Sunday, March 27, 2011

Back to the grind...

Oh, Spring Break, we hardly knew ye...

Yeah, like any other vacation, this one went way too quickly. Tomorrow we're back at it - early wake-ups, grading papers, packing lunches.  Re-entry is tough.  What's sad is that I'm already tired.

Today I finished tackling Project:Simplify's hotspot #3: kids bedroom and toys.  I was really fooling myself when I didn't think there was much to do. But once we got into it, the messes kept coming, the yard sale pile kept growing, and the little task grew.  Here's where we started out:

Overflowing stuffed animals

Full dresser top

socks and underwear and plastic bags?

So that's where we started.  It's still too early to bring out the summer clothes (if the shorts are in the drawer, they want to wear them no matter the weather), so mostly we were straightening drawers, rounding up mismatched socks, and re-ordering the hanging clothes.  But it was the piles on the closet shelf, the basket of school papers on the dresser, and mountains of stuffed animals that overflowed the toy box. The boys were big helpers - and together their room looks much better than when we started.

Dresser, minus massive pile of paintings and other school work

Even the shelf above is clean

Pull-ups and slippers

Organized closet

Nicely folded clothes in the drawers

Today was the playroom.  We had done a major clean-out after Christmas, so there wasn't nearly as much to do there.  The big clean-out came with the laundry-basket full of books that need to find new homes.  In fact, the MUCH bigger issue in the playroom was my craft corner.  The large baskets of fabric had exploded. The balls of yarn drug out by the cat needed rewinding. Basically, the whole thing needed to be pulled out, cleaned, and put back together.  But it's done. And it feels worlds better than it did before.

Main toy shelf

The Lego Station

Bookshelves and reading corner

Dress-up area

Fabric bins
Other side of Craft Closet
While cleaning and organizing wasn't my ideal "vacation", I feel relieved to be heading back to work with the boys' room and the play/craft room ready to go.  It is so much easier to do a quick pick-up in the evenings if everything has a place, and all the extra stuff is gone. The boys are happy to have rediscovered old books, and I found lots of fabric that is inspiring some projects to tackle.

Can't wait to hear about hotspot #4 tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

From today...

It's spring break in our world, which means we quickly fall into our vacation rhythm: 

                   - Time to make (and drink) a pot of tea

                   -  A full bowl of fruit and vegetables ready for eating

                    - Beans soaking and ready to be cooked
                    - Some sewing and crafting (more on this one later...)
                    - Lots of play

We're in our own brand of heaven.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Week 2 Check Ins....

As a friend remarked earlier, I thought I better check in to let you know that "living without cheese hadn't done me in".  I'm still here - albeit buried under a mountain of paperwork from the last 8 years.  You see, on Project:Simplify, week 2's "hotspot" was paper clutter.  Once again, Tsh got me - that is one of the very hardest things for me to deal with.  And a huge reason it has been difficult was years of subverting the system we had established.  Laziness often won out, and our two file cabinets were filled to the brim with all manners of documents needing to be filed, recycled, or shredded.

(Yes, I know that technically week 2 was last week.  But with report cards and several nights with activities, it just wasn't happening.  Knowing that I had spring break this week allowed me to feel ok with tackling two weeks worth of cleaning in one.)

I have just spent the last 6 hours sorting through two file cabinets, a pile on the desk, and assorted other piles of paperwork.  Three box loads in the recycling, two paper bags of shredded paper, and a large box of papers yet to be shredded, and I am nearly done.  There are a few files Dan still needs to go through, but in general, it is SOOOOOOO much better.  I feel like a huge weight has been lifted.  (Paper's awfully heavy, you know!) And now we're cleaned out and set up for next January, when the oldest year of records will be moved out to maintain the current cleanliness.  I also switched several bills and account statements to paperless billing to reduce the amount of paper clutter that comes into the house. The final step is going to IKEA tomorrow to get document boxes to store the boys' work that comes home form school.  There will be a "working" box for the current year, and a permanent box for the top few (3-5 items) from each year. I think this is going to work. Wish me luck!

And then there's the food challenge.  I'd be lying if I said that it's been easy.  It hasn't.  I still have cravings, but am getting better at finding substitutes.  The biggest challenge has been in the planning of meals - often one for me and one for the rest of the family.  And with everything we had going on last week, that often was too much, and both meals were hurried and less than ideal.  I'm learning that whole grains and beans take a lot more time and forethought than I am used to, with the soaking and long cooking times.  It will get easier, but for now there's still a steep learning curve. I am, however, still enjoying the food that I am eating, and know that many of these dishes will find their way into our regular rotation even when the 30 days are over.

Overall, this week was one lacking balance.  I was trying to do too many things, learn too many things, and accomplish too many things.  My sleep, my brain and muscles, and our family suffered for it.  But it was a great reminder why we don't live our lives that way most of the time.  Every once in a while I worry that I have simplified too much, causing us to miss out on new opportunities.  This week reminded me that while we may not get o take advantage of everything presented to us, we are happier when there is less on our plates. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

30-Day Check In - Day 8

I'm sitting here at my desk, with just a few minutes before the lunch bell rings and my students flood back into the classroom. Normally at this time I'm trying to gear up - relax the shoulders, read one last blog, inhale a bite of who-remembers-what.  But not today.

Today, I feel ready. Despite the sleepy corners of my brain, the rest of me is rejuvenated and ready to go.  Something that rarely happens in my 30 minutes of lunch.  And I think the difference today is entirely related to the vegan cleanse in which I am participating.

It's day 8.  For breakfast I had a slice of multigrain toast with almond butter and a banana.  Lunch is a collard green and butternut squash soup, and in my lunch bag is a green smoothie for a snack this afternoon.  Dinner will be some yummy whole grains, lots of veggies and some form of plant protein.  Instead of sugar-filled hot cocoa, there will be a teapot full of herbal tea.

As I said from the beginning, I have no intention of becoming a full-time lifetime vegan.  But I am noticing little changes in how my body and brain feel when I eat this way.  My skin feels softer, I don't feel heavy after a meal, and my spirit feels good knowing that I am making deliberate choices to eat healthy, whole foods.  And honestly, I think the "wholeness" of the foods is what is making as much as a difference as the lack of animal products. The lack of processed foods (although I did have a few potato chips the other day) has been good, and the cutting out of sugar has been great.  A week in, and the cravings are gone.  Not that sugar still doesn't sound good - but I don't need it.

Tonight I'll go for a run.  And tomorrow I will fill my body with more food that makes me feel energetic and happy and satisfied.   And I never would have guessed that would be how I would be feeling. What a great surprise! I can't wait to see what the next 22 days brings.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

End of Week 1: Check In

It's Sunday night.  I'm ready for bed, but wanted to check in here and share how the week has ended up. To be honest, I'm feeling a bit tired, overwhelmed, and out of time.  It was a busy weekend in our world (school auction, birthday party, many errands, many items on the to-do list that never even got touched), and to have self-imposed organization deadlines on top of it all felt over the top.

But, here's a check-in on Project:Simplify.  Remember - the "hot spot:" for this week was the master bedroom closet.  And you know what?  I did get it done.  With the help of IKEA and the purchase of long-desired wooden hangers and three bags of clothes destined for yard sale or goodwill, it's looking a lot better.  See for yourself:

So, it's getting better.  And tonight I tackled some of the other piles around the room, so there are just a few things left.  But I am bumping into the wall of frustration that comes when I start to really clean out and organize an area - I begin to notice all of the other issues and spots where we've let things accumulate.  All the other "hot spots" are jumping out at me.  In fact, the whole house feels like a giant hot spot.  I'm trying to breathe deeply and trust that the next 4 weeks will address some of those and remember that it didn't get messy in a week, and it won't all get fixed in a week.

Tomorrow night I will be doing a 30 Day Vegan check in - I've finished the first 7 of 30 days, and it's been an interesting ride so far. But tonight, I'm going to work on one of my goals - getting to bed on time.  

Good night!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Peacemaker's Basket

First off, I need to apologize.  For the next month, this space will primarily be filled with the two "programs" I am doing right now to bring better balance to my world.  Yesterday I posted about Project:Simplify, and I am pleased to report that the closet clean-out is now about 80% finished.  I have to head back to IKEA for more hangers and tackle the sweater shelf.  I will be posting before/after pictures this weekend so you can see.

The second "program", 30 Day Vegan, has been an interesting journey so far.  It's been both easier and harder than I thought. I find myself thinking about food constantly.  Not in the "Oh, I can't have that" way, but in trying to be really reflective on how what I am eating makes me feel. As terrible as it sounds, it's just not something I've paid much attention to.  I felt good or bad or tired or whatever, but there was never a connection in my mind to what I was eating.

I can't go so far as to say I've noticed a tremendous difference in the last 4 days.  But I have noticed little things.  I'm less tired at the end of the day.  My sugar cravings have dropped considerably.  I am noticing that I have all kinds of hang ups about "good" and "bad" foods that are just plain silly.  For example - peanut butter is high in fat, so instead of an apple with a small amount of peanut butter to dip in for a evening snack, I would choose a big mug of instant hot cocoa.  Instead of getting the benefits of the apple and the satisfaction of the peanut butter, I was choosing a bunch of sugar and artificial ingredients. Hmm...something's wrong there.  One thing that has really helped me was Heather's suggestion of "crowding out". Instead of thinking about all the things I "can't" have, I need to focus on all the yummy foods I get to enjoy - large slices of avocado on my white bean and veggies wrap, crunchy quinoa salad with carrots and parsley, sliced bananas on toast with almond butter.  Who's suffering with those delicious options?

But the biggest thing that has changed had nothing to do with food. It's funny - I thought I was just signing up for a meal plan/food cleanse.  Instead, Heather has organized it much more as a month long retreat for taking care of our bodies and ourselves. It's been wonderful.  Today's morning idea was the creation of a Peacemaker's Basket - a basket of those things that you can turn to for a moment of calm.  A spot where my favorite things are gathered, prepared and ready for the quick five-minute retreat when dinner is in the oven or while the boys are playing peacefully with their blocks.  I love that idea, so here are the things I will gather for my Peacemaker's basket this evening:
  1. Mitten Strings for God by Katrina Kenison
  2. A photo book of the family session my dear friend Emily shot last May
  3. Cotton yarn and needle for knitting a washcloth (mindless, always needed, feels like the ultimate domesticity)
  4. Cacao nibs from Alma
  5. Journal and favorite pen
  6. Yummy hand lotion
  7. Bubble bath - something from Philosophy (love the cinnamon roll right now)
  8. A pine cone - reminds me of my grandma, and the value in balance and symmetry in nature
Taking the time for breathing is so overlooked in our busy lives.  And I don't know anyone who isn't busy. But if all I need to "get away" is a basket next to the bed, I'm all for it.  I can certainly fit that in.

SO, indulge me.  What would go in your Peacemaker's basket?  Leave a comment, and on Saturday I'll draw a name and some amazing Alma chocolate will be headed your way!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Project Simplify, Day 1

Dear Tsh (of Simple Mom and Organized Simplicity fame) -

How could you?  Read my mind, that is.  Of all the places to start focusing on simplification, you had to choose the one area that is causing me the most stress right now. The master bedroom. Seriously, it's a pit. It all started when we emptied out the old entertainment center and had no place to put the drawers of VHS tapes and DVD cases.  Then, those piles just happen to have magnetic qualities for morning clothing rejects. And I just can't get rid of _________, because when I lose that 5 lbs, it will fit better...And, and, and...You get the idea.

I'm full of excuses as to why my room is the mess that it is. But lately I've realized just how much it is dragging me down.  A clean, organized haven?  Sounds dreamy.  So it's time to get rid of the excuses - and the old VHS tapes.  I started last night with my dresser.  There's a new bag of clothes to take to Goodwill and space in the drawers.  Tonight is the stop by IKEA for new wooden hangers (a long-time dream).  I'm trying not to worry that I won't have as many options for what to wear, because the truth is, while there is a lot in there, I don't wear it.  I still have a small rotation.  And if there's space, then maybe there's some room for me finding things that I love.

Here we go!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Fresh starts...

New Years is great.  Who doesn't like the opportunity to start fresh?  But for me, I always feel like it comes at the wrong time.  We're in the middle of winter, the middle of the school year, the middle of blah blah blah. For me, fresh starts feel more natural with other change - the season or our daily routines.

Around the beginning of March I always feel this big push for a new beginning.  Those crocuses pop up and I want to clean every cupboard, sterilize every surface, and open all the windows to let the stale air out and fresh  air in. And slowly, those things are starting to happen.  I'm looking at tile for the boys' bathroom floor.  There's a growing garage sale pile in the garage.  I'm going to be starting the Simple Mom Project:Simplify as a way to tackle those troublesome hotspots in our home that collect clutter.

But this week I am also trying something I have never done before.  I am going to be doing the 30 Day Vegan program that Heather over at Beauty that Moves is offering. Now remember, I grew up with 40 acres of beef cattle out my window and a deep seated love of all things cheese. This is going to be tough.  And I have no illusions that I will become a full-time vegan.  But I want a chance to try something that helps make eating well a conscious choice every day for 30 days.

Most of the time, the rest of the family will continue with our regular meal fare.  But there will be new plant offerings on the table, too.  In fact, two of the dinners for this week will work well for all of us - butternut and apple squash soup and pad thai.  And while it isn't a focus of the program, I am also working to drastically lower my processed sugar intake.

So, wish me luck.  I hope to report wonderful feelings of new-found energy, or even just a few new lunch options that keep me from grabbing a hot dog from the Dog House.