Chew on this!

An article in today’s paper stresses the benefits that eating together as a family has on kids–and parents, too. Kids who come from families that break bread regularly tend to have better self-esteem, better grades, better friends, better manners, and a better chance of staying out of trouble. Why? Mainly because those children have to face their parent(s) at the dinner table and be held accountable for their day. It’s hard for a kid to get away with reeking of cigarette smoke (or something worse) when he is sitting three feet away from the house warden.

I have always been an advocate of the family meal. Although some people consider it old fashioned or impossible to make happen in these busy days of shuttling kids around from practice to game to recital to concert, I find it can happen. If I can make it work with four kids (not the average two), who cumulatively have been in all sorts of activities (soccer, baseball, cross country, swim, track and field, dance, water polo, band, Girl Scouts, religious education classes)–many of which have run concurrently–then so can others.

The meal itself doesn’t have to be a four-course, well-thought-out ordeal. It can be as simple as store-bought pizza or even fast food, when time is tight. But it does have to be somewhat consistent. Seven days, no. Three or four or more, yes.

It’s cliche to say, but kids do grow right before your eyes. One day they’re playing with flight attendant Barbie, the next day they’re on a plane to the opposite coast, visiting people whom you have never even met. Yes, all you people of young children, listen up: It does happen that fast.

So, take the time today to sit down, share a meal and discuss the day, because the days will be gone before you know it.

A turnaround.

Well, much to my surprise and delight, I found three positive messages in my inbox last week. One, from a client of mine offering me two small assignments and, believe it or not, two e-mails from job posters I’d sent my resume and e-mails to. Those I couldn’t believe. The first was from someone affiliated with a company I did work for earlier this year (didn’t pay well, but it was interesting), and the other was from an hr person who had sent me a test. (I so hope I get that position. The work is quarterly, I’d work one out of every three months, but it would be steady work and it pays pretty well. I returned the test on Friday afternoon, however, and it is now Monday afternoon, with no word on how well I did or whether I’m getting the assignment. And in this job market, that’s not a good sign.

But I refuse to get down until it is warranted, because I have been given a couple more reasons to keep hoping.

Keeping hope alive.

I open my browser daily with great anticipation of the day–hopes of a correspondence from a friend or, even better (no offense to my friends), an e-mail notifying me of an upcoming editing assignment. But lately I’m not only finding fewer friendly e-mails, I’m also finding fewer e-mails of proposed work assignments that would typically give me fulfilling work, a purpose to get up in the morning, and money, which would help my family’s economic needs.

“You have no new email” is the unkindest cut in a bad economy, when your lifeline to an income is an inbox full of messages offering pending assignments.

A year ago, two years ago I had the ability to pick and choose assignments depending on my availability (although I always tend to accept everything that comes my way, knowing that a dry spell/the poor house is just around the corner). This year I’m practically begging for work from all the clients who have sent me assignments over the past few years. But they either have nothing at the time or they have had to cut way back on farming out their work, leaving little for the rest of us down the food chain.

What keeps my chin up, besides a decent musculoskeletal system, is the prospect that things will turn around, that along with that poor house (but on opposite sides of the street) there’s hope around the corner. I voted for hope, and I’m hoping hope is what I indeed receive. And may it fill my inbox, one message at a time.

Top 5 reasons being a freelancer (aka unemployed) is so darned great.

I’ve been a freelancer for the past 20 years, while my kids have been in the process of growing up. Working for myself has served me well for the most part. It’s given me an income (if one can consider making as little as $2,432 a year an income) while allowing me to “be there” for my kids. Because of my job’s flexibility/nonexistence, I didn’t ever miss a Halloween parade, an Easter egg hunt, or a fight. I’ve picked up broken hearts, crushed spirits, and about 0.4 million Cheerios. I’ve driven to numerous sporting events, to seven different schools, and practically over the edge.

What I haven’t done is earn enough money to put said children through college or save up something for me to fall back on in my elder years.

But there are amazing benefits to being a freelancer. And they are:

5) I don’t have to hire someone to care for my kids, clean my bathrooms, or cook my meals. (Hey, wait a minute. Those are benefits, why?)

4) I have plenty of free time to work on household projects (I just don’t have any money to buy the supplies to work on household projects).

3) I have the opportunity to read to my heart’s content (as long as I can finish the books within the three-week window that the library allows for checkouts, because I can’t afford to buy books).

2) I don’t have to stand in line at the state unemployment office to get a meager subsidy check (because as a self-employed person I am not entitled to unemployment insurance).

1) I can watch all the Gilmore Girls reruns I want while daydreaming of being transplanted to Stars Hollow (despite the fact that the show hasn’t been in production for years, which, if transplanted, would make me the only one on the movie set).

With those things going for me, I may never want to get a real job.

You can get with this, or you can get with that.

I love the car commercial in which the hip-hopping hamsters sing the Black Sheep song “The Choice Is Yours.” You know the one: “You can get with this, or you can get with that. I think you’ll get with this, for this is where it’s at.” They sing the song as vehicles–some cool Kias, the others makeshift mobiles, such as toasters, washing machines, and cardboard boxes–pass by with hamsters inside. It’s a humorous commercial on many levels, but drives home the ad’s message that the Kia Soul is the vehicle of choice.

I wish all decisions were that easy to make. When kids are involved, the choices are not so clear. The choices you made for one might not fit for the next child, despite the children’s sharing a last name, a bedroom, or the same set of chromosomes.

I’m finding this to be the case with my two younger kids–both boys, but the elder, a brunet, couldn’t be more different at times from his fair-haired younger sibling. The younger tries hard to be like his older brother, but there are differences–not toaster vs. Kia Soul differences, but significant ones just the same. These differences become more prominent when the younger one tries to keep up with his elder brother. For instance, although they’ve never been in the same school at the same time before, the little one is following in his brother’s footsteps by attending the same schools, but with slightly different results.

Yesterday my little one took a test to see if he could be placed into the advanced math class at his new middle school, thereby bypassing sixth grade math. Well, not only did he struggle with the test, he didn’t finish it, pretty much putting a cap on his chances of getting into that class, a class his brother breezed into.

He looked so dejected and overwhelmed at yesterday’s orientation, too, that he later even questioned why I put him in that middle school over the neighboring school where 90 percent of his friends are going. (He completely forgot, apparently, that the middle school choice was his.)

His closest friend attending this school was not only missing from the orientation, but hasn’t even called my boy since baseball season ended more than a month ago. They were quite close up to that point and then suddenly communication broke off, most likely because we didn’t pursue a travel ball team that the friend’s family did.

I know the newness of the middle school experience will be trying for a while and that B will get used to it, but, still, I can’t help but think that I should try harder to make choices for this youngest child of mine based on something other than the fact that they worked for his older brother or his older sisters. I need to make choices because they are right for him. Specific him. Individual him.

Despite what the hamsters may think, there are times when the toaster is a way better ride than the Soul.

I feel the urge. The urge to purge.

So, the trip is now over, and it was a wonder-filled nine days of visiting new places and seeing unexpected things (I hope to get to those later), with a few bickering sessions in between (I’ll leave those out). But it was a good time overall (when I wasn’t stressing over how much exactly it was costing us to eat other people’s cooking and sleep in strange beds; and don’t even get me started on the buffet at Ruby’s in Bryce Canyon City!).

But now we’re home and I once again have been hit with the cleaning bug. Every year, no matter where we visit or how long we’re away, I come home and have the urge to clean this entire place out, from top to bottom, high to low, because it never fails to amaze me how well we all get along with just enough personal items as can fit in a carry-on bag. (I’m also amazed at how much neater and nicer most people’s homes are than mine, but that’s another blog best saved for another day.)

During my travels I am reminded that we don’t need all this junk, all these trappings of this so-called life that we hang on to year in and year out. Seriously, no matter how much I like John Denver, do I really need to save the People magazine issue that commemorated his death? Or is the initial issue of O, the Magazine really going to be worth all that much one day for me to save it and possibly put it up on eBay?

And just how long should I hang on to the kids’ kindergarten artwork or their clothes, many of which are not all that special and are beginning to smell sour from having been boxed up in the garage, some for a couple decades?

So, I’ve begun to cleanse my humble home of that paraphernalia that builds up and buries us in the past. One of the most motivating statements I’ve ever heard for cleaning and purging nostalgic items came from a psychologist in a segment on a TV show (was it Oprah?), who said that all those items are cluttering one of our most valuable possessions–our real estate. A practical-minded and thrifty television audience member like myself has to acknowledge the accuracy of that comment. We want our homes to have value. Cluttering them makes them less valuable and gives us less living space.

So, I’ve attacked my kitchen cupboards, saving anything that my soon-to-be-independent daughter can possibly use in her new place and packing up the rest for charity or the town dump. Gone are excess plastic Rubbermaid containers (and their cheaper, disposable clones). Gone are all the mismatched plastic and glass drinkware that was so, so tacky (the mismatched plates, chipped bowls, and melamine items depicting Sesame Street characters, Buzz and Woody and a multitude of others are soon to follow). Gone are the expired, now-bland spices, the random sheets of paper in the office desk, the dried-out markers, hundreds of broken crayons, the containers holding more containers that took up way too much space in already cramped cupboards.

I’ve attacked the kitchen and part of the office. The hall closet (a big job) is to follow, although I did already work some magic on the coats that were handed down and never worn or bought at such a discount that I just couldn’t pass them up.  I can’t wait to do work on the junk in boxes under my bed, including those aforementioned magazines, and the junk on hangers in my closet. I heard that we wear 20 percent of our clothing 80 percent of the time. If that’s not a true testament to the waste of valuable real estate in our homes, what is? I’m not a clothes horse–my husband and I share a modest-sized closet–but there are things on my side that are way past cool, or that I wore 10 pounds ago, or  that I know in my heart of hearts that I’ll never wear again.

And so it goes. I just hope that this urge to purge doesn’t fade before I get all my closets and cupboards and cabinets cleaned out. I suppose I could just take another trip to bring back the feeling again.