Monday, June 18, 2012

Professional Bucket List

I never thought about having a bucket list for my career; now I do, and it consists of just one thing I would like to do before I retire.  I'm sure other things will come up, but this one is pretty huge.

1.  Become a participant in the Fulbright Classroom Teacher Exchange Program.

I have been thinking about next summer (2013) because my best friend D and I are going to take a trip.  2008 was an adventure in NYC and Boston.  It's time for another adventure.  It's expensive.  We're not out of debt, and she's paying off loans and saving up for a doctoral program.  We need a solution.  At some point today as I was researching amazing summer teacher development opportunities that are free, I got this harebrained scheme that we should find teacher travel grants so that our travel could be paid for.  So, that's where my tangent took me.  Eventually, I arrived at the Fulbright website, and started thinking beyond 2013 to about 2022.

So, the gist of it is that I would go for one academic year overseas to teach in another country (right now, participating countries are Czech Republic, Hungary, India and United Kingdom--also Mexico and France, but you have to be fluent in the native tongue for those placements) and a teacher from that country would come to the United States and teach in my place. Amazingly, teachers are encouraged to bring their families with them when they do these exchanges, and I think that this is the most appealing part of this program. I'm not sure how this would work at the local level, but it seems that the prestige of such a program is something that school districts are supposed to be all about, so we'll see.  That's why the prospective date is 2022--plenty of time to establish myself here and feel things out at my school district.

There are other reasons why I'm thinking a decade from now will be perfect:

  • We'll be out of debt.  This means that we will also have lead time to save up to travel to nearby countries while we are abroad.
  • The house will most likely be paid off.  That's my goal, anyway.  Typically, teachers do a housing exchange.  So, the teacher coming this way will stay at our house and we can stay at his/hers (maybe).
  • All current and future Beaver children (God willing) will be of school age, so there will be no need for daycare.  This will also be great for family travel.  And though they won't be able to spend six years of their lives overseas, as I did as a military brat, they will get to experience living in a different culture for a short time (August to July, typically).
There are, of course, some loose ends:
  • What to do with Coco?  Well, ten years from now, he will *probably* be deceased, but I know that some cats live well past 20, and he'll be only 19 years old.
  • What about the National Guard?  I don't know.  We may not be doing the National Guard anymore.  Just depends on promotion opportunities for Eli at the six year mark, and that's four years from now.  And if we are, then we'll have to figure that out...
  • What if my school district does not want to participate in this program?  I don't know.  It's a year-long application process, so anything can happen.  I would probably talk with the Superintendent before applying, just to get an idea of their level of support.  
  • Who would want to come all the way to the US and live in Opelika, Alabama?  I don't know that either, but I'm hoping there's someone.
  • What if there is no funding and the program is cut?  Well, crap.  Hopefully there will be something similar.
So, it's a big dream.  And it's a bit crazy.  But count my professional bucket list as officially begun.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Toy Clutter

E & O were playing the other day and I realized that they were playing with baby toys.  Yes, that's right.  I still had infant teethers and squeaky toys in the mix of their day-to-day toys.  That (well, that and the fact that I couldn't close the toy drawer in the kitchen) was when I opened my eyes and realized that things were bad.  So, I spent a day organizing their stuff, paring down the mess bit by bit.  I did learn that it's much easier to do this when the kids aren't around, just in case you were thinking about getting rid of some toys, too.

The first thing I did was sit down with paper and pencil and think of general toy categories.  The two main categories were "inside toys" and "outside toys".  I have not yet dealt with the latter.  I started downstairs.

As for inside toys, I made some easy decisions for storage on a few things:

1.  Balls -- kitchen cabinet.  Balls of all shapes and sizes, and frisbees (I know, I know--outside toys, but they're not right now)
2.  Food/Play Kitchen Items -- kitchen toy drawer (we don't have a play kitchen, but we play like we do)
3.  Books -- bookshelf, top shelf
4.  Stuffed Animals -- bookshelf, bottom shelf, blue basket
5.  Blocks -- bookshelf, bottom shelf, recycled animal cracker container (jumbo) from Sam's Club

That was the easy/obvious part.  So, I went through and put the aforementioned toys in the aforementioned locations.  Most of them were already there, but perhaps had too many or had foreign toys that needed to be cleaned out.  I created a bag of stuffed animals to donate, and put all the baby toys in a bag labeled as such.  Everything else got sorted into general categories.  When I was done I had these categories left over:

  • Miscellaneous medium-sized stuff -- stacking rocker, jack-in-the box, popper, V-tech laptop, LeapFrog drum, Animal sounds toy, chatter telephone, princess piano, Super Grover play set, dancing duck (don't ask), another block set, froggy castanets, rain stick of sorts
  • Kids' meal plastic toys
  • Cars/trucks
  • Dress up stuff
  • Baby dolls and accessories
The kids' meal toys got thrown away, except Strawberry Shortcake, because Elsie saw that pile and exclaimed, "My girl!" and pardoned her girl until a later date.  Everything else went upstairs.

Upstairs was also a wreck.  In addition to the previous categories, I was also dealing with:
  • Bath toys that were no longer in the bathtub
  • Miscellaneous large toys -- music table, 2 baby strollers, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse couch, pink U-chair, play vacuum cleaner, Sit-N-Spin
  • Random toys that don't fit any category, the most prominent being these foam pieces that my sister brought.  They would go on one of those piece-together foam play mats, but they are the edge pieces, not the square centers.  Elsie LOVES these.  She has quite the imagination, so sometimes they are a castle, sometimes a bathtub for her baby, sometime a chair, a boat--you get the idea.  Also in this category are the kazoo and the hand-clapper toy.
  • Small plastic animals/animal finger puppets
Anyway, one I had everything sorted, I decided they needed a home instead of one big toy hamper, which turned into two, which became the floor in the hallway, bathroom, all bedrooms.  When Jill moved in, I put together a Closet-Maid Cubeical from Target.  I had the fabric drawers, but I couldn't find them; thankfully, I came across those drawers recently.  The original intent for the organizer was for toys, but it was used for something else for a while, and then it was covered with baby clothes.  Only now can it fulfill its purpose.

The miscellaneous medium-sized items stayed on the middle shelf of the downstairs bookshelf, and the large miscellaneous items are in the spare room, near the Cubeical.  All other categories got a shelf or a drawer in this glorious organizer.  Except bath toys.  Those are in a mesh hanger that I got at the dollar store and they are hanging in the shower.

I think the relief here is that every toy has a play where it belongs, not just a place where we shoved it to get it off of the floor.  Like items are grouped together.  I do not feel like my house is overrun with toys.  

Yes, we'll have to do this again and again, purging as we go as the children grow.  But for now, it FEELS GRRRRRREAT!

Can I get an "Amen!"?


Monday, June 11, 2012

Some Downstairs Clutter Progress

My last post of 2011 was about how much stuff we had in every corner of the house.  (Just thinking about it makes me sigh rather loudly.)  From the New Year until the end of school, not much progress was made in controlling the mess.  We were busy, we were lazy.  Yeah, just read the linked post and you'll see all the same excuses I'll refrain from giving.

I've been seriously contemplating the idea of discipline lately--in finance, in health, in housekeeping, in spiritual practice, in self-control, in being consistent with parenting, etc.--and about what a pain in the buttocks it really is.  And it's so annoying!!  What do you mean I can't have a long-lasting quick fix for everything, all the while putting forth very little effort?!?   What do you mean I can't front load the effort and do nothing more and still reap great rewards?!?

But seriously, that's another post altogether.  For now, I'll just point out that no matter how many times you run the Roomba, the dishwasher, the washer and dryer--you will never be finished.  Not until death (either for you or the appliance/gadget).  This is the most discouraging reality right now.  Making progress to remove clutter has been like digging a hole in the wet sand on the beach.  Those dang waves keep coming and bringing more sand to fill it in!  It's maddening!

Here's another piece of rocket science:  the less stuff you have, the easier clutter is to take care of.  Pure genius or common sense?

Despite everything I've just written, there has been progress--that is, if you count shoving stuff into closets and into the garage as progress.  Right now, my entire downstairs is decluttered, with only a few "hot spots" that include the top and outside of the fridge, and our wall-mounted mail sorter.  I could also count my craft closet (water heater closet, whatever), but then again, it's a closet and you don't know it's cluttered until you open the door.  Mwahahah.  Oh, and the garage.  Don't count the clutter in the garage.  Not yet, anyway.

Don't get too excited for me.  While I did a little bit of actual decluttering, I did a whole lot of moving clutter somewhere else so that it wouldn't be in the downstairs area that is highly populated by our church small group on Sundays (don't look in the garage).

But even though I know it's somewhere else and not completely out of the house there is still a feeling of serenity to be had in hanging out downstairs in my partially clean house after the kids are in bed.  And it's actually easier to have them help me clean up before they go to bed because they are no so affected by the sensory-overloading clutter.

I'm going to leave this update at that today, and maybe I'll make more progress upstairs before I continue on this train of script.  Until then..


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What happened yesterday (Timmy details)

Yesterday morning, after I returned from taking the kids to daycare, Timmy was laid out on his back on the back patio, mouth wide open, panting, crying out in pain, pupils fully dilated even in the morning sun, and he was dirtier than he's ever been.  I didn't understand why until he started trying to crawl and his entire back end was dead weight.  He was not like that yesterday evening when I fed them.  Coco was standing watch nearby, meowing nervously, with a look of terror on his face--I'm not kidding.  The look on his face when Timmy cried out was one of fear and confusion.  After calming down my self-talking repetitive chorus of "this is bad; this is not good, oh crap" I called Eli, who I knew was about to go into court, because I didn't know what to do (or didn't want to be the one to do it, maybe), and he said he would be home at lunch and we could figure out what to do then.  I knew that I had not accurately communicated the severity and urgency of the situation.  Timmy could not wait four hours.  I could not make him suffer for four hours more.  I made a snap decision to take him to the vet.  I went outside, and he automatically, without me even making known my intentions, dragged himself into the cat carrier that sits outside for shelter from the sun/rain.  He knew it was time to go.  

About a year ago, I had to take Timmy to the vet because he lost a lot of weight and was really sick.  It had built up and I was ready for the vet to tell me he needed to be put to sleep.  Turns out it was just a bladder infection.  Today, I was unprepared.  I mean, when I saw Timmy, I'm pretty sure I knew, but I didn't have any time to get used to the idea.  It's a much different thing to have a pet die of natural causes than to have to make the call to euthanize, even when they are in pain, and the prognosis is slim.  It was the right thing, but that didn't make it easier.

When I went to go get the carrier and pay the bill, the girl at the desk chirped at me, "Are you here to pick up?"  How morbid would that have been if I had been there to retrieve his body?  I just said to her flatly, "No.  He was euthanized.  I'm here to pay the bill."  She had that look of a person who realized that there was a foot in the mouth.  Sorry--I had to rain on somebody's parade.  But honestly, when I brought him in, she was talking about him meowing because he didn't like the carrier, and I corrected her that he was crying because he was in pain.  She wanted to know if he needed his boosters today.  "No, not if he's going to be euthanized."  I said that to her, in those exact words.  And she still greeted me that way when I returned.  Not her fault, really, since it's a good customer-oriented attitude 99% of the time, but still.  As I left, she did tell me that she was sorry for my loss, and then put on a fake pouty-lipped sad face that I wanted to punch.

I've had hamsters die, but I've never been around for the death of an animal that I cared about.  I had no feelings for my mom's dog (sad, but true) though I was there when she died.  My cat, Jasper, just disappeared from my parents' house after I graduated from college; that is, she just stopped showing up to eat.  Her sister, Secret, was died tragically and had to be euthanized, but I was living away from home and it wasn't as personal from three hours away.  

I'm trying not to beat myself up over the fact that I didn't go see him before it all ended, that I didn't even bother to tell him goodbye to his contorted face, or look him in the eyes and tell him that we loved him.  And that we didn't bring the body home to bury him, and that he died dirty, not fluffy and white. But he was a cat.  A loved cat, but just a cat.

So, Timmy was essentially our first child.  And he'll be the first one who will leave a tangible absence in our home.  And though it was mixed relief to see him go, he will be missed by the entire family, including Coco.
Especially Coco.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Timothy Dudley Meets His Maker

Neon-Cat Timothy Dudley lived a long life.

Yes, I was one of those people who posted on FB that my cat died (sorry, Jill).  Such a downer, right?  I think I was much nicer that I originally was going to be when I said,

"...RIP to Timmy, the neurotic cat that for the first several years of his life with us I put "a new home for Timmy" on my Christmas list until I realized that I wouldn't wish him on my worst enemy.  So, we accepted him, tolerated him, and love him, warts and all.  Sad to see you go, buddy--Coco's going to have to create his own warm spots and steal them from himself, I guess."

My original inspiration was to write something like, "RIP Timmy.  Feel free to share your good memories.  ::crickets:: ::crickets::"  But that was possibly just my trying not to get emotional about the loss of this feline.

Timmy was gross.  Everything about him: the drool, the bathroom habits, the breath.  Only love could endure such grossness.  The ultimate grossness was in the last few years, though.  I guess we stopped taking pictures of Timmy when the kids came around, because I can find very few on my camera, and all the old ones, pre-kids--back from when Timmy was our child--are on a dead laptop somewhere.  Thankfully, he was an attention-seeking diva (so long as you didn't try to touch him) and my sister was able to grab a couple shots of this party crasher when she was taking pictures of Elsie at approx 9 months (has it really been that long?)..

And then there were a few more recent photos, taken since Oscar has been alive.  In the last two years or so.  Elsie is trying to talk to him as he chills under the coffee table.

He was so very patient with the kids.

And Timmy hiding out under the music table.

Maybe you don't know the story about how Timmy came to us.  We had been married a year, and all of Eli's friends were getting cats.  So as to not be left out, we got us a cat.  It wasn't that easy, really, since I'm allergic to cats.  Eli put out the word at the no-kill shelter that we were in the market for a hypoallergenic cat.  An elderly gentleman came to the shelter with his 5-year-old purebred Devon Rex, and wanted to find someone to adopt the animal since the man's wife was battling cancer and the cat was driving her crazy.  We thought we had hit the goldmine (hypoallergenic cats aren't cheap) and so we went to go "interview" with him.  That night, we met Timmy and we brought him home.  The old man cried as we left.  A few days later he dropped some of Timmy's toys by our apartment, and that was the last we heard of him.

Turns out Timmy didn't like women.  He would purr all the day long if you were male, but he would not purr for me.  I was starting to take it personally until I realized this trend.  Turns out, this cat was extremely devoted to Eli, the alpha cat.  I have never been first choice.  I was always his last resort--if Eli was gone from the house too long and Timmy desperately needed a cuddle, he would eventually stoop to cuddle with me, but he was sure to let me know I was not his first choice.

Timmy was neurotic.  He had terrible bathroom habits.  And we found out from the breeder that the old man knew about them, but failed to disclose this information.  We had been duped.  But by this time he had, in some strange way, grown to be part of our family.  Dangit.

We lived with that for 8 years.  8 looooong years.  But you know, in the end, Timmy was a part of our strong marriage.  You've probably heard me talk about it before, but I think the secret to a strong marriage is being able to talk about poop, and Timmy gave us plenty of fodder before we had babies.  There's something positive I can say.  Haha.

And I really do have funny and good memories of Timmy, and being the optimist that I am, they take up more space in my memory than the other 60% of the yuck, and will replace my last memory of Timmy.

  • Timmy surprised us by playing fetch with twist ties during his first couple of years with us (before he got too old?).  When I would be working at the table, he would bring the twist tie over in his mouth and drop it at my feet.  If I ignored him, he would climb up on the table and drop it in the middle of whatever I was working on.
  • He loved to sleep on anything that I owned that was black.  It was annoying.
  • He drooled in his sleep.  And then he licked it up in his sleep.  To death.  The lick spot would be 3 times as large as the original drool spot.  It was disgusting.  And amusing.
  • He regularly peed in the tub, where at least it was easy to clean up.
  • We were upstairs in our apartment in Tuscaloosa, and we heard someone let out a long, shrill scream inside our apartment.  We raced downstairs, and Timmy was sitting on one side of the living room window, and a stray cat (female, we suppose) was on the other side of the glass, and our neuter cat was all hot and bothered. It was so freakish.
  • I didn't realize the extent of Timmy's devotion to Eli until Eli left Timmy with me for the summer while he went to Mobile to work (2006).  Timmy was so out of sorts--he wasn't eating, he wasn't sleeping, and...he wanted to cuddle with me.  That's when we decided to get another cat, and Coco came into our lives.
  • Last week, the kids had been playing with blue sidewalk chalk on the back patio, and Timmy and Coco rolled in it.  Amusingly, Timmy had blue stripes on his face, a la William Wallace.  It was fierce.
  • Timmy would show his displeasure with the little cat disturbing his peace, but would give up his warm place to Coco 99% of the time.
  • He loved the acoustics at the top of the stairs, and for several years tried them out every. single. night. Of course, I'm a lighter sleeper than Eli, so I heard it every. time.  To Eli, it was a novelty if he was awake while Timmy was "singing".
  • Timmy loved to be outside, to pretend to be a "jungle cat" in the bushes and hiding behind plants.
  • The cat didn't want to be touched, usually, but he loved to be observing the action, as close as he possibly could.  He really was a "people" cat.  He just only liked a limited number of people.
  • He used to try to climb Eli's guy friends' legs, even though he didn't have front claws--so the result was very amusing.
  • When we first got him, he shaved his own belly by constantly chewing on it, so it was this fat little pink belly that I just loved to pet if he would let me.  After living with us, he didn't shave his belly any more, but that didn't stifle my urge to pet a coworkers belly when she wore a pink hoodie over her baby bump (I swear, it was all Timmy's fault! And I didn't end up touching it, I just wanted to every time she walked by).
I'm sure there's more, but I have one final thought:

Timmy had a reputation from visitors as being "the mean cat," but really, how can this gentle giant be anything other than sweet? ;)  

(I mentioned he was devoted to Eli, didn't I? I think he was bribed..)

Timothy Dudley, while we had mixed emotions about your habits, love always won out.  I hope you're getting the most out of your Great Belly Rub in the Sky.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Debt Snowball Visual

I know I already did my debt update for the turn of the month, but I pulled up a debt overview visual on (free 7-day trial).  I started this particular version of the snowball in January 2011, and I just want you to notice the orange line and what a dive it has taken in the last two years!  As of right now, our payoff date is July 2016, but look at how fast that orange is dropping!  We'll have this paid off by the time Elsie is in kindergarten!

Anyway, I write about our Dave Ramsey-inspired journey, but for some people (me), a visual is very powerful (which is why I have debt thermometers).  I hope that it is inspiring to you, too.


Edited to add:  I've been asked, so I want you to know that you can click on the picture to make it larger.  We have two separate loans outstanding and they are coded in blue and orange.  When we finished paying everything else off, they had about the same amount owed (hence they start in the same area), so we started tackling the one with the highest (3 times higher, actually) interest rate first--the orange one.  When we are done with the orange, we will start putting the same amount of time and energy into the blue.  Notice how the blue line changes slope right where the orange line drops off the graph--that's the snowball effect.  The payments we are making on the orange loans will be rolled over into the blue loans, paying it off faster.  Anyway, sorry I didn't explain it better to begin with.  :)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Saturday Craft and a Day at the Farm

I've been going through baby clothes and I found a pair of overalls that drove me crazy when Elsie was little, probably would now, too, if they fit her.  The snaps inside the legs would never stay snapped, so anytime I put her in them, she would wind up with her diaper hanging out the bottom.

When I came across them again, I decided to make them into something else, something she can wear now, even though the pants part is (was) 18-month size.  First, I cut off the legs, i.e. the snaps that don't work.

Then I found a scrap of fabric left over from Elsie's 2-year cowgirl birthday dress.

I cut as much of a rectangle as I could from it.  Then I ironed the rectangle.  Then I pressed it in half to create a crease where I could cut it in two later.  I pressed in a finished rolled hem (my mom would be so proud).  Finally, I cut the rectangle into two rectangles.

Each of the two rectangles is about twice as long as the width of the denim overalls, give or take.  I didn't show the next part, but, right sides together, I stitched the ends of the two strips together, making one large circle of fabric, then pressed the seams open.  I pinned the seams to the side seams of the overalls, right sides togeher, raw edges together.  And with some time and energy, I pleated and pinned.  And then I pressed the pleats in, and then sewed the two pieces together.


As kind of an afterthought, I took a piece of the pattern from a scrap piece of fabric and zig-zag stiched it at the top of the back.

Sorry the pictures of the finished garment aren't so great.  I actually had a reason to make an overall dress.  Our little friend was having a 3rd birthday party with a farm theme.  It was held at a local farm that had lots of farm animals, a hayride, and of course, food.  One of the party favors was a farmer hat.  Elsie loved hers. Oscar wanted nothing to do with his.

Above and below:  Evidence they're my children.  Nothing dainty about them.

Above:   Wonder what's in there?

Below:  I ain't afraid of no goats.

(Okay, so it was a pig, but you're singing the Ghostbusters theme now, aren't you?)

Above:  Wook, Mama!  Sheep!

Below:  I touched it! Ewww!

Above:  Elsie thought she wanted to take a pony ride, but then quickly changed her mind.

Below:  Wook, mama!  Stick!

All in all, it was a great day spent with my two favorite children.  :)


Friday, June 1, 2012

June 2012 Debt Update

I'm amazed.

It looked like May was off to a terrible start.  We didn't get the budget done until late, and then we didn't get envelope money until a week into the month.  Needless to say, it was an ugly beginning, and I was sure the budget was blown.

But wouldn't you know.  We still came out ahead, AND we were able to get 20% of the way through our new debt thermometer!!  I really don't know how that happened, except to say that I married a hard-working man who is putting every extra penny from the US Army and teaching LSAT classes toward being out of debt.  These major strides mean that we now have under $40,000 in loans left!

 Second 10K Chunk, started 5/1/12
  fundraising ideas
Fundraising Thermometer

June is off to another rough start--the laptop I use that has the budget and savings spreadsheet on it is kaput.  At least the battery is dead and I currently do not have access to the budget.  We can assume it's about the same as last month as far as envelope money is concerned (that generally does not change from month to month--not by much anyway), but it makes it difficult to know how much is in each savings category for when we need to purchase something using our monthly savings.  I'm hoping to get this resolved in the next week or so.

Lesson learned:  I need to e-mail the spreadsheet to myself each month so that I have a back-up copy.

Anyway, we spent the Memorial Day weekend down in Mobile with the in-laws, and took two day-trips to Orange Beach, AL.  The first day we played on the beach.  The second day we stayed at home.  The third day we went back to the beach, but this time boated around the Gulf of Mexico.

I forget that this is basically Eli's upbringing since it is such a foreign lifestyle for me.  Give me land and give me shade any day.  But it sparked some interesting conversations about retirement (which for us, realistically, is over 25 years away).  I read or heard recently from a source I can't remember that in order to retire successfully, we have to know what we're working toward, we have to know what we want out of retirement.  In our culture, we spend a whole lot of time asking small children what they want to be/do when they grow up, decades before they reach this goal, but we don't ask adults what they want to be/do when they retire, decades before they reach that goal.  So nobody thinks seriously about it, until it's only a couple of years away, if they get to retire at all.

So Eli mentions that he's informally planning a beach retirement.  That is, he informally is planning to retire and then move to the beach where he can boat and fish and live the coastal lifestyle.

I had never considered this.

In fact, it almost scares me.  Now that I've gotten over my discomfort with putting down roots, I can't imagine spending so much time cultivating those roots to then rip them up and move to a place where I don't know anyone.  Now, there's a 180-degree turn.

In looking at my teacher-retiree friends, I had a different vision for retirement.  I want to volunteer for literacy causes, be a docent at a museum, join civic organizations, get more involved at church, make a difference in my community, have lunch with my retired friends, start/join a bridge club (need to learn to play first), mentor young teachers and mothers, decorate my house, cultivate my garden, play with the grandkids (God willing).  Stuff like that.  I'm a workaholic, so I want to work in some form or fashion, even if it's for free.

Notice there was no beach involved there.  It's just so foreign to me.

So, after the weekend and discussing Eli's vision, my vision for retirement has been amended to have a "town" house and  "beach" house.  We can live in two worlds, seasonally or whimsically.  Whatever.  We'll be together and we'll spend some healthy time apart.  All will be well.

Now I know what I want to be/do when I grow old with Eli.  That's a part of my debt-free vision.  And that's why I'm including it here.