Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Babies and Devices: Observations from the Grocery Store

This may come across as a "back in MY day... " rant, and I hope it doesn't. But I can't help but write about something I've noticed going on around me in cafes, stores and markets lately. Nearly EVERY young child, with the exception of a very small handful, are sitting in shopping carts or at tables with a device in their hands, be it iPads, mom's phone, whatever. Almost every single one! What is up with that?! The other day I saw a little girl who looked to be barely a year old, playing with her mom's phone. I find this so, so disturbing.

I've written about my feelings on technology here in the past (see "Technology, Media and Simplicity") but boy-oh-boy in the two years since I wrote that post, it seems to me that tech is now even more pervasive than ever, and that is NOT a good thing.

In addition to the damage being done to young brains from these devices (see this article) I'm also really concerned about what these kids are missing out on by being hooked up to a screen while out in public. Back in the "before device" days, when my kids were toddlers and preschoolers, going out and about to stores, cafes and restaurants was a regular part of our life, and going to these places gave my kids the chance to interact with other humans in meaningful ways. Every Friday I would take my kids out grocery shopping. While we made our way through the store, we talked about what kind of cereal we'd buy, counted oranges, and discussed what colors the apples were. They behaved in the store (usually) without a device because they were involved and engaged, and not "tuning out" with a smartphone. Also on shopping day, we'd stop to get a smoothie at the juice bar. Bette, The Juice Bar Lady, would make small talk with the kids while she fixed their smoothie... telling them she liked their new hats, or asking if they're excited about their new little brother, or what's your favorite fruit? Would Bette have bothered to try to engage my kids if they'd had their noses buried in a screen? I'm thinking maybe not. When we waiting for our food at restaurants, my kids were occupied reading picture books, drawing, playing tic-tac-toe or I Spy. They were actively engaged with the other humans at the table, instead of a smartphone. And these interactions, me, with Bette, and various cashiers, waitstaff, fellow shoppers and restaurant patrons, were such valuable experiences for my kids. They learned so much about the world on all those outings. All these babies I see with device in their hands? They are totally missing out on these experiences... and what will be the long-term effect of this?

I'm not sure I want to know.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Before and After: Recycling Center

In a most embarrassing display of gender stereotyping, the trash and recycling in our home is the job of the two oldest men in the house. I generally try to stay as far away from this job as possible, because, really, I have enough of my own chores to do, and that particular one is my least favorite (ok, maybe second-least-favorite, after cleaning the cat boxes!)

But... the state of our recycling area in the basement had gotten to the point where I simply HAD to intervene. Seriously. It was a disaster. Did it serve the purpose, which is to contain the recycles until trash day? For the most part, yes. But was it nice to walk by and see? Not at all.

Now, I really would have loved to buy nice bins and really make the area pretty, but... since it's in an unfinished area of our basement and not in the main house, it didn't really seem like it was really worth it to spend good money on this project, so I just made do with what we already had. This means it's not exactly "Pinterest worthy" or anything... but I do think it's definitely tidier and the space is being used more efficiently.

Here is the "Before" photo:

See? Not very pretty, with everything just sort of shoved into the corner in the basement. There is also a door to the right, which sometimes gets blocked a bit by the overflow... not very efficient. I wanted this stuff to take up less space, and look a little bit more organized. 

 And now... AFTER:

To help keep the door from being blocked, I decided to use the walls to get some of the stuff up off the floor and out of the way. While it's not the prettiest, it's definitely a huge improvement from before. Just for fun, I hung up and old "No Trespassing" sign we had lying around. And who knows... maybe one of these days I will replace the bins and barrel with things that look nicer... but for now, I'm happy enough with this area. 

Since I've been working on organizing other people's homes, it's motivated me to take a look at a few slightly neglected corners of own home, which has been a good thing. It's funny how it is... we all have these little spots in our homes that are cluttered or just plain not working for us, and we keep putting off doing anything about them, because we think the job will be too big, or will take too long. In my experience, these areas can almost always be straightened with much less time and effort than we think. This recycling area, which has been driving me nuts for literally YEARS was redone in just about 45 minutes. 45 minutes?! Why on Earth didn't I do it sooner?? 

So here's my little challenge for you... find a little spot in your home that you've been neglecting, and just DO IT. I bet you'll be glad you did!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Introducing... SimpleLife Home Solutions

So, I have some big things to share! After taking a year and a half off to give my family my full attention, I'm back to work. I have REALLY enjoyed the time I have been off and I'm going to miss being "just a mom" more than anything... but bills have got to be paid, so, back to work it is.

Because I'm still full time homeschooling four kids, my employment options are somewhat limited. I thought long and hard about what I could do that would allow me to still care for my home and family and homeschool, but would also bring in a paycheck. Now that my kids are getting older, I also wanted to find a job that I could build on in the future, when I'm no longer a full-time mom. And finally, I wanted to find work that I could feel passionate about... work that would be creatively stimulating, and would maybe make a difference in people's lives. Sounds like a pretty tall order, no?

So I started a my own business! I'm working as a Professional Organizer, and I'm really, really excited about it. I've always LOVED organizing and, as those who've read this blog before know, I love teaching others about simplifying and finding the peace that comes with that. I'm discovering that it's really satisfying to help people find solutions to the areas of their homes and lives that are causing them stress, so their lives can run more smoothly. I officially launched SimpleLife Home Solutions last month, and have been very busy getting set up and rolling. If you'd like, you can see the Facebook page here:

Getting back to work has not been without it's challenges. I'm still very much finding my "sea legs" as far as juggling the new business while already working a full-time "job" managing my home, family and homeschooling. I'm also currently enrolled in an online class! The days have been very long, and I'm still figuring out how to get everything done that needs doing. Some days are better than others, and I do confess that sometimes by the end of a 16 hour day, I'm GRUMPY. I do plan to work on ways to get the family to pitch in more, so I don't end up burning out. This "balancing" thing is all very much a work-in-progress, though having done this before (as in, worked a full-time job while being a homeschooling mom) I have learned a lot about what NOT to do, so I do feel somewhat better equipped this time around.

So that's what's up! I'm really looking forward to really getting into a groove with this new career.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

My New Coffee Station!

I haven't had a whole lot of time to write anything here of late... because I've been a busybusy bee, starting  up a new business and taking an online class, along with my regular Homeschoolin' Mom Duties. I'll have more to share about the new business venture soon, along with links to my shiny new website, once it's finished! I'm trying to get back into the groove of balancing work and family again, after taking some time off, so I've been feeling more than a little scatter-brained these last few weeks. 

Which brings me to the subject of this post: Coffee! Yes, coffee. Because I've had a lot on my plate, I've been needing a bit more coffee to keep myself going these days. But here's a funny story... it's been years since I've had a coffee maker. I've been making do with a french press (that I've really never gotten the hang of... ) or with Trader Joe's Cold Brew  or with a stop to Dunkin's or Starbucks (which is a little rough on the wallet) So earlier this week I broke down and just got myself a cheap coffee maker. And then, because this is how I roll, I ended up totally reorganizing my counters to make room for the coffee maker, which then led me to just make a little Pinterest-inspired "Coffee Station". I'd be lying if I didn't say that this was also inspired by my wishing to avoid dealing with the paper piles on my desk and backlog of emails in my inbox. But, whatever the inspiration, I have to say, I LOVE my new little coffee station! 

Here's a look... 

My "coffee station" is pretty small and bare-bones
compared to some, but it suits my needs perfectly. 

On a thrift-shop tray, I have canisters for tea, coffee and coffee
filters, a coffee scoop, spoons in a vintage pitcher, and a wee
cream and sugar set that belonged to my grandmother. 

Mmm... coffee!

Monday, March 14, 2016

2016 Sugaring Season Wrap Up (and... "How to Preserve Your Syrup")

This weekend we wrapped up a busy season of Maple Sugaring! Although our season was only about 4 weeks long, the weather conditions during those four weeks were absolutely perfect for maple sap flow... cold nights, warmer days. From our nine taps, we were gathering anywhere from 4 to 12 gallons per day! We had so much sap coming in, we actually ran out of places to store it. Sap must be kept cold, or it will spoil, so we had our spare fridge and freezer filled, as well as our chest freezer, and still couldn't find space for all that was coming in. We did a couple of mid-week boils, but still had to dump a few buckets that we had no room to store. We did five boils total, turning about 112 gallons of sap into over two gallons of syrup.

Last year, we only produced about 2 quarts of syrup, so there really wasn't a need to preserve it. A few pancake breakfasts with our big family, and it was all gone. But this year, we have enough that we'll be able use it through out the year! In order to keep it fresh, we canned our syrup in mason jars. I read a few different things about this... some say you can just pour the hot syrup into the sterile jars, and call it a day. But, I tend to be a bit paranoid about food poisoning (reasonable, yes?) so I chose to process my jars in a hot water bath, the same as one would with jam, pickles or apple butter.

Now that the last of our syrup is all canned up, it's time for my least favorite part of maple sugaring... the clean up. I'm currently working on cleaning all our equipment... the buckets, taps, tubing, etc... so we can store them away for next year. It's not really fun. But... the end of maple season means we're onward to our next adventures here on the Homestead. SPRING is about to begin, so we'll be starting our garden, tending our beehive and enjoying more time outdoors. So much to look forward to!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

DIY Maple Syrup Evaporator

We're currently fully immersed in Maple Sugaring Season here at the Homestead. We tapped our trees about two and a half weeks ago, and the sap has been flowing like crazy! We've done three boils so far, and will be doing another this weekend. With more the twice the number of taps we had last year, we've ended up with more sap than we can keep up with!

Last year was our first year sugaring, and we definitely made a few mistakes along the way. But we've learned quite a bit from those mistakes, and came away with several ideas for improvements. The biggest change from last year is that we redesigned our homemade evaporator. Our set up last year was VERY primitive, as you can see in the photo below...
2015 evaporator
While this basically got the job done, it had several downsides. For one, it was open at both ends, so it didn't hold the heat well... it was really hard to keep the sap at a good rolling boil. Also, it was very smoky, and in the end the syrup definitely had a vaguely smoky taste. Not quite what we had in mind.

For this year's boil, we did a lot of research, and looked at a lot of different evaporator set ups. We ended up with this: 

2016 evaporator

This set up worked SO much better! The back is closed up with cinder blocks, and we added a chimney. We also set the pans directly on the cinder blocks, closer to the fire. This evaporator was so much more efficient than last year's that our sap boiled down in much less time. It was really easy to build... It only took us about 10 minutes to put together, using about $40 worth of materials from Home Depot (12 cinder blocks, vent pipe, and a few bricks that we already had) We were so happy with this, that we plan to use this same set up next year, as well.

Next post, I'll be sharing how I've preserved all the syrup we've made. Until then... stay warm, friends... Spring is just 16 days away!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

It's Maple Sugaring Season!

The forecast for the coming weeks in our area of the country predicts temps in the upper 30's-40's during the day and 20's-low 30's at night... which means that Maple Sugaring Season has begun! These are the perfect weather conditions for the maple sap to flow... above-freezing temps during the day, with below-freezing temps at night.

This has been the week of Maple Sugaring Preparations for us... we cleaned and sterilized our equipment, bought a couple of new buckets and spiles, tapped the trees and started gathering up piles and piles of kindling and wood for our first boil (hopefully!) next weekend.

This is our second year of sugaring. Last year, we had four taps in two big maple trees. We ended up with about 35 gallons of sap, which boiled down to about 2 quarts of syrup (you can read all about last year's sugaring here) This year, we've stepped it up to nine taps in 7 trees! I can't wait to see how much sap we end up with.
All ready to tap!

drilling holes for the spiles

We use plastic spiles with plastic tubing that
 that goes into 5 gallon buckets for most of
our trees... it's a little cleaner and more efficient
than the old fashioned metal spiles and pails. 

However... a couple of the trees are on a big
slope, so we had a hard time keeping the plastic
buckets from tipping over. On those trees, we're
trying the old-fashioned buckets that hang
right up on the tree. I think they're quite charming.

Big ol' maple with two taps.

We've started collecting kindling, for when it's time to boil.

If all goes as planned, I'll be reporting back next week with how our first boil of the season went! Until then... stay warm... less than 6 weeks till the first day of Spring!