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.


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.


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.


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



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.
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.


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


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



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


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.


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.