Oct 23, 2015

What I'm Into: Podcast Edition...

While I have some chores and things to attend to, today I'd like to talk instead about what feels to me like a newfangled technology, but as with most of my trend and fad discoveries, it has been around at least a little while. Much like motion-sensing lights in bathrooms. I walked into the bathroom of a very modest church a while back, looking for the light switch, and the lights flicked on automatically. ZING! I thought, "Wow, what a fancy touch for this mid-80's linoleum and country blue and peach floral vibe." Except then I realized that I find motion-sensing lights pretty much everywhere, and have even lived in houses that had them in certain places, so they're probably not all that fancy and new anymore. And I concluded that I'm, um, aging gracefully. I digress...

Anyway. Apparently everyone knows about motion sensing lights in bathrooms, so instead I'm going to talk about podcasts. Which, again, I'm pretty sure everyone knows about, but I'm new to this gig so you get to hear about my finds.

It started a year(s?) ago when the Cat Daddy started listening to musical podcasts from his favorite groups, and I was all "yeah, that's pretty cool," but didn't do much about it. He tried to tell me how to do it and I was all "So, it's an app?" and he was all "the app is where you find them," but I was only half listening so there you have it (apologies to the Cat Daddy).

Fast forward to this spring, when I was thinking forward to wintertime running in New England, and remembering that it may well involve dread-mill time, and sort of grumbling about that. Then I got to talking with some running acquaintances in AL and they mentioned which podcasts they were into, and how they really passed the time, and even gave me some suggestions, and it got me to thinking "Hey, this might be a good idea."

I'd heard murmurs about Serial, but it sounded a little intense for me. Kind of like HBO shows. Eventually though, I'd watched enough TED talks and Facebook snippets that I finally started looking up the sources of my favorite things, and bam--podcasts. You know what made the long driving days (almost) fun on our move? Plugging my phone into my car's auxiliary jack and listening to podcasts. You know what makes me (almost) look forward to dishes and laundry and lamesauce chores? Podcasts. I'm serious; if you are not into them already, you need to take a look and see what you can find. There is something for EVERYONE out there.

And so, without further adieu, I present to you some of the podcasts I'm into* **...

Another Mother Runner--This is run by Sarah and Dimity who are, among other things, mothers and runners. They talk mostly about running-related things. Obvs.

TrueFaced--If you are into Jesus, and Grace, and stuff like that, this is a great little weekly snippet. They are my people.

Open Door Fellowship Church--This is my home church. Always will be. Bill from TrueFaced started it with a bunch of hippies over 40 years ago, and it's one of the few places I've seen God's grace lived out in all its messy, trusting, brutiful glory. There are others, but not many. I don't listen every week, but I like to keep tabs and check in from time to time. They are my people.

Newsworthy With Norsworthy--More Jesus stuff. Luke is a pastor who is really good at asking questions and exploring ideas with people from all corners of Christianity. My favorite guests of his so far have been Nadia Bolz-Weber and Richard Rohr, but that's like saying my favorite parts of Disneyland are Space Mountain and the Blue Bayou. There's a whole lot more in between and around the two to love.

Invisibilia--This one is amazeballs. Alix and Lulu explore aspects about us that are invisible, but have a huge influence on our lives. It's science-y, and story-ish, and really hard to describe. They did an initial run of 6 or so episodes and are (I hope) in the process of making more.

Hidden Brain--This one is sort of in the same vein as Invisibilia, but focused more exclusively on social science.

How To Do Everything--This is a brief and fun look at most anything you can imagine. Mike & Ian answer listener questions on how to do...everything. It's a little tongue-in-cheek, a little sassy, and somehow still incredibly informative.

TED Radio Hour--So about half my podcasts are NPR-related. I think the Cat Daddy may be a little concerned that I'll turn into a crazy liberal, because apparently that's what happens when you listen to NPR (I've heard). But I could not resist an NPR show based entirely on TED talks. Plus, I might have the teensiest crush on Guy Raz.

The Simple Show--I took a winding path to get to this one. It started over on The Art of Simple. I've been loosely following Tsh and her family for a little while now, particularly their recent (almost)year abroad with their three kiddos. I pretty much completely ignored her podcast for a while, but then she re-vamped the whole thing and did a post on why I should go give it a try, so I did. Tsh's deal is living simply; that is, living holistically within your life's purpose. Which can mean something different for everyone, which is why it's a great listen. I think her biggest strength, though, is bringing in other people. (Nearly?) Every show is an interview where she talks with someone else about their own "simple," and many/most of them have their own websites and/or podcasts. So if you are kind of bookish and want to find people to follow, this is a good place to look.

PopCast--If you will look back over this list you will see Jesus stuff and science-y, thinking stuff, and a bit about living simply. And you might think, "Wow, Skerrib, you are cultured and deep," right? That's what I thought too, as I congratulated myself for jettisoning almost all the pop culture in my life. But then on a Simple Show interview, Megan Tietz dropped that she had also been interviewed for the Popcast, so I meandered over there to give it a cursory listen. I'm only about 5 episodes in, but I'm already certain I want to be besties and/or a professional third wheel to Knox & Jamie. Clearly, I've kept the lighter-duty parts of my brain too. You're welcome.

With winter coming, that dread-mill will be looming, so please feel free to leave me some of your favorite podcast suggestions. Ideally I have a smile on my face as the ending bumper music is playing, so no scary things or Lifetime specials, please...

*This list is ever-changing. There have been a couple I've tried and dropped for various reasons. There was one I really, really wanted to like because it involved interviewing all sorts of famous personalities on a more behind-the-scenes level, but it had too many f-bombs for my tender ears. I think it was actually called the WTF Podcast though, so I had fair warning there.

**I'm also into several non-podcast things--somehow I've completely missed telling you about my Apple TV and YouTube discoveries--but those will have to wait for another day. And we have also been in a timeframe where the Littler One wants to record and post his own Minecraft videos on YouTube, which I'm all for, except I'm stuck on the part about how to go about recording a Minecraft video. So there's that. Aging Gracefully.

Oct 9, 2015

Patchy Patchy...

When the Cat Daddy went into the Air Force, he went through Officer Training School. A substantial part of the first two weeks of OTS was learning how to keep their uniforms in good order. They trimmed loose threads. They learned how to tuck or blouse their pant legs just right in/over their boots. And they ironed. They ironed and ironed and ironed.

When the Cat Daddy returned from OTS, I told him that I would be letting him maintain his own uniforms. There were several reasons behind this, but my favorite was that the US government had invested so much time and training into his uniform techniques that I didn't want that training to go to waste. He replied that was fine with him, and that it was probably better than trying to train me up to the same standard anyway (he knows I'm a lazy ironer). So now when we have to buy an iron, he's the one who picks it out because he irons way more often than I do & knows which features are the important ones. And when he needs something sewn on he takes his uniforms to the base alterations place, which for a reasonable price does a great job in probably 1/3 of the time it would take me. And if it comes out wrong (which I don't think it ever has) he has them do it again, and I'm very happily out of the loop.

Well, this year the boys joined Cub Scouts. I've quick-stitched patches and such in the past, but something about Cub Scouts seemed more official to me. We bought the Badge Magic (stuff to stick the patches on instead of sewing them), but then it turned out that their pants needed hemming as well. And in the past I've sort of hack-hemmed my own pants, but again something about doing them for someone else made me want to take it up a notch.

Well long story short, one of my running friends is a seamstress and does hemming and patch-sewing for people in the neighborhood as a way of funding her hardcore running habit.

So guess what I did? I could have hired her to hem the pants and sew on the patches, but instead I took a sewing lesson from her. I had the machine and the gist of the process, and she had the experience and the techniques to actually make things look good. So we spent a lovely couple of hours wrestling with fabric, and she graciously and patiently looked on as I learned how to do the things, and she made some dollars along the way. It was a win-win-win as far as we were concerned.

(Another thing I love about my late 30's is that I'm learning what things in life I care to take on myself and what things I can afford to hire out to people who know better than I. I'm getting pretty good at asking for help when I need it, and I'm finding people are generally glad to share their talents with me.)

That was a couple weeks ago. Since then we acquired new Den patches (above), and the boys earned their Bobcat badges, so it was time to test out my new skills. It took me a couple tries but in the end I was very pleased with the results, and have declared myself a serious, patch-sewing Scout Mom.

The Cat Daddy looked at my work and said he still wasn't sure he'd trust me with his uniforms, and I said that's fine. I'm not sure I'm up for that level of pressure and besides, I have a friend who would be happy to to take the job...

Oct 7, 2015

Snippets to Suffice...

Kids, there is so much to tell. So much. But there is so little time. So little. Rather than cramming all of the things into a gigantic post, it seems less painful to us all to let some snippets suffice--

--I started back to work a month ago, and can now say with authority that if you are going to start a new job, it should be with a company you've already worked for and like, and with people you've already worked with/for and like. You will have the BEST first week ever, and will only sweat a little bit from excitement, rather than buckets and buckets trying to figure out workplace culture, boundaries, and the like.

--On my first day I showed up with my trusty work laptop, ready to get back into the swing of math and big engineering words and stuff. I had a lot of questions, but I settled pretty easily into my workspace knowing most of them would be answered eventually. There were a couple, however, that were more urgent than the rest. And it turns out they are pretty much universal. You can be most any occupation, in any stage or station in life, in most any place in the world, and it boils down to these key issues: "Where is the bathroom?" "Where is the water?" and "Where do I get/store my lunch?"

You know what's not universal? At my particular away-from-home job no one asks me to do any bottom- or nose-wiping. People try to be as alone as possible in the restroom instead of all crowding in to find me when I'm there. They get their own food and drinks, and if I shoot a serious look or point to my phone they can tell I'm concentrating and should not be bothered unless necessary. I haven't had to give a single time-out to any co-workers, and I still get to say silly things sometimes. On the downside, no one has expressed any desire to give me snuggles or hold my hand walking into a building, but somehow it still feels like I'm winning, so I think it's a good fit.

--Overall the balance of work and home is...balanced. I *think* I might have found my own personal sweet spot. Our schedule is full but not overwhelming, at least most of the time.  The house is a notch messier than before, and still not completely assembled the way I'd like it. And I would love a little more downtime for *just* me, but that will come in time, I think, as I learn how to chisel it out of the day.

--The equinox arrived and, like clockwork, the weather cooled. My favorite time of year is now, when the mornings and evenings require a fleece but it still gets warm enough in the afternoons to take the chill off. The fall sunshine has a nibble of crispness to it, and of course the orchards have the best apples, without that suspiciously shiny wax coating one finds at the grocery store. The kids love it when I melt peanut butter and chocolate chips to dip their apple slices in, but I'm happy to skip the melting and dip right into the PB and chips. My family loves the local homemade apple butter with its hint of molasses, but I have discovered the "low-sugar" version, which in the case of jams and jellies doesn't mean blandness or artificial sweetener, but rather a bolder, more tart, and purer fruit flavor. I might have a slight low-sugar apple butter toast problem.

--Thus far moving back to Massachusetts has gone swimmingly. It's not exactly the same, of course; no place ever is. But we have made some new friends and re-acquainted with a few old ones, and are experiencing the joys of relational roots.

--I turned 38 a few weeks ago. I've been in a bit of a heady place for a few years, kind of surveying my life and realizing I'm THERE. I'm an adult, driving the mom-mobile, flying through these years of raising a family. A while back I saw a picture of my family (parents, brother, and me), taken when I was the same age as His Highness is now, and realized that when that photo was taken my parents were younger than I am now, and I got a little mind-blown, thinking, "There we were, and here we are."

--And finally, time for a little bit of True Confessions. I don't much care for Pumpkin Spice things. You can keep your lattes and pies and pancakes and whatnot.

I'll be over here with my apple crisp...

Aug 26, 2015

Come Lord Jesus...

OK kids, it's a little crazy over here these days. There has been a lot this summer to blame on the Big Move, but I think we've reached over that fence and into new territory. We're mostly-reasonably settled, at least as far as the kids are concerned, and yet the crazy continues.

The most obvious explanation for all this craziness is that we are less than a week from school starting, and all of us in the Skerrib family have wrung the snot out of this summer. We are ready for a return to structure, and challenge, and maybe a teensy little break from one another every single weekday.

Then again there's the mom-guilt option, where my own inner chaos, stemming from still not having anything on the walls yet (but constantly running after the kids in hopes of heading off any major messes, damage, or fire, hence further delaying any progress on putting things on said walls), rubs off on the kids and they mirror it back to me.

And of course there's the "we're all failing" option, where I am raising ill-mannered savages, plain and simple, and somewhere around age 20 they'll suddenly and without explanation mellow out into the normal and wonderful people I know are deep down in there. Or, you know, they'll become sociopaths. Either way.

These are the things I ponder as I go up and down stairs, chipping away at Mount Laundry one load per day, until someone poos and I have to add a load of bathroom rug, thereby disrupting the system (Children, please get your poo INto the potty).

I mean, most likely the first explanation is the truest, and we're all doing better than it feels 87% of the time. Tomorrow will dawn and most likely I will arise and jog, and contemplate life, and return home full of endorphins and happy thoughts. OR maybe freak out just a little bit; either way.

Still, I believe today that I have crossed a line. Call it a boundary, hedge, point of no return, margin of safety, arbitrary control point, or what have you. I call it "Come, Lord Jesus."

"Come Lord Jesus" is what happens when I try to get us into a system that will revolutionize our home, and it starts out well in the short term but eventually certain individuals incite mutiny, and the system is revolutionized alright, but in the exact opposite way from what I'd hoped. It is what happens when we are mere yards from the finish line, and our watertight form devolves into all-out flailing and tongue-wagging, and we have expended all that was in us, and we just cannot care anymore. This is when I take a breath, throw up my hands, and say "Come, Lord Jesus."

Two summers ago, we had a "Come Lord Jesus" moment very similar to this. It was the week before school started, and as I sunk into the couch and contemplated the mutiny raging about me I decided that turning into Loud Monster Mom, while very rarely occasionally effective, would do nothing. We needed a change of scenery, and that change of scenery was just around the corner with the start of school, and so we just needed to hang on until we got there. So I took a deep breath, in and out, and tabled the cleaning and nagging and routines until the following week. The house was a disaster, but it eventually got cleaned up, and no one was permanently scarred in the process (Incidentally, Jesus did not return. While a slight disappointment, I like to think it left the door open for continued prayers of this nature each summer).

Last year the kids ended up with a short summer due to scheduling differences between Virginia and Alabama, so there was no "Come Lord Jesus." In fact, it was closer to a "Holy crap," and mad dash for school supplies in time for the start of the school year. The kids maintained that it wasn't fair, and in some ways I agreed, but that particular pain saved us several days of "Come Lord Jesus," which I think was a better deal overall. And the house was still a bit of a disaster, but it eventually got cleaned up.

This year, however, the situations were reversed and they ended up with a loooooooonger than normal summer.  They cheered, "Yay!" but even they are rethinking that cheer at this point. There are no more field trips to take, activities to try, or places to explore that will make it better. Don't get me wrong; there is plenty to do. It's just that I can no longer be reasonably sure that no one will lose an eyeball in the process. We need our village, and we need it now. Come, Lord Jesus.

And so today some of us have done our chores and some of us haven't, but I am acting as if we all have, and will lovingly and firmly dole out whispered consequences later. I think at this point it's worth it for my own sanity, and their own safety.

In conclusion, it just goes to show that you always have choices. From experience I can tell you that losing your cool makes the tiny sociopaths think they've won. Make space for your sanity, and make room for the Lord Jesus, and soon a new season will arrive, and eventually the house will be in something that resembles order.

Don't let the sociopaths win, people. Come Lord Jesus.

Amen and amen...

Aug 6, 2015

Because Adding a Creative Project During a Move-In Is the Best Ever...

**First, some background info. My friend Elizabeth is in the middle of an ongoing project this year called Unfinished, where she is setting a goal to finish at least one project per month. This can be any size or type of project, and she has also been including interviews with people she knows, covering how they go about projects, keep them in view, if and when they ever cut ties on a project, and so on. It's been really inspiring to me, even with a Big Move thrown in like a wrench. Which is really no excuse, because Elizabeth's family just had their third Big Move in TWO years (that's a move every summer for three summers running now. Yikes!), and yet she is still keeping the dream alive of finishing things. You should go see her site for a minute before you come back here. She documents all sorts of family and creative pursuits, and you will love her photos. They're the really good kind.

My "Unfinished" goal for this year was to finish some things, although I stopped short of setting any sort of quota (e.g. one per month, etc), and I'm mostly glad about that.  I mean, I'd probably have finished more if I'd aimed a little higher, but then again maybe I'd just have a bigger pile of to-do's making me sad. Ain't nobody got time for making themselves sadder.  

Anyway, I've found myself a little more intentional when deciding to take on a project (or not), which is a good thing. I think to myself, "Come on Skerrib, can you realistically see this through? Or will it remain on your to-do list and make you sad?" And I think consequently, I've checked more items than usual off my list, precisely because I'm dealing with them more deliberately. What's more, as we get settled in I'm gradually making room for new projects, like the one I'm about to share. 

It's a major motivational help to follow a friend who is working on similar goals, so I recommend to try and find some positive peer pressure if you want to pursue progress in this area.

Background info: done. Onward...**

By this point in their sports careers, the boys are starting to accumulate their share of medals. Some are better deserved than others, but debates on merit aside, I LOVE that more often than not they are getting medals instead of trophies. Medals are more durable, take up much less space than trophies, and are slightly easier to view simply as a memento of their time on the team. And I can get behind simple mementos.

The thing about medals, though, is that sometimes the boys lose their heads a little and start swinging them around as weapons, or leave them lying around the house, or some such thing I would never think to use a medal for, so I decided it was time to contain the medals somehow (or get rid of them, but you can easily guess how that discussion would have gone. Even I don't want to get rid of my medals).

So we nosed around Amazon a little, and they picked these. I thought they were good choices: inspirational without being overly cheesy, and fairly classic in design: 
His Highness's choice here

The Littler One's choice here (medals not included--he was disappointed about that)
Each came with materials for mounting them to the wall, which got me thinking. We move a lot, so we'll be putting them up and taking them down a lot. And while yes, walls are generally pretty easy to fix most of the time, it makes my eye twitch just a little every time I pound in a nail or screw or bolt, especially if there are anchors involved.

The answer, of course, is Command products, which I've mentioned in passing, but perhaps not expressed the scope of the difference they've made in my life. I use them whenever I can now, instead of nails. They take a little work and patience up front, but they make hanging things soooooooo much easier, and really do minimize the wall damage. Plus you can very easily hang stuff on tile backsplashes and other places which would be otherwise a pain in the tuchus. 

The bummer of Command products is that they look terrible on see-through metal medal hangers, so I hit upon a solution of mounting the wall hangers to some wood plaques, and then Commanding the wood plaques to the walls (As a sidenote, The Littler One could have gotten away without a wood plaque, but once he saw something happening, he wanted in on it. This is how he rolls). 

After some searching and mild indecision, I decided on unfinished innkeeper signs. And after some negotiating and reasoning, The Littler One and I decided we would finish the signs with red, white, & blue acrylic paint and Mod Podge. I forgot to take pics of each step, but our procedure was as follows:
  1. Mom sands the signs ("too boring," said the kids).
  2. Mom primes the signs while the kids are out of the house because she's afraid of the mess.
  3. Discuss design, then tape and paint accordingly. By this time Mom has a handle on herself and the kids happily paint.
  4. Tape-and-paint-and-tape-and-paint until desired designs are achieved.
  5. Let The Littler One do the stars his way because, why not.
  6. Mod Podge until things seem sturdy and shiny-but-not-too-shiny.
How did I make it 37.9 years without this miracle substance??

     7.   Mount hangers on finished plaques.
     8.   Command plaques to the walls.

His Highness's finished product
His Highness's hanger mount was pretty straightforward. It came with spacers which hold it slightly away from the surface, so adding medals is easy-peasy. The plaques are soft pine, so just a screwdriver did the trick; no drill (that would've been fun though).

The Littler One's was slightly more challenging. First, I lost the screws that came with the package. I didn't want to make a Home Depot trip so I got out our little box of extra hardware and picked out a  workable solution.

The way his hanger works is you put the medals on and then fasten the bar to hold everything steady. But again, I didn't want to make it too permanent, so I decided to put a very thin screw just below the bar to support it.

Then, because I'm super clever, I sanded one edge of the screw head so that it's just that much easier to move the bar and add/subtract medals as needed. This step probably wasn't totally necessary, but I did it anyway because I like coming up with clever bits.

The right edge is veeerrrrry slightly flatter

It's not anchored; just resting securely.

The Littler One's finished product
While I was at it, I thought about a couple of really cool bottle-opener we've had lying around for years. I'd actually thought about the plaque idea for it before, but like so many "I could..." ideas, hadn't gotten around to it. It so happened Michael's had these little square plaques next to the innkeeper signs, so badda boom, badda bing, adorable bottle opener in the kitchen. 

The Cat Daddy bought bottled barley pop to test it out, but forgot my fancy root beer. 
It turns out, though, that the motion of opening the bottle is pretty much the same motion as that of undoing Command Products, so in the end I put up with the eye twitch and fastened the opener directly. True, I could have drilled holes in the plaque and fastened it that way, but since I'm still in Transition Fatigue, I went with quick and done to be safe.

More functional. :)  Less red. :(

Done! Now to find the scattered medals and hang them.
The thing you have to be really cognizant of with Command strips is the object weight. They make a big deal of saying they don't guarantee structural integrity, and since we have textured walls in this house we have to make sure we stick enough strips on whatever it is we are hanging, especially with heavier things, so that they will stay securely in place. Otherwise we risk ending up with, say, souvenir spoon cases which might or might not fall off the wall and break the display door glass and spill souvenir spoons everywhere. Or so I've heard.

In conclusion, my favorite thing about this project is that we made something that looks nice, but for a really practical purpose. I greatly enjoy all the things having a "home," and this breaks up the bright white walls a little. And hopefully, it'll cut back on medal-related injuries a little at the Skerrib house...

Jul 21, 2015

Transition Fatigue...

As of a week or so ago, I have declared (this particular) Big Move complete, with eight phases total, if you count moving into the house as Phase VIII. In my mind it is not a done deal until we have the ability to clean to the point that the house doesn't look like the aftermath of a major undoing (which is exactly what it IS), but technically speaking we are done with the moving part of the Move. Also, the pictures herein depict the parts of the house that make me feel the least unsettled, although I'm posting them less for emotional reasons than for the simple fact that I didn't want to make the effort to walk upstairs & capture the messiest of the mess. But trust me, it's more peaceful this way.

Couch: check. Couch feet: NOT check.
Overall I would call this move successful in that we had few broken/missing things. The Cat Daddy would point out that some of the things they did break/lose will be a little tricky to replace, which is a valid point. On the to-do list: figure out how to match a new bench to the 30-year-old piano.

We're settled to the point that we have sheets on the beds, curtains on the showers, places to sit & watch TV & surf the interwebs, and a kitchen full of food & 'wares. This leaves the remaining task of sifting through all the things and keeping (and finding homes for them) or tossing as appropriate. This is the hardest stage to be disciplined about.

The tidiest place in the house, even with snack remnants.
This is also where Transition Fatigue sets in. Transition Fatigue is when you're not quite settled, and you're a little tired of being not quite settled, and you maybe lose perspective a little bit. Transition fatigue is different for everyone, but it could be marked by a strange devotion to rules which may or may not be enforceable, an irrational desire to control that which is not actually within one's jurisdiction, and possibly general irritability at things which are different, such as home and grocery store layouts. It evens out over time, but in the moment the Transition Fatigued soul finds it unthinkable to stock the peanut butter next to the salad dressing, and where the heck are the craisins??

Transition Fatigue also produces muscle memory issues. Some are minor, like reaching right while the silverware drawer is now to the left, and moving toward the wrong corner cabinet to get the pasta strainer. Others are more major, or at least more painful, such as moving laundry from the washer to the dryer and smacking one's face into the post that is now between the two machines.

I haven't yet found a way of getting through a transition without the fatigue, but I'm learning to talk less and put more effort into keeping myself peaceful. I take most thoughts after 8pm with a grain of salt, and I don't write blog posts until after a run (you're welcome). I keep lists in my bullet journal so I have things to check off, and I remind myself that we're working HARD and accomplishing things each day. And I tell myself peaceful things, like "it's a bigger mess because you emptied more boxes," and "their brains will be OK, even with all the screen time."

All in all we're moving right along, getting settled and ready to send the Cat Daddy back to work next week (amen and amen). It's good to remind myself that I'm not the only one going through Transition Fatigue, and I do think that within a few weeks all of us will be more settled and certain individuals will maybe be following the wearing-underpants rule a little more consistently.

I'd also like to think certain individuals will also stop strewing things about like walking tornadoes, but I'm almost certain they did that even before the move, so there's that...

Jul 5, 2015

Phase VII: The Home-ish Stretch...

OK, by my count we're at Phase VII of (this particular) Big Move. We are in Massachusetts. We are living on base. In temporary lodging. Until our house is available at the end of the week, and our stuff arrives at the beginning of the next. And then the unpacking will commence in all its glory. So we might be in the home stretch, or perhaps the not-quite-the-home stretch; I haven't decided...

...I have decided, however, that no matter how much fun one is having, a month is a long time to be without a home base. The Littler One, my guy with so many feelings, is having a volatile time of things, and during his more unpleasant moments I keep saying to him in my head "I know, transition is SO hard!" It's a bit of a trick I think, understanding how difficult it is, and yet needing to teach how to express his difficulty. Because you know, Mommy's right there with you, Kid...

...I will now take a moment to talk about a pet peeve of mine: slow drains. Over the past month we've stayed in a HomeAway rental, several friends' houses, no fewer than three separate hotel brands, and now government lodging. I'm not sure if it's some sort of relic of modern building codes, or the simple result of people like me (long-haired types) bathing all the time and clogging up the works, but every hotel tub drained slow and made me feel sad, and a little gunky on my feet. Let me recommend right now to all hotels to please install the strainer-type drain covers in your tubs. Yes, there's a bit of an ew-factor in watching one's hair pile up at the drain, but this means that the hair is not going down in the drain, getting tangled in the structures and creating blockages with, like, a 10-times ew-factor to deal with later, while people are trying to shower while the grey water is stuck at their ankles and the maintenance guy, after 10 trials of Draino, eventually has to suck it up and snake the thing, and pull out that blockage, dry-heaving as he flops it into the trash with his shirt over his nose, because there are no words for that ew-factor.

On that same note our particular government lodging, where perhaps a little vintage and practical in function and form, does not mess around with the drains. Don't take anything in the tub you wouldn't want to lose forever, because if it goes down the drain it is gone. My feet thank you, government drains...

...But oh Good Gravy, government lodging. The wireless. Something has got to be done. There are people who are professionals at knowing how to keep things up & running. Can we please find them? And have them take a look at things? (after the 3-day weekend, of course)...

...The Cat Daddy makes fun of all my loyalty club key-tags, but at least one is still useful here. To be fair, when I went to Shaw's I asked if they still used them and the cashier said, "We haven't used those in a long time, Ma'am." I said, "That's alright, I haven't been in town in a long time." The Stop & Shop one is still apparently useful, though. So there's that...

...The greatest thing about this move is going back to a familiar place. This is the first move where we've had such a privilege, and as we've driven around getting reacquainted, I've had many moments of "Oh, I remember!" It makes me think about heaven, and wondering if at least parts of it might be like that as we greet old friends, and maybe parts of it will look similar to things we love(d) about our life here. Who knows. I do know that six months from now I may be updating from under several feet of snow, so I feel like I need to mark this time in early July and remember that being with dear friends and among familiar places is a gift...

Jun 28, 2015

On Laundry and Relaxation...

At this moment we are on approximately Phase V of (this particular) Big Move. Phase IV consisted of buzzing thru Montgomery to grab the remainder of our possessions and visit the chiro for one last dose of back health before heading to Asheville NC.

It could be said that Asheville NC is the Portland OR of the East. It is lush and green, and one of the kids actually commented that it looked like scenes from the Goonies, which is set in Oregon. Asheville also has more than its share of crunchy-types and oddballs, and from my observation it could have the highest per capita incidence of dreadlocks in US urban areas, although I haven't been in Boulder CO in a while, so there's that.

Other than an amazing pulled pork biscuit breakfast downtown and a beautiful hike in the Smokey Mountains though, we have been spending our time hanging with our friends (The Pastors T and family, from days of yore) at their house. In an interesting twist of events, they too are moving, although they like to kick things up a notch and are moving in three days, and on something like a week and a half notice. 

In theory we are helping them pack and prep, which in this case looks like baking to use up the pantry...sending all the kids outside to occupy each other...talking about Jesus, antimatter, and everything in between...and napping on their couch when things get sleepy. We love them.

This morning I got to take a couple hours to do introvert things. It's always a bit of a surprise to me to find what can rejuvenate me and give me a happy morning. Internet articles talk about things like spa days, mani-pedis, long baths, and stuff like that. Which are all fine and good; just not my relaxation cup of tea. It turns out when I'm on the road, it is otherwise mundane, ordinary (and sometimes mind-numbing) tasks which make me feel like a whole and mostly-sane person, and very small gifts which give my heart that extra little smiley kick.

Today the things that made me feel calm and happy were: 
  • Running a 5K on the treadmill while listening to podcasts
  • Lifting little dumbbells to keep the old back strong 
  • Doing a load of laundry 
  • Asking for coins for said laundry at the front desk and being told "They're actually free now. Just push in the empty coin tray and they'll work." AND THEY DID.
The laundry is a particular surprise. I think it's less about actually doing the laundry, and more about staying on top of the task which is the closest thing I have to an arch-nemesis. If my family has clothes to wear, we're prepared to fight another day. Or something like that. Also, I'm ensuring that my Mount Laundry will be minimal as long as possible. Ideally until we move into the new house, where articles of clothing will again start reproducing until they reach the piles to which I'm accustomed. Some things just can't be explained...

Jun 17, 2015

Snippets From the Beach...

--At this moment we are what I'm calling Phase III of our Big Move, or in some circles, (this particular) Big Move, because it is our third Big Move in as many years.  Phase I was the extended-stay hotel mentioned in my previous post, and Phase II was a weekend with dear friends on the way down to Key West. I haven't decided how many phases to break (this particular) Big Move into, but over the next few weeks we will go back through Montgomery to pick up the Cat Daddy's car and our trailer o' stuff, spend several days with dear friends in NC, drive to MA, stay in temporary lodging for something like 10 days and, finally, move into our recently-secured base housing on or around July 10. So that's, like, 6-8 phases total? I'm not even sure what to call it. All I know is that I'm taking a lot  of deep breaths, and setting aside priceless time for introvert-ish things, and goodness me these children are beasts when they don't get enough rest.

--I'm not sure if I've mentioned it many times here, but Oh My Dear Heavens, do I love the beach. If my life circumstances should somehow change and I find myself without family responsibilities (heaven forbid), or maybe just someday once the kids are off & grown, I will have a cottage in a beachy town and become a beach bum (But a high-functioning one). I will wake early in the mornings and run places, and I will take up surfing (or stick to snorkeling, depending on the location), and the rest of the time I will navigate town on my beach cruiser, and be an eccentric and beloved local old woman. The Cat Daddy says he will miss me at the family farmhouse/estate, and I said no worries, he can visit me at the beach and I will come for big family holidays. I'm certain we can become snowbirds or make it work in some way. If one is going to be in transition for crazy timeframes like a month or more, may I recommend beach time as a way of preserving sanity?

--My friend Ruth and I talk about All the Things when we get together. I have just as many opinions as she does, but she's more outspoken than I am, and willing to put up with all the stuff that comes with sharing opinions online, so she writes and posts brave things. I'm not sure my exact reasons, but most controversial-type things I tend to save for in-person discussions. Sometimes I wonder if I ought to be bolder about sharing my OPINIONS here on the blog, and waaaaaay back in the archives you can find a few OPINIONS, but more recently I like the safety that comes from sitting with someone in person and sharing points of view. I very rarely see people storming out of coffeehouses mid-rant, is what I'm saying. I'm not sure that's the end of the story, because I think there's also something to be said about entering the broader discussion, or "the arena" so to speak, but this is where I am at the moment. We can all use more kindness, laughter, unicorns, and kittens (and Jesus), and those are the things I'm about these days.

--In Key West I have seen people carrying around coconuts, drinking stuff out of them with straws. My intent today is to find out what is in said coconuts, and perhaps procure one for myself before this afternoon's informal snorkeling practice.

Jun 3, 2015

Lucky Number 500...

It turns out that, if my Blogger stats are correct, this is my 500th blog post on this site.  So, happy 500th post to us all, and thanks for reading my blog!

These days we are in transition, which I feel like I write about a lot.  Probably because we do a lot of transition, and because we've been going through more than usual lately--this is move #3 in 3 years. I haven't figured out yet if I'm learning new things each time we move, or if I'm re-learning the same things and due to my mom-brain it's all just shiny and new to me each time.

At this moment we are in the extended-stay hotel until we leave for a vacation in Key West. We are (varying degrees of) beach people, so we are all very much looking forward to it. I'm pretty sure this will be the farthest south I've ever been, and even though I'm not a drinker, I'm seriously considering a mai-tai or some other adult umbrella drink to mark the occasion. After vacation we will make our way north, arriving in the wonderful Boston area during the warmest time of year, which I think is quite valuable for feeding my continuing denial of the severity of winters to come.

If there's an upside to all this moving and transition, it is that we are veritable experts at the logistics of moving and transition. We can work around moving ourselves or being moved by a company. We can plan for long-term displacement or a door-to-door excursion. With or without kids and/or pets. Seriously, I could have a reality show on HGTV where I help people organize themselves for moving, because each time I have moved I have learned something new to make it go a little smoother the next time.

The "internal" aspects of moving are a little more complex, I think. Because it is familiar, this part does go more smoothly for me these days, but I haven't yet found a way to both do it well and make it painless. In fact as you would probably guess, it seems to me part of doing transition well is letting it be painful, and feeling the feels, and all that. Sometimes I get caught off-guard though, and I get surprised by what stings.

The other day we were checking out of our house, and I took a moment for some mental snapshots. I remembered how empty it felt when we first moved in and how, after a year of placing and arranging, and filling it with the things of our lives (and vacuuming the ever-loving granola crumbs again and again), it was again packed up and emptied, looking identical to the first time we saw it.

I think it's one of the great paradoxes of life, about opening up and risking to love something/someone, but still holding it "loosely," as they say.  I don't know what it was about that house--perhaps the layout and other particulars, which I was particularly fond of--but I loved it right away, and it felt very home-ish to me almost immediately. I remember consciously allowing myself to enjoy it fully for the time we had it, even knowing it was a rental, and a short term one at that.

Still, I was surprised by how sad I felt to leave a house of under 11 months. I thought back to all our previous houses and places, and what was hard (or maybe not so much) about leaving each of them, and I decided it is hard for me to leave what the house represents. Memories, yes. A wonderful "summer camp" year of whirlwind friendships and seizing the days, and making the most of things, yes. But somehow it's even bigger than that.

I love the scene in Castaway where Wilson the volleyball floats away, and Tom Hanks just cannot rescue him without compromising his own safety and hopes of rescue, and he is undone with grief as he lets Wilson go. That scene stuck with me more than any other. That silly volleyball represented so much more than a toy or keepsake, or even a conversation partner. It was the last remainder of his life on the island, and stood for everything he had to let go of in order to risk being rescued.

So I think for me, this particular house represented the whole of my experience here in Montgomery.  I am so excited to be back in Massachusetts, and I know I have a lot to look forward to, but the first part of getting there is setting free the things that keep me here. And risking a few tears in order to tell people what they've meant to me.

Believe me when I say, if you haven't weighed this choice before, that it is worth the tears. It is worth feeling a little bit silly as you try to find the words to say, and it is worth the pang in the gut to leave well.

It is also worth noting that now, a couple days after the fact, I don't feel weepy about my house anymore. Friends of ours are moving into it, so I know it's in good hands, and I like feeling good about the fate of my inanimate objects.

I have a couple weeks of (people) goodbyes left though, so please pardon me if I get a bit of a faraway look in my eye. And maybe slip me a little chocolate...

May 25, 2015

Pretty Braids...

Today I would like to talk about beauty and bada$$ery.

"Pretty" has historically been kind of a tricky term for me. Growing up I wasn't really interested in being pretty in the same way as a lot of the girls I knew. I was more of a tomboy. I pretty much hated wearing dresses and dress shoes, and wasn't interested in spending a lot of time in front of the mirror. I wanted to be presentable (usually...), but not at the expense of the other things I wanted to do, such as pretty much anything other than standing in front of the mirror. I didn't give too much thought about what this meant for my future, but I definitely felt out of place about it all, and wondered if at some point I would undergo some sort of transformation whereby I would suddenly start wanting to wear more feminine things, or stop wanting to be so dang comfortable all the time, or something.

Well, back troubles pretty well permanently destroyed my desire to wear heels, except in rare circumstances, and otherwise over the years my philosophy on dresses ebbs and flows along with my fashion sense motivation. Somewhere along the way I decided that maybe I just didn't care. Except when I did. It wasn't too terribly disturbing, just a little confusing. And I still married a good man, and built a family, and am living what I consider a full life, so it worked out alright.

A friend of mine in grad school said something that brought things into better focus for me, though. One of three sisters in her family, she told me something she thought her dad had done really well. From the time they were wee little sisters, whenever they'd get dressed for an occasion they'd go parade around for their dad and he would ask them if they felt pretty. And over time they developed a saying in their family: "A girl's gotta feel pretty." So when I would compliment her fashion sense she'd respond with "A girl's gotta feel pretty."

I love that because it doesn't define a "pretty box" for all girls to fit into. It leaves the individuality to the girl. If she wants to take the time to be more conscientious about her appearance, and wear accessories, and product in her hair, and heels, and whatnot--bingo. A girl's gotta feel pretty. If she's more like, say, me and prefers to wash, scrunch, throw on a tee and go--bingo. A girl's gotta feel pretty. And of course all the girls on either end and in between--bingo. Gotta feel pretty.

I'm not sure if it's because of my previous hangups with the word, but if I'm being honest I never cared all that much about "pretty." What I really wanted, even if I didn't have the words for a long time, was sassy. Or edgy. Or bada$$. I could say I wanted to be like a rock star, but I'm not quite that punk. Plus I'm part hippie, and I don't know any true hippie rock stars.

Besides, the number one adjective I've heard to describe me is Cute. I'm pretty sure I also have hangups with "cute" as a description of me...but as time goes on I think it's probably more that perhaps I define "cute" differently than a lot of the world. Because pretty much the only thing I'd call cute about me is my adorable petite stature. But whatevs.

After all of this, at the age of 37, my hair has finally grown long enough for braids. I mean, I've braided it before, but the ends were always kind of short and wouldn't really stay up in anything but a single French braid. Now my hair is at its longest ever, and the tails actually hang down properly. So when I'm in the mood I put it in two low side braids. And on the weekends for my long runs, I go all out and do two French braids, and as I'm trotting around the neighborhood with my two braids, and my sock-less feet in my zero-drop running shoes, and I think "Man, I'm bada$$."

I'm pretty sure I also define "bada$$" differently than a lot of the world as well. I mean, my hairstyle is closer to Laura "Half-Pint" Ingalls than Amanda (effing) Palmer, so I really can't explain how that translates to bada$$ instead of cute. But I can tell you that when I have those adorable braids, I feel taller, faster, sassier, and like I'm sticking it to the man in some greater way than my messy bun or boring low ponytail. Maybe it's something inherent about being a grown-up wearing braids, I dunno.

So now, our family has adopted "Do you feel pretty?" for Tiny E, and "Do you feel handsome?" for the boyz. Because regardless I think it's a good thing to encourage the young'uns to go for the look/feel they're hoping for. Most of the time, anyway (we did have to implement an underwear rule).  And for the moment, Tiny E's favorite look is to put on a twirly dress so she can be "bood-ful."

Which of course I can totally get behind. After all, everyone knows twirly dresses are bada$$...

May 22, 2015

Thank You...

The boys' school year is winding down this week. They've brought home grimy crayons and pencil/marker boxes, and piles of papers. One had a little container of grape jelly smushed in the front pocket of his backpack; the other a pile of crushed acorn shells.

For the most part, the papers went into the recycle bin, but they had something that caught my eye and made me pause. Each had his own grade-level equivalent of a journal in one of those mottled-cover composition books.

His Highness had a second grade writing/drawing journal. Each entry contained half a page of handwritten words with half a page of illustrations. There were several that were obviously started by a teacher prompt, several relating to dinosaurs, and, I assume, several teacher prompts which were expertly finagled into dinosaur-related entries. Because, dinosaurs.

The Littler One had a reading journal. There were some handwritten words, but mostly colorful worksheets that had been cut out and colored and glued into place. Little matching games connected words to pictures. Flaps lifted to reveal words, pictures, and drawings. The progress of the school year, new papers being carefully glued in each week, doubled the thickness of the book. I could see what my boys had learned; how they had been engaged and thoughtful in their work (some days more than others).

Look, I'm no Common Core fanatic; at best my feelings are neutral about the whole thing. What I want to point out, though, is that amid a lot of controversy and argument and OPINIONS about how kids should learn, about how things are SO different than when we went through school, and a lot of what's going wrong (and yes, there's plenty to work on), there are things going right too. There are lots and lots of caring, gifted teachers who are teaching these children like a BOSS, and there are lots and lots of kids doing hard work and learning well.

I offer this up gently, knowing friends who have struggled mightily to provide their kids with the right educational options for them, and public school was not it. People failed them and "the system" didn't come through for them when they needed it. It is real and true.

But still...for others, it works. I read an article about a sad tale of a kindergarten where the children sit at desks and write all day, and I think definitely we should go storming into that school and shake things up a little, because it doesn't have to be that way, and it ISN'T that way in many many places. In kindergarten this year I watched kids sit and write a little. I watched them move around the room to different learning centers, working with their hands, advancing those fine motor skills with cutting and gluing and folding and painting while they learned about numbers and reading and writing. I had the immense privilege talking with them as they sat on the alphabet carpet, bursting to tell me ALL THE THINGS about the story we were reading together. I helped them take reading quizzes about stories they chose themselves. I watched them dance and sing and move. I also got to chase a group of them running like banshees on a scavenger hunt through the hallways before we worked out the logistics of how not to do that.

In second grade I got to take them to lunch a few times. I got to read to them in funny voices. They showed me how to work the smart board so I could show them the pictures on the projector. I got to give them reward points due to compliments from other teachers about hallway behavior. I got to see how their teacher taught them to care for one another, and how their teacher cared for them. She sent them home with a memory book of the year. They wrote entries about their field trips and projects, and she added photos and bound them into real, actual books using donations and her own funds.

In both cases, the kids oogled over Tiny E, showing the little visitor how things worked in the big kids' classes. I saw two young teachers caring about their students, pushing them to do hard things and cheering for them the whole way. I saw them correcting and being strict, sometimes with humor and always with an underlying gentleness that said, "I am FOR you, and you need to stop this nonsense right now." Because these children are capable of a LOT of nonsense.

You know what else these children are capable of, though? These children are capable of doing hard things. They are capable of building reading and writing journals over a school year. They are capable of attending 3 schools in 3 years (not ideal, but reality sometimes), making good friends, and thriving as they grow and learn. It also turns out they are capable of catching actual fish using some twine tied to a paper clip with a piece of hot dog on it (who knew??).

This is all to say thank you. Thank you, teachers of my kids, for those little journals, and for all the things this year. Thank you for letting me in and sharing a little of the process with me.  Thank you, friends of mine who are professional teachers, for staying in this hard profession and offering up your gifts to our benefit. Thank you for managing them well, so that you can spend more time teaching. Thank you for putting up with the nonsense of standardized testing, and conflicts, and paperwork, and all the extras that drain the joy out of the good parts. Thank you for challenging them, and for doing more than what is required to make learning more interesting, and sometimes even fun.

May your summer include lounging poolside with umbrella drinks...

May 20, 2015

Ankle Deep...

I read this really great article today, which of course got me thinking about my own family because it fits us well.

I also read a comment by the mother of a kid who has indeed found a passion at a young age, and gets herself ready for practices and commitments and whatnot, even while her parents have kept options open for taking breaks or trying other things. I think it's totally cool when that happens, and I'm all for supporting kids' talents and such; but my experience has been closer to the article. Historically, we Skerribs are generalists. We dabble in many areas, and our knowledge is widespread and ankle-deep.

These are my big 3:

--The closest thing I have to a passion is running, and I didn't catch onto it until eighth grade or so. It didn't earn me any money for college (or ever--thanks for nothing, running!), and I devote at most a few hours per week to it. Still, it is the thing that has stuck with me the longest; the thing that I do regardless of our location or circumstance, and will keep on doing as long as the good Lord lets me (Please God let it be until I die, sharp and feisty, at age 85. Amen).

--I love playing the drums, and I enjoy being part of a music group...but I wouldn't call it a passion.

--I love keeping this blog and writing out my thoughts and ideas. I like playing with words and reading about grammar and stuff...but I wouldn't call myself passionate about it.

These are the things I am currently dabbling (or considering dabbling) in:

--Learning Dream a Little Dream on the ukulele

--Learning Spanish via Duolingo on my phone (and OMG I just learned that I can sign on to the website and my progress is there too!)

--Piano (sometimes)

--Geocaching (sometimes)

--Doodle Stitching

--Bullet Journaling

These are the things I have pursued (or dabbled in at least a teeny bit) before:

--Teaching high school math, and all things learning/education

--Sewing baby slings

--Painting basketball court-sized maps on school campuses


--Motorcycle riding

--Knitting (which I should never do again)

--Crocheting (which I will leave to those more capable than myself)

--Playing the flute (ugh, that was not for me)

--Cross stitch



As a friend of mine once said, there's a lot going on "in there," meaning my head. I love learning and trying new things. I watch Dirty Jobs and, with the exception of the episodes involving snakes, think "I could totally do Mike Rowe's job!" Sometimes I wonder, had I picked something earlier on and stuck with it, what that might have looked like. Sometimes I wish I could narrow things down a little, because I can get a little overwhelmed with all the things I still want to try out there.

I try not to get too worked up about it though. I've found that for the most part, if I take things a day at a time and be aware of opportunities as they float by, that I get to be part of some pretty amazing, if random, happenings. For example, when I have been talking about taking Spanish for years and then suddenly it turns out there's an app for that. Crazy.

That's all to say, if you or your kid has a passion, then I say go for it. I think it's a beautiful thing to love something enough to put your heart and soul into it. If not though, neither the above article or I think you should freak out about it. I'm not sure if there's some great conspiracy out there, but if you're not bent on only one certain college, it turns out there are plenty of quality schools that don't require a professional resume of achievements by the age of 18. Seriously, admissions will take care of itself (tuition, on the other hand, is a little more complex).  Go and enjoy what you enjoy.

After all, there's so much to explore, why not take in as much as you can?

May 12, 2015

We Interrupt This Post...

I'm working on a post which involves an indirect mention of Mama Cass Elliot, and I found this video of Mama Cass and Julie Andrews doing a duet medley of Simon & Garfunkel songs.

Mind. Blown.

Aaand...now the question is how many more videos to watch before I cut myself off and go to bed like I should if I want to get a good sleep and kick this cold sooner than later.

The struggle is real, people.

Apr 30, 2015

Wave Quick, Before It's Gone...

Being a military family we see life through military-specific challenges (duh), but I think it's pretty universal that life is in constant flux. Even setting aside crises and big events there is NO WAY to take it all in. You could try to video-record all of it, but then the science says that if you're recording all the time you're actually not fully experiencing the thing, so then we're back at NO WAY to take it all in.

One of my favorite moments in The Office was during the episode where Pam & Jim get married.  They've received the advice that it will be impossible to take in and remember everything from their festivities, so they should take mental snapshots of their favorite moments along the way. So of course in their own nearly-cheesy-but-still-endearing way, they signal to each other with fingers and a "Click" when they are each taking their own mental snapshots.

I think this is a smart approach to a lot of things in life. Not that I recommend going around making camera-like gestures and clicking sounds all the time. Unless you really want to; I mean, whatever floats your boat. But I have made a practice of making note of little instances of gratitude and beauty and whatnot. Because this life flies by, and it's easy to miss. So you've gotta catch it.

This is all to say that a couple of mornings ago I caught the sunrise just right on my jog. My warm-up goes along a tree-lined road, and then I turn a corner into a wide open space before I duck behind a bunch of houses again, and that particular morning through the trees and cloudy skies I caught a sliver of brilliant pink and purple. Only, more like hot fucshia and electric violet, or some such crazy color names. What I could see was gorgeous, and I so badly wanted to get to the corner to see the full view of that piece of sky.

The only thing is, even though it's nearly imperceptible, that big old sun moves quick, and I suspected that the colors were diminishing as the sky around them brightened to a hazy grey-blue. I held my breath a little, and took a mental "Click" of the part I did see, and I told God "Wow, those are some really cool colors," just in case I didn't make it to the corner in time to see the whole picture.

Well I rounded the corner just in time to see the last hints of pink & purple waving to me as they faded. Kind of like when I have to say good-bye to friends just as we are getting to know and love each other, and we have to take in what is, instead of holding off for what will be. Kind of like when I send my kids off on a new milestone and I swear they have little baby-ghosts of their smaller selves, waving back at me as their more grown-up selves venture on just like they're supposed to. Kind of like when we wind up one location/season to move on to the next, and those hazy last few moments shout a cheerful goodbye and root us on toward our destination.

That pink & purple didn't have time to stick around & chat, but I knew enough to wave and take in the moment, and it was beautiful...

Apr 25, 2015

Skerrib and the Bullet Journal...

I've been messing with my journaling/planner system lately. Last winter, I found myself having to keep track of several things for keeping track of all my things, and I wanted to use only one thing to keep track of all my things, so I ordered a Monopoly Smiley Diary.

About three days (not really, but that's what it felt like) after I ordered the Smiley Diary, I saw a YouTube Video for the Bullet Journal (via the Art of Simple), and I was totally intrigued, but since my Smiley Diary was already enroute I decided that I wouldn't pursue it any further. I was committed to the Smiley Diary.

Overall, the Smiley Diary has been very good. I love the slightly-whimsical but still clean design, and it has given me both calendar space and daily pages to write down what I accomplished (incredibly interesting stuff such as back exercises and miles run).  The main drawbacks for me are the tiny list-making spaces, and the lack of scratch paper. So in addition to my teeny written list of main points, I've been using my Tasky app for ongoing and multi-step tasks.

Well, here we are a few months into 2015, and I couldn't get the Bullet Journal out of my head. It was just so mesmerizing, and I kept wondering if it would work better than my Smiley Diary. The best thing about it is that it's customizable, so I could see myself very easily setting it up similar to the Smiley, with added list space and pages dedicated to doodles, Brain Dumps, and other things I like to keep track of but don't necessarily have a set space for.

In a moment of weakness I went on Pinterest and searched "Bullet Journal," and of course it turns out there are a zillionty folks out there who have already taken the plan and run with it. Creative-types have added plenty of great ideas, little doodles and stickers, and Washi tape for texture and emphasis. Many of the ideas didn't interest me, but a few were just right to try.

Money held me back, or rather the fact that I didn't want to spend any money on something that may or may not work out, and a good Bullet Journal tends to use one of those fancy little Moleskine notebooks (or the Leuchtturm 1917, as I am learning about) made of graph paper. The graph paper alone makes my nerd-heart beat faster, but it also comes in, like, 20 colors. Colors and graph paper turn me into a puddle of goo on the floor.

Well, I didn't have a fancy little graph paper notebook, but it turns out I had a Moleskine lined journal that I'd gotten as a gift. I had started it a few months back, and then set it aside when the Smiley arrived, so I figured Hey, what better choice for a trial run than a notebook very similar to the very one suggested for such a task. Plus I figured I could keep two journals for a couple weeks and see if I gravitated toward one over the other.

It's not graph paper, but there are colors involved.
So I sat down with a ruler and pen. I folded a page to mark where I was beginning, and made my index page. I numbered a few pages and drew a calendar. I made a short list of symbols I could use to simplify entries. Then I thought of other reference pages I wanted to have and drew those in. Then I started making lists I wanted to keep. Then I started doing some daily pages. Then I bought a four-color pen (The black ballpoint did the job just fine; I just wanted to add some fun).

Within a week I'd stopped using my Tasky app, and by the end of Week Two I had set aside the Smiley Diary. I feel mildly guilty about this, but I keep reminding myself of two things. First, that these are notebooks, not people. My cute little red Smiley is not actually lonely in my nightstand drawer, particularly because certain small children still swipe it to doodle in. And Second, I can always go back to it if the excitement of the Bullet Journal wears off, and either way it gets recycled when 2015 is done.

The only remaining drawbacks are that a) it doesn't fit in my favorite purse, and b) my Bullet Journal interior is not as cute and eye-catching as those I have seen online. The Smiley doesn't really fit into my favorite purse either, so that issue is a bit of a wash. As for the latter, I'm not as artsy as some to begin with, and my system needs to remain very low-maintenance (to me). It's fine if I add little doodles and a few colors along the way, but if I make things too intricate, I'll never stick with it. So I've been looking for little ideas that would be easy to pull off. Mine will not have the quasi-scrap-book look that some do (not that there's anything wrong with that).

May Calendar with experimental not-quite-Washi tape on the corners.  It'll have page numbers by Thursday (long story).
Still, somewhere I have some cute little sticky doodads I can throw in to liven it up a bit. And in Office Depot today I saw (what I thought was) Washi tape, and grabbed it. After I opened the package I realized it was just colorful patterned regular tape, but I decided it would be workable since it's a practice journal and I'm still forming my system anyway. So Tiny E and I spent some time this evening playing with tape and putting it on pages in different ways to see how it could be visually appealing and/or even useful.

I love the Bullet Journal because it is relatively cheap. Fancy planning systems can be pretty spendy; even my cute little Smiley was around $30. Assuming I stick with it, once this notebook is full a new one will be $20 or under. And if you want to go super-cheap, you could grab the simplest spiral notebook at the back-to-school sale. The do-it-yourself approach is a bit of a tough call. Obvs it's nice if you find a system that has everything you need already printed out because, duh, there it is. But for customizability, you can't beat a pen and ruler or home-printed paper sized to fit in the notebook. Plus, if you're a creative, visual-type, you can putter with pens, highlighters, and paper-crafting products to your heart's content, making your journal awesome and fabulous.

At the end of everything, sometimes I feel a little silly talking about my planning system, like some sort of organizational guru who has lots of official appointments and meetings to keep, but again that's what is so great about the Bullet Journal. It tracks what you want it to track, which for me these days is home-running tasks and the Moving List of DOOM, and my strengthening regimen to keep my butt (and everything else) in line.

In conclusion, if you are into organization, or planning, or even just graph paper and colorful notebooks, go check out the Bullet Journal intro and see what you think. Then go make as many lists as you want--they'll be there waiting for you (as long as you enter them into the index)...

Apr 21, 2015

(Sarcastic) Letters to My People...

**Please put on your humour goggles, and remember that I love My People fiercely. Precursor done.**

I decided it was time for another edition of Notes, because they're fun and because I haven't done any since January. The following are notes regarding actual things my people have said to me. And by "my people," I mean any given member(s) of my family who shall remain nameless to protect the Meany-Pantses (deliberate or not)--

My People, thank you for asking me questions, and then when I do the intellectually honest thing and reply "I don't know," or "I'm not sure," responding by repeating the question. And then when I suggest we might look it up (depending on the question), responding by repeating the question Louder. And when I say, "Sweetie. I don't know," responding by YELLING THE QUESTION AT ALL-CAPS VOLUME. We all win here, people...

My People, thank you for licking your ice cream at a leisurely pace, taking a bite out of the bottom half of the cone before the top half of the ice cream is gone, and then handing over the entire dripping, goopy mess with the following challenge: "Quick! Eat it before it melts!!"  Thank you for sharing, my precious snowflakes...

My People, thank you for informing me that I smell anytime I complete the simple action of coming into the house from out of doors, regardless of activity or time spent outside, and THEN proceeding to insist that the AC be turned off and the windows open to "let the fresh air inside," even though the springtime air in Montgomery is of a sufficient dew point so as to make me sweat at any temperature above 70 degrees F. Thank you, sweat glands, and thank you, my people. I'll just be over here, sweating and smelling...

My People, thank you for telling me to feel free to turn the AC back on (after you leave), as long as I shut all the windows. And then rather than simply telling me which windows are open, making it a fun puzzle by telling me how many windows are open on each floor and sending me on a sweaty, house-wide journey to check them all. Thank you, my people...

My People, thank you for asking for help with your math homework, and then complaining when, instead of saying "You know, I bet that's an impossible question. You probably don't actually have to solve it," I begin going over the problem with you so I can check your understanding. You're probably right that my education and experience as an actual math teacher aren't sufficient here...

My People, thank you for making yourself sick by eating too much junk food, and then protesting when I instead tell you to eat some fruit or cheese. Please don't consider eating an apple instead of gorging on 13 granola bars and then suffering from digestive issues. Digestive issues are the best, my delicate flowers...

My People, thank you for suggesting that we begin to taper the pantry stockpile in anticipation of moving, and then complaining that "there's nothing yummy" to eat when I don't refill it to the previous quantity and selection of snacks. Please refer to the previous Note and have several granola bars. Please also crumble them on the carpet so the ants can have a yummy snack and I can find an ant in my bra as a sign of good luck...

All my love,

Mar 30, 2015

Not My Story...

I've mentioned in passing that I'm a fan of Donald Miller's writings, and in particular I enjoy his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, which is all about looking at life as one big story, and the implications such a viewpoint brings.

I definitely recommend the book as a whole to most anyone. The first thing it did for me was to re-frame my views on conflict and difficult/sad times. I have a tendency to avoid such things like the plague because they're not pleasant, and who would deliberately and willingly embrace unpleasant things? But of course if you think of all the best stories you see that struggle is sort of part of the deal. Without something to overcome you end up with a bland story. So now, while I am still not big on conflict and struggle, I think about how I would want my story to read in dealing with them, and that makes me feel a little braver.

I think maybe the most powerful aspect, though, has been the concept of "Not My Story." I don't remember if Miller even distinguished it in his book, but it's been huge for me. There's a saying/meme making the rounds on Facebook that goes something like, "Not my circus, not my monkeys," which I LOVE as far as staying out of situations I simply don't need to involve myself in. It doesn't work on my own kids because it turns out they are, in fact, my circus and my monkeys, but it works great when I get an impulse to respond to OPINIONS and DRAMA on the internet and I need a little sanity check.

"Not My Story" goes a little further for me, though. It reminds me that my own story is the only one I am writing, the only one I need to worry about. My wheels have a tendency to spin a little fast in the "How-does-this-apply-to-my-life" Department. "Not My Story" slows the wheels a little, and frees me to see the beauty in and appreciate others' stories for what they are, rather than reading more into them than what is there. "Not My Story" keeps me a little less defensive and a little less prideful (and a lot less neurotic).

"Not My Story" reminds me that I get to choose how I do stuff ('cuz I'm a grown-up, dangit), and if I'm not feeling otherwise prompted by God, then I can relax and keep doing what I'm doing. And it's not that God doesn't prompt, either. In fact, when I do relax a little, I seem to pick up on God's promptings a little easier, sometimes even in conjunction with the very stories I'd otherwise be feeling defensive about. Which is weird, but whatevs. "Not My Story" frees me to appreciate the beauty in my own story, and to see the truth of what is there, rather than trying to forcefully manufacture what isn't.

"Not My Story" even works on my own circus, and my own monkeys. The Cat Daddy and I marvel at how the kids' worlds have expanded as they've grown and gone to classes, playgroups, and school. They have their own worlds separate from us, and their own stories which are of course intertwined with ours, and yet still distinctly theirs. It actually blows my mind a little sometimes, wrapping my head around that one. "Not My Story" helps me toe the line a little when I'm not sure how much to interferevene. I get it right for moments at a time, even. Moments!

There are so many principles and stuff we church kids learn along the way, that can be kind of hard to decode sometimes. For me, "Not My Story" puts sturdy walking shoes on "Don't compare yourself with others," without putting unnecessary distance between myself and others through dismissal or defensiveness. There's even a verse about it (Galatians 6:4, NLT).

So next time you are feeling condemned or less-than, or that someone is living their story at you, remember yours is the only story you're writing, and you get a lot of say-so in how it goes. At least your part of it, anyway. And your story has a lot of its own beauty to be discovered. Hopefully that is comforting to you. It is for me...

Mar 22, 2015

Boston, Baby...

I have a story to tell, kids.

Today's story is about Massachusetts, and how God works things out in wonderful ways sometimes. Not every time; but sometimes he arranges things in ways that make me giggle just a little bit.

It begins with the springtime, and this springtime is particularly exciting because we and friends around us are finding out our follow-on assignments; that is, where we are headed after this year of ACSC.

We had heard rumors of Florida. It's perhaps a little indulgent, but we thought about beaches, and relative proximity to some dear friends (and Disney World), and seafood, and investing in swimsuits and boogie boards instead of the snow gear and sleds we've accumulated in 4 of our 6 locations over the past 14 years.

The thing about rumors, though, is that you have to be careful how much stock you put in them. I mean in the military life, even official stuff that's in writing can change, so rumors have to be taken with a boulder-sized grain of salt. So we didn't sell any of our snow boots or anything, which is good, because when the assignment came through it was Massachusetts instead of Florida.

To begin with, I was surprised. I had known that Massachusetts was a possibility, but I didn't expect us to get sent there for many reasons (which have varying bases in reality). My brain had to make a bit of a paradigm shift from tropical drinks to shoveling snow, but the thing about that is that I was going from an imagined potential reality to a familiar and true one. What's more, it was going to a familiar and true reality that carries a wealth of fond memories for us. So as the day wore on and I started thinking snow pants instead of tankinis, I also got to think about dear friends and places we have missed for several years now. I got to send messages to a couple of said friends, one of whom immediately texted back "DON'T TEASE ME!!!" because we have a lot of trust and mutual respect, and have maybe been known to tease each other when important info is on the line.

It was when we got to tell the kids that really started the wheels turning. His Highness was born in Massachusetts, after all, and it turns out that for all the possibilities and excitement about beaches, he was even more excited to return to his birthplace. The younger kids haven't been there yet, but as we began to tell them of the sights and activities we had enjoyed, they (and we) got more and more excited as well.

It is also true that every place has its downsides. On the day we found out our assignment, it was 60 or so degrees in Alabama, but I believe there were something like a zillion feet of snow on the ground in the greater Boston area. This winter has been record-breaking (over 108" of snow this season), and maddening, and really unpleasant from all I can gather. Their winter days are really short, and really dark, and sunshine isn't guaranteed any time of year. So there's that.

But there is also SUCH beauty. There are the green summers, and the vibrant autumn leaves, the amazing amount of history in the area, and pretty much the coolest little-big-city ever. And (most) people there know how to use traffic circles. Plus, we're moving in the summer, so we will arrive to the best of all the things. We have a lot to look forward to.

Amid this swirl of memory and emotion, I began to think about work. I've been doing a mostly stay-at-home gig ever since we moved from Mass, and it's an interesting thing because in recent months I've started to sort of wonder and dream about what the next few years might hold for me career-wise. It hasn't kept me up at night or anything, but just a light "Hmmmm, I wonder..." on the back burner. Well long story short, Tiny E heads to preschool this year and while it's not the exact timing I'd have chosen, it's a really good set-up for me to return to work part-time with my same company (fortunately, they feel the same way).

So that's what I mean today, when I say that God works things out in weird and wonderful ways sometimes. I had a half-thought, but he already had things worked out in a way that will be an easier-than-usual transition for us. He decided that the next thing would be to send us back to a place we've already known and loved. And he doesn't always do things this way, so I've decided to see it as a gift, even though it will mean buggy summers, and snow, and dark mornings, and winter dates with the treadmill (but now there are PODCASTS!).

I see it as a gift that I get to feel truly excited about this move. Moving has so many different feelings that go with it, so it's a gift to know (at least somewhat) what you're getting into, and to feel excited about it.

In the meantime, we have an entire springtime season to enjoy in lovely Montgomery, and a lot of life happens in a season, so we have a lot to do before we head north. So carry on, friends. Carry on...