29 November 2010


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


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


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


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



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


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:

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.

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.

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.