Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ode to My Laundry System

Although I have many, many homemaking weaknesses, laundry is probably my strong suit. Oh sure, I get backed up on occasion. But because we have a system that works perfectly for our family, it's easy to do a little catch up and get back on track. I recently shared our laundry routine with a friend who was at her wit's end trying to stay on top of her family of four's laundry. After typing it all out I decided to post it here, on my blog. I'd love to hear about your laundry tips and routines, because I'm dorky like that.

First of all, I have three laundry "rules:"

1. Sort as you go!
I can't deal with a big pile or hamper full of mixed up laundry. Ick. Who would want to manage that? If my laundry wasn't in a continuous state of "already sorted" I know myself well enough to know I would put it off until I had to run out and buy everyone in the house new underwear.

So we sort as we remove our clothing, finish with our towel, etc. We have three hampers in our master bedroom closet. Towels (because the towel hamper gets in the way in the bathroom), whites (or almost whites), and darks (aka everything else). I'm not one of those people who separates "darks" from "brights." If it isn't mostly white, it's a dark. (Unless it is a brand new item that is, for example, red, in which case I would round up a bright load for its first washing.)

Nicknack's room has a hamper. Since he is old enough to "help," it is lightweight enough that he can "help" drag said hamper down the hall to the laundry room on his laundry day. Like most two-and-a-half year olds, he loves "helping." I hope it lasts. When our baby girl is born her room will also have it's own hamper.

The kitchen has a small basket for used dishcloths/towels/cleaning rags.

The laundry room has two stacking hampers. One for clothing that requires attention (stain spray or bleach pen). I don't pretreat stains. I'm just too lazy. I just like to have a separate place to keep them so that I don't forget about them and wash them without treating them. Then I find the stain when I'm folding and have to put it through the laundry cycle all over again.

The stacking basket is for those kitchen linens. Since I only wash kitchen linens once a week I try to bring in the basket each day to lay out the towels/cloths that are wet (over the sides of the basket), so they don't get all grungy and moldy. Then when I dump off the next day's load I put those now-dry linens in the basket and lay out the newly wet stuff.

Rule #2: Label all baskets/hampers. This is the only way I've found to get my normally cooperative husband to sort with accuracy. Even if a basket was clearly full of white clothes, he'd toss in a towel. The labels helped, and now it's a habit.

Rule #3: Pull all clothes out of the dryer before it stops dinging, so as to avoid the dreaded task of ironing. I let myself be lazy about rags and towels, though, because who cares if the dishcloth is wrinkly?

Some people will make a very persuasive argument as to why all the household laundry should be laundered on one (or maybe two, depending on the size of the household) day each week. I respectfully disagree. A day of marathon laundering is about the least pleasant day I can think of, and I can't imagine doing that to myself once every seven days. Whereas one or two loads each morning is manageable and not terribly unpleasant. It's easy to motivate yourself when you know that if you just fold that one load that's dinging at you from the dryer, you're finished!

I do have a laundry schedule, which probably makes me sound more organized than I really am. It coincides with my cleaning schedule. For example, I clean the bathrooms on Saturday, so I wash the household towels on Saturday. Please note that I am not an accomplished housekeeper, so I might not actually get to the cleaning part, other than the bare minimum. But we always need clean towels, so I stay on top of laundry, for the most part.

The thing I like about having a schedule - a day for each type of laundry - is that it's easy to play catch up if you slack off for a couple of days. You can just do two days of laundry until you catch back up to the right day and you don't have to stop and figure out where to begin. If you think up a logical schedule for your family it's very easy to memorize. For example, I do Nicknack's laundry before I do whites because his laundry is sure to contain whites that need a little bleach treatment.

Here is our schedule:

Monday - I wash Penn's work darks, which are polos and khakis only. His work week starts on Tuesday, so he has a closet full of fresh work clothing on Tuesday morning, rather than a bunch of empty hangers with only his least favorite polos hanging there. This is the only day I actually do any sorting. I dump out the whole dark hamper, pull out his work clothing, and put the rest back in the hamper. I know that if I tried to make Penn a "work darks" hamper he'd put polos in the regular dark hamper (hey, they're dark!) and his socks in the work hamper (hey, he wears them to work!). So for the sake of simplicity, I break my sort-as-you-go rule.

Tuesday - I wash the rest of our darks (Penn's and mine). This sometimes takes two loads.

Wednesday - I wash Nicknack's laundry. I pull out the things that need bleach treatment and toss them into that stain/bleach basket and pull out the things from the basket that are his that are stained and treat them before tossing them in with the rest of the load.

When the baby is born she'll get her own load on this day, too, separate from Nicknack. Boy clothes tend to be dark-colored, girl clothes tend to be pastel/bright. Also, it's easiest to put clothes away when they stay separate throughout the laundering process. You don't have to run from room to room, you can just take the whole folded basket in and put it all away in the same place.

Thursday - I wash whites, including Nicknack's shirts that needed a little bleach spot treatment. I'm petrified of ruining non-white items with bleach, so I like to have a whole separate day for whites, without any other laundry in the vicinity of the laundry room. Speaking of whites, I keep a "mateless sock" basket in our closet for all the stray socks and I sort through it every time our sock supply seems mysteriously low.

Friday - the day I clean my kitchen thoroughly, I also wash the kitchen linens. I keep them separate from the household towels so I can add bleach.

Saturday - I wash towels. This usually takes two loads, although I don't know why since we all use our towels twice.

Sunday - I wash our sheets. I love to start the week with fresh sheets and I strategically schedule this for Penn's day off so that I can enlist his help in remaking the bed. I HATE dressing the bed.

By the way, we only have one set of sheets per bed (other than crib sheets). I hate folding sheets, especially fitted sheets. So I just strip the bed, wash the sheets/bedding, dry the sheets/bedding, and put it all right back on the bed. It just seems like an extra and unnecessary step to put a different set of sheets on the bed, which would require folding when the old sheets come out of the dryer. But that's just my personal preference, since I try to avoid any extra work whenever possible!

One last tip is that I fold everything on our master bed because the height is perfect, there is a ton of room for sorting folded clothing into categories, and the location is so convenient. It's a good place also, because I can lay out the clothes that require hangers so that they don't get wrinkled while I'm folding everything else. Our bedroom is more pleasant and light-filled than our laundry room and I can watch TV while I fold. The only down side to this is that Nicknack likes to climb up on the bed and "help," occasionally messing up some of the folded laundry. But I figure this is why I stay home with him - to spend time together, not to have perfectly folded laundry.

Okay, so that's our laundry system in a (large) nutshell. As you can see, I'm terribly lax about traditional laundry rules like sorting by color, pre-treating, reading a garment's care label, etc. But I'm pretty emphatic about pre-sorting and folding at the ding. Just because both things prevent a greater deal of work later. It's a system that works for us, as evidenced by the fact that I'm on schedule with our laundry as I type this AND I don't dread laundry, which I used to when I tried to do several loads at once or didn't have everything in a continuous state of "already-sorted."

Back to School

No, not Nicknack. Penn, of all people.

Penn has been trying to find a job comparable to the one he currently has for over a year now. We've known for many years that, although Seattle is a lovely city, we don't want to raise our family in a city. No offense if you do! :) We're just over it.

The problem has been that Penn has one of those needle-in-a-haystack kind of jobs. They're out there, just not anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. He's interviewed here and there. In places like Connecticut, Manhattan/Long Island, Chicago, the Silicon Valley, Vail/Aspen, etc. Places where either: a) we can't afford to purchase a home, b) we would be moving way too far away from our families, or c) we wouldn't be moving to the small-town-environment we desire. Or all of the above.

The other problem is that as Penn looks around at other opportunities he realizes that the 55-60 hours he works each week is pretty much the norm in his line of work. He works strange hours and has strange days off. And his schedule changes from week to week - he can't ever commit to anything ahead-of-time, unless it falls on a Sunday. And only then because he has INSISTED, much to his employer's chagrin, that he always has that one day off. Getting time for vacation is like pulling teeth. Last year we his boss wasn't able to commit to his vacation dates until less than two weeks before-hand. The two places we most wanted to visit were booked solid.

None of this is a big problem with very little ones at home. It's easy to be super flexible. Penn spends his time w/Nicknack in the mornings, rather than the evenings. Nicknack doesn't have a school schedule, so it doesn't matter that Daddy works most Saturdays and is home most Mondays. Or that at the last minute we have to cancel some plan or the other because Penn's employer's schedule has changed.

All of this will become problematic when Nicknack starts school. When he starts activities like Boy Scouts and tennis, or even things like Parent-Teacher conferences or school concerts. With Penn's schedule, he would rarely, if ever, be able to participate in any of those things. And I know that would kill him. Nicknack is his world.

So, after a few months of tossing around the idea, we have a new plan, and one that is a drastic change for all of us. Penn is going back to college to become a teacher. Probably a PE/health teacher.

He attended one year of college as an eighteen year old, but dropped out to take a job promotion. He was one of those people who worked full-time all through high school and his freshman year, so he never got much out of school.

Because the program he'll be entering takes five years, he'll still need more than a year at our local community college. So we signed him up for courses and he started last week. He has a major math phobia, so I think these first few quarters will be the most difficult for him. He's had to swallow his pride and go in and take the placement tests alongside sixteen year old "running start" high school students. He's also learning about the frustrating inefficiency of most college registration processes. He's been to campus this week on three separate occasions to pick up packets and books that have been added at the last minute to his course lists. Luckily, he's taking his courses online, so other than a few proctored exams, he can work at his leisure at home. I'm his trusty "secretary," getting him organized with to do lists for the weeks. I'll also be his personal proofreader/editor. I love school so much I wish I could just take his classes for him. I'm kind of jealous, even I've already taken the exact same classes before.

In about eighteen months Penn will quit his job and we are going to (drumroll, please)... MOVE IN WITH MY PARENTS in their mini-ranch, conveniently located in a small college town about 2 hours from us. They're in the process of building a new house and will convert the three-car garage for us as a small apartment. So we'll be going from our four bedroom home to a two bedroom, one-bath modified garage, using the main house kitchen and laundry room. We'll be snug as bugs!

I realize it's sort of a strange plan. As we were considering this decision and sharing it with those closest to us I kept expecting strong resistance. Something along the lines of, "So let me get this straight. Penn is going to quit his job, so that he can go to school, to make way less than half of his current salary. And your family of four, with two small children, will live in your parents' GARAGE for almost two years?!"

But, surprisingly, everyone seems to think it is a good idea. Especially my Mother (an elementary school counselor) and Step Dad (a retired high school science teacher). Which is good since we'll be invading their home and will need occasional babysitting help. They've given us a good picture of what to expect as future educators, so we aren't going into all this with rose-colored glasses.

The main thing is that Penn wants to have more time with his family. When I eventually go back to work I also plan to teach. So we'll have the same schedules. The same 14 weeks a year off. Since Penn has another 25 years to work, he'll have about 350 weeks of vacation until retirement, rather than 50 weeks. Not to mention 40 hour work weeks, on average - instead of 50, 55, or 60. Also, our family will be covered with better medical and retirement benefits than we currently enjoy. And we can find some little town in the middle of nowhere that needs a PE teacher and make it home.

We won't ever live in that big family dream house I've always imagined us in. We'll probably live in a shoebox. And the new minivan we planned to buy this fall is out. Ah well, cars are depreciating assets anyway. We'll never get to take impressive vacations. We're envisioning ourselves criss-crossing the country with some second-hand winnebago in tow. Which sounds amazing. Just think of all the historical sights and beaches and national parks we can visit "on the cheap." We'll have so much more time together that it almost seems ridiculous that we didn't think of this at least five years ago.

I wanted to share this with you so that you know why we've stopped looking for that dream job for Penn. And why the summer-after-next we'll be packing up our lovely home and moving. And why all of a sudden I've become interested in pinching pennies. I figure we'll have to save about two years worth of living expenses (utilities, health insurance, clothing for the kids, grocery money, gas, car/life insurance, tuition & books, etc.) in the next 18 months. Yikes.

But that's the plan and I'm really excited!!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Have I mentioned that our baby is a girl?

I don't think I have. Oops.

We decided not to find out with Nicknack and that was really fun. I would strongly recommend being surprised with at least one pregnancy. But we both felt differently this time around and decided to "peek."

With Nicknack, even though we never officially found out, I always felt he was a boy, and told everyone so. This time I had a hunch it was a girl, but not so strongly. And I didn't breathe a word of my suspicions, because I didn't want to get up Penn or my mother's hopes. (Both were not so secretly rooting for a girl.) But I did write down the word "girl" on a pink sticky note and hid it in my pocket the morning of the ultrasound.

The technician asked us if we'd like to know the gender. She said she'd gotten a good look at textbook "parts" and could tell us with certainty whether Nicknack would have a little brother or sister. Even though I was guessing girl it still took my breath when she said "It's a... girl!"

I immediately pulled out my sticky note and showed it triumphantly to Penn, just because I like to be right. Don't we all?

I am excited to report that this baby is already demonstrating her sass. At our first, very early ultrasound, she did a funny, jerky little body wiggle throughout the exam. At our other ultrasound (when we got to know her gender), she had her fingers wrapped around her toes, in a pike position. It was very impressive! Maybe she'll want to be a gymnast or a competitive diver someday.

Everyone is very excited to welcome a baby girl into our little family. Nicknack calls her babysister, with the emphasis on the "baby" part, like the word babysitter. He has only the most vague understanding that there is a baby in mama's tummy, but he likes to pat my ever-increasing midsection. At a recent family get together he heard someone mention the baby, ran over, and tried to pull up my blouse to show off the baby. I didn't really go for that.

I have the same lumpy shape that I had with Nicknack, where all my pre-baby fat has been pushed up between the bottom of my brassiere and the actual baby bump. So I have more of a barrel shape than the nice basketball look that a more slender expectant mother typically sports.

It's really not cute and I have no idea if people can tell that I'm expecting or if they think I just carry a lot of weight around my middle. I'm guessing the latter because at last week's dental exam no one in the office realized I was 30 weeks pregnant, despite the obvious maternity shirt and aforementioned protruding tummy. Okaaaay.

So she's a girl. Please feel free to suggest any names that you don't mind someone stealing. So far our three favorites are Elisabeth (nickname Betsy), Kendall (Penn's fave), and Talbot (my favorite girl name since I was about 18).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Preschool Saga: Day Two

Today was Nicknack's second day of preschool. And probably his last day, at least for a while.

We dropped him off this morning, watching and waiting to see how he would do. Things seemed better. Instead of obsessing over the one station, like on Monday, he flitted from station to station, stopping to interact with others. Also, several other children threw tantrums for various reasons, which made us feel like he was doing pretty well, in comparison. After ten minutes we realized we were the only parents still lingering and drove to a nearby cafe for breakfast.

As we waited for our meal we discussed this whole preschool thing. We both feel that if he isn't emotionally ready, who cares? We agreed that it is probably too much for him. He's so... emotional these days. But if things went smoothly today and next week, we decided we'd probably keep him in the class.

About fifteen minutes into our omelets the director of the preschool, our Pastor's lovely wife, telephoned. (She is so cute and from Ireland, so she has the neatest accent in the world.) Nicknack was having problems transitioning from one activity to the next and had become inconsolable over the gentle suggestion that he join in on some group activity or another. He was eventually brought down to play with toys in the office. And he was asking for me.

So we had our breakfasts boxed up and made a beeline back to our church.

We discussed the situation with Mrs. B and she suggested we try one more day. If he didn't adjust they would save a spot for him and we could try again next month or in January or next year.

Honestly, I don't think we'll even try one more day.

Before class started, we got there a few minutes early and had to wait, resulting in a meltdown. Oh, and then there was the tantrum this morning while I tried to get him ready for school because he wanted to go out the door to see his friend (whom he was looking all over the house for - although she's never even been in our home) right that VERY second. Then there was the huge fit when he realized we were leaving school and not taking him out to the playground. We felt as if we are torturing him with all these emotional ups and downs. The whole way home he was calling out his friend's name and begging us to take him back to the playground. (We couldn't because it was the four-year-old class outdoor time.) I sat in the front seat trying not to cry along with him. He was just SO upset and disappointed. He loves the people and the environment. Just not the actual "school" part.

Let's face it. He's not ready for preschool! It's just too much for him to handle. I don't want to put him through this even one time more.

He'll still get to play in that same classroom, with the same toys, with many of the same kids, and on that same playground twice a week - on my ladies' Bible study day and on Sundays, while we're at church.

So that's that. I just need to call Mrs. B and e-mail my friend, his teacher, to let them know what we've decided.

I feel kind of silly because I got so excited about this whole preschool thing. To let you know how worthwhile I thought it would be? I actually IRONED. Let me let that statement sink in.

I haven't used my iron in a few years, probably. At least. In fact, I didn't even know that I didn't have an ironing board until my mother visited last year and needed one. (She went out and bought one for us.) I've always felt that life is just too short to iron. I try very hard to pull our clothes out of the dryer when the buzzer rings and fold them or hang them and put them away right away. To avoid ironing. And if I don't, I "fluff" them in the dryer with a wet washcloth. Terribly environmentally unfriendly, I know. I'm trying to break the habit by being extremely diligent about the immediate folding/hanging policy.

But on Sunday night I actually ironed Nicholas's outfits for the week! It took me well over an hour to iron three little t-shirts, button down shirts, and pairs of pants.

But one thing is for sure. He may be a preschool drop out, but he looked so darn cute these past few days that I could hardly stand it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

First Day of Preschool

Today was Nicknacks's first day of preschool. It's our home church preschool, so he's familiar with the environment because he's been nearby in the nursery twice a week since he was a baby. His little friend (whom we've decided should be his future wife) is in his class, and her mother (my friend from Bible study) is the teacher. So I've been SO excited for him all summer, and especially since Parent Orientation - thinking about the fun projects he'd be doing and all the friends he would make.

The class is only two hours a day, two days a week. He'll also spend another three or four hours a week in the same room for Bible study and church. Since we don't have any friends, neighbors, or relatives with children his age, Nicknack is pretty isolated, socially. So I thought this would be a good chance for him to interact with his peers and learn some new skills. Things I can't easily teach at home, like taking turns.

However, he is the youngest in the class. The birthday cut off for the class is June 1, and he has a May 31 birthday. Some of the children in his class turn three next month. Also, I think he's "young" for his age. He's great with numbers, letters, colors, shapes, and "school" stuff. We have that covered. But he's immature in other ways. Maybe because (for now) he's an only child, or because I'm home with him, or because Penn and I baby him, or just because that's his temperament.

At any rate, it was pretty clear today that he's not ready for preschool. The first five minutes of the class were set aside for "free play," while everyone got adjusted to being there. Then the children and parents were invited to Circle Time, for a story. This was when the trouble began. Nicknack was enraptured with the station full of trains, cars, firetrucks, etc. You know, almost exactly the same toys he spends hours a day playing with at home? So he threw a big fit when we tried to get him to join in at Circle Time. After a minute in the hall to calm down we came back in and just let him keep playing with the vehicles, while all the other children sat at least semi-patiently listening to the story. Except for one little boy who threw a huge tantrum because his parents made him sit with them through the whole story.

So then it was time for the parents to leave. He was fine with that, because he was loving the vehicles so much. He is obsessed with things that go. When I came back to pick him up the children had moved to the playground and Nicknack was having a ball. Pushing a police car along the perimeter of the playground. Again with the vehicles. :)

When I talked to my friend, the main teacher, she told me that he had pretty much just played with cars the entire time. They hadn't even been able to lure him away at snack time (he isn't at all motivated by food - even cookies!) or craft time. His cubby had the only little hand print with no coloring on it. It was kind of sad.

After we finished talking he showed me all around the playground. Then I sat nearby while he played. It was then that I observed him taking a toy another little boy was playing with, which I've never known him to do. He usually plays with older kids (cousins, etc.), which for some reason, always goes perfectly smoothly. Then I watched him get smacked by this other little boy who was frustrated because Nicknack had grabbed his dump truck. I was close enough to step in and told Nicholas to say "no hitting!" and then "helped" him to give the dump truck back and showed them how they could both play with it. I hope that wasn't inappropriate, but I figured that if the situation was reversed I would be okay if another mom did the same thing.

Then it was time to go back to the classroom. It was difficult to convince him to come inside, and he made a beeline for the vehicles again, totally ignoring the "goodbye song." Then he had another meltdown when it was time to leave for the day.

So my friend and are going to give it a couple of weeks to see if he adjusts to the concept of doing different activities. Maybe he would just do well with more of a "free play" environment at this age. There is a one-day-a-week class and he could switch to that, plus still have his unstructured time in the same classroom while I'm at my weekly Bible study. Or we could just skip preschool altogether this year and worry about it next year.

I'm torn because I would like Nicknack to have the experience of being around his peers. But I'm not sure that he's ready for the way the time in the classroom is structured. And, also, I keep thinking about the hitting incident at the playground. I know it is normal behavior, but I wonder if a smaller group of kids - or even just one-on-one would be better at this age. I know we parents aren't supposed to hover and manage all of our children's little problems (I think that's called helicopter-parenting, right?), but at this age a lot of guidance seems appropriate. Probably more guidance than I can realistically expect with 13 classmates.

Sorry this has been such a long and detailed post! Especially when I haven't posted in so long! Any opinions or advice would be appreciated!