Marriage

preparing our children for marriage

Julie / September 3, 2010

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It occurred to me that since my last entry was more or less from the perspective of “my” generation, that it might come across as critical of my parents‘ generation, which wasn’t what I meant at all.  This cultural shift away from “responsible twentysomethings” and early marriage doesn’t seem to me like it’s going anywhere anytime soon, and it’s been in the works since the 1970s or so, based on what I’ve read.  I’ve actually been thinking about it as a parent more than I have as a participant, and it might be more balanced if I talked about it from that direction, huh?

In short, as it’s becoming ever more clear that society is arrayed against young marriage, what can we do as parents to help our kids bridge the gap?

The biggest thing, I think, is to raise them to be married.  Not, in other words, to raise our daughters to be career people, or to raise our sons to be single wandering types who can barely provide for themselves, much less a family.

The American “track” for kids and teenagers goes something like this: do well in high school, participate in sports and extracurriculars; get scholarships to college, do the whole college scene with at least a year on-campus to get the “experience”; graduate after four or five or six years (or maybe go to graduate school); get a job, settle down, maybe marry that boyfriend you’ve been toting around since senior year; after five years of marriage (and entering one’s thirties), have kids.  And woe to those who get off the track–how many high school drop-outs end up at law firms?

But we want our kids to glorify God.  Full stop.  That’s what we want, and all we want, right?  How much of this American “ideal” do we really need?

Not excepting the possibility that a child may be called to celibacy–and not underemphasizing that parents need to be aware and discerning of that possibility–the general expectation is that our girls will want to get married and be moms some day.  So what is the very best preparation and support that we can give them to serve and glorify God in that role?

I find myself planning their academics and asking myself what will be most useful to them as a wife and mother rather than what will help them succeed in a career–or even in college, although I definitely think that a good homeschool education should be more than sufficient to prepare them for college in a coincidental sense.  It is more important that they be able to run households well more than that they can discuss the leaders of the French Revolution.  This is one type of preparation: basic life skills to live without Mommy and Daddy.

There’s also emotional preparation: to be the type of mature twenty-year-olds who have the discernment and knowledge to choose good mates, and be able to take the challenges and blessings of marriage in stride.  A wedding changes your life, no mistake about it, and teenagers aren’t quite “done baking” yet on the maturity front–but when society expected them to get married and stay married, they managed–with minuscule divorce rates.  I want our kids to have that kind of maturity and understanding of things larger than themselves (i.e. the sanctity of marriage!) so that they don’t want to “sow wild oats” before they feel ready for marriage.  Somehow we’ve got to help kids have some confidence in their ability (by God’s grace) to make marriage work, even when the world is telling them they’re way too young to pull it off.  We can help them have reasonable expectations (and aspirations) and to build relationship skills to help it all come together.

And then there’s financial.  I don’t see a practical way, honestly, to have a large number of children and still support them with great scads of literal money after they’re grown up… but there are many young people whose parents are giving them the advice and friendly urging that they need in order to find a little business niche of their own, even in young teenagerdom, in the grand tradition of the Proverbs 31 woman.  Parents can help their kids discover their marketable talents and give them the sound business advice to actually get a small work-at-home operation off the ground and running with some degree of reliability before the child ever marries and leaves for their own house.  It’s also gigantic if parents can help their kids stay debt-free before marriage–I haven’t seen diligent, frugal couples very often who can’t make it work financially… unless they’re struggling under a mountain of debt, which sometimes is their fault through poor judgment and sometimes isn’t their fault at all.  But I don’t think anything keeps you debt-free as much as good advice.  Lastly, parents should teach and model frugality.  It really is an acquired skill!  Not only because we grow accustomed to certain spending habits and then have massive culture shock when we have those habits without our parents’ pocketbooks attached–but because living frugally is largely a matter of simply knowing how to do it!  Knowing which corners to cut, how to stay entertained and have fun without expending large amounts of money in the process, which items to invest in and which not to buy at all, knowing how to cook on a budget without resorting to pre-processed foods (which are sadly cheaper than fresh ones) or an unbalanced diet: these are all valuable pieces of knowledge, skills, and discernment that we can teach our children!  We can also teach them as many money-saving talents as we can, and encourage them to pursue them on their own–things like knowing how to fix things around the house yourself, or your car; how to sew, and so on.

This is by no means exhaustive.  We’ve only had girls so far, and so I’ve thought about it almost entirely in the context of daughters.  I’m only now really beginning to wonder how to help our soon-to-arrive (Lord willing) son learn to provide for his family, and I imagine that is going to look very different in significant ways from teaching daughters how to care for their families.  And I’m still learning so much of this myself.  I am sure, though, that I want our kids to achieve success in God’s eyes–and I’m unconcerned about how that looks compared to success in the world’s eyes.

Marriage

Money for (Young) Marriage

Julie / August 30, 2010

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The New York Times Magazine article “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” has been popping up all over the place since it was published, and I’ve been thinking very deeply about the points it makes in reference to another widely-quoted article that was published in Christianity Today a full year prior–“The Case for Early Marriage.”  Both are very important articles about a single particular cultural shift, and despite their length, both are worth the time to read and ponder.

There are many, many good points in the CT article, but there was one that is particularly justified in light of this recent research.  Author Mark Regnerus writes:

[T]he economic domain remains an area in which many parents are often able, but frequently unwilling, to assist their children. Many well-meaning parents use their resources as a threat, implying that if their children marry before the age at which their parents socially approve, they are on their own. No more car insurance. No help with tuition. No more rent.

This doesn’t sound very compassionate toward marriage–or toward family members. This is, however, a two-way street: many young adults consider it immature or humiliating to rely on others for financial or even social support. They would rather deal with sexual guilt–if they sense any at all–than consider marrying before they think they are ready. This cultural predilection toward punishing rather than blessing marriage must go, and congregations and churchgoers can help by dropping their own punitive positions toward family members, as well as by identifying deserving young couples who could use a little extra help once in a while. Christians are great about supporting their missionaries, but in this matter, we can be missionaries to the marriages in our midst.

In the newer, secular NYT article, the stark financial reality of my generation is more detailed: twice as many of all twenty-somethings (totaling two-thirds) have received financial aid or literal task assistance from their parents in a given month. Richer parents give their children more money, but poor parents give their kids money too; whether rich or poor, the total is equivalent to roughly 10% of the parents’ income during the beginning of twenty-somethings.  Countless news articles attest to the astounding unemployment/underemployment rate of this age segment, and it seems to be a growing certainty that, for whatever reason, the average twenty-something can’t quite manage to support themselves financially.

Enter the question of marriage into this scenario.  Your peers are busy doing internships, “finding” themselves, or trying and failing to find a bread-winning job in a struggling economy.  Two-thirds of them cohabit but don’t actually marry; very, very few have children.  (And if we exclude the lowest social classes, the number of us with children will drop even more.)  Yet we read articles and books that sound like they’re based on very biblical teachings, telling us that with marriage should come children, that women are to be keepers at home–and even in more secular churches, there is still often the idea that we should keep our children away from the (free) public schools, or that daycare is evil… in other words, the Christian idea of marriage is even more expensive than the secular idea of marriage, so should it really be a surprise that Christian young people are joining the world in delaying marriage?  Marriage is expensive.  And we live in a very non-community-centered culture where young people usually are financially expected to be very much on their own–if they’re married.

I understand where the idea comes from; it’s the whole “leave father and mother and cleave to spouse” thing; married people are supposed to be a good deal independent of their parents.

At the same time, though, I’ve seen so many young couples genuinely struggle to make ends meet (if they even get married in the first place), and so often their biggest problems are ones that would be reasonably trivial to fix.  It’s a gap between the maturity, resources, and wisdom that they possess, and the maturity, resources, and wisdom that they need to make their home look like the ones we read about in Christian marriage/family how-to books.  How many couples could figure out how to let the wife stay at home with their children if they only had someone giving them accurate piercing financial advice, or even a garage or basement or guest room to stay in for a few months so they can pay down their school debt and start putting what income they do have towards actual maintenance of their family?  How many young couples without any credit on the books could buy a house if another family (their parents, mayhaps) who knew them to be responsible, genuine, hardworking people would give them a loan towards a down payment, or a second mortgage so they wouldn’t have to throw away money on PMI every month?  How many hard-working husbands could learn and do excellent work in a new field–if a Christian small bushiness owner would trouble to give them the job in the first place, or if their parents’ network of friends could find a job within their ranks and connections?

It all sounds very obvious.  This is a tremendous and important ministry opportunity.  In all seriousness, however, I don’t see it happening very much.  I see a lot of young couples who just struggle.  Too many send their children to daycare because the paltry couple hundred dollars that’s left over from her income after paying for the daycare is still a couple hundred dollars that they can’t make up any other way.  And I can’t begin to tell you how many people tell me they “can’t afford” to have children, even though they’re working their tails off.  School debt is a real killer, but there’s also plenty of instances where the couple just needs some really sound (and occasionally brutal) advice.  But it doesn’t seem like anybody’s handing advice out to young couples these days.

I’m very passionate about people getting married.  I think it’s silly and perverse that churches promote “purity pledges” and “True Love Waits” faux-wedding rings instead of urging marriage.  At the same time, though, I understand why so many of my generation are holding off: society as a whole seems dead set against  helping us figure out how to make marriage financially feasible–especially if we care to follow the biblical command to have children along with that marriage–and too many other Christians, even parents, don’t seem to regard it as a very high priority, either.

Homemaking

Things I’ve learned about housework.

Julie / August 27, 2010

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So, our house has been reasonably clean for… three weeks now, I think?  It’s a little surreal, frankly; it’s almost like something finally went “click” in my head and housework started to make more sense.  At any rate, there are some major things that have become very clear to me–at least in our house, with our tiny kids, and our relative amount of space.

 

Don’t HAVE clutter.

This has been a growing conviction over the past two years or so: I can’t tell you how much stuff I throw away simply because it isn’t worth the effort to find a place for it.  The only way to keep everything straight is for everything to have a good, convenient, permanent home, and unless one’s house is infinitely full of perfectly-sized cubbies and closets, that really limits the amount of stuff you can have.  So I’ve learned to throw it away.  If it’s something I never use and would be easy/cheap to replace if I ever did need it, it’s an easy toss.  If it’s something I rarely use and can use something else instead (small appliances often fall in this category), it’s a pretty easy toss, too.  If it’s something unusable, it usually gets tossed too.  In short, I’m learning to only accumulate things that fit ALL these criteria: it’s something 1) we need; 2) as close to an ideal solution for that need as possible; 3) I have a plan for where to put it in our house.  Also: before finding a place for something / organizing a group of somethings, I ask myself if it would really go better in the trash can.

 

The clutter we do keep needs a perfect home.

Lots of people say “everything needs a home,” and that’s very true.  But what’s been harder for me to learn is that everything needs a perfect home.  If something is too hard to get to–too far away from where it’s used, behind too many other things, under other things–then it won’t stay where it belongs.  I can make my purse’s “home” the coat closet until the cows come home, and it’s still going to end up in a pile in our living room.  (One “hack” for this is to make the item’s home fun and gimmicky… when I switched my purse for a tiny keychain wallet and got a pretty little set of hooks to install in our basement stairwell, suddenly my purse leapt from the living room and now stays cozied in the basement stairwell, even though that’s further away than the coat closet was.  There’s just something vaguely satisfying about hanging keychains on little hooks, and so I do it, even though it’s more work.)  But generally: it’s well worth the trouble to find everything a home that is convenient, accessible, and otherwise… perfect.

 

Organization takes money.  Or lots of space.

For ages, we’d go for different organization schemes based on what we found at a local store and a strong look at the price tag.  In the past few months, I’ve started buying organizational things (containers, etc.) that are exactly what we need, or as close to it as I can find.  I discovered the Container Store, and went there armed with measurements.  I expect to do something like that (or order online) in the future, too.  It’s better to have a box / divider / folder that does exactly what I need it to do and takes up exactly the amount of space I actually have, even if I end up paying four times what I’d pay for the cheapest little cheap container at Walmart.  This is a little bit counter-intuitive, but it really has helped create order out of chaos better than mismatched piles of plastic boxes with lots of empty space in between.  Also: if containers are too small, then they’ll either stay empty or take too much time filing items away in a microscopic fashion; if containers are too big, then they become miniature organizational disasters all by themselves.

 

Clutter is magnetic.

This one’s simple: if there’s a pile of stuff on the dining room table, it’s no big to add another little thing on rather than traipse it up the stairs.  If the table’s clear, I’ll make the extra effort to keep it that way.  Moral of the story: to keep a clean house, create lots of completely clean/clear spaces, and defend them vigilantly.  Don’t tarry, or it will stack up and beat you!

 

Know which areas of the house turn into cleaning monsters, and which ones simply stagnate.

This is essential for sanity.  In our house, the kitchen is the worst cleaning monster–if I leave it alone too long, it can be a gigantic, time-consuming pile of work to get back in order.  Conversely, I could “sic” the kids on the nursery for hours and still clean everything back up in ten minutes.  Two implications: 1) if I only have time/energy to clean one room, it had better be the kitchen; 2) if I have a choice about which room gets messy, it’s going to be the nursery.  Also, there are some “small” chores that are easy to just plain ignore–dusting baseboards, cleaning shower door tracks, scrubbing down cabinet faces–but if they don’t ever get done, they’re very complicated or even outright impossible to restore to their prior glory.  Another lesson learned the hard way!

 

The whole “keep your sink shiny” thing is true.

This is a trick from FlyLady: if your sink is shiny and empty (a relatively easy task), the rest of the kitchen will follow.  It’s totally psychological: there’s such a feeling of accomplishment that comes from looking at the dish-free, shiny, pretty sink, it makes you want to go out and make other things clutterless, shiny, and pretty.  So I’ve been working hard to keep our sink shiny and clean pretty much all day long, and I try to identify other “sinks” in the house that are similarly motivating.  Another important sidenote of this is the “pretty” aspect… I’ve found that if I put some effort into making the things in our house a little bit pretty, and not just functional and neat, it really inspires me to keep them clean as well.  So far, this is just the bathrooms and a vague attempt to make the soap dispensers, toothbrush holders, and towels all match the paint/walls in the bathroom.

 

It’s an unending battle.

And here we come to the point I haven’t really learned how to deal with yet: if you’re going to keep your house super-clean, then pretty much every hour of the day is going to find you picking up something.  Whether it’s going through the new stack of mail, washing up the dinner dishes, or vacuuming for the tenth time that day, it keeps you on your toes.  Even though I know I don’t spend as much time cleaning now that it’s mostly maintenance, and even though it’s much less stressful than trying to attack a really messy house, this whole never-a-moment-to-rest thing is definitely an adjustment.  Sometimes I feel like cleaning is all I do!  It’s much better all-around, and I do feel better about it all, but every once in a while I find myself wishing that there was no one in the house making messes, so that I could just STOP with the maintenance for an hour or two!  Again, though, I know there’s no competition between the before and after versions of housekeeping for which one actually takes more cumulative time… I have a lot more time now to devote to other things.  I just sometimes miss the feeling of letting things go and not doing housework outside of my temporal housework zones.

Homemaking

Things I’ve learned about housework.

Julie / August 27, 2010

1114379_36388957

So, our house has been reasonably clean for… three weeks now, I think?  It’s a little surreal, frankly; it’s almost like something finally went “click” in my head and housework started to make more sense.  At any rate, there are some major things that have become very clear to me–at least in our house, with our tiny kids, and our relative amount of space.

Don’t HAVE clutter.

This has been a growing conviction over the past two years or so: I can’t tell you how much stuff I throw away simply because it isn’t worth the effort to find a place for it.  The only way to keep everything straight is for everything to have a good, convenient, permanent home, and unless one’s house is infinitely full of perfectly-sized cubbies and closets, that really limits the amount of stuff you can have.  So I’ve learned to throw it away.  If it’s something I never use and would be easy/cheap to replace if I ever did need it, it’s an easy toss.  If it’s something I rarely use and can use something else instead (small appliances often fall in this category), it’s a pretty easy toss, too.  If it’s something unusable, it usually gets tossed too.  In short, I’m learning to only accumulate things that fit ALL these criteria: it’s something 1) we need; 2) as close to an ideal solution for that need as possible; 3) I have a plan for where to put it in our house.  Also: before finding a place for something / organizing a group of somethings, I ask myself if it would really go better in the trash can.

The clutter we do keep needs a perfect home.

Lots of people say “everything needs a home,” and that’s very true.  But what’s been harder for me to learn is that everything needs a perfect home.  If something is too hard to get to–too far away from where it’s used, behind too many other things, under other things–then it won’t stay where it belongs.  I can make my purse’s “home” the coat closet until the cows come home, and it’s still going to end up in a pile in our living room.  (One “hack” for this is to make the item’s home fun and gimmicky… when I switched my purse for a tiny keychain wallet and got a pretty little set of hooks to install in our basement stairwell, suddenly my purse leapt from the living room and now stays cozied in the basement stairwell, even though that’s further away than the coat closet was.  There’s just something vaguely satisfying about hanging keychains on little hooks, and so I do it, even though it’s more work.)  But generally: it’s well worth the trouble to find everything a home that is convenient, accessible, and otherwise… perfect.

Organization takes money.  Or lots of space.

For ages, we’d go for different organization schemes based on what we found at a local store and a strong look at the price tag.  In the past few months, I’ve started buying organizational things (containers, etc.) that are exactly what we need, or as close to it as I can find.  I discovered the Container Store, and went there armed with measurements.  I expect to do something like that (or order online) in the future, too.  It’s better to have a box / divider / folder that does exactly what I need it to do and takes up exactly the amount of space I actually have, even if I end up paying four times what I’d pay for the cheapest little cheap container at Walmart.  This is a little bit counter-intuitive, but it really has helped create order out of chaos better than mismatched piles of plastic boxes with lots of empty space in between.  Also: if containers are too small, then they’ll either stay empty or take too much time filing items away in a microscopic fashion; if containers are too big, then they become miniature organizational disasters all by themselves.

Clutter is magnetic.

This one’s simple: if there’s a pile of stuff on the dining room table, it’s no big to add another little thing on rather than traipse it up the stairs.  If the table’s clear, I’ll make the extra effort to keep it that way.  Moral of the story: to keep a clean house, create lots of completely clean/clear spaces, and defend them vigilantly.  Don’t tarry, or it will stack up and beat you!

Know which areas of the house turn into cleaning monsters, and which ones simply stagnate.

This is essential for sanity.  In our house, the kitchen is the worst cleaning monster–if I leave it alone too long, it can be a gigantic, time-consuming pile of work to get back in order.  Conversely, I could “sic” the kids on the nursery for hours and still clean everything back up in ten minutes.  Two implications: 1) if I only have time/energy to clean one room, it had better be the kitchen; 2) if I have a choice about which room gets messy, it’s going to be the nursery.  Also, there are some “small” chores that are easy to just plain ignore–dusting baseboards, cleaning shower door tracks, scrubbing down cabinet faces–but if they don’t ever get done, they’re very complicated or even outright impossible to restore to their prior glory.  Another lesson learned the hard way!

The whole “keep your sink shiny” thing is true.

This is a trick from FlyLady: if your sink is shiny and empty (a relatively easy task), the rest of the kitchen will follow.  It’s totally psychological: there’s such a feeling of accomplishment that comes from looking at the dish-free, shiny, pretty sink, it makes you want to go out and make other things clutterless, shiny, and pretty.  So I’ve been working hard to keep our sink shiny and clean pretty much all day long, and I try to identify other “sinks” in the house that are similarly motivating.  Another important sidenote of this is the “pretty” aspect… I’ve found that if I put some effort into making the things in our house a little bit pretty, and not just functional and neat, it really inspires me to keep them clean as well.  So far, this is just the bathrooms and a vague attempt to make the soap dispensers, toothbrush holders, and towels all match the paint/walls in the bathroom.

It’s an unending battle.

And here we come to the point I haven’t really learned how to deal with yet: if you’re going to keep your house super-clean, then pretty much every hour of the day is going to find you picking up something.  Whether it’s going through the new stack of mail, washing up the dinner dishes, or vacuuming for the tenth time that day, it keeps you on your toes.  Even though I know I don’t spend as much time cleaning now that it’s mostly maintenance, and even though it’s much less stressful than trying to attack a really messy house, this whole never-a-moment-to-rest thing is definitely an adjustment.  Sometimes I feel like cleaning is all I do!  It’s much better all-around, and I do feel better about it all, but every once in a while I find myself wishing that there was no one in the house making messes, so that I could just STOP with the maintenance for an hour or two!  Again, though, I know there’s no competition between the before and after versions of housekeeping for which one actually takes more cumulative time… I have a lot more time now to devote to other things.  I just sometimes miss the feeling of letting things go and not doing housework outside of my temporal housework zones.

Homeschooling, Printables, Time Management

To-dos; homeschool day 1

Julie / August 23, 2010

So, here is the revised version of The To-Do List:

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The other one was technically working fine, but as it grew easier to stay in routine (both from building habits and from decreased mess to work with), I decided that it would be wise to try to work in all the little recurring tasks that still need done every once in a while, but which would be overwhelming to try to check every day.  So now the list has two parts: a daily routine, which is repeated all the days of the week and is the main thing that keeps our house in order, a weekly routine, which is more the tasks that only need to be considered once a week and are tackled Monday-Thursday, and a monthly routine, one part of which is tackled every Friday.  

I’m hoping that the extra routines gradually eliminate any of the mess areas in the house that had heretofore been mostly ignored–like dusting the baseboards. I also formally added mopping to the routine, which wasn’t exactly neglected before, but does require a lot of planning (because it works vastly better without children scampering about).  I still use the principles of different types of cleaning, but I didn’t delineate them in the list because I’ve found myself doing a lot more cleaning-when-the-mess-is-made (which are very short but frequent and unplannable) and a lot less cleaning bigger messes all at once (there aren’t any to clean).

 

Pre-K2

Here’s a little printable: flash cards for the alphabet, with lowercase and uppercase letters separate, and no “hint” pictures.  So simple, I know, but I haven’t actually found any in store-bought packs without pictures, which is dumb, imho, because my two-year-old gets totally distracted by… distractions.

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We officially started Pre-K2 today.  I wasn’t feeling well, and neither was E, so it was definitely a light day.  We started with some letter flashcards (this was before I made these) and learned our uppercase and lowercase A, then read some books and found the A’s in them. 

Our formal reading book of the day was The Little Engine that Couldlittlenginethatcould, which is probably my favorite children’s book now that I also had in my own childhood.  I’ve seen it redone a number of times, but I like the original one best.  It’s kind of a two-pronged message, both a Good Samaritan tale and an exhortation to do your best.  Anyway, I really like it, and since we have it, it was an easy addition to our Pre-K2 reading list.  E seemed to like it as well; there were a lot of characters (Humpty Dumpty, dolls, oranges) that she recognized, and she loves trains, so even though it was a pretty long book, she stayed focused the whole time. 

We played lots of “find the letter” games throughout the day, mostly initiated by E.  Somehow she already knows quite a few letters–I’m not sure how!  Once we get more into the swing of things, I want to get her to work on drawing the letters as well her hand coordination is sadly lacking (compared to an adult’s, anyway!), but I think that it will help her learn the shapes of the letters better, if nothing else.

I’m also going to start doing sight words with her, but I thought it would be good for her to know a few letters first, so she has something to latch onto in the words to learn to distinguish them.  We hadn’t had much luck with sight words so far.

Homemaking, Time Management

Using Evernote for Homemaking

Julie / August 19, 2010

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Evernote is, I admit, relatively new to me.  I’d read about it quite a bit, but didn’t quite realize that it was free or so completely cloud-based (i.e., everything syncs to online).

Using multiple computers scattered around the house is definitely an essential part of the way I do home organization.  Part of this is because our house is two-storey, and part of it is because I don’t have a good laptop to drag around (and my arms are usually full anyway).  I find it indispensible to have a computer in the kitchen, and so there lives a very old rickety crash-prone laptop that literally dies if you move it too much.  That’s the main one I use, and that’s enough about my computer habits for this post!  On to Evernote.

Because of the fact that I use a number of different computers, it’s more or less useless to me to use local file storage–everything I can possibly throw in the cloud, I do, with the added benefit of then being able to access my whole life in digital from other peoples’ houses and public spaces.  (And if I could justify a smartphone, grocery stores would be a very important addition to that list.)  Evernote, although new to me, is very clearly the cloud-based brain that I’ve been looking for.  It lets me do everything I’ve already been doing, but in a newly unified, extremely-rapid way.

I’m convinced that the key to loving Evernote is to devote some serious time to thinking about specific ways it can work for you, and reading articles and blog posts discussing such specific ways.  Evernote is extremely blank when you first begin, and the hardest part is definitely figuring out frameworks to create and use–how to meld it to your own brain, in other words.  So, without further ado, here are some “frameworks” that have already been saving me immense amounts of time while helping me get even more things done and organized, in the realm of homemaking.

Recipes

I’ve talked before about how I create my meal plan, and Evernote really enhances the results and speed of that process.  I use the web-clipping tool to clip the entire recipe, photo, and prep instructions, put it in a notebook called “recipes,” and tag it with a few of the significant ingredients (in our house, usually that means the meat).  If the recipe is bad and we won’t try it again, I delete it.  If I want to add my own notes to the page, or literally rewrite part of the recipe, I can do that to my clipped version–which of course I couldn’t do to the original website.

I am thus creating a sort of digital cookbook, personalized for our family.  The important thing to remember here is that recalling something from Evernote is much faster than pulling up a webpage would be, yet adding a webpage to Evernote takes only seconds.  It also eliminates distractions from the page, is easy to email to someone else (or myself), and easy to print; again, all my personalized version of the recipe instead of having to work with the default.

The biggest downside to this is that automatic shopping list generation (as per the sites I mentioned earlier) no longer exists.  But this isn’t all a bad thing

Shopping Lists

It has been a source of endless difficulty for us that there are maybe five stores that we shop at semi-regularly and need specific lists for (ShopRite, BJs, Walmart, Target, Trader Joe’s), yet refrigerator lists don’t work very well for us and five is an unmanageable number of literal paper lists at any rate–especially because some items are truly store-specific (can only be bought at that store) and many items are generic (just most likely to be bought at that store) and so we end up with items crossed-off, duplicated, forgotten it turns into a mess.

There are two different ways I can think of to manage lists online: to make a separate, simple list for every store (in Evernote, a separate “note” for each list), and use some common sense and multi-tasking abilities to think of picking up one’s ShopRite list while at Target; or to have a separate item (a separate “note”) for every single item and tag it with all the store names where it is sold, so that calling up all items listed with “BJs” would yield a complete, current BJs list.  The latter option is infinitely more organized, but it’s also a pretty big trade-off in terms of work I prefer five lists and managing cross-overs in my head instead of on the computer.  Either way, a digital list is much neater, and can be added/removed from wherever you are, or wherever one’s husband is!  And even with the auto-generated lists, I still ended up usually manually reordering it, because going to the store with two tiny children is far, far easier if the items are on your list in exactly the order they are in the store.

Bills

This one is really a no-brainer: I have an Evernote notebook and I put all our outstanding bills in it.  If we had more bills, it would be helpful to tag them by month due, but we don’t have enough (that aren’t on auto-pay, that is!) to make even that tiny effort justifiable.  I’ve set up most of our bills to have email notifications (Mint can often do this even if your bill company doesn’t) and I’ve set up my email client to automatically file the bills into Evernote.  So the bills don’t clutter up my emailbox or my calendar, and I can just flip into Evernote and remember at a glance which bills I still need to take care of.  The very, very few bills that don’t have e-notifications can be easily scanned, as can other mail that you “need to keep” but don’t really want to find a physical home for.  Remember, too, that Evernote finds the text in images and makes it searchable.

On a sidenote, here’s the search string, found here, that you need to add to Google Chrome or Firefox to make it easy to search your Evernotes:

https://www.evernote.com/Home.action#v=t&b=0&z=d&x=%s

Research

This is one area where Evernote really shines.  Know you’re going to need to buy a crib soon?  Want to comparison shop?  Just do your regular browsing on the web, and if you think something is worth coming back to look at again, “clip” the relevant info (pic, price, dimensions, features) to Evernote, add a note of your own if you want, and either tag it with “crib” or put it in a “crib” notebook–depending on the size of your research.  At the end of the day, instead of a hard-to-sort-through list of links with meaningless titles and no other useful information (not to mention you’re dependent on the various server speeds and page-renderings to even get back to the information you already saw), you’ll have a neat little collection, almost like 3×5 cards, all assembled in one neat little place and ready to flip though at a moment’s notice.  Need to send one to husband to review?  Click, done.  Send him the whole set?  Click, done.  It’s not just faster, it actually makes it easier to get an overall picture and make clearer decisions.

Information Collecting

I’m all the time running across information on homeschooling that I think would be really useful later.  And sometimes I can’t find it later (lost in the sea of bookmarks), or I can find it but it’s gone, taken off the web.  Evernote is a way of taking those miscellaneous little tidbits of information and articles and bringing them all together in a coherent, organized, searchable, and tagged way: a way of creating your own sort of sub-internet.  As with recipes, it also lets you get rid of all the extraneous distracting information that you don’t need, so when you go back to read that brilliant article from six months ago, that’s exactly what you find–and all you find.

Our munchkins are obviously not old enough to be using the “˜net yet, but I foresee some real uses of Evernote in terms of assembling digital items for their review, as well.  If I find some great diagrams, essays, and a fiction story on ancient Egypt that I want them to read while we’re studying Pharaohs, I can clip them all into Evernote and send them the collection–void of distracting links to follow, questionable advertisements, site downtimes–instead of giving them a list of links to check out on their own.

It’s important to note, too, that with a premium account, Evernote lets you put all kinds of files into it, which really lets mixed-media collecting take off.

Home Improvement Ideas / Inspiration

I honestly don’t spend much time reading home decorating magazines (or doing home decorating, for that matter–I think we have literally two pictures hung in our entire house after four years of living here), but occasionally I’ll run across a picture or an idea or a product that really strikes a chord with me, and if I don’t do something about it right then, then of course it continues on its merry way of falling back out of my brain again.  Evernote lets me grab on to those rare (for me) moments and file them away until I do have the time or resources to deal with it more thoroughly.  Right now I’m just throwing them all in a great big “household” notebook and trying to tag them relevantly–if I had more inspiration moments, I’d probably need to come up with a more detailed organizational scheme.

I’m sure there are many more ways to use Evernote with homemaking, and I hope to discover them as I use it more and more.  It definitely “works for me”!

works for me wednesday at we are that family

Homemaking

Things I am thankful for: cleaning supplies

Julie / August 17, 2010

This would be better titled, “Things I can’t live without,” except, well, in God’s sovereignty we can pretty much live without anything!

Kitchen

I love those little Dobie scrubbies.  Seriously, I just ordered a case of “˜em off Amazon.  The secret?  Stop thinking of them as dishrags.  They work amazingly, fantastically, and cleaning-fluid-free-ly on countertops.  And walls.  And refrigerators.  And cabinets.  And just about every other surface you can think of.  At less than a dollar a pop, they’re easy to throw in the trash when they get grody, too although I rather think they’d more-than-survive a trip through the washer.  Like sandpaper, except scratch-proof.

Steel wool soap pads are another thing I use “off-label”–they’re literally the best thing I’ve ever found for washing our steel sink.  They take a fairly heavy-duty chore and make it practically effortless.  That’s about the only thing I use them for, since our pots are all anodized, but they’re one of my favorite household cleaners just because of how well they clean our sink.

No-Scratch Scotch Brite pads are excellent for cleaning dishes–and everything else in the kitchen!  They’re a little more heavy-duty than the Dobie pads, kind of a nice half-way point between the Dobie and the steel wool, but they don’t really seem reusable to me–they kind of collect nastiness and then I throw them away.  So I don’t use them as much, but when I need the extra heft, I’m always glad to have them in the cupboard.

Vinegar is a great all-purpose cleaning fluid when there are toddlers around.  It’s edible.  I keep some in a little spray bottle and use it 90% of the time instead of more caustic chemicals, which I only dig out when the vinegar isn’t cutting it.

Bleach has occasionally amazed me at its abilities to clean dishes!  Dishes aren’t terribly prone to staining, but if they are stained, bleach seems to beat most of the stains right out, often without any scrubbing.  Bonus points for that lovely bleachy aroma, and germ-killing abilities.

Laundry

I hung my first indoor laundry line this past week, and I can’t believe I never did it before.  I probably wouldn’t do this if I didn’t have a somewhat reclusive space that the laundry calls home–laundry lines going through the kitchen might not be the most attractive thing–but since I do, it was a no-brainer.  I just bought some cheap clothesline and some of those sticky-but-easily-removed wall hooks (brought to you by the same geniuses who invented Dobie pads and Scotch Brite) and strung it all up.  I ended up running it through two of the wire shelf units I have in my laundry room, plus one hook, to make a giant triangle.  My diapers dry within a couple of hours, even indoors with no breeze or sunlight, and they’re so easy to string (no wind. no clothespins).  I hadn’t realized how much easier a line would be than a drying rack, which I’ve used a-plenty over the years, but with a rack there’s quite a bit of “arranging” involved to get everything to fit without overhanging, and things take longer to dry.  (Also, laundry racks are within reach of kiddos, unless you have the wall-mounted kind.)

Floors

I cannot say enough about the value of a good cordless stick-vacuum.  (The problem is finding a good vacuum that is also both cordless and stick, but more on that in a minute.)  I love my canister vacuum, but cords and babies in the same room is a disaster.  And frankly, digging out a full-size vacuum three times a day (about how often I have to vacuum in our house) is a disaster too.  The Swiffer SweeperVac is what first put me onto the idea, and I used it happily for many months before trying to upgrade to a “real” vacuum.  (The Swiffer won’t work on carpet, obviously, and occasionally created muddiness when colliding with spilt milk/juice/water that I didn’t see.)  After reading many reviews and trying one model that didn’t work out very well, I ended up with a Hoover LINX, which has a very depressing price tag, but I bought mine at Costco (they no longer carry it, as far as I know) with Costco’s forever guarantee, so I figured it was a win-win scenario.  I’ve had it for perhaps six months or so, and I’m really pleased with it.  I don’t think a stick vac can ever work as well as a canister vac–mainly because it can’t get into the nooks and crannies quite as well–and I’m not sure a battery-powered device can work as well as a corded one, but the LINX is really quite an amazing achiever on both counts.  It picks up cereal with ease, unlike a lot of stick vacs, and the battery lasts well and stays strong until it dies abruptly (it does have an indicator, so it’s not an unexpected death, just a sudden one).  It has a carpet-beater, which does work well on carpets, but I also use it on the hard floor because it seems to help push debris up and into the vacuum more quickly.  I do think the SweeperVac was a good deal for the money, but it didn’t really do the job once we had toddlers making sticky messes everywhere.  The LINX does.

Dish soap is a marvelous floor cleaner.  And since I use it to wash things we later eat off of (dishes), I feel pretty good about using it around the kiddos, too.  I put it in my mop vac instead of the manufacturer-provided cleaning fluid, which costs megabucks.

Bathroom

Clorox Toilet Bowl Cleaner w/Bleach tablets are really neat.  You have to have a clean toilet to begin with, and they’re definitely not cheap (I buy them at BJs, can’t find them on Amazon), but they really put an end to toilet cleaning.  Drop in the tab, and presto, squeaky clean for months until the tablet disappears.  This is the only kind I’ve tried, and I think I might do more research and see if there’s a more cost-effective solution, but I’ve been very happy with these specifically.  I like that they’re clear, not blue.

I’m still mystified by how to clean acrylic showers.  I can’t find something that’s safe to use on them that also works.  Any thoughts?  Soft Scrub works great, but apparently causes microscopic little scratches.