Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Snow Days...

Here in the northeastern United States, we have been in the grips of a "Historic Snowstorm." My town got nearly two feet of snow, and other towns in the area got close to three feet! This storm has been terribly inconvenient for lots of people, and my thoughts and prayers are definitely with those without adequate resources to handle such a weather event. I do hope that everyone weathers this storm safely.

However... I have to say that this storm has been a real treat for my family. I have really loved being "snowed in" for a couple of days. It's been like a mini-vacation, having all of our classes and activities cancelled, and having The Man home from work. Our calendar has been VERY full this month, with lots going on, and I've been craving some time at home to just chill out together. This storm has given me my wish! Aside from shoveling and basic home maintenance (cooking, laundry, dishes, etc) we've been taking it easy, enjoying "quality time" together. We've spent hours snuggling under blankets with books, we baked cookies and made soup, and we watched movies. I've done lots of knitting, and the kids have built elaborate things out of legos.

One of our visiting cardinals... isn't he handsome?
One of my favorite snow-day activities has been watching the birds feast at our feeders, which we made sure were well-stocked before the storm began. We have feeders right outside my office window, which gives us a great view of all our beautiful neighborhood birds. Our most common visitors are chickadees, sparrows, tufted titmouses, hairy woodpeckers, juncos and white-breasted nuthatches. But we got a special treat yesterday, when four cardinals came to feast at our feeders... first two beautiful males, then later we saw two lovely females. I managed to snap a photo or two, thought it was difficult to get good pictures through the window.

Tomorrow it's back to "business as usual"... we'll wake up with the alarm, pack lunches, head out to work, appointments, classes and errands. But I feel refreshed from our days off, and ready to get back to our normal routines.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Room Reveal: Laundry Area, Before and After!

Apparently, last weekend was a pretty big deal for football types. Since The Man of the House had football-related plans for much of the weekend, I decided it was the perfect time for me to tackle one of the many long-overdue home projects I've been meaning to get to. So while The Man was occupied yelling obscenities at the TV, I decided to redo our dreadful and dreary basement laundry area.

The laundry area of our home was pretty much the most depressing place in the world to be... dark, ugly, miserable. It's in the unfinished part of our basement, which is VERY unfinished. The walls are a hodge-podge of various scraps of paneling, with glimpses of stone foundation and insulation here and there. There are tangles of wires and pipes everywhere. It's really awful. Just about a year ago, my old washer died, and I replaced it with a beautiful new matching washer and dryer... first matching set I've ever had! I really wanted to make the space a little more worthy of such a nice new washer and dryer, and I wanted to make it a nicer space to be in while I'm washing, drying and folding all those clothes.

I've been giving out "sneak peeks" of this project on Instagram, but now it's time for the big reveal! So here we go... here is the Before (taken in the midst of a day of laundry, no tidying up for the picture! This is the "real deal," embarrassing as it may be:

Awful. Not at all a nice place to do laundry! 

And... After!

Still an ugly basement, but much improved, no? I fixed up the walls by
putting up some white pegboard. To hide the ugly electrical boxes over the
washer, I put up a curtain. Now I can pretend that behind the curtain is a
bright, sunny window. (if I pretend really hard!)

There wasn't much to do about the ugly concrete floor without spending
a ton of money, but I do think this bright cheery rug helps a bit.
 It's also much nicer to stand on than the cold floor.

The shelf over the dryer holds my laundry soap, a cup for pocket change, a
jar of OxiClean for stains, and a crocheted basket for my dryer balls. 

Wool dryer balls... a green alternative to chemically dryer sheets.

Bins for clean, folded laundry, ready to be put away.

A basket for odd socks looking for their mates, and a little tin pail for
 "Lost and Found" (all the legos, rocks, marbles, earbuds and stuff left in pockets) 

It's not perfect, but for $100 and a weekend of work, it's an OK little "facelift" for the space. Anything to make laundry a little more pleasant, right? ;)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Another Meal Planning Idea: Dinner Bins

One conversation that comes up over and over again among my friends and I is how to get healthy dinners on the table every night when we're really busy. This is something that so many of us struggle with. We want to eat well, but after a long busy day, spending an hour or more making a healthy meal just isn't practical, especially when the kids are "staaaarving!" and you've gotta get them out the door to dance class or whatever. I've talked about ways to make it easier before (see this post) but I'm always on the lookout for any extra help I can find in this area.

Several months ago, while browsing meal planning ideas on Pinterest, I came across quite a few pins about using storage bins and baskets to organize ingredients for meals. This seemed like a great idea to me, because although I plan my menus in advance, and shop with a list, many times I'd go to make dinner and I'd find I'd forgotten to buy one critical ingredient. Or worse... that someone had eaten some of the ingredients I needed for that meal.This was particularly annoying when we were pressed for time, and I'd suddenly have to switch gears and come up with something else last minute.

Filling up the bins...
Most of the pins I saw showed the baskets or bins being used in the pantry (which looks totally adorable, especially pretty baskets with cute labels!) but since most of our meal ingredients are fresh produce, I have mine in the fridge.We are very lucky to have a second fridge in the basement, which is where I store my bins, as they take up too much space in our main fridge. On Friday or Saturday, when I do my grocery shopping for the week, I spend and hour or two chopping up veggies and putting the ingredients for each night's meal in the bins. Every night when it's time to make dinner, I just bring up that night's bin and start cooking. For the most part, this system has been working out really well for me. One small regret: I wish I had gotten bigger bins. The ones I got are big enough to hold all the veggies we need for our meals, but it might be nice to be able to toss in the pantry items as well, such as pasta, rice, beans, etc.  I'm sure the system will evolve over time, but as of now, it has made dinnertime much less challenging for me.
Our Dinner Bins, all filled up for the week. There is no
 "Friday" bin, because that is our Leftover Night. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year's Intentions, 2015

It's hard to believe that 2014 has come to an end, and 2015 has begun! 2014 was an incredible year for us. In 2013, we suffered through a great deal of difficulties and challenges which pushed us to our very limits. There were many times it seemed we'd never find our way, but in 2014 we managed to come back stronger than ever. We made some big decisions, went through some big changes, accomplished some important goals and began some new adventures. Among the biggest news of the year was that we closed our daycare, so that I could focus more on the kids and homeschooling, and The Man started a great new career working with young adults on the Autism spectrum. 2015 will see us continuing what we started in 2014, and will hopefully find us continuing to grow and change for the better.

For those who are new to the blog, every year I write up a list of my New Year's Intentions. There are not hard-and-fast "resolutions," but they are things I wish to work on to better myself and my life in the coming year.  You can see my previous New Year's Intentions posts here and here.

Upon reflecting on my Intentions from last year, I found that I really did make good progress toward my goals last year. This year, I will continue on the path toward those goals, and add in a few more...

1. More Art. Once upon a time, Art was a huge part of what made me, "me". I created all the time, and it fed my soul and made me happy. During some difficult times, Art took a backseat to survival and keeping my family afloat. I couldn't seem to make time for it, and more so, I was so overwhelmed by life that I didn't even feel inspired to create anything. Now that my life is on a better path, my creativity is returning. I really want to make Art a daily part of my life once again.

2. Stay strong, get stronger. One of my intentions that keeps coming back year after year is to fit more exercise into my life. I feel like I did pretty well with that in 2014, at least for the first 9 months of the year. The last three months I did get a bit lazy. I got frustrated because even with all the extra exercise, the outward appearance of my body didn't change much. I didn't lose weight (though I also didn't gain any) I think I expected that with daily exercise my 43-year-old body would go back to looking like my 30's body. It didn't. But I did notice that runs were easier, and I just felt stronger and healthier overall when I was exercising daily. So THAT needs to be my focus this year: stay strong, get stronger. My 40's body is softer, thicker and rounder than my younger body was, and I'm still trying to convince myself that that's OK, and that I should accept that I may not be able to change that. But I can still be strong and healthy, so that is what I'm working toward for 2015.

3. Make a realistic budget and stick to it. When we closed up our daycare this year, we tried hard to make a careful financial plan before we took the leap. You know what they say about the best laid plans! We had some unexpected things come up (like needing a new car and major electrical work done on the house, for example) that knocked us off track. But I am hopeful that this year we can set up a good, workable budget and manage to live comfortably within our means.

4. More spontaneous fun.  As I mentioned in this post from October, we have managed to find ourselves quite busy this school year. Now that I'm not working full time, we have the opportunity to do more activities, so we filled our calendar with lots of scheduled things. It's great that I can give my kids the opportunity to do lots of fun classes and extracurriculars, but we're finding that we really don't have much free time for spontaneous adventures. One of the things I love best about homeschooling is being able to just go to the park or museum or whatever in the middle of a schoolday, but somehow we've lost that. I plan to try to allow more time in our weekly schedule to just do whatever we feel like doing at the moment.

5. Spend more time outside. Another side effect of our busy schedule is that we don't get outside as much as we should. So, I intend to get us more fresh air and vitamin D in 2015! More time in the woods, more walking instead of driving, more time in the yard and garden.

6. Try new things, now, not "someday." The circumstances of the last couple of years have been harsh reminders that sometimes "someday" is too late. There are lots of things that I've always wanted to try "someday," like learning about beekeeping, learning to spin yarn and taking a big road trip. This year, I'm going to make at least some of them happen!

7. Start a Happiness Jar. I saw this on Facebook and Pinterest a while back, and just fell in love with the idea. Apparently this idea was started by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love. The idea is that you get a jar, and each time something wonderful happens, you write it down and put it in the jar. At the end of the year, you go back and read all the wonderful things that happened in your life throughout the year. How cool is that? I look forward to using this as a way to practice Gratitude and to focus on the positive aspects of my life. Gratitude breeds happiness!

So those are my Intentions for 2015. May this New Year bring Health, Happiness, Peace, Love, Joy and Prosperity to all.
Our Happiness Jar, waiting to be filled with 2015's fond memories.