Sunday, January 29, 2012

Swim, little fish, swim!

It started with one.  The proceeded to two.  Three made it interesting.  Four jumped right in.

Swim lessons.  I fondly look back to when we were just enrolling Caroline for the parent/child class.  Stephanie was the one to go with her then.  Then came the time to go with Lydia as well.  Thankfully, I was able to have the days off during the summer, so we went to Sahm Park for the first thing in the morning lessons.  Don't get me wrong, 9-10 am on a summer day is a great time, just not quite the warmest part of the day.  But it was fun.  We got to divide and conquer, one of us going with Caroline and the other with Lydia.  They would have their classes and then at the end would be some free swim time for them to practice what they had learned or have a first dibs on the water slides.  Parents included.  I'll admit, I nudged for the water slide.  Lydia amazed me by going down the slide made for kids.  Like 5 year old kids.  She wasn't even 2 yet.  That's my girl!

Last year Ian was able to start swim lessons at the YMCA.  Stephanie would take him during the day while the two older girls were at school and Eliza would go to the child watch area.  I expected this time to be just one that I heard stories about, but one time Stephanie was unable to take him, so I took some time from work to join him in the pool.  He is no where near the fish that Lydia is, to say the least.  Being a parent/child swim lesson, I got into the pool with him for the lesson.  To say that he clung to me like his little life depended on it would be an understatement.  I don't think I was able to pry him off until we got to the locker room.  And to hear him talk afterwards (I am speaking of the next lesson time), he had the best time with me.  Stephanie made it sound like he was bragging about the time that he had with me.  I'll take a compliment.

Now we are at four kids.  We have scheduled evening swim lessons this time around.  Luckily, we were able to double up, and Ian and Lydia have their lessons at the same time, and then Caroline and Eliza have theirs concurrently.  It is a lot of fun to sit on the side, wrangle Eliza, and watch Ian jump and splash in the water along side his class mates.  He has gone leaps and bounds (into the water) from his last lessons where he just clung to me.

No fear Lydia has not disappointed as well.  She is just gung-ho in the water, following the instructor's lead and doing her own thing.  I have no fear that she will be fine in the water, she just needs to work on her arm stroke some more.

I have not really seen Caroline during her lesson, as she is in the lap pool in another area.  From the reports that I have received, she is doing splendid.  For someone who has been hesitant in the past, she is jumping right in, ducking her head underwater, and even though she gets a mouthful of water often enough, she bobs back up with a smile on her face, ready to keep going.

I did not know what to expect from Eliza.  Being my little cuddle bug and the littlest one, I thought that she may go the route of her brother and just cling to me.  Through much twisting of my arm and convincing, Stephanie managed to get me to get in the pool with Eliza (ok, so I jumped at the chance, she's got me around that little finger).  Our first lesson was what I expected.  Lot's of clinging to Dad, not sure what is going on, ready to be done as soon as possible.  The next week I prepared myself for more of the same.  Little did I know that my little bucket of spunk was holding back.  She attacked the water, kicking her feet, stretching her arms, and laughing up a spell.  She does great at blowing bubbles, floating on her back, and splashing her Dad as much as possible.  At first, I thought that she did not like to jump into the pool into my waiting arms, until I realized that it is too cold out of the pool and she just wants to be in the water.

I have always been comfortable in the water for as long as I can remember.  My parents sent me to swim lessons every summer, and I loved it.  I can't express how happy I am to see all four of my kids doing so well at this activity.  It makes me look forward to all of the fun times we will have at swimming pools and beaches wherever we travel.  Can't wait kids!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

How much is too much?

We're committed.
Solidly in the thick of it.
We've been feeling it for awhile now and have turned the corner to take the decision seriously and put the action behind our desire.

It's time to downsize.

When you say that at 60, no one bats an eye. Of course--as you look to retirement or the "empty nest years", or whatever you have planned for the next 1/3 of your life, a normal transition is to downsize.

When you say that at 30, most people look at you like you've grown a third eyeball. Especially when you talk minimalism while raising 4 young children. However, our perspective is that this is precisely the time for us to do it, before we get too caught up in accumulation and live life while it is ours to live.

American culture tells us that now are the prime years to gather wealth, accumulate the treasures that will fill our lives and our homes for decades to come and to set our sights on bigger and better. While we wholeheartedly agree with this statement, our definitions of wealth, treasures and bigger and better are different from most of Americans. Our desire to gather wealth is to gather a wealth of experiences. The accumulation of treasures is in the moments shared with those that we love and making space for the quantity of time from which quality time can emerge. In setting our sights on bigger and better, we are looking for how we can make a bigger impact on our world and make the lives of those around us better than they were yesterday.

Now, this is all most definitely possible while also accumulating stuff, which we have also spent much of the past decade doing, but for us we have passed the balance point on the fulcrum. In taking a step back and re-evaluating the whys of what we do, we see that a lot of stuff has crept into our lives without a real purpose. We want the things around us to be useful, beautiful and purposeful. We desire to keep a proper perspective that our "stuff" is just "stuff". Too often we forget that we are just stewarding the resources we've been blessed with. If we hold onto something too tightly for fear of scarcity, it can begin to possess us, and poor stewardship ensues. Alternatively, as we hoard possessions to the point where we don't even know what we own, a similar lack of stewardship emerges.

For instance, how many sets of dishes do we really need? Without looking into my cabinets, I'm pretty sure that I have at least 4 different sets of full place settings for between 4-12 people. Really?!? That's a little ridiculous for me, considering I can't recall ever having a dinner party that required all of the sets to be used at once. It's time to let some of these go to someone who would put them to good use and steward them well.

What about the shelves upon shelves of books that I've read once? If I'm not going to read the book again, a better way for me to steward these resources is to sell or give the books to someone who will read them. Owning books does not make one a reader. Reading books makes one a reader.

When my father died suddenly at the age of 58, he left behind a handful of expansive barns and garages full of treasures that he collected over his years. For what? For someone (many someones!) else to sort through and determine what was worth keeping and what to find a new home for. After watching my mother and his brother labor through this process for the better part of 18 months, it confirmed for me that I want to keep a tight reign on accumulation. I'd rather my family have a quick job of sorting through few things after I'm gone and less time laboring over how to re-home possessions and wondering if it was something that I valued.

As I mentioned, my father died at 58, his mother died at 58, and her father before her also died at 58. If I was a superstitious woman, I'd say I'm likely already over-the-hill! Fortunately, I have grand plans of living a vibrant life well into my 60s while I'm still young, then being the fun and quirky old lady in the neighborhood when I'm in my 70s, pretending to be senile as I move through my 80s and then when I'm in my 90s and actually do start to lose my mind no one will ever know the difference. However, with part of my family tree ending abruptly only 2/3 of the way through life, I do look at life and how to live it a bit differently. With retirement not guaranteed, I refuse to put off plans for "someday" that can be made today. I want to live life while it is still mine to live and not come to the end of it wishing that I had spent less time striving to accumulate and financing "bigger and better" and more time actually living.

So, as we continue to simplify our lives to make room for life, we recognize that in a society that marks success with "bigger and better", our value of "less is more" is almost absurdly counter-cultural. However, I don't think we'll really miss the 3 extra sets of flatware or dozen extra sets of bed linens that do not add real value to our lives in the same way that the freedom of not being possessed by our possessions will.

***Disclaimer: Our definition of "enough" may be very different from our readers, and that's totally okay! It may even change over time, as ours has. Whether your family lives in a home with 2,000-square-feet per person or 50-square-feet per person, we all have to find that balance for ourselves and it's different for each person.***

--Update: Shortly after reading this, a friend sent this link for a 5 minute video at TED on this topic.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

My Son, My Super-Hero

I know that we've made mention on our blog before, and most friends and family are aware, that our 3-year-old son Ian receives weekly speech therapy services. When he still was not talking--really at all--after his second birthday, around this time last year when he began talking in one and 2-word phrases that were painfully unclear and frustrating to all of us, we knew that we needed to find help for him somewhere.

After months of referrals and evaluations and testing (and the usual amount of government red tape, of course), he finally began speech therapy through Indiana First Steps last May. Miss Carol, who was his therapist, came to our house each week with a big bag of toys, games and various tools to help get Ian talking and later articulate his words. In one hour each week, she did the impossible of engaging Ian in conversation and forcing him to repeat after her for almost the entire hour. And he loved every minute! He would wait at his window with baited breath (and sometimes binoculars!) to see what Miss Carol was bringing each week.

By his third birthday in November, he had progressed so far that we were on pins and needles to find out if he qualified for continued therapy in the neighborhood Early Learning Center after he aged out of First Steps, which ends on a child's third birthday. We were thrilled to discover, just days before his birthday, that Ian would continue speech therapy. We now go weekly to the Early Learning Center just outside of our neighborhood for him to work for 30 minutes with Ms. Murphy, his new Speech-Language Pathologist and a little gal who is also 3 and struggles with the same articulation issues as Ian.

As someone who has never undergone any form of therapy (speech, occupational, physical, etc.) in my life, the concept of doing what is hardest for you, for 30 minutes or an hour at one time is so outside of what I can grasp. While I am an introvert, by nature, I have always enjoyed and excelled at public speaking, theater, am a former teacher and love to sit down and engage in conversation one-on-one. So, to think that these things that are so second-nature to me are to my son like how it is for me to learn the intricacies of a mechanical engine or how a chemical reaction occurs (insert most scientific principles here)--it's mind-blowing to me!

His work ethic is amazing to me. Yes, we do have moments where he flat-out tells me "No" when I ask him to repeat himself if a phrase is unclear, but frequently he tries and you can see the concentration on his face as he uses every ounce of energy in his being to communicate the thoughts that are stirring in his mind to me, or to Jason, or to any adult who takes the time to engage him in conversation. For a skill that is so basic and second-nature to most of us, and crucial to our day-to-day lives, to be the hardest thing to do has got to be frustrating. Now he can express his frustration to me. And I love that--because it shows the progress that he is making. I don't love that my son gets frustrated, but I appreciate that he is learning the skills to articulate his frustration--instead of shrieking and flailing and dropping to the floor in tears.
A year ago, it was a great day if Ian could say to me "Ma", in reference to me. Last week he gave me a kiss and for the first time, clearly and with 100% accurate articulation told me, "I love you, Mama."

While the road ahead is still long in giving our son the skills he needs to clearly and effectively communicate, I celebrate the leaps and tip-toe steps that have led us to the place where he his today. God has given him this challenge to overcome for something incredible. I cannot wait to see him to-and someday on-the other side, where he will use his voice for a great purpose.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

It's been a lousy week...

So, on the outside, life has been pretty quiet, publicly, around the Simpson Six homestead this past week. I can assure you, however, that as still and serene as it appears from the outside, inside we have been all a flurry with activity. Activities that I never in my life thought that I would be doing. Ever. Ever, ever!!

Last Wednesday morning, as I was brushing my daughter's hair I swore that I saw something move. Now, I'm not a morning person--by any means--so Jason assured me that I'm just paranoid and I figured that my eyes were simply not focused yet, as it was before 7am. So, off he and the girls go to school and I, still a bit skeeved by the thought that something was there, set off to vacuum the house and wash all of our bedding on hot. Surely clean sheets will make everything right in my world again...right?!?

Well, still not content with that, I decided to wash Ian's hair and then my hair with vinegar. It works to clean my windows, floors and bathrooms, so obviously it will give our hair a thorough cleaning. That should do it, right?!?

Well, I then bagged up all of the stuffies in the house and set them in the garage to await their turn in the laundry machines (the bedding was still running through their cycles). All was now right in my world, and I could breathe easier that my home was completely clean and whatever I saw this morning was gone--if it ever existed in the first place.

Meanwhile, Jason stopped over at the elementary school during his lunch break to take our daughters to the school nurse to get their heads checked, to report back to me that my paranoia was unfounded and everyone was just as clean and bug-free as always. Which is all well and good, except for the worst was discovered: head lice. My precious babies with flowing, golden hair had been chosen by some hitch-hiking parasites to be hosts to their own colonies of microscopic critters! When I got the call that they were coming home from school, my heart sank, and my life was put on hold until we eradicated these pests that were trying to take over our world.

Within the first 24 hours of Jason's phone call--which bore the silver lining of him telling me that I'm not paranoid, that there really was something moving on my sweet girl's head!--I washed, dried and put away 16 loads of laundry. I can't tell you how long it usually takes me to wash, dry and put away 16 loads of laundry--but I'd venture to say closer to 1 month than 1 day! Within 72 hours, that number was up to 27. Everything that cannot be washed and/or dried has been bagged up for 2 weeks or put on ice--literally! We have 2 freezers that we rarely use, so they are full of things like dress-up hats, sweaters and throw pillows. Ridiculous, but necessary to eliminate every last loose louse.

There's no food in this freezer for now!

Also, I have begun vacuuming every inch of my home no less than 3 times every day--including every stitch of upholstered furniture in our house. Bedding is still being washed daily--and will be for 2 weeks, and every head in our house has been checked, strand by strand, under a magnifying glass twice daily since last Wednesday.

And what about those sweet girls, with their golden tresses flowing down their backs?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

So quiet

I apologize for being so quiet around here. We have had some things going on that have kept us super busy. We will try to fill you in on what has been happening soon. Until then, enjoy this serene scene.

The back yard with the snow gently falling.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Random, fun morning

I woke up this morning, not of my own accord, but because Eliza was lonely as she roamed around her room.  I quickly put her back into her bed, hoping that she would go back down (we use a room darkening shade and it was still pre-dawn).  It worked for a little while, but before long I heard the full cadre playing in their room.

I decided that this was my cue to get up.  Stephanie was still sleeping, soundly I might add.  I snuck out to the kitchen to get the oven going with thoughts of hot cinnamon rolls wafting through my head.  I managed to get the oven going and pan out before a set of little footsteps could be heard coming towards me.  Thinking that if I ducked down with the lights off they would retreat back to their room, I waited with baited breath.  Ian or Caroline would head back, but lo and behold it was Lydia who came out to play by herself.  Cute little girl.

Count to 8 and the rest of the troupe was out with us.  We then proceeded to play quietly until the food was ready.  Well, as quietly as possible for a ravenous pack of wolves.  Miraculously enough, Stephanie was able to sleep up to the point of me serving the food.  I decided that she didn't need to get up and served her breakfast in bed.  She really wasn't awake yet, but she did light up quickly at the sight of hot ooey gooey goodness and a cold glass of milk in front of her.

After breakfast was over, the kids went back to playing.  I cleaned up, made my coffee and sat down to respond to some emails.  Stephanie soon showed up, smiling from a nice relaxing and peaceful morning in her sanctuary (bedroom).  She greeted the kids and then returned to the sanctuary for a hot shower.  It was during this time that I decided some music was in order.  Stephanie gets done with her shower to find the rest of us having a wild dance party to a very eclectic mix (example: Sara Groves followed by Kid Rock).

Honestly, you can't go wrong with a morning like that.  Have a fun day!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Selling things is funny

We have reached that point. 

The point of getting new things, and in the process of finding a home for those new things, finding old things that we no longer use or use that much.  We get into the mindset of finding new homes for these things, and in the process search and find more items to purge.  Thus begets this years post holiday selloff.  Some items we freecycle or donate to Goodwill.  Most we try to sell, either through Ebay or Craigslist.  Since we are nestled inside of a subdivision, I have found it easier to meet people in a parking lot nearby to deliver the items than to try and guide them through the winding streets.  

One thing that these experiences have taught me: People are funny.

Some are funny in what they will actually take (and even pay money for!), others are funny in their dealings, while others are funny in what they think a reasonable offer is (barter, don't insult, people).  

And then there is me (Jason).  There are times that I get a kick out of bucking social conventions just to get a reaction out of people.  Recently, I was presented with an opportunity to do this and make some money at the same time.  Double bonus!

I had a person interested in purchasing a desktop computer that we no longer needed, and I quickly had to come up with a meeting spot, since turning on the computer was necessary for the sale and there are no plugs in the middle of the Kohl's parking lot.  I settled on meeting at a local Panera Bread, knowing that there would be available outlets.  Being the early bird that I am, I arrived before my customer, so I proceeded to set up the desktop for display.

My viewpoint.
I apologize that I do not have any other photos of peoples reactions, but believe me, they were priceless.  Yes, I was that guy who shows up to the coffee shop with his complete desktop, sets it up, and then proceeds to get a cup of coffee and sits down at it.  I never turned it on while I was by myself, but I was set up in a corner close to the front door, so the rest of the customers could not see that it was off.  I pretended to work on it for a bit, just clicking around and occasionally typing, but keeping an eye on the door.  The reactions of others as they walked in and caught a glimpse of some guy with a desktop were hilarious.  I saw my share of elbow jabs and whispers to the side while glancing in my direction.  

The fun part was that my contact was delayed, so I had the opportunity to look at a message on my phone, get slightly irritated (an act), and hurriedly pack the whole thing up and rush out.

Sign me up for the next Improv Everywhere tryouts.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Playing around with Pinterest

It's no secret that I love to try new, crafty ideas out and that Jason requires lots of projects when the weather drives us indoors, so yesterday we put our heads together and made this nifty little necklace holder together:
Necklaces no longer live spread across our dresser!
I got the idea from Pinterest where I had pinned this image a couple of months ago but hadn't figured out quite how i would implement the idea:

Original idea from Pinterest
As far as projects go, this was SUPER simple! The only materials needed were:
  • A piece of scrap wood (mine is just under 1 foot in length, because that's what worked in my space
  • Drawer pulls or knobs (we happened to have extras from when we purchased our bedroom furniture...7.5 years ago--yes, we have packrat tendancies...)
  • Screws to attach the knobs or pulls to the board
  • Paint, if you choose to paint the board
  • Power drill to make the holes for your screws
  • Picture hanger brackets to mount it to the wall
First, I painted my piece of wood and allowed it to dry. Since it's a rough-hewn piece of wood, I decided on just one coat to let the natural wood grain show through.
After the wood was dry, we measured and marked the places where we would drill the pilor holes for the screws. After double-checking that the knobs will be where i wanted them, Jason drilled the pilot holes just slightly smaller than the screws we would use.
Next, he went back and screwed the screws into the board with the power drill, so that the screws were flush with the board on the back and sticking out about 1/4-inch on the front. I attached the knobs to the board, then we gently attached the picture-hanger brackets to the back and hung it on the wall.
30-minute project, not including drying time for the paint! So simple, but makes such a visual difference in the organization of our bedroom!
The best part is that we had all of the supplies on hand, just sitting around and waiting for a purpose--a virtually free project too! I love finding new uses for old things!