Monday, August 25, 2014

Top Ten Mommy Wardrobe Essentials

Everyone knows that I, Jen, freelance writer and mother of two, award winning poet, gymnastics enthusiast and minimalist-in-training, am also at the very cutting edge of fashion. I wear clothes every single day. Many of them fit me, or at least closely approximate fitting me, anyway. Sometimes they are even clean.

This is why I have taken it upon myself to put together this very helpful list of Mommy Wardrobe Essentials. These are the classic, timeless mom-items every woman with children under the age of thirteen should have in her closet/dresser/laundry basket/foot of bed.

1.) Comfortable sweatpants

The ones you have to spend ten minutes talking yourself into changing out of because you have to leave the house. They should have a stretchy waistband which can accommodate at least three
different pants sizes. Stick to neutrals, like gray or black, so that they will go with your...

2.) 3-4 ratty t-shirts

No fewer than two of these should have been stolen from your husband or brother at some point. You've got a lot of leeway here, style-wise, so use this staple to express yourself! Support your favorite college sports team, advertise a vintage candy or cartoon, or rock a hilarious quip right across your chest. Your chest which will be somewhat supported by your...

3.) Ill-fitting bra

Well, it used to fit. The lady at Victoria Secret measured you for it and everything. But then you got pregnant, and then the baby was born, and between nine months of incubation and a few months or years of nursing, your breasts have been every imaginable size. And this bra has seen you through them all. It's okay that the straps no longer tighten, or that gapping or overspill are a constant. It was an expensive bra, and despite the huge hole in the banding, you'll want to just hold onto this one until you're finished having kids and nursing and your tits have calmed themselves.

4.) Yoga pants

These serve a very important purpose in the Mommy Wardrobe. They the consolation prize for taking off your sweatpants to finally wash them or because you have to leave the house. You can find them made with compression fabrics to hold things in. They can be worn with a flip-flop or a sneaker (versatile!) Again, stick with neutrals here. Actually, just get black. Or extremely dark gray. Better to hide the peanut butter and wine stains.

5.) Jeans

Jeans are ideal for when you have to take off your sweatpants to leave the house and go somewhere fancier than your yoga pants are appropriate for. Like lunch with adult people, or Target instead of Walmart. You know—nice places. Your jeans should have little to no stretch so that, after about two hours of wear, you appear to be wearing a full diaper underneath them.

6.) A sexy dress

Let's face it—it's black. We all know it's black. So let's not even pretend otherwise. This dress was/will be purchased for one specific event (a wedding, a company Christmas party, perhaps even a funeral). You felt or will feel amazing in it, like you might even actually still be a woman, a real person, and people might look at you and think, "DAMN, GINA." (Gold star if you get that reference.) After said event, the dress will be hung delicately, reverently, even, in the closet, where it will gather dust forever and ever amen.

7.) Sexy heels

See number 6.

8.) Some kind of random accessory.

This is the thing you put on when you step into the yoga pants or jeans. A cute scarf, a pair of designer sunglasses, an overpriced designer bag that you actually got at an outlet...something to spruce up your "taking off the sweatpants" look and trick people into thinking you've made some kind of effort here.

9.) Non-ratty t-shirts

The ones you picked up when you decided during days 12-15 of your menstrual cycle that you "deserve to feel pretty, damn it!", so you went to Old Navy with a coupon and grabbed a bunch of t-shirts in neutrals and maybe one or two in actual colors. Rock these with your jeans and accessory!

10.) Flat shoes

Maybe they're flip-flops, or sandals, or ballet flats, or possibly even boots. The point is, they are flat. They are comfortable. They slip right on and you don't have to think about them. You probably want a few pairs for all the seasons: flip-flops for the summertime, when you got that wild hair up your ass to go get a pedicure and start trying to appear groomed, but also something with a covered toe (a boat shoe?) because that pedicure hasn't looked fresh since May and you can't find the nail clippers and your nail polish remover is down to fumes.

If you have all or most of these things, you should be all set to mother your children well into their teen years. Someday, when they voluntarily shower and drive themselves off to their own jobs, you may look into upgrading. But for now, these simple staples should see you through.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Even more of my favorite things

I've written a couple of times now about the things I love. I'm not quite a minimalist, but I am much closer to that end of the spectrum than the "hoarder" end, and the physical things that I genuinely love are fairly few.

Here are my first and second favorite things posts. And here are a few more:

My custom quilt

My mother-in-law is one of the most talented people I know. A few years ago she started making these fantastic quilts out of washcloths and fleece, and I was thrilled to receive one as a Christmas gift. The colors are exactly what I would have chosen for myself. And the fleece makes it so soft and warm that it's become my go-to blanket for throwing over my legs while I read or watch a movie on my laptop. I will love and use my quilt until it is in literal tatters.

"Nightlife" filter
My new phone

Husband and I took the plunge and got smartphones. We're still waiting for the sting of that first bill (*shudder*), but we're both really happy with our phones. I got the Nokia Lumia 1020 and I am so pleased with it. It takes great photos (and I need all the help I can get...), and it has great editing options right on the phone. I also downloaded the free Photoshop app, though I haven't played with it that much. I'm looking forward to really getting comfortable with all the different settings and options to optimize my generally lackluster photos.

My great-grandmother's China

My beloved, antique, family heirloom China
My Gramps (my mother's father) picked this pattern up for his mother in Japan in the fifties. He had it shipped to the States, which had to have been hella expensive at that time (and on a sailor's salary). She absolutely loved it. She gave it to my grandmother (Gramps' wife) who eventually passed it on to my mom...and now, I have it. I remember seeing it come out only at holidays, as the good China all-too-often does. I've watched in horror as pieces of it shattered. I remember the thrill I got when my mother told me it was eventually going to be mine.

As I've said before, I am not particularly sentimental when it comes to stuff. I attach emotions much more strongly to places than things. But there are a few exceptions, and my family's China is one of them. It's an impossible-to-find pattern (and yes, I have looked far and wide, and there is likely nothing you can suggest that I have not tried, including but not limited to contacting the manufacturer and scouring Ebay for hours upon hours) and I know that the likelihood of my ever being able to replace some of the pieces is pretty slim. While beautiful, it's not a pattern that 2014 Jen would choose in a showroom. Because of our space limitations, I have never been able to store and use it the way I want to. I have plans for bringing it out into the open in our dream house, but for now, it is packed carefully in a tote. It's the very definition of sentimental clutter.

All boxed up. *sigh*

But it is mine, and it was my mother's and her mother's and her mother-in-law's, and someday if she wants it, it will be my daughter's. So the minimalist bloggers can pry it out of my cold, dead hands, and I suggest they come armed because my angry corpse will reanimate and beat them with a beautifully crafted gravy boat.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Little projects I've been working on

Since we concluded our official "school year" in May, I've turned my attention pretty heavily toward getting the house in order for us. By "order", I do not mean clean. No, no, no. Hurricane Bear and Typhoon Bug live here, after all. My philosophy on cleaning with young kids in the house is simple: If it can draw bugs, or make someone sick or naked, it should be dealt with. So I focus on those things and get to the other stuff when I damn well feel like it have time.

I digress. All the time. Back on topic: projects! I have done some sewing and painting and more painting and I have another sewing project in line, plus some fun ideas for making the backyard more appealing to the kids.

First, I mentioned before that we bought a free-standing pantry to help with some of the kitchen overflow. It was this boring, cheap, particle board number from Lowe's or Home Depot or something.

This was legitimately the least-blurry shot I got with my increasingly worthless point-and-shoot.

I decided to spruce it up:

Chalkboard paint! I think it's a requirement in all homeschooling homes.

I got the idea to do this with the measuring cups on Pinterest. I LOVE it.

My Bug, doing the drawing of the things with the chalks.

I'm very happy with how it turned out. I put the bulletin board up because I wanted a place to display the photos our loved ones often give us of their adorable children, but I do not really do albums or photo shelves and always find that those pictures end up in paper piles on the counter. The bulletin board gives me a no-thinking-required place to stick them and enjoy them. Once I find more of them in the paper piles, that is...

I also painted the entire main floor of the house in Behr's Natural Gray. I love it because it is an actual GRAY. It's not greige. It's not bluish or greenish. It is, as the name implies, a very natural gray. I love how it looks. It's calming and neutral and I very well may use it again when we move in a few years. 

Okay. Sewing. I made some toss pillows, WITH ZIPPERS, for the living room. This was my first experience with zippers since I took a costuming class in college and had an instructor right there to help me the entire time. I did it all by myself. With a tutorial. Ahem. But I did it and they look AWESOME.

I made those! By myself! Yay, projects with straight lines!

I also painted my dining chairs black because 1.) they looked like crap, all dinged up; 2.) black looks better with our gray, green, and blue color scheme. I am going to make cushions for them, probably out of the green fabric I used for the toss pillow on the right, because they are very uncomfortable chairs. I'll post a picture of the dining table and stuff when that's all done. Try to contain your excitement.

And then there's the back yard. It's a great space, all fenced-in, and with a nice awning over the back porch. But we needed to add some things to make it more fun for the kiddos, so here's what I've got so far:

Normally I'd spread things out a bit more, but Husband has to mow again soon, and it's easier to stick everything on the patio if it's closer to the house.

We've had this set for years, but Husband scrubbed it down and fixed all the terrifyingly rickety chairs so we can eke a few more years out of it. I'm hoping to find a good deal on an outdoor rug, too.

The thing I wanted in my back yard more than anything else in the world when I was a kid. But this one is, um, for my children. I have absolutely NOT done a handstand or a full turn on it. Ahem.

He gets a little nervous.

I saw something like this on Pinterest, obviously, and had to make one. I do have a pre-schooler, after all.

And another one of Bug, because Bear was reading and in her pajamas and didn't want to participate.

I also want to get them a mini trampoline. We used to have one, but Ella ate it because she is Ella.

Oh! And apropos of nothing, I won a poetry contest.

               It's really me. Not a different Jennifer. The poem itself will be at one of our county library branches for people to read. Pretty cool!

Our county fair has a creative writing contest with various categories each year. I decided to enter a poem and I won! Now I make sure to constantly refer to myself as "an award-winning poet". "Well, as an award-winning poet, I think we should have Subway for dinner." I think this is charming and delightful and not at all obnoxious. Ahem. I also had my first poem published in a literary magazine a few months ago, and I have a few more out right now. It's been nice to do some actual writing for myself again.

There is always a ton going on in our lives, which I love. Selling the house finally freed us up to move on. Next goal: buy Husband a truck. In cash.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Husband's big week

Courtesy of Jennifer Bramley
Husband had a rather significant few days the week before last. On Tuesday night he received an award from his college (Outstanding Apprentice) and the on Thursday night, he graduated!

We're all so incredibly proud of him. For a long time he didn't really see college as something that was in the cards for him. He'd never enjoyed school, and he already had a good, steady job that supported his family. Pursuing a degree was more of a "that'd be cool but it's not going to happen" than a "someday I will do that" in his mind.

In fall of 2008, he applied for an apprenticeship within his company. It was competitive, but ultimately he was their top pick and he got to choose which path he wanted to take. He decided to take the electrical apprenticeship because, and I shit you not, he said it "won't be as dirty as the mechanical position."

He was wrong, but that's another blog post, and it involves laundry.

The catch to the opportunity was a nearly $4-per-hour pay cut off the bat. Yeah, you read that right. He would receive an evaluation and raise every six months for four years until he was making quite a bit more than his current rate of pay, but at the time I was in school, we had debt, and we were pretty much paycheck-to-paycheck already.

So we talked it out and decided that a few years of discomfort and belt-tightening and, frankly, FEAR, would be worth it in the end for him to receive his college education, paid in full. We refinanced our house, I continued working at my part time job and going to school, and we managed to make our schedules work while Bear was in school.

It was really, really hard. There were several semesters where our credit cards and my student loans kept us afloat. We never missed payments or got into trouble or anything, but money was incredibly tight. And we were dumb, so we still did dumb things sometimes with our money. Things I'd never do now, even though we have more. But I digress.

After a few years in the program, Husband's wages surpassed his pre-apprenticeship rate and things started coming together. We decided to have our Bug, I finished school, we double timed on the debt payoff efforts, and we decided to start working toward our goal of building our dream house.

And that's where this blog began, basically.

So now, after five years in school (because he could only go part time and his school hours counted toward his forty-hour work week), Husband is the proud recipient of his associate of applied science degree as an industrial electrician.

Bear and Bug got to attend both of their parents' college graduations, although Bug was still working on the whole "developing" thing when I walked. Our family could not be prouder of our guy, and we're so happy to put another nail in this custom-built life we're building.

Courtesy of Jennifer Bramley

Monday, May 12, 2014

Little mind games that work for me

I believe in mind over matter. Perhaps not in every situation, of course, as it seems no matter how hard I focus, my coffee simply will not brew, pour, and transport itself to me.

I mean, I'll keep at it, but I think that might be one of the exceptions to the rule.

However. Ahem. Other segues.

I believe that I can generally conjure willpower, courage, trust, motivation...whatever virtue I need, by deciding to. Not always and in every situation, but in many of them, anyway. I do this by playing mind games with myself, because I am a little bit crazy. And also awesome. I use my mind games and tricks to manipulate myself into doing the things I want myself to do but myself does not want to do because myself can be an asshole sometimes, and also lazy.

Here are a few of the ways I make myself do the stuff:

I become indignant

I have always liked to buy things, and am horribly susceptible to advertising. If I see a Wendy's commercial, I want that juicy cheeseburger. I am an advertiser's dream.

Or was.

Over the past few years, I've trained myself to believe that all advertising is evil and conspiratorial (and am I really that far off?). By doing so, I have also learned to rejoice in my ability to "stick it to the man" every time I say no to an impulse purchase. It feels like a victory over The Machine and the naturally rebellious part of my brain absolutely revels in that feeling. I will literally say out loud, "Suck it, Wrigley's! Your bright packaging and promises of fresh breath and long-lasting flavor don't mean SHIT!"

People stare. 

I tell myself I don't have to do it

When I began the excruciating process of packing for our move, and then unpacking after our move (with Husband working MASS hours and going to school), I knew I'd need a plan to keep the overwhelm at bay. So every day I added "pack one box" or "unpack one box" to my to-do list. And it was totally, totally fine if I only packed or unpacked that one box. If I did that, I got to cross it off my list and be finished.

But come on, y'all. You know how it goes when you get on a roll.

So I'd pack, or unpack, one box. And the motivation would kick in and I'd do two to four every single day, without fail. I'm not saying I never got overwhelmed or felt like it would never end. But it got done, and in a timely manner, and there was no mad dash or panic. I just know myself well enough to know that when that motivation bug hits, I will jump on it. All I have to do is swallow the bug.

Best. Metaphor. EVER. Moving on...

I tell myself to "go for it" when I am already in "mid-go"

I have discovered in my tumbling endeavors that sometimes it is very scary to jump backward toward one's head. Or forward toward one's head. Because sometimes said head contacts the floor/mat/trampoline and it is most unpleasant. This leads to two big problems for someone who actually rather LIKES to do things that require head-diving: blocks and balking.

Blocks are a mental thing which prevent us from going for things and can happen for various reasons. Balking is going for the thing and bailing out mid-thing. You with me? Anyway, I have experience with both.

Blocks are harder to get over, but I have discovered that I can prevent myself from balking nine times out of ten by mentally saying, "I'm doing it!" or, "I'm going for it!" halfway through the skill/thing. For example, if I do a roundoff-back-handspring, I mentally say, "I'm going for it!" as I round-off. It's totally mental. I can do the thing easily, physically. But I need my little routine, and for me it has to be a routine I can repeat anywhere. If it relied on location or something like that, I'd never be able to put the skill/thing in any different conditions.

I ask my stuff what it's done for me lately

When it comes to uncluttering and getting rid of things, I can be pretty ruthless. But everyone gets stuck sometimes, you know? A lot of organization blogs and articles tell us to ask ourselves when we last used an item, or if we truly love/use/need it.

I ask it to defend itself.

It's the same thing, only I put the onus on the stuff. Of course, the stuff doesn't talk (I'm not THAT crazy yet), but in my head I imagine how my questionable possessions might argue for their place in my home. If their argument sucks (and it often does), out they go. But if it's something like my Crock Pot, which is all, "Um, bitch, I made you some delicious pork chops with gravy two days ago while you ran errands and played Words with Friends, and then I got clean in the dishwasher. #handwashingsucks #SUCKIT," then obviously it gets to stay.

But the paraffin spa that I HAD to have ten years ago, which Husband bought for me and I used exactly ONCE, sounds more like, "Well, you know, funny you should ask. Remember that time I covered your hands in hot wax and made them ever-so-slightly softer, and it was totally fine and not inconvenient that you couldn't use your hands for half an hour, and then it was no big deal to wait over an hour for me to cool down and you really enjoyed all the wax-scraping and clean-up? Good times! I am totally worth the 18" X 12" X 12" space I take up in the bottom of the linen closet!"

Things did not end well for the paraffin spa.

So okay, now you've seen a smidgen of my brand of crazy, but since I explained it to you it makes total sense, right? Feel free to borrow my mind games and adapt them to your own purposes. They are very effective and make me get things done and not be a big coward and/or hoarder. You're welcome.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Because she needs to hear it from me, more than anyone

I told my daughter the other day that I love my body. And it was not a lie, actually. I'm not saying my belly and I don't have our bad days together, or that I never shoot my thighs the stink-eye, or that I don't cringe when I see photos of myself, or that I have some weird, reverse-dysmorphia where I see rock-hard abs and defined biceps where my far more typical lady-softness is.

I'm saying that, in general, I love this body, I make no apologies for it, and my kids need to know that.

My daughter needs to know how cool I think it is that my thirty-three-year-old ass can do gymnastics. My son needs to know that my body is mine (and his is his, and everyone's is his or her own) and respect that. My daughter needs to know that fashion and "beauty" magazines are ridiculous and stupid (which is why I regularly show her things like THIS and we laugh together) and that mama does not compare herself to the photographs inside them. My son needs to know that a woman (or a man; who knows?) does not owe it to him to be skinny, or even just thin.

That blurry, purple and grey, flying thing is ME.

My kids need to know that mama is proud of this one body, the only one she will ever have, and that she values its awesomeness enough to respect it and try to make it last as long as possible.

So we were in the car and I can't even remember how the conversation came up, but I said, in so many words, "I really love my body." Because how many among us ever heard our mothers actually say those words?

And then I explained why I love it, and how important it is to me to give it respect and thanks for the awesome stuff it does for me. And I mentioned that it irritates me how the media uses computers to make changes to women's bodies in magazines or on tv, and how indignant I feel when I hear talk of how women are supposed to look because genetics aren't one-size-fits-all and that's just science, people. And she was really, really listening.

And I really, really hope it meant something to her, because I'm going to say it again, and again, and again.

One of these days, something will make her doubt the value of her own body. A model in a magazine, or an off-handed comment, or a tv show, or a super-fit friend or acquaintance, or a scale with all its stupid numbers. Something will put a chink in her body confidence armor.

And I want her to be armed and ready to shut that shit down.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

It's Gone!

Less than a half a second letter, that stick connected with my chest.
As of Friday, Jen and Husband are no longer home owners. We closed on our house, passed on the keys, and left a little gift behind for the new owners. It feels weird, after eleven years, that I am no longer allowed to go into that house anytime I want. It's not mine. Someone else owns all the rights to it. I guess I could try, but I feel like the new owners might not be cool about it.

Some people are really touchy.

Back when I started this blog, my intention was to chronicle our home building and moving process, with lots of life-stuff and the things I find in my weird brain mixed in. I laid out our Super Awesome Plan and we got to work on it immediately. Putting it in list form was key. I work very well with lists.

I'm extremely proud to say that we have officially checked off numbers one (admit we have a problem), two (get out of debt), three (purge the toxins), five (ready the house for sale), and six (sell this bitch). We altered our plan and five became four and four became seven, probably, and it was all very exhausting.And technically we still have debt, as we have a car payment and my student loans, but all the credit card debt is paid off. And that was pretty much the main focus of that effort.

So that was a little more than two years ago. We made a plan and we saw it through. And it was literally the hardest thing I've ever done. Harder than maintaining an 'A' average in college while pregnant—twice. Harder than giving birth, also twice. There was a lot of crying, frustration, hopelessness, fear, doubt, etc. Lots. LOTS. that we've passed our first home on to a new family and settled comfortably into the house we're renting, it's time to shift our focus. We get to take a few years off from updating and repairing and worrying about the housing market and turn our thoughts to our future. And the biggest future-y thing on our minds right now is our financial plan.

Talking about personal finance can be a bit tacky, and I maintain my right not to go into great detail, but in the interest of thinking about the future, I do want to talk a bit about our goals.We have many of them.

First and foremost, after the stress of preparing and selling a home, we think we deserve a few months to do nothing big, and the timing is perfect for that with summer break on the horizon. We're going to turn our attention to making our rental house feel more like "home" to us. This will include:

  • Painting the rooms on the main floor a really lovely gray(when we get to it)
  • Painting Bug's room blue (we asked him what color he wanted, which was risky, but it worked out! I was sure he'd say, "Black!" or, "Red!")
  • Finally painting our ugly, black lacquer bedroom furniture (when I feel like it)
  • Making the back yard a fun place for the kids to play and for guests to come enjoy with us (I have some cool plans, but I haven't started on them yet, so I'll share them when I actually do something with them)
  • Taking a week off for a "staycation" (whenever we WANT)

In addition to the house-y stuff, we are also looking forward to:

  • Re-evaluating our budget and savings plan now that we have only one house to pay for
  • Buying Husband a new car, in cash, and not acquiring any more debt
  • Rebuilding our savings with the goal of putting down 20% on our new home

These are the things we intend to accomplish this summer. Well, not saving the 20% down payment in one summer, but starting on it. Slowly.

No big decisions aside from the car, no major purchases aside from the car, no added stress. After years of thinking of nothing except for moving on and putting all of our attention toward that goal, we feel like we deserve a few months to have fun and enjoy life.

Thanks for continuing along on this insane thing with me. I'm beginning to believe we might actually pull this off. You know—as long as I make us a list.

And here are a few more of our "last photos":

Bug and me in the kitchen. I had, um, something in my eye. Ahem.

Daddy and Bug in the kitchen.

I had to coerce her to hug me in Husband's and my old bedroom. Husband put in that overhead lighting.

Bear needed one, final climb in her favorite tree.