Sunday, April 12, 2015

Simply Spring #5: Calm, Creative, Cheerful Courage

Dear friends,

Here we are at week #5 of Simply Spring, with more pretty and practical ideas that I've been trying at my house.

I just created the new chalkboard art tonight and set it up on the hutch on my desk as inspiration. I originally drew a heart at the bottom, but then erased it. The words speak for themselves and I didn't want anything to distract from them. What gave me the idea is hearing about an old friend who faced challenge and extreme loss with calm, creative, cheerful courage. I want to let that spur me on. If I need courage (and I do, daily), at least it can be the vibrant and life giving sort, rather than a morose "just getting by" kind of survival.

I keep thinking of what I can do to make our home more comfortable and orderly. Trust me, this is a constant challenge with my crazy family. Just staying on top of the basics is enough to make my head spin. I know I already mentioned this in a previous post, but one very doable idea is to go on a tidy up binge, counting out a certain number of items to pick up and put away in rapid succession. I usually shoot for 50, often right before I go to bed. It's fun, gives me a feeling of accomplishment, and gets the job done. Well, maybe not all done (will it ever be with six kids still living here?), but it helps.

I also ask myself frequently what little projects I can do to make a difference. Yesterday I noticed that our storage room door's window blinds were really grimy. I had a son who owed me a favor, and he happened to be standing there just then, so I set him to work and paid him a $1 bonus. Then I noticed that my bedroom window blinds were quite dusty and wondered if that was contributing to my nasal stuffiness at night. (It's sort of hard to breathe with a CPAP machine when my nose is clogged!) I started to wipe the blinds with an old wash cloth but realized that would take forever. I don't know why I've never done this before, but I decided to get out my vacuum cleaner and use the brush attachment. Worked like a charm! Then I used anti-bacterial cleaning wipes to remove some mildew from the window frame behind them. Whether or not this helps with my breathing, it already looks a lot better.

After that, since I was on a roll cleaning in the bedroom, I took out some bins of stuff that didn't belong in there, and then sorted through two boxes of old papers, most of which ended up in the trash. Looking through them, I realized how much effort I had put into planning lessons when I was teaching in a home school co-op and a private school. It was a labor of love, but it also happens to be on my computer, so I didn't feel like I needed to keep binders full of the stuff. Out with the old, in with the new!

Paper versus computer? For me, the computer wins nearly every time. If I have paper, I will probably lose it. I am a piler, not so much a filer. I don't particularly like handwriting anything except for short lists and journal entries. I would much rather type the information and have it all there for me to search digitally when I need it again.

So here is how that works out in practical ways.

A few months ago I discovered that my iPod Calendar app was linked to the Google calendar that shows up on the screen in my Gmail account. I can expand it to full screen to see a week at a glance on my laptop. This was good news for me. I needed a painless way to communicate what family events and appointments are coming up, especially the kids have a lot going on and their dad often drives them around. I don't particularly like constant phone calls and texts. So I sent him a link to my on-line calendar, which I update whenever I schedule anything. Automating basic communications like this makes my life a whole lot more pleasant. I also use Facebook message threads to plan holiday and birthday gatherings with my adult and teen children, especially the ones who don't live here anymore.

I am now also using the computer to automate our family finances. I had mentioned in a post earlier this year that I had been using a spreadsheet to keep track of expenses in my own personal bank account. However, our joint account was another matter, since I'm not the only one who uses it. He was handwriting lists of my transactions (found in our bank account on-line) for me to categorize. I hated that. Like I said, I lose papers and was always balking at this task. I decided I really needed to start harnessing the power of technology in this area, and find a personal finance program. I went on and got us set up there. It's free and secure, so why not? It imports the transactions from our bank account and even automatically categorizes based on the payee. Of course, you can change these categories. For example, it would label McDonald's as fast food and Starbucks as coffee shop, but I've told it to assign both to the restaurant category. You can also set monthly budget amounts for each category, and it shows a graph of how you are doing at the moment. The key is that this is all on-line. This is an absolute must because we never ever use each other's computers, yet we each need to be able to access and enter information. The unfortunate thing about Mint is that you can't print reports, and downloading the data to a spreadsheet was cumbersome. I had wanted to use the Mint app, too, so I could do stuff from my iPod, but I can't upgrade to iOS 7. I would have bought Quicken (by Intuit, same publisher as Mint) since that has reports, but it doesn't let you do your work on-line. Oh well. Mint is certainly better than what we were doing, and he's happy that I took the initiative to get the job done with less stress for either of us.

This is all a big deal to me.

I simply have to learn to be more functional with schedules and budgets and other paperwork. I have to do more for myself and not just expect someone else to keep me in line. This Mom Grows Up, the name of this blog, is something of a mantra for me.

It takes a bit of ingenuity and just plain diligence. I've often said, "I'm a poet, not a bureaucrat," but my fluid soul still has to take care of the linear details. I'm just so thankful to have the boost from technology.

May all of this help me to be calm, creative, cheerful and courageous. May all of this help this mom grow up.

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

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