Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Balance to the 4th Degree

This morning I had an early meeting, which meant I had to be up before anyone in the house and get ready without waking everyone up. And I live in a small house. The tiniest speck of light or decibel of noise awakens the entire bunch. I've mastered the art of putting on makeup in the dark. I can sense when I'm reaching the top of the mug when pouring coffee. I shower with a candle as my only light source (kinda nice actually).

My husband hates my early meetings because he has to get the kids up and ready for school without any backup. It means I can't be giving the kids their ninth reminder to get dressed--"or the TV goes off!"--while he's out scraping the snow off the car.

My meeting was for an organization where I am on the board, so it had nothing to do with my day job. Afterward I arrived at work around the same time I usually do. When I called my husband for our noon check-in phone call, he asked if I'd be home early today, since I had gone to work so early. "Well, no," I said. "That meeting wasn't related to my actual work so I can't really justify leaving early." I've explained this before, but he still got a little pissed. When you're with two kids all day, I suspect you start to count down the minutes to when your spouse gets home to help out. To make it worse, I told him that I really needed to fit in a quick run when I get home. So since he's a stay-at-home dad, my board meeting, work day and exercise just turned his work day into an 11-hour day. After I spend some time with the kids tonight, I will have achieved a fairly balanced day. My husband, not so much.

Balance is tricky when you're just one person trying to fit a lot of activities into one day. When you are trying to incorporate balance for every member of a family of four, it becomes exponentially complicated. How do I fit in work, kids, exercise, extracurricular commitments, and on and on without taking advantage of my husband (and often kids) in the process? How do I help them do all the things that they need/want to do too? I don't know. I'm asking. Anyone?

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Power Bun

I don't wash my hair every day. I don't even wash my hair every other day. When I was in high school, I washed and styled my hair using more product than you'd find in a grocery store. It took no less than 45 minutes and my hair was something to behold.

Then I had a child. And I discovered that I could add a day between washings and my hair still looked pretty good. Then I had another child and discovered that I could add one more day and, presuming I kept my blond highlights maintained, my hair still looked good. I've experimented with one more day between washings, but I could only pull that off if I either worked from home or invested in some wide hair bands to cover the oily roots. My hair has always been a huge source of pride for me so my initial non-hairwashing experiment was a huge deal.

Now I've even taken it one step further. I've replaced my long flowing 'do, which, every third day I have exhaustingly, painstakingly blown dry, flat ironed and then curled with my José Eber clipless curling iron, with the easiest, yet still professional in the workplace, 'do ever--the power bun. I know lots of women who sport the work bun when they are having a bad hair day or running late on a given morning. But I've been doing it every single day for two months now. I'm like a pioneer woman, but with a better wardrobe.

I've decided it's the best of all hair worlds. It's attractive and professional. I still get to keep my long hair for days--or date nights with my husband--when I want to actually style it and look superhot. Keeping it long has preserved versatility for all types of non-work activities--ponytail for running, braided pigtails for skiing and half-up 'do or messy bun for weekend errands. And best of all, I no longer need to give my hair a second thought when I'm running around in the morning trying to get ready, throw in a load of laundry, make the bed, respond to the kids' questions, etc. It's like a uniform for your hair.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

I love the feeling of being in balance. When I know I've spent quality time with my kids, had some time to myself, put in some good effort at work and feel connected to my husband, I feel great. Conversely, I feel cranky and unsettled when I am neglecting something important and spending too much time on something else. I am often slow to recognize that it's an issue of balance, but it's there.

Too much time watching American Idol and not enough time helping my son with his homework. Too much time on Facebook and not enough time on a critical work project. I allow this unbalancing to occur because I am scared that if I start doing the things that I'm neglecting, that the balance will then shift too far in the other direction. I think that if I start working on my nagging work project, I'll get sucked into it and not have any time at all to catch up with friends on Facebook. Or that paying bills in the evening will turn in to a two-hour project and leave me with no time to knit or read before I need to go to bed. In other words, I don't try to re-balance because I'm afraid I'll end up doing only the things that aren't fun, relaxing or instantly gratifying.

I used to think the answer was to place limits on the fun stuff. I was wrong. Placing limits on the shitty stuff so that I know that I can stop at a certain point and do something more fun, but without guilt, is the answer. Fun is so much more fun without guilt.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Are SAHF's the same as SAHM's, but with different reproductive organs?

Having a stay-at-home husband who cares for the children while I work full time is not the same as a full-time employed man having a stay-at-home wife. It is actually quite different. I thought it would be the same when we decided to try it a few months ago. I was wrong. Working men with stay-at-home wives seem to have carte blanche to travel for work, attend early or late meetings and get their personal needs met (exercise, relaxation, hobbies, etc.). Maybe they don't really, but it supports my indignance to think so. Working women with stay-at-home husbands are still expected to participate in caring for the children and running the household more than working men. While I prefer having my husband stay home than both of us working and putting the kids in daycare for nine hours a day, I still frequently envy my brother-in-law. My sister-in-law never questions his hectic travel schedule, extremely long work hours, weekly massage, daily early morning workouts, lack of help with the kids' homework, and on and on. All I want is to be able to accept the occasional 5:00 p.m. meeting or weekend business trip without hesitation and without a guilt trip. If the situation were reversed, I GUARANTEE I would gladly tolerate these types of impositions to allow my husband the flexibility he would need to earn enough to allow me to comfortably stay home with the children. Why would I do this? Because women don't have the egos that men do.

My husband isn't thrilled about being a SAHF. He enjoys feeling like he's contributing more than he was when he was struggling with his career, but he still thinks he ought to be the one bringing home the money. He won't announce to anyone what his current profession is (because I don't think he considers it a profession) and is very vague when people ask what he does. It drives me crazy. If it were me, I would tell everyone whether they asked or not because I think it is an incredibly noble undertaking worth much bragging.

I don't know if this is going to be a long-term arrangement or not. Some days I hope that he feels increasingly proud of his work and wants to continue to do it for as long as it's needed. Other days I wish he would just get a good job and let me stay home and mold young minds. I never wish that we could put the kids back in daycare and both work full time though, so I guess this is progress.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Kicking Laundry's Ass

I did it. All of my laundry will now fit easily into four baskets. Not that I have the space in my closets, drawers and cupboards to fit it all, but I'll be dealing with that issue with my decluttering goal. As a reward to myself, I'm going to clean my laundry room from top to bottom until it sparkles. Cleaning something would normally be the furthest thing from a reward for me that I could possibly think of, but cleaning is actually kind of fun when you don't have to clean around a whole bunch of shit all the time.

I learned a few things from achieving this goal. I learned that every member of my family owns an astonishingly large number of socks. That someone really isn't sneaking in and stealing my favorite clothing items that I haven't seen in months. That my kids are capable of finding household entertainment that doesn't include jumping from the top of the laundry mountain. And most importantly, I found it is easy to become increasingly motivated to achieve a goal when you can see the progress with your own eyes.

For some reason, I've tackled the laundry goal a lot more aggressively than my decluttering or my saving/debt-payoff goal. The reason is because I could easily see my progress. First it was seeing the laundry mountain shrink to the point where I could open my bedroom door the entire way. We used to have to squeeze through sideways. Then I could see that all of the dirty laundry in my bedroom fit in one basket. Then I eliminated one of the two huge garbage bags of dirty sheets and towels. Then the next. Then I laundered the red pile (red clothing should be done away with!) Now I'm just working my way through the delicates. It took about three to four days at first to notice visible progress, but then it took off from there.

With decluttering, I just haven't made a big enough dent yet. I have only decluttered a shelf, drawer and spice rack in my kitchen. I need to persevere until it starts to snowball and then I can't stop decluttering because. . . . LOOK HOW GOOD IT LOOKS!

With saving/debt-payoff, I haven't made it visible--it's all in the computer and not in front of my face every day. I have a choice regarding whether I look at it or not. I am going to post every two weeks (on payday) how much money we have in savings and checking and how much debt is left to pay off.

Now I get to pick a new goal for my top three.

Progress: 1, Status Quo: 0.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Top 3 List

I think I bit off a little teeny tiny bit more than I could chew in the last post. I can really only focus on three projects at one time. That doesn't mean I can't do anything else at all whatsoever, but I can only really truly focus on three. It was hard to decide which three because I felt like one project had to be related to my kids and one had to be related to my relationship with my husband and one had to be related to my health. Well, screw that. I chose the ones that are always on my mind lately. I'm obsessed with these particular projects, or goals, and I decided to capitalize on that energy and just go with it.

I am going to catch up on all laundry by December 15th. You must know that at one time I made my kids stop jumping off of the laundry pile in my room because I was concerned that one of them could possibly suffer a spinal cord injury. I recently spent $50 and two hours at a laundromat doing 14 loads of laundry and still had at least 25 loads still to do at home. I am still washing summer clothes at the end of winter. My goal is to get to the point where all of the dirty laundry fits into four baskets: whites, colors, darks and sheets/towels. Then I could do just one load a day and stay completely caught up.

I am going to top off my emergency savings fund and pay off all consumer debt by June 1st. I am not going to say how much money that means, but it will be no small feat. For various reasons, my husband and I have paid for all of life's little emergencies on credit for the last eight years. We're done doing that. We finally have a nice cash flow surplus each month as well as several lump sums coming in over the next few months and we have commit to using all of it towards emergency savings and consumer debt payoff. I cannot begin to describe the sense of relief that this will give me. Prior to eight years ago, I never had a penny's worth of debt and I absolutely hate it. I want to be totally debt free (except for the mortgage) by the time we are ready to move in June.

Which brings me to my last project. I adore my husband, I really do. BUT he is a packrat and collector of epic proportions. We have not parked in our garage for the last three years. We cannot use any of the basement level of our home (except for the laundry room). It is nearly impossible to clean our house because of all of the crap. We are setting a horrible example for our kids and they are becoming collectors of junk and leaving it all over the place. Our home drains our energy and destroys our outlook on life. I am so done with clutter in my home. My husband feels the same way and we are ready to do something about it. We are going to declutter and organize the entire house and garage by May 1st to have it ready to put on the market by June 1st.

In the next post, I will list the behaviors that I plan to develop and maintain for each project until they are done. As I complete one project, I will add another so that I always have three personal goals I am working toward.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Plan for a Life of Progress

I get depressed and cranky if I'm not productive. If I go through an entire Saturday without getting a single load of laundry done, I snap at my husband and fall into a funk while I chastise myself and swear to be extra productive on Sunday. Then I create a too-ambitious to-do list for Sunday, get overwhelmed and do nothing. Then I'm super duper cranky and depressed because I just wasted my whole weekend not getting things done and since I work full time and have two young kids, it will be five whole days before I get another chance. This is also referred to as perfectionism for those of you who either don't relate or just haven't been officially diagnosed yet.

See, I like the whole idea of PROGRESS. I don't just like it, I love it. And to answer the question that would be posed by my son, Big H, yes, I want to marry it. The thought of staying in one place in terms of job, knowledge, achievement, relationship quality, etc. my whole life is so disturbing to me that if I think about it too much, I fall into another mini-funk. No good.

I'm embarking (god how I love the idea of embarking) on a better path. I'm going to make progress toward the things that truly matter to me. I've gotten some great ideas from various places that I'm going to mesh together in a fancy as-yet-undetermined way to make consistent progress. I must credit David Allen who wrote Getting Things Done. His system has helped me tremendously. If you haven't read his book, you should. Best takeaway: to-do lists organized by context, or location. That way, when you're running errands, you only look at your errands list. When you're at home, you don't need to worry about your "work" list. Good stuff.

Also, The Now Habit, by Neil Fiore. I like him because he's so kind to procrastinators. I think he might be the only person on the planet who is nice to them. Not even procrastinators are nice to procrastinators. I am, of course. Best takeaway: Work on a high-priority project the first 30 minutes of the day. You accomplish something early to keep you out of the funk and dodge distractions that can take you down a different path.

I recently went through a great Franklin Covey training session on execution. Best takeaways: Pick no more than three "wildly important goals" to really focus on at one time and create a scoreboard to track and share your progress.

Finally, I discovered a blog today, that makes the whole idea of progress really balanced and fun. The blogger, Jessi Pervola, is delightful, but a bit too hard on herself for not posting as much as she thinks she should.

Here are the categories in which I want to make progress all the time. By all the time, I don't mean every second of every day. Slow and steady, people. Just wanted to be clear so no one tries to give me the guilties down the road when I'm not appearing productive enough. I may have time limits on some, but not all. The 1-3 most important in each category will be at the top of each list.

Me. By that I mean all the things I do just for me and me alone. It can include my knitting projects, increasing my knowledge, new skills, etc.

Family. This includes my husband and two kids, Big H and Little H, as well as my extended family. It might include family trips, regular dates with my husband, regular dates with my kids, classes for my kids, family parties, etc.

Health & Wellness. This is separate from "Me" because quite frankly, the stuff in this category won't be quite as fun. I want to keep the "Me" category fun. This will include diet, exercise, relaxation, etc.

Work. Jeez, doesn't this one get enough of my attention already? It's just so invasive. But it pays for everything else, so I want to get as much done in as little time as possible while I'm there.

Friends. No clue what I'll put in here. I don't need to be reminded to check Facebook. I need to be reminded to stop checking Facebook.

Finances. This is so very important to me. I'm basically following Dave Ramsay's advice from The Total Money Makeover. Create emergency savings, eliminate debt, save for retirement, and so on.

Home. This is the area where I'm the, well, how do I say it? The World's Biggest Slacker. I've never done ANY decorating in the home in which we've lived for five years, my laundry pile is enormous and probably housing unique species of spiders, I vacuum twice a year tops, clutter is reproducing while I sleep, we haven't parked in the garage for three years and I just can't take it anymore. I want a clean, decluttered, lovely, peaceful home!

Future. I get lots of great ideas for goals all the time. At least in my opinion they're great; however, my husband often tells me that perhaps some of them are a little crazy. I say his aren't crazy enough.

Tune in for my progress! (I realize I have no readers; however, someday I might and I want them to feel like I was thinking about them all along before I even met them.)