Monday, February 13, 2012

A Surprising Kitchen Essential

You know what I keep in my kitchen drawer?

I am perfectly fine with a messy kitchen utensil drawer.

A balloon. Any guesses why? A balloon makes THE absolute best jar opener. Have a stuck jar lid? Grab a balloon, use it to grasp the lid, and turn. Simple, cheap, easy, and works every time! Before I discovered the balloon I would use a rubber band for this--and it worked. But it took a little time to get it wrapped around the lid properly, and you had to have a size that worked. Then one day I couldn't find a rubber band in my junk drawer and spotted a balloon. A balloon works even better!

So go go find a balloon and toss it in your kitchen drawer. I promise it will come in handy. And it will be a great conversation starter when you've got someone helping you out in the kitchen.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Repurposed Toy Packaging

I LOVE Melissa & Doug toys. They are simple, well made, and classic. My daughters received two fabulous toys for Christmas this year: a magnetic doll (you can see in action here) and pet lacing boards. Each toy was packaged in a sturdy wooden divided tray covered in clear plastic. I ran into a problem after my girls started playing with the toys. Everything fit nicely in the trays, but it would all fall out so easily...especially in my (clears throat here) "storage" area. One day I got tired of picking up the pieces that kept falling out, so I decided to throw each of the toys into a plastic Ziploc bag.  I looked at the empty trays and thought, "What a waste!" And then I realized the trays would be perfect for my bathroom drawers. Cleaning up my bathroom drawers is one of my organizing goals for the year. I've never used divided trays in the drawers, but I know they can be a great way to keep drawers neat and tidy over time. I'm looking forward to using these as a way to give them a try as a storage solution! I will be sure to post an update when the drawers are finished.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

I'm Featured at Ask Anna Today!

This is an exciting day for me. I'm being featured over at Ask Anna. It's a post I wrote about removing grease stains from clothing. I swear grease finds me. Whether I'm cooking, washing dishes, eating, or attempting to keep my kids' greasy fingers off of me, it finds me. When I have a huge pregnant belly, it's exponentially worse. I remember the last time I was pregnant my already meager wardrobe of maternity clothes dwindled all too quickly, with me chucking spotted shirts weekly. I'm just relieved to have found this solution and want to share it with you. If you're not familiar with Anna's blog, it's an awesome resource for all things cleaning. If you have a problem, Anna has a solution, or she will find one for you. Now go check it out!

And if you're coming here from Ask Anna, welcome! Take a look around. I'm a messy girl who blogs about cleaning, organizing, and what's happening in my life.

Monday, February 6, 2012

How to Revive a Fuzzy Sofa

Back in August we bought a new sofa. "Sofa" may be an understatement, as it's a 9-piece sectional that runs the length of two entire walls of our living room. We struggled to decide whether to get leather or fabric. We've got young kids and dogs. We had a durable leather sofa that lasted us many years, but we've also has a leather love seat ruined within the first month thanks to dog toenails. In the end, we decided on this huge fabric sectional, with the understanding that it probably won't last forever. We get it. But within the first month or so of enjoying our new couch, we noticed a few of the cushions were getting a little fuzzy, for lack of a better word. It didn't take long to figure out the cause:

It was our dogs, of course. Specifically, it was the little spinning ritual they do before they lie down. Here's what the cushion looked like before the damage (it's actually the vertical cushion for comparison).

And here's what the cushion looks like with the damage from the dogs. Not something you want to see a month after you shell out a fair amount of cash for new furniture.

Since noticing the damage, we attempt to keep the sofa cushions covered with blankets during the day. It's not a perfect solution, as the girls will often use the blankets to keep warm or build a fort. And the blankets inevitably end up on the floor, making the room look even more cluttered than it already is. And, of course, the damage had already been done. Once I noticed the cushions were beginning to resemble a worn sweater, I knew I had to give my Sweater Stone a try. I bought my Sweater Stone several years ago at Faribault Woolen Mill*. It has worked wonders to spruce up my tired fuzzy, pilly sweaters over the years. I put the stone to work on the cushion (it literally took less than a minute) and saw great results. 

Here's the after photo. Drum roll please..................

It's not back to it's original condition, but it's much, much better. The damage is no longer the first thing you notice when you look at the sofa. Even knowing it's history. 

And here's the floor after using the Sweater Stone. 

The Sweater Stone. I can't imagine a cheaper, easier, and better way to revive my fuzzy sofa (and sweaters)!

*I have no idea if they still sell the Sweater Stone.

**This is not a paid advertisement--just a great solution I wanted to share with you!

January Reads

Near the beginning of each month, I will be posting what I read in the previous month and a brief description of the book and my thoughts. I don't do lengthily summaries, you can find those anywhere and I encourage you to do so if you're interested. I will be brief, and probably a little vague.

1. Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
A young girl and her family is arrested by French police in the 1942 Vel d'Hiv roundup, and her brother's survival depends on her. A journalist writing about the 60th anniversary of the Vel d'Hiv uncovers a family secret that connects her to the young girl. This is a wonderful page-turning read full of heartache. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

2. Skipping a Beat by Sarah Pekkanen
High school sweethearts move from rags to riches through hard work but find their marriage has suffered. Husband has near-death experience and decides to turn their world upside down. Wife must confront her own feelings and what that means. I had really high hopes for this book, but I ended up disappointed. Call it cliche, but it was hard to sympathize with this wealthy couple, and I didn't really like the wife all that well. I think the real story would be what happens after the book ends, but in the end, the author doesn't explore the deeper issues that were present throughout the rest of the book. The writing is pretty solid, however, and the characters were well fleshed out. I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

3. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy
A mysterious man and his loyal supporters rescue Frances aristocrats during the French Revolution's Reign of Terror. The beautiful Marguerite is thrust into the action in an effort to save her beloved brother. I picked up this classic in the Target bargain aisle based on this little excerpt on the back of the book: 
"We seek him here, we seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven?--Is he in hell?
That deemed elusive Pimpernel?"
I knew nothing about the book and know no one else personally who has read it. I don't know if it's because I had little expectations or if I was just in the right frame of mind, but I loved it! I couldn't wait to read it each night. It was like a Jane Austen Adventure story. Which sounds bizarre but clearly worked for me. I would absolutely love to see a modern movie version of this book. I've attempted to watch there version available on Netflix, but it's a huge bust.  I can't get past the first five minutes. I give the book 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

4. Bossypants by Tina Fey
A memoir by Saturday Night Live alum and 30-Rock writer/producer/star Tina Fey. I would call this "memoir light." I feel like we get some fun stories, hilarious self-depricating humor, and teases of celebrity dish. I'm pretty sure if I became famous and wrote a memoir it would be like this one. There's probably some juicy stuff that's been left out (as any self-respecting mother and currently employed Hollywood-type would do). But there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, so I give it 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

I keep my Bible on the nightstand and try to read from it most nights. I'm amazed over and over again the the depth of teaching, hope, and wisdom and the beauty of the language found in the Bible. It continues to blow my mind. I like that.

Those are my January reads. I've mentioned it before, but I'm a member of Goodreads. It's a free site where you can track what you've read, rate books, review books, read reviews from others (including me!). I find it much easier to find new reading material now. As is evident by the growing pile of books in my to-read pile! If you belong to Goodreads or decide to join, you can find me (and friend me) by clicking the Goodreads link on the right side of this blog.

Have you read anything good lately?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Random Friday

1. It's finally starting to resemble winter here in Minnesota (although it was 46!? degrees here on Tuesday), and my daughters decided to dress up their magnetic doll for the cold weather. I thought they did pretty well considering the wardrobe consists only of ballet costumes. My daughter got very concerned when she realized we didn't have any mittens for the doll. I suggested shoes, which she thought was a brilliant idea. Now if it's ever so cold here that I need to start wearing shoes on my hands and face and flowers in my hair to keep me warm, it might be time to consider a move...or at least a wardrobe update*.

2. I made these no-bake chocolate chip granola bars this week.  They were easy to throw together and turned out pretty good. I made all kinds of changes (subbed bran flakes for rice cereal and added coconut, cinnamon, and pecans) trying to get them to resemble my favorite cookie dough and found I needed to refrigerate them for a good long time before I could get them to set up like bars (our first taste we ate from bowls with spoons). I was happy with my first attempt at making granola bars. I'm still not a fan of honey though, so I think I'll try out a different recipe next time.  

3. My three-year-old loves to talk about God and asks me all kinds of questions. One morning this week:

(In response to her sister's roar) Oh no! A lion! Mom, call God. 
Mom will you ask God to pick up our house so we can dig for dinosaur bones under it?
Mom, does God have good hearing?

*After last Friday's Random, you'll be happy to know I did by a new stocking hat at Target this week. It's not fancy, but it is pink and it was only $1.40.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Organizing Goals 2012 - #9 A Chore Chart (For Me)

This is the final entry for my storage/organization/cleaning goals, plans, and progress for 2012. The first post in the series can be found here.

9. A Chore Chart (For Me): A while back I jokingly mentioned that I need a chore chart for myself. A little gold-star motivation. I've never had a daily (or even weekly) cleaning schedule--I'm more of a clean before company kind of gal-- but I think I need to change that this year. I've seen some great examples of cleaning schedules on Pinterest, and my friend Bethany shared her weekly cleaning schedule recently. I like the idea of having a few things that need to be done every day and then divvying up the rest of the cleaning throughout the week. I always feel like maintenance is nearly impossible in my house between the dogs and the kids and the husband and the unpredictable work schedule, but I think I need to really give it a good effort this year. I always feel so much better when my house is clean. I hate that the messy state of my house is always in the back of my mind. And I've been catching myself a lot lately wanting to invite different people over at the last minute and feeling like I just can't do it. I don't want to be like that! I know my house will never be immaculate, but I do know I can do better. And I'm a sucker for crossing things off a list, so a laminated chore chart may just do the trick!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Organizing Goals 2012 - #8 Create a Storage Solution for Kitchen Entry/Island

8. Create a Storage Solution for Kitchen Entry/Island: Sometimes I feel that if I solved this one problem area in my home, all my troubles would go away. I'm realistic enough to know that probably isn't true, but I'm really hoping to give it my best shot.  Our kitchen entry becomes a dumping ground for coats, shoes, hats, mittens, gloves, backpacks, purses, and miscellaneous stuff--a LOT of miscellaneous stuff. There are several factors contributing to this mess.
  1. This is the door my family uses 99 percent of the time.
  2. There is no closet near this door,
  3. There is a huge unused counter right next to the door.
  4. We have no storage here other than four overused coat hooks and lots of flat surfaces.
I definitely know I want to get a lower set of hooks so my daughters can start hanging up their own coats, snow pants, and backpacks. Not only will that keep them off the floor, I won't have to do it anymore (win-win!). I'm thinking some sort of storage cubbies where the little table is now (it doesn't have to stay) or even under the ledge of the counter would be great. I hope to get to IKEA soon to take a look at a shoe storage unit, beautifully used here. If the divider can be removed from the top shoe drawer, even better. I'd use that one to store backpacks. I also need a better storage for hats and mittens. And finally, I would love a rug by this door, but I haven't had any luck finding one thin enough to be able to open the door.  Even the super thin officey ones don't work. For now I have one leading from the door toward the kitchen, although it's not visible in the photos.

This is definitely one of my biggest challenges for the year. I look forward to getting started!

Ignore the dirty wall. It's leftover from two pictures I tried for years to keep hung. Every time we'd shut the door the pictures would tilt. I tried blue sticky stuff (as you can see), but it only helped a little. Finally I just took them down.

I'm always amazed that little coat rack doesn't fall off the wall.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Organizing Goals 2012 - #7 Combine Bedrooms

Each day for the next week or so, I am introducing my storage/organization/cleaning goals, plans, and progress for 2012. The first post in the series can be found here.

7. Combine Girls' Bedrooms: Later this year we plan to move my youngest daughter in with her sister. It will involve buying new beds and bedding. I think my two-year-old is too young for bunk beds (I can just imagine them pushing each other off the top bunk), so I've got my eye on this amazing DIY trundle bed. Side-by-side bunks are also an option. We've got an old loveseat in the room that we cuddle on to read our books at night, which will have to go (the loveseat, not the cuddling and reading) to make room for the beds. We will also need to figure out how to combine closet and dresser space. There are two large, unused closets now. I would love to add closet desks if there is room. And finally, we'll decorate! The room is already painted and has some flower and fairy decals on the walls, but that's about it. I will be on the hunt for a rug to warm things up a bit. I  have a fun dinosaur theme in mind--my daughter is obsessed.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

I Was Told There'd Be Cake*

So last week I made this little robot cake for my daughter. I have a 2-year-old now!

The girl likes robots. 
It's not the greatest cake in the world, but I can't for the life of me remember her first birthday. What kind of mother doesn't remember her child's first birthday? I don't remember where we were, what we did, or what kind of cake we ate. I know I didn't make a special cake, if I made one at all.  Here are the cakes I have made for my oldest daughter over the years:

This cake was pretty, and it was perfect for a spring 1st birthday. I'm not sure, but I think it may be upside down. Big wings go on top? Those marshmallow flower cupcake toppers were impressive and so easy to make!
My daughter was really into fish for her 2nd birthday (and still is!).  I had the fish sugar cookies made but did the cake myself.
For her 3rd birthday, my daughter requested a strawberry cake. What can I say, she has good taste. I do remember I was actually out of town on her birthday, so we celebrated a couple days early.
So I guess what I'm getting at, is that I've tried to make birthdays special, with the exception of that missing first birthday. It's probably out of fear of guilt more than anything, as at this young age they won't remember. We haven't done any big parties yet, aside from family dinners, but if nothing else, a picture of a homemade birthday cake is proof that the day was celebrated, and it was more than just an afterthought. I was the youngest of three, and while we have lots of pictures of my sister's and brother's birthday cakes over the years, I don't think there are many of mine (at all). I guess I'll have to continue to step up my game for the youngest. So at least we'll have the photographic evidence.

*A reference to this lovely little book. It's funny. Especially if you were born 1978 and 1982, I think.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Random Friday

Here's my random:

1. I reached into my daughter's drawer on Tuesday and was surprised to find all of her pants folded and in nice little piles. I could also tell her too-small 18-month pants were gone because the drawer was at at about quarter capacity. I had this weird feeling that some OCD person (more likely just someone very neat and organized) had been in my daughter's drawer and cleaned it out and folded everything into neat little piles. I paused for a second, and then I realized that person was me. I just completely forgot I had done it. I think I was secretly hoping for some mysterious person to come into my house and do that for me. Surprise cleaning and organizing. Every day. In every room. Wouldn't that be awesome? In all honesty, I'm still a little shocked every time I open that drawer.

2. My youngest daughter now has a catch phrase. She says, "Oh, man!" in a really whiny voice. It's from Swiper on Dora the Explorer. When she drops her cup: "Oh, man!" When she can't get her arm in her shirt: "Oh, man!" It's much better than her usual reaction, which would be a major tantrum. And it's pretty darn cute.

3. Monday I fulfilled my preschool volunteering duty for the year and helped with the annual mid-year classroom clean. The volunteers (there were probably 10-15 of us) were charged with wiping down every single thing in the classroom. That means every Lego, every plastic vegetable, every shelf and drawer, every plastic super hero action figure, and every wooden block. Everything. It was a flurry of cleaning. We had it done in just over 2 hours. I dream such a cleaning troupe would scrub their way through my house.

4. How is it possible that I live in Minnesota and do not own a proper stocking hat? And is there a non-Dad word for stocking hat? If nothing else, I need one so I can slap it on my head at preschool pickup and drop off and not have to think about my hair. Notice I didn't say "do my hair." Usually I just think about how I should have done something to my hair.

5. I made a yummy veggie, ham, and cheese bake for supper last night. At least I thought it was good. My daughters each ate about two bites, and my husband was gone for the evening.  Nothing like a giant casserole for one!

Now you'll have to excuse me, "My tummy is feeling a bit eleven-o'clockish." (Name that movie.) Time for leftovers.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Organizing Goals 2012 - #6 Reorganize Bathroom Storage

Each day for the next week or so, I am introducing my storage/organization/cleaning goals, plans, and progress for 2012. The first post in the series can be found here.

6. Reorganize Bathroom Storage: It's been almost two years since I organized my bathroom storage. You can see how that went here and here. Based on these current before photos below, I'd say it's time I get to work.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Organizing Goals 2012 - #5 Organize Food and Finances

Each day for the next week or so, I am introducing my storage/organization/cleaning goals, plans, and progress for 2012. The first post in the series can be found here.

5. Organize Food and Finances: There is a reason my daughter once asked me if budget is a bad word. No, we don't have problem overspending in our house. We live well within our means. But constant debit-card purchases (even on necessary expenses) were adding stress in our lives.  Seeing that long banking statement with several purchases a day was like watching money fall out of our pockets.  My husband has long asked me for a household budget with the purpose of figuring out exactly where our money goes. This year I've finally created a budget, and we are working toward a more cash-based system for handling expenses. I think there may be a few kinks to figure out, but progress is being made. We were both amazed when we checked our bank statement and there hadn't been a purchase in 5 days.

The new budget has led me to organize my food purchases and menu planning.  Before all this, I had a general idea of what we had on hand and what we tend to eat, and I would make a very general list, forgetting things, including things we didn't need, etc. Then my husband would make the trip to Aldi to stock our pantry and would end up buying 36 cans of soup (the kind my daughters refuse to eat), of which I might eat two in the next four months. You get the idea.

First, I looked for an app that included the following:
1. pantry inventory--I need to know what we already have on hand before I know what we need to buy.
2. long-term menu planning--I need to know what I plan to cook so I know what I need to buy for our 4-month supply.
3. shopping list--My husband tends to make the Aldi shopping trip, so it's important that I can provide him with a very detailed shopping list--I learned that yesterday when he interpreted an arrow I drew as a 5 and came home with 5 containers of sour cream. He also called to confirm that we needed 40 cans of black beans. No, that was actually a 4 with another number crossed out.

Unfortunately, I haven't found the magic app yet.  But I did find a pretty amazing 3 Month Food Supply spreadsheet from Food Storage Made Easy.* The spreadsheet includes a column for ingredients on the left, and spanning the table to the right at the top of the page are meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) for 30 days. The girls have included a "Have on hand" column, where you can enter the number of each ingredient you have on hand. You then fill out your meals for the month, and under each meal you mark the number of each ingredient needed. The beauty of this spreadsheet is that it will then give you a 3 month total, as well as the number you need to buy (figuring what you have on hand) to make that 3 month total.

Clearly start-up is time-consuming. I first did a food inventory, which with my daughter's "help" took me about 45 minutes. Then, I planned my meals for the month. This was surprisingly easy. I picked a homemade soup for one day each week, and I had a day for leftovers, which left me with only 5 days to fill each week.  Next, I started filling in the ingredients. I first copied and pasted the Common Food Items list found on another page of the spreadsheet. I did it that way so the ingredients would be organized by category and in alphabetical order. Then I added and removed items based on my food inventory. And finally, I went meal by meal marking the number of items needed to prepare each meal.

So I now have a 3-month shopping list.  This is great, But unfortunately I need a 4-month list. So I still need to tweak the spreadsheet. For the trip yesterday, I wrote out the list and added a month's worth of ingredients to each 3-month total.  It did feel pretty great to have my husband come home from Aldi knowing he got things we will actually use (aside from the 5 containers of sour cream). I am still trying  to figure out the best way to keep the food inventory updated.

I love it when a working toward a goal has some unexpected benefit. I've been meal planning for a couple of weeks already, and let me just shout it out: I LOVE IT! Never would I have imagined that having a meal plan would be so...freeing? You know that gnawing in the back of your mind every day that starts at about 4:00 when you realize you have no idea what to make for dinner, and then you start to ask yourself why you have to be the one to figure this crap out every day.  And then you start to resent the fact that you have to cook anything at all.  And then you say Screw it! and order a pizza? No? I guess it's just me.

Things are totally different now. I actually look forward to checking the menu plan throughout the week.
Oooh, fajitas! Great idea.

Yum, I can't wait for Friday when we have that roast.

Better thaw out that ham today.
It feels like 50% of the burden of cooking has been lifted.  Knowing what we're having and being confident that I actually have the ingredients on hand to make the food is a huge relief.  And I'm being more creative with my meals rather than falling back on my last-minute standby dishes. I also like that I feel free to switch meals around within the week to better fit our schedule. 

I still have some figuring to do with our food budget.  Between the three annual Aldi trips and the fact that we order a quarter of beef a couple times a year, figuring out a monthly total gets complicated. But, I am working on it. So that is progress toward my goal.

Do you meal plan? How detailed do you get? Do you use a food inventory? Do you use technology to meal plan?

*Wow, I did not realize that there is a whole food storage culture out there. Who knew? I am not part of the food storage culture. I am just lazy and like to spend a little time as possible grocery shopping.  In addition to Aldi, we stock perishables from the local grocery store throughout the month and buy meat from a local butcher.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Organizing Goals 2012 - #4 Reorganize Linen Closet

Each day for the next week or so, I am introducing my storage/organization/cleaning goals, plans, and progress for 2012. The first post in the series can be found here.

4. Reorganize Linen Closet: You may remember this before-and-after of my linen closet.  Lately it's been looking more before than after. This closet is also where I store gift wrap supplies, cards and envelops, games, light bulbs, my shoes, and several other odds and ends. It's time to revisit this space and clear out some clutter. My girls' art supplies (Play-Doh, crayons, markers, colored pencils, glue, coloring books, etc.) have been growing exponentially, and I need to find a good storage solution. If you have any great ideas for storing art supplies, pass them along.  I'm considering something like this, which would make them easily portable. And I think a magazine file might be a good way to store the coloring books.

I've got my work cut out for me

Notice my shoes are noticeably absent from the shoe rack.
Apparently they were scared off by the dinosaur. ROAR! 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Organizing Goals 2012 - #3 Organize Spices

Each day for the next week or so, I am introducing my storage/organization/cleaning goals, plans, and progress for 2012. The first post in the series can be found here.

3. Organize Spices: I store my spices and baking supplies in a tall storage cupboard next to my refrigerator. Like most of my cupboards, I'm not using the bottom shelves. My youngest would empty it out for me daily if I did.  So everything has been stuffed onto the top five shelves.  Considering I can't actually reach the top shelf, that leaves me with four working shelves. My spices are out of control. I've been slowly stocking up on them over the last year, and unfortunately because they are a jumbled mess, I've bought several duplicates, compounding the storage problem.  I ordered these spice clips (found via Pinterest) a couple of weeks ago.  Like the good online shopper I am, I scoured the Internet and found the best deal after figuring in tax and shipping.  Unfortunately the company I ordered from has them on back order.  I'm hoping they will finally arrive by the end of the month.  I love the idea behind this product. I've found most cupboard door storage solutions are often so deep they take of half of your actual shelf space. These are versatile and appear to use minimal shelf space. I can't wait to get started on this project! Here is what my baking cupboard looks like today.

Here are the "top" two shelves from a distance. Anyone want a year's worth of Food Network Magazines?
(Why yes, we did paint the outside of our cabinets white and got lazy and did not paint the insides.)
Let's take a closer look at that second shelf. This is what I see when I'm trying to find something.

And here are the "bottom" two shelves from a distance. Don't laugh at the five jars of peanut butter, laugh at my husband. He read an article about rising peanut prices and made a point to stock up. Yes, the rising cost of peanuts would be a big deal in our house.

Need some cumin, you say? Hmm...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Organizing Goals 2012 - #2 Create/Childproof Playroom

Each day for the next week or so, I am introducing my storage/organization/cleaning goals, plans, and progress for 2012. The first post in the series can be found here.

2. Create/Childproof Playroom: I'm looking forward to a time when I won't have to keep my eye on my youngest every second of the day. In anticipation of that day, I'll be working this year to create and childproof a designated playroom.  I want to transform our basement family room, which is currently where my husband occasionally plays Xbox and my daughter plays with her trains, into a space where my girls can play, while purging our living room of it's current daycare-esque decor.  (I literally have a giant castle in my living room and a plastic princess pink vanity in my dining room.) We already have a huge storage unit in the basement that we bought at IKEA several years ago.  With some bins, it will be a great place to stash toys.  We had a coffee table and an end table in the room that we weren't using, and I hauled them off to the donation center on Sunday (along with a weight bench and weights from the storage room and other odds and ends), so the space is opening up.  Eventually I'd like to get rid of our excess furniture and add some kid-friendly seating, book storage, a rug, and an activity table and chairs.

Sorry for the glare in this photo. The sun was reflecting off our white wood work.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Organizing Goals 2012 - #1 Organize Storage Room

We are well into January already.  And yes, I'm still writing "2011" on everything.  I've made some organization-specific resolutions/goals for the coming year.  Last year I found I was pretty successful in keeping my resolutions when I introduced them gradually.  This year, I'm hoping to continually move toward each of my goals, and I'm already making some progress.  

Each day for the next week or so, I will introduce my storage/organization/cleaning goals, plans, and progress for 2012. And I will revisit these goals throughout the year as progress is made.

1. Organize Storage Room: 
This is actually one I can almost check off the list.  The new year started with my husband expanding the shelving in our storage/laundry room. He also added shelving for his hunting and fishing stuff and a bench and chairs to create a workspace.  I am relieved to finally have a home for all of those fishing poles and duck calls that inevitably end up on our kitchen counter. Just after we had everything put away in the storage room, my sister sent me several boxes of baby clothes via a visit from my parents.  We are planning on having more children, so we'll hang on to the clothes for now.  I was happy to see there was actually still room for the clothes on the storage shelves. The final to-do in the storage room is to find a place for our pantry overflow.  We stock up at Aldi a few times a year, and whatever doesn't fit in the pantry goes in the storage room.  Previously the food was stored on our shelves (when the floors were covered in stuff). I have my eye on the shelves above our washer and dryer, but they are inconvenient for a shorty like me.  For now, I'm holding off on figuring it out until our next trip to Aldi, which I plan on making in the next couple of weeks. If I were going for perfection, we would have matching plastic storage bins on these shelves.  I'm not going for perfection. I happily used what we had on hand.  Diaper boxes make great boxes for kids' clothes. Down the road I may replace some of the cardboard boxes and bags, but for now it works.

I wish I had a before photo to show you the dramatic transformation, but you'll have to take my word for it.  This is about twelve thousand times better. I can now do laundry without passing through an obstacle course (yay?). On the right side of the room (not pictured) is more shelving, a work table, and the washer and dryer.

On a slightly unrelated note, I've been watching old episodes of Hoarders on Netflix. Have you seen this? It's fills me with anxiety. The episode where the woman hoards perishable food? The one where they remove 8,000 pounds of GARBAGE from one woman's home.  Or when they find 13 dead cats in another home. I've decided, though, that it's not so much the amount of junk, clutter, and garbage that these people are living in that makes this show so heart wrenching. It's the strained relationships. The hopelessness of the loved ones who so desperately want the fog to clear from their father/mother/sister/brother's eyes. It kills me.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sunny Day

Is an afternoon walk with the kids really something to blog about? When it's January in Minnesota and it's 50 degrees outside, I say yes! My parents visited this past weekend, and while my husband and father were ice fishing (apparently it's been cold enough to make some ice), my mom and I took the girls for a long walk two days in a row. This winter has been crazy nice, and I just know it's going to be one of those marker years we will refer back to in our old age.  Remember that winter when there was no snow and we had more days above freezing than below? Of course it is only January, and a cold front is coming our way.

But I'll always have this photo to prove the elusive mild Minnesota winter really does exist.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Crunchy Birthday Cookies

When I was a little girl, I'm guessing around 5, I received this birthday card with a recipe for Crunchy Birthday Cookies. I love these cookies. They are scrumptious, crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside, hearty, full of texture and yum, and the cookie dough pre-baked is pretty much the best thing ever. Not that you should eat raw cookie dough. But I do. Actually I read somewhere that you can buy pasteurized eggs. I've never tried them, but the next time I'm pregnant and get a craving for cookie dough, I might give them a try.

*I forgot the baking soda in this photo.

I love that a birthday card included a recipe. And a recipe new to the family. It's become an heirloom recipe, and those are few and far between in our house.

I'm tempted to eat all of this.

Crunchy Birthday Cookies

1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
1 egg (well beaten)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 c. dry oatmeal
1 c. corn flakes (I use bran flakes)
1/2 c. coconut
1/2 c. chopped pecans

Cream butter; add sugars, then egg and vanilla. Sift dry ingredients together and add to creamed mixture. Add corn flakes, oatmeal, coconut, and pecans to mixture. Roll into small balls and place about 2 inches apart on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes. Will make approximately 3 dozen cookies.

Don't over-bake them or the coconut starts to burn. Enjoy!
Yum. Yum, Yum. Yum.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Random Friday

I call this post Random Friday, which may or may not indicate a recurring weekly post on random stuff. We shall see. Since I've deactivated my Facebook account and don't really care to use Twitter, I suspect this is where all the Facebook status updates I compose in my head will end up.

I've added a follow by e-mail button over on the right. If you want to get e-mail updates when I add a new post, go ahead and enter your e-mail address and hit submit. Easy.

My almost-two-year-old thinks smiling is something you do only with your eyes. Tell her to smile and she makes huge bug eyes that slowly drift off to the side. I'm not sure where this came from, but it never fails to make me laugh. Maybe she thinks "Smile!" is a command to get her to make me smile. In that case, she's got it down.

I'm seriously considering a chore chart for myself. Apparently I am five and thus need some manufactured motivation.

I am also counting down the days until I think my daughters can grasp this concept. It's brilliant. I think I'm almost there with the three-year-old.

I feel terrible for my 137-pound dog who had a growth removed from his foot last Tuesday. He's stuck with a cone of shame for what I've been told will be a "very long healing process" involving twice-weekly bandage changes by the vet.  And did I mention his cone of shame is actually a size bigger than necessary because the vet was out of his size. Her exact words were "it's big enough for a bear." I jokingly asked if he would be able to fit through the door, and she said, "if he turns his head sideways."  It's true.  My daughter observed that he looks like Mother Goose. I'm not sure a bonnet would be any less degrading. Poor guy.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Preschool Game Review: Go Fish!

For Christmas this year my three-year-old received pretty much the most perfect gift for her (thanks, Amanda!), and I thought I'd tell you about. It can be hit-or-miss with kids games, so when I find a good one, I want to share it. The Go Fish game from Playchest Games is actually two games in one. There is a color matching game that's perfect for any little one who knows their colors. It's a fast game, which is perfect for kids (or parents) who have a short attention span.  Fish cards are spread out on the table face down. Players take turns using the fishing pole to fish for cards. If you catch a fish that matches the color of your boat, it goes into your boat--it's a keeper. If you catch a different color, you release it back into the "pond." My daughter and I started out playing the matching game. I've been playing matching games with my daughter for almost a year now, but she's just now finally starting to get it and pay attention and remember where things are. In fact, I left to throw in a load of laundry one day and told her to set up the game. I sat down to play and she got three matches right away. I started to get suspicious when I went to fish and she started smiling and shaking her head. She said, "that's not a green one!" I said, "Hey, you can't cheat. Did you look at the cards when you set them up?" She said, "Mom, it's supposed to be a memory game!" So technically she's starting to get it, but apparently we need to work on the details. This game goes quickly. There are only four slots to fill on your boat, and there are eight cards of each color.  The odds are pretty good. There are also three lose-a-turn cards (a boot, an anchor, and a rubber tire). Two to four players can play.

We quickly graduated on to the second, slightly more difficult game, which is Go Fish pretty much as you already know it.  This game ignores colors and requires the players to be able to recognize numbers. The cards are spread out face down and each player picks six cards for their boat. Oh how I wish there were six slots in each boat. It's taken my daughter several games to figure out how to keep her six cards in the four-slotted boat, and she still occasionally forgets to check the cards that are hidden behind other cards. BUT, she's learning. The fish cards are numbered 1-8 (thank you Playchest Games for not making us distinguish between 9s and 6s! I noticed, and I appreciate it.). Matches are placed face up next to your boat. The youngest player goes first and asks for a number. If the player has the number, the asker gets the card and the match and goes again.  If the player does not have the number asked for, the asker gets to "go fish."  

The fishing rod is awesome. It's got a firm line and a suction cup under the worm that works surprisingly well to catch fish. The line can be angled for the best possible catch and the worm and line can even be "hooked" to the pole for storage. My daughter loves when she has to "go fish." Today when we were playing she pretended to jig, set the hook, and reel in. Cute. She's also made up stories for the fish and the worm. "That fish is hungry, he's licking his lips! The worm is scared, look." I don't know if it's because the youngest player gets to go first, but my daughter legitimately beats me almost every game. Stomps me, is more accurate. Notice in the photo below I am blue and she is purple. I have one match and she has seven.

Another great feature of this game is the storage box. Everything fits easily, and the sturdy box closes securely, so there's no dropping the game and pieces going flying. Is that only a problem in my house? There's even a handle.  I love this game. I've played it at least once a day and usually several times a day with my daughter since Christmas, and I don't mind it one bit. On the box it shows three other Playchest Games: Penguin Plunge, Silly Story Maker, and Once Upon a Castle. I think I'm going to look into those next!

*I was not paid for this review, I just really like this game!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Notes from the Couch

Occasionally my girls catch an episode of Angelina Ballerina on Netflix. (Did you know Judi Dench voices Angelina's dance instructor, Miss Lilly, in the series? I love that.) It occurred to me that the girls had probably never seen real ballet. I quickly searched Netflix and started playing the documentary Ballerina. Despite having to explain subtitles, which led to a discussion of languages, etc., the documentary held their attention for a pretty long stretch. We were watching a particularly beautiful and elegant ballet when my daughter said the following: "Mom...Mom...Mom, next Halloween can my costume be a..." 

Could it be? My very tomboyish daughter was getting a girly streak? She was appreciating the elegance, gracefulness, and beauty of ballet?

"...a hunter? I want to be a hunter for Halloween."

Maybe her younger sister will want to be a ballerina.