Sunday, January 31, 2010

Declutter Challenge ~ Spare Room

My friend Molly over at The Snyder 5 has been hard at work decluttering her house. And today, she invited others to join in the fun!

The problem? I already decluttered our spare bedrom yesterday, but I didn't take any "before" pictures. I simply hadn't planned on blogging about it!

I thought about recluttering the room to get photos, but decided that doing so would be a little crazy. Then I thought of another way to illustrate the utter mess that was our spare bedroom. So without further ado, I give you... ILLUSTRATION of the utter mess that was our spare bedroom! (Hmmm. This might have been crazier.)

The Backstory: Our spare bedroom is our home's "what the heck should we do with this stuff that doesn't belong in the basement" dumping ground. (Every house has one, right?) The mess got totally out of hand when workers installed a hood vent in our kitchen. You see, the exhaust pipe had to run through our upstairs linen closet, forcing us to remove its contents until we recut the shelves to accommodate the pipe.

Where did all of the linen closet stuff go? Into our spare bedroom, of course!

For the past several weeks, the room has been full of extra shampoos, cleaning products, towels, toiletpaper and lots of other random stuff.

The Complicating Factor: Making matters worse, we still haven't refinished and reinstalled the door to this room. So the clutter is in full view (and full reach) of anyone who comes upstairs. When we had my nephew overnight last week, we actually blocked off the room with the loveseat. Lovely, eh?

The Resolution: On Saturday, Kyle cut all of the shelves to fit around the exhaust pipe. Then I got to work sorting through the mess, throwing away junk and restocking the shelves. It didn't take long before we could see the floor again!

All of our linen closet stuff is now back where it belongs — in our linen closet! I plan to find a more attractive way of organizing this stuff, but "put away" is good enough for now. (Hmmm. That towel shelf is looking pretty empty. Time to wash/fold laundry, perhaps?)

Yay, the disenfecting products are up high and out of reach! (Please note that Kyle made expertly rounded cuts to accommodate the pipe.)

I still have a bit more work to do in this room. I need to sort through a couple of laundry baskets, and Kyle needs to sort through a box of random junk. (Don't you just love boxes of random junk?)

Overall, this was a huge decluttering success. I feel so much better when I reach the top of the stairs now!

Final Notes: I won't be weighing my tossed/donated clutter like Molly does. We don't have a scale! But we'll definitely be ridding our home of clutter, not just reorganizing the clutter. Hope you join us!

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Compliment?

Because I'm fighting a cold today, I spent the better part of the morning looking rather disheveled. After I finally showered and made myself look presentable, Rowan said:

"Mama, I really appreciate how you got dressed and put on your makeup today, even though you're sick. Now you look like my regular mommy instead of a sleepy lady."

He then asked if he could take a picture of me with his play camera.

The attention was sweet, of course, but I can't help but think that I must have looked truly horrible this morning!

Still, I'll take his appreciation as a compliment...I think.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Kid's Response to Watching American Idol Last Night

"That singer sounds really good!" [Dancing his funky dance.] "I like this show!"

"That guy's voice is way too explosiony. It hurts my ears."

"I don't think that sounds very good, mama. Do you think it sounds very good?"

"He's kind of weird. Why is he being like that?"

"Mama, are you sure this show isn't too scary for me?"

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sometimes you'll do whatever it takes... get your kid to eat healthy foods.

If that means spreading dark chocolate over clementine wedges, then that's exactly what you'll do.

Just don't forget to make extra for yourself. These juicy little treats are impossible to resist!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Simple Tart for Breakfast

We were craving something sweet for breakfast today. So in a departure from our usual morning fare, I made an adaptation of Marcella Hazan's recipe for A Farm Wife's Fresh Pear Tart.

Not too sweet and full of fruit, this recipe works for breakfast, snacks or dessert. The only drawback is that you must wait 50 minutes before pulling it out of the oven. ("Is the pear tart done, mom?" "Is it done now?" "I'm hungry! When will it be done?")

I usually buy Bosc pears for this recipe, but today I used some Pink Lady apples that we had on hand. As long as you use a firm-fleshed apple or pear, I think you'll be fine. Hazan apparently said of this recipe: “Only an active campaign of sabotage could ruin it.”

A nice confidence booster, don't you think?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Notice Anything Odd in This Video?

Anything? Anything at all?

Here's a hint: Not everyone in this video is sledding. Notice the cross-country skier going by after the guys make it down the hill?

Does it strike you as odd that a park would allow people to sled down a hill that crosses the beginner skiing trail?

In case you're wondering, we did see a kid crash directly into a novice skier. The woman saw the boy coming at the last minute, but was too inexperienced to propel herself forward quickly enough to avoid impact. No one was hurt, thank goodness, but I couldn't help but question a design that puts sledding children and novice skiers on a perpendicular collision course.

Still, we had a great time!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

HDTVs Are Expensive. Are They Worth It?

I'm still in shock after TV shopping this past weekend. Who knew that HDTVs were so expensive? (I realize that the correct answer here is everyone. Cut me some slack, OK?)

I expected a new TV to be moderately expensive. Kyle found some nice Samsungs on Amazon priced in the $600 – $900 range. Although I can't say I love those prices, they certainly don't surprise me.

But that was just the beginning.

On Sunday, we visited an electronics store to see the TVs in person. That's where we learned about a vast array of upcharges that are required to properly install and enjoy your new TV.

You need to buy special cords and a surge protector, of course. If you're hanging your TV on the wall, a mounting bracket is required. Oh, and you should really consider hiring a professional installer to hide the special cords behind your wall. If you're not hanging your new TV on the wall, you need to buy an HDTV stand — most of which look like bizarre, futuristic technology shrines.

Then there's the calibration fee.

Call me crazy (or maybe just out of touch), but I figured that an $800 HDTV would arrive ready to watch. Oh no! Apparently, the manufacturers don't calibrate the colors because — according to our sales guy — "they want to save on production time to bring down costs for the consumer."

Um...yeah. I'm sure that's it. Because a manufacturer doesn't pay a third-world factory worker to properly configure the TV, an electronics store can pass on the saving to the form of a $200 calibration charge.

Gee, thanks.

And don't even get me started on planned obsolescence. I asked the guy how long we should expect to own our new HDTV. He said they're built to last for "decades." (I couldn't help but imagine our grandchildren gathered around our ugly TV shrine in 2040.) Then I asked how long his many HDTVs had lasted him. The answer: an average of 3 years (with some duds burning out almost immediately). Naturally, he used this opportunity to tell us about the extended warranty program. Nice.

So now we're at a crossroads. Do we really want to spend more than $1,000 on a TV? Seriously, a TV? Even if we can afford it, is that where we want to "invest" right now? (I'm asking you!)

After all, a lot of people are giving away decent old TVs on craigslist right now. We have a converter box.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Pretty Breakfast, Messy Breakfast

People always seem surprised when I say that I cook a hot breakfast for my family most mornings each week. Honestly, it's not that much trouble. I'd choose eggs and toast (and sometimes bacon!) over cold cereal any day. And if I'm already cooking for myself, how hard is it to crack another egg or butter another piece of bread?

Although we eat basically the same breakfast every morning, my hubby and I have vastly different approaches when it comes to presentation and eating technique.

I prefer to appreciate the beauty and flavor of each food. I might dip my toast into the runny yolk or mix some diced apple or dried fruit into my yogurt. But for the most part, I like to maintain a clear visual distinction between the various items on my placemat.

He, on the other hand, prefers to smash all of his food into one messy pile. He then scoops globs of the yellowish-green concoction* onto slices of buttered toast. Oh, and in his view, a placemat is just another thing to clean up after a meal.

Although we clearly enjoy our food in different ways, what we appreciate most about breakfast is the same: COFFEE!

Just kidding! (Kind of.) The thing we appreciate most is the time we spend together, of course.

Sharing a nice morning meal offers a chance to connect before we dash off in separate directions. In fact, provided that I don't look directly at the food spew sitting on the plate across from me, breakfast is my favorite meal of the day.

*Perhaps it's worth noting that my hubby doesn't like yogurt because of its "weird texture." HA! ;)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Can Your Kitchen Make You Fat?

I just read an interesting little article about the connection between your kitchen and your weight. The conclusion: modern-day kitchens are making us fat.

I say "modern-day" kitchens, because most of the problematic features listed are relative newbies in American homes. They include:
  • Platter-sized plates and wide glasses
  • Super-bright lighting (recessed lighting, under-cabinet lighting, etc.)
  • Expansive, clutter-collecting surfaces
  • Spacious pantries
  • Food as decor (clear jars, etc., to store and display food)
  • Centralized, open designs (i.e., your kitchen is the hub of your home)

As a city-dweller, I live in a older home whose kitchen has none of these features (much to our dismay, at times). We have no room for a kitchen table. Our pantry is tiny. Our counter space is minimal. Basically, our 1936 kitchen is designed to do one thing: serve as a space for storing and preparing food. For it serve this purpose well, our kitchen must contain only the most essential foods, tools and equipment.

Hmmm. Could our tiny, featureless kitchen help us stay thin?

Probably not.

Still, it's an interesting connection to consider. As families have shrunk significantly in recent generations (numbers-wise, if not weight-wise), our kitchens have grown magnificently. Why?

What is it that we're stuffing into our huge, French-door refrigerators and walk-in pantries?

After all, fruits, vegetables and meats spoil within just a few days...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Winter Day to Appreciate

Do you think that writing something 100 times makes it come true?

Yeah, neither do I.

But today, I did appreciate winter. And I appreciated my family, and my life and all of the blessings that I don't deserve, but still receive.

I've decided that I need to become a whole lot better about expressing gratitude. My wake-up call came last week, when I learned that some friends of ours lost a loved one in Haiti. He was only 25 years old. When the world loses someone so young — and so committed to serving others — it's hard to justify petty complaints.

So although I'll never be winter's biggest fan, I've decided to make the most of it. Life is too short to spend one-third of it sulking. If you look hard enough, any of winter's failings offers a chance to give thanks.

When I'm cold, I can appreciate that I have someone sweet to snuggle me.

When I'm bored, I can appreciate living with two great guys who teach me how to play.

When I'm tired, I can appreciate that hard work creates a calorie deficit that practically begs for hot cocoa.

And when I'm impatient, I can realize that winter, like life, is short. Although it can be cold, dark and even depressing sometimes, it's also beautiful — especially if you choose to see it that way.

I do.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


My kid can read!

Well, not quite. That would be an exaggeration. Probably even a downright lie.

But he has learned a bunch of new sounds and words over the past couple of weeks!

I can’t take any of the credit, though. He’s been playing Headsprout* — an online video game that teaches phonics. The game has 80 levels, which are called episodes. After playing the free trial episodes (and loving them), we purchased the first 40 episodes for about $100.

Expensive? Yes. But we’ve been quite impressed by the program.

After only five episodes, our little guy could read his very first story! (Don’t get too excited. I can type the whole thing in about five seconds: See Vee. See San. See the van.)

He plays each episode a couple of times before moving on. He’s now on episode 8.

I just hope he doesn’t get sick of it. Using a computer to teach reading is a lazy parent’s dream!

*I'm not affiliated with Headsprout and receive no money for recommending their products. Just thought I'd share something we've been enjoying. If you would like to send me money, though, contact me at**

**This is not a real e-mail address.***

***I'm sorry if this is your real e-mail address...unless you get money because of it...then I'm mad.

Monday, January 11, 2010

On Second Thought...

Son: "Hey, Daddy, let's arm wrestle to see who gets to be the leader!"

Father: "OK."

[Arm wrestling match commences.]

Son: "Um...Daddy...Daddy...DADDY! WAIT!"

Father: "What?"

Son: "Let's just flip a coin instead."

Father: "OK, buddy."

How My Boy Makes Art

Sounds effects...intense dialogue...BAD GUYS!

That's right, people. When my kid is making art, don't expect to see pretty flowers or neatly filled in coloring pages. According to him, that stuff is "boooooring!"

Unfortunately, he's a bit of a temperamental artist — fiercely protective of his creative process. I'll have to be sneakier if I want to capture more of his unorthodox methods.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Why I don’t Use Coupons (Am I Missing Something?)

It’s Sunday. Coupon day.

Despite many (admittedly feeble) attempts to “score big” using coupons, I must confess that I simply don’t get it. It’s not that I lack resources, of course. The blogosphere is filled with moms who would be delighted to show me the way.

Still, I can’t shake the feeling that using coupons simply isn’t worth the time and effort involved — at least not for me. I just don’t think I have the personality for it.

That’s not to say I’m a spendthrift. On the contrary, our family can be quite miserly. We have one reliable car, we don’t have cable, we have a super-cheap cell phone plan, I probably own (I am not joking, ladies) maybe four or five pairs of dress shoes, and we still use the same television that my hubby bought more than 10 years ago.

The only area where I’m guessing we spend a LOT more than the average family is on food. We like to eat at nice restaurants, and our grocery budget is rather large for a family of three.

But I don’t think that coupons would improve our lives for three reasons:
  1. I buy minimally processed foods whenever possible. Our usual grocery haul includes fresh produce, meat, bulk grains/dried fruits, milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, eggs and bread. From time to time, we’ll also stock up on olive oil, spices, jarred tomatoes and other basic pantry items. What I find is that coupons rarely apply to these staples. So unless you buy commercially prepared processed foods, do coupons really pay off?

  2. I hate shopping. Well, I don’t mind grocery shopping a couple of times a week, but I certainly wouldn’t want to spend a great deal of energy doing it. Making a list and going to one store (sometimes two) is really about all I can handle. So you can imagine that comparing circulars, assembling binders and darting all across the city might be a bit much for me. So for people who don’t love playing "the game," are coupons worth the time and energy involved?

  3. I don’t have the room (or desire) to stockpile. Couponing seems to be predicated on the idea that you seize opportunities when they arise — even if you don’t need an item at that moment. This might mean that you buy 10 boxes of crackers because they’re almost free (or because you earn points/store credit for future purchases of things that you do need). My tiny pantry simply can’t handle that degree of stockpiling. And my brain can’t cope with that many “what if” scenarios. So if you only want to buy what you actually need on a weekly/biweekly basis, does couponing even work?

Am I missing something? Sure, I’m fascinated by moms who claim to feed their large families on $10 a week (or some other amazingly small amount). But for people seeking simplicity and minimalism in their lives, is couponing a boon or bane?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Thoughts on a Gray Day

The sky was the same color as the ground today.


Everything was gray.

I think it was easier to appreciate January’s desolate beauty as a child. The dull skies, treeless fields and drifted roads created the illusion that I was suspended in a cloud. I felt tiny. And the world was huge.

Today, however, I just feel cold … and frustrated.

Maybe it’s because the responsibilities of adulthood are not made easier by frigid temperatures, gusty winds and piles of dirty slush.

Just getting out the door requires impossible decisions. Should I tuck my pants into my boots and deal with the unfixable wrinkles? Or should I wear my pants over my boots and deal with the soggy, salt-stained cuffs? Like I said, impossible.

People who live closer to the equator don’t have to worry about such things. I imagine that’s why they’re known to have sunny dispositions and a relaxed sense of time. Why should they fret or hurry? There’s always tomorrow to take that bicycle ride or lounge on the beach.

To those warm souls, we must seem rather uptight.

We are.

We can’t help it.

The seasons change so quickly — and to such an extreme degree — that we are constantly rushing.

“Make sure you get on your skis this weekend before the temps rise!”

“Go outside and enjoy the fresh air before the mosquitoes hatch!”

“Eat your fill of strawberries now before the birds get them!”

“Take a picture of the maple leaves before the wind picks up!”

I suppose there is value in having opportunities vanish almost as soon as they appear. Forced to live in the moment, we might appreciate life's fleeting pleasures just a bit more.

Still, on days like today, I wouldn't mind looking forward to endless sunny weekends.

How bad could that be?

Monday, January 4, 2010

10 Things I Carried to and From My Car Today...

...multiple times... the freezing cold...

  1. My keys
  2. My purse
  3. My briefcase
  4. My heels
  5. My Target returns
  6. My 4-year-old
  7. My 4-year-old's snow pants, boots, extra gloves and change of clothing
  8. My 4-year-old's worksheets and artwork
  9. My reusable co-op bags — first empty, and then filled with groceries
  10. Myself — complete with hat, coat, gloves, boots, Cuddle Duds and performance fleece


I felt so horribly weighed down today.

And cold.

So. Stinkin'. Cold.

Can't we all just stay home until spring arrives?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Meat Eater

I can't bring myself to post about holidays and major milestones. Finding something meaningful to say on days like Christmas, New Year's Day or my son's birthday is just too much pressure.

So instead of musings about a new decade or a list of resolutions, I give you a picture that our little artist drew today (labeled by me for your convenience):

I bet you're wondering why I chose to post this picture. After all, kids produce a ton of artwork. Why share a drawing of a meat-eating rock?

Well, once you read the conversation that occured while Rowan was creating this picture, I think you'll understand why it's now one of my favorites.

Rowan: "Mama, I can use markers and glue sticks without any help now."

Me: "I know. You're getting so big. You can do a lot of things all by yourself.

Rowan: "And I know a lot of stuff, too."

Me: "Yep."

Rowan: "Like about science and space."

Me: "Mmm Hmm"

Rowan: "Like I know that when an asteroid falls to Earth, it becomes a meat-eater."

Me: "A meat-eater?"

Rowan: "Yeah, it's an asteroid up in space, and then it falls down to Earth and becomes a meat-eater."

Me: [thinking...then cracking up!] "Oh my God, Rowan! Do you mean a meteor?!"

Rowan: [thinking...then smiling sheepishly] "Oh yeah. That's right. A meteor!"

The thought of him imagining a world in which rocks fall from space and transform into razor-toothed carnivores gave me the best laugh I've had this year! ;-)

Wishing you lots of laughs in 2010!
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