31 March 2017

Big Like #5: All These Uses For The Simple Binder Clip

More office supply love this week and a little secret we came up with that has saved us big money and some serious frustration. We buy Binder Clips in a office size box from the office supply store and use them not only in the office but on every item in the kitchen that we might use a Chip Clip on.
And guess what, they last forever unlike their cheap plastic kitchen cousins.

We keep a box of them in the kitchen next to the fridge where we can easily grab one to close up on bag of cereal, chips, chocolate chips, nuts, freezer waffles...you name it, if it could use a chip clip we are sticking a simple black binder clip on it. Then when we're done with them we just toss them back in that box in the kitchen drawer and they get used indefinitely.

For the cost and extended life we're saving a ton not buying plastic kitchen clips. You can find them in all sorts of fun colors and sizes tailored just to your needs and preferences and buy them in varying lot sizes so you get just what you need or a few years supply for not much more than that. I also use them sometimes to hold together small art projects I am working on. They work great as clamps while gluing things together or to hold things together while you make adjustments so that everything is evenly spaced. You can also loop one over a magnet hook to organize papers on a fridge or magnet board. You can even use them to clip and display art. They can be great for holding open coloring book pages that might frustrate children to keep flat. I've used one for a bookmark before too.

We keep a few in the car too and we seem to find uses for them all the time. You can use them to clip a blanket up over a window if the sun is blazing down on sleeping kiddos (keeping in mind driver visibility issues of course!) You could clip needed items to the visors or use them to clip a blanket around a kiddo to keep them covered and warm in the car. (Use your creativity here there are a few ways I can see this working.)

They would probably be a great addition to a 72-hour kit in a variety of sizes. You could use them to create a shelter if you had some rope and a tarp or to create a water catcher by clipping up the edges of a jacket or tarp or plastic bag. You could use them to create a temporary outdoor shower with some fabric or tarp. So along with the clips, you should definitely get a tarp it sounds like! Ha. You could also use them to construct a survival oven if you had some foil or something metal. You can also use them to hold a spoon on the side of a pot by clipping one to the edge and sliding the spoon handle through the clip prongs. They could also be useful in a myriad of ways in the garden.

So very versatile, so inexpensive and so great to have on hand when you need one. From the tiniest size to the largest size there is a good use for every one and having a pretty collection of them on hand can make life a little simpler and happier.

30 March 2017

Lilacs And Garden Planting Season

Last year when I was in that dumb cast I missed out on enjoying all the lilacs we have in our yard. To get to them I would've either had to hop down a crazy, loose dirt path or climbed down some steep and unven natural boulder stairs to get to them and that just was not possible. So today was my day to walk happily on two working feet down to the lilac bushes to cut a big box full of blooms to bring into the house.

I was reminded that lilacs are pretty messy but I thought to myself some of the greatest joys in life bring messes with them. You can't have the sweet scent of fresh flowers without a bit of a mess when they crumble. I'll clean it up when it's time. Meanwhile I have a vase of blooms on the kitchen windowsill, on my desk, on our dining table, the foyer table and in our powder room.

There are still tons of blooms to come so I hope I'll make time to go out and retrieve more as these die and new blooms come on the bushes. We had some good rain this week but our backyard is not looking so hot. Needs some attention. Of course I'm thinking there are snakes just waiting to jump out at me from behind every rock. Agh. I think I need some study leather cowboy/work boots to protect my ankles.

It's an adjustment to me to think of lilacs the last week of March and first week of April. Growing up they were Memorial Day blooms and my grandmother would gather jars of them to take to the cemetery to decorate graves that weekend.

We have had a very odd year with our forsythia bush in the back yard. It should bloom tons of bright yellow flowers in February or early March and then leaf out for the summer. Our front bush did bloom but our back bush only didn't. It got about five blooms on it just about the time it started to leaf. Last year is was full, vibrant and flowered early in the Spring. Not sure what's going on with the back yard, but it needs some love.

I also need to brush up on taking care of some of these plants I'm not that familiar with. I'd also like to get rid of a few weedy-looking things that are meant to be there but just look ugly. We also have a far back patch of dirt that could/should be grass of something. This house was empty for a while and before that lived in by older people who just let the yard go pretty much. Yards are a lot of work. I did well to keep up with a little garden patio in our last house.

I am itching to get some planters going with sweet peas, herbs and tomatoes. Having a fresh herb garden is just the best. My family has been so spoiled to have fresh tomatoes the past few years that they can't stand grocery store tomatoes - and they both love tomatoes. Hopefully this year I'll buy some better plants and we'll get a little bit bigger harvest. I should grow some peppers and chiles if I can too. We need to plant a bunch of mint in pots around the yard to ward off bugs, especially ants and mosquitos - although we don't get too many mosquitos here.

I also read that there are herbs to help ward off fleas. Last year we had a couple of weeks of pure misery with fleas. They didn't bother the dog at all because he was medically protected but we humans took the brunt of it. I've never dealt with fleas before but it was awful and we don't want to experience that again this year!

Gardening is so much fun. We certainly have the space but the upkeep is a lot of work, although the rewards are delicious. We still have about two weeks until recommended planting season - after the last frost traditionally. After being able to garden year round in California this waiting to plant business makes me antsy. I'm going to start preparing my gardening beds and pots now and then in a couple of weeks I can just start popping in seeds and plant starts. I think I'll start planting some seedlings this weekend and that'll give me a couple of weeks head start on planting outside. Fun stuff! Are you planting anything this year? If so, what are you most excited about growing.

29 March 2017

Pin Test #26: Baked Fries & Sweet Potato Fries

We had a few leftover burgers in the fridge last week that I decided they would make a good dinner on Thursday. But we were short on a lot of things we often eat with burgers. We didn't have a wide assortment of fresh veggies and fruit which I usually serve with burger meals. We had a few carrots and just a little lettuce and no tomatoes for the burgers. So I was looking for something different I could whip up to round out the meal.

I had potatoes and sweet potatoes so I thought it might be a good night to try a baked fries recipe using both. So I tried Miminalist Baker's Crispy Baked Garlic Matchstick Fries and Gimme Some Oven's Oven Roasted Sweet Potato Fries.

Now it seems like often I do something to screw up these Pin Test recipes so I can't always say it was the recipe. This time, Kiddo made the sweet potato fries and I'm not totally sure what happened but they got a little too much cayenne in them, so no one ate them. I think we need to try this recipe again with a little more adult supervision. The Man loves a good sweet potato fry so we'll definitely try this one again soon and I'll try to gauge the cayenne situation a little better.

The crispy baked garlic fries were good. I would say I need to work on my cooking methods for both. I think maybe I overcooked them. While they weren't photo-worthy they did taste good! I think these could've used a little more oil on the pan because they stuck to the pan. I think I need to work on my garlic tossing of these when they are done too. But they were yummy and every one of them got eaten up. The Man had two servings and Kiddo and I split the rest. Despite my failing in the artistic creation, they were yummy and we'll try them again soon.

It's very challenging to make a recipe for the first time and try to figure out all the subtle and not so subtle nuances. Both these recipes have made it into my personal cookbook and I'll pull them out and try them again soon. I recommend them both, you might just want to be judicious about cayenne in the sweet potato recipe. I'm not sure what happened there, I guess I'll have a better idea as we continue to experiment with these.

Here are the links to both recipes:
Crispy Baked Garlic Matchstick Fries
Oven Roasted Sweet Potato Fries

Here are a few other Pin Test recipes you might want to check out.
Crack Broccoli - A family favorite we eat almost weekly!
Mongolian Beef Ramen
Slow Cooker Recipes

It's been rainy and cool here in the desert. It feels like northern Europe, which I love a little dose of. It's been more drizzly than rainy and I have so many memories of days like this in England and Scandinavia. I good scarf around the neck and good rain jacket layered over something warm seem to be just the ticket on days like this. It's nice to have a little break from the usual desert weather. I need to drink tea, sit by a window and read a book or something to celebrate it.

If I were in northern Europe I'd ride my bike somewhere cozy or light some candles. Ooh, it is a perfect cozy day...this is where Hygge comes in...you know that Danish lifestyle trend that suddenly everyone is talking about. I met Hygge in 1988 and she's been a friend these long years. Candles, tea, good company. Done.

28 March 2017

Revisit & Update: Paper Butterflies For The Window

Last month when I took down the Valentine's decorations from our dining room windows, Kiddo asked me not to take down our sparkly, glittery, big silver snowflakes yet. Since it was still winter I obliged. But now that it's quite warm outside it seemed high time to put up something new. We have an Easter garland up and we continually keep up a garland of pinecones from our yard and a string of twinkle lights then I've just been rotating in and out the seasonal garlands.

Here is a little before photo. This is one of the best spaces in our home and it is so hard to photograph. I frequently want to share it or capture it in photos and I have yet to get a photo of the dining room windows that I really like. The backlighting is a challenge.

The snowflakes hang independently from the ceiling from five clips across that window space. I like them because they can last us from post-Halloween right through to Spring. I wanted to come up with something to hang from those clips that might carry us from spring through summer and then I remembered the paper butterflies I made a few years ago. Here's a link to that post, which was Pin Test #13. The link to the original tutorial I based those butterflies off us no longer works and it seems that the website no longer exists. So I found a similar tutorial that can be found here.

In the original tutorial they used brightly colored magazine pages, which is what I used the first time I made these. In the tutorial I am linking to now it's more structured towards a kids craft so they use tissue paper and pipe cleaners. I think you really can upscale or downscale these as much as you want. I photographed these outside hanging from a favorite tree as I might for a party so that the light would be better. I do love having a few decorations blowing in the breeze for a party, big or small.

I initially was going to use magazine pages again and in fact pulled a bunch and started making a butterfly but I realized I wanted bigger butterflies and maybe something a little sturdier and more classic looking. So I grabbed a pack of 12x12 inch scrapbook paper I had in nice spring colors and started pulling sheets that would work together.

If I could do one thing differently I think I would made the bottom half of the butterflies smaller. I started with a 12x12 square for the top and then cut down the bottoms to 10x10. Looking back at the others I had made before I like that the bottoms are smaller in  scale than the ones I made this week. Maybe they would be better if I went 8x8 or 9x9.

Whipping these up didn't take much time at all. I easily whipped up six in about 30 minutes. I stapled each folded section in the middle to hold it together and then bound the top half and bottom half of the body together with white and silver cord, leaving enough to tie them to the ceiling and have them hang down to similar lengths as our snowflakes, not too far above our garlands.

So now we'll have some pretty butterflies fluttering around our dining room instead of sparkly snowflakes. These butterflies would make great party decorations for a baby shower or girl's birthday party and would be really sweet hanging from tree branches for a garden party. Depending on the kind of paper you use these are one-sided or two-sided. Because I used one-sided scrapbook paper mine are only pretty from the front but no one really sees them from the back in that window. If I was going to hang them where they would be twirling more or blowing in the breeze I would probably use tissue paper, two-sided scrapbook paper - something that looks pretty from all sides.

These are a fun craft to do with kids too and using pipe cleaners is an easy way to get butterfly antennae too. Making them from giant sheets of newspaper or butcher paper could be really interesting. Or you could create simple painted sheets of paper, any size with paints or watercolors and then make butterflies from them. There are so many ways to make these that using a little creativity they can be personalized in size, color, shape and materials. If you try these, let me know. I'd love to see a photo and hear how you made them your own!

27 March 2017

Spring Break Home Reorganization Recap

Even though we didn't hit all five days last week with home organization projects I'm going to say it was a big success for a few reasons. First it got a lot of reorganization done. Second and probably more important it got some big home fixing up momentum going again. It was great to see progress made and every one of us got into it. Good stuff!

This is one of the corners we tidied last week, heading out to our garage on the left. The doors on the right are the new "mud room closet" for school backpack and other items that seem to get tossed on the family room floor or sofa right inside the entry door from school. Now to instill the discipline for the items to get put away every day. That may be tougher than the actual clean up!

I am trying to hold back from going too "minimalist" on the family but in the last week have put on the minimalist movie on Netflix and put up this quote temporarily (maybe -HA!). The Man doesn't like motivational quotes on walls, He calls them "-ISMs". Clearly he has no idea what's going on in the world of home decor and signage right now because I seriously only have this hanging in the entire house right now. He has no idea how sign crazy his life could be with other women. Ha. He needs to spend some time on Instagram so he can appreciate my restraint. Haha.

But I do feel some responsibility to help our family see that less is more, everything needs to have a place and that we don't need a lot to be happy. I have to regularly remind myself of that too and I am pretty minimalist already. This all plays into having gratitude, living frugally, making good financial decisions, managing our emotions, our recognition of wants vs. needs and so much more. It really is important to our overall well-being.

I'm going to keep trying to schedule in at least one of two projects each week to keep this momentum going. Even if we do 30 minutes on a weeknight once a week and an hour on Saturdays we will still make a lot of progress. I'm convinced that the more we work,the more efficiently we'll work as we go forward so we can get more done, more quickly. I think that will come along in part because along the way we're making final decisions about where things will be stored and what is of value and necessary to keep. As we continue to make these decisions it gets easier and faster to make them. I also think it really helps that we've lived in the house for a little over a year now so we understand out patterns, habits and what entryways we use most often, where we like to keep things handy, etc.

I've never really done this in a house before now but I really think it is wise to continually re-evaluate how you are using your space and what works best for your family. Things change over time, we learn that some things don't work as well as we thought they might and our families living in our homes change too. What worked well for babies might now work well for the grade school era, what works for grade school might benefit from changes made for middle school years and so on.

I think we're all seeing enough progress to see some light at the end of the tunnel. We'll get settled into this house yet! Yay! I hope along the way we're gaining some new skills in working together as a family, learning to live with less, the best ways to organize a home for our needs, appreciating what we have, what we don't need to be happy and other lessons we may not even recognize yet that will be valuable to all of us going forward and will also make our home even better in a variety of ways. This is exciting to think about. It makes me want to jump up and start a little project right now.

24 March 2017

Big Like #5: File Rubber Bands

File size rubber bands are my Big Like for this week. So simple and yet they serve me in so many wonderful ways. You can buy them in a bag in the most lovely colors at an office supply store. I keep a jar of them in my office and use them weekly.

They are one of those little things you never knew how much you needed until you started using them. I like to keep one around my spiral bound journal which I often carry around with me. It helps keep the cover and pages in good shape even though I get a little rough and careless with the notebook sometimes. I also use them on my composition notebooks to hold all the things I tuck inside them together.

They are pretty great for holding together things like files, imagine that. For business travel they can be a big help to hold together brochures and other printed material you may pick up at a show or papers you need to safely transport to and from your place of business.

I also use them on food bags like nuts and chocolate chips. They help keep things fresh and keep the pantry from unnecessary messes and spills. And with the bright pretty colors they always look festive.

I love having a small stash on hand so I can easily grab one when needed. There is nothing worse than searching the house for a clip, rubber band, stapler, scissors -- all those little office supplies that come in so handy. Love some File Rubber Bands!

22 March 2017

Organizational Frustrations

I woke up yesterday morning ready to start our next Spring Break organization project and soon found myself quite frustrated. As I was making our bed I started tidying up the room and while I was putting away a half unpacked suitcase that has been sitting next to my bed for two weeks I got really mad at myself. You can't have organization if you don't take the few seconds or minutes it takes to put things away after you use them.

I put everything from the suitcase up on the freshly made bed and started putting things away two by two, one item for each hand. It took me only about three minutes to get that suitcase cleaned out and put away and I felt so mad at myself for letting that go for so long. Life is so much easier when everything has a place and is put back into place after it is used. I've let that slip, my family is terrible about that and it just hit a breaking point with me yesterday.

Next I quickly cleaned up my bedside table which had gathered an assortment of essential oils, lotions, pens and hairbands and put all that away in the drawer not more than one foot away where all those things have a place. Then I cleaned off my dresser which had gathered an assortment of small recently laundered items that needed to be put away, shopping receipts and dust. This all took me less than 10 minutes to do and that made me even more annoyed that I wasn't doing a better job keeping it tidy.

It's amazing how much lack of organization can wear on a soul, how cranky one feels to be around it and how the solution can be so simple. "A place for everything and everything in it's place" is a motto to live by! I have lived like that in the past and, as I have many times, I credit a dear friend for teaching me this. I was already part of the way there but when I saw her system it changed my life and made my life so much easier and organized. Then I went and got a family and things started eroding.

I had the luxury of living alone for long enough to really settle into that motto and I knew where my things were. Everything had a home, I lived with only what I needed and I could easily put things away and find things. That is not nearly as easy when you are dealing with a family's worth of stuff, have people moving things around, not putting things away and just a ton more stuff. Compound that by the fact that you married someone who finds sentimentality (like tee shirts from high school, 90s jeans, Sunday comics) and "I might need this in the future for something" (like bits of 550 cord and  advertisements for things he might need in five years) to be constants.

I keep thinking that if I can just set the example by keeping all my things tidy that it will serve as an example for the family and that will spread throughout the house, but I have yet not been able to keep my stuff together to a noticeable level. I have talked to enough moms and wives and working women with and without families to recognize that there is only so much time in a day and there has to be some logical realization that you can't do everything perfectly every day and there have to be priorities and that those can change fairly regularly or with changing needs.

Keeping a house tidy all the time with a family is a big challenge. Just upkeeping the kitchen throughout the day is challenging enough, let alone other main living spaces like living rooms, family rooms and bathrooms. Don't even get started on attics, yards and garages. Then there are jobs, church and civic work, family activities, needs for quiet time and attention to family members, doctors appointments, groceries to buy...it seems to never end.

I admire a family who can keep that all organized and together. And then I wonder sometimes at what cost that comes. Do we make our families completely miserable and make them feel unwelcome in their own homes because of our obsession with tidiness and order. Do we just become constant "cleaning police" and lose ourselves in cleaning hypervigilance. Some women just wear themselves out trying to do it all by themselves at the sacrifice of their own mental and physical health. I know that is the pendulum swinging the completely opposite direction but I do think that with each family it is different. Perhaps my situation is a bit unique because I gained a family instead of starting a marriage with one spouse and not much stuff. We already had two full lives of belongings and started with a young child. Some habits at midlife are pretty hard to change.

I don't know exactly what the solution is but it looks like I'm either going to find it or bounce around somewhere near the solution or make myself crazy trying to find it. Ha! How do you manage this and stay in your sane zone? What have you learned to let go of and what have you enforced that helped make your life less crazy and more organized? I'd love to hear your insights!

21 March 2017

Spring Break Plans: House Projects & Fun

We're officially on Spring Break and since we aren't traveling I decided we need to make the most of it in two ways: we need to get some house projects done while we are all three at home and second we need to make sure our kiddo has some fun. Last Friday I sat down with a "plan your week" printout and started planning.

When we first closed on our house about 18 months ago we were hard charging to get things done. We ripped out the pond/planter in the kitchen and got the floors replaced, painted the walls, hung a chandelier and replaced the flooring in the office/laundry room, painted the downstairs bedrooms, replaced all the lightbulbs in the house with energy efficient ones...and then the holidays came and the week after that my foot accident. Screech went the brakes.

Then we moved into the house because is was so much easier for me to maneuver around in on crutches. And then we went into survival mode until summer while I hobbled, worked full time and we found ourselves incredibly busy. Now here we are months later and this house has just never gotten organized like it should have with a proper move in. It's just been survival mode and disorganized and I can't take it.

Now unfortunately the rest of the family has developed some bad habits about not putting things away and things not having a proper home and it's going to be crazy hard to create new habits now. But it has to be done for everyone's sanity, most importantly mine. So not only do we need to reorganize the entire house but we really need everyone to commit to keeping it that way. This is going to be a real challenge.

So I came up with a plan for Spring Break week where we'll do a project in the morning and then we'll go have fun in the afternoon. This way there is some earning and ownership of work in the mornings and then we have something to look forward to and relax doing in the afternoon. Hopefully I'll get buy in from the family. I called a Family Meeting on Friday night to have a conversation about how things got to where they are, what we can and need to do and how we can accomplish this during our Spring Break week. Hopefully this is going to get everyone on board for the duration of the week.

I was really committed to starting at the front door and working our way through the house but the more I think about it the more I think we need go start in the garage and work our way through the house from that direction instead. That way we'll have available storage for things we need to move out of the house in the garage. The Man has been working out there from time to time going through boxes and such and I have a feeling there are a ton of half empty or empty boxes that we just need to get out of there or finish cleaning out.

I think we are all ready to get rid of more stuff. I anticipate we'll have a big load for the thrift store this week. It will be great to get the garage in better shape and then move on to the house. I am learning that at times things are much easier to accomplish than expected and sometimes they are much harder. I'm not sure which the garage will be but fingers crossed things are in better shape out there than any of us expect and we'll be able to make some big progress quickly.

We need space in the garage for all the home improvement tools and products that are now set up in our family room. It was great when we were working on the house daily in the winter, but I don't think we need it in the house anymore. It could all be arranged nicely in the garage and we need to reclaim that space in the family room desperately. The Man continues to complain that there is no storage in this house, but in reality we just aren't using any of it to its proper use. We actually have a lot of space it's just not being used well.

I've come to realize what seemed like a very big family room really isn't and it has a terrible walking path from the sliding glass doors at the front of the house that leads right through the middle of the room at a weird angle that makes it almost impossible to place furniture in any reasonable manner in that room. Whomever designed this house really blew it in a few places.

This may sound a little crazy, but I smudged our house with white sage and lavender and gave the house a prayer/blessing. I thought I would hate the smell of the smoke in the house but I didn't mind it at all and it didn't linger or bother anyone else. In fact the family seemed to like It. Ideally you smudge after you've decluttered but I think we needed a little energy burst to get us going again and then I'll do it again sometime soon.

I do feel like the house needs a energy cleansing and fresh start. Whatever it takes. Especially after our neighbor made the mistake of telling The Man that both the previous homeowners died in this house. Fresh start, clean energy for them and for us. I bought the sage a few weeks ago and it had just been sitting on the counter until I studied up and decided to try it. I asked the family if they felt the energy in the house was a little lighter and we all felt it was a strong "maybe." We'll see what happens.

Anyway I digress. So the plan is the cleanse the house in body and soul and have some fun this week adventuring around to more local museums and attractions. Hopefully by the end of Spring Break we'll have a very happily organized house and we'll have had a lot of good adventures too. Fingers crossed!

*Late-breaking update. Okay so our first day of Spring Break went pretty well, despite some crying and me telling a little person I needed to take her to the ER if her legs suddenly weren't working when we headed out to start working. Amazingly they were fine before and all day afterwards including for some pretty hard core play with neighbor boys most of the afternoon. Thankfully 5 minutes with ice on the knees solved that problem and make the work seem much less horrible. To be honest it was little bit of cat wrangling to keep everyone on point but we filled out recycling bin that will go out this morning and my little car is packed up ready for a thrift store drop-off. Everyone contributed and let go of some things too. That is a success. Our garage is a little cleaner. Yay!

I may have secretly odios-ed a few 90s clothing items that I didn't say anything about to the owner. I generally don't believe in doing this but at some point enough is enough and the emotional attachment to hideous old clothing is tooooo strong. If it's been in boxes since for over a decade I think we're done. The comedic highlight of this was when he donned a 90s tee shirt and some of those multi-colored body-builder muscle/workout pants guys wore in the late 80s. To make his point he even wore that outfit around the house for a few hours. Oh my gosh. Kiddo and I laughed so hard. I still can't stop laughing at the thought. I've told him I need to make him a quilt from those because he's obviously very attached! Scary.

I tried to keep the project at two hours but with all the dramatics and cat chasing it lasted more like three hours, but I was happy to shut it all down at a reasonable point. I had to pull everyone off the job and stop the work, which I think was good. I really like stopping BEFORE everyone was exhausted, worn out and cranky. Tomorrow I will try taking some music out with us.

I think we're going to do another day in the garage since we're all in a groove with it and it still needs a lot of work and we're kind of on a roll about what needs to happen in there. Wouldn't it be crazy amazing if we could someday park two cars in there. Wow.

20 March 2017

Lessons From Home: You Can't Teach It All

It's so easy as a parent to get caught up in all the things you "need" to teach your child to prepare them for adult life. I have caught myself in the past feeling like we need to be teaching in our home every good thing I see other parents doing. What a folly and too much pressure. I learned to focus on doing what my family needs, not what every other family I know is doing cumulatively. That's not even possible to do every good thing every other family does, let alone worth stressing over. Now I pray and ask what we need to do and try to listen to inspiration as it comes.

Recently I have found myself feeling pressured about all the things we need to teach our kiddo to prepare her to go out in the world as an adult. The time is short, we've only got 7 1/2 years before she's off to college. Panic.

She needs to know how to budget time and money, how to work and earn money, how to manage adult relationships, how to live through a breakup and how to breakup with someone. She needs to learn how to fix things, how to make things, how to solve all kinds of problems from a broken down car to any variety of possible crises.

She needs to know how to keep house, fold sheets, make meals, buy groceries, eat healthily, get enough sleep and take care of her body, keep strong mentally and emotionally, clean house and learn to live with less so she can have less stress and work taking care of things. She needs to know how to get a passport, how to plan a trip....oh the list goes on and on and on.

Seriously between school, extra-curriculars, church, friends and much needed down time there aren't enough hours to teach her all of that to the level I think is needed between now and when she graduates from high school. More parenting stress. I don't want to send our Kiddo out into the world like some girls I've heard of who never learned to make a meal or had never turned on a dishwasher before, etc. Agh!

Then I thought back on my own youth and realized how much I learned once I left for college. There are a lot of people to learn from there. I also learned a lot during my time living in Denmark when I was 21-22. There are lots of opportunities to learn the skills of adult life from other people whether that be during high school, college or young adulthood. It's natural and good because other people may be able to reach her in new and more interesting or inspiring ways that we could.

"Finding myself" as a young adult was very often a reflection of experiences I had with people who grew up in different types of homes or environments that I did. It was inspiring and refreshing and often exciting to see how other people did things differently than we did in our home and it gave me a broader perspective to decide who I wanted to be and how I wanted to do things. It was all that exposure to things that were different than I was used to that taught me there were many ways to do things and many reasons to do them outside of what I experienced in the place and way I grew up. That was so educational and satisfying.

As I looked back on my own experience and made this realization, it was a huge moment for me to take a deep breath and not feel so pressured that we needed to teach her everything she needs to know about life before she graduates high school. There are still many learning opportunities between parents and children after that time too. Those do not stop at age 18. Realizing this helped me to step back and chill out.

So here's another unnecessary stress I'm going to let go of. I'm trusting in good people she will meet all along her path, I'm trusting myself to chill out and be a little more natural about this evolutionary process called raising kids, and I'm trusting her that she will keep making good decisions. I hope she will take opportunities to learn and grow through healthy relationships with others and will take opportunities to see the world through her own eyes, others' eyes and still hopefully sometimes my eyes too.

I'm also going to trust that no matter where she goes, she will take her relationship with God with her and he will watch over her. I don't need to do it all. I don't need to do it perfectly. I just need to do my best. I can keep trying to do that, without feeling overwhelmed or fearful. We can do our best and believe that good will come from it. What a relief....

17 March 2017

Big Like #4: My New Trash Can By Broyhill

I've been on the hunt for the perfect trash can for my office for quite a while now. I just haven't seen anything that I liked that felt like it worked in the space. I have a pretty deep corner desk and under the desk is the only place I can fit a trash can in my office so it needed to be the right dimensions and still feel pretty to me. And I didn't want to spend a fortune on a trash can that no one but me would really see, or any trash can for that matter. Well okay we did splurge for our kitchen trash can, remember? And I will say we've loved it! For my office, it seemed like a good deal should be easy enough to find but it just took a while.

Then I found this great little woven basket at Home Goods and thought it would go perfectly with my office. It was the right width, height, pattern and coloring. It took me less than ten seconds to make a decision and I have not regretted it for one second since.

It was so pretty in the store but one I got it home it still maintained it's cheery sparkle and still seemed like exactly what I wanted, which I was so happy about. It's always a little sad when something looks so smashing in the store and then when you get it home it seems to have lost some of its luster.

It cost just $12 which was a great deal too. The white bright white top and green/gray bottom feel fresh and summery to me and I love the color combination. Trying to decorate my office which is about five shades of boring neutrals, almost no wall space and aged oak cabinets everywhere has been a bit of a challenge. I'm just not up for painting cabinets right now.

We replaced the floors last year from red brick to aged white wood-look vinyl planks. Great for laundry rooms and a small space that takes a lot of abuse. The paint is a gray tan which we painted when we moved it using the leftovers from one of the downstairs bedrooms. The pre-existing countertops are a yellow-tan and the expensive pre-existing blinds are a peachy tan. It's a whole lot of bland coming all together with one beautiful chandelier and lovely flooring. I'm not sure what to do with it all. But adding a lovely trash can has to be a good start, right? It's my big like for the week, my new Broyhill trash can for my office. It's the little things that make life's big likes.

16 March 2017

The Bug's Patio Birthday Party

Yesterday was The Bug's birthday and the weather was so nice that in the late afternoon I decided to have part of our family celebrations outside and invite our dear neighbors over for presents, cake and ice cream. Children's birthdays always feel a little bit overwhelming as parents, covering all the necessary details even if it's just a family party. There are the gifts, a meal, decorations, cards, wrapping presents, and so many little details that start to feel a little overwhelming. It's amazing how exhausted you can feel at the end of a child's birthday. I almost feel like a big birthday last year was about the same amount of work as a family party...maybe less since we ordered pizza in for 15 girls!

Around four o'clock, as I was coming home from grabbing a few last minute groceries and a beautiful cake, I thought it would be more fun if we invited the neighbors, so I sent kiddo over to invite them. Then I started thinking about how nice it would be if we did all that outside. So I started zipping around the house looking for furniture we could take outside to use on the front patio.

I was rummaging around the house and then headed out to the garage where I found a nice fold-up rectangle table I forgot we had. Grabbed that, a bunch of chairs from the dining room table since we were using our more formal dining table seating area for dinner. Then I found a pretty tablecloth that I actually bought for a different purpose all together and threw that over the table. Started grabbing candles, flowers, cake candles, matches and took that and all the presents outside. I found a few little flower garlands to hang out there in my stash from last year's party.

This also gave me a chance to use one of my purchases from last summer, a covered tray to protect food outside. I gathered all the plates, cups, napkins, cutlery, ice cream scoop, cake knife and server there and took that all out to our table and we were ready for a starlight birthday celebration.

Then it was back inside to make dinner. The Bug requested steak, so we did steaks with marinated mushrooms and grilled onions. Earlier in the day I threw some baking potatoes into the slow cooker and I was so glad that got done early, took absolutely no time and didn't require turning on the oven for over an hour. Then I made Crack Broccoli which we are still eating almost weekly. We're on a big push for more leafy greens and so this is a great addition to our regular menu of kale/spinach smoothies and spinach salad.

Dinner was relaxing and delicious and by the time we got done eating we had about 15 minutes before our neighbors would arrive. We gathered the cake and ice cream, went out and turned on the lights and lit candles. It was fully dark by 7:45 when we saw our friends coming through the trees from their yard across the driveway with a flashlight. So fun. Our neighbor Cathy said the patio looked so romantic, which her husband thought sounded odd, but I know just what she meant and was so glad to know that we'd achieved "magical" and "inviting" with the scene.

We opened presents first. Our neighbors were so sweet to bring her a little ornament from their travels. A woodcut with a bear and fish. Her dad and I gave her some piano books, a book on drawing animals - which is a great talent of hers - and then she opened a few bike accessories which was the beginning of a little trick we played on her.

We told her that since she'd been enjoying riding her bike a lot the past few weeks that we thought she would enjoy a few bike accessories. That included a water bottle & cage for it, bike headlight, taillight and lights for spokes, etc. When she had opened them all, her dad said he thought he might have forgotten one of the accessories and he disappeared to go get it. She was fully engrossed in looking at her new books and was not paying attention to where her dad went or what he was doing.

When he walked up next to her chair with a shiny new bike, she still wasn't looking up. As her dad was walking up to her the neighbors were "Oooh"-ing and she looked up and her jaw dropped. She was speechless. She jumped up and threw her arms around her dad and kept saying thank you. She said thank you didn't seem like enough to really say what she felt. It was a little too dark for an initial ride and we need to adjust the handlebars and seat for her but she walked it around, inspected it, threw her leg over and and got a feel for it for a few minutes.

Her old bike was a little too small for her and we've known for a while that she needed a new bike. She was also very tired of pink bikes, three in a row and had made it very clear that she wanted a
mountain bike that didn't have girl colors. So she got the very boyish Gauntlet bike in camo and orange - and loved it. No more girly bikes with tassles around here!

We capped the night off with a beautiful cake from Whole Foods. I was going to make a cake and was looking forward to trying out the "make a box cake taste like homemade" and "make a box cake taste like a bakery cake" tips from Pinterest, but when The Man suggested I just go to Whole Foods and get a cake I thought that sounded pretty good. Once I got there though it was hard to choose. I love their Chantilly Cake and it is a perfect spring/summer cake with white cake and berries inside and out. But that  is my favorite cake and so associated with my birthday now that I thought I wanted to do something else for The Bug.

Chocolate cakes sounded so heavy, carrot cake sounded wintery. So I settled on a cake we hadn't tried before Strawberry Boston Cream Pie Cake. I knew it was flavors that everyone in our family would enjoy and it felt spring-like and not too rich, dense or heavy. When I told everyone at the table what kind of cake it was everyone reacted with oohs and ahhs so I was glad it seemed like the right choice for all five of us. It was delicious and light and creamy, just as I hoped and it paired so well with french vanilla ice cream too. Even after it was served and eaten The Man had another piece and then cut off another small corner and Kiddo was picking at it. We'll definitely enjoy the rest over the next couple of days.

I am so glad we took a few minutes to throw together something a little extra special to enjoy our front patio, which we've never done, and party under the dark, beautiful, star-filled New Mexico skies. It turned out to be a delightful evening and a good reminder that spur of the moment ideas when implemented can make a night one to remember.

15 March 2017

Internet Is Down, Life Screeches To A Standstill

Popping in for a quick hello. This week had not gone as hoped as far as blogging goes due to a little issue called "our home internet is down and a tech can't come til Friday." Sigh...so frustrating. Amongst a ton of other things I had to do yesterday I spent the entire day trying to get our internet connection working again...as you'll remember I'm the tech guru at our house...which isn't saying much! The outages map below doesn't engender a lot of confidence in my internet provider.

But after three hours with three different internet provider customer support agents - (Can you hear the giant SIGH?) my phone hotspot or their system connection would fail just as they were finalizing the appointment for a technician to come out. I can't tell you how crazy frustrating that was!

We ran through all the requisite tests..."move the modem to another phone jack, unplug it for 10 seconds then plug it back in, hit the reboot button, stand on your head, facing north, hold the modem between your teeth while drinking a glass of water and singing the national anthem! Now tell me what the lights on the front on your modem look like?" Every time the DSL light turned solid, ugly red.

Finally at 5 p.m., as I was rushing the third agent to wrap things up before we lost our connection yet again, we nailed it all down, but of course we're out of internet service all week until they fix it. Then there is the whole clause in the deal that if it's a problem on our end we have to pay for it but if it's their service there is no charge. I think it's their service or their modem. We shall see. And we'll be asking for a refund off our bill for the days we're not actually getting service. I keep trying to reboot out modem thinking they'll find a problem on their end and get it fixed and magically we'll be back in business but that hasn't happened yet.

Of course this was the week I had planned to do a ton of business online, needed to edit lots of photos...just needed to be on my computer a lot and needing the internet. So that's been a disaster. It's amazing how much you can't do without the internet. Having it on the phone is fantastic but it's not the same and now every minute we're on the internet in our house via our phones, either using the internet on our phones or hotspotting, we're eating up data minutes. Ergh. Mucho frustrating.

It's seems like in this day and age you should not have to go without the internet for a week, there should be a faster fix than that. Meanwhile I feel like we're all being held hostage a bit, unable to do so much. Kiddo is working on a major month-long school project and needs the internet too. We're all a little frustrated. It also means no netflix, etc. etc. because we don't want to blow out our phone minutes.

I have a few posts in progress and will share some fun we had today with you tomorrow. We had a magical evening which included being able to use the internet via The Man's phone for entertainment and learning via candlelight out in the front yard.

14 March 2017

Things We Can And Can't Deal With

The other day I was going through a temporary but frequently repeated experience that I really was not enjoying. Because it was an experience that I have to go through somewhat frequently, the thought came to me, I cannot live the rest of my life like this. I can't deal with this forever!

When we are in the midst of unpleasant experiences it does feel like they are taking over our entire lives and that we will break to pieces if you have to live like that all the time. But this thought came to me that completely changed how I was feeling and my thinking. I realized that this unpleasant experience never lasts more than two hours often it is only 30 minutes or so. So that's not nearly my entire life or an entire day. It's a pretty short time and I get through it every time. On a bad day it's not even 1/12 of my 24 hour day.

Then I started thinking about what fills the other 22-24 hours of the day that aren't affected by this situation. I started counting the blessings I do have in those hours and the things I gladly deal with -- that I love and are deeply meaningful. I thought about the day before when I got to spend a leisurely afternoon alone with The Man and how peaceful and relaxing and restorative it was to just be with him, enjoy the outdoors and relax. It was like medicine for my soul! I CAN deal with that and want more and more of those moments.

I thought about the wonderful, sweet, bonding moments I've had hanging out with The Bug the last week and how nice it is to snuggle up to watch a movie, read books and be still together...or to talk lots and laugh and workout together. Sweet, sweet moments, especially when it feels like she is suddenly growing up faster than ever. I CAN deal with more of those moments with her, many, many more.

I thought about sipping my favorite hot cocoa and nibbling toast. In a few weeks it's going to be way too hot to sip cocoa and I will miss the comfort and coziness of those quiet times and needing to warm up. I would gladly take more of that cozy, warm, chocolate-ness. I CAN deal with making the absolute most out of those moments.

I thought about how much I am enjoying workouts and hours at the gym and how motivated I am for progress with my fitness and the recovery of my foot. It's painful, but I'm enjoying pushing through and reaching for goals. That's another thing I CAN deal with in my life right now.

I have a lot of projects that I'm working on and am excited about right now. I am deeply interested in them, enjoying progress and I CAN deal with that. Inspiration and motivation to create are such a big part of who I am and what get me really excited. More good things in my life.

I am really passionate about getting our back patio furnished for entertaining and family enjoyment this summer. That's another thing I don't mind dealing with one bit. Inspiration boards, checking lots of online resources and budgeting out options in my free time is another project I CAN deal with in my life right now and that I am having fun with.

So, while in those few moments of misery when I thought I just can't take this anymore, it struck me that I need to not think in those short periods that the unpleasantness is my entire life! I realized I have so much more in my life that I CAN take, that I do love and that is wonderful and delicious to my soul. That realization really helped me to turn around my attitude about the small, unpleasant moments of life. They truly are just a bit of time and we do get through them over and over again. But they aren't our entire life and we don't have to let them feel like they own our entire life or our happiness.

When I started seeing things in this new light, suddenly being in the midst of an unpleasant experience didn't matter so much because I knew it would end and it would end soon. I saw that I have all those other lovely things to be excited about. Now, the next time I have to endure an unpleasant experience, I hope I'll be able to remember that it will be just for a short time and it isn't my entire life. It's a few minutes of a day with many more minutes still available to enjoy with loved ones and doing things I love.

So next time I'll remember I can deal with those unpleasant experiences and they don't have to color so much of my world and I'll try to focus on all the great things about life, about my life. Good life lesson that will serve me well.

13 March 2017

Our Big Kids Need Us Too

As The Bug has gotten older and much more independent, it's been a real process to understand what she needs. It's easier when kids are little. They need to go to the bathroom, they need to eat, they need attention. But when kids get older they start communicating what they need less and it becomes a big learning curve to understand where they are at in life and to connect with them, especially when friends become more important, and grown ups (especially parents) seem less interesting to them.

I've been realizing more and more that even if they act like they don't really need you or want you to spend time with them, that they do and they often communicate this by being a bit challenging or by ignoring you.

We've been reconnecting with our "not to little" Bug lately and I am realizing in a deeper way how much tweens and teens need time with their parents. If you offer they will come. We have been spending time watching TV series together, working on small projects, taking drives, going to museums and running errands. Friday night we did a tough home workout together and a couple of times since then she's mentioned how much she enjoyed it.

Sometimes we watch separate movies, spend time on own tablets or read our favorite books and magazines but we're together, curled up on mom and dad's bed. Even when we're doing separate things together there are still repeated moments of "love you" and stops for hugs and cuddles. Even though she acts like she doesn't need us nearly as much as when she was younger, she still does and she loves having our attention and just spending time relaxing or talking together.

It makes our home calmer, it makes her calmer. It helps us to act with more patience and wisdom in trying moments. It helps her want to be more sweet, a better listener and more obedient. It helps us all remember how much we love each other and to be gentle and kind with each other. We see the good in each other when we spend quiet time together and I find that many more compliments are passed in our home when we enjoy down time together and work time together.

There is more gratitude one for another and we miss each other more when we're not together even if it's just for the school day. She is more likely to share part of her day and things that excite her or bug her when we've spent time together. It provides quiet time to have important conversations, calmly discuss challenges and to encourage and support.

I find that it's very easy to keep myself busy and time can go by very quickly, even just an afternoon. It could be easy to let a day go by without quality time beyond dinner and bedtime. While I try to be very available, especially in the hours after school, I am reaffirming my efforts to make sure we spend quality and quantities of time together. It has brought an added sweetness to our home and I realize it helps all of us get through hard times better and to not let hard things get us down as much when we feel like a team and not alone to tackle life.

Spending time with our big kids has a major impact on the decisions they will make in their tween and teen years and I want to keep working on being a connected and loving parent who can help a child make great decisions and find happiness in life. I can definitely see, feel and hear a difference in our home when we spend time together. Big kids need us!

10 March 2017

Big Likes #3: Dollar Tree Composition Notebooks

Last Monday night I headed to the neighborhood Dollar Tree store and loaded up on pretty little composition notebooks. They are a great price for just $1 for pretty, colorful patterned covers that are often three times that much at other stores. They are my Big Like for this week.

I've been using them over the past few of years for all kinds of projects from business brainstorms, home renovation projects research, dreams and goals, a daily to do list and now I am using them for client projects I am taking on. They are the perfect size and so sturdy, easy to tuck inside a purse, backpack or carry on. I use a file rubber band to hold things inside, so it's easy to tuck things in as well. Sometimes I glue things inside.

I grabbed a stack of eight on Monday and am already using two but am really happy to have a stash in my cupboard for the future. I have one I've had for a while that I am using to track projects for the house and I have added tabs on the edge with the name of each room in the house so that I can easily find and flip to each space.

They are great for sketching ideas out and I love being able to keep all my thoughts and brainstorming out projects in one place. They would be great for a travel journal for a trip. With some fun washi tape or a glue stick with you, you could tape or glue tickets and photos and fun mementos inside along with a daily record of activities and events - and again they are easy to tuck in a small bag or write in while traveling in small quarters.

They would also work great for a place to collect recipes, collect favorite quotes or to use a a gratitude journal each day -- and they look cute on the bookshelves too. One dollar composition notebooks are my Big Like for this week.

08 March 2017

Emotional Goodbyes To Stuff

As I continue to declutter and simplify our home life I am finding some challenging goodbyes necessary. These separations are making for some serious consideration and decision making. I was inspired yesterday by this Instagram post by Clean House With Kids. Tricia says, "...best tip for keeping the kids' room neat? Get rid of stuff. Keep the things you and the kids really love."

The other day I was looking at a gift given to me by a friend years ago. It is sweet, charming and inspiring in intent, but honestly it is attached to some really bad, stressful memories and every time I look at it, it makes me feel stressed and brings back memories I don't really want to be reliving every time I look at it. So I decided to give it to the thrift store with a kiss and gratitude to honor the gift from my dear friend.

I also have a lucky penny a friend gave me over 10 years ago. I'm not sure how lucky that penny was or is, but I'm just not feeling an attachment to it anymore. It feels so attached to the past. Maybe I could spend it on something that makes me happy instead of having it in a little frame in my office. I like that idea and I think it honors the love in which it was given and in which it was received.

I found an old gratitude journal that is only half filled. It was a great thing at the time I was using it, a place of peace and comfort, but now when I look at it I feel stressed. Looking through the journal it's a bit of a history of hard times and things that didn't work out, embarrassing situations and hopes I had that did not come to fruition. I want to let that go too and I'm going to.

I would never give away a real, historical journal, but this is more wishes and dreams and I am ready to let the ancient past be just that. I have enough embarrassing journals to cover the time period...ha. I could cut out the junk pages and continue to use it, but it's the cover and the pages and the whole book that bothers me so holding on to it out of obligation to use the last of the paper seems odd. Maybe I can cut it out and use it for scratch paper. I use a lot of scratch paper.

I also have a rock collection that I'm wondering about the true value of. They were meaningful to me once upon a time sometimes because of the giver of the rock and other times because of the lessons I learned from studying them, but now I feel like I'm holding on to them out of some sense of obligation. I think it's time for them to go.

I have so many little trinkets and treasures that meant something once upon a time that now just feel obligatory and I feel guilty getting rid of them and I shouldn't. I don't need to keep everything that I've ever owned or that once meant something to me. It seems that I am entering a place of deeper cleansing both in body and life.

Physically I have been feeling much better the past two months than I had for quite a few months before that. I might credit that to continued heeling of my foot, the surgery I had in early February, a change in nutritional supplements and even perhaps an adjustment of my stress levels or letting go of some situations I have no control over. Doing more self-care and taking more time to do things I enjoy since Christmas probably has some impact on that as well.

As I progress to a more healthy physical state, I feel a companion drive to have my environment in a better state as well. I realize more and more how far behind my life fell in so many ways while I was "cast-bound" last year and in the still continuing recovery as well as the stress and magnitude of our 2015 move. We are still catching up with all the things that has to be put aside so that we could just get through the days and keep the family functioning.

I continued to function as an amazingly high rate of speed for the situation but in the long run, the toll that took on me and our family is still being felt. Had I taken things easier, I would probably be in a much better situation now, but I didn't have a lot of options a the time.

One of the things that we are so suffering from still is feeling and being settled in this house. There is still so much to do to really get it in a place where we will feel like we're really here, living here and feeling "at home". One of the things that I am feeling the impact of right now is the deep need to reorient my life to our new home, city, etc. There are things to let go of from our old life and I want to simplify life here so much so that we can just enjoy life rather than always feeling like we're trying to manage belongings, schedules and work.

Saying goodbye to things I don't really love anymore feels like an important step right now. That crosses over into so many facets. We have so many towels that are in crummy shape but totally still usable. We also have new towels. We don't need THAT many towels. Some need to go and we need to finally get our bathrooms and cupboards organized in a better way that works for us where everyone knows where to go to find things and where to put things away.

For this week I am going to start saying goodbye to things I don't really need or love anymore. I am ready to do that and ready to have a new, refreshed life, less encumbered with things I don't love. Hopefully that will catch on with my family and they will feel freed to give up some things too. I think it's time.

07 March 2017

Keeping Our Talents Out From Under The Bushel

This is more of a cautionary tale than anything, lessons I am learning from pulling a talent out from under a bushel. Music has always been a part of my life, but once I left home I decided I was not going to sing in a church choir anymore. I just didn't like doing it and had done it from 12-18 years old. Much like a prison sentence, I felt I'd paid my debt to choir society and I wanted to be freed from life in choir prison. I continued to sing to the radio, with my family and sometimes with friends but I retired from any real kind of performing unless it was Christmas carols or camp songs.

Teaching kiddo to sing and have music in her life was important to me, so in our home music has been a priority, including getting her involved in band this year. Which, I'll confess has not gone that well - the band part of that. When we moved to Albuquerque people in our new church congregation would hear me sing during the congregational hymns and the pressure started turning on about why I wasn't in the choir. Then the ward music director asked if I wouldn't sing in choir if I would be willing to perform with a small group in services sometime. I would rather do that than go to choir every week, even though we have an amazing choir at our church,  -- it was a one-time commitment, so I agreed...still not really feeling excited about it.

So it's come my time to perform and I'm singing a bass part which as an alto is a challenge! We are singing a fairly challenging piece and I am singing in the bass clef which is very hard to do when you are used to singing the top lines of the sheet music. It has not been easy. I realize I have a much harder time reading notes, I've forgotten the count of some notes and I have forgotten many of the music terms, in Italian of course. Being able to construct the sounds of the notes in my head is a challenge too. My voice muscles are not as fit as they once were, it's a challenge for me to stay on key to hold long notes, my throat gets tired faster and I just don't have a lot of vocal stamina. After practicing on my own for an hour and then with the group for an hour last night my throat felt like someone had worked it over with sandpaper and my voice sounded laryngitis-y.

Then there is the whole process of knowing all the words and intonations, while at the same time reading the notes in the bass clef, holding them for the right amount of time, breathing in the right places, getting louder and softer at the right times. It's a LOT to manage, but even more so when you're rusty at all of it. I definitely feel out of my element with all this at this point in my life, especially since I am performing with professionally trained musicians. Ack!

Thankfully, at home we have a professional size keyboard we bought second hand a few years ago that I can use to practice. Thankfully I can still read and find the notes on the keyboard. Thankfully it's coming back little by little. But boy do I have a lot of practicing to do before Sunday. Facing this challenge has gotten me more in the musical groove and I think I would like to stay a little more fit and familiar in the music realm. I should play the piano a little bit now and then as well and finally commit to learn to play my ukulele well. I actually enjoy doing all these things when I can do them on my own terms.

I need to start thinking about my talents and ensuring that there aren't others rusting away under a bushel as well. There are definitely some you can pick up and put down more easily than others. But it's true you'll lose them if you don't use them enough. This experience is a good reminder for me even though it's a little painful.

06 March 2017

Are We Busy Or Are We Focused?

This morning I read this Instagram post by The Minimalists about multitasking and how we're doing more than we've ever done, how we're working more hours than we've ever worked and how busy-ness has taken over our world.

It got me thinking about how I use my time and what I'm giving time and attention to that I don't want to be. It's a constant battle not to let things creep into our lives that just pile up, muddy it up, make us tired and cause us grief. I find it's a constant battle just to keep it all at bay and try to find some sense of simplicity in life.

Moving into a house has definitely added to that and I find myself frequently missing living in a small apartment. Definitely the old grass is always greener because all a person wants when they are living in a small apartment is a house with a yard. Ha. In a house, there is more to clean, more upkeep, a yard to care for and more stuff in the house itself. It gets a little overwhelming and I think it takes some careful consideration to figure out what you can manage without losing your mind, when you'll need help and how plus what that will cost in time and resources.

One of the things I read in the post that struck me was the question "Are we busy or are we focused?" Busy for busy's sake still amazingly something humans tend to brag about. How often do we say or hear "Oh I'm so busy!" or "You know how busy life gets." I like the contrast between busy and focused. I would rather be focused and make the best use of my time and not feel dizzy with busy.

I recently talked with a good friend who is working on a new business. She said she is focusing two hours every day while her kids are at school to her business, 10 a.m. - noon. I like that realistic acknowledgement that this is the time she can give it and that she's just going to be diligent in giving it that time. I was inspired. If you're giving any effort energy and every day, then every day you are moving things forward and you are gaining momentum and the benefits of consistency.

Consistency is really a tough one when you have so many, too many things pulling at you every day. Solid commitment to priorities is critical and as easy as it sounds so often as a mom and wife one gets derailed when you've been up all night with someone who is sick, school or doctors appointments, stayed up extra late to help with homework, or had outside commitments you have to attend to - and even occasionally are sick or worn out too -- I don't think women often give themselves much rest time.

I am trying to figure out how to better manage that but it is not easy. So often it feels like my priorities have to take a back seat to everyone else's priorities and I don't think that's right. But there are days when you just have to focus on keeping the family alive and afloat.

I think this week I am going to write my priorities in big letters and post it on my desk. Then make sure my time is fitting into one of those priorities with focus from the top down. I want to be focused rather than busy. Then I want to cut back on how I'm spending my time and create more open space in my days. It's time to do some spring cleaning of my life and cut out the things that aren't critical. I did that with my socks, underwear and makeup drawers earlier this year. I've been doing the same with our family room. I'm feeling like it's time to Spring Clean my life and cut away some of the unnecessary items and build in lots more time for things I really want to be doing.

Some things I'd like to be doing more of are meeting up with friends, business networking, reading the few but beautiful magazines that come in the mail that seem to pile up a bit. I'd like to spend more time studying things I'm interested in and doing more meditation and yoga. I want to put more time towards meal planning and healthy eating, time outside and exercise.

I'd like to take more outings to new neighborhoods and things I haven't seen here in the city. I would like to spend time working on the creative projects I have waiting for me like stripping down two old benches and making my planter I was supposed to make last summer. I'm sneaking all these kinds of things in but not to the extend that they are completely regular habits and must haves for me.

Here's where it gets tricky. What would I like to be doing less of...well it doesn't feel like any of those things are things I can actually do less of. I'd like to be doing fewer dishes but we still have to eat and I do get help with that, but it seems like I'm always the last one in the kitchen washing down the counters. I'd like to spend less time cleaning house but it feels never ending and never feels finished - and that is with help. I'd like to spend less time feeling like we have so much to do on the house and less time trying to do it. I don't know what else I can let go of right now. There have to be things I'm not thinking of. I'm going to ponder that.

Maybe what I could do better is think about how I use the free time that I do have. So often I feel like I fritter it away instead of doing something I really wanted to do. For instance I might sit down and watch a movie with that family that I'm not really interested in. I could still do that but maybe do something I want to do while I'm watching. Part of the challenge for women as well I think is that we're just too doggone tired by the time we do have any free time. Who has the energy? It's a big of a losing battle when one realizes that the older we get the less energy we seem to have or the more quickly we get tired. What I would give to be able to put some of the energy of my youth to good use now!

I think more routine and organization would help to. I'm big on these things but the rest of my clan is somewhat resistant. It's a battle for me to figure out how much it's worth fighting it and how much is absolutely necessary to teach skills and enforce order in the home. I think there is a little too much flexibility and movement in this area of our life right now. It would be better to have more structure. More focus.

What things would you like to get rid of in your life or could you realistically cut back on? How do you manage your time so that you feel fulfilled and happy with your own priorities while meeting the rest of the needs in your life whether it's work, family, etc? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

03 March 2017

Big Likes #2: Trader Joe's Apricot Preserves

It's post number two in a new series I'm calling "Big Likes". This new theme is all about things I'm really loving right now. Last week I shared my favorite cocoa mix along with recipe secrets for the all-time best cocoa which I learned from my grandmother. Today I'm sharing something that pairs quite nicely with the cocoa, tea or any breakfast really.

My mom makes fantastic jams and jellies and any time I'm visiting and can take a few bottles she makes sure I pack a few in my luggage.  If I'm driving home I often get a small box of all kinds of goodies from her house. At Christmas she is so kind to send a box of holiday treats, including cookies and other holiday treats, a loaf of homemade bread and jars of jams and jellies. This year we devoured her holiday mailing pretty quickly and I will say I was a little stingy to share. I think we only have one jar of grape jelly left, which I may be putting off opening just because it's the last one.

So in lieu of my mom's apricot jam I wanted to find something similar and picked up a jar of Apricot Preserves at Trader Joe's last week. I wasn't expecting it to be more like an Apricot Butter, very smooth and creamy. I thought it might be more chunky and chutney-like. But most importantly, I found that it's tasty and has a great flavor.

I've been enjoying it on toaster waffles or toast in the mornings. It's not too sweet and just the right touch of added flavor. I like that its reduced sugar too!  Plus the high quality fruit spreads at Trader Joe's are priced equivalent to the junk jams at other stores but have the high quality of much more expensive, designer versions.  It's nice to have a selection of two or three different fruit spreads in the fridge and we go through it fast enough that we don't end up with an entire section of jams and jellies.

I'm happy to add this one to our rotation. It's a great substitute when you can't have Mom's homemade! It's a Big Like.

01 March 2017

Update & Revisit: Packing For Travel & Teaching Kids How

We are going to be traveling again shortly and I am reminded about something I am continually grateful for. We have a kiddo who has been able to pack her own suitcase since she was four or five years old. Amazing and such a relief when you are rushing to get ready for a trip! A few years ago I created a little picture chart for her to use to be able to pack her own bags. Since then she's become quite a pro and is usually all ready to go long before her dad and I are.

Over the years we have traveled a lot on short notice and we have lived in two locations with a lot of shuttling back and forth so The Bug has had a lot of practice packing and it has been a big help for her to be able to be so independent. Does she occasionally forget something, yes, but we all do no matter how old we are, right? As my travel guru Rick Steves always says, there's usually a store where you can buy what you need when you get there if you have to.

The way my chart worked was that I basically created a standard packing list of how many of each item she would need for most trips and put a picture with each one, since she couldn't even read yet when I first made this chart. If there were three shirts, she needed to pack 3 shirts and if there were two pants she needed to pack two pants. This worked very well! Later I started just writing in a number next to the pictures if it was different than what was on the chart, based on the length of our trip and specific needs. That worked well too.

So before she was old enough to read she could get together her clothing and set it all out so that we could go through it and check her bag to make sure she had everything and then just pop it all in the suitcase or backpack at the end. I still remember one trip we took where we only had about an hour's notice that we were leaving for the airport and she was ready in less than 30 minutes. I think she was seven. She's a good traveler.

Having a good rolling suitcase that she can manage and a backpack she can pack her travel necessities in (blanket, pillow, snacks, drink, books, iPad, etc.) in has made life so much easier. Since she was tiny she's carried her own backpack which has grown in size a bit as she has. Suitcase checks in for the flight, backpack carries us through the flight on the plane. I always packed diapers or extra underwear and extra clothing in her backpack in case of emergencies too. For little kids I like to pack  quite a few small toys and perhaps even a few little fun surprises to keep them entertained on the flight.

For little kids, I factor in that about every 15-30 minutes on the plane they may get bored, so I bring enough things to keep then interested in something new every few minutes for the duration of the flight. For longer flights you can even rotate through what you brought twice throughout the hours. I find this philosophy works well for church as well. I've come to realize that the kids who are usually running unruly all through church or on the plane are the kids who don't have anything else to entertain them. If there is lots to do right there with mom and dad they will stay there and stay engaged. Worked like a charm for us for years and I continue to employ that tactic with other kids I cross paths with as well. I usually still carry a bag with a few toys in it to church just in case and it's amazing how often they get used.

Now that Bug is older, almost 11, I'm not so concerned about entertaining her on the flight. That is really her responsibility now and I assume she'll have a laptop to watch something online if she wants and a book or magazine to read as well. That should do it, thankfully. No more packing stuffed animals, toys and all that jazz.

But I still want to make sure she has a sweater or jacket for the plane, something soft to lay her head on if needed. A thin, down puffy jacket works well as both a jacket or  pillow on the flight and and is nice to have for cool mornings and evenings. I still usually always bring a pashmina with me for the flight as well, which also works as a blanket, scarf or pillow in a crunch. They fold up easily in a corner of a backpack. They often get used by other family members who turn up a little empty handed for pillows or jackets.

I have a good backpack too that I've been depending on for travel for quite a few years now. It has been a godsend for the amount of traveling I've done over the past few years. Everything I carry on has a place and so every trip I know where I'm going to store things and where to find them when I arrive. Having a system down makes things faster when you are packing, decreases the likelihood you'll forget something as you go through each section and think about what needs to go in there and you always know where to find things.

Here's another post about how I keep a toiletries bag especially for travel that is always ready to grab and walk out the door with. It's been a staple for my trips for almost 20 years now. Here's a post about using packing cubes for clothing. I've also been doing this for almost 20 years as well and I like how easy it is to keep everything orderly and organized. It also makes it very easy to have your bags searched if that happens. Having four cubes in your suitcase, one toiletries bag and a couple of shoe bags keeps things looking great and functioning well!

And lastly, this is my favorite travel bag for trips when I know I'll be out and about for long days and doing a lot of walking and wandering. It works as a fairly small over-the-shoulder bag and if needed expands to hold shopping purchases, a lunch or a jacket. I've had this bag for 20 years, it's still in pretty much like new condition except for a little fading. But you would never know it's 20 years old and they still sell the same bag now.
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