Thursday, March 31, 2011

Project 365 - Day 89

The third graders have been testing all week. The school counselor talked to the kids in preparation for the testing and told them that it was important that they get a good night's sleep and eat a good breakfast on the test days. She then offered up pizza as one example of a good breakfast. Well, Jacob took that very seriously and kept reminding us all last week that he needed to have pizza for breakfast during testing week. We told him that what she really meant is that he should eat a balanced breakfast with some protein in it, and that a peanut butter waffle (his usual) with sausage, fruit and milk should do the trick. But he kept coming back to the pizza thing, and we finally decided that there might be a psychological benefit to him if he just ate some darn pizza for breakfast. So we picked up a Hot & Ready on Sunday night, and he's been having it for breakfast all week.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Project 365 - Day 88

Doing Project 365 has a kind of Catch-22 quality to it -- remember the character Dunbar who made a point of doing boring and uncomfortable things because it made time pass more slowly? Now don't get me wrong, I don't find Project 365 to be boring or uncomfortable, but posting a picture a day gets to be challenging after a while, and I can't tell you how many times I've logged on to blogger, checked the day and said "Seriously? It's only the 88th day of the year?!"

Today was one of those days, where I've already fallen behind a couple of days and had no idea what I was going to post, when I woke up the computer and saw this Word document Jacob was working on before school. Jacob likes to make encyclopedias of the topics that are interesting to him. I can't tell you how many reams of paper we go through. We have encyclopedias of Jedi, superheroes, singers, attractions at Disney World, Wipeout obstacles, Harry Potter spells, and tongue twisters (to list but a few). Apparently he is now working on an encyclopedia of Dr. Who -- a British sci-fi show he watches with David. I love my boy - he is one of a kind.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Project 365 - Day 85

We had friends over for dinner a few weeks ago, and our friends' 8 year old brought over his copy of the wii game Wipeout. The kids spent most of the evening playing Wipeout, which I had never heard of before that night. I later learned that the game is based on a popular reality show in which contestants vie for a $50,000 prize by facing an obstacle course full of challenges with names like Human Pinball, Shakalator, Slippery Swing Set and Trampoline Sweeper that all seem to involve a lot of getting whacked in the face with moving foam paddles.

One thing about Jacob: when he gets into something, he gets completely and 100% obsessed with it. There is no moderation. And now Jacob is into Wipeout. Without going too far into the details of what that entails, I will say that Jacob is now lobbying for a Wipeout-themed birthday party. He has drawn up a comprehensive list of possible backyard Wipeout obstacles and is working hard at convincing us of the feasibility of said obstacles. I love a good birthday party as much as the next person, and I really try hard to come up with parties that my kids will love, but it's pretty clear that the Wipeout party that Jacob has in mind would violate my "no rebar, no power tools" birthday party rule. Any party that requires a substantial infrastructure investment and an increase in our liability coverage is pretty much a no-go in my book. David thinks we just need to keep quiet and let this one die on the vine.

Anyway, the picture above is of Jacob working on one of his Wipeout obstacles.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Project 365 - Day 84

This is Elizabeth showing off the pretty wrist corsage that her daddy got for her before they headed off to the annual Girl Scouts Father/Daughter Sweetheart Dance. I'm not sure which one of them was more excited about it . . .

Friday, March 25, 2011

Project 365 - Day 83

Playroom, after

This week's Project Simplify Hot Spot is kids' clothes and/or toys. Yikes! While I've already done some basic seasonal clothes-swapping (and some associated low-intensity purging) for my girls and plan to start on Jacob next,sorting through the kids' toys has really been on my to-do list for at least a year now. So I decided to focus my energy on toys.

I've tried to keep the main living area of our house from looking like romper room, but still, toys are everywhere in this house. The full list of rooms that contain toys:

(1) Upstairs playroom
(2) Basement
(3) Jacob's room
(4) Elizabeth's room
(5) Caroline's room
(6) Family room
(7) Sunporch
(8) Master bathroom
(9) Girls' bathroom
(10 Garage
(11) Kitchen

And, depending on the day, the master bedroom and the laundry room. The only rooms that are generally safe from toys are the dining room and the living room. While I made significant progress in many of these rooms, in the interest of keeping this post from becoming unruly I'm going to focus on the work I did in the playroom.

Playroom before:

I really didn't think I'd get to the finish line until an unexpected bout of insomnia hit me on Wednesday night. I had fallen asleep putting Caroline to bed, woke up at 1 a.m., and then could not go back to sleep. I gave up at 3 a.m. and decide to declutter instead! I think the fact that I was tired really helped with the process, as I was too foggy to get all sentimental about things. Now don't get me wrong -- I still kept bins full of toys and books(to be stored in the attic), but I also managed to box up quite a bit for charity. When I was struggling with letting go of, say, certain board books that I remember reading to my kids, I'd think of other children getting to enjoy them and it made it much easier to add them to the donate box.

Books & stuffed animals:

Close-up of the Doll Central -- Barbies and little dolls in the toy chest, American Girl doll clothes in the armoire, and then assorted clothes/bottles/accessories in the doll care center. (Jacob is slowly moving out of the prime "toy" years (sniff!) so the playroom has kind of been taken over by the girls' toys. Don't worry though - he manages to have his things spread throughout most of the rest of the house!)

Other side of playroom:

Play food all goes in the bins and shelves of the play market. Play cookware, bakeware, etc goes in the kitchen. Puzzles are to the right of the kitchen.

The playroom is really a small unused bedroom, and there is a decent-sized closet in it. One side of closet:

Much as I love Sterilite bins (and have used them in some capacity for toy storage for a while) I'm not sure they are the best choice for toys. We have more open toy storage in the basement, and the kids can get at the toys themselves more easily. Still, this system works okay for keeping toys under control in the closet, even though I need to be involved with getting down and putting up these toys.

I obviously still have a long way to go on the road to real decluttering, as evidenced by the fact that I have a bin with this label:

Board game side of closet:

It feels good to have this toy area a little more under control!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Project 365 - Day 82

Caroline's preschool class has been learning about India this week, and today they celebrated Holi. One much-loved Holi ritual is the throwing of the powdered paint, a tradition that the children enthusiastically participated in today, as you can see from looking at Caroline at the end of the day.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Project 365 - Day 81

After school at the library.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Project 365 - Day 80

We have the world's most pitiful bulbs. While pretty beds of daffodils and tulips start blooming in all of our neighbors' yards, daffodil/tulip foliage sprouts up in our flowerbeds, but then fizzles out before they actually bloom. The kids have been monitoring the foliage for the past couple of weeks and were getting irritated that I couldn't magically make flowers appear from the stems (kind of like how they held David and I personally responsible for the fact that a huge cloud blocked the Supermoon the other night -- oh, if only we had the power over nature that they think we do!) Well, when we got home from school today, screams erupted from the backseat: "It's a tulip!! It's a TULIP!!" And sure enough, it was a tulip. I snapped a picture before it realized it was in the wrong yard.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Project 365 - Day 79

Elizabeth decided that her wishes weren't coming true when she picked the dandelions first and THEN made the wish, so she decided to start making her wishes with the dandelions still in the ground. Love that girl.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Project 365 - Day 78

We've had a great spring break and have done just about every fun thing that can be done without leaving town -- we hit the zoo, the science center, and the playground; we ran around with friends; enjoyed ice cream galore; broke out the sprinklers; went to the movies, went hiking and on picnics; went cruising around in search of the Supermoon; went to some caverns where we panned for gemstones, played miniature golf, climbed a rock wall, spun on spin-y things, navigated a maze to find a lost city, and bounced on inflatables. But you know what they say: all play and no work keeps the porch furniture covered with dirt (er, or something like that). The front porch rockers and planters had gotten uber-grimy, so David scrubbed them down with bleach yesterday. They did look better after the scrubbing, but still needed a little something something, so I decided to paint them. I figured I'd work with, rather than against, the kids' natural tendency to be right up in my face all the time (of course I wouldn't have it any other way!) and let them help me paint the chairs. I loaded their brushes and went behind them to catch drips, random brush stroke patterns, etc. It was a total mess, but they did a good job! The chairs look almost new -- and just in time for yellow pollen season!

P.S. Yes, I know that Jacob and his chair are completely blown out. He was in the sun, the girls were in the shade, and my eight, six and three year olds were let loose with exterior semi-gloss paint and my porch rockers - I was in a hurry. But that's the beauty of Project 365 and why I like it so much better than something like Project 52 (one photo a week) or something similar that at first blush sounds so much easier. With Project 365, I don't feel pressure for every photo to be good, and I post PLENTY of photos that are just downright bad, but happen to capture what we did that day. If only posting one photo a week, I'd feel pressure to make sure that photo was good. None of that pressure here!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Project 365 - Day 77

Here are the kids panning for gemstones at Desoto Caverns, where we spent the morning today.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Project 365 - Day 76

This week's Simple Mom Project Simplify challenge was paper clutter. Those very words made my blood run cold. There are many forms of clutter in my house, but paper clutter is by far the worst. The problem with paper clutter is its breadth - it's not just one "thing," like clothes clutter. Clothes are clothes. But with paper clutter you have mail clutter, receipts clutter, photograph clutter, magazine clutter, kids' art work clutter (sorry kids); catalog clutter, bank statement clutter, investment prospectus clutter, bills clutter and on and on. When I first saw that this was this week's challenge, I almost didn't see how it could be done in a week. But Simple Mom had some great strategies for approaching this, and (thankfully) I was not starting at square one, as the alien who took over my formerly disorganized body a few months ago began implementing a paper management system for our house at the beginning of the year.

Because paper is so ubiquitous, it's harder to post one "after" picture that captures the paper organization. The best after shot of a workable paper management system is really the absence of piles of paper where they're not supposed to be, as Simple Mom alluded to. I chose for my Project 365 photo the "end" spot for our paper, the file cabinet, where the select few keeper papers ultimately land after a long, arduous journey and many stops along the way.

So many kinds of paper, so little time! I guess I'll begin with a before shot of some magazines that had started to pile up in the den:

Honestly, those magazines should ALL get recycled. I know I'm not going to go looking for the hard copy of the March 2010 Family Fun if I want some St. Patrick's craft ideas -- I'm going to jump on the website. But I LOVE magazines, and I like having them around, so while I have recycled stacks and stacks of magazines so far this year, I couldn't help but keep some bookshelves in our basement:

I'm not completely reformed yet, but I'm okay with it. At least I made room for some new magazines in the baskets in our den. And I promise I'll eventually get rid of these too -- pinky swear!

The key to our paper system lately has been this secretary:

It serves as a temporary holding ground for a myriad of papers. One drawer holds three 2" three ring binders that I bedazzled with scrapbook paper, one for each child:

(Jacob's is the manly-manlier green gingham). This is where I keep all of the school papers that are not too big for it -- and in the case of my preschooler, most papers are in fact too big for it. But it works quite well for the majority of my 8 year old's and 6 year old's papers, holding all kinds of school work, class schedules, Good Library Manners certificates, school program flyers, (smaller) art work, report cards, etc. etc. Confession (if not obvious from the previous sentence): I way oversave.

I may have to clear these out a bit to make it through the end of the school year. I'm okay with filling one 2" binder per kid per school year, even though I can already hear the "mom always was a little -- what's the word I'm looking for? -- insane." whispers in 20 or 30 years when I deliver a truckload of polka dot binders full of spelling tests to each child's attic). Again, I'm not quite where I want to be, because I know I'm holding on to too much, but I feel like I'm making progress just in figuring out a somewhat deliberate way to contain things.

Overflow kid school work/art work gets thrown into a bin in the bottom drawer of the secretary:

along with any other papers that need to make their way to the basement filing cabinet, until I get around to moving them. Which is theoretically supposed to be every Friday. Once they actually make it downstairs, they pretty much land in one of two spots: the kids' art that is too big to fit into the binders go into these Sterilite bins:

Each child has a bin, and David and I share one (not for our shaving cream art, sadly, but for drawings/notes the kids made especially for us, greeting cards, etc). Simple Mom is trying to follow the "three pieces of art per child per year guideline" -- one handprint, one handwriting sample, and one drawing. I love that idea, but there is no way I could limit it to that. I feel like I'm doing well to limit myself to 300 pieces per child per year! I can triumph over sentimentality when it comes to clothes, but not my kids' art work. That said, I understand that no piece is quite as special if you have 10,000 original masterpieces, so I really am working on paring it down. I find it gets easier with time -- I might not be able to throw away a drawing someone came home with yesterday, but after months/years go by, I gain some perspective and can let some more of it go more easily. Once these bins fill up, I know I really need to go through them and thin them out (although I am on bin #2 for Jacob and Elizabeth - doh!). Once again, baby steps. At least it's all in one place (for the most part!)

The non-kid papers that need to get filed or shredded go into this lidded basket on top of the file cabinet until I can file/shred them, which is theoretically supposed to be on the last Friday of the month.

And there you have it - a paper hoarder's paper management system!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Project 365 - Day 75

Happy St. Patrick's Day to ya! Here's Elizabeth checking out the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (left by our mischievous leprechauns).

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Project 365 - Day 74

It seems that most photographers, both pros and hobbyists, eventually develop a preference for either zoom lenses or prime lenses. I'm more of a prime (i.e., fixed focal length) girl -- probably because at this point I can afford better quality prime lenses than I can zoom lenses, so primes give me the means to shoot both with a wide open aperture, and to shoot indoors without a flash (my 50mm opens to f/1.8, whereas my zooms won't open wider than f/3.5 when they are not zoomed, which make them pretty much a non-option for indoors, or in lower light conditions outdoors). My 35mm has stayed on my camera all winter long, of course for shooting indoors, but (perhaps because I'm lazy?) I've pretty much left it on when shooting outdoors as well. But my friend Heather is a zoom girl, and after having a little water cooler photography chat the other day, I decided to break out my zoom when playing with the kids outside the past few days. It's been fun! I still love my primes, but I need to remember to play with this baby a little more often!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Project 365 - Day 73

Monkey boy.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Project 365 - Day 72

The kids, goofing around (and soaking wet) after helping us wash the cars . . .

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Project 365 - Day 71

It was a beautiful weekend, so we went hiking.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Project 365 - Day 70

Jacob, age 8.5 - still likes to swing (yay!) but sometimes does it while listening to music on his iPod . . .

Friday, March 11, 2011

Project 365 - Day 69

My closet, after. Well really, it's the after after. Because I'd actually dealt with the closet a month or so ago. But at that time I really just kind of neatened what was in there, and didn't make any serious effort to purge, which I know is really the most important step to real organization. My organizing efforts up until recently have involved the proverbial labeling of bins "String Too Short to Use" without actually GETTING RID OF the string that is too short to use. But after reading about Project Simplify on Simple Mom, I decided to have another go at it. In Project Simplify, Simple Mom reveals a "hot spot" every Monday, and everybody works on the appointed zone all week and posts their "after" pictures of the now-tackled hot spot on Friday. This approach totally matches up with my fundamental need for someone to tell me what to do -- I will cook dinner all day long if someone will please just tell me what to make (the reason cooking clubs resonated with me); I will clean anything if someone tells me what to clean first, etc. So Simple Mom told me to clean out my wardrobe, and I dutifully did just that.

Here is the before/after #1:

I have learned that we hold on to too much stuff for two reasons: (1) we think we will need it someday; and (2) we are sentimental about it. I am definitely guilty of both, although in the closet it's mostly #1 that's been keeping it overstuffed. Although there were a few #2-created stacks as well, like this, the Towering Stack 'O Sweatshirts:

I don't wear sweatshirts anymore. They are huge and bulky and not particularly comfortable. If I'm cold, there are 15 items I'd reach for before the sweatshirts. But they remind me of happy times in my life: college, that summer on Martha's Vineyard (the torn up Black Dog sweatshirt), law school. I read that when dealing with sentimental items, you should ask yourself: are these items the best link I have to this happy time in my life?

In the case of these four law school sweatshirts, the answer is no. The best link I have to my amazing three years in Charlottesville is my husband, whom I get to see every day and who does not take up valuable, limited real estate in my tiny closet. Buh-bye 3/4ths of the Virginia sweatshirts!

In addition to battling sentimentality, I established a few other groundrules:

(1) Just because it looked good on you in 1998 doesn't mean it looks good on you now, even if it still fits.
(2) You probably don't need to be wearing clothes from 1998 anyway.
(3) If you didn't wear it back before you had kids because it just wasn't all that flattering, it's only going to get worse. Get rid of it.

I worked on this project in 30 minute intervals throughout the week. I limited myself to 30 minutes at a time because I didn't want things to get too out of control and then find myself bored/overwhelmed and abandoning ship entirely (after everything was strewn across the bedroom, of course). This worked well because I was able to make decent progress in 30 minutes while staying somewhat interested. I was thrilled at how my closet looked when I was done with it; unfortunately, the project was not just "closet," but "wardrobe." That meant I had to deal with the clothes in my armoire as well:

Which I did, and that resulted in still more purging, but again, I'd done this a couple of months ago (which is when I bought those shelf dividers, which actually work quite well), so I didn't end up with piles and piles of clothes to donate. The after shot of the armoire:

I was feeling quite self-satisfied with the closet and armoire, when I suddenly realized that I ALSO had to deal with my boxed up summer-only clothes:

and the winter-only clothes I had just moved into the upstairs linen closet:

These are not all my clothes, but they are all my clothes to deal with

I knew if I added my summer clothes to my gloriously uncluttered closet and the neat stacks in the armoire, I'd be right back to where I started: overstuffed. I was really liking the quantity of clothing that was in the closet/armoire after round 1. So I decided I had to be super ruthless in round 2, culling some clothes that made the cut in round 1, and becoming like a Studio 54 bouncer in deciding which summer clothes gained admission to the closet/wardrobe (actually, bad analogy -- an actual Studio 54 bouncer would not allow ANY of my clothes in, as I am not cool enough/not a fashionista -- but you get the idea, I knew I had to be REALLY PARTICULAR in deciding which clothes would make the cut).

I made some more room for round 2 keepers by getting rid of some more old t-shirts. Again with the sentimental clutter. And seriously, why am I even sentimental about some 5K I ran in 1999? Or the marathon I ran in 1996, for that matter? Okay, I did pause over the marathon shirt, because, you know, huge accomplishment that will never be repeated by me and all that, but I finally decided that the shirt is "not the best link to that happy time in my life" -- I keep up with my marathon buddy Cara on Facebook, and I have the medal and the newspaper clipping from the marathon somewhere; the shirt can go.

Hundreds of similar mental conversations later (the rest of which I will spare you, mercifully), and I was done! {FULL DISCLOSURE: I HAVE NOT COMPLETELY DEALT WITH OUTERWEAR YET}. While I still have way too many clothes, I feel like the only clothes left in my closet/armoire are clothes that I actually wear or will wear. And believe it or not, I identified a couple of items that I need, like new white t-shirts (of the non-concert/race/orientation/tournament variety) and khaki trousers. Who knew? Now that I've undergone this exercise, I am definitely going to implement a system in which I get rid of one old item for each new item I bring in. Hopefully that will keep the volume under control going forward, and there will not be a need for future long-winded posts about my closet purging efforts. Hooray!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Project 365 - Day 68

Elizabeth making dinner rolls.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Project 365 - Day 67

Little Caroline dusting big dining room table. She does windows too - she's awesome.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Project 365 - Day 66

After Elizabeth unexpectedly came home from Daisy Scouts with two fish and three snails (that she wanted to live in her room), Jacob, who has been begging for a pet for years, was distraught at the injustice of it all. We decided that it would not be unreasonable to get Jacob his own goldfish, so we headed to the pet store during Elizabeth's ballet class. Here he is observing the swim patterns of his new fish, Shine and Mini.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Project 365 - Day 65

I like how this one kind of perfectly captures a typical weekend day for us this time of year. Elizabeth had a 2:00 Daisy Scouts meeting followed by a 3:00 soccer game. So she put on her soccer uniform and topped it with her Daisy Scouts t-shirt, which she could then easily remove when it was time to take the field (she wasn't alone -- at least half the Daisies play soccer and were similarly double-uniformed). We darted out of the Daisy meeting at 2:50 with a Coke bottle aquarium containing two goldfish and three snails {our first {five} pets!}, which rested precariously on the console in my van as we drove to the soccer game, where we proceeded to simultaneously freeze and get covered in mud. We'll miss these days when they're over!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Project 365 - Day 64

And some days they really don't want their picture taken . . .