Category Archives: Domestic Engineering

Building a Better Easter

In true Uncool Mom fashion, of me always trying to re-engineer things and make them better, this year I once again set my sights on Easter.  I’ve always thought that Easter, the foundational holiday of Christianity, should be a much bigger deal than it is, and have always wondered why Christians don’t make as much fuss over it as Christmas.  I mean, at least in my family, people don’t bend over backwards at Easter to try to be together by plane, train or automobile. Each individual family usually just “does their own thing” and that “thing” usually means new spring dresses for the females; Easter baskets hidden for the kids on Easter morning, filled with a few presents and candy; going to church; participating in an egg hunt or two (egg hunts that often are a week before Easter); and maybe “going out to eat”…as kids grow older, the “Easter Bunny” and Easter baskets go away and the excitement over egg hunts diminishes as well, so eventually we’re down to going to church and going out to eat.  Ho-hum. Some would say great, that keeps the focus where it needs to be— church, but I say that Easter is a celebration that should go on all day, not just for an hour at a morning church service…

 

This isn’t the first year I’ve pondered this…when we were just starting our family, I tried thinking of Easter traditions we might start, to commemorate new life.  Why not take the kids to a farm every Easter afternoon? So when Allison was around 2 or 3, we did just that.  The City of Dallas’ Samuell Farm had animals, even Easter hayrides—it was perfect. But then we had a second child and got busier, and by the time we decided to visit the farm again, it had closed. 

 

A couple times, I decided we would host a big Easter dinner at our house, with an egg hunt in the backyard. (One of our wedding gifts was a giant funky salad bowl held up by four silver rabbits doing handstands, so I figured, I was destined to host a meal on Easter …J)  To these dinners, which would have rivaled anything found in Martha Stewart Living J, we invited a bunch from Andy’s side of the family, including all his stepbrothers and their wives…but in subsequent years, people were on vacation, and/or busy with their own new families, or they’d moved away, so that tradition never quite “took hold”…

 

This year, the wheels in my brain got turning again, and Andy and I decided that after the morning church service, we’d take a long family bike ride, i.e. about 17 miles, ending in a park near where several of his family members live, and invite them to join us for a big picnic.  While plans changed a bit (we cut our route down to 13 miles; Allison got sick and stayed home; the relatives opted out of the picnic and chose to host us for supper instead), the bike ride was great, and it was a real eye-opener.  For as Andy, Emmie, and I rode all around Dallas’ White Rock Lake, we got to see how many members of our area Hispanic population celebrate Easter—  in a big way, with lots of family and friends.  Along every mile of White Rock Lake Park, there are at least 20-25 picnic areas, and every single one was taken by a Hispanic family celebrating Easter.  (Think about it—that’s a lot of picnic tables and a lot of celebration.)  Most had brought their own BBQ grill or smoker and the air was fragrant with the smells of roasted meat… their children, no doubt brothers and sisters and cousins and friends, dressed in beautiful Sunday clothes, were hunting for eggs hidden in thick clover.  Music was everywhere–  cumbia tunes boomed out from portable stereos and some families, even small ones, had hired mariachi bands to entertain… at or near every table, people were laughing, talking, eating, smiling, flying kites, throwing Frisbees, playing soccer, dancing… …Anglos on bikes (like us) wearing Spandex (not like us—we were the dorks in jeans and denim shorts) quietly wove in and out of these celebrations… it was so fun to observe but at the same time, it almost made me cry, thinking about how our own celebrations pale in comparison…and that even if our own picnic had materialized, we wouldn’t have been able to find an empty table anywhere in that park…

 

So what’s a WASP family to do?  I vowed to keep working on it.  Meanwhile, as nine of us joined hands later than evening at my sister-in-law’s to pray before chowing down on Uncle Dan’s gourmet meal, I realized we are on the right track.

My Elusive Perfect Holiday Season

Gee… just when I was feeling proud of myself for getting the Halloween decorations put away by Nov. 15… the jingling, snowflake-filled ads on TV are reminding me that in less than two weeks, it’s time to get out the Christmas decorations…but first I have to clear the birthday cards off the fireplace mantle in order to make room for the patchwork sitting turkey and vintage pilgrim candles…and the next round of birthday cards.  See, in our house, the “holiday season” starts with Halloween and doesn’t stop until New Year’s Day, with all four of our birthdays thrown in there in between, in addition to Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Add in all the school programs, music recitals, class parties, and holiday parties for every other organization of which somebody’s a member, and it’s truly a nonstop celebration of fun!  You don’t believe me? Seriously, this can be fun—I mean, who wouldn’t love celebrating four birthdays and four holidays in only 8 weeks? C’mon, now,… don’t everyone raise their hands so fast…okay, it is often a major pain in the a##.  It can make for some major stress.  And of course, the domestic engineer in me is always trying to come up with creative ways to make it less stressful. I collect holiday “teacher gifts” throughout the year and start collecting frozen casseroles and pies in the freezer a couple months in advance, in case I need to take something to a holiday gathering; I shop online as much as possible and sometimes send my Christmas cards electronically.  I started a gift exchange for extended family, where we draw names, to cut down on Christmas shopping.  And, I only have to plan one child’s birthday party each year. (They take turns–child A gets a birthday party one year, and child E gets a party the next year, and so on. During the off year, the “no party” child gets taken out to a nice birthday dinner, and gets to invite one friend.  This has worked out quite well, by the way, for all involved!)



But in spite of all my ideas and “solutions”, things just seem to get worse.  Last year I found myself crying in my car in the overcrowded mall parking lot, completely overwhelmed a week before Christmas.  A time of year I had once adored had become a Bah-Humbug experience.  And unfortunately, Charlie Brown’s friends did not suddenly surround my car and start singing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”…no Clarence the Angel or Ghosts of Christmas Past magically appeared in the passenger’s seat to straighten things out, either…

T
he jingly ads this year tell me if I just use this turkey recipe or shop this sale I’ll have the perfect holiday.  But what exactly is the perfect holiday? I proposed, to my kids, that maybe it’s giving up all our gifts and giving the money to charity instead.  That did not go over too well.  How about getting out of town as soon as possible and spending time on a beach or ski slope? They didn’t like that, either.  After much thought, I’ve decided that, for me, a perfect holiday would be, being able to savor the traditions I most enjoy, whether it’s making Chex Party Mix, giving to others, playing games with family or sitting in church on Christmas Eve, and pushing all the stuff that I don’t enjoy out of the way as soon as possible, or eliminating it all together. 

Guess that means I’d better head to the mall—RIGHT NOW! ###  


 


 

Just Tell Me What To Do

Some days, don’t you want to be on auto-pilot? Like, not having to make a lot of decisions or worry about much other than following instructions and just “being”?

You know you’re a person with a lot on your plate when you’re grateful for the computerized directions at the gas pump.  Seriously– sometimes when I put gas in my car, I feel fleeting relief at having someone (or some”thing”) tell me what to do. “SWIPE CARD”– you got it, chief.  “SELECT GRADE”– no problem!  “LIFT LEVER”– anything you say, bucko!  I set the nozzle on the “hands-free” latch and lean against the car, taking a two-minute vacation and a deep breath (although not too deep so as not to OD on petroleum fumes…)  Managing self, job, a tween, a teen, family schedules, housework, numerous volunteer activities and numerous “other tasks as necessary” can make anyone’s head spin.  If only some days, someone else could take care of the “managing” part of the equation, for more than just two minutes.

I think that’s why some of us make lists.  It’s like handing over everything you have to get done to a piece of paper, and somehow the paper becomes the manager. It helps you kind of clear your mind of worrying about the big picture and concentrate only on a list of tasks.  Then, making checkmarks or crossing things off is like reporting back in–“See, I’ve done that! And that! And that, too!  Woo-hoo!  Paper, aren’t you proud of me? Do I get a raise?  Hello??”

I think our need for unburdening ourselves of so much decision-making is also why flylady.net, dinewithoutwhine.com and other daily task-oriented websites are so wildly popular.  (Flylady.net sends out constant email reminders, all day, of what stay-at-home people might want to be doing at any given time to help get things under control– one reminder is all about getting “dressed to the shoes” in the morning; another suggests which room in your house to clean on a particular day; another reminds you to “Get to Bed and don’t stay up too late”.  Some days she tells you it’s time to clean out your car; another day she tells you to clean out your purse.)

I think I’d like to have something similar to our family’s GPS, when we set it to the “Austin Powers” voice.  Although our GPS has sent me woefully astray, it sure is fun to get lost hearing Mike Myers (or a decent facsimile) in that crazy British accent sing out, “Groovy driving!” and “You’ve reached your destination– Yeahhh!”  I’d love to be able to plug my To-Do list into a device like that in the morning, and hear Austin guide me through my day.  I could hit a button and hear him say,  “Do a load of laundry.”  “Answer emails.”  “Update your calendar.” “Walk the dog.” And then when I finished and deleted each task, I would hear his voice say, “Groovy, baby!” or “Shagadelic!” How fun would that be?!  And you know, there are so many GPS voices available now that my electronic manager would have to have lots of voices as well.  Let’s see, some days I could listen to the inspiring voice of Richard Simmons (“Cmon, just one more task and you’re done with the list!  There, you’ve done it!! Now go reward yourself! You deserve it!!!); or a torchsong diva like Celine Deon (“You are…de greatest mother… in de vorld! Vel, other dan me!”) or even Martha Stewart (“Time to wash the dishes– and speaking of that, it’s a good thing to store dishwashing liquid in an antique glass bottle next to your sink.”).

If only someone would invent that!  For now, I’m glad that at least I have a husband who wakes me up every morning (and lets me know what day it is), a library who calls to remind me when my books (and tapes, and DVDs) are overdue, and kids who let me know (loudly) that their bathroom is out of toilet paper.  After all, I can’t remember everything!


The Big “But”

I’m throwing in the towel about…well, about throwing the towel.  And the clothes. And the shoes, magazines, old shopping bags, old Kleenexes, and everything else that my teen manages to throw on her floor.  See, I’ve decided, with the high school years dawning bright and early on Monday, that I’m giving up the battle of the teen bedroom. I’ve decided that my daughter is truly not a morning person and I’m tired of deducting allowance every time her bed isn’t made or her clothes aren’t picked up by noon.  Like I said in a previous post, she always has to pick up her room if friends are coming over, but the rest of the time, it’s her choice to keep it clean or not.  And get allowance or not.  And most of the time, she chooses “or not”.  

But
, my new frame of mind doesn’t mean she gets to ride off into the sunset to Slobland, unbridled.  Au contrare. I’ve just decided to “loosen the reins” a bit and put her on a different path, hoping she will “turn it around.”  I’m taking the advice of my sister-in-law, Amy (and no, she doesn’t own a horse!).

I’m going to tell Allison, “Guess what? You don’t have to worry about allowance and clothes shopping trips being tied to keeping your room clean.” She’s going to be so happy to hear that!  Then comes the great big “But”, the grand caveat, the wonderful “however”:
But, I’m taking a couple minutes each morning after you leave, to scoop up anything left on the floor and put it into the hamper.” Keep in mind, this isn’t just any hamper– she has one of those retro hampers built into the wall that goes directly to the laundry room, one floor below– kind of like Willy Wonka’s bad egg chute (ah, the similarities she has with Veruca Salt never cease to amaze me…).   
So it should be somewhat of a hassle when she has to walk downstairs to fish clothes out of the laundry room chute every morning or evening, and who wants clothes to be as wrinkled as they can get in there? Throw in stinky socks and a wet bath towel and it’s a delightful fabric soup…slowly simmering.  It just may lead to her keeping her clothes picked up every day. If it doesn’t, I will at least have the satisfaction of looking into her room and seeing a clean floor. (As for allowance, it will continue, it will just be dependent on the rest of the things on our “list”– like turn off lights, take your plate to the sink after mealsno eating at the computer, and no hitting your sister!)

As for an unmade bed,  Amy says I ought to strip it and also put the sheets, etc. down the hamper, so she’ll have to make it every night if she doesn’t change her ways.  But I know my kid, and I know she’d probably be happy to sleep on the bare mattress with a stadium blanket or a jacket for a cover rather than make up her bed at night (she once slept on top of her perfectly made-up bed for a week in order not to lose allowance).  I think I’m going to let go of harping about the bed, and again, she’ll heave a sigh of relief. “BUT,” I’ll say, “you know that new queen-sized bed and headboard you’ve been wanting, and all the new bedding?” She will no doubt nod a yes– she still sleeps on the firm, twin mattress she’s had since she was 5.  And then I’ll say, “It doesn’t make sense to invest in a new bed like that if you can’t keep a smaller one looking nice.”  We’ll see what happens. Either she’ll get a new habit and get a new bed, or she’ll keep the bed unmade every day and we’ll save hundreds of dollars. 

Meanwhile, usually all I have to do to get my 10-year-old to pick up her room and make the bed is to just ask.  Or say, “No breakfast until your room’s done.” My teenager would rather starve! ###

Just A Spoonful of Sugar…

Heard while walking out of the grocery store yesterday, spoken to me by my 10-year-old, Emmie: “You are so lucky, you get to do this all the time!”
She was talking about grocery shopping. 

It wasn’t that she’d never been to a supermarket before.  I have my share of kids-whining-at-grocery-store stories, or kids-reading-embarassing-magazine-covers-in-the-checkout-line stories, or kids-shopping-together-and-running-their-cart-into-people stories.  Yesterday was different, because for the first time, I let her take a copy of my shopping list and one of those small plastic “carry baskets” and head out into the grocery store, alone, while I pushed my cart around and got the rest of the list. (We’d planned to take along walkie talkies, but couldn’t find one of them, so I trusted her maturity instead. She also knows to scream “This is not my parent!” at the top of her lungs if someone were to try to grab her.)  I’d highlighted what I wanted her to find on the list.  She had a blast and felt very important, getting all the items and coming back to me for another “assignment”.  I asked her why she got the super-sized Ravioli instead of regular. “They were out,” she said, matter-of-factly.  “I asked someone who worked here for help.”   Wow. 

When she returned with frozen lunches for her dad to take to work, she proudly announced that she’d studied the boxes and made sure they didn’t have too much fat or salt.  I kept all of her selections, even though some were pretty skimpy for a guy’s lunch (I’ll eat them, or he’ll supplement).  I told her she did a great job.  She was so happy when she was done, she asked if she could always go to the store with me and help out like that. Absolutely, I told her.  It gave her a great “independence” experience, a great self-confidence booster– not to mention it cut my chore of grocery shopping in half!
 
Which brings me to her comment as we left the store.  Isn’t it funny how kids often marvel at what we take for granted, or find routine and boring?  I remember when I was a kid, saying to my parents, “You’re so lucky.  You get to drive a car, every day!”  I remember my cousins, when they were around age 10 or 11, standing next to my sister and watching her in the bathroom mirror, as she carefully applied mascara. “You’re soooo lucky,” they gushed.  “You get to wear makeup, every day!” If only, as adults, we could always feel such joy and excitement in doing everyday tasks.

While I haven’t mastered that kind of “zen”, I did come up with a way, not long ago, that helps routine tasks seem a little bit more important: Counting. Putting numbers to what I do.  It wasn’t that hard, one day I just kept a mental tally and then after a task was done, I’d write on the nearest scrap of paper I could find. Stuff like: number of emails dealt with; number of coupons clipped and filed; number of minutes it took to vacuum the dining room rug; number of dishes loaded and unloaded in the dishwasher.  It may sound nuts, but it was actually fun (didn’t Mary Poppins say something about making jobs a game?).  And it was eye-opening.  Who knew I drove over 40 miles a day driving my kids around town?!

I did another count today.  When my husband comes home from work and asks me what I’ve been doing, won’t it sound more impressive to say, “I washed and dried 38 pieces of laundry” rather than “I washed underwear and socks”? Or, “I unloaded 56 cups and plates, 34 pieces of silverware, and loaded in 45” rather than “I did the dishes.”  Or, “I composed and typed 636 words!” rather than “I posted to my blog…”

The Science of Rushing

Texas musician Sara Hickman once said in concert, after she became a parent, that sometimes she only had time to shave one leg while in the shower.  Boy, could I relate, as I’m sure many women in that audience could.  When your kids are little, you’re rushing through your showers because either a.) they’re sitting in their carseat in the bathroom and you don’t want to take too long or they’ll start wailing or b.) they’re too big for a carseat so you’re worried they’re killing themselves and/or wrecking the house while you’re trying to enjoy a Calgon moment. And when they get older, you’re rushing through that shower because there seems to be so much more going on in your schedule, even if, like us, you’ve cut back.

Especially in May.  May is “hell month” for most parents because all your kids’ activities come screeching to a climactic end all at once, in a flurry of band concerts, dance recitals, final exams, choir shows, sports picnics, Scout banquets, preschool graduations, kindergarten graduations, 6th grade graduations, 8th grade graduations, (wasn’t there a really important graduation at one time?) Oh yeah, high school graduations, college graduations, teacher appreciation luncheons, end-of-year field trips, honors breakfasts, art exhibits, awards assemblies, library book turn-in, textbook turn-in, “Parent’s Day” at the gym, Field Day, and “last-day-of-school” parties.  Oh, and if your last name ends in A, bring a dessert to the sports picnic.  And donuts to the honors breakfast.  And fried chicken to the Scout banquet.  And a salad for the teacher appreciation luncheon. And bottled water to the Last Day of School party.  And while you’re at it, could you round up some beads, string, glue, construction paper, and brown grocery sacks for Field Day?

I’m out of breath. We still have school until June 4th.  And I hardly have time to shave one leg, let alone two.

As a result of the busy-ness that is often my life, I find myself thinking about the original book, 
Cheaper By The Dozen. Ever read that? It’s the humorous true story of husband-and- wife “efficiency experts” (I think they’re called Industrial Engineers today) and how they practiced their theories/methods at home with their large brood, whether it was how their 12 kids could brush their teeth faster or the most efficient way to dry off after a bath– no wasted motions!  I wish the most recent cinematic “re-make” of that book had looked something like it, but I think the only thing it shared was the title and the size of the family.  Pity.  I think time/motion study is fascinating, and I’ve tried a few shortcuts of my own (in addition to the one-leg-shave).   See, here I go again– domestic engineering.  While I don’t Velcro my makeup to my car’s dashboard anymore (seriously, I did that when I was single and had a commute down a long street with about a billion stoplights…), I have been perfecting the art of the fast get-ready down to a science.  For anyone who needs help in these crazy times, I offer my latest “recipe”:

Supplies:
Rubber or terry flip flops
Terry “spa” bathrobe
“Aquis” towel (or a Sham Wow!)
Shampoo (or a 3-in-1 shampoo, body wash and conditioner, or use spray-on conditioner later)
A shower clock
The hottest, fastest hair dryer you can buy

1.Have flip flops and terry bathrobe waiting just outside the shower. 
2. Use your shampoo as a body wash (it’s okay to do this– check out
this link.)  Or, use one of those 3-in-1 products (they’re hard to find at a decent price, unless you’re willing to shop in the kids’ section and smell like bubble gum or blueberry kiwi sparkle…) The shower clock helps prevent me from losing track of time, of course, which is pretty easy to do in a shower!
3. When you’re done, step out of the shower and into your flip flops and bathrobe and use the towel to quickly soak up the water in your hair. Let the bathrobe (if it’s the right kind, it acts just like a towel) and flip flops absorb the rest of the drips while you do other things, like lay out your clothes.  Once your body’s dry, finish drying your hair with your supercharged hairdryer (and make sure your hairbrush has those “airflow” holes in it). (Just upgrading my hairdryer cut at least 10 minutes off my drying time– my hair is so thick that a hairdresser once told me, “My wrists can’t take all this drying time anymore so I’m having an assistant come do this!”

As for makeup…you can get your eyelashes dyed so you skip the mascara step, but it doesn’t last very long. Better yet, you can now get “dermagraphics” (basically tattooed makeup) for eyebrow color, eyeliner, eyelashes, lip lines, and full lip color.  Here’s what
americanhealthandbeauty.com has to say about it, an online magazine and cosmetic surgery listing service: “Because of the nature of the permanent cosmetics procedure, some patients may experience some discomfort according to their pain tolerance.”  To me, roughly translated, that means “If you thought childbirth was painful, that pales in comparison.” I think I’ll just try to get outside and get a little sun.  Probably a lot more healthy, cheaper– and faster!