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Sunday, June 28, 2015

the spring of cleaning and the accidental summer

I have taken the term "spring cleaning" to a whole new level.

For the past 8 weeks I have been married to our house.  I have slept little, made the most pathetic meals so as to not lose time cooking, drank way too much coffee, squeaked my way through the end of the homeschool year and spent every ounce of energy I had cleaning out our house.

We decided in April that we were going to put our house on the market.  We have always been planning on this to some degree, always considering projects for their resale value for example, and this year we decided the timing was right.  But spring was coming fast and there is no better time than spring to have your house hit the real estate suddenly we were in full on house prep mode.

Think of an "everything must go" sale meets the show "Hoarders" and "Clean Sweep".  That is essentially what has happened in our house.  It is not an exaggeration to say that nearly every inch of the house has been attended to- either to be decluttered (every closet, every shelf, every pile), painted, repaired, scrubbed, power washed, weeded, mulched, or simply packed.

You may (or likely may not) remember that two years ago when Maya went to kindergarten I began the Great House Declutter.  I tried to think to myself pretend you are moving and only want to take what is most important.  That was the first time since having kids I had really gone through the house in attempt to thin the stuff.  I got ride of carloads of stuff, had 2 yard sales and threw a lot out.

And yet here I was, trying to view my house from a prospective buyer's eyes, and all I could think is: we have way too much stuff.

I began with the general clutter- the piles of things that couldn't simply be thrown away.  This pile of kid stuff I had been saving in various stacks on shelves and in closets since our girls were BORN.

There were cards from birth on up, the saved work from preschool and elementary school (yes, I had already chucked a bunch that I couldn't see wanting to look back on in 20 years but there was still a lot left).  There were sweet things the girls had made us, their growth charts and their first pictures of people, or of our family, or of themselves.  I had their first baby shoes, locks of hair from their first haircut and, naturally, a few incisors as well.  

I tried to be ruthless in what I discarded and then I organized them into years. 

I put the bundled years (plus a side box of keepsakes) inside a document box and labeled them.   It sets my mind and heart so at ease to have these!

This took about 4 hours one morning while Ella was occupied elsewhere.  Not too bad, but really tough when you have as much house to clean out as we did.  After all 4 hours on just one pile.... It was hard not to feel paralyzed by the sheer magnitude of it.  I couldn't sit in my living room without looking at the smudge marks on the paint, the scotch tape in 6 different spots on the floor, the little baskets full of trinkets and stacks of the girls' art projects and wondering how it would ever all get done.

I was in the process of psyching myself up for such a huge undertaking when a friend who is very experienced with selling houses said, "You know you have to stage your house right?"  I said, "You mean like make it really clean?"  She said, "No, like take all your personal stuff out of it, simply everything and make it look like a magazine."

No.  No I did not know that.

This is where my personality helps and hinders.  If that was what it was going to take, that was what I was going to do.   I would get an A in staging.

So we took all of our pictures off the walls and all of our mementos went into storage.  Sandi spent every spare minute patching the many holes and nicks in every wall of the house.  Kids are very hard on a house.  What began as touch up paint soon became nearly an entire repaint of the interior of our house.  I gutted the closets, drawers and bookshelves.  I painted our rather sizable second story deck with accompanying staircase as well as doorsteps, playset and the wood trim of the garage and shed.  I power washed the exterior siding and weeded and mulched every garden (5 total) and tree. We cleaned out the basement, the garage, the eaves.  We had a massive yard sale and have made countless trips to the dump.

I'm not bragging here.  I just thought I would explain in case you wonder where I've been.

We also decided we had to paint the kitchen.  It was long overdue and was looking pretty banged up.   I don't have any good before pictures but here is the after.

My truly amazing friend Megan has a nack for this decorating and offered to help me stage.  She came over a bunch of times and together we washed each of our 28 windows, scrubbed the light fixtures, floors, stove and microwave.  Megan even reorganized my pantry so it would look pretty.  She brought her super duper vacuum (which gave me total vacuum envy) and cleaned all our fabric shades.  She came with carloads of furniture, framed prints, bedding and such to help with the cause.

She looked in our (still slighty messy) office and said, "I think you should make this into a bedroom."

Oh dear god, I thought, wherever will we put everything?  But within a few days we had emptied the office, figured out how to stow the stuff we needed to get to and store and label the rest.  Before we knew it, we had bedroom number four staged.

(And when I say "before we knew it" what I mean is, countless hours later, 2 trips to the dump and not enough sleep later...)

Perhaps most importantly, Megan brought her sense of humor.  When you are entrenched in a project this big, most of which is done under pressure at odd hours of the day, either juggling children or attempting to teach 4th grade while sorting through a decade and half worth of stuff, it is so nice to have someone help lighten the mood.  Many times my belly hurt from laughing so much.

In the past two months I have:  found myself painting before 4 A.M.,  stayed up until midnight to paint a bathroom, held the biggest yard sale of my life, accepted the help of a friend cleaning my microwave vent with Qtips, become infatuated with the Magic Eraser, scrubbed grout with a toothbrush, either gotten rid of our stored half of our stuff.

Our house has an actual echo.

I sort of thrive and wither with this sort of undertaking.  It energizes me but it also consumes me.  Yet the payoff has been immense.  No, we haven't sold our house yet but it has only been 2 weeks.  It just feels so indescribable to be out from under the burden of so much stuff and disorganization.  While it is true that it can be hard to find things in our newly staged house with so much packed away or relocated, I love the bright, clear spaces.  I honestly don't ever wish to have so much stuff again.

I have been reading about decluttering and organizing through these last couple of months and it not surprising that living this way is all about your mindset.  I am working to shift my mindset about less being more, about having what I have and about taking great pleasure in having a full inventory of what I actually have.  I cannot even tell you all the stuff I found that I didn't know I had.  Such that if I had needed it I would have had to purchase it anyway.

I have gone through the stuff with a heavy hand and I truly have no regrets.  What is left is a sense of immense freedom.

The best recommendation I found about living clutter-free out is to follow this simple rule:  one in, one out.  Every time something comes in the house, you get rid of something.  I love this idea but it takes a lot of vigilance to maintain it.

Finally the house was ready for the realtor to come and photograph.  It was ready for its debut on the market.   I jest not when I say that our house has never been cleaner.  When I read the listing, our realtor had called our house an "immaculate cape" and I got my A.

So now onto the stress of keeping the house immaculate and trying to live it in.  The good news is the less stuff, the easier it is to keep the house clean.  But, as Megan said, "It is awfully hard to 'hide' in your own house."

I kept thinking how great it was to enjoy such a clean house but the logistics of having a pared down house and a busy family quickly became evident.  Where was I going to put all our day to day stuff for showings?  I found a tip online to just grab a tote or laundry basket and grab extraneous things right before a showing and put them in your car.  I could just picture my car loaded from top to bottom with random baskets of anything from flip-flops, dress-up clothes, half-colored pictures, dirty clothes, dirty dishes, bathing suits and library books.

This project (and my own self-imposed deadline for it) demanded all of my attention right through the push to the end of school.  Then came the much-deserved break of the Trek.  Coming back to life this week has been rather abrupt. I find myself fully in summer with my kids and totally disoriented about our schedule.

I am living an accidental summer, slightly behind and little bit lost.  Oh, I have work this week and don't have a sitter.  Oh, today is gymnastics.  What time is that again?  What?!  It is "bring-a-friend-week"?  Damn.  Oh my, today is the farm share pick up and I will be out of town until 8 pm.  What week did I sign Ella up for art camp?  When is our vacation again?

This is so unlike me but perhaps it is a gift.  Apparently the house, like a newborn, has sucked my brain cells, preventing my usual over planning.   Here's to hoping I can go with it and not forget anything too important.

Yesterday we had a showing and we were leaving to spend the day at my sister's.  I did all the essential cleaning, had a child walk across my newly cleaned floors in muddy flip flops and drove down the road with a basket full of clean, unfolded laundry in my car.  

This is what it is actually like to have your house on the market.  But, as my sister said, at least I came home to a clean house.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The 2015 Trek Across Maine, a.k.a. The Feast Across Maine

The end of school means two things: an 18 Wheeler Sundae (18 scoops of ice cream!) at Dysart's on the last day for these four and the Trek Across Maine.  

The Trek Across Maine is a 3 day, 180 mile bike ride across Maine which raises a ton of money for the American Lung Association.  In 31 years, the Trek has raised over $22 million!  And, while that is a very noble reason to partake and to hit all your people up for cash, the Trek is just so much fun for the participants that it is easy to forget that you are being at all altruistic.

Plus they feed you steady for 3 days.  

As we woke up in Sunday River on the morning of the first day, we were gambling with the weather forecast which called for overnight rain and departing morning showers.  We decided we would leave later than normal to try to avoid the rain, which also meant riding in more congested conditions than we prefer.  The sun emerged from the clouds as we pulled our bikes from the bike corral and we were patting ourselves on the back for our good planning.  We checked our tires for air, filled up our water bottles and got in line at the start.  There were so many cyclists that they released them in waves so as to avoid a pile up on the downhill road off the mountain.  We were 3 waves back when some rather threatening rain clouds slid over the mountain.  I believe I said, "They need to let us go now or we are going to get wet."

Start line- 3 waves deep
A couple of fat rain drops gave way to a downpour.  All we could do was stand there as it poured down on us.  Within moments every part of me was soaking.  It was rather a profound moment of surrender, actually, as I realized there was nothing I could do, nowhere I could go, or anyway to prevent what was happening.  I was just going to be wet.  After the mandatory 10 minutes in between waves, we were released and as I clicked my feet into my pedals, my socks sloshed in puddles of water and the water kicked up from my tires soaked my padded shorts.

This was right before we got wet.
Day one is the longest day, but also the easiest.  With very little climbing, it tends to be a fast ride.  But just as I began to get past the wet diaper feeling in my shorts, we hit an intense head wind that made me feel like someone was holding me at the forehead while I leaned in and flailed my arms uselessly.  There was a new part of the route on a newly paved road with a river ribboning through that was simply stunning.   But the wind made for an intense ride and rather stiff neck and shoulders from bracing against it.   Nearly 70 miles later, we arrived in Farmington, chaffed and desperate to get our still wet shorts off.

Day two dawned bright and chilly (46 degrees!) and we set out at our usual early bird time to beat riding with the crowd.  These are the days that make cycling part of my soul.

Day two is many trekkers favorite day, a 56 mile meander on back roads through pastoral landscapes that are the backbone of Maine.  It was sunny and sparkly and perfect this year, made all the more sweet by the ever more dooming weather forecasted for day three.
It was fun to take pictures of ourselves and text them to the girls.

Day two also happens to end at Colby College and all the promises of fun at Tent City where teams can gather and hang out, playing games, eating and listening to live music all afternoon.  This year we had an amazing group of volunteers who decorated and brought all the food and drinks we had organized before we left.  They were awesome!

(My friend Sara felt badly that my box of veggie burgers didn't make it and she offered to drive to the store and get us a box.  "It will take me 5 minutes!" she insisted.  So I said yes and gave her some money.  Fifty minutes later, and a headache of traffic later, she returned with the best veggie burger I may have had in my life.  You rock Sara!!)

Team Gold's Gym is rather awesome.

Team Gold's Gym!

overnight bike storage

I need to say a few things about Trek volunteers.  This event, truly the best example of a well-oiled machine that I have witnessed, brags over 750 volunteers.  With somewhere around 2,000 trekkers that is a very high ratio of participant to volunteer.  And when I use the word "volunteer", I really should be using the word "superstar".  I cannot adequately describe the manner in which these folks help out.  Not only are they around every corner asking what you need or pointing which direction to turn on the route while shaking a cowbell, they also say "thank you" to you countless times a day:  "Thank you for all you do!" "Thank you for riding!"  "Thank you! You're awesome!"

I'm telling you, the volunteers treat the trekkers like royalty.  In fact, I woke up this morning and flipped the laundry and no one told me I was awesome.  It was rather disappointing.

And there was this:
"Do you have a ?"
 I want one of these in my daily life.  Please.

All the perfection of day two promised to give way to a very wet day three.  The weather forecasted a 100% chance of rain.  There was a single hour (from 7-8 am) that looked to be showers instead of pouring rain so we decided to hit the road early.   Sandi began using her Macgyver mind to strategize ways to delay the onset of the wet.

This brings me to the alternate title to this post:  An adhoc analysis of the common plastic bag as a water barrier.

We began to gather the various bags we had in our possession:  Ziplocs , plastic grocery bags, thin produce plastic bags and a single trash bag.  Sandi decided if we had some more trash bags we could keep our cores dryer longer, thus potentially keeping us warmer.  I went to the front desk at the Hampton Inn.  Turns out the Hampton Inn staff is very sympathetic to the about-to-be-soaked cyclist.   The lady at the front desk was more than accommodating hooking us up with various forms of plastic.

Here's what we did:  we birthed our heads and arm out of very tight holes in trash bags which we then tucked into our bike shorts.  We put put baggies over our socks and tied them tightly before slipping them into our clip shoes.  We put the hotel's shower caps and plastic grocery bags over our helmets in an attempt to keep our heads dry.  We put our phones in Ziplocs.  We also put all our dry, post-ride clothes in two layers of bags inside our luggage in case our luggage got wet.  It was pouring outside.

4:15 A.M. and I am wearing a trash bag
When we had packed early Thursday this rain had not yet been forecasted and so we were not well prepared.  Sandi at least had packed long pants and long fingered gloves in case of cold but I had just shorts and standard, fingerless bike gloves.   The temperature was supposed to be around 55 so I figured I would be uncomfortable but safe.

I've always understood that attitude matters.  I know that my outlook on anything from waking up on the morning to taking on a tough task dramatically affects the outcome.  But I think I learned it even more profoundly on Sunday morning.  When we made the decision to ride,  we understood there was no chance that we would not be wet and uncomfortable.  I knew it was a matter of what I did with the experience.  I could bemoan it and fight against it or I could just go with it and try to enjoy it.

After all, despite the fact that it is a little bit painful to be wet for 4 hours, this is not a real problem. We were on a long distance bike ride on a weekend without kids, with bodies able to complete the task.  We spoke to a couple of volunteers over the weekend who used to ride but hurt their bodies and now they help out to still be a part of the event.  We were lucky enough to get to ride and dammit I was going to figure out how to enjoy it.

By far the worst part of the morning was just getting wet.  If you've ever had this experience, you know what I mean.    As the water made its way through my clothes and onto my skin, it was hard not to brace against it.  The bags on my feet did nothing and my socks were drenched in the first couple of miles.  The shower cap on my helmet kept the water off my head and allowed me to keep some body heat.  The trash bag under my wind breaker seemed to be doing its job.  My padded shorts were a wet diaper once again.

Everyone we saw I said, "Good morning!" or "Have a great ride!" because why not?  I smiled and, at Sandi's suggestion, kept a constant litany of what I was grateful for.  It totally worked.  I felt content and happy and wet.

The hilly miles of day three kind of flew by. I was grateful for every climb because it kept me warm.  My biggest struggle was that my hands were so numb it was hard to use them to shift gears and my feet were so numb that standing to climb made me feel like I had pegs for legs. We chose to stop at only one of the three rest stops because we knew stopping and getting cold would be the kiss of death.  Trying to pull down soaked bike shorts to pee with hands that worked like claws was a feat in itself.

And do you know what those amazing volunteers had for us?  HOT CHOCOLATE.  Hot chocolate with freaking mini marshmallows.

At one point, as the course moved onto a back road and the delicious smell of wood smoke had its way with my brain I found myself thinking insane thoughts.  I bet they have heat in there.  All I would need it a dry bathrobe or blanket. I would even settle for a towel.  I could take all my clothes off and sit in a towel by their fire.  I'm sure they wouldn't mind. 

Which brings me back to the volunteers.  Looking at it fairly, what they were doing that day was much harder than what I was doing.  I would be utterly miserable huddled in a poncho on a folding chair at an intersection in the rain for hours on end to make sure cyclists took the correct turn.  In fact, I would be frozen.  Riding in the rain seemed far less difficult than sitting in the rain ringing a cowbell.  I love those people for doing it, for ringing those cowbells and telling me I was awesome, despite their own probable dreams of wood fires and hot coffee.  I made sure to thank each and every one of them.

There was no waiting and riding across the finish line with our team this year.  There was no slow victory ride into Belfast, more like a mad dash across the finish line so we could go seek shelter.   We got in very early and yet there were still volunteers and spectators there cheering to beat the band.  

I look like the marshmallow man because of the trash bag under my jacket.  I cannot comment on why Sandi does not. 
When we got off our bikes a guy said, "I hope we didn't beat the luggage trucks here."  I had a momentary panic of what might happen to me if I couldn't get dry soon.  As we made our way to the luggage tent and saw all the bags, carefully placed on tarps to keep the rain off them, neatly arranged in their organized rows so trekkers could find them, I was overcome with gratitude.  I gave the woman in charge a huge hug and thanked her and she had tears in her eyes.

Now don't you want to do the Trek???

I can tell you that the second hardest part of the day (the first being actually getting wet) was the period of time between stopping and getting dry.  There were some logistics of getting luggage, getting a shuttle to our car (we had made the decision not to put on dry clothes until we could stay dry and our umbrellas were in our car) and such that left me a bit panicked that I was going have a medical event I was shivering so uncontrollably.  But a volunteer gave us each one of those aluminum foil-looking survival blankets and it did the trick.

I was so proud to see later that so many of our team members took on the challenge of the ride that day!  What a tough group of people.

Drying by the fire

For the girls the Trek Across Maine is all about the weekend at their grandparents and the medals they didn't earn!

We are already signed up for next year.  If this event is even remotely within your reach, do yourself a favor and give it a go.  The Trek attracts all sorts: from varying ages and fitness levels and riding speeds.  The one common denominator is that trekkers know how to have FUN.  People are so relaxed and happy and there is so much support to help people succeed!  Where else can you ride your bike, have people feed you constantly and shlep your bags around?

Have I convinced you yet?

It makes me sad every year when it is over.   So until next time...

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Ms. Maya Moo, first grade master

As Maya's first grade year comes to a close, all I can say is that this kid utterly amazes me.  I fear perhaps I haven't posted much about Maya this year because there has been so much focus on Ella but allow me to say that Maya is the light heart that keeps things happy and not too serious in our house.  

I am so proud of all that Maya has learned and who she has become under the wonderful care and guidance of her amazing teacher, Mrs. Knowles.  Honestly, we love her so much that it is a huge loss to think about moving on next year.  Maya is a bright kid with a big heart.  She is also very industrious and independent and could easily get herself into trouble with a teacher who doesn't nurture and mold this part of her.  These two were a match made in heaven and I love who Maya has become this year.
"Thank you for reading me 'Charlotte's Web' to me.  Thank you for being my teacher.  Thank you for being kind.  I love you Mrs. Knowles.  I appreciate you. Love, Maya"

But don't worry, she is just as silly as ever. 

This year Maya learned to ride a 2 wheel bike, learned to read like a champ, started making and saving money hand over fist (she plans to be a millionaire when she grows up), made it onto the gymnastics team and became OBSESSED with Sean Hayes and Scott Icenogle's lip sync videos.  (If you don't know what I mean, watch here.)  There is no doubt this child has a future in entertainment.  She practices her facial expression in front of the mirror.

Maya also took up yoga this year.

Additionaly, I made all her dreams come true by duct taping her to a chair. "Finally," is what she said to me.
Our silly girls is just such a sparkle in the world.
She is also a total aggravation.  She and Sandi have an ongoing Sharpie territory war on cereal boxes.
"No one may eat this cereal except Maya!!!!"
She participated once again in the "Kids Like Me" program for kids with hearing loss.  What a difference a year made.  Last year she was a kindergartener, much younger than the other kids and rather unsure.  This year she was right in there with them, even having a contest with one of the older boys about who was more insane.  She feels she won.

school field trip- what is cuter than little girls holding hands?

And one for old time's sake.  Because is it ever not funny to eat breakfast with your ski goggles on?

a year of homeschool that everyone survived

Yesterday was the last day of homeschool.

As I brushed my teeth before bed, I said to Sandi, "Well, we survived it."

I would like to tell you that I rocked it, that it was fulfilling and amazing, with neural growth that could rival the frenzied weed growth in my garden.

But I would be lying and I try not to do that.

This year was HARD.  And, yet, it remains totally worth it.

I grant this to the journey: this year would have been hard anyway.  We were dealing with hard stuff.   Homeschool was absolutely the right decision and has had all the best outcomes.  But did I mention that is was hard?

I actually loved helping Ella learn (when it wasn't maddening). I have loved watching her get excited about learning for the first time ever.  It was finding my footing, fitting it all in and being both mom and cop that I didn't relish so much. It was the never being alone and going to back to constantly negotiating my work schedule, of feeling pulled in 100 different directions and that in order to give some to all, nothing got my full attention.

If you wonder if your child will work harder for a relative stranger than for you, I can tell you she will likely give her best to someone else.  Or at least mine will.  It isn't that I mind being a hard ass.  In fact, I rather enjoy it at times.  But no one wants to be that day in and day out.

The best news of all:  Ella is able/willing/excited to return to school next year!  And I am so ready to return to just being "Mom".

Here are some pics to share with you as we close this chapter.

Our friend Kristin, a former science teacher, was an enormous help covering all of the science curriculum.  It wouldn't be possible for me to convey my gratitude to her for her assistance.  She not only taught things I wouldn't begin to know how to teach, she made it FUN.  She covered the water cycle, simple machines, wind and weather patterns, atmosphere and so much more!

An English teacher friend of mine suggested teaching Ella about morphemes, or the parts of words which include root words, suffix and prefix.  He told me that some of his high school students didn't get a firm hand on this in the younger grades and so it can be hard for them to decipher unfamiliar words.  Thanks to his suggestion and Pinterest, we had so much fun making this morpheme tree!

Sandi and Ella did a good old fashion shop class to make a medal holder for Ella's gymnastics medals.
Who doesn't love a power tool?

Ella became quite the chef over the past year!

Did you know you could do this?  Pinterest told me.

Perhaps the most exciting end of year event was the arrival and subsequent care and tending of real, live tadpoles.  (In case you forgot, our last batch of tadpoles turned out to be mosquito larvae).  Kristi shared some of hers with us and it has been truly a wonder to watch them transform.  (Sorry the pictures aren't the best.  It is hard to photograph through dirty glass.)

The crazy part is that they have the round body and long tail for quite a while and then these wispy little legs show up.  Then, seemingly overnight, the legs were real frog legs and they had arms.  This morning one was actually sitting up on a rock, a tiny froglet with no tail, trying out its new lungs.

Who says it isn't okay to have a little help to succeed?  Thank you so much to so many of my favorite women for all the help you've lent me this year, from hands on help with Ella to providing me with the necessary support to persevere.  I simply could not have done it without you.

I am so proud of my girls as this school year comes to a close.  The thing I celebrate the most is the complete transformation of their relationship into something warm, caring and trusting.  If that were my pay for this year, I would take it over dollars any day of the week.  I feel like what we have is an investment in the future here.

The life of a mom is a tricky one.  Most days as night falls, I am nearly crying for bed, so worn out and overwhelmed.  This year I have bargained with the Universe to secure a handful of hours alone and sometimes gone into the pantry just to blow some expletives off so I could return in a decent form to teach my child.   Today, the official last day of school for our district, Ella and Maya both went to school for the day.  Ella went for step-up day to meet her new teacher and class for next year and for the end-of-year party.  As I watched her walk away from me in a pack of kids, looking confident and entirely at ease, I couldn't help but tear up.  I was drenched in pride. I wanted her to turn back, to catch my eye one more time before she went off for the day.  But she didn't, happily caught up with her social moment (a thing of beauty in itself). I was so happy for her and yet I had the deepest kind of ache inside my heart.   I will miss her next year.

We raise them so that they can go out in the world.  That is if we are lucky.  I have spent this year mending some broken wings so she could fly.  But I wasn't expecting it to be so bittersweet when she did.
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