Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Select Ringtones: Another Nice Digital Tool

OK, I admit, the select ringtones for certain callers can get a bit ridiculous. We now have a phone that talks to us and says, "Call from ..." Crazy, huh?

However, I've come to realize that, with young children around especially, the select ringtones and other audible information telling me who's calling are invaluable tools. We have assigned rings for each of our cell phones, our parents, and our siblings. That way, if one of those people calls, I know automatically who it is, along with two other important things: I can answer and still deal with my children; I can call them back right away without even listening to a message if I'm changing a diaper and just can't get to the phone (I have all those numbers memorized and they're also stored in the phone). It's been a big help to me, simply knowing which phone calls are a bit more high priority and which ones are on the lesser end. (No offense to non family out there!)

Another terrific feature on our old phones was a "do not disturb" feature--it would silence not only the ringer, but the answering machine as well, all with the touch of one button. If Mommy needed to grab a quick catnap, that one button silenced it all for the duration of the nap.

Cell phones can be a help, too, because they can be carried outside and around the house more easily than a regular phone.

Don't be tied to your phone. But do recognize the tools available now that will let you make better choices about when/if to interrupt your time with your family.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009 Bookmarking Websites Online

I've heard of this website frequently--it's often listed at the bottom of a webpage or a blog post: "bookmark me on" or something to that effect. I ignored it.

Until recently.... I checked it out and realized the amazing potential to streamline my "online" time when it's not convenient for me to surf the web. There are other sites out there that do similar things (technorati, stumble upon, and others); I've just not checked them out yet.

Here's what does for me: it's a place online to store bookmarks--you know, you find a web page that looks interesting, has a good recipe on it, is a friend's blog, etc. and you don't want to lose the address. You can "bookmark" it through your browser. Well, if you're like me, suddenly the bookmarks in your browser's tool bar are extensive. A problem: if you're at someone else's house or at a different computer, you don't have access to them! solves that problem by storing your bookmarks in cyberspace; you can access them anywhere you can access the internet.

How else is it helpful? Other people can view your bookmarks and you can view theirs, should you choose to do so.

Biggest benefit? You get a website link in an email from a friend--you're supposed to be checking your email QUICKLY and shouldn't be browsing around.... Just bookmark the site on! Find an interesting blog? A enticing recipe? Comparing camera prices? Bookmark those sites! You can categorize ("tag") your bookmarks however is helpful to you, so they'll be easy to find again.... WHEN YOU HAVE TIME.

Now, when I see something interesting in a blog, I don't have to follow the rabbit trail. I just bookmark it, knowing it's there when/if I have time. In the meantime, I will focus on the real live people in front of me who need me in the flesh. The internet can always wait.

Digital Scrapbooking

Carrie is the artsy one of the two of us. She has amazing scrapbooks she's created. I, on the other hand, have some old photo albums, boxes of photos that have never been put in a book, and a million digital pictures on my computer. (actually, during my big de-cluttering experience this past month, I'm proud to say most of the pictures are now in an album....)

My solution: digital photobooks. They're quick, they're creative, and they're a terrific birthday gift idea. I just did one for each of my twins (they turned 2 on April 18). Kids love to get books as presents; it's even more fun to get one of yourself! I do a basic book from the past year, beginning with the previous birthday. It's okay if the book gets a little "loved" on the big opening day because the book is saved on the internet and my pictures are saved on the computer. If a disaster happens, I can re-order one.

This is one way the digital revolution has helped simplify my life! The catch: not to get too involved in creating the perfect book in such a way that it takes away from the here and now time with my children. Tools of the trade: most sites that develop digital photos also do digital books these days. I've used Walgreen's and Shutterfly most recently and both have been good.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Digital Revolution: Helping or Hurting?

Has the digital revolution helped us or hurt us? I have a friend right now in Vanuatu (island in the South Pacific) with Peace Corps; she has very little internet access and is living in a situation that involves a generator turning on/off through the day for electricity. No doubt, she is getting a good feel for the ways in which technology has helped/hurt us!

It is easy to get "sucked in" to digital technology in one form or another (TV, computer, internet, video games, etc.). Sometimes, it's easy to see where it is harmful (TV shows or movies with sinful/harmful content, video games that involve tremendous violence, etc.).

What about those more nebulous areas: "surfing" the net to find a better deal on the camera you hope to buy soon, checking out 5 different versions of a chicken pot pie recipe to determine which would be the best, browsing an interesting blog that is providing all kinds of tips and tricks to simplify household living, letting your children watch "The Wiggles," buying items through amazon to save money, scrapbooking, balancing your checkbook via online bank statements, "catching up" with people via facebook, etc.

We can usually justify these types of activities in the general interest of our household. But are they really helping? I've begun trying to evaluate these types of activities, particularly in light of my recent new criterion for children's toys. I think the same can be said of our own activities, especially those of who are wives or mothers: does this activity lend itself to any sort of community experience or is it, by its very nature, limited to a solo participant? Just because an activity might be limited to a solo participant doesn't automatically rule it out; however, it does make me think twice about too much of it during a time of day when I should be spending time with children/husband. I'm trying to limit solo activity (most of the examples above fall into this category; if it's related to the computer/internet, it's usually a solo activity) to kids' naptime and early morning prep time (when no one else is awake). This is not absolute. I check my email throughout the day, pull up a recipe to make dinner from, etc. But I try to save the digital photobook, the search for a new recipe, the blog post to write, the checkbook balancing, and so forth for times when I'm not needed in a relational sense.

This week I'm going to highlight several digital tools that can actually help us manage our time better--particularly when it comes to the internet.

Friday, April 24, 2009

My March Uncluttering Project ...

...has continued into April. But, that's okay--the results are worth it! My counters and dining room table got temporarily worse, much worse, but my closets and attic spaces are more usable and the "stuff" lurking in plain sight will soon be banished to its rightful, easily accessed spot behind closed doors.

In the process of decluttering my house, I've learned some VERY important lessons--ones I hope I never forget.

1. My husband and I have a unique style.

This is a very important lesson to grasp. We often see something in our friends' houses (or our parents' or in a magazine) that we like or think looks neat. It's taken us a while to realize that those things look good partly because they fit the friend's style; the house sort of "works." Too much eclecticism can be a bad thing (bad in the sense of clutter). So, we've really begun choosing items that we enjoy and that also sort of work with our "look" rather than trying to mimic lots of different approaches. We've also tried, in our current house, to really "go with the house"--to decorate in a way that fits the needs/look of this particular house. And... we're starting to get rid of stuff that doesn't work for us, stuff we just don't quite like!

2. Decluttering fits basic design principles.

My mother, being an artist, has a good eye for things in general. I often consult her opinion. Even though we don't always like the same things/colors, I still consult her on how to group things, where something might look best on a wall, and so forth; good design principles fit a multitude of different "looks." Rarely does a cluttered house fit any sense of good design principles.

3. The fewer possessions you have, generally speaking, the more you'll treasure them.

For confirmation of this, just watch your kids play with a toy for 15 minutes, toss it aside and pick up another one, repeat, repeat, repeat. Now, give them one or two toys and see what happens. All day the same toys get played with (or your children get much more creative which is always beneficial to their little brains). We still have too many toys, but I'm learning and being much more picky about what we buy/keep.

4. The fewer possessions you have, the more they will be noticed.

If you have only one set of nice canisters on your kitchen counter instead of a blender, toaster, knife block, utensil crock, coffeemaker, etc., people will notice the canisters when they walk in. If you have the big lineup, they'll just notice a general cluttered look. We removed just a blender from a similar lineup above and even that small change made a big difference. I'm still figuring out a working system for our kitchen counters, but that small change has given me hope!

5. Take a picture to give you a good feel for the way your house looks to visitors:

take a photo of a room, a counter, a closet, whatever. Let it sit for a day or two or even a week. Then, look at that picture. You will notice the "first impression" of that space much more than you usually do. We frequently develop selective blinders to clutter that has "always been there," don't we? We just don't even see it anymore. Taking a picture will show you a bit more of an objective view, especially in regards to overall feel.

6. Decluttering is good for our kids.

7. Decluttering is good for the budget.

I made more than $100 at a consignment sale on old kids' clothes. I think twice now when I buy stuff, wondering where it's going to go and if we really need it. We pay bills on time because we streamlined that process. I borrow more, lend more, and don't subscribe to magazines I can get online for free!

8. Decluttering is good for your marriage.

Our bedroom looks much more like a restful retreat. We're not tripping over stuff in the study, which only caused frustration that sometimes spilled out onto the other person. Less clutter in the house means less stress overall. We can find things we need a little easier.

9. Decluttering is good for the environment.

I gave away or sold lots of stuff that might otherwise have ended up in the trash after lingering so long, unused, in our closets that it was moth-eaten or too out of date. I try not to buy what I don't need. I use more natural cleaning supplies (like simple green) partly because I can use the same product on everything and have fewer cleaning bottles lying around.

10. Decluttering is good for the soul.

I mean that a bit tongue in cheek, but it is true nonetheless. In small ways: I finally framed some art we bought on our honeymoon (6 1/2 years ago), and it brings much joy to finally see it on the wall and remember such a special time in our lives (instead of carefully moving the rolled up piece of art around on my closet shelves). I have a space again in which to read my Bible in the mornings. I feel more rested living in uncluttered spaces.

Am I done? No. Will people coming over notice much difference? Not yet, but it's coming! But, my habits are changing which is good. I'm enjoying our house more. I have a bit more time for my kids/husband. It's a great process. It took over my life for a bit, but I'm at a point now where I can continue and live life normally at the same time. I noticed this past weekend during our boys' birthday party that it was easier to put up my sewing projects and other paraphernalia because there was a place for them in the closets! (I also realized how far we still have to go, but the point is: we're making progress!)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mother's Day: A Bittersweet Note

In a commercially driven society such as ours, retailers never miss an opportunity to lure you into their stores, into buying their products, and into needing another occasion to give a gift. With Easter just behind us, merchants are quickly selling off excess Easter-related products (sale! clearance!) and promoting the next gift-giving holiday: Mother's Day. Signs announce "Mother's Day gifts!" and "Get Mom what she wants" and "Make your mom happy" and so forth.

What if the only gift some moms want is their baby back? I remember Carrie saying after one of her miscarriages that every where she went, she saw reminders of her recent loss: babies in mother's arms, baby clothes, and the like. Many women are seeing fresh reminders of their loss as stores loudly proclaim "Mother's Day." I would like to remind those reading this blog to pray for women who've recently lost children--unborn and infants in particular. This will be a bittersweet season for them, particularly if they do not have any other children at home in whom to take comfort. Carrie wrote a terrific post a while back about part of her struggle. She reminded me today that those of us who are "spectators" to another person's trial or loss (in any area) often forget or "move on" after three weeks or so, but the person in the midst of the trial is still struggling and still needs encouraging. If you know a women who has lost a child--particularly if this will be the first mother's day since that loss--don't forget to pray for her and send her a word of encouragement during these next few weeks.

If you don't know of any personally, you might consider praying for one (or all) of the following--all of whom are friends of mine or sisters-in-law of friends of mine and all of whom have lost a child (or two) since this time last year:
  • Z in her third pregnancy this year--doctors aren't optimistic this time either
  • C's sister-in-law lost her 5 month old to SIDS 2 weeks ago
  • K's sister-in-law lost her baby at 37 weeks in August
  • B lost her twins mid-way through her pregnancy just before Easter

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Too Many Choices

I've been thinking for a long time that too many choices just complicate life instead of making it easier/better (part of my spring cleaning motivation). Neil Postman addresses this a bit in his Amusing Ourselves to Death with regard to information in general: is more always better? Do people in Juneau, Alaska really need to know the daily news of, say, Plano, Texas?

The other day, I heard a fascinating segment on Fresh Air (an NPR news show that comes on during lunchtime). The person being interviewed was Jonah Lehrer, author of the blog The Frontal Cortex. He was discussing his latest book about decision-making (spurred by his experience of spending 30 minutes in the cereal aisle trying to ascertain exactly which box of Cheerios should end up in his cart). To very briefly sum up, Lehrer was pointing out that we can only hold about 7 pieces of information in our brains (our decision-making parts) at any one time. More information and our decision making ability is compromised. Interesting, eh? Completely confirmed my conclusion that I had too many options in life.

What am I doing about this for myself and my family? Removing some options that are definitely sub-par. For instance, when I look at the approximately 50 books in my daughter's room (this does not count the entire bookcase full of children's books in the hallway or the two shelves downstairs of children's books or the ones in my sons' room or the ones available in the local library...), I immediately see some sub-par books (inferior illustrations, questionable "teaching" or "message," boring, etc.). Why are they still there, clogging the decision on what to read, when there are so many worthwhile options next to them on the shelves? So, I got rid of them (gasp! I got rid of some books!).

Another example: my cookbooks.... Until a few weeks ago, I owned at least 40. I haven't counted up yet, but I've gotten rid of several and more are up in the attic. There's no reason I need to look at 500 recipes for cooking green beans when a comparison of perhaps 5 would serve my needs just fine (or even just one from a trustworthy source).

Another example: to which activities do I need to take my children? All these supposed "enrichment opportunities" can only enhance their lives, right? Wrong. We go to one Bible study (that has classes for the kids) and that's it. Our only scheduled weekly activity. What else do we do? Go to the gym (for Mommy!), hang out with friends, play outside, etc. We never run out of things to do. But these are not hard and fast commitments. We don't need tons of options!

What about clothes? Do you have more clothes than you need or even want? I do--there are lots of items that I hardly ever wear because I prefer other things. Same for my children. So, I'm getting rid of some of those unused, unwanted items. My closet is a bit more spare, but I like everything in it, and there are only a few options for any given occasion. Much simpler.

If you are overwhelmed by decisions in your life, how can you reduce that stress? If you are overwhelmed, there's a good chance your children are, too, and perhaps your spouse. Are the "options" worth the stress they might be causing?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Aaahh... Another Project

For some reason, I love taking on more than I can handle. Anyone else out there? I'm not content with the 7 loads of laundry, the endless need for vacuuming and mopping, the 3 meals a day to prepare and clean up after, the little children to supervise/bathe/read to/etc.

Oh no, that's not enough work for this little momma. I spent a good bit of March decluttering--a nice, useful project. I have a bit left to do, but instead of finishing it (or working in my neglected garden), I took on a sewing project! (or two or three)

Here is a picture of the little girl's purse I made which my 3-year-old LOVES. A friend of mine and I taught her 12-year-old to sew yesterday: skirts for her 1 1/2-year-old sister and my 3-year-old that match the purse (the 12-year-old took home material to make the purse at home, too). These were terrific starting projects--lots of little skills worked on, small enough to finish them, and the skirt, in particular, was very forgiving. I'm also in the middle of working on my kitchen window valances (I've lived in this house 3 1/2 years and am finally getting around to some long-planned window treatment/home improvement sewing). I'll post kitchen valance pictures when they're done.

Sewing with friends is a great way to hone your skills, fellowship, and do something for others! I have some cute gift ideas in mind for my own kids and their cousins for this coming Christmas. If I start now, they might be finished in time....

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Savoring a Cup of Tea: Let Your Light Shine....

Our Bible study teacher reminded us this past Thursday that there's no excuse not to live as a Christian, especially in front of our own families. We often let PMS, lack of sleep, crying babies, whiny toddlers, bad day at work, long commutes to and fro, school-aged kids reminding us at the last minute, etc. act as an excuse for not "letting our lights shine." The people around us most are usually the recipients of our less-than-Christlike-behavior, aren't they?

In my Bonhoeffer study (The Cost of Discipleship) that I'm doing with a friend, he also talked about letting your light shine; Bonhoeffer pointed out that men will see our good works--NOT US--and that will point them to Christ. In other words, it's not so much us that will be noticed. We will not be noticed. It's not about us. It's about pointing people to Christ--they might see our patience, our regular tithing, our training of our children, our faithfulness to show up for work and be pointed heavenward.

On top of these reminders to let my light shine , even when I'm not feeling like it, so that others may be pointed to Christ (and to quit thinking of myself--even the sermon today was on humility), my Bible study discussion group leader on Thursday also had a comment about letting our lights shine. It really sums this post up:

Let your light shine... even when your fuse is blown.