Friday, 30 March 2012

Spring Cleaning

I took some vacation time this week. Two days. Although I had planned from the outset to use the time to do some spring cleaning and organising, I also thought excitedly about some of the other things I might be able to do: get a hair cut and colour, maybe a pedicure, see a movie, finally get my orientation at the gym and maybe take a fitness class...

It probably won't come as a surprise when I confess that I often make my to-do lists impossibly long to complete. Not just on big errand-doing days, but even on a regular evening, or routine shopping trip, I try to do way more things than are realistically feasible. So, even though I had booked off two whole days, I was proud of myself for recognising the need to prioritise. I made a real attempt to reduce my list, lower my expectations, and to focus my efforts on some projects from the Never-Gets-Done list.

My abbreviated plans looked something like this:

Things to do on my days off:
sort through the children’s clothes: remove clothes from drawers that never get worn, have persistent stains or holes,
- sort through books, children’s books, toys, movies, stuffed animals, and donate some to charity
- dust
- reorganise the laundry/storage room, including hanging a couple of shelves and sorting through ‘stuff’ for charity or disposal
- build storage unit and hang medicine cabinet in bathroom
Cooper, our Walker Hound, after his visit to the groomer.
 I am proud to say that I did pretty well at accomplishing my goals.  Day 1 started by going for a run, taking Cooper to the groomer for his quarterly bath, and then tackling the children's clothes.  Between the nanny putting clothes away in the wrong drawers (I acknowledge that it can be challenging to distinguish between size 2 and size 3 and size 4 pink leggings, but I don't understand putting dresses in the pyjama drawer), and children rummaging around for their favourite sparkly shirt, their dresser drawers are just a jumbled mess.  It gave me great pleasure and satisfaction to put properly folded shirts, pants, dresses, socks and underwear in their proper places.  Even if it only lasts for 2 weeks.  (I'm optimistic.)  I also sorted through my dresser and closet.  I'm hoping that these will last a little longer.
Next, I grabbed a snack and tried to sneak out of the house before the nanny and the girls came in for lunch.  I was unsuccessful.  It's hard to explain to the children that I'm not 'working', but that I'm working in the house.  I'm not sure the nanny really appreciated it either.  There were a few tears, but I was focused.  I was heading out for a shopping trip to IKEA.  How could I properly organise the basement without storage containers?  I also picked up a new picture frame, pillow, curtains, the aforementioned medicine cabinet for the bathroom.  (Why does a trip to IKEA always cost me more than I planned?)
For Day 2, I knew I needed to start with the laundry/storage room or else it might never happen.  I was somewhat successful at hanging a new shelf.  (The screws are at least halfway into the studs.  I really should learn how to use the drill).  I cleared out a lot of junk.  I sorted lots of odds and ends.  I made space.  I wish I had taken before and after pictures.  For an unfinished basement laundry room, I think it's beautiful. Maybe not suitable for, but I actually feel happy when I go in there now.  Even if it is to do laundry.
My cabinet building project was the frustrating low-point of my day.  We live in a small, three bedroom, one bathroom semi-detached house.  Our one bathroom is tiny.  Until littlest sister was born, we kept towels in a chest of drawers in the spare bedroom.  Now there is no spare chest of drawers, so finding a place to store towels has been a problem.  I finally found a not ideal, but not bad storage cabinet for the bathroom.  After at least three weeks in the box, I spent about 2 hours building our IKEA bathroom cabinet.  (I actually enjoy putting together IKEA furniture.  I'm sure I'm not the only one.)  Then, I proudly carted it into the bathroom where I discovered that it's too big.  Sigh.  It's fits, but it takes up too much space.  When placed on the wall opposite to the toilet, the cabinet is so deep that I nearly knocked my head on it when getting up.  Sigh again.  Back to the wicker chest of drawers which is barely suitable for holding 2 towels, let alone a whole set.  And now what do I do with this extra piece of furniture.  Sigh.  I was too discouraged to build the medicine cabinet.
Overall, however, I had a successful spring cleaning vacation.  Never mind that I didn't really do any spring cleaning, such as dusting (still on the Never-Gets-Done list), just lots of therapeutic sorting and organising.  While organising might not be how everyone would choose to spend their time off work, for me it was something I needed, and actually wanted to do.  If I could organise my house, could organise my life?
Actual spring cleaning, including dusting, will have to wait for another set of vacation days.  Just remind me to book an extra day for a spa and pedicure.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

The Perfect Job

Way back when we were just starting out, back before children were even on the horizon, my hubby and I thought a lot about the perfect job. It was sometimes a conversation starter: "If you could have any job you'd like, what would it be?". For hubby, it has always been to own a record shop - like John Cusack in High Fidelity, or his favourite Toronto music store, Soundscapes.  For me, I thought running or maybe even just working in a florist shop or gardening centre would be perfect.

We haven't talked as much about finding the perfect job lately.  In fact, I had almost forgotten the 5 criteria we had decided upon for finding an ideal job. 

Criteria for an Ideal Job

1. The location must be reasonably close to home.  We always thought that being able to walk or bike to work would be ideal, amazing really.  But even a reasonable commute by car or public transportation is totally fine, as long as the commute leans more towards acceptable than unbearable.

2.  You need to like the people you work with.  Given the amount of time that we all spend at work, it's important to enjoy yourself and be comfortable around your colleagues.  I'm not saying that I need to best buds with my coworkers, but having friendly relationships makes the work day less stressful and more fun.

3.  The work itself should be meaningful.  This is not to say that we all need to work for not-for-profit, community-enriching companies, but I definitely want to feel that my work or the company I am working for is about more than the bottom line.  I want to feel as though the work I do is valuable to someone more than just my employer.

4.  You should feel sufficiently challenged by the work that is required from you. Let's face it, a lot of life is spent working.  Yes, there are challenges at home, volunteer opportunities, as well as hobbies and other activities that we may choose to pursue in order to expand our minds, develop our talents and skills.  But given the investment we make into our job, we thought that it's important that we grow and develop while we're at it.

5.  The compensation should be reasonable.  Of course, there is probably some balance between what someone would consider an acceptable salary based on how well the other criteria are satisfied: We agree that in some scenarios, probably no amount of money would be acceptable, while in other cases, we might be willing to accept a lower salary if it meant that we could be really happy with everything else.

Looking back on these criteria now, I think they are still pretty accurate.  However, now that I'm a working mom, I might somehow work in the importance for work-life balance.  In fact, I'm sure that anyone with children must recognise the need to balance personal life and work life.  So I'm adding another criterion for an ideal job:

6.  The employer and working environment should not just acknowledge, but support the priority of family.

I'm fortunate to say that my job and I are doing very well on all of these criteria.  No job is perfect, of course, but lucky for me, I think I may have what is very close to an ideal job. 

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Neat Freak

I like an orderly house.  Admittedly, this is hard to accomplish in a house with three children under the age of 6, a hubby and a nanny. 

It's just that I think that everything should have a place and that it should get put there when you are finished with it.  I long for the day that my children catch on to this idea.  Then again, hubby and nanny don't seem to catch on - although hubby makes a solid effort, mostly to appease me, I think. 

I know that I'm a little too obsessed about it.  A bit of a freak, actually.  It's just that there is so much stuff in our small house, I go crazy with the clutter.  I also go crazy trying to enforce my order on others.

The way I see it: if things aren't put away properly, how do you know where to find them?  Unfortunately, since the kids and the nanny aren't as obsessed as I am about putting things away, things often go missing.  It drives me nuts.  

Every once in a while, I resort through all the toys and colouring books and crayons and markers and puzzles and books and dolls and doll clothes and shoes and accessories in order to put things away where they are meant to go.  In doing so, I usually find toys or items that the girls have claimed as lost, since they were just not put away in their proper place.  However, I am just as often baffled by the number of really lost things.  I know it shouldn't be surprised; young children and a just-getting-by nanny are a recipe for lost things.  But it bothers me. A lot.  More than it should.  I know. 

(Before you think I am totally nuts, I'd like to state that I've given up on trying to keep markers and lids together, I'm quite alright with incomplete sets of crayons, markers and pencil crayons, and I only somewhat reluctantly admit that the little doll shoes, hair clips and toy jewellery are beyond my control.)

However, because I like order and lists, I keep track of the missing things.  Lost things.  It helps me cope. 

For example, as the list currently stands, there have been 17 playing pieces from a Disney Princess matching game missing since at least December.   Some part of me realises that we'll never find them, and I should just end my suffering by throwing out the rest, but I just can't help wondering where on earth 17 pieces could have gone!  I can understand one or two, maybe even five - but 17?!

On Sunday, a glorious, warm and sunny day for March, we went to the local playground.  While some playgrounds have woodchips, this is a sand-based playground.  I've often considered the relative disadvantages of woodchips versus sand, which normally has me favouring woodchips, except for the fact that they get stuck to clothing, inside mittens and pockets, but in this case, the sand revealed a mystery... while we were there, I uncovered 2 Disney Princess matching game pieces! 

Now I suppose it's possible that these pieces belonged to someone else; my daughters were not forthcoming with an explanation. So, although the once brightly coloured game pieces are worn and weathered after a presumed winter in the sand, I brought those pieces home, and reduced my lost count to 15.  Perhaps we'll find the rest over the summer.

Other lost things that are driving me a little nuts: 2 saucers, 3 tea cups, 3 spoons and a lid to the tea pot from a play tea set.  I've searched everywhere.  In the middle of January, in a eureka-I-figured-out-where-they-went moment, I even peeked out in the sandbox.  They weren't there.  How did they get separated, and where could they be?

Fortunately, my husband's brown cashmere sweater showed up last week after hiding behind coats at the top of the stairs for more than 2 months.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Vacation Time

A fellow working mom recently posted about her "mommy vacation". Prior to starting a new job, she took three days off, just for herself.  She thought maybe it was selfish, but enjoyed herself anyway.  Good for you mom - definitely well deserved!  It got me to thinking about the different ways I spend my vacation time from work...

In my mind, there are three kinds of vacation: family vacation, vacation from family, and vacation time spent doing work at home.

Family Vacation
We recently took a family vacation: a skiing holiday with my in-laws to Killington, Vermont.  It was a great trip.  We drove down separately, so we had a bit of time on our own little holiday, but spent the week sharing a townhouse at the mountain with Grandma and Papa.  The older two girls went to ski school in the morning, and the little one stayed in with Grandma while me and hubby and Papa did some skiing.  In the afternoons, I stayed in with all three girls for naptime.  There was even some swimming on a couple of evenings.  We had most meals in the townhouse, and ate at restaurants while travelling and on two evenings while we were there.  We are very grateful for Grandma and Papa who made the arrangements, financed most of the trip, and arranged for and prepared the meals.  Without them, it wouldn't be possible for us to take a trip like this at this point in our lives.  In fact, it seems that all of our family vacations since having children have involved the cooperation of parents, siblings or friends.  I'm very fortunate to have the support of my family for our family vacations.

Despite interrupted sleep, lost toys, and the piles of laundry upon the return home, there are more than enough positives in a family vacation to make up for it.  What's nicest about family vacations is how much easier it is to enjoy our children when we were relaxed and away from the normal daily activities of home.  Despite the long drive in the car, there were lots of times that we were goofing around and having fun.   And while we were there, I often noted to myself how nice it was really talk to, interact and play with the kids.

Vacation from Family
Since returning to work, I've had a couple of opportunities to enjoy this type of vacation in the form of business trips.  I'm fortunate in my position to be required to do what I consider the perfect amount of business travel: not too much that I'm away from my family too often, but often enough that I get to enjoy a break from the everyday activities of life at least a couple of times a year.

Although some business trips are somewhat rushed in order to minimise time away from home, I can always appreciate the large empty bed, the thrill of waking on my own schedule, and eating meals at restaurants in the company of adults.  For a short period of time, I can be without the obligations of dinner preparation, nighttime rituals and laundry. 

Last year I also had the pleasure of an overseas trip for work.  Travelling to Europe offers the excuse of a longer stay, with the opportunity to add some personal vacation, since staying over a Saturday always provides a significant cost benefit for the company.  In a course of 6 days, I read 3 books, enjoyed my own quiet company, ran when I wanted to, ate what and when I wanted to, saw a few sites, did a little shopping, and caught up on some much deserved rest and relaxation.  I only felt a little guilty when I returned. 

But I know that my enjoyment of time away was evident: now when business trips come up, my boss no longer asks apprehensively if I think I can go; instead, she excitedly asks me if I want to go away.  She's a mom too - she definitely understands!

Vacation Time for House Work
I'm sure I'm not alone in this.  Thankfully, I have enough vacation days at work that I can spend some of them catching up on things at home.  At least once a quarter, I like to take a day or two off work in order to tackle the Never-Gets-Done-List at home.  Sometimes it's just a full day of house-cleaning: the dusting, vacuuming, carpet stain removal, floor washing, and pantry and fridge cleaning that have gotten away from me.  Other times I use the days for very specific projects: reorganising and sorting through the junk in the basement, painting the deck, sorting through the children's clothes at season and size changes.  Taking a day off to truly rest and relax is a rare thing - perhaps that's why I take advantage of business trips when I get the chance, and maybe someday, I'll take a "mommy vacation" of my own.

Vacation Time with Hubby
On a related note, hubby and I will be celebrating 10 years of marriage in June.  We're planning on taking a few days to go somewhere and just relax and be by ourselves.  I'm really looking forward to this.  Truth be told, I've been thinking about it for a couple of years.  Now, we just have to decide on where to go... oh, and arrange for child care!