26 December 2010

Packing Light

I hope everyone had a relaxing and chaos-free Christmas.  Being far from family is difficult for us at Christmas especially.  But we managed to have fun during a 5 day trip to Prague.

It wasn't without its challenges, though.  It was bitterly cold.  We stayed in a tiny apartment (but much better than a hotel room).  We flew on a cheap airline with very strict bag limitations.  So...we needed to bring a lot of heavy clothes but we had hardly any room to do it.

Fortunately for us, we have experience with traveling light.  For a family of five, that's no easy feat.  But here's a summary of how we made it work:
We wore our heaviest clothes on the plane, we wore several layers and rotated outer and inner once  so each outfit could be worn twice, we washed socks in the sink, and we did without.  We figured out which bags we could bring, and when they were full, they were full.  That's it.

In general, we try to follow these basic rules:
1.  Plan the packages first.  Which bags, how heavy/full.
2.  Plan to wash clothes.  We almost always try to stay in an apartment with a washer.  If that doesn't work, we at least do some laundry in the sink.
3.  Plan to go without.  Just as when we first moved overseas and had to go without most of our things, we get creative with fewer items.  This is especially true for entertainment items for the children.

If we can pack for 3 days, we can pack for a week.  And if we can pack for a week, we can pack for a month.

21 December 2010

Merry Christmas

Everyone have a blessed Christmas with your families.  I'll see you on the other side!

18 December 2010

Sometimes it comes back to bite you...

...and sometimes it doesn't.  I have mentioned before that I am a purger, but I recently posted about the few things that I keep around so I'm not caught without something important.

Well, today I had a close call.  I live in the Netherlands, right?  There is really no such thing as an all-in-one store anywhere close to me.  And I am still learning what stores sell what kinds of stuff.  So, today I went to print some very important papers, and I was out of ink.  In the states I would just run to Target and be back in half an hour.  But not here.  Not when I don't speak the language and don't have a clue what's going on most of the time.   Here, I would be driving all over town in person, getting in and out of the car with my ink cartridge in hand, asking in broken Dutch "Hebt u deze inkt?", which is about all I could figure out to say.

AND

my husband is still out of town.  So not only was I looking at running all over town trying to find a place that sells printer ink, I was going to do it with 3 kids.  They're great and all, but that's not how I wanted to spend my Saturday.

BUT

then, salvation.  In a small box labeled "electronics supplies",  that I forgot I had, were not one, but two spare ink cartridges.  It took 2 hours from the moment I realized I needed ink to the moment I found it in the closet, and those two hours were spent beating myself up for not being a keeper.

SO

the lesson learned?  Keep what you need to keep.  Think hard about that list.

And replace the spare as soon as you use it!

15 December 2010

WORKS FOR ME WEDNESDAY

Two-Faced

Is it just me, or do toys seem to walk to the middle of the floor when you aren't looking?  With my older boys, it's easy to contain their messes:  they know that their small stuff must stay in their room, and anything they bring downstairs must be taken back up before the end of the day.

But the toddler.  The girl.  We're still in the keep-a-few-toys-in-every-room stage.  You know, so she has something to do when she follows me all over the house.  Usually it's just a small basket, but we have a few more downstairs in our main living space.

But oh, the mess!  If I put them all in one container, she isn't interested in digging through it.  But if I leave them out, well, it's just chaotic.
front
So, I did this:



The front side of this bookcase faces the dining room, and the back side faces our office area.  The office is in a corner and does not receive any walk-through traffic.

This solution works for me because my daughter's toys are out and at eye level, making them easily accessible.  And yet from almost any other angle, they aren't even noticeable.  I rotate what gets put on the shelves so it's always interesting.

back



As with anything else with toddlers, this solution will probably have to be changed in a month or two.  But for now, it works, and we're sticking with it.

12 December 2010

What are you fighting for?

Everyone fights for something.  Every day.  If you say you don't, you are lying or in denial.  Some battles are silly, and some aren't.  But whatever it is, it takes up your time, energy, and resources.

My current battles are to keep on top of my daughter's 3+ week illness, keep race training a priority in this awful weather, and keep my sanity while my husband is away.  These are all worthy battles for me right now, and they are worth fighting for.  But recently while I have been fighting these fights, I am picking others.  Ones that aren't worth it.  Mainly involving my kids.  I'm getting caught up using my energy and resources on things that don't matter in the Grand Scheme of Life.

Or do they?  I don't know.  I mean, it doesn't really matter if the boys take their toys back upstairs.  And yet it does.  Because if I ask them to do it and they don't, then it becomes more then just toys.  Or even if it's just forgetfulness (rather than disobedience), it adds chaos to my life to have to deal with something I shouldn't have to deal with.  Argh.  What to do, what to do?

I don't know.  But I do know that each morning I have to get up and decide what I'm going to fight for.  I truly have to choose my battles.  And I have to stick to it.  Finish the race.  There are larger things at stake than picking up toys, wiping snotty noses, exercise, and yes, even sanity.  But little things pile on top of each other and create bigger things.  And those bigger things define me as a person.  As a Believer and Lover of Jesus.  As a Mother to my Children and a Wife to my Husband.

And so I fight.  I fight to protect my family.  And to do that, I need to keep them healthy.  And I need to keep me healthy.  And so I wipe noses, and I exercise, and I preserve my sanity...and on and on the cycle goes.

What are you fighting for?  What matters to you?  Is it worth your time, energy, and resources?  Does it help make you the person you want to be?

And now, I must go.  My daughter is fighting for my attention.  And she wins over this blog any day.

11 December 2010

FORGET IT FRIDAY

Embracing the Chaos

Today's Forget It Friday is coming to you on Saturday morning, but it was too good to pass up.  Plus I live in Europe, so in America it's still the middle of the night so you'll wake up and this post will be done and you'll be none the wiser.  

Except that I just admitted my delinquency.

I am still learning to let go.  Oh, how the mess makes me crazy!  But this morning my kids wanted to build a blanket fort, and my immediate thought was, ooh, entertainment!  So I gave in.

And even though I have to try very hard not to clean all this up and get rid of all this chaos, it's much easier when I can sit here and witness their joy and creativity.  

My goal is to forget this mess for the weekend.  Let them have their fun.  On Monday they will go back to school, and the craziness will have run its course.  But for now, Chaos, you are welcome in my home.  Well, in this one area of my home.  For now.

08 December 2010

WORKS FOR ME WEDNESDAY

Solutions

We went to Cambodia a couple years ago, and we stayed at a bed and breakfast that is also a nonprofit group that empowers local people to earn their own income, builds clean drinking wells in small villages, provides free English classes to children, and gives scholarships to university students.

 Their motto is "See a Problem, Solve a Problem".  I love this motto because although Cambodia is a third world country, this particular organization doesn't just give hand outs.  It teaches people to do for themselves, to make their own way, with whatever resources they have.

I mentioned that we were adopting a Christmas tree this year.  I've never been much of a Christmas decorator, but this year I promised two very cute little boys that we would have a tree.  With our increasingly granola tendencies, we did not want to use a cut tree.  But I've never heard of any other options.  I started seeing potted trees at garden stores and thought maybe we could use one of those, but holy cow they were expensive.  And then...the perfect solution.  Adopt a tree.  I have to admit, the solution came to me, I didn't create it.  But those people at the tree farm did.

And we can too.  After all, it's WORKS FOR ME WEDNESDAY, right?  See a problem, solve a problem...

06 December 2010

FUNDAY MONDAY

More Favorite Things - Tips and Tricks

I love getting little tidbits of wisdom to make my life easier.  Some I've learned from some very smart people, some from blogs I read, and some I just figure out.  Here are a few of my favorites:

1.  My favorite way to scrub a kitchen sink:  baking soda and a lemon.  Sprinkle baking soda in the sink, combine with a small amount of water.  Cut a lemon in half and squeeze the juice all over.  Use the lemon as a scrub brush.  Rinse.

2.  My favorite rag:  an old t-shirt.  I just cut off the sleeves and neck, cut up the seams, and then cut into whatever size I need.  There's nothing better for dusting or wiping out a sink because they don't leave any fuzz.

3.  My favorite way to store a paintbrush:  wrapped in saran wrap or a ziploc.  Whenever I do a painting project, it usually lasts several days.  Thanks to a tip from my grandmother, I don't have to wash the brush every time I quit for the day.  I just wrap it up, and it stays nice and moist, waiting for the next time.  I can't tell you how much more willing I am to paint when I only have to wash the brush once at the end.

4.  My favorite scrub brush:  old toothbrushes and dish scrubbers.  When they are no longer good for their original jobs, I just sanitize them and put a piece of duct tape around the handle, marking them as cleaning supplies.

5.  My newest favorite way to have a Christmas tree:  adopt one.  In a town near where we live, there is a tree farm where we pick out a tree.  They dig it up and put it in a pot with soil and fertilizer.  We take it home, enjoy it for the holidays, and take it back to the farm in early January.  They tag it and replant it.  Then we have the option next year of adopting the same tree.  Last year there was a 75% survival rate.  We'll see how ours does!

02 December 2010

Christmastime is here...

I can hear the  Charlie Brown Choir singing everytime I see those words.  I've never been much of a decorator myself, because, well, it adds clutter.  Go figure.

BUT...

Now that I have kids, things are changing a little.  They love listening to Christmas music (thank God for internet radio, though, because my husband only approves of two Christmas CDs to be in our possession), and they love putting up decorations.

I'm still me, though.  Simple, orderly, nothing too fussy.  No clutter, no chaos.  They were cool with that.

But where I let them loose was on this year's gift wrapping.  I try to not buy too much wrapping paper.  It seems to me that we can come up with alternatives that are fun, creative, and less wasteful.  In the past we have reused bags, boxes, and tins.  We tie ribbon around scrap fabric.  We use old maps (my husband has access to lots of expired flight charts that would otherwise be thrown out).

What do we have on hand this year?  Lots and lots of packing paper left over from the movers.  So, the boys colored it and taped decorations like scrap ribbon to it.  Then they started wrapping.  It looks like something a 5 and 7 year old would do.  In an interesting sort of way.  Not perfect.  But fun and creative and less wasteful.

AND DONE.

29 November 2010

FUNDAY MONDAY

Like a Child

When we are living abroad, we try to incorporate some local culture and traditions into our own.  Currently, we are celebrating Sinterklaas Day, which is officially December 5.

In the two weeks leading up to it, children are allowed to put out their shoes for Sinterklaas to leave presents (our kids love this part).  But this creates a dilemma for me, a hater of clutter.  This is prime time to fill my house with little bits of junk that get strewn here and there.  But the kids just love that they leave food for Sinterklaas' horse and receive something in return.  How can I possibly be a Scrooge and take away that joy?

So, I started thinking like a child.  What brings them happiness?  Complicated gifts?  Worries and stress?  Nope.  Simple fun.  Laughter.  Sugar.  Breaking a food rule with that one.  But who cares.  Let it go, T.  Let it go.

Here's the result of this kind of thinking.  Sinterklaas has been bringing a lot of consumables.  Candy, of course.  Balloons that last just a couple of days.  Bubbles.  Crayons.  Chalk.  

It's working well for all of us.

26 November 2010

FORGET IT FRIDAY

Day Off

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, a special holiday for most Americans.  But as Americans who haven't lived in America for several Thanksgivings, our traditional day is far from traditional.  In past years we have taken advantage of a four day weekend to go on a trip, but this year we tried something different.

We spent the entire day in our pajamas.

We did nothing productive.

We watched movies and ate whatever we wanted.

It was one of the most refreshing days I've had in a while.

Most of the time keeping things in order gives me peace and a sense of calm.  But sometimes all that stuff doesn't matter.  Sometimes resting matters.  Sometimes drawing the line matters - the line that defines what is important and what ... just isn't.  This doesn't happen often for me.  I get my energy from order.

But in the rare case that we need a break AND we have the opportunity to do so, well that's an opportunity that can't be missed.

23 November 2010

WORKS FOR ME WEDNESDAY

To Keep or Not to Keep

I am definitely not a keeper.  This has gotten me in trouble before, like when I actually need something I have already purged from the house.  To this day my husband accuses me of throwing out a bag of his t-shirts (I did not), conveniently forgetting that the storage container for said shirts was a garbage bag, and they were lost when some friends were helping us move to a new apartment.  Yeah, I'm talking about you, Husband.  I know you are reading this.

That said, my frequent purges and the trouble I've run into as a result have caused me to realize that it is useful to keep certain items "in stock" (a borrowed term from my father-in-law).  Especially now that I live in a place where it is hard to next to impossible to find certain things, I am learning to stock up when I can.

Among the items allowed to take up shelf space:

1.  Light bulbs:  it's terrible when a light burns out and I don't have the bulb to replace it.  Thanks to Mr. Murphy, it's always a very important light, and it's always at a crucial time.  We now keep a plastic box in the household supply closet with various wattage bulbs.  When I use one, I make a note on my shopping list to replace it the next time I'm out.

2.  Canned goods:  we use a lot of beans, diced tomatoes, etc, and these don't go bad.  And I can't always find what I need at the Dutch grocery stores.  So...I have a pantry closet especially for extra non-perishables.  Same concept as the lightbulbs:  when something gets taken from that pantry, it goes on the shopping list.

3.  Bathroom items:  soap, toilet paper, anti-frizzball hair stuff - these are all things it would stink to run out of.  Enough said.

4.  Batteries:  this is really important with kids in the house.  I am not a big fan of electronic toys, but there are times when I really need that Leapster to work, like when everyone has to come to the doctor for one kid's checkup.   Same deal:  plastic container with various sized batteries, waiting on the shelf to be placed into a dead toy and make a child very happy.

5.  Thank you cards and blank note cards:  I believe in the charm of an old fashioned letter, and I believe in the gesture of a hand written thank you.  I always always have supplies to write a personal note to someone.  The blank cards are especially useful if I can't make it to the store to buy a birthday card.  A handwritten note will be just as appreciated.

6.  Gifts:  We shop all year for presents.  When we see something a family member would like, we buy it and put it into a gift box.  We also keep general kid presents around, for the next birthday party invite.  It takes the stress out of holiday shopping, or any kind of shopping.  When a big holiday like Christmas comes around, I go through the gift box, making a list of what I have for whom.  I make a separate list of anyone I might be missing, as well as ideas for gifts for that person.

You get the idea.  Some consumable items are worth keeping around.  I do have a pretty strict policy on what comes into this house, and why.  It must serve a purpose (or hopefully a few).  But keeping these highly useful and frequently consumed items not only saves time, it also tends to save money.  Buying things on sale or gifts when I see them is almost always cheaper than rushing around at the last minute.  Under those circumstances, I am guaranteed to buy the first thing I see, regardless of price.

I still struggle with having these extra things around, but life is about compromise, right?  And this guideline is manageable and keeps both the chaos (of running out of something important) and clutter (shelves overrun with just-in-case items) to a minimum.  And that is why it works for me.

21 November 2010

Food Rules

Did you hear about the nutrition professor who lost 27 pounds on a diet of twinkies and other hostess cake products?  It's true.  He ate one cake every 4 hours (and veggies at the dinner table so the kids didn't stage a coup over their own dinners).

He wanted to prove a point, which he did nicely:  Diet is about simple math.  Calories in vs calories out.


Sure, we can complicate things by talking about cholesterol, fat content, which foods turn to fat faster than which other foods.  But at the end of the day, we need to consume less calories than we eat.

A couple years ago, we embarked on a journey that put this concept to the test.  We started caring about the quality of food that went into our mouths.  And we stopped caring about fat, sugar, etc.  We read a couple of excellent books on the subject, the last sharing the title of this blog post.  The result?  We follow a few very basic "food rules" most of the time.  Here are a few:

1.  We read labels and steer clear of food with ingredients we cannot pronounce, or ingredients that our grandmothers have never heard of.
2.  We eliminate, or try to, foods with hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup.
3.  We make whole, grown food the core of our diet.
4.  We eat meat rarely, if ever, and if we do, we try to eat grass fed meat (this is simple to do in NL, as all meat is grass fed)

What does this mean for our cooking and eating habits?
1.  We make most things from scratch.  Among the staples:  homemade bread (surprisingly easy), sauces, and soups.
2.  We don't eat many packaged and processed foods.
3.  We rarely eat out.
4.  We use real butter, real sugar, lots of carbs, and we don't care.

What has this meant for our waistlines?
1.  We have lost weight and are now to the point where our bodies are settled in a healthy weight zone.
2.  We hardly ever weigh ourselves.  Our bodies tell us if we have eaten something not so great.
3.  We run a lot and enjoy it.
4.  We are in the best shape of our lives.

We do not always follow these rules.  We are not unrealistic in our expectations, nor are we hypocritical in our promotion of these rules.  We have kids, and we have weaknesses.  We all love cereal, which is probably one of the most processed foods out there.  We are not yet at the point to give it up, so we have been slowly decreasing the amount we eat and replacing it with more whole food options.  And packaged foods are so easy to bring on road trips.  So we make them treats, not the norm, and we read labels.  I'm the crazy lady in the cracker aisle who's there for 10 minutes to choose one box.  Oh, and we love love sweets.  So...we bake a lot.  But we're still healthy and happy, and homemade cookies are infinitely better than store bought.  Just saying.

Yes, it takes more time to cook.  Yes, it takes more planning to make lunches.  But if something is important to you, it's always possible to make the time to make it happen.

15 November 2010

FUNDAY MONDAY

More Favorite Things

Blogs.  I write two, and I read several.  Some are to keep up with friends all over the world, and some are because I like them.  Here are a few of those and why they made this list:

This blog is very popular, and it grew quickly since its beginning in 2008.  The author now manages other blogs in the same vein:  simple kids, simple bites, simple organic, etc.  The latest post sounds like something I could have written, although probably more eloquent than I ever manage.

This is one of my favorite blogs.  I have always had a crunchy tendency, but it seems to be getting more predominant as I get older.  This is where I go to feel not so crazy.

I have the accompanying book to this blog, and it changed the way I cook.  Well, partially.  It sent us tumbling over the edge into the world of real, whole food.  We were already looking down, with one leg dangling, just waiting to take the leap.  And the yumminess in this book helped get us there.  It really is so very easy to bake delicious, fresh bread.  I do it nearly every day.

That's all for now.  Have fun checking out those new blogs, but don't forget who sent you!




11 November 2010

Something's Gotta Give

Five days since I've posted?  Really?  What's my excuse this week, you ask?  Mommyhood.  Toddlers and boys and play time and games.

And projects.  Husband is leaving for a few weeks, and we've begun that mode where he wants to leave me in the best possible place, because being gone sucks.  And I want that too.

So he has a list and I have a list.  And we're working through it one by one.

Because when he goes, we switch from living life to surviving.  We prioritize.  Basic needs first:  safety, food, shelter.  Emotional needs next:  missing daddy, needing hugs and prayers.  You get the idea.

Day by day, hour by hour, we survive by the grace of God Alone.

It's ok, because it's not a permanent change.  I won't always have to drag all three kids to judo or to gymnastics or to the grocery store.  I won't always have to do homework and dinner and distract a toddler from pushing a chair over to the kitchen to climb on the counter, simultaneously.  By the grace of God Alone.

Some day we will get back to living life.  Long term projects will get done again.  Things will be clean and organized and chaos free again.  Some day we will move forward on our goals.  Some day.

But until that day, we might eat cereal for dinner.  Or suspend our emails, although sometimes that is my lifeline.  Or skip a night of reading *Gasp* in favor of cuddling.

I am thankful that survival mode is temporary for us.  I pray for families who have no end in sight for the suspension on living life.  Because survival mode is exhausting.  Living life gives energy; simply surviving drains it.

May we all have the opportunity to live life.  By the grace of God Alone.

06 November 2010

On Efficiency

In my professional life, I am often asked to analyze someone's activity and make recommendations to improve efficiency.  This is usually to conserve energy for someone with a degenerative disease where fatigue is an issue.  I try to use some of these same principles at home.  Not because I'm lazy, but because I have a lot to do.

This new house we are in has 3 floors, and the stairs are narrow and curvy.  So now I am having to learn all over again how to be efficient.  Sometimes I get to our room on the top floor and realize I've forgotten something on the first floor.  AARGH!

So, I've been trying to work out how to best transport things and get jobs done, and here's what I've come up with so far:

1.  I use traveling baskets:  I collect items to go up in a laundry basket or similar container.  Once I put it all away, I keep that container upstairs until it is full of things that need to come down.  It's surprising the amount of things that need to travel to other places in the house...

2.  I keep cleaners in each bathroom and in the laundry room:  I make at least 3 versions of whatever cleaner I am creating, so I'm not toting bottles all over the house.  This has made life much easier.

3.  I keep a laundry basket for each child next to the dryer:  When I fold their clothes, each piece goes straight into their basket.  I keep the baskets there until the kids' laundry is done (no need for baskets for us, because the laundry is in the attic with our bedroom).  Sometimes it takes a couple days for the baskets to make it to their room, but at least I'm not going up and down for every load.

4.  I make a schedule for cleaning.  Typically I do 2-3 jobs per day, plus daily dishes and sweeping of the kitchen/dining area.  This keeps things manageable and not overwhelming (read:  paralyzing).  My schedule used to be grouped by type of job (bathrooms, floors, etc), but now I tend to group by area (first floor, bedrooms, etc.).

5.  I plan meals.  I am so very much more likely to cook when I know what I am cooking.  I plan for about a week at a time, which seems to work best for us.  Anything that can be done earlier in the day, I do when I have a free moment (i.e. setting the rice cooker, baking bread, washing veggies).  It makes all the difference in the world, especially when we are trying very hard to eat whole foods.

What else should I do?  I guess I could plan out my days better.  But for all my organization oddities, I'm not much of a planner.  So this is what I have so far to make the best use of my time at home.  Not a perfect system, but it's evolving into something that works.

03 November 2010

WORKS FOR ME WEDNESDAY

Commissions

Money.  Where does it come from?  How do we get it?  Why CAN'T we just go get more whenever we run out?  These are questions my kids started asking a while ago.

And while we are happy to have the freedom to buy the things we need, we wanted to be sure to convey the right message to the kids regarding money, working, saving, and spending.  In a way that they could understand.  So we started searching for a good teaching tool that communicated our beliefs simply.

And so we ended up with Commissions.  If you are familiar with Dave Ramsey, then you know this is his word of choice.  If you don't know Dave Ramsey but are interested in taking charge of your family's financial well being, I highly recommend listening to his show.  He has been to the rock bottom and back financially, so he speaks practically from experience.  But enough of that.

Being Ramsey fans, we looked into his take on paying children.  And it made sense to us, so we adopted the plan as our own.  With a few minor tweaks.  It works like this:  the children earn money for jobs they do.  Simple as that.  If they want to earn more money, they do more work.  They are expected to give a portion to God, save a portion for larger purchases, and then they can choose to either save or spend the rest.

They do not, however, get paid for every little thing they do.  The system that works best for us is this:
We keep a list of family jobs, commission jobs, and fine-able jobs.

Family jobs are jobs that they are expected to do as members of this family, and they are not paid in money for this work.

Commission jobs are jobs above and beyond family jobs.  I keep a tally every week of how many commission jobs they do, and at the end of the week they are paid for their work.

Fine-able jobs are jobs that they are expected to do daily, and if they are not done, the are fined.  The fine is the same price as the commission payment, so I just subtract a mark for every fine they receive.

As soon as they are paid, the first portion goes into a Give envelope.  This money is taken to church each week, although giving could be to any charitable donation, if you so choose.  The next portion is put into a Save envelope.  This money is used for larger purchases.  If a child decides he wants to buy a toy, for instance, we find a picture of it and the price, and we tape it up near the tally of earnings so he can see it every time he gets paid.  Saved money cannot be taken out for something else like an impulse buy.  That's what the Spend envelope is for.  Spending money is for little items like gumballs, video games, and other small kid items.

This works for us because it gives the children complete control of how much money they earn every week.  They can easily see that when they work hard, they earn more money.  It is their choice to earn commission, and some weeks they hardly earn any at all.  But I guarantee you that when that happens, the very next week they are asking for extra work.  It is also easily adjustable to the child's age and understanding of money concepts.  We started a simplified version when our younger son was 3, and he easily caught on to the idea.  

But more important than the actual earning of money is the lesson they are learning regarding a strong work ethic.  I know they understand that money is earned, and it is something I hope they carry with them for their whole lives.


01 November 2010

FUNDAY MONDAY

My Favorite Things

There aren't many things I would HAVE to replace if we had a fire.  I just don't get attached to much, which puts me at odds with my very sentimental 7 year old who cannot part with anything.

But there are a few products which make my life so much easier that I just adore them.  Here are a couple:

A GOOD RICE COOKER
I'm not talking about the $20 cheapie from Walmart.  I've used those and am not impressed.  But when I finally invested in a good Japanese style cooker, it changed my life.  Well, at least it changed my cooking habits.  I use it several times a week, and not just for rice, although we make rice nearly every day.  But I also use it to make oatmeal (I set the timer so it's ready when we wake up), and I've used it in the past as a slow cooker also.  Talk about a multi-tasker.

A RUBBER BAND
Silly, I know.  But I keep a bag in the kitchen, and I use them to close up bags or keep groups of items together.  Don't underestimate the power of the rubber band.

SILICONE LIDS
I read about these lids on a blog I enjoy, and I knew right away they were for me.  I have four in a range of sizes; I use them to turn virtually any bowl or mug into a storage container.  My need for plastic food containers has drastically reduced, and I no longer use plastic wrap, which I hate.  They are awesome.




29 October 2010

FORGET IT FRIDAY

FFY


Lots of families don't like to cook on Friday nights, and we are with that majority.  There's something about making it through another week that makes me want to forget the fact that I have to provide food for my children to eat (nevermind husband).  

So we try to coincide leftovers with Friday nights, as I'm sure many of you do.  But it doesn't always happen, mainly because a lot of our leftovers get used in lunches.

So we invented FFY.  Any guesses?

Fend 
For
Yourself

Friday nights are often FFY.  Most anything goes on FFY nights, but the kids still have to get the ok before they can eat something.  It's either that or let them rot their teeth out with spoonfuls of sugar poured directly into their mouths.  Just because I'm forgetting about dinner doesn't mean I have to completely neglect the kids.

And for the toddler who can't yet truly fend for herself - although she tries very hard to do so - a tray of finger foods that she can help herself to.  Toddlers were made for grazing with those tiny tummies but huge desire to feed themselves.  

Some nights we do partial FFY, with me putting out food for everyone, not just the toddler.  But other nights it's all out "if you can find it, you can eat it, just get it yourself."  You can imagine the type of week that precedes that dinner.

26 October 2010

Coming Home

Speaking of survival mode, another of the things that fell off my radar last week was blogging.  It just didn't happen.  But now that I've survived the week and we had a nice relaxing vacation in France, I'm ready to roll.

Isn't coming home nice?  We had a fantastic time in France, but it was just nice to walk into my own house, and it will be great to sleep in my own bed at night.

One of the things that made it nice was that it was CLEAN.  And picked up.  And there are fresh towels in the bathroom, and fresh sheets on the bed waiting for me to climb into them.

I belong to the school of thought that the extra time and stress are worth it to have a nice clean house to come home to.  It's hard enough to be motivated to walk in and take care of the suitcase of dirty laundry, but to have that plus dishes in the sink and stuff all over floor is just downright overwhelming.  And when it gets overwhelming, doesn't it just make you want to give up?

Despite this, there are times when there is no time to clean everything before we leave.  In that case, I deploy the priority rules.  I use priority rules a lot, from vacation cleaning to company is coming cleaning to family is visiting for a week cleaning.  It works like this:

1.  Pick up the floor
2.  Make the beds
3.  Do the dishes (at least leave the dishwasher running so they're clean when we get home)
4.  Clean the toilets
5.  Clean the rest of the bathroom
6.  Change towels
7.  Change sheets (preferably before completing #2)
8.  Sweep floor
9.  Mop
10. Kitchen stocked (depending on length of trip, this may or may not include perishables)

This is my vacation priority rule list, and basically the numbers just change for other things like visitors, company, etc.  Sometimes a special job needs to be inserted, but you get the idea.  For this last vacation, I only made it through #7, but that's pretty good considering the week I had before we left.

It was so nice to walk through the door feeling stress-free, chaos-free, and peace-ful.  It reminded me why I love coming home.

18 October 2010

FUNDAY MONDAY

Survival Mode

I don't know how fun this is, but you have to write about your reality.  Here's mine:

Do you ever look at your upcoming calendar, compare it to your time available, and say, "How did this happen?"  That is where I am this week.

We're new here, we don't really know anybody, and yet somehow my entire week is booked solid.  It's actually more like 10 days.  Nope, not just popular, but wouldn't that be nice?  Maybe in junior high...

But I digress.  My point of my ramblings is that when things get this chaotic in my life, I resort to survival mode.  The first thing to go is usually the cleaning, although that relaxes me, so I often keep a little in so I don't go crazy.  The next thing is the cooking.  We move to dinners I have previously frozen, simple bread and cheese kind of stuff, or even Fend For Yourself.  Gone are the awesome healthy quinoa and spinach superfoods.  Noodles and cheese it is.  Then I divide up what needs to happen on each day and how long those chores will take.  I create my to-do list from there and take it one at a time.  Or 10 minutes at a time if I have to.

Here's my week:
Sunday:  put together a traditional breakfast for kid#2's school breakfast on Monday, run (training for a race), work on Halloween costumes, carve pumpkins
Monday:  bake breakfast for said school function, speak to kid#1's class about my job (not Mommy of the Century, which I do 24/7, Pediatric Occupational Therapist, because that is apparently the interesting one), bake 3 loaves of bread for upcoming potluck and for dinner tonight (yet to determine what will go with that bread)
Tuesday:  Potluck, bake 2 more loaves of bread for coffee with the neighbors (Dutch tradition for new people on a street to invite the neighbors over for coffee), finish Halloween costumes
Wednesday:  Volunteer at school for Halloween party, visit gymnastics class for kid#1
Thursday:  Bake more bread for more neighbors' coffee
Friday:  No school (enough said, right?), pack

This is on top of regular stuff like lunch making, cooking, and taking care of a toddler and two other kiddos, and somehow I need to run at least a few days.  But one at a time, right?

Because, at the end of this week...we're going to Paris.


15 October 2010

Mommy's Time Out

It's 8:30 AM and I am sitting on the couch in my pajamas, doing nothing but surfing the internet and reading blogs.  8:30 AM!!!

Usually I am running by now.  Literally.  I have a race coming up in a couple months, so after the boys go to school my toddler and I hit the streets.

But, today my toddler decided to wake up too early, and by the time the other kids left she was ready for a nap.

So, I'm taking a time out.  And it feels great.

This does not come naturally to me.  I am a mover, not a sitter.  Most days I don't sit down until dinner.  And then after dinner I keep going until the jobs are done.

But yesterday was a particularly rough day.  Thank you to my husband for helping to make it less rough.  You are amazing.

So after I took out the trash (in my pajamas), I grabbed my coffee and sat down.  This is what will get me through the rest of today.  I plan to sit here until K wakes up, however long that will be.  It needs to happen, no matter what other pressing matters are filling my schedule.

14 October 2010

The Cleaning Closet

My cleaning cupboard used to be filled with 2/3 empty bottles of toilet cleaner, window cleaner, kitchen cleaner, tile cleaner, wood cleaner, bathtub cleaner, etc, etc, etc.  I would buy a new bottle when the first got low (because how could we ever survive without cleaners), then forget about the first bottle, and so on.  Then I had an epiphany.  Why were all those cleaners necessary?

In an effort to simplify and detoxify our home, I started making my own.

Here they are:


I can do pretty much any job with these.  The books pictured have been very helpful for recipes and tips, and were under $10 each.  There are also all kinds of websites which offer cleaning recipes too.  I tend to visit  www.thriftyfun.com and www.creativehomemaking.com, but there are many places you can look if you do a google search.

Here is a summary of what I use for different jobs:

Vinegar:  great all purpose cleaner, kills mildew

Baking soda:  good for areas that need a mild abrasive, such as sinks and bathtubs

Borax:  perfect for laundry and keeping toilets clean

Tea Tree Oil:  a natural disinfectant, I add a few drops to my kitchen and bathroom cleaners

Essential Oils:  used to add a fresh clean smell - not necessary, but cuts the vinegar smell if that tends to bother you

I used to be bothered by the smell of the vinegar, but now I associate it with fresh and clean.  I add citrus essential oils as well.

I also make my own laundry detergent using Borax, washing soda, and Fels Naptha soap.  My recipe is a 2:1 ratio (1cup Borax, 1 cup washing soda, 1/2 cup grated soap).  I use the powder version because it's so simple to make, but you can also use these same ingredients to make a liquid version on the stovetop.  I might have to switch to that because apparently European washers don't like American powder detergent.  I don't know if home made detergent counts, so we'll see.

I used to make dishwasher detergent, but I found it to not work as well as store bought brands, and the cost of the ingredients didn't save me much money.

We don't have much precious wood in our home, but I use a dab of olive oil on a rag to polish what we do have.

Simple, right?  Chaos free, right?  And oh so easy.  Give it a try, it's worth it for the ease, safety if you have young children, and cost effectiveness.

12 October 2010

Just One More Thing...

Sometimes late at night when I get to organizing, I can't stop.  I just have to do one more thing, and then one more thing after that.  It's especially difficult right now with our house only partially unpacked.  But at some point I have to be smart and realize that it's ok to leave things unfinished, especially when I have an early morning and three kids to take care of.

My project this evening was our office area.  I mentioned before that we like to use standing work spaces.  But the difficulty is finding the ideal way to make a functional but attractive work area.


This is what we came up with, and this is my organization of it so far.  We needed a piece to act as a room divider, both because the dining room was way too big to just be a dining room, and because while we are standing we like to be facing out rather than a wall.

Obviously, the printer cannot be housed here, but we have always connected the printer wirelessly and placed it in a remote location.  We are still working on power source solutions...I think we're going to place a surge protector on a shelf and route the cord through the bookshelf and out the bottom.

We use the top for working, and our two laptops hide on the two top shelves when they aren't needed.  Right now I'm in the process of prioritizing what office supplies need to be most accessible, and balancing that with how to keep the toddler from helping herself to the scissors.

What do you think?  Will it work?  I hope so, because I am really excited about it.  Man, sometimes even I think my giddiness over organization stuff is pretty lame.

10 October 2010

SOAPBOX SUNDAY

bread dough and marinara sauce

Hooray for Domesticity

As I've gotten older and now have a family, I've come to care more about the things that come into our home.  This includes cleaning products, food, entertainment, etc.  And I've come to the conclusion that simpler is better.

Of course, simpler is also more complicated.  I would like to just buy convenient everything, hire people to do my stuff, and forget it.  EXCEPT...

I CAN'T PRONOUNCE MANY OF THE INGREDIENTS IN CONVENIENCE FOODS
More specifics on this later, but basically, if I can't pronounce it, it's not real food.  I'm not judging the convenience food buyer...we all do what we have to do.  But it's a decision that we as a family made, and we're sticking to it.  However, because of that, I make stuff from scratch.  It takes time and planning.  And recipes.

I HAVE A TODDLER.  And she gets into everything, of course.  We're at the learning limits stage.  I don't want to constantly worry that she is going to somehow get into the hazardous chemical cabinet that is our cleaning supplies.  So I make my own.  It takes time and planning.  And empty spray bottles.

I AM NOT CURRENTLY WORKING OUTSIDE THE HOME.  So there's not really a good reason why I can't do this stuff myself.

But the best reason of all:

MY KIDDOS DON'T LIKE THE "CONVENIENT" STUFF.  Since we were moving, I was buying a lot more easy meal kinds of things.  Two nights in a row, my boys didn't like what we were eating (tomato soup and spaghetti, respectively), because it was too sweet.  They prefer the soup and sauce I make.  And the bread.

I am not Mrs. Sally Homemaker.  I like to work outside the home, and I hope to work here a little.  And we still buy our fair share of yummy processed foods, so don't peg me for a hypocrite.  But since I've made the decision to spend time making sauces and cleaners and breads from scratch, it's working out for us.  I feel good about the things my kids eat, I don't worry about them ingesting poison, and I make our own convenience foods.

So, let's hear it for getting old and domestic.  Hip, hip, hooray!

06 October 2010

WORKS FOR ME WEDNESDAY

THE UPSTAIRS BOX

I would be in utter bliss if everything just stayed where I put it.  But that wouldn't be any fun at all, would it?  If that happened, legos would never become guns defending us against the lions in the jungle/back garden, bouncy balls wouldn't get to play hide and seek, and two very active boys wouldn't get to spontaneously shed their socks to run barefoot in the grass.

Hence the upstairs box.  Things I run across go into the box, and we as a family empty the box when we go upstairs.  I've heard other people say they have a box for each family member, but right now we just use one big one.  So far it's working, and I don't really have a place for 5 different boxes, but we may move to that system in the future.

Another reason this works for us is that we live in a three story house, and while I like to reap the benefits of a built-in stairmaster, I don't have the time or energy to run up all those narrow European stairs hundreds of times a day.

The Upstairs Box.  It's practical, efficient, and it works for me.

04 October 2010

SURPRISE!

What was supposed to be a 7 week wait for internet at our new house turned out to be less than 7 days.  Yipee!

And...we have a house and all of our stuff.  Yipee!

And...just as I expected, we have more space than we know what to do with.  Yipee!

Perspective.  It's all about perspective.  I'll be posting some pictures soon of the ingenious and super efficient kitchen.  And of solutions to no closets.  And of how to divide a huge room into two distinct spaces without sacrificing aesthetics, view, or wasting space.  We'll see how this all goes.   Any suggestions?

For now, my days are spent opening boxes and deciding on the general destination of each item I encounter.  Sometimes that means directly into the "Get Rid Of" box.  Yup.  As expected (again), I have come across some things that make me scratch my head wondering why I ever kept them.  Those things aren't even getting a chance to live here, because if I don't sort through them now while I am physically touching them, they will somehow disappear into the general population, and will likely get moved with us again.  So, once the fate of the item has been decided, its location must be determined.  Some will say touch each thing only once.  But I tend to go with the staging mentality.  I cannot immediately process where everything will go, especially with no real closets.  If it's not something obvious like kids clothing, I merely move it to its correct floor and group it with like items.  Later, when I am able, I will come back to it and find a specific location.  This method helps to keep me from being overwhelmed with a gigantic box of randomness.

Another method to my madness is to focus on one or two rooms.  Again, this means moving things more than once.  I am currently working on my boys' room, and when I began I couldn't even walk into the room.  So, I moved some things out into the extra room and started from scratch.  It made the process much more manageable.

When the movers first came, I had the paralyzing feeling of claustrophobia, and I once again wondered how we would ever emerge from the chaos.  But it's only been a few days and I've seen real progress, which is the best motivation around.

30 September 2010

Offline AGAIN!

Just when you thought I was around to stay...our new house that we're moving into tomorrow won't have internet for a month or so.  I plan to make a trip to the nearest hotspot, but it obviously won't be as regular as it is now.

Please stay tuned - I'll be back.

28 September 2010

Toys Toys Toys

We've never had that many toys around the house.  As a pediatric occupational therapist, I am schooled in the ways of using what you got.  As for my own family, we've found that creating new uses for ordinary objects increases the fun.  But kid stuff tends to multiply on its own.  I've witnessed it.  It's scary.

Of course, when we're traveling, the few things we do have must be narrowed down even more.  It's easy to limit the size of what we bring:  the boys each have a Trunki suitcase, which holds five gallons of stuff.  That sounds like a lot, but it's not when you add in comfort items like blankets and a favorite stuffed animal.  However, it's a very concrete visual for them to know that they can only bring what they can fit in their Trunki.  So that's the rule.  In general, I don't think it's my job to carry their toys.  It either fits in the Trunki or it doesn't come.

When we got to the Netherlands, all we had was what came over in these suitcases.  It quickly became apparent that we were lacking a few things.  But only a few, which is good.  Here is what we currently have:
a soccer ball (we mailed this, obviously)
colored pens and journals
books
2 small board games (one we mailed and one we added when we visited Legoland)
a deck of cards
hotwheels, small trinket items
small shape sorter for the toddler (we added this)
leapsters

The kids have also made good use of some kitchen items, empty boxes, couch cushions, blankets, and the great outdoors.

Here is what I feel like we are missing:
a few more games - endless entertainment in our family
building blocks (legos)
train set - they often combine the train set with some lego structures
outdoor sporting equipment such as bicycles or a ride on toy for the little one
more books

An option I have used in the past is to keep more toys, but rotate through them every few months.  When we had storage in our attic, but not so much in the kids' bedroom, I kept a few toys in the play area, and the overflow went into a container upstairs.  Every so often I rotated out a couple toys and replaced them with toys from the attic.  It kept the toys fresh and their interest piqued.  They always wondered what would show up in their toy boxes.  And by the time an old toy made it back downstairs, it was new again.

What am I forgetting?  It's easy and sometimes necessary to hold onto toys for the next child or "just in case."  But that is a matter of currency - how much is the space those old toys are taking up worth to you?  Less than the worth of the toys that are taking up the space?  The answer is different for everyone, of course.  At our house, we place value on having a calm, chaos-free space for the things we have, and we always somehow manage to find something to play with.

27 September 2010

The Kitchen



My most difficult space to streamline is probably the kitchen.  I am no gourmet cook, and I don't have a ton of unitasker appliances lurking on every inch of countertop or behind cabinet doors.  But I do cook often, including baking bread (in the oven, not a bread machine), pies, and cookies.  As an occupational therapist, I think kitchen activities are an excellent way to work on motor and coordination skills, so I often include my own kids when I cook.  And of course they love love love it, and it keeps them busy, out of trouble, and away from the t.v.

I also have an addiction to containers, so it's hard to part with bowls, tupperware, and other organization-friendly items.  And finally, Pampered Chef stuff is cool.  The only reason I don't have more of it is that I hate going to the parties.  But that is another one of my quirky issues that doesn't need to be dealt with in this forum.

So, all that to say I can usually justify holding on to kitchen items.  But again, my pseudo kitchen in this temporary living space doesn't have much.  And I haven't needed much.  I posted a while back about some silicone covers we have that take the place of plastic wrap and turn most anything into a lidded storage container.  I have 4 different sizes, and I have found that I don't really need tupperware.  I make use of bowls, mugs, and even plates to store leftovers in the refrigerator, and it has been working out just fine.  With no dishwasher here, we don't want a lot of dishes piling up anyway, so we haven't needed more than the set of six plates, bowls, and cups in the cabinet.  I use one water glass throughout the day, and I immediately wash my toddler's cup when she is finished so it is ready for next time she needs it.  I make pretty simple meals, but they are complete, healthy, and tasty.

I think my kitchen needs will continue to be scaled down when we move into our new house.  I only miss a few appliances:  
-our rice cooker- a staple in our house, which doubles as a slow cooker (my favorite is steel cut oats put in the night before with the timer set)
-a toaster, although I have toasted bread pretty easily on the stove here
-a blender, but I am switching to a stick blender that can also be used as a food processor (I puree a lot of veggies into sauces for the picky eater in the family)

I will have an oven, so I will once again use baking dishes, but I only brought a couple because the ovens here are tiny.  I am going to try baking bread on a small piece of stoneware rather than my usual pizza stone.  It should work fine, but I might have to make two small loaves at a time instead of one large loaf.  I am not sure how I will bake cookies, because cookie sheets won't fit in the oven.  Maybe I will try to use the same small stoneware pan.  

I may have to amend this in the future, as I get settled in my new kitchen.  But for now, this list looks good.

Next up:  the toys!

24 September 2010

The Office

We've done well with our office, although it is still a work in progress.  Long ago we decided we didn't need a dedicated office space, both because we didn't have the luxury of space and because a removed office space didn't match how we utilize the computers and office supplies.  

Eventually, our office evolved into a standing work station with files below.    We used a section of kitchen/breakfast nook space:  my husband had his computer on a high shelf that we installed at his standing height specifically for the computer, and I had a hacked metal box on the counter.  A hole was drilled into the side for cords, with the computer cable and power strip inside the box.  A mail center/bill paying station was given prime real estate on the counter next to my laptop.  When I needed to do a lot of work on the computer, I just moved my laptop to the kitchen table.  

Since our move, my office is a zippered pouch on the closet shelf holding two plastic envelopes, for pending items and papers to be filed, the checkbook, and a few stamps and envelopes.  A compartmentalized box holds office supplies, such as a few pens, tape, rubber bands, and scissors.  I also have my laptop with me, sitting on top of a console table.  Since this table isn't high enough to function as a standing work station, I move it to the kitchen table or couch to do work.  This has worked very well; the only thing I am missing is the file box.

So, as I've been thinking of what our new office will look like, I think it won't be much different from what it was.  We like our standing work stations, so we are toying with the idea of combining the office area with a room divider of sorts to separate the space between our living and dining rooms.  
Right now we still need our filing system, which is just a fire proof box, one file box for current files, and one box for last years files.  Every January, I shred the old files and then move the current papers to the old file box (this is excluding tax returns and other items that must be kept for longer than one year).  I have two expandable files inside the file boxes for investment paperwork.  While this system works well, we will likely go paperless in the near future.  We have our eye on an excellent scanner that can scan all size documents with a very good document feeder.  We can just place a stack of differently shaped papers in the scanner, press the button, and go.  My husband has it all planned out with external hard drives and whatnot, but we still need to actually pull the trigger.

With this plan, all I really need is about 1-2 feet of horizontal space and a shelf or drawer for files.  This can easily be done in a living/dining room area, and then the computer is easily accessible for the whole family.  The standing work station allows me to quickly search for something on the internet without having to sit and get settled.  Since I use the internet frequently for everything from a dictionary to recipe searches, I really enjoy that kind of accessibility.

I will try to post a picture of this space when it is complete, although since we haven't even moved into our house, who knows how long it will be.

So, what don't we need?  a billion pens, drawers full of old unsorted papers, huge file cabinets, a big desk, and a dedicated room for an office. 

Next up:  the dreaded kitchen

23 September 2010

The Necessities

With us living in this tiny abode, I've been thinking a lot about what we really need to live.

[As an aside, we are moving in 1 WEEK!  Things are working well for us here so far, but it doesn't feel like home because none of the stuff is ours.  I'm excited to get our couch and sleep in my bed with my pillow.  And I'm excited for the boys to not have an hour commute to school, especially because the younger one falls asleep every single day on the way home.  It kind of messes him up.]

When we packed our stuff to move over here, I went through the whole house purging.  I do this at every move, and sometimes in between.  Seeing your life boxed into so many crates does that to you, especially when you know you have to unpack all that on the other end.

I felt like I did a pretty good job streamlining everything, but I wonder if I'll still feel that way when we move into our permanent space?  Or will I unpack something and wonder why in the world I felt it necessary to keep?

Our belongings were packed up at the end of July.  If we've gone this long without it, what will make it necessary once we get it back besides my desire to have stuff?

I am going to ponder this topic here on the blog category by category in an effort to truly evaluate what my family needs.  I'll try to do it all this next week, before I actually see any of it and start justifying my needs and making excuses.

First up:  The Office.

21 September 2010

TELL ME TUESDAY

Special Request:  Christmas present storage

A college friend and follower of this blog requested a post on Christmas present storage, both for your own children and others.  I've never done a special request, D, but here goes:

First of all, congratulations on having this problem!  We also buy presents early; in fact, we shop all year long, both for specific occasions and just to have on hand for the next birthday party invite.  We tend to save a lot of money when we aren't under pressure, and the gifts are better also.  I have a shelf of one closet dedicated to "in stock" presents.  I just use recycled cardboard boxes to hold the gifts, and if it is a specific present for someone I label it (usually just a post-it pinned to the gift or stuck to it's container) with the person it's for and/or the occasion.  For my own kids, I keep a separate box for each of them on the shelf.  They are really good about staying out of spaces that aren't theirs.

But Christmas is a unique challenge, because I am assuming that the gifts you have bought won't fit on just one shelf.  You can't really dedicate a space to holding large gifts one time per year, but you don't want those gifts to be strewn all over every room of your house.  Here is what I have done in the past.  I hope one of these works for you.

For my kids:  Obviously, I want these presents out of sight.  Like I said, my kids are pretty good about sticking to approved play areas, and for us, that means out of mom and dad's closets.  So, I use the floor of my closet a lot.  My floor is usually empty, so I end up just putting the presents behind my hanging clothes.  I do sometimes wrap the gifts early so that if they are accidentally discovered, the surprise won't be ruined.  I occasionally keep shoes on my closet floor, so if that is the case, I move my shoes to a temporary bin, either by the front door or just out in my bedroom.  I have also stored medium sized gifts in the linen closet.  Towels make good hiding places, and no one ever goes in there except me and my husband.  I once stored a bicycle in our guest bedroom/computer server area.  I kept the door locked, and Sam never thought to ask why.  My parents once kept a puppy at a neighbor's house, but I doubt the neighbor was too thrilled about it.

For everyone else:  I am once again making an assumption on the size of these gifts.  I imagine that the individual gifts aren't too big, but there are a lot of them.  We are always traveling during Christmas, and the gift giving usually extends over several days.  This is where I become proactive.  As the presents are bought, I separate them by destination or date of delivery.  If they are getting mailed, you can do the same thing.  Once again, I apply the labels (after all, it's only September - are you going to remember what goes where in a few months?) and find a different container for each destination/date.  Size depends on number of items it will hold, but I tend to use recycled cardboard boxes or extra rubbermaid bins.  If I have closet space, I put the storage containers in there, but who has empty closet space waiting for temporary storage?  If I don't have closet space, I rope off a little used area of a room or garage.  Just make sure it is warm and dry.  

I have been known to wrap and package up presents weeks in advance just so they are ready to go.  If I just do a couple at a time, it takes away the stress and paralyzing nature of having mountains of presents to wrap.    

If you don't have storage boxes or bins, try duffel bags or old luggage that won't be used any time soon.  Maybe you won't be needing the 3 foot tall rolling suitcase until Christmas when you travel to see family with all of your presents.  In which case, all of those gifts will already be packed.  You can roll up your socks and underwear and stuff them into the spaces between the gifts so they won't break during travel.  Who needs clothes anyway?

Good luck, D!  I haven't said anything earth shattering, but I hope something has sparked an idea in your head.  Let me know if you have any questions or if this was helpful at all or a total waste of your time.  Also, if anyone else has a specific request for a blog post, this is the part where I tell you to send it to me and I'll post about it.  If I have any ideas on the subject, of course.

20 September 2010

FUNDAY MONDAY

My husband likes to tease me.  Not all the time, but he does tease me (in fun) about my desire for order.  I know I have some *quirks* that might border on the obsessive, but I am usually able to defend my position by pointing out the dish that sits in the sink for an entire afternoon unwashed, or the junk drawer.

But my biggest piece of incriminating evidence is when my toddler girl likes to play with the broom and dustpan.  Or place items neatly on the shelf.  Or wipe the table and chairs.  

But all toddlers like to do that stuff!  Right?  Right?  Maybe.

That, however, is no match for the latest indictment.  My 7 year old son wanted to earn some "commission" money (another post for another day), so he chose to organize the toy shelves in the living room.  Then, when the toddler pulled some stuff down, he said, "Uuugh!  She had better put that away herself!  I just cleaned it!"

For some reason my husband thinks he takes after me.

17 September 2010

Follow Me

If you read this blog regularly, click on the follow button on the top.  It helps to have an idea of who visits the site.

Also, always feel free to make comments.  Just click "comment" at the bottom of whatever post you want to comment on, or if the post a comment box is open, start typing.  It's nice to hear others' ideas for making their lives less chaotic.

16 September 2010

One Job Wonders

To follow up the multitaskers, I have found that some things function better when dedicated to a single purpose.

A prime example would be my beloved packing cubes.  I think I may have mentioned them before once or twice or twelve times.  I love to use them when packing because it keeps everyone's clothes separate and contained, making for more orderly packing and unpacking.  Not to mention it's much easier to hand a boy a packing cube and say get dressed than to have him hunt through the entire suitcase.

I had the thought that those cubes would come in handy for storing other items here in our temporary house, and so I put toys in one, books in another, etc.  But then it came time to head to England for a couple days, and I had to empty them all to use them for packing.

And so now they are stored inside the suitcase, waiting for our next adventure.

Other things I keep stored for one purpose?  Things I only have 1 of and use often.  Mostly storage containers of various types.  For the most part, if a kitchen container is empty, it will get filled again, so it is pointless to use it for something else.  I learned that lesson when my boys hijack containers for their play.  Also, the rubbermaid liner I use for my daughter's placemats.  Whenever I repurpose it for something, I seem to lose it and never have it when I need it.  So she gets three mats that stay with her dishes.

Most of these lessons I've learned through trial and error, and it takes good evaluation skills of what our family needs.  Our home is a balance between less clutter (chaos) and more convenience (peace and efficiency); one is often sacrificed for the other.

What does your scale have on each end?

13 September 2010

FUNDAY MONDAY

Multitasking

Since we've begun living in a 500-600 square foot temporary home (and with 99% of our belongings with the movers), we've had to get creative on using items for multiple purposes.  Here are just a few examples of what can be done when you don't have a choice:

kitchen utensils = toys
bathtub = washing machine
radiator = dryer
stovetop = counter (tray fit over the gas burners - don't worry, not when it's hot!)
upper cabinets = bulletin board
bucket = laundry basket for wet clothes (to transport to our radiator dryer)
large tupperware bowl = baby doll bed
stroller = grocery cart (but I feel like a homeless person when I use it this way)
extra bed = linen storage
suitcases = storage boxes
juice glass = toothbrush holder
tabletop stereo/speakers = computer desk
kitchen towels = dolly blankets
top of utility cabinet = laundry hamper
housekeeper's cleaning supply cabinet = shoe storage
carry-on suitcases = toy boxes
piled up mattresses (had to dismantle one bed to make room for a baby crib) = changing table

The list grows every day.  Interesting how desperation sparks ingenuity, isn't it?


10 September 2010

FORGET IT FRIDAY

Special Spaces

I like everything put away.  All the time.  

But my family doesn't always share my view.  Not that I live with a bunch of slobs.  In fact, they are all very good at following my *ahem* requests to keep everything neat and tidy.

But sometimes, I have to let them have their space.  Sometimes the kids need to play with more than one toy at a time.  Or sometimes, just sometimes, something more important comes up that requires my husband to leave his messenger bag on the floor.

So, I've learned to compromise and deal.  My husband gets a corner of the bedroom that is not visible from the door.  And my kids get the space under their loft beds.  I hung a curtain from the beds so that the area underneath is blocked off.

The rule is that their space can look however they want, but the rest of the floor must remain clear.  For their part, they know that once things get out of hand to the point of creeping out of their space, they must put things away.

It works well because it allows them to have a sense of control, but I am still able to breathe.  



07 September 2010

The Art Gallery


School has just started for us here in the Netherlands, so it is the time of year where excitement runs high.  So high, in fact, that my kids are overjoyed to bring home every single piece of artwork and have it proudly displayed on any vertical surface that can be found.

I am happy to comply with this request; I think it makes our house feel happier and cozier when we can see a child's view of the world.  But then there is always the question of what to do with said artwork when its viewing life has come to an end?  Saving it is compulsory here, at least for a while.  So each child has a special box where the best pieces are kept.

But by the end of one school year, the box is overflowing onto the closet shelf.  And, at least while my kids are in their young elementary years, I know the cycle will start again the following September.  So what to do?  I've tried sorting, purging, and then sorting again.  But still the artwork continues to multiply.  

I would love to save it all, but in the end I have to only keep the best of the best.  In order to preserve the stuff labeled "on the bubble", I created a digital file for each child.  The few masterpieces from each year are kept in their original format.  I even framed a couple spectacular works that I wanted to fully preserve.  But then the other items that didn't quite make the cut were clearly labeled and photographed.  I was sure to include the name of the artist, the date (or at least the year), and a short description of the work.  I grouped some smaller items into one photograph, and created a special art file grouped chronologically.  These photos are included in slide shows that we periodically display on our television or computer screens.

It would be nice to save all the artwork that passes through my front door, but controlling the paper helps to control the chaos.  And with this digital format, we have managed to preserve the memories surrounding the actual art.  And we still have room for more.

04 September 2010

The Case For Space

We are currently living in a small cottage while we search for a house.  It is at a campground/resort area called a Bungalow Park.  Most people come here on weekends and holidays, so folks often assume we are vacationing indefinitely.  We hear, "Prettige vakantie" (enjoy your vacation) almost every day from someone.  But in a country where it will likely take 2 months to procure a rental house, this was a much better and more economical option than a hotel.  There are very strict fire laws in Europe, making it impossible for the 5 of us to stay in one hotel room.  Not to mention the fact that bungalow parks are cheap!  We'll definitely use them in the future for our own holidays.

But for now, this is our home.  When we first moved in, we chose a 5 person bungalow because, well, there are 5 of us in the family.  But we soon discovered that a 5 person is merely a 4 person with another bed crammed into the 2nd bedroom and a 5th dining chair at the end of the 4 person table.  Add to that the baby crib we had to stuff into our room, and we had a 5th bed taking up space and a crib right next to mom and dad which the baby took full advantage of in the middle of the night (think standing, screaming, and reaching for mommy's arm).  As boxes we mailed started arriving, we realized that this option was not going to work for the long-ish term.

So when our initial reservation was up, we moved to a 6 person bungalow.  And it has made an enormous difference.  There are 3 bedrooms, which means the baby doesn't have to sleep in our room(!), and the kids rooms are upstairs in a dormer area.  Built in gates at the top and bottom of the stairs take care of the safety issue, and the toilet room is separate from the bathroom, which has 2 sinks.

Which finally brings me to my point.  This new place still only has a dorm room sized fridge, no oven, and only a foot or so of walking path between beds and walls, but it feels like a castle.  Yes, there are times when more space is needed (see above).

BUT HERE'S THE BUT:  SPACE IS RELATIVE.

And do we always need more of it?  Or do we need to first evaluate the space we have and make better decisions regarding what is very important to us?  Hmmm.  Moving often makes me very careful about what we keep and what things can move on to someone else.  I know right now I am in a special situation, but the principles can apply.

This post is long, I know.  I'm making up for lost time!  If the topic is remotely interesting to you, then I have a book to recommend.  It's called The Not So Big House by Sarah Susanka.  She proposes that people need 1/3 less space than they think they need.  That doesn't mean that everyone should live in a tiny house, just that space needs should be carefully considered and planned intelligently.  It makes you think about all the cookie cutter spaces we have today and if those spaces really fit individual needs.

Think about it.