a new dress because she really needs one, obsessively checking our grass to see if any dead spots have been resurrected, and reading every blog on my blogroll. Twice. So by the time I am done with all of those important tasks, there is very little daylight left to sweep the porch or get the cobwebs away from our front door. And since I can't be productive and cross stuff off of the outdoor portion of my to do list, then I certainly can't do anything inside, either. The list would be unbalanced! And so the list sits for another day, lonely and neglected.

But Coralie will have a new dress AND I know all about my blogging friends. So. Good use of my day, I think.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (Lisa See)

There is so much to say about this book. But first, a synopsis. Back in rural China in the 1800s, the size of a woman's feet dictated so much: whom she could marry, whom she could befriend, what her status in society was. This is the story of a poor little girl with perfect tiny feet who rose up in society and a rich little girl who, for reasons out of her control, went down in society.

Overall, I found the book to be a little depressing. As in, I AM SO THANKFUL I WASN'T BORN IN RURAL CHINA IN THE 1800s BECAUSE IT SUCKED BACK THEN. Women had no freedom whatsoever, even to leave the house. They couldn't leave the house! Did you hear me? Trapped in their own homes, they were. To make matters even worse, no one wanted a woman in the house unless she would produce sons. Her birth family didn't want her since she was a daughter. And her married family didn't want her unless she could produce heirs. So women were essentially silent slaves in their own homes unless they were Lady of the House. And there was only one Lady at a time, so in their multi-generational/multi-family-branched homes, there were a lot of women who weren't the Ladies.

But See is a wonderful author with the ability to keep the story moving, and the premise of the book is absolutely fascinating. Everyone in my book club loved it, so there's that. I personally didn't, but as I said, I was in the minority. Fascinated but not in love. Yeah, that's how I feel.

However, I have a list of things I am freaked out about now:
-BEE STINGS. I won't tell you why, but I will tell you I carry benadryl with me. Everywhere.
-BOUND FEET. Little four year old girls had their feet bound. Four years old. Bound. Do you know what this entails? Basically, the toes are wrapped so that they are underneath the foot. Then the little girls walk like that, every day, for months until all the bones in their feet break. Then the feet are re-wrapped even tighter. The goal is to create feet to be 3 inches long. This is not an endearing part of Chinese history.
-TYPHOID. We are all immunized, right? Gah, what an awful disease.
-CHINA in general. I will not be traveling there. I know it's different now, but I can't shake the opinions I have of that 1800s culture. Also, I don't like their food. I like American Chinese food, but not the food that See writes about.

Speaking of food, we met at PF Changs to discuss the book. I am sure the waiter rolled his eyes at all of us women eating there with our big, obvious China books sitting beside us, but he was very gracious anyway. The manager even paid for my meal, so yeah, I'd say it was a good choice for us. (The manager is married to one of my former students, and I just love her. Hi, L, if you're reading!)

Our next book is Unbroken, and, yes, I know everyone else in the whole world has read this book. Anything I should know before diving in?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My very first tutorial: fall wreath

Have you heard about yarn wreaths? They're super cute. Super cute. And they look soooo easy that I just knew I could make one. And I did. Here's how I did it.

1. Waste a lot of time debating whether or not to make one. Look up a few tutorials online just to confirm that making one is as easy as it sounds.

2. Take two small children to Hobby Lobby and put all sorts of stuff into your cart because a) you don't really know what you're doing and b) that just happens when you take little hands with you into Hobby Lobby. That way you are sure not to save money.

3. Beg an expert to come and keep you company while you make the wreath.

4. Make the wreath. Budget three hours, at least.

I'm also a professional photographer, basically. See how I cut off the bottom of the wreath and didn't center the subject in my view finder? Awesome.

5. Don't hang the wreath where you intend; that would be actually finishing the job.

The plan is to hang it above the couch, in the window.

6. Instead, stick it somewhere it doesn't belong, preferably out of little hands' reaches.

I have a feeling it might stay here awhile. Also, doesn't it look like we have vaulted ceilings? We don't. Again, that's just my mad photography skillz.
7. Voila.

Moral of the story: If I can make one, so can you.
Another moral of the story: don't come to me for tutorials. I'm really not very helpful.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Yes, this is a waste of your time

Well, hello there. This is not an actual post. It is a place holder. Did you ever notice that I try to post on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays? It's just one of those neurotic things I do.

I have four posts that have been started (in my head), but I don't have the enthusiasm to actually write them. But since it's Monday, I must publish something.

I can't wait to see what I don't write for Wednesday.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Recap: August experiment

We just closed out our August books.

And. . . (drumroll, please). . .


Looks like we'll be on the cash system for September, too. And October and November and December. The girls are now on their way to a semester's worth of college books fully funded by Mom and Dad. That's right, people, we saved money!!! (If you could, please read that in an Oprah voice, as I did when I wrote that.)

I mean, that's exciting, right? We saved about $100 from our budget simply by paying with cash. But I actually feel kind of dumb that we haven't done the cash system before. Who KNOWS how many useless college Chemistry and Biology books we could have saved for by now! Once I got the hang of the cash system, I loved it. Loved it. It was actually quite fun to count my piles of money throughout the month. I found great enjoyment by paying with exact change. And I confidently purchased cute clothes for the girls because I knew we were under-budget.

I asked Ryan to make a spreadsheet showing me how much money we would have in fifteen years if we put away $100 every month into an account with a modest rate of return. He never did*, and I don't know how to, so I am going to estimate. My best guess is . . . three hundred thousand dollars!!!!!! Isn't that fantastic? Wait. What? Are my calculations off?

Well, let's assume we earn no interest at all. (I can't do that kind of math.) (I actually tutor College Algebra**, but if I don't have the book in front of me, I can't even graph a circle.) (But who cares, right? Who will ever need to graph a circle without being able to reference a book?) (Besides students.)

ANYWAY. If we save $1,200 a year ($100/month x 12 months. . . still with me?), then in fifteen years we will have saved $18,000. That's a heck of a lot better than $0. (I think. I may need to reference the ol' math book's chapter on significant digits, but I think I'm right.)

So what I'm saying is, the cash system saved us money. Maybe Dave Ramsey actually does know what he's talking about.

*I read him this paragraph, and he got his panties all in a wad that I called him out on this. He asked me to explain that SIX HOURS was not enough notice. SIX HOURS, you guys. Do you know what all I can accomplish in six hours?

**And by "tutor College Algebra" I mean "once-upon-a-time-tutored, you know, before I decided I would rather go to the gym than do math".

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Can I still get a PELL grant?

Well, well, well. It appears that some people can accomplish quite a bit in eight years. I mean, not me, but others can. I just received in the mail my alma mater's English department newsletter. Let me start by saying HOLY MOLY.

Since graduation, I have taught high school English in two wonderful schools and earned a Teacher of the Week certificate and a  . . oh wait, that's the extent of my accolades.

But my classmates? Let's see, they have earned Master's degrees and PhD's and awards like "Outstanding Graduate Student" and the distinction of summa cum laude in their graduate programs. From Yale. They are adjunct professors at major colleges around the country and are interviewed by news organizations such as the BBC. They are published. Some have a PhD and a national board certification and children.

(I am friends with some of those people on Facebook. If you are one of those people, hi! And also, wow.)

So I feel sort of . . . boring. Ryan told me he would support me if I wanted to pursue a Master's or PhD from Yale. He said it would be hard to work out the logistics but that it could be done. HAHAHAHAHAHA OH MY WORD NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN. I think he was trying to say that I am capable of earning some cool, intelligent distinctions, but I was too busy yelping out of actual physical pain at the thought of going back to school that I didn't hear him finish his point.

And this is the difference between me and my former classmates: they are out there studying at prestigious schools and teaching at respected institutions and writing for legitimate publications. And I? I am laughing and cringing all at the same time and then yelling out, "Oh! I can BLOG ABOUT THIS!"

Monday, September 5, 2011

A parenting boomerang

When I was eleven and attitude-y, I often found myself fighting with my mom. One day as she was driving me to school (thanks, Mom!) we were engaged in yet another power struggle. She turned to me in exasperation and said, "Katie, why don't we try this-- you be the kid and I'LL be the mom." I turned to her, narrowed my eyes, and snapped back, "We already tried that and it didn't work."

You know how they say what goes around comes around? This happened in our home yesterday:

Coralie: Mom, don't sit in that chair. My toys were in that chair.
Me: Well, Coralie, I need to sit here because I am holding Madeline and this is what works best for me.
Coralie: But my toys go there. You need to sit somewhere else!
Me: Coralie, you do not tell me what to do. If I want to sit here, I will sit here.
Coralie: Mom, you just need to move.
Me: Coralie, do not tell me what to do. I am the mom, you are the child. I don't have to obey you.
Coralie: Then I want to be the grandma and then you will have to obey me.

Not only is she smarter than I was in that she circumvented the hierarchy problem, but she gave me this attitude an entire EIGHT YEARS before I gave it to my mom.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: heaven help me.

PS-- Happy Labor Day!
PPS-- Sorry the comments feature seems to be wonky. I have no idea what to do to enable all of you to comment, as the extent of my troubleshooting capabilities is clicking a bunch of stuff. So I don't think I fixed anything, but I sure tried!

Friday, September 2, 2011

I feel weird

I hit an important milestone last week: my "career" as a stay-at-home mom has now outlasted my career as a teacher. That's weird. I feel like I am a professional who is choosing to stay home while my kids are young, except that I have no actual plans to go back to work when the girls are older. I wouldn't be surprised to find myself one day among the many who go back to work as their kids become more independent, but I just don't have a plan to, is what I'm saying. Some of my friends have definite career goals; I do not.

When I told Ryan that I have now stayed home longer than I ever worked, he asked me which job I felt more successful at. This is a strange question for many reasons, but one I am willing to ponder.

First off, I made fewer mistakes as a teacher (not that I didn't make any). I believe that's because I only worked about 180 days a year, for about 9 hours a day. Second off, this job had fewer mixed emotions for me. I loved, loved, loved--a million times over loved--teaching. I think it was the perfect job for me.

Strangely, I have no photos of me teaching. This was taken right around finals, I believe. Notice how well I used my whiteboard; only the highest standards of education in my classroom!

Here's one of me in action, but this is after I "retired"-- I had come up to the school do to some Homecoming prep work with the students. I actually found lots of (useless for this post) pictures of me with students, one who went on to become Miss Kansas, one who went to work for MTV in Nashville and worked with tons of celebrities, and I could go on and on. I adore them all (well, all the girls anyway. The boys could be obnoxious.) and miss being with them. *sniff*

But being a mom? I make lots of mistakes. And I work 365 days a year and a literal 24 hours a day. I love, love, love--a billion times over love--being a mom. But it's more complicated than going into a job every day. (An aside: I think being a working mom is the absolute hardest job in the world. I have total respect for the women who are able to do it all.) 
The moment I became a mother

Teaching was way more glamorous than sleep training, baby food making, bottom wiping, book reading, and house cleaning. The rewards-- positive feedback, making teenagers laugh, making new friends out of old students, intellectually challenging myself and others--were pretty great too.

I won't pretend that the perks of staying home aren't amazing, even better than summers off-- sleeping in until 8, not rushing out the door in the morning, being home all day unless I want to go somewhere else--they're pretty awesome. I don't love the mundane of staying home, but it is what it is.

So what I'm saying is, it's complicated. I don't know which job I'm better suited for or which one will occupy my 8 to 5 in the future. But I do know that I have more practice being a mom than a teacher. And that's weird.

I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts. If you're a parent, which job do you feel more equipped for-- one in a nice shiny building with other professionals, or one in your own house with your kids? If you had to plan out the rest of your days, money being no concern obviously, which "career" would you choose? Or would you do a combination? (And it doesn't make you a bad parent if you would rather work somewhere else from 8 to 5. So there's no "right" answer here. I'm just curious.)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

I'll understand if you think less of me

So. The movies. I literally never go to the movie theater. Well, literally in the figurative sense. I did go about eighteen months ago. Anyway. I went to see The Help on Friday night with some girlfriends and I was all in a tizzy beforehand. Should I wear pants? Bring a sweater? Sneak candy in? Order a drink there? What was I supposed to do during the movie? Play with silly putty? Yes, silly putty sounds right.

Into the purse silly putty goes. Along with a sweater and kleenex in case the inevitable happens and I cry at some point.

Ryan said I was acting as crazy as if I had just received notice I was going to tea with the Queen of England. He clearly doesn't understand my anxiety surrounding movie theaters.

To begin, it is too dang expensive to go. Thankfully, my kind and generous friend Sarah gave me one of her comp tickets, so it was free for me. But still! Everyone else there had paid, what, like twenty dollars apiece to be there? Since I haven't been in awhile, I don't know what the ticket cost is, but I am pretty sure it's a kajillion dollars.

Secondly, WHO SAT IN MY SEAT BEFORE ME? Did they have lice? Had they showered recently?

Thirdly, the rules. My word, the rules! I sat there for at least three minutes being reminded to stop talking, turn off my cell phone, keep my feet off the seat in front of me, and buy concessions.

Fourthly, the previews. They cause me great anxiety because I think, "Oh, I may like that movie. I'll have to remember to see it when it comes out on DVD in approximately EIGHTEEN MONTHS." And then I never remember what movies to rent when I am at Redbox.

Fifthly, the group laughter and claps. I loathe this. Ma'am, the producers only included that stupid line in the movie so predictable movie-goers like you would laugh out loud. You are playing right into the producers' hands just like this silly putty is doing in my own hands.

Sixthly, I can't NOT cry at a movie. So when the lights come up at the end, I look like a horrified zombie and try to exit the theater as quickly as possible, which isn't very quickly since we are being herded like the slow, fat cattle we are (see: concessions).

Also, I read too many books. They just ruin movies for me. This movie was not even close to as good as the book, no matter what other people say. Maybe I can go to Hollywood and actually make a movie that is equal to the book and then play it in small rooms with fresh chairs and free food and people who promise not to laugh too loudly.

Yeah, that sounds like a good use for my life.