Saturday, April 30, 2011

The oak tree's connected to the . . . pine tree

The pine tree's connected to the . . . maple tree; the maple tree's connected to the . . . Bradford Pear, and they all came tumbling down.

I heard the tornado sirens when they went off a little after 5 on Wednesday morning. I chalk that up to the fact that I'm a mother and I never sleep all the way anyway, as I'm always half listening for someone crying or throwing up. If you live in the South, you know what to do when the sirens go off: you turn on the TV (that's because it's a county-wide siren, and it's a big county, so just because the siren is going off doesn't necessarily mean there is any dangerous weather near you). We had a big laugh with David's Aunt Missy, who was visiting from Pennsylvania a couple of weeks ago when some bad weather came through and the sirens went off. She said that if she hadn't been able to get a hold of one of us, she and Leni (David's cousin) would have grabbed the wine and cheese and rushed down to the basement, and they might still be there, because they wouldn't have any idea when it was safe to come out (which might not be a bad way to spend a weekend, depending on the wine).

Anyway, when the sirens go off you turn on the TV, which is what I did. I saw that the center of activity was still west of us and debated whether to wake the kids (and David) right then to head to the basement. I was worried about our missle pines. I went to the bedroom, shook David and told him where the storms were, and he said "Huh? Wuh? Thunderstorms." and went back to sleep. I then went back to the TV, and within a few minutes heard one of my personal magic "basement" words (our town or any town that borders us) and decided no further consulting was necessary, it was time to go to the basement. David and I gathered the kids and flashlights and made our way down.

It's always a little hard to hear the weather report when we're watching with the kids because they are chatterboxes that came with only two volumes -- loud and louder. We could see that it was headed in our direction. We heard really heavy wind, and I *thought* I heard a bang. Then the power went out. The kids screamed (as they always do when the power goes out). When the storm was clearly past us, David went upstairs to check things out.

Turns out we had five or six old, large trees blown over like they were Popsicle sticks. This is only noteworthy because of how insignificant losing five or six large trees was in the scheme of what happened in our neighborhood that morning (which, in turn, was utterly insignificant compared to what happened in other parts of the city and state later that night). Our next door neighbor woke up to sheetrock falling on his face -- he did not hear the sirens and was in bed asleep when a tree fell on his bedroom. {Yet another reason why I'm taking out those missle pines -- I'm 99% sure I'll always hear the sirens, but each of our next door neighbors has taken a tree in a bedroom over the past couple of weeks (our other neighbors got an oak in their baby's nursery), so I'm not taking any chances}.

My elementary kids, bizarrely, had school that morning. Only bizarre because the school didn't have any power, and entire neighborhoods could not get out because trees were blocking both major thoroughfares and the roads leading into and out of numerous neighborhoods (I chalk up the fact that they had school to the complete confusion that reigned in this whole area that morning). The school closed late morning, and I picked them up even earlier than closing time because by then, I had made it my mission in life to procure a car-charger for my iPhone before the next (and expected to be worse) rounds of storm came through. Since we had no power, and no land line, a charged iPhone would be my only contact with the outside world and the only way to track the even more severe storms that would be coming through later in the day. And I had already realized that getting ANYWHERE was going to be a problem. Everywhere I went, I'd encounter massive trees or downed power lines blocking the road. On top of all of this, the gas light came on in my car, and I couldn't find a gas station that had power (and therefore operational pumps). Oh, and somewhere in the middle of this we ended up in the parking lot of Walgreen's, which was also out of power, but had employees leading cash/check customers into the store by flashlight to buy provisions. One of the clerks loaned me her car charger, and I idled in the parking lot for 20 minutes or so juicing up my phone. Weird day.

We FINALLY made it to a neighboring town, where we gassed up and found a car charger. And then we went home and waited for the really bad storms to come through. After driving around that morning, I truly thought that our neighborhood looked like a war zone -- huge, downed trees everywhere, crushed roofs, mangled power lines. But it wasn't until the next day, when we saw pictures of the damage from the tornado that barreled through the state that night (and touched down several miles north of us) that we saw what a real war zone looks like. We feel very lucky. And very sad.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Trees and other backyard menaces

We are extremely grateful to have made it through the storm safely and with little damage. We do have five or six trees down in our yard (mainly in our side yard and towards the back of our lot), but nothing hit the house or caused damage to us or our property. Sadly, hundreds of people in the state were not as lucky, with 128 deaths (as of early this morning - that number is sure to rise) and unfathomable devastation throughout the state.

David and I have talked about removing some trees from our backyard ever since we moved into this house. We were mainly thinking about adding more open play space, and sun (so we could have better luck getting grass to grow). But with a long list of house projects in mind, tree removal has never made it to (or even near) the top of the priority list. Well, guess what? Now I can't even look at those trees without seeing missles aimed at my house (and my children's bedrooms). Yes, I know it takes a long time for trees to grow, and of course I love trees, but I love not getting my house sliced in half even better. There are about 9 trees on my hit list. Here is a shot of our backyard:

There's nothing like walking over a bunch of tree trunks and the top 30 feet of hundred foot tall pines to shake up the ol' project list. I will be able to sleep better at night when these trees are gone.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Mikey is In the House (Again)

{Project 365 - Day 110}

You may recall that Mikey the Monkey, Elizabeth's class mascot, visited us last fall. Well, guess what? -- Mikey's back! And he's picked the stormiest week ever to join us. Here he is sitting on the tree that fell down in our yard:

And here he is in our basement "safe place" early this morning, after the power went out and right before the storm came through:

(He's reading about Battle Droids).

Poor guy - I think his monkey nerves are shot. Hopefully we can get him through the next round of storms tonight in one piece - he's going to be begging to go back to the classroom.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Project 365 - Day 108

Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Project 365 - Day 107

Easter egg cake pops. Recipe and technique by Bakerella.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Project 365 - Day 106

(Pretending to be) Sleeping Beauty, by iPhone Instagram "EarlyBird."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Project 365 - Day 105

Here we are, terrorizing the freezer aisle at Western this afternoon.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Project 365 - Day 104

David and I really have our family life and schedule down to a well-run, finely tuned science. Things had really been humming along lately -- the kids are getting older and are therefore a little easier to manage, we'd been decluttering and getting the house back together for the first time in 3+ years, and I was really starting to feel somewhat together. The beds were getting made. We were on top of the laundry. I wasn't wasting time looking for my keys anymore. I was taking and uploading my pictures daily and blogging mostly every day. We cleaned out the garage, for heavens sake!!

And then David sprained his ankle, and the house of cards came tumbling down. Pictures were kind of the first thing to go. Made beds were the next. Thankfully, David is on the mend, and hopefully we'll be back to our normal schedule soon, but in the meantime, I realized that if I don't rely on my iPhone for pictures, the pictures are much less likely to happen. The photo above is Elizabeth after ballet class planting wildflowers in our garden, taken with the iPhone 4 instagram app.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Project 365 - Day 103

I started planting this weekend. I have a brown thumb and no creative vision when it comes to plants, but my friend Wendy helped me pick the plant combo for these planters on the front porch. I usually put my plants on death watch as soon as they go into the dirt, but I'm hoping against hope that I can keep these alive throughout the summer.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Project 365 - Day 102

Here are the girls in the sleeping quarters that Jacob set up for them in the basement office when storms came through the other day. I think they were ready to spend the night (and receive breakfast in bed?), but thankfully, the storms were largely over before bed time.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Project 365 - Day 101

Project Simplify has ended, but the areas in my house that need decluttering have not, so I'm continuing with a closet-by-closet, drawer-by-drawer attack on the clutter. And since I am supposed to post a photo a day this year, I might as well share the progress here. This week, I hit the coat closet, which is located in our kitchen.

Coat closet, before:

Overview of that situation: we keep coats in the coat closet, of course, but it had gotten completely overstuffed with coats (including many winter coats), so my first step was to move the winter coats somewhere else. We also use the coat closet as kind of a mini-art/activity supply center -- the kids draw and do homework at the kitchen table (which is located right next to the closet), so it makes sense to keep a stash of essentials nearby (even though we keep most of our art supplies in the basement). However, the closet's art supply system, such as it were, had gotten completely out of hand. The baskets on the top shelf contain the kids' winter hats, mittens, etc. which we only need for about a month out of the year, and certainly not in April, so they probably need to get moved somewhere else.

Floor of closet, before:

Cardboard Cinderella mask, blue plastic container shaped like a giant Easter egg -- yup, just your standard coat closet essentials. While you can't really see them in the pictures above because they are buried in other junk, these lap desks were taking up a ton of floor space on the closet:

Since the kids end up drawing, etc at the kitchen table or the coffee table, I decided that these lap desks didn't really need to take up such prime real estate. I should probably get rid of them altogether, but for now, to the basement they went (and got good use tomorrow, when the storms hit -- I love how blogging and posting at random and rigging the dates allows me to transcend the space/time continuum!!)

The old "clear shoe bag on back of door" has worked well for us in various areas of the house, and has generally worked great for coralling art supplies in the kitchen coat closet, as well as the various card games they enjoy (go-fish, etc., not poker). But the shoe bag had gotten way, WAY overstuffed:

I needed to thin that thing out, big time. And I decided that they have too many crayons, markers, etc. to fit well in the bag pockets, so I would move them into something else.

I took everything out, purged a bunch of stuff, moved some things elsewhere. Once everything else was back in the closet, I pondered how to use the vacant floor space. I thought a rolling wire cart like this one would fit great it that space, and I could keep more art supplies of different varieties upstairs (different kinds of paper, puff balls, pipe cleaners -- just the basics). But that stuff is all easy enough to get when I need it, and besides, I had taken a solemn vow not to purchase a thing in connection with Project Simplify (of which the coat closet project is just an informal extension . . .), so I moved on to other options. I finally thought about another trouble spot on the other end of our kitchen, at the base of our back staircase:

The shoe cubby/docking station/message board corner. The shoe cubby was functioning at about 60%. The kids were much more likely to throw their shoes next to the cubby -- plus, the cubby itself was not exactly a looker -- so it ended looking kind of rough over there. But we (and I in particular) really use that area - invitations, school lunch menus, etc. get stuck on the message board, phones and iPods get charged there, and that is where I set my purse and bags. So I needed something that functioned as a tabletop in that (narrow) space. And then it came to me -- I could move the shoes into the closet, and then bring down a console table from our upstairs landing that wasn't doing anything in particular up there.

Coat closet, after:

Shelf in closet: one magazine file of coloring/activity books, one magazine file of drawing paper, and some of my beloved sterilite bins filled with crayons, markers, colored pencils, and stickers:

After the table/shoe cubby switcheroo:

The table fits perfectly there and makes the area so much more functional (and neater, although I won't go so far as to say neat) than it was with the shoe cubby. I was giddy all day after this switch. It really is the little things.

I'm not sure what's on the agenda for next week. Laundry room? Junk drawer? Kids' closets? Finish what I started in the garage? Basement office? So many trouble spots, so little time!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Project 365 - Day 100


I've had an iPhone for well over a year and I could not live without it. Of course, like all iPhones, it has a camera, but I really only use it when I forget my other camera, or when I never intended to bring my other camera but see a moment I'd like to photograph. I've always been completely underwhelmed by the quality of the photos. They are total "camera phone" photos with poor resolution. I've seen some great iPhone photos taken by friends, though. And more recently, I've seen some professional photographers post about how much fun they are having shooting with their iPhones (and have seen their amazing iPhone pictures). Now, apparently the camera was upgraded significantly between the iPhone 3 (which I currently have) and the iPhone 4 (which I will be upgrading to . . . today!) and that probably accounts for some of the mediocrity of my iPhone pics. But another thing I've completely failed to take advantage of are the various iPhone apps for processing iPhone photos -- there are a bunch of them, and they are fantastic -- you can take a peek at some wonderful photos taken with the Instagram app here.

One thing instagram does not have is a cropping feature -- and it's bugging the heck out of me that Caroline is straight-on centered in this photo. I know you know exactly what I'm talking about, Heather and Amanda !

The fact that this one is blurry is not the iPhone's fault. Somehow, I like it anyway!

Anyway, I had some fun playing with instagram yesterday while the girls were blowing bubbles. It can definitely take regular old photos and make them look kinda cool. I really can't wait to play with it (and other photo processing apps!) on my iPhone 4. I'd been kind of struggling with what to do about a camera when we go to Disney World -- I've been planning to take my regular camera, but haven't been sure about what lens/lenses to take. It would sure make things a lot easier if I could just bring my phone! I doubt I'll go that far, but after perusing the interwebs and seeing what can be done with the iPhone 4 camera, it sure it tempting!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Project 365 - Day 99

We had some storms come through the other night and lost our cable, so I haven't been able to post (in contrast to all those times when I have been able to post but didn't and did not have a valid excuse). So, moving backwards . . . here is a picture of Elizabeth and Caroline at Sunday's Easter egg hunt in their matching painted bunny faces, taken before the Easter Bunny showed up.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Project 365 - Day 98

Yesterday was the neighborhood Easter egg hunt - the ultimate spring photo op. I expected to get tons of pictures of the girls (Jacob was at a birthday party) running around picking up eggs, but it didn't quite work out that way because they would either hand me a huge, melting, half eaten sugar cookie and juice box and then run off (leaving me without a free hand to take a picture), or I had to soothe Caroline, who was, for the third year straight, freaking out at the sight of E. Bunny. Elizabeth, on the other hand, wanted to get her picture taken with the Easter Bunny, so I snapped this one with my zoom lens from quite a distance away while Caroline clung to my legs screaming "I wanna go home! I wanna go home!" Making memories - that's what it's all about. Of course, when the day was over and I was putting Caroline to bed, she told me that her favorite part of the day was the Easter egg hunt.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Project 365 - Day 97

Excuse the blurry iPhone pic, but I was still so stunned that I successfully pitched this tent that I forgot to dig into my backpack for my real camera. Elizabeth and I went camping at the zoo with the Daisy Scouts on Saturday night. It was both of our first time camping. I have to admit I was kind of dreading it, but it ended up being super fun! We had a night tour of the zoo, and I swear it was like being in a movie where the animals are just boring animals by day, but by night they drive cars and tell jokes in French. The animals were as engaging and animated as I have ever seen them. The zebras (who usually stand far back and ignore the visitors) came right up to the fence and whinnied (or whatever it is that zebras do to verbalize), the giraffes were practically doing the Macarena for us, and the lions were roaring up a storm. The girls really had a ball. Elizabeth slept well (I did not because I underinflated the air mattress, and it was too late to do anything about it by the time I realized it) but they brought the roosters in to cockadoodledoo at 6:00 a.m. (we had to be out by 7) so she is pretty tired today!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Project 365 - Day 96

The final Project Simplify Hot Spot is . . . . anything you want! Apparently Simple Mom was getting some complaints along the lines of "hey, I just did that area!" as well as numerous requests to select specific hot spots, so everyone got to choose their own decluttering spot this week. I was originally a little disappointed about the lack of a specific assignment, because if I was self-disciplined enough to decide on my own which among the many problem areas in my home I should declutter on any given week, I wouldn't have so many problem areas in the first place! But I reminded myself that I DID start this whole decluttering process before I had even heard of Project Simplify, so surely I had it in me to just pick an area and blast through it. Given that nobody is operating at full physical speed around here this week, I figured something ambitious like "the attic" might be unrealistic. I decided that I needed to go with a smaller area, but one that was a huge train wreck, so I could end Project Simplify with a nice post-decluttering buzz. My hot spot? Drumroll . . . .

Under the kitchen sink.


Cleared out and freshly contact papered:

Once everything was out from under the sink, I went through the various cleaners and sorted them by category.

You know, I never have really known exactly what Jet Dry does; maybe if I just keep buying multiple little bottles of it, its purpose will eventually reveal itself to me.

I believe it is legally required to keep a coffee can full of bacon grease under one's kitchen sink, so mine stayed.

My friend Gary, Heather's husband, is known to prize smudge-free stainless steel. Heather told me that Gary's stainless steel cleaner of choice is by Zep. Unfortunately, I learned during this process that I have a near stockpile of non-Zep stainless steel cleaners (and frequently smudged appliances - coincidence?), so I'm going to have to hurry and use these up so I can finally achieve that Zep-like appliance shine that would earn the Gary seal of approval.

I put only cleaners that get used in the kitchen back (plus the can o' bacon grease and some vases) under the sink; everything else got moved elsewhere:

Hmmmm . . . I'm not sure this looks a whole lot better than the before, but believe it or not it does feel a lot less cluttered in there in person. And it will get even better once I can get rid of some of those duplicate bottles. Ah yes, can't a girl dream about how it will look under her kitchen sink . . . someday?

This concludes Project Simplify, but you know, I think I'm going to shoot to continue to do an organizing project every Friday. Because I've got nothing if not Project 365 days to burn. Thanks to Simple Mom for hosting this project!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Project 365 - Day 95

I've been making these rolls at least twice a week for the past month and a half. My kids love them, which helps soothe my ego (which has been bruised and battered over years of hearing my kids complain about the food I serve. I mean, I'm hardly some great cook, but I think I am at least a competent cook, and when my kids would rather have Eggo waffles than delicious homemade buttermilk waffles (which are objectively much much better! I swear!) then mistakes were made, as they say. But moving on . . .

Anyway, I make them as one ounce rolls instead of larger hamburger buns, but I use them as burger buns (I make sliders instead of big hamburgers), hot dog buns, barbecue buns, and regular old dinner rolls. As is the case with most King Arthur Flour recipes, this one is perfect and foolproof. The kids like to spread melted butter on them when they come out of the oven (which is what is going on in this photo).

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Project 365 - Day 94

Here is Elizabeth cleaning out her fish bowl, er, Coke bottle (a Daisy Scouts project, and she hasn't wanted to upgrade to a bowl). David taught her how to quickly-but-carefully transfer the fish from the Coke bottle to another bowl so we could change the water, and she's pretty good at it (okay, so one snail ended up going down the drain - details!)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Project 365 - Day 93

I was well into the second hour of indulging my post-half marathon aches & pains -- I had taken a warm bath, spent a little time in bed with a stack of magazines and a heating pad, and was just about to snuggle up with Caroline on the sofa and take a little nap -- when the phone rang. I wasn't sure who would be calling right then -- David was at Elizabeth's soccer game with Jacob and Elizabeth, and I had otherwise already spoken to everyone I typically speak with on a Sunday. Probably just a telemarketer -- SURELY nothing that would interfere with the next 8-12 hours of self-babying that I had planned.

It was David on the phone -- he had stepped on a soccer ball, beard a loud "pop" (his ankle, not the ball) and gone down hard. Could I get a ride to the field? He wasn't sure he could drive and we didn't want to wind up with two cars at the field. And with that, I was officially no longer the achiest one in the house. So I limped on over to my closet, got myself dressed, popped a couple of Tylenol, and headed over to the field with Caroline and David's parents. Here's how we found David:

One amazingly efficient trip to the ER later (seriously - in and out in less than an hour!) and we were home; David was on crutches and in an ankle brace, but it could have been much worse. We were hoping that the kids would baby both of us that night, which didn't quite happen, but they were really tired from the weekend so at least they went to sleep pretty easily!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Project 365 - Day 92

Here's me crossing the finish line at the Talladega Half Marathon. I finished about 8 minutes slower than last year's Mercedes Half (I would have done better, but I lost time in the pits. Haha. Sorry, but the opportunities for cheesy NASCAR jokes are endless when you run a race at the Talladega Superspeedway. In fact, my running buddy and I killed at least 3 miles coming up with bad running/auto racing puns). In any event, at least I can walk right now (last year I hurt my knee and was sidelined for 6 weeks afterwards) -- which is a good thing given the way the rest of the day went down. Moving on . . .

Last year I said that that would be my last half; that I'd stick with 5Ks and 10Ks, but I ended up really missing Mercedes after not running it this year and decided on a whim to do Talladega. I'm once again swearing off halfs (they are hard on the body, at least my body. And I can get all of the benefits of running without doing halfs.) We'll see if I can stick with that - these longer races have an odd appeal to them . . .

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Project 365 - Day 91

The artiste painted in her garden on this pretty day; here she is tending to some detail work.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Project 365 - Day 90

Spice cabinet, after:

It's week four of Project Simplify, and this week's Hot Spot is the pantry/refrigerator. As scary as those areas can get, I've got to admit that this week seemed like a something of a break after dealing with clothes, toys and paper. Still, these are definitely areas that need attention, since we all know that spices and canned goods tend to breed in the middle of the night while we sleep. I'd actually tackled our main pantry a month or two ago, so while it needed a little neatening, it wasn't the nightmare that it has been in the past. But we have a separate cabinet where I keep my spices, tea, etc. and it has gone untouched for the 3.5 years we've been in the house (other than when I go rummaging in there looking for the spice and/or tea bag that I need). So it needed serious attention.

Before shot of the spice cabinet:

I had one lazy susan in there, but it really wasn't functioning well. I'd spin it and spin it, but I could still never find anything. Eventually I want to get roll-outs in this cabinet, but that's not happening anytime soon. I also thought about getting something like this or this, but (1) I was really trying to follow Simple Mom's "use what you have" philosophy and not automatically start throwing money at my spice problem, and (2) I wasn't completely sure that either of these would be an ideal solution for me anyway, given how I cook and how I think. In the end, I came up with a different method that I really think is going to work for me.

The very scary during shot:

Molly McButter?

The shame. I was young and foolish back then . . . in 2006, when this expired.

On the other hand, I also found a nice stash of saffron in there:

Those of you who have purchased saffron threads recently know that that is almost like finding a stash of gold, frankincense or myrrh in your pantry -- score! (Okay, maybe not quite that good, but it's at least like finding a twenty in the pocket of a purse you haven't used in a while!) Ina's Saffron Risotto with Butternut Squash, I know you're not in season, but here I come!

I went through everything, tossed some stuff, consolidated some other stuff (three bottles of cumin only happens to people with out-of-control spice cabinets) and then sat and pondered the rest. I thought about how I really cook and when I tend to reach for spices. I realized that I tend to think about spices in "families" -- the Baking Spices, the Tex-mex Spices, the Italian Spices, and the Other Spices. So I decided to organize my spices that way. I found a few trays in various sizes around the house and assembled my spices accordingly.

Baking spices:



The Baking Family, Italianish Family and Tex-Mexish Family all live nicely together on one shelf in my cabinet.

The Randoms live on the lazy susan on another shelf:

Now I can just grab the appropriate tray when I'm cooking and easily find what I need. If I'm making a recipe that calls for something odd like, say, celery seed, I can just give the lazy susan a spin and find the "C" section (the randoms are alphabetized) and see if I have it.

This method might not work for everyone, but it definitely makes sense for me and the way I cook.

In addition to the spices, the cabinet was overflowing with tea. I began with a vow to have a cup of tea every night from now to eternity, even if it kills me. I then fit all of the tea that I could into two Sterilite shoeboxes -- oh Sterilite containers, how I adore thee! -- which fit nicely onto the top shelf. I then arranged some hot chocolate, mulling spices, etc. next to the tea containers.

What can I say -- I'm elated! If I knew getting your spice cabinet in order could feel this good, I would have done it years ago!

Once again I've talked too much, so I will refrain from getting into the minutiuae of my main-pantry and fridge cleanups. To summarize: I tossed a bunch of stuff (the most embarrassing being a 7 year old can of pineapple juice) and neatened a bunch of other stuff. Here's the after picture of the pantry:

Many thanks to Simple Mom for hosting this Project! It's great to have an excuse to get my act together!