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Goals and China

Sometimes I just don’t feel like doing anything.  I don’t feel like changing or pushing or improving or organizing. In such times I just do what I need to in order to keep us all together – keeping the house clean, keeping us fed, keeping our schedules moving . . . It works; things don’t fall apart, but they don’t improve either.  That is where I have been for the past year or so – just doing what I need to keep us together. It’s not laziness. I’ve been plenty busy homeschooling, feeding, and scheduling four kids as well as attempting to be a wife, but I’m ready to step it up again.  I’m ready to start improving and get us functioning once more at our best.

At the beginning of the year it is common to reflect upon the past year and make goals for the upcoming one. 2013 was a good year – we moved into a new home, I had an amazing garden that kept me incredibly busy all summer, boys #1 and #2 started piano, boy #3 learned to read, little girl became “mama” (her words) to a guinea pig name Claw (yup, she’s a girl with 3 older brothers), and I started drinking coffee (that’s good, right?). But as I look around my home, I still haven’t achieved that level of best-function I had in our previous house. I pretty much unloaded the boxes last January, threw things on the shelves, and that is where things have stayed whether or not it works. Other things aren’t functioning to the level I desire either and for better or worse, as mom, it’s all on me – I set the tone, the order/chaos level at home, the schedules. . . This brings me to my goals for this year, 2014 (yes, I realize it’s late January, but whatever). They are:

1) Get my house organized, not just unpacked.

2) Do a little decorating (the boxes with decor, I’m ashamed to say, have sat unpacked for a year in the stairwell closet).

3) Organize and prioritize our family schedule.

3) Feed my family “cleaner” this year (more whole foods and grains, less refined sugars and flours).

4) Run another marathon (I’ve got my sights set on August).

5) Make an effort to connect more with my husband as my “buddy” and love, not just the co-parent.

6) Really enjoy my kids and all the chaos that they bring.

7) Push myself to grow spiritually (memorizing more scripture, becoming intentional about my prayer-life)

Hey, that’s not lofty is it?

So, back to the ole’ blog to chronicle my organizing progress and keep myself accountable and moving forward.  Here’s this week’s project (it’s going to make my husband so happy):

There’s a little backstory here, so hang on folks. My mother-in-“love” (as she likes to say) has three sons. She’s also a dish-lover and inherited three sets of china from her mother. Sons aren’t so interested in china so before her boys left home she determined that set A would go to the wife of the first married, set B to the second, and set C to the third. I’m lucky wife number one, even though I married the middle son. Shortly after our marriage she showed me “my” dishes and informed me that when Paul and I had been married 25 years they would be mine. Well, we celebrated are 15th anniversary last May, and this year my mother-in-love gifted me those dishes 10 years early. Here’s a sample:

Dishes 2

And, here they have sat, on my bedroom floor for the past month.

Dishes 1

Now I have to admit that I’m really not a flowery-pink girl, but I love what they represent; a woman I’ve grown to love dearly and a treasure I will be able to pass on to my daughter to remember her grandmother by (yeah, yeah, I ended with a preposition – so what?). This week, it’s time to get this set off the floor and find it a permanent home in my kitchen. I’ll keep you posted.

Thrifty-Tip Thursday: It’s Yard Sale Season!

The sun is out and the days are (sometimes) warm. It’s yard sale season. For the “Thrifty-Tip Thursday” revival, here are my yard-sale shopping tips:

1 – Make a List:  I have started a list of things I need/want for the house, yard or children.  These are all things I don’t mind buying used. I’m not going to add “underwear for the boys” to the list.  This helps me think through what I would like to look for when I’m out, and even if I impulsively follow a yard sale sign when I’m without my list, I have it in my mind because I took the time to write it down.

2 – Timing: I have two favorite times to hit yard sales: Friday morning and Saturday afternoon. On Friday morning the atmosphere is casual and pleasant. Those who run the yard sales are usually still in a good mood and are likely to budge some on their prices with those who are friendly.  The selection is also at its peak on Friday morning. On Saturday afternoon the sellers are done and generally just want to get rid of things. This is when you can get the best bargains. The draw-back is most of the “good stuff” is already gone.

3 – Engage the Sellers: First, making conversation with the sellers is just more fun.  But also, to reveal an ulterior motive, when I have been pleasantly engaging the seller while I browse, they are a lot more likely to negotiate on prices.

4 – Know Your Prices:  When I look at my list of items created in step 1, I always have in mind a price I am willing to pay for a used item. I will not pay for a used item within even a few dollars of what I can get it for new on a good sale.  For example, I will not spend more than $2 on clothing for the kids, and it needs to be in pretty good condition if I’m going to pay that (I usually try to stay under a dollar).  I am a bargain shopper and I know I can find new clothing on the sales rack at Old Navy, Target or Children’s Place under $5, so I won’t pay much for a used article of clothing.

5 – Know What You’ll Use it For:  Don‘t buy anything at a yard sale unless you know exactly what you are going to do with it.  If I buy something because I think it is cute and might be able to find a place for it, chances are it is going to wind up in my yard sale next spring.

6 – Ask for a Lower Price: Most sellers expect to negotiate, so I almost always make a reasonable offer. The worst that can happen is he or she will say no and then I’ll decide whether it’s worthwhile to pay the sticker price. The important thing is to be friendly about it. A pushy offer will almost always be rejected.

If you have your own yard sales tips, let me know!  I’d love to hone my skill. 🙂

Maybe This Time . . .

My husband said to me the other day, “You know, I kind of liked it when you were working on your blog.”  Code:  “You’ve really let things slide, lady.”  🙂 So I spent a few minutes looking at my past posts (way past, I know!) and I think I’m inspired again. I also felt a little nostalgia for our old home where I had things pretty well under control.  Boy, it’s hard to move!  Yes, things are put away, but I just don’t feel like we’re functioning at our best.  I’ve been WAY to easy-going lately. It’s time I got moving and organizing (and blogging) again.

So you don’t think I’ve just been lazing around, I’ll let you in on what I have accomplished over the past month or so.  The weather here is finally getting nice (kind of – Idaho is pretty unpredictable in the Spring – one day will be 75 and the next we’ll get snow).  As soon as there is sun and some warmth to go with it I can hardly stand it and just have to be outside. Our new home has a HUGE yard that had been neglected, so my husband and I have been doing all kinds of trimming and weeding.  But this is my baby:

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If you look carefully in the far right corner you’ll see something that made me jump for joy – RASPBERRIES! In my previous garden I tried several times to plant raspberries with no success, so I was ecstatic to discover these well-established raspberry vines. The only problem is they too had been neglected.  Here’s an up-close look at what I had to work with.

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A little on-line search yielded this very helpful video on trimming raspberries.

Then, donned with garden gloves and armed with trimmers I got to work. Several raspberry-prickle slivers later (along with some serious hand-cramping), this is the result:

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The garden area needed some serious care, so every free minute I spent weeding and digging up grass (which I actually enjoy – I just love dirt!), and even managed to get a little help from the kids. When the weeds were out, I harpooned my wonderful father into bringing over his rototill to work his magic.  Isn’t it purrrty?

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I have planted some frost-tolerant vegetables (peas, swiss chard, lettuce, cabbage), but I’m waiting until May 11, one day after our last recorded frost, in order to plant the rest.  I’m so excited! I’m particularly excited about this:

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Fruit trees!  I have a little orchard!  Can you blame me for not wanting to being inside?

School Room Finished

I admit, I’ve lost steam on blogging.  But I am trying to keep going because having the accountability really pushes me to keep going on all these house projects.  I completed the school room a couple weeks ago, but was negligent in posting.  Here is the completed, and much better product:

ImageTo help me, I used what I learned from organizing my pantry and created zones for the school room shelves and cabinets.  I have a few dream projects to add:  a chalkboard, a floor-pad to keep our tables and chairs from sliding all over, labels. . . but that will be for another day.  For now, we are completely functional, and more importantly, I can find what I need.

Next up: my bathroom.  Details later.

Organizing All Over Again

After an extended, extended, extended vacation from blogging, I’m back with a whole lot of organizing to do.  We have moved.  Not far, just the next town over so we can be closer to all the places our lives take us.  It was an insanely busy and exhausting Christmas vacation, and we have spent the past month slowly getting things together.  We have accomplished some order, going from this:

Kitchen 1

To this:

Kitchen 2

Yet, although we have emptied the boxes, there are a hundred little organizing projects to do.  It takes some time living in a place to figure out how best to function in it; to decide where I’m going to fold my clothes, the best place for my “junk drawer”, the most convenient place for my command center . . .

So, here I am, organizing all over again.  I’ve decided my first project needs to be my school room.  When you glance in, it doesn’t appear to be too bad.

School Room 1

 

The books are somewhat in order.  But if you turn the corner, it’s not so great.

School Room 2

 

It’s been a little difficult operating during our school day.  I’m still shuffling around trying to find all our supplies.  I am in love with my new school room.  All the built-in shelves are awesome, but I need to get organized so we can function more efficiently.

Pretty Awesome Zucchini Bread & An Organizing Moment

I think I managed to save my zucchini plant (thanks Kate!). Now I am regularly harvesting zucchini.

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Time for zucchini bread. I have to admit that I have never been a huge fan of zucchini bread, but when I found this recipe in our local newspaper it was different enough that I had to try it. It has become a family favorite. Even my children, who think anything zucchini is disgusting, love it.  I did have to trick them into trying it the first time by telling them we were having “muffin bread”. 🙂  It’s official title is “Zucchini Bread with Walnuts”, but we don’t like walnuts so we call it “Zucchini Bread without Walnuts” or just “Zucchini Bread” (aren’t we clever?).

3 cups self-rising flour

1 T ground cinnamon

1 tsp. grated nutmeg

1/2 tsp. ground cloves (I used Allspice instead because I didn’t have cloves — I don’t know if that is an acceptable substitute, but it tasted pretty good)

1/2 tsp. salt

3 eggs

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup milk

2 1/4 cups sugar

1 T vanilla

2 cups grated zucchini

(If you choose – I leave them out) 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease 2 (9 X 5-inch) loaf pans and dust with flour.

Sift flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves (or Allspice) and salt into a bowl.

Beat eggs, oil, milk, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl until combined.  Add flour mixture to egg mixture and stir to combine thoroughly. Stir in zucchini (and nuts). Pour into prepared pans.

Bake 45 to 60 minutes, until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool in pans on a wire rack 20 minutes. Remove from pans and cool completely before slicing. Makes 2 loaves, 10 slices each.

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While making my zucchini bread I realized my spice shelf needed some attention. It didn’t look awful, it was simply difficult to find what I needed without playing the pull-everything-out game.  So while it was in the oven, I started organizing.

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At the beginning of the summer my mother-in-law brought me this:

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(Thanks Eun!) I’m not sure why I hadn’t used it before, but I pulled it out and started arranging.  I tried to place like things together on one tier, and because I’m kind of nerdy, I also alphabetized each tier (we’ll see how long that lasts 🙂 ).

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While I was at it, I kept going and arranged the entire cabinet.  I don’t have a “before” photo, but you can be assured it was not pretty.  Here is the “after”:

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My husband was so pleased.  We can find what we are looking for . . . another benefit of being organized.

I’m linking this post up here.

My New Chalkboard Wall & A Thrifty Thursday Tip

I shared last week that we were moving the school room downstairs.  This is how the old school room looked.

It was nothing special.  I had inherited a couple desks from my grandmother which the two school-aged boys used, then slapped a couple maps on the wall.  The reason for the change is two-fold.  Reason one is that the school room was upstairs and everything else is downstairs.  It made it tricky for me to multi-task during our school day.  The second reason is that son number three is starting Kindergarten this year and needs a space of his own.  We didn’t have room for another behemoth desk and I wanted something a little more uniform.  On our way back from visiting family in California this summer we stopped at the IKEA in Sacramento (Oh, how I wish we had one here in Idaho!), and found four very inexpensive and simple table desks for our new room.  I found a new home for our old desks (just next door so I can still visit them), and put the new one’s downstairs.

I have so many ideas for the school room (see my inspiration post here), and this week my hubby helped me create my very own chalkboard wall!  I’m so excited about how it turned out!  We have textured walls which aren’t really conducive to chalkboard paint, so I did some digging around online to see what other’s have done to remedy the situation.  Thanks to Weathered Treasure, I found a solution.

We started by measuring and marking our space for the chalkboard wall.  Then we used Joint Compound and slathered the walls with it.  We laid it on pretty thick, then used a large spackling tool to get it as smooth as possible.

We let this set for a good 24 hours, then sanded out the rough spots with a 150-grit sanding block.  It left a layer of dust on the wall, so I used a wet sponge to clean this up and let it dry once more.  Then we added black chalkboard paint.  We bought pre-made chalkboard paint, but if you want to know how to make your own, check out the above “Weathered Treasure” link.  Next, my handy honey added molding around the edges and a 4-inch board to the bottom for a little shelf.  Here is the final result.  We have one more step on the chalkboard wall to complete.  Before using the chalkboard, instructions say to rub the side of a piece of chalk all over the board, then wipe off with a barely-wet cloth or sponge.  I just need to get some chalk!

Here is the our school room at this point with the IKEA desks and the chalkboard wall.

It’s still rather plain.  I have a few more projects in mind, but I’m very happy with our start.

On another note, this week’s thrifty tip comes as a result of a mini-gardening crisis.  My garden is doing quite well at this point, except for my zucchini.  I’ve noticed the leaves looking very sad and realized upon closer inspection that it was covered with aphids.

I called my friend from Kate’s Kitchen Garden for some help.  She gave me thrifty recipe for a natural bug-killer using soap, water and vegetable oil.  She has posted the recipe on her blog here.  Let’s just hope my zucchini isn’t too far gone!

A Great Bathroom Idea

Some time ago, my sister texted me pictures of a project she and her husband had just finished.  It was so clever I asked her to send me pictures so I could share it here.  Christina and her husband have three of the cutest kids, 2 boys and a little girl.  The counter space in the kids’/guest bathroom felt cluttered with the basket used to store their toiletry items, and the single towel rack wasn’t working for the number of towels needed.

 

 

A simple solution took care of both these problems.  They cut and painted three boards (one for each child).  To each of these they added a towel hook, then mounted a 2″ pipe holder (we aren’t sure of the official name of the piece, but they found it in the PVC pipe section at Home Depot) into which they inserted a plastic cup (found at Target for $1.99 for a 4 pack).

 

Now there is a towel holder and a cup for each child’s toothbrush, toothpaste and fluoride.

 

Since guests also use this bathroom, they created another towel rack which they decorated with the kids’ handprints and mounted at a more adult level.

 

Now they have no more counter mess and room for everyone to hang a towel.  Thanks, Christina, for letting me share!

Cool School Rooms

We are in the process of moving our school room from the upstairs loft area to our downstairs “left-over furniture room”.  That’s our name for the family room (Or is it living room? We have one of those houses with a family room and living room, and I can never remember which is which).  I liked our little loft school room, but everything I do during the day is downstairs — laundry, breakfast/lunch/dinner prep and clean-up — so to make multi-tasking easier, the kids are coming downstairs too.  In addition, there is more space downstairs and the “left-over furniture room” wasn’t much but a place to stash our left-over furniture (hence the name). 🙂  In the spirit of organizing and decorating a homeschool room, I am posting some pictures I am using for inspiration (none of which I will actually come close to, but it’s fun dreaming).

 

I love the framed chalkboard wall here from houzz.com.  I definitely have plans to do something similar, minus the feminine colors (I have 3 boys).

 

Another good use of chalkboard paint from Lady Lullabuy used to label supply cubbies.

 

I love, love, love this wall of maps from Land of Nod.  If I can get ahold of some old maps, I am doing this!

 

Another idea I love for a school room is the cork-board picture rail running through this room from Martha Stewart.

 

I have a staircase wall in the room.  It doesn’t rise quite so sharply, but what a clever use of that space from Design Sponge, with book shelves.

 

Another feature I’d love to include is a cozy little reading corner, similar to this one from Sunshine on the Inside.

 

Lastly, I love the bit of inspiration for teacher and students with this wall verse from Contented Sparrow.  What a lovely way to remember why we do what we do each day.

What I Did Today

I spent a large portion of today working on the school room closet.  Here is what I started with.

My little ones snuck in one day and pulled a lot of it onto the floor, but I made the rest of the mess myself. 🙂  This is where I stash all our books and supplies we use for our school year.  The first thing I did was pull everything out and start sorting.  I sorted by grade level specific items, then by subject for the areas that my students work on together (science, history, literature, Bible). I also sorted out the art and school supplies and took inventory of what I have, so I now know exactly what I need to stock up on when the “back to school” sales start.

This is where I ended today.

I placed all our books inside the cabinet according to grade level and subject area.

The floor is cleared, the shelves are sorted and I now know where everything is.

As always, when organizing, I downsize.  In addition to two tubs of garbage.  This is the box of books with which I am parting.

I have more to do.  I need to add labels to the cabinet and next week, we are moving the school room downstairs.  But today, I am tired and I am done.  I’ll update as I progress.