Monday, September 5, 2016

"So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Good Night..."

I started this blog on July 5, 2012, as a way to chronicle my family's journey toward a simpler, more rewarding life. Over the last four+ years, I've shared recipes, crafts, home projects, ideas, thoughts, and so much more. I've written about the many changes our big, blended family has gone through... our joys, our sorrows and our struggles.

But now... this particular story of our family has come to an end, and thus, I feel like this blog must come to an end, as well. Last month, The Man of the House and I ended our relationship of over 7 years. It's really for the best, and, truth be told, it's something we probably should have done long ago. But the decision to break up a family is one that is not taken lightly, especially when there are kids involved.

At first, I was terrified of the idea of being single again at 45 years old... I'd hoped I'd find my Happily Ever After, but it turns out I picked the wrong person for that. And for years, I tried to either turn him into the right person, or to convince myself that he could be the right person, but of course neither of those things ever work. You can't make someone into something they're not. I'm also realizing that it's all really going to be OK. I have so much Good in my life... I have amazing kids, who keep me very busy, a nice, comfortable home in a nice community, some really supportive family, really great friends, a job I absolutely love, lots of hobbies... my life is full and rich and I am BLESSED beyond belief.

We are all working through these big changes in our own ways. Overall, I can honestly say that I am happier. I'm more relaxed, less stressed, and have taken this time to focus on pursuing some long-neglected interests, and to just taking care of myself and my kids . I do have a bit of "mom guilt" over the lack of stability in my children's lives, but they really do seem to be taking everything in stride, and I think having a happier Mom will definitely make for some happier kids in the long run.

And while The Man of the House is no longer The Man of the House, things are amicable between us. We still talk everyday. I helped him move into his new place. We share a meal now and then. He's staying connected to the kids, too, and I'm grateful for that. He's been a valuable father figure to them all these years, and that doesn't just end when the adults part ways. I can't speak for him, but for myself, I'm trying to let the past be the past. I'm taking this all as a learning experience, and I'm moving forward, ready to see what's next.

So, I thank all of you who have followed our Journey here on this blog. It's been an adventure, for sure! And now... onward to NEW adventures... to the "life that is waiting for us... "


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

First Honey Harvest!

So the world has been going crazy lately, and I've started about 20 different blog posts the last 6 weeks, which I just haven't been able to find the words to finish. Rape culture, homophobia, mass shootings, racism, police brutality, murder of police officers... gah. Seriously, life is really hard for much of America right now, and like most people, I feel helpless and frightened, and I really don't know what to say. I'm trying, instead, to keep listening, to speak up when needed, and to try to keep my kids feeling safe and happy in an unsafe world. That's pretty much the best I can do at the moment.

So I'm not going to write about the troubles in the world. Instead, I'm going to focus on my own little cocoon, my wee little Suburban Farm, and I'm going to tell you all about getting our first Honey Harvest from our hive! Minding my bees has been a wonderful escape for me, and getting to harvest a whole mess of delicious, sticky-sweet honey has been such a treat.

I put the honey super on the end of May, and when I took a peek mid-June, I was impressed to see that they'd made amazing progress!

By the beginning of July, the whole super was filled with capped honey! I couldn't believe how quickly my ladies worked! And I couldn't believe that after a little over a year as a beekeeper (and after a few setbacks!) I was finally getting to harvest my first batch of honey. 
Capped honey, ready to harvest!

Scraping off the comb and honey


We put all the comb and honey into a cheesecloth-lined colander
over a big pot. The honey drips down, and the wax stays behind. 

Ladling the fresh, raw honey into jars

I'm so grateful for this little bit of joy and normalcy in my life... more grateful now than ever. I hope that you're also able to find a small amount of peace as we make our way in this crazy world.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

My New Favorite Lunch Recipe...

Most days, lunch for me is a big salad and/or some soup, or some leftovers from the previous night's dinner... but sometimes I get a craving for a really good sandwich. Who doesn't, right? My typical sandwich choices are hummus or cashew cheese, piled with lettuce, tomato and other veggies on sprouted grain bread (or a wrap) 

But lately... I have a new Sandwich Love... it's called Chickpea-Avocado Salad and it's DELICIOUS. It's sort of similar to the non-vegan sandwich staples chicken salad or egg salad. But vegan, and amazing in every way. It not only tastes great, it's also super nutritious and really satisfying. It's the perfect sandwich for summer picnic.

Chickpea-Avocado Salad Sandwich
1.5 cups of cooked chickpeas, mashed
1 large ripe avocado
1/2 med purple onion, finely chopped
splash of lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Put everything in a bowl, and mash/stir until well blended. Serve on toasted bread with lettuce, tomato and any other veggies you like (sprouts work great!) Alternatively, you can serve it up in a wrap, in lettuce leaves, on crackers... etc. You can make this salad up ahead of time... it will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.


Friday, May 13, 2016

Routines! Part 2

So, last post I talked about how my daily routines help me keep up with my busy life. Today I'm going to talk about my weekly routines.

While my daily routines keep up with the basic daily needs of my home and family (basic tidying, daily meals, laundry, etc) my weekly routines take care of everything else I need to get done to keep my home running smoothly, such as paying bills, planning meals, errands, cleaning, etc.

In order to balance home needs with our very busy schedule of homeschooling stuff, activities and work obligations, I spread out household responsibilities throughout the week. That way, I only have a few things to do each day, so I can squeeze them in at the beginning and end of the day, or between our activities or obligations during the day.

Quick Home Blessing (a throwback to when I used to follow Flylady, back in the day)
Good bathroom cleaning
15-20 minutes of detail cleaning in one room (wherever needs it)

15-20 minutes of detail cleaning in one room
Sort mail, tend to paperwork

15-20 minutes of detail cleaning in one room
Errands: Target and Trader Joes

Write up menus and shopping list for the week
Whole Foods, any other necessary errands

Clean out Fridge
Big grocery shop for the week
Sort mail, tend to paperwork, pay bills, etc

Saturday and Sunday 
Food prep (to makes weekday meal prep a little easier!)
Home and Garden Projects

I keep all of this together on printed "to do" lists for each day, which also include the regular classes
and activities we have scheduled for that day. For one-time events, or something specific to a single day, I also have a post-it "to do" list attached to write those things down. I keep these lists on a clipboard on my desk, so I can refer to it as needed throughout the day. I also keep a journal near by, to jot down things such as recipe ideas, plans for special events like birthdays or holidays, notes about things to do with the kids, etc.

The transition back to work has been so much smoother than I thought it would be, largely due to these basic routines. As I increase my work hours in the coming months, I'm hoping these routines will continue to keep my home in shape and my family happy.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Routines! Part 1

It's been a very busy couple of months around here, as I've been launching my new business, SimpleLife Home Solutions, while still managing my home and family and homeschooling 4 kids! I'm trying really hard to keep the balance, and so far, so good! Being my own boss, I'm in charge of my own schedule, and can arrange my client appointments and office time around the kids schedules, so that is very helpful.

But the absolute most important thing I have, that makes it possible for me to juggle work, home and family, is that I have some really solid routines in place... things that I do each day that make my life run a little bit smoother. Over the years I've developed a variety of daily and weekly routines that help me keep up with everything I'm responsible for. The most important of these are my Morning, Afternoon and Evening Routines.

Getting my day off to a good start in the morning actually begins the night before, with my Evening Routine:

1. Pack The Man's lunch for tomorrow

2. Set up the coffee pot

3. Finish folding the day's laundry (see more about my laundry routines here)

4. Do a quick 10 minute "tidy up" around the house (This one is super important. Doing a quick clean up each night means I start every morning with a tidy home! This makes a HUGE difference in my attitude in the morning!)

5. Check my calendar, and make sure we have everything we need for the next day's activities, classes, appointments, etc.

6. Make my "to do" list for tomorrow.

7. Lay out my clothes for tomorrow.

This routine usually only takes about 45 minutes or so. After I'm done, I end my day with a nice hot shower to wash away the stress of day, and I make it a priority to spend some time with The Man of the House (so important to a relationship to make sure to reconnect each evening, after a busy day apart)

After a good night's sleep (or as close to a good night's sleep as I get these days... ), I'm ready to tackle a new day with my Morning Routine:

1. Get myself up and ready. (Once upon a time, I'd make the bed, but now The Man does it, as he's the last one up!)

2. Wipe down the bathroom.

3. Put the teakettle on to boil.

4. Empty the dishwasher.

5. Fix breakfast, dole out vitamins, fill The Man's thermos for work.

6. Put in first load of laundry.

7. Cat boxes

8. Sit down with my coffee to check email, etc

9. Before we head out the door, I make sure the kitchen is tidied up, and switch the laundry.

Once these things are done, I can go about tackling whatever is on our agenda for the day. Our schedule varies greatly depending on the day of the week, but the middle of our day generally consists of various classes, chores, activities, appointments, schoolwork for the kids and work for me.

By around 4-4:30, I start my Afternoon Routine...

1. Keep the laundry going

2. Start dinner prep

3. Empty dishwasher, if needed (with a family of 6, our dishwasher usually gets run twice a day, after breakfast and lunch, and after dinner)

When these three basic routines get done, the most basic needs of my family are met: our home is fairly tidy, we're fed, and we have clean clothes. If all else falls apart in our day (which does sometimes happen!) at least we have that.

Next post, I'll be talking about weekly routines, and how those build on my daily routines to keep our lives running smoothly.

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.

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!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Room Reveal... New Bathroom!

 One of our big projects this winter has been to give our main bathroom a much-needed face lift. I've hated this bathroom since I bought this house nearly 9 years ago, but since it was mainly a cosmetic issue, it ended up pretty low on the priority list.

When I first moved in, the bathroom had 1960's aqua-blue tiles on the lower half of the walls, with hideous pink and blue sponge painting on the upper half of the walls. Really. Ugly. To make it tolerable while we waited to fully renovate, I painted over the tile and sponge painting, which was definitely an improvement. But in my desire to escape the onslaught of pink and blue, I went a little ~too~ neutral, so for 8 years we've lived with this very bland and boring bathroom. We definitely needed to do something with this space. Here are some "Before" pics...
Before. ~yawn~

Before, with the aqua tile painted beige

Before. Note the broken drawer in the vanity, and the sink that
is off-center from the mirror. This off-center sink drove
me MAD for almost 9 years. Seriously. Who does that!? 

This project was finally kick-started due to a plumbing problem we had in the fall, which required our plumber to cut a big hole in the wall. We figured since the demolition was already started, we might as well go all the way. 
So it begins... 

We pried all the old tiles off the walls, and pulled out the old vanity and mirror...

Next, we had a carpenter come in to install bead board, trim and baseboards. We thought about doing this ourselves, but worried it was beyond our skill set, so we decided it was best to call in a professional. We're very glad we did. Nothing in our old home is square, so we'd have probably made a mess of things.

Once the carpenter finished, we painted the walls green and the bead board and trim a creamy white. After years of boring beige, it was fun to get a little color in here.

After we put in new light fixtures and the plumber installed the new sink, we were ready for the final touches on our new bathroom!

(**Drumroll.... **)


Shower curtain, from Target,
which inspired our color scheme. 

Found this fun reproduction antique TP holder
on Ebay... it says "London Paper Co"

Old ladder to hold towels, and a cute little
sign I found in a clearance bin. I think
"I will be Grateful for this day" is a great
message for us all to look at as we wash
up each morning and prepare for our day 

Shelves made from a stack of old crates to
hold necessities like wash cloths, Qtips,
cotton balls, epsom salts, etc.

The wood boxes under the sink hold
cleaning supplies, while the big jar
 holds assorted handmade soaps.

I'm really happy with how this room turned out. It suits our casual style, and feels like it "fits" much better in our 1890's house. Since we reused much of what was there already (tub, toilet and tile floor were all left as-is) we were able to get this done pretty cheap.

So here's something... this renovation is a milestone of sorts. It took nearly 9 years, but we've finally redone every room in the house... this bathroom was the last one. But now, some of the rooms we did early on are starting to look a bit ragged again... nothing too major, but definitely needing a little patching and repainting. When I bought my first house, someone told me that your home is never really "done"... there is always something else that comes up. They weren't kidding!

But all that can wait for the time being. We're taking a little breather on home projects, now that the bathroom is finished. We're enjoying a nice "snow day" today, and after the weekend we'll be getting ready for Maple Sugaring Season! I can't wait!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

January Highlights, "Sneak Peaks" and Big Plans...

I remember writing up my New Year's Intentions post, on New Year's Eve, just so excited to see what January 1 would have in store for us. Well, turns out January had SO much in store, I was far too busy living my life to write about it! Here were some highlights:

1. We finished up a deeee-lightful Winter Break, and got back into our full roster of activities, classes, etc. Homeschooling four active kids between the ages of 11 and 17 is always an adventure ;)

2. We've been getting my middle boy ready for SCHOOL! Yup, after homeschooling for his whole life, he's decided he wants to try high school next year... so, we've been spending lots of time perusing literature, attending orientations, parent nights and info sessions and meeting with guidance counselors. Exciting stuff! I think this will be a positive experience for him.
"Sneak Peak" at my
new bathroom! Full
reveal coming soon!

3. We've been renovating the bathroom. It's nearly finished, and there will be a "Room Reveal" post coming soon, with Before and After pics!

Meanwhile... we've also been enjoying some other nice winter-time diversions, such as cookie-baking, winter walks, hot chocolate and lattes, reading, crafting, ice-skating... typical January-type stuff.

But now... it's FEBRUARY... which means it's time to start thinking ahead to What's Next. In our case, that means we're going to start preparing to tap the trees for Maple Sugaring, and we're going to start planning this year's garden and ordering seeds.

The First Day of SPRING is less than 7 weeks away!