Thursday, July 25, 2013

App Review: Duolingo

This is actually more than an app review.  I hadn't planned to write a review, but it's something I recently started using more and more.

I speak a few languages, but like anything - if you don't use it, you lose it.  The refinement on my skills has been whittled away and I'd like to correct that.  I stumbled upon Duolingo and decided to give it a try - after all it's free, right?

Turns out they have a pretty great product!  While the initial stages are pretty easy if you're fluent in the language, the methodology of immediately working your vocabulary, sentence structure and conjugation skills simultaneously is brilliant.  No rote memorization but real utilization of the language.

I decided to try a language I was less fluent in and it's actually helping me learn the language better.  My next trial will be a language with which I have zero familiarity so I can see what it's like as a teaching / learning tool for a novice.

I recommend you give it a try and faster than you imagined, you'll have another language to use, abuse, and expand your life!

Oh - and I know it says app up there... Guess what, there is a companion app available to take with you so if you can't log in daily to work your brain at the computer, you can sign into your account on the go and continue your success.

I am not entirely certain why it's free (I'll admit, I didn't delve too deeply into this) but it's totally worth it!  And don't think it's only for the native english speaker - it's not!  What a great resource for someone of any nationality to learn a new language.

Bonne Chance!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Kitchen Dreams

So now we get to pick out the layout for our new house.  I've been pouring over hundreds of floor plans.  None of them are perfect as is, but some are very close.  One thing none of them seem to have is the perfect kitchen layout. 

To that end, I need to keep in mind the kind of kitchens I love as I go through this process.  Here are some examples:










Why don't they just design them this way for me?  Oh well, I'm not too shy to ask for what I want!

America the Entitled: It's hard to raise kids here

You've heard the phrase, "First world problems", right?  As I look at the youth of today (mostly represented in my step-children, children of friends, and those in my sphere of social interaction), I find that most of the problems in this country can be traced back to a sense of entitlement.  I know, I know - hippie idealism speaking here - but seriously, what happened to teaching hard work, you get what you earn in life, and your happiness does not outweigh the rights of everyone around you?

Stay with me for a second:

Initially this country was built on the premise that every human being was entitled to be alive, free, and able to pursue happiness.  Not to much to ask, right?  There was a general understanding in the social structure that you would not abuse your rights so as to inflict yourself on another person's rights along the way.  Whenever a group or institution would veer away from the basic three, a roar would go up from the people defending the victim.  From race to gender to sexual preference, America is known to befriend the little guy.

However this sentiment can actually go too far.  In an effort to "pursue happiness", no one wants to work anymore.  No one wants to earn their place in the world, it should just be theirs because they were born.  Like the old construct of royal society, I am worthy because I am.

Parents fight for their kids to get the same grades, the same trophy, equal placement in every area - regardless of whether their child has earned it. (And, yes - there are situations where a child does need intervention because they have a disability or are truly being treated unfairly, but that's not the common situation I'm discussing here.) Losing has become the flag for "unfair treatment".   There is little respect for the process for attainment - it's all about the getting.  (One of my stepchildren, when we were shopping, asked for something that I denied (I couldn't afford it and we didn't need it.)  Her response, "I'll just ask my mom.  She never says no to anything I want."  What can you say to that?)

In turn, children respect authority less and less - after all, that doesn't have to be earned either, right?  Look at our leadership, if you can buy it - you can have it.  (Not that I'm saying all politicians buy their way into office, but the finances sadly play almost as a large a part as the issues and political standpoints they represent.)  And the authority in place is given less and less ability to actually guide and correct.  Even teachers are handcuffed from being able to truly teach, test and promote those who are making the effort to learn.  At the rate we're going, they will be overpaid babysitters.  Which is unfortunate, since most people don't make the choice to teach unless they truly love children and want to make their world better.

I cringe to hear kids talking back to adults with disdain or sarcasm as well.  When did that become acceptable?  The constant arguing over any expectation that they pull their weight makes me sad.  It smacks of a lack of discipline and structure in their lives.  (And let's be clear, I'm not talking about physical discipline - but ANY discipline.  If you child has no fear of consequences, they have no boundaries to learn right versus wrong or social tenets.  I feel that's one of the major jobs of a parent.  It's not fun, but you're raising a human being that will one day be a part of the society at large - you have a responsibility.)

Television is difficult to watch for me, because American programming smacks of entitlement.  We complain about things that are so superfluous at times it's nauseating.  One visit to a truly poor nation would cure many people of their complaint about our country. 

The last few months, I have struggled to find a new job.  I'm content to stay where I am for now because we can't afford the lifestyle we live without my income.  Not that we couldn't downsize, curb spending, and adjust to live on less - we could, we just don't want to...and in turn, I'm willing to put in the work and suffering on my end to have what I want.  I have no expectation that it will be given to me by anyone. 

As we go along, I endeavor to impress these ideals on the younger generations I come into contact with by reminding them that their rights should never intrude on the rights of others.  If only I could impress those ideals on the power segment of this country as well.  I fear that if we don't change the wave of entitlement we're riding, we're all going to drown in it.

It's challenging to be a parent in a society where everything seems like it's a credit card swipe away and your child is owed every possible advantage.  How do you teach basic values, morals, and social expectations?

There is a fine line between setting a child up for success and trying to pave their every footstep for them.  There is value in losing, being second or even last, and learning to earn your way forward.  There is value in fear - not of scary monsters in the closet - but in the concept of failure.  Teaching our next generation how to fail without anxiety but with initiative and an eye towards progress should be a goal.  Lastly, community service is a valuable tool to keep us grounded in the reality that we don't live alone.  We may have first world problems, but we are surrounded by those suffering in much worse conditions.   The ability to see our lives in that perspective is something I wish I could bottle.  I especially want our children to learn this ability, so our future can be a little less entitled for a few as we all pursue some happiness.

So, my questions to the parents out there (step parents as well!):  Am I nuts or is anyone else seeing this problem?  And I'll be honest and say, this isn't something new - it's several generations strong at this point.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Marriage Files #105: Learn how to fight

We went to premarial counseling.  It's something I appreciate more and more every day.  Some of the things we discussed and agreed upon there have morphed already, but the fundamental understandings prevent a lot of serious situations.
All that being said - we still fight.  At first, it scared me to death when we would fight.  I thought each one was the precursor to us breaking up.  The advantage to marrying a marital veteran is that he knew better.  His calm reassurance that fighting was normal helped me calm down and gain some perspective.  Since then, I've done a little research (hey, it's my thing!) and found some interesting facts:
  1. You will fight more early in your marriage, but less as time goes on:  Rationale: Fighting is learning to communicate and work through situations.  It's forced discussion and gives you the chance to learn how to talk to your spouse for positive effect.  You learn how to avoid future fights and eventually how to make decisions together.
  2. Fighting is healthy:  Rationale: If you never fight, that's not a great sign.  One or both is not being totally honest in the relationship.  No two human beings can coexist in the same space for a long period of time without conflict.  It's natural when you have constant invasion in personal space and routine to have breaking points.  Whether it's out of annoyance, miscommunication or lack of expectation management - it happens.  Not talking about things when they happen is not healthy.  Emotions don't just blow over in most cases.  People stew about little things that, if talked about, could be misunderstandings or small issues.  Small issues that left unchecked become huge grudges and walls to be leapt over.  Also, people change (spoiler alert!) and as that happens, there may be behaviors and choices your spouse doesn't like - those need to be discussed.  Since some changes happen without realization, they may come out in an argument and both parties get to work together adapting.
  3. Having the fight isn't the problem, HOW you fight can be.  Rationale:  Fights are about resolving a conflict and increasing communication.  In a relationship, the fights are never personal.  Process, personal feelings on the effect of a behavior, or a specific issue are the roots of most fights.  From money to kids to family to sex, none of those should dissolve into personal fights.  If the fights involve attacking the personality, physicality, mental or emotional makeup of the other person - that's a huge problem.  Name calling, belittling, dismissing, or negating take the fight from a conversation to an attack.  Sometimes that happens without intent.  People get upset and emotional and blurt out something to change the conversation, but in a relationship - caution, tact, and self-editing before you speak is crucial.  Obviously physical confrontations have no place in a relationship, but sometimes verbal attacks can do more damage than a fist. 
    Some clues if your fighting wrong include: 
    • Someone gets quiet and stops fighting.  This is usually a sign that they are hurt, thinking about something you said that was unexpected, or so angry they are afraid to retaliate lest they escalate the situation.  This is a good moment to recount your last words and clarify or apologize if necessary.  If you're the person who is withdrawing - STOP.  This is one of the noted methods of fighting that leads to divorce.  Passive-aggressive behavior and avoidance do not progress a relationship or solve issues.  Instead of shutting down (and I admit I'm guilty of this at times), make it clear you want to continue the discussion but you need to process what the other person has just said.  If something hurt you, admit that and leave it alone.  Everyone in this situation is going to be defensive - so waiting a day to sit down calmly and reattack the issue and not one another is key.
    • Tears are involved when the situation or issue doesn't warrant crying and the person is not prone to emotional tears.  If it's you in tears, now is the time to walk away - for a moment - from the conversation.  You won't be able to concentrate on the issue and it's hard to explain what upset you when you're crying.  Far better to get it out of your system them address as soon as possible.  If you caused the tears, don't go in for the kill.  Remember this is someone you care about - so taking a step back and toning down the conversation might be the best step.
    • Cursing and nasty barbs enter the conversation.  A button was pushed or a statement considered over the line has been thrown into the mix.  Sometimes sarcastic responses lead right into this area.  My hubby and I have ended up in arguments that started out joking, but quickly traveled into thinly veiled sarcastic quips about real things that were bothering us.  Then a real fight started and we had to take some steps back to really look at what we were upset about.  These are not productive arguments and the comments linger like poison in your mind, even after the making up is over.
So after reading up on the topic, some things I've learned are:
  1. Know when to walk away.  I can be tenacious when I am in a debate about something, especially if I think I'm right.  I have no intent to be dogged but I am often unaware of when the conversation has dwindled into my standing on my soap box.  I chalk it up to passionate enthusiasm, but it is something I'm working on because it makes talking with my husband difficult.  Knowing when to walk away is a gift some people have naturally.  They can see that the conversation needs some time to perculate while everyone thinks things through. 
  2. Be wrong.  Sometimes you know you're right but no matter what you say, the situation isn't going to go your way.  I find, in moments like these, I'm learning the art of being wrong.  I'm secure enough to know that letting my viewpoint go to the wayside may make certain things more difficult but will resolve themselves over time.  Alternately, sometimes - I'm not right.  In that moment in time, with that person, in that place - no matter what facts I think I have - my choice or viewpoint isn't right for us as a couple.  Learning the difference between what's right for just me and what's right for us takes some adjustment.  I wish I could say there's a cut and dried way of knowing when this is the right choice, but there isn't.  For me, some things are worth fighting over and letting it go is worth making my hubby happy.
  3. D.B.A.D. (Don't Be A Douche).  Don't gloat when you're right- "I told you so" never led anywhere good.  Don't go for the low blows or the past mistakes.  Never use family, personal quirks, or self-admitted deficiencies as a point in an argument.  When someone trusts you so intimately with their heart, your job is to protect it.  Even in the middle of a fight.  When that stops happening, it's time to start looking at some deeper issues.  Don't play the emotions card - bursting into tears to win an argument is beneath you. 
Ultimately - fight with respect and love.  Only engage when it's a worthwhile conversation and be ok with not winning.  The longer the relationship grows together, with it's skirmishes and battles, the easier they get and the less frequent.  In the end, you should get stronger and better when you fight together.

These are my opinions and frankly, I'm new at the marriage thing.  If you have some better advice, I'm all ears.  If this gives you food for thought, great!  Mostly, I hope it starts health conversations not only in your personal relationships but everywhere.  We could all do with arguing productively rather than for the goal of winning an argument.

Additional articles to the links above:
Marriage vows and levels of conflict
Ohio State: Dealing with Anger in Marriage (A more clinical, but excellent read)
The stages of marriage
10 tips to make your first year of marriage easier (These actually are good for the whole marriage!)

TTC: Going Mental

Something about this process is more mentally draining than tacking the toughest situation at work.  I'm not entirely sure if it's the trying NOT to worry, plan or research or absorbing all the information when you finally break down and do one or all three of those.

This round, as the last was not a success, will be IUI.   I'm trying not to be superhopeful and to divorce my emotions from the process as much as possible.  I don't know that it will make the disappointment and heartbreak less or the joy dimmed if there is a positive outcome, but it might keep me sane.

Occassionally I wander by the baby section of Target.  I call it research when in fact I know it's just longing and trying to psych myself into postive thinking.  I'm not sure it's healthy, but I'm not sure what else to do.  All around me friends are getting pregnant, giving birth, or going on about their recent new additions to the family.  I am thrilled for them, but with every happy post, email or picture - I wonder if I'm doomed.

I mean, I know it's illogical that there are only a certain number of allowable happy moments in a circle of friends, but it does seem to come in waves.  I wonder incessantly if I'll be alone on my island when my time comes.  My friends will all have kids and be basically uninterested in my news - life-changing for me, but old hat for them, right?   I'll be happy no matter what, but it's something I wonder about.

I also find myself reluctant to visit friends with newborns or young infants.  I'm so happy when I'm there holding them and being with my friends, but the drive home is often filled with tears and dread.

None of that can be good when you're on the TTC journey, right?

Thankfully, I have a cousin who is going through this process at the same time as I am.  Having her to talk to about the ridiculous stuff is great.  She understands the irony in losing all sense of modesty after the nth time plopping up on a table and allowing someone to shove a wand up *there* and check you out.  Sometimes 2 or 3 times a week.  When I mention the new shot caused a burning sensation, she knows exactly what I'm talking about.

We can chuckle over our husbands dislike of certain aspects of the treatment (see: needles) and mourn together when a cycle is unsuccessful. 

Remaning as positive and hopeful as possible, and avoiding worry are key, but difficult.  Having support, the occasional visit to the stroller aisle, and remembering to laugh are vital.  It will keep you sane.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

App Review: All You magazine recommends

I am working on a marriage files post, but I keep getting distracted with stuff like work, kids, husband, unpacking.. you know, minutiae... Just kidding.  I have been distracted by the July 26 copy of All You magazine.  This little $2.99 gem often has hidden goodies but the coupons and savings apps this month are pretty darned awesome!

Here are the ones that I've checked out and really think can be handy:  (I'm not including links because I don't know what kind of toy you have (I got all of these on Google Play though and put them on my Samsung Note II).
  • Grocery IQ:  You scan barcodes on the food you have at home (makes a shopping list!) and it tells you if there is a coupon available. No clipping - it's on your phone!
  • Grocery Pal:  Points you to weekly in-store savings in your area.  Put in your zip code and shop away!
  • Checkpoints:  So, I'm the last to hear about most things and once again - this is a known app - but I will say I'm skeptical when it comes to redeeming the points.  If it's as advertised, then scanning barcodes will net some pretty nice rewards - at no cost to you (or me!)
  • Shopkick: Apparently there is a rewards program with this, but for now the biggest benefit I see is similar to Fancy.  It saves the items you shop for online at variuos stores and when you go to that store, it reminds you of the items you like and wanted to remember.
  • Dining Deals:  Ok, I've installed this but haven't benefitted from it yet.  It shops different deals / coupons at nearby eateries, but I haven't been wowed by the choices.  I live in a fairly suburban area, however, so the food choices can be limited.  I'll check it out next time I am in the city - maybe that will be more of a success.
  • GoodRx:  Seriously - if you have any regular meds you take or have kids who get randomly ill at the drop of the hat, this is great.  We get in the habit of going to the same place and accepting whatever they tell us the price may be.  Sometimes your copay is the lowest price and *surprise* sometimes, it's not!  This app lets you know.
  • Redlaser:  You're in the mall.  You've found a cute pair of shoes that you think is for a great price.  This app lets you know if any other vendor in the area has the same item for less.  I'm cheap frugal enough that this app is my new bestie.

Apps I have yet to try:
  • Decide:  You go to make a major purchase (like a new fridge) and scan the barcode.  The app lets you know (based on markey analysis) if the price could change in the next few weeks with a certain percentage of certainty.  Potentially could save you hundreds if there is likely to be a sale/market change coming up in that industry.  When we start shopping for stuff for the new house, this may come in handy.
  • HotelTonight:  Every day at noon, this app posts discounts of up to 70% off hotels in 54 U.S. locations, Canada, Mexico and Europe.  Name the destination you want that night and find a place to stay for a bargain.  This is something I think could be useful for an impromptu "getaway" for the hubby and I, without going very far.
Not just an app:  Tile

Imagine no more lost keys, phone, purse, dog, anything - you attach a little tile and it gives out a gps signal you can track with your phone or computer.  You log in and know where all your tiles are.  On your phone, it can tell you when you're getting close to a tile if you're searching for something small or moving.  Like kids.

Check out: http://www.thetileapp.com/

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Kane Konversations: Hot Time in the Office

I have to admit, working around military guys, there have been a few I thought were pretty hot.  But that's it.  I thought it, I never acted on it, and I moved on.  Today on the Kane show they were following up on an article earlier in the year because the Supreme Court in Iowa upheld an employer's right to fire someone because "they were too attractive and might cause the boss to be unfaithful".  WHAT?!!

When did the idea of personal responsibility go away?  Who is to say the woman would have even been interested but after 10 years of employment, he decided he could no longer take the temptation and fired her?!  How is that acceptable?

I feel badly for the woman who lost her job and every other employee of that man.  He is a dentist and if he does not respect the value of personal responsibility - then who is to say should a medical incident occur he won't blame some poor hapless staff member?  Ethics, moral responsibility, and the basic rights of this woman to have employment WHEN SHE DID NOTHING WRONG say this case was bogus.

But the Supreme Court of Iowa says I'm wrong.

What has the world come to?

So, let me ask you what Kane asked.  Since apparently 1 out 5 people is attracted to someone in their office, if you worked with someone who was distractingly attractive - would you feel you have the right to not work with them because they tempted you?

Truth: Surround yourself with what you want to reflect

Human beings as a species are a community oriented group.  We survive in a supportive and symbiotic relationship with one another.   We thrive in a positive, disciplined and productive society.  We revel in proactive, flexible, and imaginative progress and pursuits.  It’s human nature.  Curious creatures with the ability to absorb, adapt and affect our environment.
That being said, we are very much reflections of what natural and nurturing inputs come into our lives.  When we’re children, we don’t control those inputs.  From our parents to virtual strangers, we are sponges taking in every sensory input we contact.  Even if it’s not stored in the forefront of our thinking, it is in our psyche and can make its way into various parts of our lives in later years.  (That being said, it sure makes me think about how I behave in public all the time.  I do not want to leave an impression that’s sketchy or negative on anyone’s child – even a stranger.  Wouldn’t it be fitting that the one time I do something stupid, some kid sees it and forever thinks, “That’s how women act.” or “That’s how minorities act.” or “That’s how tall people act.”  You never know what impression the random passerby is gathering from you.)
As we age, we use those previous experiences to form our own choices.  We begin to impact others and are not only receiving but inputting into the society at large.  The teenage years are the breeding grounds of those processes.  The college years seem to be the test and evaluation phase for our theories.  Throughout our adulthood, we continue to grow and adapt.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed some things about myself and other close friends.
First:  We tend to unintentionally segregate ourselves from the negative or overdramatic
Many of my friends, like me, are performers.  We know drama.  We are drama – on stage.  But in our lives, we are in pursuit of the simpler forms of happiness.  Constant barrages of complaints, gossip, or sarcasm can be draining emotionally.  There is value in the people who bring calm, acceptance, and joy.
Second:  We understand our value of faith better
Whatever you call yourself or whomever you praise, even if it’s no one – that understanding of your feelings on faith or a higher power seems to become clearer the older you get.  What, or in my case  - Who, you rely on when human understanding fails you is important.  Whether it’s strictly logic and nature or God above , it is an important filter for some of the hardest moments in life.  As you get older and the buffers of youth fade away, learning to deal with the curves and difficulties life hands you can be very challenging.
Third:  We are less quick to act on our feelings
When you’re younger, you feel you have the right and freedom to express your emotions at any time, any place or with any person.  As you age, however, you start to look at the world through the eyes of those around you.  Your focus becomes on the perception you are giving others.  That is based solely on the type of person you believe yourself to be.  If you think of yourself as a helper or healer, you want your actions and reactions to be viewed in that light.  Perhaps you are a problem-solver or initiative driven person, you will want your actions and reactions to reflect those intents.  In that vein, we tend to pause before reacting.  Women like to chat about it with someone close to them that they trust as a sounding board to make sure their reactions are truly justified.  Men like to walk away and really get in their own heads before making a decision.  Taking the time to act has its pros and cons, but it definitely gives you a chance to shape your reaction in the most positive way.
Lastly:  We have learned over time the three roles of life and when to fulfill them
  • The Receiver - Sometimes you are receiving from others – love, kindness, advice, time, etc.  You may be in the place where you cannot be the rock others rely on, you need to lean.  That’s natural and normal. 
  •  The Rock – For whatever reason, you have some strength in your life at this point.  You find yourself helping everyone around you and it doesn’t drain you.  It’s your time to be the solid person who holds others up when they need it. 
  • The Filter – You are neither the receiver nor the rock, but you do help clarify a situation.  Your job isn’t to necessarily support, but to provide perspective.  This is a fairly helpless position at times, but more necessary for the development of everyone than is given credit.   The blessing of the filter is that you hold onto none of the baggage, you just help streamline it in portions that can be managed.

Lately, I’ve found myself unintentionally avoiding certain people.  Not just in person, but in conversation, email, text, etc.  At first, I felt guilty because I think of myself as a helper for others and avoiding people isn’t generally helpful.  What I have come to realize is that there are times to allow others to go their own way, so they can grow and adapt.  Hopefully when they come back around, they will be in the position of bringing positive effects on the world around them.
I also have a deep appreciation for the “Rocks” and “Filters” in my life.  From my family to my friends, I have been truly blessed.  My little piece of advice for today is this:
If you feel yourself being worn out or drained by the people in your life, perhaps it’s time to change some of them.  Not get rid of them completely – because that’s a negative effect in itself, but through the way you deal with that person you may be able to positively affect their output.  Distance and kindness can do wonders, both for others and for yourself.

Monday, July 15, 2013

We have moved!!

Victory!  We have moved and no one died.  The old house is almost spotless (one more quick vacuuming upstairs needed) and the new house has beds in place, the kitchen a third unpacked, and room to kinda move around. 

Tonight we need to get the dining room back in shape so we can eat without gathering around a coffee table.  But, all in all - victory!

By the way - you ever want to test your marriage - move together.  We had a couple moments where we had to come back to one another (I will admit Sean was better about it than I) and say, "Hey, this isn't us and I love you.  I don't want to argue over stupid stuff because we're tired." 

I will say this - next time, we're hiring packers AND movers.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Kane Konversations: Making the right choice

On my way to work, I tend to listen to WTOP or Hot 99.5's Kane Show.  I like them for different reasons, but I appreciate the personalities on the Kane show for their authenticity.  Often they bring up articles or situations and ask what people think.  The answers are interesting and give you something to ponder.

Today, a topic recently addressed in our household came up and the answers were startling to me.

Situation:  You go to the vending machine and find that something in the change cup is broken, so people's change is getting caught.  If you jiggle it, the money falls down and you can go on your way.  If you don't know it's broken, you may think your change is lost in the machine.  So, let's say you know this:

Do you tell anyone?
Do you take the extra change in the cup?
Do you think an employer that catches an employee doing this has grounds to fire them for lack of moral judgement?  (See this article in Huffington Post for example)

Kane's argument was that it's bad karma to take what isn't yours and everyone teased him about it.  They said if it's only a little change, what's the big deal.  The callers seemed to agree.  The only caveat being, you might tell someone the machine was broken.  Might.

I was, frankly, appalled.

 Does no one look at things from the other side of the fence?  We've all been there.  We've been the person whose drink or snack doesn't come out of the machine - the next person gets to enjoy two on our dime.  Sometimes, it's your last dime or your only meal that day.  Perhaps it's one more negative event in your life or worse, the one that sends you over the edge that day.  Maybe you report your lost change or food, or even go back hoping to find it. 

I'm pleased to say in our building you'll often see a can or bag sitting atop the machine waiting for its lost owner.  Sometimes there will be a dime and a nickel perched on the edge for someone to come back and claim.  I think that's awesome.  I personally think that's the right choice.

It's not always convenient or even "fair" to do the right thing.  We are all human and will sometimes fail to do the right thing, even with the best of intentions - but generally speaking teaching our future generations learning by our actions is an important thing.  My stepson and I discussed the above situation.  He, like many of the callers, didn't see the problem with taking the change.  It's not stealing, right?

Wrong.  If that isn't your money, it's not your money.  Taking it from the machine when you know it was someone else's, regardless of knowing WHO it belonged to, is stealing.  If you start taking the small stuff, you lose that sense of personal accountability and it gets easier to take the big stuff. 

When you ask yourself how whole industries could be ok taking advantage of other people (see: mortgage, insurance, wall street, etc.) - this is how it begins.  A sense that you are entitled to whatever you can get, regardless of how you got it.

What happened to honor?  Where did the pride in doing the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing go?

This topic will come up in later posts, I assure you, because entitlement in general is so pervasive in our society that it intrudes everywhere.  It's something we need to be aware of while making a conscious choice to erode it.  You have rights, that's true - but your rights don't get to supercede that of everyone else.

Of course, this is my opinion... discuss amongst yourselves (or in comments).

Busy Bees!

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday!  We spent our 4th of July packing and moving the first load of C boxes into the new place.  I'm happy to say that we're almost back on move schedule.  90% of the C boxes in the old house have been moved (only the ones in the office remain), while about 10% of the B boxes have made the migration (see, it totals 100% so that's a win!).  Over the next week we will get the remaining C and B boxes in the new place.  I'm starting my final week A box tonight. 

We took the kids with us to IKEA to get some quick things we need for the new place.  It was an adventure, but it was cool to let them check out chairs and things for their rooms.  I've promised the girls they can paint their lamp and chairs when they get back from vacation with their mom.  Should be exciting.

IN the meantime, I've been hitting up craigslist for loft beds (IKEA was out - all the stores in the region!!) and futons.  I've scored on both so that will get picked up tonight.  Whew! 

So, all that being said, I've been wracking my brain trying to make the giant bed my husband and I enjoy (and need - he's 6'3ish...6'4? and I'm 5'11) fit in the narrow master bedroom.  It looks spacious and generally speaking IS spacious, but our bed is a monster - even without an actual headboard and footboard (which I dream of us having one day...)

Anyway, that's the quick update... another thought provoking (non-move related) post to follow!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Design Files: The Girls' New Room

I have two beautiful stepdaughters that live with us at various times throughout the year.  Until we get our new house designed and built, we are renting a townhouse that unfortunately leaves them sharing a room.  A very small room!
Now, the eldest – Sava, is turning 12 in August and is already about a year into that teen transformation.  (You know the one where every other minute they are being too big for their britches or crying and acting too young for their age – no happy medium.)  She gets frustrated and yells easily these days, so she will need some space that she feels is her own.
The youngest – Bean, is 10 and likes to mimic her older brother and sister.  Meaning she recently started saying things she shouldn’t and generally getting on her siblings’ nerves.  Most of the time she’s the loveable kid who wants a hug and to play with her dolls and the dog.  She too will need her space.
Since I haven't measured yet (we get the keys tonight) I have to go on memory and guestimation:  I think the room is a 10’ by 10’ square, which two twin beds won’t fit comfortably in the normal layout.  So onto the plan!
First Part:  The Loft Bed
Ikea’s Tromsรถ Loft frame will work for the pre-teen.  Ideally, I will shorten the frame by about 6 inches, making it only 58 inches off the ground.  Still high enough for the other bed to be placed in L formation under the bed, but close enough to the ground she won’t feel like she can fall far.   I will be attaching some form of a small table / ledge for her somewhere.  She likes to read and often keeps a glass of water by her bedside.   Additionally, I would like to use a clip desk lamp up there to give her light she can control at night.  Lastly, instead of the standard ladder, I think using the Trofast step shelving as steps up for her.  The additional storage will be useful.
Second Part:  Under the loft will be their toy storage with the other twin bed placed perpendicular to the loft.  This will free up some floor space for the girls.  The only other furniture will be their dresser and possibly some shelving, unless I can make the space under the loft work for all the toys and books.  If so I can add a couple chairs and maybe a little table?  Hopefully by searching on Craigslist, I can find some gems to give them seating as well. 
For Bean, I want to add some filmy curtains to the bottom of the loft so her bed and play area are visually more separate.   For Sava, we will get some pictures she likes and frame them in simple frames over her bed. 
Simple, useful, and hopefully easily accomplished!  Have any ideas or suggestions?  I'm open to anything right now, this is just a starting point to give them a more functional and personal space.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Moving!

I am not an expert on many things – but I would say I have advanced working knowledge of a lot of random topics.  Moving is one of them.
My family was military so we moved a lot in my youth.  Many of the times the movers arrived, packed the house, and put it on a truck.  Like magic… During that time, I learned how to clean a house properly when moving out.  Seriously, they don’t mess around and my father even had a white glove at one point.  I think my mother took care of that somewhere along the way.
When I lived on my own, I moved no fewer than 20 times.  I’m not kidding.  I have learned how to pack so I can carry it, what needs to be packed first, and what can wait until the last minute.  I also know how to clean as I pack so it makes final move-out simpler.
Now that I’m married with an instant family of step-children, we’re embarking on our first move together.  This week will be all about pre-packing, planning, and setting up the schedule.  It’s come to my attention that this is not common knowledge.  Who knew?  So here’s my process and if it helps you, then great!
First:  Pre-packing can go on from the moment you know you’re moving until you start the actual dedicated packing.  This involves putting away any items you know will not be used in the next 6 months.  Whether that’s winter clothing, holiday items, or certain appliances you don’t use regularly – put them in boxes and bins that can be moved as is.  Stack these things out of the way but easily accessible, this is important in a moment.
Next:  Planning is something a lot of people do not do when they move.  Why?  I have no idea!  It’s VITAL to making things work smoothly and on schedule.   Here are the steps:
  1. Find your new place.  Make sure the layout works for your flow and function.  Think about all the areas you and your family need – are they all there? 
  2. Measure the rooms.  If it’s an apartment, they will let you back in to visit your place before your lease starts.  Tell them you just need to go in and take measurements.  Some places have floorplans with those measurements already – ask!!  Note plugs and light switches.
  3.  Measure the doorways.  Finding out a treasured piece of furniture isn’t going to fit on moving day not only is a schedule killer, but an emotional drain when you have to make a spot decision.
  4. Figure out flooring.  If you will need area rugs or other protective coverings, get those first and put them in place first.  Once furniture is in place, this sucks.
  5. Draw a layout of your new place, using the measurements (usually I find that ½ inch or 1 inch = 1 foot to be a decent sized drawing.  Use pen and paper or PowerPoint or if you have it, an actual floorplan software.  Note doorways and windows.  Mark the plugs and light switches.
  6. Measure your large pieces of furniture.  Anything that cannot be taken apart in small pieces counts.  Electronics, bedframes, dressers, sofas, etc.  Awkward pieces especially need full measurement to account for getting them through doorways.  I suggest saving these measurements for any future moves.
  7. This is the point where you decide stay or go for large items.  If they go, sell them, store them or give them away now.  No sense letting them be in the way when it’s move time.
  8. Arrange boxes the relative size of the pieces your keeping on your room layout.  This will help you decide where things should go and WHAT ORDER they need to enter the room.  Fill from the point furthest from the door.  In bedrooms, leave rooms for beds to be assembled.  More on this in a second.
  9. Figure out how many people are needed to move the large stuff or hire movers.
Finally:  Planning is complete so it’s time to set up the schedule.  If you can start moving in a week or more before you have to vacate your current home, this is ideal.  Having time to go back into your empty place and make sure you got everything and it’s in good condition is preferable.  I’ve had those barely moved out in time moments and they suck.  Your schedule will be flexible, but the basic order of events seems to work best like this:
  1. One week or more prior to signing lease and obtaining keys:  Pack anything you won’t need for the next two weeks.  Go through each room and bring it down to the base essentials.  Keep one box open for things you will need up until the last minute and load what you can in there.  Any cabinets or surfaces now vacated should be thoroughly cleaned and not used again.  Stack boxes with clear labels of their new destination.  Mark A, B, or C on them to indicate level of importance of contents.  A boxes need to be unpacked upon arrival, B within a week, C within a month.
  2. Once you sign your lease and obtain keys:  Move all pre-packed items.  Remember those initial boxes of basically storage items?  Those should all be marked C and moved in your car as available to your new place.  They can stack in a closet or corner and be safely out of the way.  Breakables that aren’t needed should be included in this process.  (This is a great point for friends who have offered to help.  It's a manageable amount of work that can take only an hour or so a night and be followed by dinner or drinks.)  If any of the main packing can be taken at this time, do it!  Clean the vacated areas and if possible, arrange for carpet cleaning now.  This is also the time to clean your oven.  You can go a week without baking, right?
  3. Roughly 3+ days before you need to be out of your place, move the large items.  Either with movers or friends - get that stuff into your new place.  You can sleep there now and start to function from that home base.  The last few days in your new place should be all about cleaning and making sure nothing was left behind.  The earlier you can move the large items, the better – in case there are bigger repairs needed in your old home.
  4. The first week in the new home:  Nights one and two  – unpack as many A boxes as you can.  Spend the remaining nights unpacking and arranging items in your B boxes.  Don’t touch the C boxes until you have all the previous boxes gone and the house arranged to function.  You’ll find as you tackle the remaining things that you are able to purge some things and better utilize others when you have clean space to work from.
So that’s the basic schedule.  There are a lot of minutiae not covered in there to get all the specifics of cleaning accomplished and final walk-through’s etc.  Some key notes are:
When either house is empty, note on a piece of paper any damage found.  If it’s the new place, you’ll need to turn that in to your landlord or if you’re buying, put it on your to-do list.  If it’s the old place, you need to figure out if it’s considered normal wear and tear that will be taken care of by the new tenant / landlord or if you need to replace or repair something.  Especially important if you will not be there for the final walkthrough because of work or some other commitment, you want to have a list to match against anything they find.  Another GREAT idea is to take pictures so you have proof.
Happy moving!  Next edition of this will be cleaning tips to get out faster…

Marriage Files #104: 5 Topics to work out before marriage

MH and I were lucky enough to have some counseling before we married.   We were two very independent and comfortably single people who had not lived together coming to a marriage.  There was a lot to figure out.  Since we've married, I've come to realize there were some things we didn't rank as very important in those sessions that are actually KEY factors to not killing one another.  We'll start from the bottom and work our way up.

5.  Chores:  Even if you've lived together before, I've spoken with other couples and discovered this is a common issue.  When you're dating or even living together, you're still doing a little extra to make it all work.  Sometimes you do things and think, "Of course, once we're married - this will be something we both do."  Uh - nope.  And you actually need to discuss in detail the chores you expect the other person to do. Why?  Because there is NOTHING more frustrating than assuming your spouse will (of course) come and help you clean the kitchen after that lovely meal you slaved over - and find he's content to go play video games on his phone while he waits for you.  Side note for spouses:  Helping out - sure way to make your spouse happy and open to anything else you want, Not helping out - sure way to make sure they are feeling unappreciated and over time build up resentment to your lack of willingness to help.  Knowing that he HATES washing dishes will make you feel better about his not helping, especially if he's willing to take on the toilets you depsise cleaning in return.

4.  Time and Space Needs:  If either of you is the type of person that needs to decompress after work or has a specific ritual to help you feel ready to face the rest of your day - discuss that before marriage.  Coming home to find her on the phone with her friends for two hours venting about her day (hey, at least you don't have to hear all the gossip, right?) or finding him working out oblivious to all else for several hours listening to anger music at high decibels might be a problem.  Knowing that in stressful situations, your spouse may turn green and break things or sit in the dark with a tub of Ben and Jerry's and cry is something you don't want to discover after the I Do's.  While most people don't have situations this drastic, you might find yourself married to an aloof stranger unused to sharing their feelings and the stressful situations.  Or you might find someone with short temper who takes everything as a criticism in your bed.  None of that is fun and can be mitigated to some extent through conversation.  Side note for spouses:  Asking "What can I do to make this situation better for you?" is much more productive than "What is your problem today?"  After all, remembering this person is someone you love over and above any behavioral issues is key!

3.  Language Barrier:  Not only to men and women think differently, but even in same-sex relationships - two individuals may vary wildly in their thinking patterns.  Likewise, everyone was raised differently and tends to speak to others in different ways.  Things that were funny in your household may truly offend the person you love.  Short quippy answers may be efficient in your mind, but can be taken as snippy or sarcastic.  Being aware of your spouses ticks and annoyance in language can avoid a LOT of fights.  Inadvertently, we can hurt one another just in passing.  Now, there are those people that object and say, "Why should I have to tiptoe around this person?  They are supposed to love me for me."  Well, that's true and I'm sure they do (which is why they are still around) but taking care with the things and people we value most should not be something we object to, no matter how irrational we may find the situation.  Side note for spouses:  Sometimes saying it outloud to yourself and considering all the ways the phrasing COULD be taken is useful.  If you find yourself shooting off an answer before thinking it through (and I am guilty of this), sometimes taking a moment to consider exactly what you're saying is all it takes.  Marriage experts I've spoken to (meaning those people who've made it 30 years or longer together) say it gets easier over time.  You pick up on the verbal and nonverbal cues that guide you through the landmine some conversations can become - or learn to avoid them altogether.  So that's something to look forward to, right?!

2.  Our time, your time and their time:  Different from the time and space needs, understanding how your spouse expects your collective time to be spent is important.  From the common "Where do we spend the holidays?" to "Whose friends get us this weekend?" to "I'm going to spend some time alone with my friends and you should make other plans?", there is a range of situations to consider.  It can even extend to extracurricular activities, work time and community service expectations.  We may assume our spouse will fold into our life habits when in fact, they may be expecting you to give up something you've done for a long time.  Example:  My husband told me he wanted to get back into running.  I thought this was great and was very encouraging.  (One of us should be a health nut, right?)  I had no idea this meant running random 5K events and working up to running marathons.  I also didn't know how much additional exercise and running time it would incur.  I don't have a problem with any of it, but I've learned I need to know when the events are coming (so we can plan around them where possible) and that I would rather he do the running / exercise when I'm not home - because I am gone so much for work, we get limited time together as it is.  Now, throughout our marriage we will come into these kinds of issues, from my acting on the side ("You have ANOTHER show??") to the races to events for the kids - it's all manageable if we know what to expect.  He doesn't care about my acting - to a point, but he misses me and wants me to be home a certain amount of the year.  Deal!  I don't care about his races, so long as they don't occur on important dates (like birthdays and anniversaries).  Deal!   We're still working out the holidays issues and external expectations on our new family, but discussing it in advance seems to be the way do go.  Side note for spouses:  Make the decision together and stick to it.  It's easy to let parents or other important people in our lives influence our decisions, but remember your spousal relationship has to come first.  Once you take a stance, everyone will respect and adjust.  It's life!  Why is this ranked at #2?  Because adjusting to personal time and space needs becomes normal and acceptable for a couple, but upsetting familial traditions or upsetting people we love and respect can be much harder.  Those situations can lead to huge fights and irreparable tears in relationships if not handled with care.

1. Eye on the Prize:  Most of these revolve around expectation management, but this particular issue is far more fundamental to your relationship.  Both parties have to be moving towards the same goals at the same time and the same rate of speed.  Knowing where your spouse feels you are headed, if you're on track and if you're accomplishing things in the right way is vital.  When you're working on a common goal, your values are aligned.  If one person becomes sidetracked by a distraction of the moment (work, kids, house, etc.) and starts to veer another way, this can become a problem.  Starting out with a clear path is super-important and constantly checking in to make sure someone's vision hasn't changed will keep things more harmonious.  Now, when someone does want to change the plan - that has to be discussed.  If things are sacrosanct those should be outlined before walking down the aisle.  Having children, where you want to live, faith-based decisions and the like can make or break a relationship.  Side note for spouses:  Knowing when one of these has changed for you and speaking up to your spouse won't be easy, but it should be done sooner rather than later.  For the relationships I've known personally that have failed, this has been the underlying problem for each and every one.  Someone's eye was on a different prize and the other had no idea.

Now I'm no marriage expert, I'm learning as we go along.  Every day there's a new success or frustration, but we are still in step and in love.  Here's hoping you have the same wonderful experiences!

Update!

Sorry for the delay folks, we've been super busy!

House on contract and almost to closing: check
Boxes acquired for packing: check
New place to live rented (as of this morning): check 
Full house of kids for the summer: check
Applied for 5 new jobs: check

Whew... but now, back to the regularly scheduled blog.  There's LOTS to discuss...