Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What’s Wrong With My Bootstraps?

We, as a society, have come a long way in accepting depression as a “real” illness. I think most of us are willing to admit that depressed people can’t just “snap out of it”. At least in theory, anyhow. But I think most of us still see depression as something like a stomach virus: Yeah, it sucks for a little while, but once you puke it all out, you’ll feel better, and then you’ll be normal again. But it’s really more like diabetes: It’s always there, and you can keep it in check by treating the symptoms and watching your diet, but you don’t just get diabetes out of your system.

This winter was long and dreary. It finally pushed me to the point where I was willing to go to a psychiatrist. I was expecting a diagnosis of postpartum depression, but the doctor’s questions led him to believe that my depression was much more deep-rooted than that, and I ended up with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder. The drugs took a long time to have any effect at all, and once they did finally start to do something, it didn’t seem like much. It was kinda like I was used to functioning at 4, and the winter funk dropped me down to a 2, and the drugs bumped me back up to a 4 again, where I was hoping for a 10. Or at least a 5 or 6. Maybe I could have changed drugs or tried something else. But one day, the pharmacy was back-ordered on my medication, and by the time they filled my prescription, I had already missed enough doses that I just said, “Screw it,” and went off the meds entirely. In the meantime, I had been diagnosed (by a different doctor) with a vitamin D deficiency, and the D had made more of a difference in my mood than the anti-depressants ever had. I guess I always thought anti-depressants were some kind of cure for depression, but they aren't. They just make you a bit less likely to curl up in a ball instead of getting out of bed in the morning. They don't fix anything - at least, they didn't for me.

I still struggle every day. Not like I used to, but it’s still a struggle. And I am discovering, more and more, that nothing I do is ever enough. Nothing. No matter how hard I try, I can’t make myself be the person I want to be. One day, I might succeed in the cooking department, and fail in the dishes. Succeed in the deep cleaning, but fail at the surface cleaning. Do something fun or educational with the kids, but lose my temper and yell at them. Make a cool craft, then overdraw the bank account trying to get groceries. Get everyone to regular doctor’s appointments, but forget about the dentist.

I try not to compare myself to others, but I can’t help it. I look around and see other moms who are capable of making a nice dinner without running out of steam and leaving all of the dishes until the next morning (or the next week). And I try a little bit harder, and push myself a little bit more, but I still always fall short. And I have realized that, while I might be willing to admit that other people with depression have a real illness, when it comes to ME, all I see is failure. I tug and tug and become convinced that my bootstraps are broken.

But maybe my boots are just stuck in the mud.

Well-meaning people give me advice all the time about what I need to do to keep up with things.
“If you just do the dishes right away, they won’t pile up like that.”
“Make the kids put their own toys away.”
“If you just wake up before everyone else, you’ll have plenty of time to get things done.”

I have a disproportionate, visceral reaction to unsolicited advice. It’s like a punch in the gut to me. I try not to say anything, because I know it’s an unfair reaction to well-meaning suggestions. I know people love me and are just trying to help. But what people don’t realize is that I am already telling myself these things NON-STOP. Literally. I don’t think an hour of my life goes by without me beating myself up about something that I should be doing better at least twice. Usually more. I’m a smart cookie. I know what I should be doing. I have clever tricks for almost everything. But none of my clever tricks can make me not-depressed. And even my cleverest tricks get bogged down in the mud.

The mud is the bit no one seems to talk about. Let’s just imagine, for the sake of argument, that my depression magically disappeared as soon as my vitamin D levels improved. (Hey, maybe it will! My numbers are still on the low side, let’s pretend that’s possible.) Let’s say I woke up this morning completely not-depressed. Here’s the problem: I’m still stuck in the mud.

Okay, so what’s the mud?

1. Backlog

Okay, so I’m magically not-depressed. And I have enough energy to cook three meals a day, entertain three children, wash all the dishes and the dirty clothes, weed the garden, go grocery shopping, and do whatever else I need to do. But the fact is that the dirty dishes are already piled up. The living floor is already cluttered. We’re not looking at just daily maintenance. There is so much catch-up to do, it would make even the most not-depressed person waver in their determination (and we have already established that this is not me). And, let’s say I do catch up on all the visible, daily stuff like dishes and laundry and vacuuming. There is still the deep backlog to deal with. Outgrown clothes that need to be sorted/purged. A fix-it box full of damaged clothes and toys. At least 20 boxes of miscellaneous papers that are probably 99% trash, but need to be sorted through just in case they happen to contain something like a college diploma. Years of photos that need to be sorted and put into albums. And, let’s not forget, I am expected to deal with all of this backlog AND the daily upkeep stuff, too.

2. Bad Habits

I’ve been a functional depressed person for some indeterminate percentage of my life. Probably more than half of it. I have survived most of that time with clever coping mechanisms. Ways of tricking my depressed self into getting out of bed in the morning. Washing a couple dishes, because some is better than none. Moving clutter to boxes because out of sight is out of mind. Stacking the older dirty dishes on the floor so I can at least wash this meal’s dishes. Getting out of the house and doing fun things to forget about the mess at home. I can’t begrudge the coping mechanisms the gift they have given me: The gift of getting through one more day. But many of them have become ingrained habits. And habits are hard to break. And all of those coping mechanisms have ultimately just piled more backlog into the mud pit.

3. Precedent

I do tell my kids to pick up their own toys. But where do the toys go? First I need to organize the toys and give them storage spaces. Then I need to demonstrate putting the toys away, at least a few times, so that they learn how to do it. Then I need to be consistent about requiring them to be put away after every use, so that my kids don’t get bogged down in the backlog themselves. If you’re a kid who has spent your entire life stepping over scattered toys, and cleaning up only when company is coming, it’s hard to wrap your mind around the idea that you should put your toys away right away, every time.

It’s not just the kids, either. My husband leaves his socks lying on the floor. Because he always has, and I always just gather them up and wash them whenever I get around to cleaning the living room. And, the other day, he piled the dirty dishes on the floor so he could clear the table, because he has seen me pile the dirty dishes on the floor. But the next day, as my very-mobile baby was crawling around the kitchen knocking over piles of dirty dishes, I cursed the precedent I had set. Yes, I put the dishes on the floor myself sometimes. But not because I want them there. I put them there as a coping mechanism, so that I can see a clean table and feel like we have a nice place to eat dinner, or so that I can access the sink to drain spaghetti. But when I put the dishes on the floor, I am fully aware that I am screwing over my future self in favor of surviving the present. That’s what coping mechanisms do. But the next thing you know, not only have you made more work for yourself in the future, but you have somehow set a precedent that the floor is an acceptable place to stack dirty dishes.

4. The Edge of Depression

As if all this wasn’t enough, you’re still not totally better. You’re still teetering on the edge of depression. Some days you wake up with tons of energy, and you can actually do it! You can do all the daily upkeep stuff, and pick away at some of the backlog to boot! You’re on top of the world! But some days you’re not. Some days you only have energy for one or the other, so the backlog grows in one room even while it’s shrinking in another. Or maybe you don’t even have that much energy. Maybe you fall back into your coping mechanisms by necessity rather than habit. Maybe you get sick, or overdo it at the beach, and need some downtime. Maybe you say something on Facebook, which you meant to be playful, but it had a bit too much truth in it, and now you are sitting in a heap, sucker-punched by all the helpful advice flying your way, feeling worthless and useless all over again. It doesn’t take much, when you’re walking the edge, to slip in. And sometimes, it’s easier to just sink into the mud again rather than to keep fighting your way out.

Even as I write this, I want to slap myself for making excuses. That’s how deeply ingrained the whole bootstrap mentality is for me. Even as I try to explain to the world how real my depression is, and how much it affects my daily life, I am mentally discounting all of it, and scolding myself for taking the time to write this instead of getting off my butt and washing some dishes. Because some days, refusing to admit that I’m depressed is one of my coping mechanisms, and some days it actually works. Some days I can trick myself into being a normal, functional mom. But that just makes the hard days that much harder.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Sometimes I Run Out of Milk

My daughter asked for a glass of milk this morning, and I sadly poured the last of the milk into her cup, wondering what I would put in my coffee this morning. I have several "out of milk" options that I use when this situation arises, but I am out of both hot chocolate mix and ice cream. Then I remembered the box of powdered milk that I picked up on a whim the other day. I pretty much only ever use it for coffee, and I keep forgetting that it's there, but the last time I used it for my coffee, I made an accidentally awesome discovery: It makes BEAUTIFUL cappuccinos! I'm no food photographer, but I snapped some pics with my cell phone this time, because the internet demands photographic evidence of everything.

Step One:

Make some coffee. You'll need about a cup. Save a dish and brew it directly into a mason jar.

Step Two:

Add 1/3 cup powdered milk to your coffee in a quart-sized mason jar.

Step Three:

Put a lid on the mason jar and shake it up for about a minute. You'll want to use a canning lid, not a storage lid, or it will leak. Hold the jar with a towel or pot holders so you don't burn your hands.

Step Four:

Transfer to a mug, and enjoy! Or, just drink it straight out of the mason jar, if you want to save another dish.

Note: I also make mason jar lattes in a similar fashion with real milk, instead of powdered. Just put about 1/2 cup milk in the jar, heat it in the microwave, shake it, then pour it over 1/2 cup of extra-strong coffee. It doesn't foam up quite as much as the powdered milk, but it's still impressive for not using any specialized, coffee-shop machines. No pics of that, though, since I have no milk today.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Hour-a-Day April: Days 30-31

Day 30 (Wednesday): Day off. I know, I know, taking the day off on the last day of the month is pretty lame. But I wasn't feeling well, and I was due. I'll make up for it by pretending April has more than 30 days.

Day 31 (Thursday): I had a mommy group in the morning, and it was a potluck, so I baked some bread in the morning to bring. I also ran some errands on the way home. Then, determined to cross at least one home decor project off my HADA list, I installed a piece of pegboard to use as a reconfigurable photo wall in an awkward space between two doorways. It wasn't exactly a major project, but it did take about 2 hours, because I wanted it to be nice and sturdy. Ultimately, I would like it to be crowded with pictures, so you can barely see the holes, but that can happen later. That's the beauty of a pegboard - nothing is set in stone, and you can always change it up later just by repositioning the hooks. I still have three more scrap pieces of pegboard from my third floor babyproofing project - I wonder how many more I can install before April is over?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Hour-a-Day April: Days 26-29

These past four days have been a busy blur. I'm not going to even try to split them up and give them each their own paragraph. Suffice it to say that I put in my four hours, and then some, between these four days.

In semi-chronological order:

  • came down with a nasty cold
  • spent the morning holding a clingy baby
  • took Valerie to a birthday party
  • looked at a van we wanted to buy
  • dug up the side garden for planting
  • held a clingy baby some more
  • worked on the kitchen
  • cleaned off some of the cluttered surfaces in the kitchen
  • planted some seeds
  • cleaned up the porch
  • made ice cream
  • worked on the kitchen
  • held a clingy baby
  • went to a play date
  • went to the bank
  • spent over an hour on the phone figuring out new car insurance
  • bought a van
  • re-did the bathroom window privacy art with some cool new window markers
  • re-re-did the bathroom window privacy art with regular window crayons when a hot shower completely erased the new markers
  • cleaned and organized the craft corner (and threw out a whole trash bag full of old artwork and ruined supplies)
  • cleaned the appliance island
  • washed some more dishes
  • held a clingy baby a bit more when he fell and split his lip
  • (still feeling sick, by the way - just about coughed up a lung)
  • finished cleaning the kitchen! (just one shelf left to de-clutter)
  • fed the family a tasty dinner
  • washed every single dish as soon as we were done eating dinner
  • took a doorknob off our bedroom door to rescue Dorothy, who had locked herself in there
  • when that didn't work, climbed out onto the roof from the peaceful room window, and climbed across the roof in the rain to our bedroom window so that I could unlock it from the inside


But my kitchen is actually clean right now! Woohoo! I didn't really take a "before" picture, since it's been an ongoing project, but I might have an older photo somewhere that will give you a general idea of the pre-April state of the kitchen.

Ah, here we go, this is pretty close:

Table set for dinner tonight:

Craft corner (notice how the craft table is *not* covered in towering piles of dirty dishes?):

I can't believe there's only one day left in April! My HADA list has barely been touched, although I am really really happy to have at least crossed the kitchen off. Losing basically a whole week to Passover and Easter really hurt. Maybe I'll pretend April has a few extra days in it again this year...

Bonus Feature:

This is my "bathroom window privacy art." Which is really just a fancy way of saying, "I'm too cheap to buy fancy window treatments for my bathroom so I just draw on the window myself." And I use the word "art" very, very loosely.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Hour-a-Day April: Day 25

I was going to tackle the garden first thing this morning, but it was cold outside, and my baby was being very clingy, so I ended up spending most of the morning holding him. But once I got him down for a nap, it was GO time. I clock-watched for 30 minutes of dishes, which allowed me to empty the sink, fill the dishwasher, and fill/refill the dish drainer a few times. Then I turned on the dishwasher, and went outside to dig in the garden. I finished digging up the side section of the front yard, which has a little stone path, and was basically just overrun with weeds last year, that we weed-whacked occasionally to a lawn-like length. I put up a little wire fence, and transplanted our lettuce seedlings. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to water the seedlings recently, so they were pretty wilty. I gave them a good soaking, and it's supposed to rain tonight, so hopefully they will perk back up.

The kids were much less cooperative today. Dorothy kept getting freaked out by the wind, and when I was bringing the lettuce outside, she uprooted one of the spare tomato seedlings to "help" me, and she changed her outfit completely twice, which means that there's a decent chance a urine-soaked dress is waiting somewhere for me to find it. John Wallace woke up from his nap, and he was less willing to stay in his play house today. He kept crawling to the edge of the porch, and putting things in his mouth, and at one point, he tried to combine the two activities, and did a face plant off the side into the dirt. Then I decided, a bit too late, to bring the exersaucer out to the porch to keep him contained for a bit. It sorta-kinda worked, at least long enough for me to finish the lettuce. Not wanting to feel left out*, Valerie cut a hole in a screen window when she got home from school.
*I'm only guessing at her motivation.

I ordered pizza for dinner. I left this post unfinished all evening, hoping to go back and do some more dishes, but it didn't happen. Oh well, tomorrow, then.

Hour-a-Day April: Days 23-24

Day 23 (Wednesday): I actually didn't time myself today, but every time I was in the kitchen, I washed a couple more dishes, and I made decent progress. I also made bread and muffins and dinner, and folded some laundry. Then Jeremy had to work late, so the evening was kinda just spent in survival mode. Nothing spectacular, but a pretty good day. If all days could be like this, I would at least keep my head above water.

Day 24 (Thursday): A friend came over in the morning, which was a nice treat. We chatted while the kids played, and we prayed for each other. We talked about my HADA projects, and she said something along the lines of, "It's nice to get things like that done, but the trouble is keeping up with it every day." Which is totally right, in a way, but it got me thinking a bit. Is HADA a waste of time? Is it worth the time/effort/energy to try to catch up (and even, dare I dream, get ahead?) when two weeks later, the laundry is all backed up again, and the sink is full of dishes again, and someone dumped a bag of cheese on your clean kitchen floor? But I think the answer is yes. (Or no. Darn, I should have asked two questions with the same answer.) Yes, it's worth it, no it isn't a waste of time. It's worth getting to the bottom of the laundry pile, even if it's only once a year, so you can find that sock that's been missing for months. It's worth organizing your closet, even if it's only once a year, because maybe you'll find some clothes you had forgotten about, and maybe, for a little while at least, you can get dressed in the morning without having to dig through a pile on the floor to find the least-wrinkliest shirt. It's worth cleaning under the appliances, even if it's only once a year, because maybe, just maybe, you'll find the source of that mystery smell. HADA won't magically make me into one of those people whose house is always spotless. But, accepting who I am, it gives me the chance to get to the bottom of things once in a while, even if it's only once a year. And it's a nice reminder of how much I can get done when I put my mind to it, and how much can be accomplished in just one hour.

My friend answered some of my gardening questions, and I felt inspired to do some digging after she left. I am a total gardening n00b, but I figure, if I keep doing stuff, something is bound to work eventually. So, I dug up all of the scattered grape hyacinths and moved them all to the front row (where they will probably die, but at least I tried, and maybe they will be in a sorta line next spring). I dug up all the sprouts that looked kinda like sunflower sprouts, and made a little circle with them in the middle of the garden, around the shepherd's hook that holds the bird feeder (hence the volunteer sunflower sprouts). Then I planted some carrots and some swiss chard. I started digging up an especially rocky section of garden that I hadn't done anything with last year, but I didn't quite finish. I made a little wall of rocks under the edge of the porch. Maybe, if I find enough rocks, I will succeed in blocking off one of the rats' possible entrances. (Probably not.)

Dorothy helped off and on, and John Wallace played pretty happily in his play house for a long time. When Valerie got home from school, we transplanted four of our tomato seedlings to our outdoor pots. Not sure what we'll do with the other eight, yet. Jer had to work late again, but I got dinner together, and left him with all three kids when he got home so I could run to the store for a few more gardening things I wanted. I might not have much of a green thumb, but it is fun to try and create life and food from seeds and dirt.

24 days down, less than a week to go!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hour-a-Day April: Days 19-22

Quick, summary post, so I can get to bed.

Day 19 (Easter Saturday): Did some dishes and laundry in the morning, went to the in-laws' around noon, forgot our dresses, so I had to go out and buy us Easter dresses and shoes, made ridiculous Easter bonnets for the girls. Day off, basically.

Day 20 (Easter Sunday): Church breakfast, church, back to in-laws', family party, egg hunt, home. Another day off of HADA, basically.

What's that? You want to see the ridiculous Easter bonnets? Okay.

Day 21 (Monday): Valerie stayed home from school, because she wasn't feeling well. We had a rough day. I spent the entire day trying to clean the living room, and it literally took all. day. (It should have been a 20 minute task, but, kids.) Nothing else got done. I was supposed to go buy a van in the evening, but the guy sold it to someone else, even though I had made arrangements to come look at it. That really bummed me out. I really dislike craigslist.

Day 22 (Tuesday): My phone died in my sleep AGAIN (one more thing I need to figure out - I'll add it to the list), so I overslept, and had to rush to get Valerie to the bus. Then I sat like a lump, sure that the rest of the day was going to be a wash. But I said something about my funk on our HADA Facebook group, received some encouragement and commiseration, and found a bit of energy somewhere to spend one hour cleaning the kitchen. I thought about what is the number one thing that upsets me about the kitchen right now, and decided that it was the floor. Stepping on crumbs, tripping over bags of half-emptied groceries. So I cleaned up the floor. I brought a small shelving unit in from the porch to put pantry items on (I was hoping to move things back into the pantry soon, but a rat got back in through our hole-blocking, so I need to do a little more work before I can use my pantry as a pantry again. One the bright side, I did catch the rat. Disposing of him was one of my kitchen tasks today, too.) Then I swept and mopped (and did a thorough, furniture-moving job of it).

That didn't take an hour, but I had promised myself I would do an hour, and then I could be a bum for the rest of the day, so I washed dishes and clock watched - waiting for the very second that I could stop. But I did my hour. I probably shouldn't count it because dishes should be a daily task, but I did because I knew that, if it weren't for HADA, I wouldn't have even done that. But, as it turns out, I didn't have to count that hour after all, because a little bit later, I went back and did another hour. Then I went back and did another hour, and made yummy pizza for dinner. The kids helped me, and then they dumped shredded cheese on my clean floor, but then I swept it up right away instead of leaving it to get stepped on. Then I went back and did another hour after dinner. I can't decide whether I am more proud that I managed four hours of kitchen cleaning today, or more depressed that even after four hours, it's still not done. But the whole sink area is clean, and the cupboards are full of clean dishes, and what remains to be done doesn't look impossible anymore.

22 days down, 8 to go!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Hour-a-Day April: Days 14-18

Phew. What a week.

Day 14 (Monday): I had a doctor's appointment in the morning, and there was an uncharacteristically long wait, which put a crimp in my plans to be productive. Basically, my whole week was centered around preparing a seder for approximately 30-40 people on Thursday. My kitchen was still a mess, and I knew what I *should* do was clean the kitchen, so I could have a clean slate to destroy with my food prep. But I just couldn't make myself do it. So, I decided that accomplishing something was better than accomplishing nothing, so I went back to my bedroom, and assembled some metro shelves so that I could move Jeremy's clothes out of my closet and make some room to start sorting through more boxes of pre-pregnancy clothes. Apparently, you can buy hanger rod attachments, but since I had extra legs, I kludged one on as an extra-long hanger bar. It's a "for-now" fix that will likely become permanent, because I actually like having the extra bit for hanging longer things, like trench coats and dresses. Although if I get a properly-sized bar, I have a zip-on wardrobe cover that can go over the unit. Hmm... decisions, decisions...

Day 15 (Tuesday): Today, I knew I had to start on seder prep. But it was a rainy, horrible day, and I just couldn't get my butt in gear. The middle of HADA month is kinda the worst motivation-wise. I did some stuff, though, mostly admin-type stuff. Gathered my recipes, made my shopping list, pulled out the copies of my haggadah. I needed more copies, but I couldn't find my most up-to-date digital file, so I had to drive a hard copy in to the church secretary to make copies. I waited for a break in the rain, but it ended while I was there, and I ended up driving home in torrential rain. Both kids fell asleep on the way home, so I canceled my stop at the butcher's for chicken and brisket, and sat in the car in the rain and read my book for a bit. It was a nice reprieve, actually.

When Dorothy woke up, she was heartbroken that we hadn't stopped at the market, so we went back and got our brisket and chicken after all. We came home and I started my chicken simmering for broth. One thing checked off my list. Only about 100 more to go...

Day 16 (Wednesday): The younger two and I headed off to Downingtown after Valerie left for school, which is the closest Wegmans (and also the closest Jewish population - none of the stores around here carry things like matzah). Long list in hand, we quickly filled our cart. But I don't go to this store very often, and I don't know the layout, and the last few things on my list took FOREVER to find. I finally found everything, though, and somehow managed to fit it all in the car.

On the way home, I picked up some friends who live nearby but are currently without a vehicle. This ended up being the best decision ever, because the three-year-olds entertained each other while my friend helped me in the kitchen and corralled the babies. I got more done in the next three hours and than pretty much the rest of the week. I cooked the brisket, made the tzimmes and a potato kugel. Then I drove my friends home and picked Valerie up from the bus.

Fun diversion: A mother of middle-schoolers who waits at our bus stop had asked me earlier this week if I wanted some Geo Trax that her kids don't use anymore. I said yes, forgetting to ask the ever-important question, "How much is 'some'?" It took three of us to carry the boxes back to my house. But opening up and dumping out all of the boxes kept the kids occupied while I cooked some more, so it worked out well.

(Geo Trax haul spread out and organized by mama on Thursday)

After the kids were asleep, I enlisted Jeremy's help and we boiled the eggs and made two desserts (a chocolate nut torte and matzah baklava). I forgot to take a picture of the torte (which is very sad, because it was the most beautiful thing I made for the seder), but here is what the baklava looked like:

Day 17 (Thursday): I wished I had a friend to hang out with us today while I worked! But, I trudged through, and got it all done. Finished the charoset, the fruity kalamata glazed chicken, and made a quick trip to the store for candles, horseradish (Wegmans has been sold out), and apricot jelly to glaze my torte.

Got the car loaded up and made it to the church at a little after 4. Unloaded the car, and started up the ovens to reheat everything. Then my helpers started showing up, and I put them to work setting everything up. Everything went well, and everything tasted great.

There were, of course, tons of leftovers, but not a crumb of the chocolate torte remained, and only about 3 small slices of an 8 pound brisket. We got home after 9:30 and all three kids fell asleep in the car. Fortunately, it was cold enough overnight to leave the food in the car and unload in the morning.

Day 18 (Good Friday): Jeremy had the day off, so I slept in. I had told Valerie that she could sleep in, too, and I would drive her to school late when she got up, but I ended up letting her stay home all day. Between Passover and Good Friday, I figured it should count as a religious holiday. (She was originally supposed to have a five-day weekend this weekend, anyhow, but they took it away to make up for snow days.) When I got up, I cleaned out the fridge so I would have room for leftovers, and I unloaded the car and put all the food away. I cleaned off the table and washed a few of the biggest dishes, and put away the empty dishes from the seder that came home clean because I had awesome helpers. Then I reheated the matzah ball soup for lunch. I couldn't wake Jeremy up from his nap, and I couldn't convince either girl to come to the table, so I decided to stop fighting and enjoy a candlelit lunch by myself in peace. It was lovely.

I took a bath in the afternoon, and actually shaved my legs - a rare treat these days! Then I tried an experiment, and made a pie using softened matzot as the crust and charoset as the filling. I also made a mini version of it for us to try with dinner, and it tasted pretty good. I used more oil on the crust of the big pie, though, which I'm hoping resulted in a crispier crust.

I reheated some chicken and we had leftovers for dinner. We talked about Good Friday, and how it ties into Passover and Easter. Then I went to church by myself (another rare treat!)

We're heading to the in-laws' now, and I don't think anything more HADA-related will happen this weekend. I'm okay with that. I had planned on letting Passover take over this entire week, and I need a break. I plan to read a lot this weekend.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hour-a-Day April: Days 12 and 13

Day 12 (Saturday): Jer took the girls to an Easter egg hunt in the morning, so John Wallace and I had the house to ourselves. This is what we usually do on Saturday mornings - Daddy and the girls have an outing, and I stay home and clean during the baby's morning nap. Since cleaning on Saturday morning is my normal routine, I wasn't sure how to count it for HADA. I ultimately decided that my goal would be to spend one hour on routine tasks, and one hour on more "HADA-worthy" tasks.

I felt like I needed to use this time for something dramatic, so I tackled my much-neglected bedroom. When we moved here last year, we deliberately chose the smallest bedroom to be ours, because, let's face it, any available floor space in our bedroom just becomes littered with clothes in varying degrees of clean. I figured the less floor space we have available, the less cluttered our room would become. That said, the sea of clothes was still a bit daunting.

I put in an hour, and I was on a roll, but I forced myself to stop and eat some lunch. Then JW woke up, which put a halt to my room-cleaning project, so I moved on to laundry and dishes. I managed to squeeze in another hour of cleaning, before Jer got home and convinced me to come along to a birthday party (I wanted to send him alone with the kids so I could keep cleaning). I'm glad I went, though. It was a nice break, nice to see friends, and I had renewed energy when we got home. I threw together a casserole, stuck it in the oven to bake, and went back to work on my room. The casserole took an hour, but I had to stop to nurse the baby shortly before the timer beeped, so I think I just fell short of a second hour. I almost finished, though, which was nice. Just a few straggler items to deal with tomorrow.

After dinner, I tackled Mount Laundry. (Aside: I actually have two Mount Laundries. Mount Dirty Laundry in the laundry room, and Mount Clean Laundry on the guest room bed. Today's project was focused on Mount Clean.) I've been pretty good about folding clothes right out of the dryer, and laying hang-up clothes neatly in a pile, so it wasn't too much work to sort and put away Mount Clean, but it was about 7 loads of laundry, so it took some time. The girls helped me sort socks and hang up their dresses, too, which was nice. I think that was another hour.

Day 13 (Sunday): Early morning worship team practice, then church, then we went straight to a family birthday party. I didn't set foot inside the house until 5 p.m. And I was bone tired by the time I did. I talked to Jer, and decided that a nap was necessary if I was going to get my hour in today. So I went to bed for an hour. Ate a light dinner (since we'd had just eaten a big, birthday party lunch), then spent half an hour on dishes. Then I went up to my room and finished up the last few straggler items (which always take longer than you think they will - I think it was about 45 minutes). I sorted through the boxes of clothes that were on the floor, and set aside a couple piles for Jeremy to sort through, and one box of things I can still wear from before pregnancy. (Since I was pregnant when we moved, there are lots of pre-pregnancy clothes still in boxes. It was exciting to discover that they fit, though! Are bell-bottoms still in style?)

Bonus helper photo:

13 days down, 17 to go!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Hour-a-Day April: Days 10 and 11

Day 10: This ended up being a day off. John Wallace woke up before I fell asleep for the night, and he never really slept the rest of the night - just dozed fitfully in arms. I traded off with Jeremy for about 2 hours, and that's all the sleep I got. And then he continued to cling desperately to me, and refused to nap, all. day. long. I did get the trash to the curb (several weeks worth of trash that was stockpiled on my porch), and we managed some outdoor time in the afternoon. But mostly, the day was a total wash. I went to bed at 6, and stayed there all night.

Day 11: I wasn't too optimistic about today. Even after spending 13 hours in bed (interrupted only by one bathroom break and a few side-lying nursing sessions), I still woke up tired. I called up a friend who had said she might come over today, but she wasn't able to after all. So, I decided I would probably fail at HADA today. But somehow, I didn't. I put one foot in front of the other, and things got done. I browned 5 pounds of ground beef that needed to be used and froze it in packages for later meals. I made muffins and bread. I discarded the kefir that had died in my cupboard from neglect and started a fresh batch. I washed a few sinkfuls of dishes, and filled and ran the dishwasher. I made dinner early, because JW was giving me a few rare minutes to myself, and I figured I should seize the moment (I was making potage, which is something I could leave on the stove and reheat at dinner time). Dorothy and I scrubbed the wagon clean so that we could take it to the bus stop with us to pick up Valerie. And then, because the rain that had been threatening to come all day still hadn't showed up, I took the kids to the park for an hour and a half.

Dinner was tasty, and the girls both ate two bowls of potage. Then I pulled out some brie and crescent roll dough I had been saving for a spontaneous treat, and I made a baked brie torte for dessert. After dinner, while the girls were in the bath, I moved the laundry around (carried the clean and folded clothes up to the guest room to sort, transferred the clean, wet clothes into the dryer, brought two loads of dirty clothes down from upstairs, and started another load in the washer). All in all, it was a pretty productive day!

11 days down, 19 to go!

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Hour-a-Day April: Day Nine

This morning was my "Play and Pray" mom's group, which left me refreshed and socially recharged, but with only half a day left to squeeze in my HADA. (Aside: I got to spend time with three different local friends within the past 24 hours. Not too long ago, I wouldn't see three friends outside of church for a month. It always seems to be feast or famine for me, socially. I'm enjoying the feast, though.)

After we came home and had lunch, I found myself really struggling to find any motivation to do anything. I finally rallied myself to tidy up the living room, and literally 30 seconds later, John Wallace woke up from his nap. Frustrated and unmotivated, I decided that I would get myself through today by: a) avoiding the kitchen entirely (we have several meals worth of leftovers in the fridge, and my dishpan hands are starting to crack and bleed), and b) focusing all of my efforts on getting the living room floor totally clean, just this once, so I can sit on the couch and not feel the stress of the clutter. Somehow, I managed. It took all day, but my living room floor is totally clean. And the girls are in bed, now, so it should theoretically stay that way until morning.

But my big project today wasn't on any list. Valerie has been complaining lately that we get into bed with Dorothy to tuck her in, but we don't get into bed with her. I tried to explain that it's the trade-off for getting to sleep on the top bunk, but she remained unconvinced and told me she didn't want to sleep on the top bunk any more. So, I spent about 2.5 hours today cleaning and rearranging the girls' room, and un-bunking their beds. I don't think I've ever seen two kids so happy and excited to not have bunk beds. Oh well, change is good for the soul.

I couldn't really afford a kitchen-free day, and there is meat in the fridge calling my name and demanding to be prepped, but I'm glad I did it, because it felt good to do something else, and maybe give my dry, cracked hands a chance to heal. I'll definitely be paying for it tomorrow, though. Oh, and I will also definitely be paying for the near-whiplash I have in my neck from when I was disassembling the beds, and Dorothy knocked the mattress over onto my head. Ouch. On the bright side, I don't have a doctor's appointment tomorrow like I thought I did (turns out it was Tuesday, and I missed it - oops), so I will have more cleaning time than I thought I would. I hope I can make some of it count...

Nine days down, 21 to go. Wow, this month is flying!

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Hour-a-Day April: Day Eight

There was one thing that I absolutely had to do today: Get the recyclables to the curb. I did it. No matter what else happened today, I now have four large bins less stuff on my porch. That's a solid win.

Then the wind blew over one of the bins, so I got to gather up a bunch of plastics scattered all down the street. (I actually found one of our milk jugs at the park, a block away, this afternoon, so I guess I didn't get them all. Oops.)

I had plans to get together with a friend at 10 am, but my list of things I had to accomplish first was a bit too long, especially since John Wallace decided not to go down for his morning nap and give me a spare moment until 11. But I got dinner in the crockpot, and started a load of diaper laundry, and something else I'm forgetting. Finally made it to my friend's house only 2.5 hours late.

The kids played dress-up and the moms played adult conversation. Lovely. Then I suggested puddle jumping, which quickly became puddle sitting, then puddle crawling and exploring the mysteries of mud. I allowed it with no reservations, even though I didn't have a change of clothes for Dorothy, because this, to me, is what childhood should be. Sitting in a mud puddle exploring the world with your skin.

We got home just in time to change Dorothy's clothes and grab a quick snack while waiting for Valerie's bus. I pulled a few weeds while we were waiting. Then Valerie got home, and we headed to the park with some friends who live in town. We played for about an hour, then came home so I could wrap up dinner prep. The hardest part was done - roast beef and veggies in the crockpot. I stuck some biscuits in the oven and made gravy, then got to work on kitchen cleaning. When Jeremy walked in the door from work, the table was clean and ready to set, and dinner was ready to serve. This is almost always my goal, and it almost never happens. It felt pretty good.

The cool thing about actually eating dinner on time is that there is actually a window of time between dinner and the girls' bedtime. While Jer handled the kid wrangling, I did the after-dinner kitcheny things that I usually put off. Cleaned off the table. Put away leftovers. Made Valerie's lunch. Washed every dish involved in dinner. (There are still plenty of dishes to wash, but I decided that one thing I can do for the backlog is at least not add to it.) I also made french toast for tomorrow's breakfast, and put it in the breakfast/lunch mini-fridge (which I am loving so far - I hope I can keep it up, and not just let it turn into another place leftovers go to die). Then I folded a load of clothes (Valerie helped!) and switched the diapers over to the dryer.

Then I sat down and wrote this blog post, and decided that it had been a very productive day, but my tally didn't include very many tasks outside of my routine chores, and maybe I could squeeze one more, photo-worthy project in before bed. So I left this post half-written, and tackled the front hall. I have found that clutter has the biggest psychological impact on me when I have to physically step over/around it to get anywhere. The front hall becomes an obstacle course so quickly, because everyone in the family seems to think that coats/backpacks/shoes need to be removed immediately upon entering the house, and they must not be disturbed from the place where they first fall.


After 30 minutes:

I didn't get to the catch-all table by the door, but it's less stressful, because I don't have to step over it. Maybe I'll save it for another day when I need some photo-worthy progress to make me feel like I'm accomplishing more than just treading water.

And now, I am definitely ready for bed. Eight days down, 22 to go!

Monday, April 07, 2014

Hour-a-Day April: Day Seven

You remember, at the beginning, where I said I would need to have a little extra grace with myself for HADA this year, because I've been sick, and I run out of steam so quickly? Apparently, I forgot. I was pretty down on myself for not getting enough done yesterday, for not finishing any of my projects, but I woke up this morning with renewed resolve. Not so much to get more done, but to feel better about what I DO get done. Anything is better than nothing. Everything counts for something.

Somehow, that resolve managed to coincide with John Wallace deciding to end his nap strike today. So, when he went down for his morning nap, I tackled the kitchen. Again. Yes, the kitchen. I would really like to stop hating my kitchen. (There's more to this story than just illness and neglect. It involves rats. If/when I get to my pantry, maybe you'll get to hear more of it.) But this time, I looked at the clock. Told myself, HADA or no HADA, I was going to spend an hour working on the kitchen. And I did. Progress was made. And no, I'm not done. But I'm getting there.

Once John Wallace woke up from his nap, it was a bit harder to make progress, but I am tired of plucking beads and bits of fluff and stickers and dice and miscellaneous crumbs from his mouth, so I was determined to vacuum the living room floor. I gave up on getting a completely clean floor, and just worked on smaller zones, clearing up a few square feet, then vacuuming that section quickly before it became re-cluttered again the second I turned my back. That took roughly an hour and a half, with many interruptions. And, looking back over the living room now, you would never know it was ever clean. *sigh*

Then, a miracle happened. I got both kids down for simultaneous naps! Amazing!

My "must-do" HADA project today was the side porch. One of the first things I let slide when I'm not feeling well is trash/recyclables. I've missed roughly a month of pick-ups, and after a while, it just devolved into me opening the door of the porch and throwing things out there, planning to deal with it later, and trusting the cold weather to keep it from stinking too much. I'm a bit embarrassed to show this "before" photo, but here goes:

The saddest thing about this mess? It only took 20 minutes to organize. Here's the "after". It doesn't look that much better, yet, but it's all organized, and half of it will go to the curb tomorrow, and the rest will go to the curb on Thursday, and then I will be able to walk through my porch again!

Then I put in another 15 minutes putting away craft supplies and other random stuff that I had swept up into a pile on the kitchen floor.

And now I am spent. I am going to allow myself some down time, and hopefully I will manage to rally myself in time to make something tasty for dinner. I'll hold off on posting this for now, just in case. (Okay, managed dinner, but that's it. I'm calling it a night.)

One week down, 23 days to go!

Hour-a-Day April: Days Five and Six

Day Five: Jeremy's grandparents are visiting his parents right now, so we spent the morning/afternoon there. Then we came home and I just barely had time to pull together dinner and outfits for the Girl Scout Daddy Daughter dance. No HADA projects accomplished, so I'm calling this my day off for the week. But look how cute she is, wearing one of the flower girl dresses from our wedding (12 years ago!)

Day Six: Church in the morning, followed by a church potluck, followed by an hour of mandatory nap/quiet time for everyone in the family. All wonderful/necessary things, but it didn't leave a lot of time for HADA. But I found some motivation somewhere to tackle the kitchen. Ugh, the kitchen. So backlogged, so depressing. I did manage to completely clean off the table, and ran a dishwasher load, and filled the dish drainer at least twice. I swept the floor, too. And I brought the bar fridge up from the basement, cleaned it off, and set it up beside the regular fridge to use as a prepared breakfast/lunch fridge. Then I pulled the 13 pounds of chicken I got on sale out of the fridge, and divided them up into smaller packages of strips and chunks to freeze and use later. I made fajitas for dinner, which is not what was on the menu for the night, but it was the easiest thing to do simultaneously while I was prepping the chicken. The fajitas were actually a big hit with the kids. Yay!

I didn't feel like any of that really counted towards my hour, though, since it was all daily upkeep that I just happen to be way behind on. Actually, I take that back. Moving the bar fridge totally counted. But it didn't take an hour. So I asked myself, "What things should I do now, that I normally would just leave until later, because I feel like I already did enough today?" The first thing that came to mind was cleaning the table. When I have to clean the table before dinner, I find it extra hard to motivate myself to clean it again an hour later, after dinner. So I cleaned the table. And while I was putting away the leftovers, I made Jer a lunch (which I don't do as often as I would like). Then, since I was on a lunch-roll, I made Valerie's lunch (which I usually scramble to make while she's eating breakfast in the morning). Then, for good measure, I started a load of laundry. Still not sure if I had managed to get in an hour (you know that "set a timer" thing I said to do? I never remember to do it), I started working on my prep/shopping list for Passover. I think that brought me up to at least an hour. Especially if I count some of the kitchen cleaning or chicken prep. I had more things that I wanted to do, but my motivation was spent, so I just went to bed early. It seemed like the best use of my time.

Six days down, 24 to go!

Friday, April 04, 2014

Hour-a-Day April: Days Three and Four

I am very tired, so I'll make this short.

Day Three: Rough night, mom's group in the morning, spent all afternoon trying (and failing) to get a break. Finished fixing the printer. Managed to do a few dishes, ran a load of laundry, washed diapers. Finished my menu planning and made my grocery list. (Geeky aside: I used Google Drive to make my grocery list, and it worked out really well. I made a spreadsheet, and went through my menu, top to bottom, and just listed everything I would need in column a. If I came to a repeat item (like chicken breasts for a second recipe), I would go back up and change the quantity rather than adding another line item. Then, in column b, I put a single-letter code for each item - a (aisles), b (bakery), p (produce), f (freezer), d (dairy), m (meat). Then, when I was all done, I clicked on column b and sorted alphabetically, which then grouped all of the items together by section. Nerd win!) Pretty sure I got in my hour.

Day Four: Rough night, rough morning. Plans to clean the living room during John Wallace's morning nap thwarted by his stuffy nose and resulting refusal to nap. Finally threw in the towel and went shopping instead. Acquired all the groceries for my monthly menu, made a tasty dinner, only 45 minutes late. Re-sized the clean diapers for my growing boy, stuffed, folded and put them away (which is actually a big deal, since I usually just leave them in the dryer until I need it for something else, then dump them unceremoniously in the drawer and stuff them on demand). Definitely got in my hour.

Four days down, 26 to go!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Hour-a-Day April: Day Two

Well, this morning didn't start out too great. The battery on my phone died while I was sleeping, so my alarm didn't go off in the morning. I had been up with the baby in the middle of the night, so once I managed to get to sleep, I didn't budge until I looked at the clock and saw 8:00. Yikes! Valerie's bus comes at 8:15. Fortunately, she had another half day today, so I didn't have to pack her a lunch. Still, not a very relaxing morning. She did make it to the bus, however.

I did make my tea and sit and take a few minutes to ease into my day. And once I got John Wallace down for his morning nap, I tackled the kitchen. It's really the last thing in the entire house that I want to be doing, which is why I forced myself to do it today. There is nothing more depressing than a seriously backlogged kitchen. But I plugged away for an hour, and managed to find the surface of my stove, which I then scrubbed clean. I still have a long way to go on the kitchen, but at least progress is being made.

I also did some laundry, and washed some the "less necessary" items, like throw blankets and pullovers.

Then we headed to Longwood Gardens for a few hours of fresh air and flowers. That place is truly awesome. PopPop had the day off today, so he joined us. I took lots of pictures.

Jer had to work some overtime tonight, so I took the kids to Chic-fil-A for dinner and some indoor playground time. There was some kind of fundraiser going on, so we got to meet the cow suit guy, and we won a free drink and milkshake. We stayed so long that Jeremy actually beat us home. It was a lot of fun!

My HADA goal for today (in addition to the dishes, which shouldn't really count, since I should have done them anyhow) was to make a menu for the month so I can go grocery shopping and have one less thing to worry about every day. I put together my list (with a little help from my Facebook friends), and I am almost done sorting it all into days, but I am getting very tired, and I think the rest of that task will have to wait until tomorrow.

Two days down, 28 to go. Woohoo!

Hour-a-Day April: Day One

I managed to hit the ground running on April 1. One of my goals right now (in life, generally, not just HADA) is to build a stronger routine into our daily life. I'm a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kinda girl, but I have discovered that life runs more smoothly, and we have more fun, if we have some kind of structure holding our days together. It's going to be a struggle for me to keep up a schedule once school lets out in June, so I'm working on it, now. So, before tackling anything HADA-related, I made myself a cup of tea, and gave myself a few minutes to sit and gather my thoughts before diving into the day. John Wallace rewarded me for my patience by going down for his morning nap relatively early, and staying asleep for a good, long stretch. I don't know if I will be quite so lucky every day this month, but it was a good start to the first day.

I picked a task for my first day that has been bugging me for months: The bathroom. I've been doing basic upkeep cleaning, but it's been a long time since I dug in and scrubbed the shower walls or mopped the floor. The girls have some bathtub crayons that are relatively easy to clean off - if you clean them off right away. But that has not been happening, so it took quite a bit of elbow grease. But I got all the crayon off, and scrubbed the crud off of the bath mat and hair trap. Then, since the baby was still napping, I hopped in the shower myself. While I was in there, just for fun, I grabbed the Comet and scrubbed the bottom of the shower curtain liner. It worked pretty well, but then I decided to unhook the whole thing and just throw it in the wash. I won't say it's as good as new, but it's much, much better than it was!

The bathroom took the full hour, but since the baby was cooperating so well, I decided to keep going. I begrudgingly tackled the kitchen, instead of the many HADA tasks that I would rather be doing, because, well, we need clean dishes if we want to eat.

Where is my 3.5-year-old in all this? Good question. I thought she was watching TV, but the show just ended, and she isn't there to start another one. Oh, there she is. Sitting in the middle of the garden digging in the dirt. Good thing I hadn't planted anything yet! But she's having fun, and getting some vitamin D, so I let her play. (Until she stripped down naked, and peed in the garden. Then I brought her, and her muddy footprints, into my clean bathroom and gave her a bath.)

Meanwhile, my oldest daughter arrived home from school (she has half days this week for some reason). I wasn't able to get much more done from that point on, but I did make some progress on normal tasks like dishes and laundry. On a whim, I made a tray of brown E's out of construction paper, since my daughter pranked me pretty good when she got home from school, and I thought it was only fair to return the favor. (Her analysis: "Mom, please don't fool about food. Because we really wanted brownies.") (Don't worry, I made real brownies for dessert.)

After the girls were in bed, I tackled our broken printer. I still can't get the feed tray to work properly, but I can by-pass it by using the envelope tray, so I guess I'll call it a win, for now. At least I have the ability to print again. I managed to squeeze in a few of those "been meaning to get to that" tasks, too, like rinsing out the humidifier so I can pack it away for the season.

All in all, I am pleased with my progress on day one. (I can already tell you that day two will not be quite so productive, since it started with us all oversleeping by an hour because the battery on my phone died overnight, and we are planning to go to Longwood Gardens this afternoon.) One day down, 29 to go!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Hour-a-Day April 2014

It's been a long winter.

A year ago, we packed up our home and moved an hour away, to a small town in the middle of Amish country where we didn't know anyone. It's a lovely place, and exactly what we wanted, but it's been a long, lonely year. Our van died, we had a baby, Valerie started kindergarten, Dorothy turned three (which, any parent will tell you, is so much worse than two). And then: the. longest. winter. ever.

I've lived in the greater Philadelphia area for about 8 years, now, and in that time, there have been about 5 snowfalls that have stayed on the ground long enough for Canadian-born me to drag out a sled and play like it's a real winter. But this winter, even cold-loving, winter-fun-having Jule Ann shouted, "Enough!" 11 snow days (or was it 12? I lost count.) Snow past my knees. And days on end when I never saw a single ray of sunshine, literally or figuratively.

Meanwhile, my normal housework roller coaster was getting wilder than usual. I would start to get caught up on things, then someone would get sick (usually me), or something would break, or I would just run out of steam, and it would all pile up again. A few days later, I would start to get a handle on things again, feel optimistic again, bake some bread, then it would all fall apart again. I was diagnosed with depression, and have seen some progress with SSRIs, but nothing has broken the cycle. I feel like I spend 2/3 of my time in survival mode, and the remaining 1/3 of the time is not enough to catch up, let alone get ahead.

Then, last weekend, I choked on a sip of my drink, and got sick again, and was worried enough to go to the doctor this time. They ran some blood work, and apparently my Vitamin D levels were very low, so I am taking ridiculously high doses of prescription vitamin D until my levels come back up again. In retrospect, it all makes sense. The low energy, the depression, the frequent illnesses - all symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency. It's been a dark, dreary winter, and we've been cooped up inside far too much. We drink raw milk, which is not fortified like the grocery store kind, and I don't eat fish, which is the only really good dietary source of Vitamin D. Unfortunately, all of the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency also look a lot like the symptoms of just-had-your-third-baby-and-moved-to-a-new-town, so it never occurred to me that I might have a physically treatable problem.

Which brings us, in a very roundabout way, to Hour-a-Day April. My house is a mess. I need to do dishes and laundry. I have a newly-mobile baby who gets into everything. I have lots of creative/organizational/fun projects floating around in my head. I could do so much with an extra hour of productivity squeezed into every day for the next month. But I'm going to need to give myself a lot of grace, too, because I run out of steam so quickly these days. My commitment for Hour-a-Day April this year is to at least START every day. I want to do the hour, I will try to do the hour, but if I can't do the hour, I'm at least going to start. Even a few minutes of progress is better than no progress.

If you don't know what Hour-a-Day April is, it's a productivity project I created a few years ago. For the month of April, you make it a goal, every day, to spend one hour doing something that you normally have a hard time finding time for. My original post is here, but I will post the updated "Rules" for 2014 below as well. Who will be joining me this year?

Hour-a-Day April 2014 Rules

  1. Think of something that you normally have a hard time finding time for. Sewing, cleaning, painting, organizing, playing basketball, crossing things off your honey-do list, it's up to you! It can be one big project, or a bunch of little projects. For me, it's going to be mostly sorting/organizing, deep cleaning, and planning. Those are the things I never seem to get to, because any motivation I have gets used up on the surface stuff before I get to it.
  2. Spend an hour every day working on your chosen project(s). Set a timer and stick to it. Kids need your attention? Stop the timer and give them your attention. You have all day to squeeze in that hour, and if your kids are anything like mine, it might happen five or ten minutes at a time. But by the end of the day, make sure you've clocked that hour. Know yourself. If the best way for you to get in your hour is to get up early, get up early. If you clean best after everyone else goes to bed, skip CSI. It's only for a month.
  3. Take one day off a week. If you're religious, you may already have a set sabbath, if not, just pick a day to be your "break" day. Or don't pick a day, and let it be a floating day off, so if you miss a day, you can just say, "Oh well, that was my day off." (I tend to do this last one.)
  4. Keep others updated on your progress. Comment on this blog. Blog about it yourself, and send me the link. Join our HADA Facebook group, and come chat about what you're working on. Phone up your mom. Put a gold star on a chart.
  5. Don't give up. Missed a day? Just brush it off and get back on the proverbial horse the next day. Even if you only do half the days, that's still 15 hours more productivity than your April would have otherwise had.
  6. Don't let HADA set you back on all the stuff you normally do find time for. If you're having a hard time keeping up with the daily stuff, count some of it towards your hour (but not all of it, or the point of HADA is lost).
  7. Don't let anyone or anything steal your joy and sense of accomplishment for the things you have done. HADA isn't about becoming perfect, it's about deliberately spending an hour every day tackling the projects you rarely get to. If you did your hour today, YOU WIN. Period. It doesn't matter if someone else did two hours, or if the sink is still full of dirty dishes, or if there are still 17 more hours of organizing to do. If you managed to squeeze a whole extra hour of blood from the stone of your already-busy day, be proud of yourself.
  8. Celebrate when it's all over! If you live near me, let's go out to dinner together and order gooey chocolatey desserts. If you live far away, have your own celebration and tell me about it. Go ahead and splurge, you've earned it!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

In Defense of "Voluntourism" (Sorta)

Sometimes it takes me a while to gather my thoughts, and by the time I have figured out what I want to say, everyone on Facebook has already forgotten about whatever it is I was responding to.

Anyhow, try to think back, WAAAAY back, to a couple of days ago, when everyone was sharing this link, and nodding wisely, and saying, "How true!"

I kinda half agree. I get what she's saying. Short-term missions and volunteer trips have lots of problems. And, yeah, getting a bunch of high school kids to do skilled labor poorly is probably not the best allocation of resources. And the perpetuation of the "white savior" myth is dangerous. But look at what the author is doing now: She is using her skills to run a camp in the DR, recruiting and enabling native leaders to do work that is actually worthwhile. And she claims that her first trip to the DR was a flop, but if she had never gone on that first trip, do you think she would have that kind of passion for the Dominican people? It's one thing to see pictures on TV or in promotional materials, telling you that there is a hurting world outside of your comfort zone, but it's another thing entirely to actually GO there and LIVE amongst those hurting people for a little while.

I think the word "voluntourism" is meant to be derogatory, but I actually like it. When you travel as a tourist, your focus is on yourself, and on what you are getting out of the experience. You usually see a sanitized and commercialized version of the culture you are visiting, polished and packaged to make your experience enjoyable. When you travel as a volunteer, your focus is on the people you are going to help, their needs, their situation, their struggles. And, while you might come back from a vacation relaxed and refreshed, you almost always come back from a short-term mission trip CHANGED. And that is what makes the world a better place: Not the actual work that "voluntourists" do while they are abroad, but the changed people who come home from those trips, a little less selfish, and a little more aware that the world is much bigger than their first world problems.

As with so many things in life, I find myself wanting to find a nice, middle ground. Some way to encourage people to travel to third world countries and expand their worldview without doing more harm than good while they are there. But it's not like we can send them to just hide in the bushes and spy on orphans - we need to give them something to do while they are there, some way of engaging and interacting. I know that this is something that greater minds than mine are working on, so I'm not trying to solve this problem myself. I'm just suggesting that maybe we shouldn't look down on voluntourists quite so much. At least they care. And if their concern is genuine, it can be redirected more effectively.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Consignment Sales

Spring consignment sale season starts next week!

It's been a while since I made a consignment sale list, but it looks like I don't need to feel guilty anymore, because someone else is doing a fabulous job. has an extremely detailed list of local consignment sales. Check them out!

Also: The mommy group that I have been attending is hosting a consignment sale this spring, too. I'm a bit nervous, but I think I'm going to dive and participate on the consignor side of things this year. Yikes! Wish me luck! I'm hoping to make a dent in the "hand-me-down room", so that it can actually be used as a "guest room", like it was supposed to be!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Some Thoughts on the "Gender Neutrality" of Legos

I've been thinking about this whole "Lego for Girls" controversy for a long time, but I haven't said much about it. I felt a bit like I was being pulled in two directions on the issue, and I couldn't quite put my finger on why. But something finally clicked for me today, and now I want to say something about it.

This is the 1981 Lego ad that everyone is talking about. That little girl could have been me. Classic 1980s tomboy, building with Legos instead of playing with dolls. It's classic 1980s power-suit feminism. The kind of feminism that said, "Women are allowed to fill men's roles in a man's world... As long as they dress/act/behave like men." The message of that ad, to me, was that little girls can play with boy's toys, too... as long as they are tomboys.

I don't have a problem with tomboys. I was one myself. (Sortof - more on that later.) But what if your daughters want to embrace their femininity? To me, modern feminism is not about telling women that they are just like men. It's about telling women that what they are is just as good as what men are. It's a subtle difference, but an important distinction to make. We need to show our daughters that we don't just value classically masculine skills; that they don't need to fight their natural skills and abilities to be valued in our society.

I have always wanted to be a mother, ever since I was a little girl. When I was in kindergarten, I wanted to be a teacher. But I had one problem: I was smart. I was streamed into the gifted/enrichment program in fourth grade. Everyone expected more of me. I remember telling a classmate in middle school that I wanted to be a mother, and he said, "What a waste!" Not everyone was so explicit in their judgment of my ambitions, but I felt it on every side. Smart girls should do more.

So, I dreamed bigger. Went to college and majored in Communication, intending to go to law school after graduation. My advisor tried to talk me out of it. He encouraged me to pursue a Master's degree in Communication and go into higher education. I politely declined, and went to law school. I trudged through, barely survived my articling year, and then retired from law the day after I got my call to the bar. It's funny, because now, looking back, I think I would have made an excellent teacher or professor. Too bad I tried to do "more".

I loved Legos as a kid. I loved building with blocks. I loved sledding and climbing trees. But I wasn't very athletic. I didn't really do sports. And I secretly loved playing with dolls. Mostly, I loved brushing and styling their hair. I still do. Maybe I should have become a hairdresser. I didn't fit very well into either "gender" category. But that's okay. Most people I know don't. It's kinda more of a spectrum.

When I found out that I was pregnant with my first child, I registered for Duplo before I even thought about cribs. I couldn't wait to play Legos with my kids! But they never really got into it. They chewed on the pieces when they were babies, but that was it. I was very sad. I tried very hard to raise liberated little girls, but they defied me and decided to love everything frilly pink fairy princess. I fought it for a long time. Tried to buy them gender-neutral clothing and toys. But it didn't work. They only wanted to wear dresses and play with dolls. Then I had a light bulb moment one day: Isn't the whole point of feminism that girls can be whatever they want to be? So, if my girls love frilly dresses, why not embrace that, and let them wear frilly dresses?

One day, I was at the Dollar Store with my girls, and I told them they could each pick out one thing as a treat. Valerie picked out a golf set. First, I did a double take - My girly-girl picked a golf set? But then I saw the reason: It was pink. That's when I got on the pink Lego train. Before the pink golf club, I looked at pink toys and said, "Why do they have to make it pink? Girls can play with a brown football! That's so sexist!" After the pink golf club, I looked at pink toys and said, "Yes! Finally a chemistry set that my pink-loving girls will play with! Score one for feminism!"

When we tell our children that they can or can't do something for no reason other than the sexual organs they were born with, that's sexism. When we tell our children that they can be/do/love whatever they want to, regardless of their sexual organs, that's feminism. So, if the message of pink Lego is, "No, sweetie, don't play with those, those are BOY Legos," then I completely disagree. But if the message is, "Oh, you like pink? Look, this cool toy is also available in your favorite color!" then count me in. (Why and how girls are groomed to like pink in our culture is a whole different sexism discussion for another day. But taken as a given that MY girls DO like pink, I'm not addressing it today.)

I do have some issues with the new Lego Friends line. My biggest complaint is that the Friends mini-figs are not standard mini-figs. I think they would have done better to just make more female mini-figs. But I am glad to see Lego branching out and trying to include all girls, not just tomboys. That it's okay to like pink. That it's okay to want to be a ballerina or a teacher. Yeah, they have a long way to go. Female reporters could have better news stories than the "World's Best Cake". But it's a start.

So, my daughter got Lego for her fifth birthday. Pink Lego. And she loves it. She plays with it every day. And, when I back off and let her do her thing, she plays differently than I did. Rather than building and rebuilding essentially the same thing over and over, tweaking the design after each tear-down (how I used to play), she keeps the same basic structure intact, and makes subtle changes, for aesthetic or play reasons. She keeps it, fully-assembled, on a shelf, like a shrine. There is no "wrong" way to play with Lego, and however she uses it, she is learning, and growing, and developing problem-solving skills, and improving her coordination and fine motor skills. And that will serve her well in the future, whether she becomes an artist or an actress or a teacher or a doctor or a lawyer or a brick-layer or a hairdresser or a clown. Or a mother.