Archive | August 2010

Money for (Young) Marriage

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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.

Things I’ve learned about housework.

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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.

Things I’ve learned about housework.

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.

Pre-K2 printables

I just realized that I haven’t explained my new schedule on the blog, so here ’tis: since things seemed to be veering into triteness, so I decided to post Monday-Wednesday-Friday instead, which will give me a small break on the weekends, and at least two days to muse over each post instead of necessarily writing it start-to-finish all in one day.  Hopefully this leads to improvements.  (Not being pregnant also usually leads to improvement, but I can’t do much about that one!)

School is… continuing.  E has some difficulty figuring out how to tell letters apart, which is more frustrating to me than I would like.  I’m trying to teach her what kinds of things to look for to distinguish between them–and oddly, once she knows a letter, she knows it well–but telling things apart and seeing similarities and differences is a skill, I suppose, and I didn’t realize it.  I guess I thought it was like seeing: you just do it!

We read my favoritest of all favorite childhood books yesterday: The Spider and the Fly, which is a lavishly illustrated version of this poem (the right one).  Part of the way through, E started acting quite scared of the spider and was even saying things like “don’t eat fly!  don’t eat fly!”  I was afraid that she might be thus traumatized by the ending–the spider does indeed eat the fly–but she didn’t seem to mind.  I think the fly ghost might have confused her a little bit, since she probably doesn’t know what the giant stark tombstone the fly ghosts are huddled around even is!  Anyway, it’s a great, great story, and I can’t wait until the kids are old enough to really thoroughly understand it.

I’m making a new section on the blog (at the top): printables.  I haven’t had as much time to put into these as I’d like—mainly because I’m generally putting them together hurriedly at night after E goes to bed to use them the next day—but I’m hoping as the school year wears on, they’ll get more focused and diverse.  In the meantime, here are two new alphabet sets to trace.  The idea isn’t to learn how to print, but rather to encourage deeper studying of the actual letter formations themselves to enhance recognition.  (I.e., it’s more of a print-based font than a handwriting font.)

1                         2

I turned E loose on them today (just the letters she already knows somewhat) with a bright marker and she had a blast!  And it seemed to help her learn to recognize the letters better. The important thing is that two-year olds are GREAT at destroying things like formal workbooks, so I’m finding printables indispensible.  Each one covers the whole alphabet, and then we can toss ‘em when we’re done.

To-dos; homeschool day 1

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

screen2

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.

screen 

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.

Pre-K 2

(Yet another short post at the end of a long, yet fun, day that sucks the brains right out of you.)

One thing I’ve been thinking about pretty seriously is trying to put together a somewhat formalized “curriculum” to use with E this year.  I think it will really help me to have the structure and goals actually sketched out, and it will definitely help next year when it’s R I’m trying to do at this level and E has moved along to more normal school.  (I.e., Pre-K 3 curricula actually exist, meaning you don’t have to come up with your own ideas, and it’s a more important to actually hit on all the usual subjects, but I’ve never seen a Pre-K 2 curriculum, and there doesn’t seem to be a common set of expectations to meet or fail.)

The main thing is that this is making me wish (just a teeny bit) that I’d been an early-childhood ed major.  Or at least an elementary ed major.  My adolescent psych classes aren’t doing me any good with a toddler!  I’m halfway thinking about finding a good early childhood education book to read, and halfway thinking that common sense and knowledge of my own child will go the distance.

The main thing I want to accomplish is being purposeful.  Instead of picking random books off the shelf to read during “school time,” I want to spend a little bit of time thinking about it (and possibly even doing a little bit of research smile_wink) and choose books that are in line with certain goals and provide a deliberate variety.  And I want to make sure that I’m not concentrating overmuch on “English” to the neglect of math, logic, or even science.  (I’m sure I’ll neglect science, because it is my least favorite of all the subjects, except for physics, which is really math and therefore doesn’t count!)

Pre-K 2

(Yet another short post at the end of a long, yet fun, day that sucks the brains right out of you.)

One thing I’ve been thinking about pretty seriously is trying to put together a somewhat formalized “curriculum” to use with E this year.  I think it will really help me to have the structure and goals actually sketched out, and it will definitely help next year when it’s R I’m trying to do at this level and E has moved along to more normal school.  (I.e., Pre-K 3 curricula actually exist, meaning you don’t have to come up with your own ideas, and it’s a more important to actually hit on all the usual subjects, but I’ve never seen a Pre-K 2 curriculum, and there doesn’t seem to be a common set of expectations to meet or fail.)

The main thing is that this is making me wish (just a teeny bit) that I’d been an early-childhood ed major.  Or at least an elementary ed major.  My adolescent psych classes aren’t doing me any good with a toddler!  I’m halfway thinking about finding a good early childhood education book to read, and halfway thinking that common sense and knowledge of my own child will go the distance.

The main thing I want to accomplish is being purposeful.  Instead of picking random books off the shelf to read during “school time,” I want to spend a little bit of time thinking about it (and possibly even doing a little bit of research smile_wink) and choose books that are in line with certain goals and provide a deliberate variety.  And I want to make sure that I’m not concentrating overmuch on “English” to the neglect of math, logic, or even science.  (I’m sure I’ll neglect science, because it is my least favorite of all the subjects, except for physics, which is really math and therefore doesn’t count!)