Wednesday, April 24, 2013

First day

 Yesterday really felt like the first day of Spring.

First thing in the morning, as the sunlight streamed through Nik's bedroom window, I changed our nature table for spring.  Keeping it sparse, just like our pokey spring, I still included a couple flowers, and a few little fairies to help get things moving. 


 I opened the windows and then, inspired by two books I am paging through right now, 'Fifteen Minutes Outside' and 'The Rhythm of Family', I went outside with my kids in both the morning and the afternoon.

We kicked at the snow and ice, and opened the sandbox. 

 Our neighbourhood was waking up from a sleepy winter.  The sunshine inspired the birds to sing, and the boys across the street to come out and jump their skateboards and scooters.  Seniors, and new parents with strollers walked by on the back path, and the young and fit jogged past them.

We unlocked the shed and pulled out the outside toys.  The kids found the sidewalk chalk and got to work brightening our play equipment.

There was a chill on the ground, but warmth in the air, and it really felt like something was beginning.  Fresh air in my lungs.  Mud on my pants.

Eventually, Nik tried to cross the back ditch, insisting to me that the snow was strong enough to support his weight.  As he winter boots filled with water, I knew we would be heading in to warm up soon.  Three sets of fresh clothes later, we settled down at our living room table for a tea party, to celebrate mud and birdsong and the first day of many outdoor days to come.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Breaking out of the funk

Spring is late this year.  If you didn't know it from looking out my window, you'd know it from the shear amount of griping about it on Facebook.  Everyone's kids are hyper, and stay at home parents, especially, are getting grumpy.

Being stuck inside gets depressing.  It is so easy to fall into a behind-on-housework, no motivation funk.  My personal challenge to myself has been to get the laundry folded and put away, but I have been failing to complete this for about 2 weeks. Sickness and busyness threw off our routine, and I just can't seem to get it under control again. Each day I do a little, save Sunday which is my day off, but I am starting to feel like Lucy next to the candy conveyer belt... There is always more coming!

Times like this, I have to fall back to my go-to "break out of the funk" strategies.  Maybe they can help you, too, next time you feel depleted and overwhelmed by the repetitive nature of home making.

  • Change the atmosphere.  I make a cup of tea, put on a favourite cd, and open the curtains. These are things that are mood lifting for me. I do it even if I don't feel like it because I know it helps.
  • Focus on one thing at a time.  I like to tackle the most obvious, annoying, in the way problem first. This might mean I clean the kitchen or living room, at the expense of the whole rest of the house. 
  • Make a 'Done' list. To Do lists are depressing and exhausting. Done lists are energizing. List everything. Changed a diaper. Tidied toys out of the living room. Loaded and ran the dishwasher.
  • Reward yourself. It can be as small as 'I fold this load of laundry, and I get to play a level of Candy Crush saga' to as big as, if I work for two hours this morning, I am vegging out on FB for an hour (or more) after lunch.
  • Do something that lasts. Do an activity with your kids and take photos. Bake something. Organize a cupboard or drawer. Anything that will stay done for a least a few days counts.

We made a gingerbread house.  See the mess in the background?  Who cares?  Candy!

  • Get out. Take a walk. Go to the library. Make a meal plan and shopping list, and get the groceries. Bonus if you do this in the morning, because it forces you to dress yourself and your kids, and eat something.
Life is made up of days, and days are made up of moments.  Focusing on the big picture can be overrated, and overwhelming.  Just take it one breath at a time.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The coupon game

In my ongoing quest to reduce our monthly grocery budget, I have been trying to learn the coupon game.  I read about coupon strategies in the book, 'Be Centsable', and have been finding more specific, local help from Michelle Roy at Manitoba Coupon Maven, and in her group, For the Love of Coupons, on Facebook.

Today, I put together my travel coupon storage for grocery items.  Taking a bit of inspiration from a coupon collecting cashier at London Drugs, I decided a little while ago that I wanted to use a bargain photo album for my coupon storage, and I found this one at a thrift shop for $1.99.

If I feel creative one day, I may upcycle it to say, 'Coupons' or some such, but so far, it works for me.  I keep only the coupons that I think I would really use, if I came across that item on sale, and we weren't already stocked up at home.  Though it is close to full now (80%, I would say), several of the coupons I have now will expire at the end of this month, making room for new ones.  I write the expiry on the coupon, since it seems to always be written somewhere different, and this way I can see at glance if the coupon is still good, or not.

I have a loose organization system where food coupons are followed by other consumable items in basic categories like pharmacy, cleaners, and paper products.

Because of the way the album is constructed, there are larger pockets in the front and the back.  In the front, I have slipped in my regular price comparison chart, with the regular prices of common grocery items from Walmart and Costco.  I use this to help me decide if a sale in a store is worth taking advantage of, or not.

In the back, I keep restaurant coupons.  I know I won't generally use the restaurant coupons when I am shopping, but because this coupon album will live in my purse, it is nice to keep the restaurant coupons there, too.  You never know when circumstances will lead to an unplanned meal out, or picking up take out, and by having the coupons on hand we can still take advantage of whatever deals have come our way.

Just one more strategy to stretch the budget.  Since Food and Consumables make up over 65% of our variable expenses in our budget, there is quite a lot of motivation to see how low we can go.  :-)

Friday, February 22, 2013

The hard and the easy

Have a nice day.  :-)

At any single point in time, there is a lot wrong with the world.   We might be swept away by pervasive problems, like policies that don't take into account the big picture, companies that value profit at all costs, or world hunger There is a lot that needs to be improved in our individual lives, too.  It is easy to get bogged down by the difficulty of a marriage that isn't going smoothly, a career that is draining, or children that present daily, repetitive challenges.  Add to that the daily stresses and annoyances of trying to cross items off of our 'To do' lists, manage our finances, and just generally get along with others (who are maybe not always so easy to get along with), and there is a lot to complain about in this mortal life.

The temptation to do just that, to complain, or rant on Facebook, or just generally feel sorry for ourselves, is strong.  Somehow, it seems like it will make us feel better.  To revel in the wrongness, to have people agree, to give an 'Amen!' to our succinct and oh-so-right perspective on just how bad things are, and especially how at fault other people are.  We can walk away feeling smug, secure in our rightness, and thinking, if only more people would wake up and do things the way we know they ought to be done.

I am choosing not to do that here, in this blog.

Don't get me wrong.  I am not saying other people can't do that.  I mean, some people live for it.  Live for the bad news, the next snippet of horribleness from their most hated politician or manager or mother-in-law that they can announce, more evidence proving how awful that person really is.  I know a lot about those people, because it comes very naturally to me to be one of those people.  But being one of those people has never made me happy.

It has, on the other, done a bang up job of making me feel a host of other things.  Entitled.  Superior.  Anxious.  Depressed.

A quote that I came across in Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project really resonated with me:

"It is easy to be heavy; hard to be light." ~G. K. Chesterton

It is hard to look on the bright side.  People can treat you like you must not be very smart, must not understand how wrong things are.  Or they can be nasty and jealous.  There is a sort of social pressure that says, "How dare you talk about your wonderful life when so many people have it worse?  Don't you care about how bad you will make them feel?"  But I think that what really brings people down is hearing about all the hopeless and dreary things.  People are drawn to hope and beauty and happy things.  You don't see a lot of disaster photos being pinned to Pinterest.

The way I see it, any blog is just a collection of thoughts and ideas, memories and musings, expressed in words and illustration.  I want to be mindful about what I will be collecting here.  I want it to be the good stuff.  The things I want to remember, the things I am most proud of, the things that smack of the life I want to cultivate for myself, and my family. 

Good stuff.

There are crummy things and bad days in my life, just like there are in yours.  But they aren't the most deserving of my energy and reflection.  The good things are.  And they will be celebrated.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

To everything, a season

Nik's joyfully 'flying' with a playsilk cape on.
 We dabble in a little Waldorf goodness here at our house.  And by 'we dabble' I mean I pin things to Pinterest like crazy, and occasionally actually follow through with something in real life.

We have a few Waldorf dolls and some lovely wooden doll furniture.  We have a really beautiful wooden rainbow stacking puzzle.  We have a set of three lovely playsilks.

But the place in our home that seems the most Waldorf inspired is the seasonal display we keep on the dresser in the kids' bedroom.  We have kept it for a year now, and have grown into it.  At first, I was the only one in our house who was interested in it, but as time went by, and as we spent more time outdoors in the summer months, Nik was often heard saying, "Oh!  I should bring this back for the nature table, Mom!"   My parents even got in on the collecting, bringing a giant leaf, and a bag full of acorns back from their fall holiday in Mississippi.

Nik's bike basket filled with pine cones for the nature table.
If you are thinking of creating a nature corner for your own home, I really encourage you to just go for it.  Make sure and find a permanent space that will not be in the way, because it takes time for the nature table to become a normal part of your family culture.  If it is in an inconvenient spot, and your kids don't really seem 'into it', it will be tempting to scrap the whole thing.  But Waldorf is different from the flashy stuff generally vying for our kids' attention.  It is quiet, and needs time to be discovered.  Provide that time.

The other main piece of advice I would give about setting up your own nature table is to not worry about it not being waldorfy enough.  This advice that I read at 'Here We Are Together' was a comfort and encouragement to me as I began, and again every time that I would venture in to change the table with the season.  Blogger Miri says, "This is a place for you and your little ones to bring a little bit of the outside world inside. There is no right or wrong way to set up a Nature Table, and as long as you enjoy building it and adding to it then it is perfect."  Sing it, sister.

We have kept our nature table for nearly one year now.  When we started, it was certainly nothing to write home about.  Just a tray, with a green playsilk representing grass, a couple pinecones (which are now a staple on our table) and various hodge podge of Easter things I had lying around the house.

The tray turned out to be a brilliant beginning, and we have kept that up.  I actually later read in 'Style At Home' magazine that items grouped on a tray automatically look more pulled together, almost like they are framed.  I had no idea I was so fashion forward.  (Hidden benefit of the tray: It keeps little bits from rolling off of the silk, onto the floor and under the dresser.  Yay!)

After Easter, I took the Easter-related items off of the tray, and added anything I could find that seemed like Spring to me.  I ended up borrowing liberally from the Little People bin, adding Maggie in her raincoat, two bunnies, and a arbor swing decked out in florals.  Again, I had to rely on Miri's words to build my confidence: "Don’t worry if it doesn’t look waldorfy enough or your only seasonal things are made of plastic." 

After we got started, each transition got easier.  Isn't that true of so many things?  I started to keep my eyes out for things made of a variety of materials, and we added driftwood, seashells (found at the thrift store), and a pottery bird in the coming weeks.

When fall arrived, it was really fun to make the dramatic change of switching out the green playsilk for our fiery orange one.  Nik added more and more pine cones, and rocks that he sifted out of our sandbox.  I also bought a lovely hand-painted wooden goose from an artisan at the farmer's market to add to our 'stream'.

And then came the seasons of Christmas and winter, and we changed up the display again.  Blue silk and fibrefill 'snow' made for a fun base to build on.   Lots of underloved Christmas decorations found their way on the to nature table, and into the supply box for seasons to come.


The nature corner changes have been a quiet little reminder to us of the rhythms of the natural world.  Nik took an interest in the summer, and now even Alexa, at nearly age 2, has started to play with some of the items in this touchable display.  But both are very respectful of this space.  Even when Nik has a meltdown and throws things around his room in anger, the nature table is spared.  Children seem to have an understanding of what is sacred.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Homemaking, one bite at a time.

Homemade Challah

For months now, I have been going through a transformation, here at home.  With the help of a group of wonderfully supportive fellow Facebookers, I have been taking small steps in my life, to declutter, simplify, and focus on what is really important.  When we started, we had a lot of common goals.

Most of the goals started out in the arena of what we wanted less of.  Less clutter.  Less stress.  Less money trouble.  Less junk in our way, messing up our homes.  Less keeping up with the Joneses.  But as we talked, we also discovered what it was we wanted instead.  Clean, peaceful homes, filled with mindfully chosen useful and beautiful things.  Lives lived in contentment, within our means, with time for the things that are really important, and that set good examples for our kids.  More gardening, baking, sharing, crafting, and beauty.  More connection to others, and to the earth.

Those were our ideals, and they were lofty.  They left us with that daunting question: How do we get there from here?

Well, how do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.

We began encouraging each other through weekly challenges.  Though some of the challenges hinted at the ideals we were longing to live out, the majority smacked of the mundane and the repetitive.  Keep a clear counter.  Track your spending.  Take the too-small clothes out our your kids' dressers.  Start a laundry routine you can stick to.  Make a nice dinner for your family.

They were good challenges in that they were things we needed to improve at.  But they seemed like such surface things.  We were craving something more visceral, more enlightened, and yet, it seemed almost impossible to get away from some basic connection between simple living and being clean and organized.

From The Complete Tightwad Gazette:


"I have had this same experience on several occasions: I visit the home of someone on a small income, frequently a senior citizen. The home is tidy, orderly, and inviting. I like being there.

Maybe the hostess asks me to get the milk. Only then I notice that the refrigerator is of a vintage bordering on antique. The paint has worn through near the handle from decades of openings. But the refrigerator is also lacking in fingerprints and the litter of shopping lists and phone messages adhered with cute magnets and clear tape. [...]

A further tour throughout the home would reveal a similar pattern. Furniture might be mismatched by good looking. Woodwork might need to be repainted, but it is clean. Nothing is brand new, but somehow the entire home has an appeal.

Where we live has a marked effect on our sense of well being. If we are happy in our home we have less need to leave it and spend money."

As we go along, it is becoming clear how the simple, somewhat monotonous tasks of homemaking really make up the stuff of life. If they are going smoothly, we have space for creativity, deeper spirituality, real human connection. But if they are a mess, we just feel harried and inadequate.

"Consider this: if your home is not providing you with a place of peace and calm, of focus and motivation; if your home is instead a major source of stress and anxiety in your life, then isn't it obvious that things are seriously out of balance? [...] How you live in the home -- eat, breathe, sleep, play, and connect with loved ones -- should be the antidote to stress, not the cause."
~Peter Walsh, author and organizer extraordinaire

Elevating the importance of peaceful home life seems to be at the heart of the simplicity movement. It isn't about keeping things clean for the sake of appearances, or even worse, to compete with Jane down the road.  Rather, it seems to be about realizing that if we can learn to keep comfortable homes, our families will want to be in those homes, and that will support our larger goals of cultivating an attached and connected family.

Kim John Payne, Waldorf educator and author of the book, Simplicity Parenting, has this to say about the link between simplifying and strong families:

"While our love may always be there, our attention can suffer, our connection can sometimes falter, and when this happens, understanding [our children] can seem like a whole lot of work. Our instincts are not always strong. Simplification is about stripping away the distractions and clutter that monopolize our attention and threaten our connection."

As a group, we are certainly finding this to be the case.  One member came on to post in celebration that she was so caught up with cooking and cleaning that she had extra time to devote to playing  farm animal dominoes and candy land with the kids.

Hubs, playing guitar for the kids, after bath time.
For myself, because I have been caught up with the house, I have been baking more. My husband has had the space in the evenings to sit in the living room and play guitar. I have cleared off my craft desk, and have begun creating again. My son can go downstairs, find a clear space to play, and build something out of LEGO.  Friends and family can drop in unexpectedly for lunch or tea, and I have a place for them, and food to feed them.  I can offer to share things with others, and there is space to walk into my storage room and find the things I am looking for.

My clean home is empowering us to be more present, creative, productive, and generous.  It has been the best kind of surprising.

Image credit to Soulseeds: Daily Affirmations

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Facebook Freecycle

Just some of the things claimed during our Facebook Freecycle

January certainly seems to be the month of 'Clean all the things!!!'  Everyone seems to be sorting through things and decluttering, jumping on their New Year's resolutions that will make this year the year that they finally get it all together.  The stores know this, and the flyers are filled with sales on boxes and bins, wardrobes and drawer units, all for the budding organizer.  And if that is the bandwagon this month, I've jumped on it with both feet.

Friday night, Nik slept over at my mom's so that first thing in the morning we could tackle the giant pile of junk in our ridiculously full storage room.  Knowing that there was a lot in there that we really didn't need, we talked about what to do with it.  We could have a garage sale, but no one will come to a garage sale in January in Winnipeg, so we would have to store everything still until spring.  We could try listing things on Kijiji, or elsewhere online to sell or swap, but that would also mean a lot of waiting and arranging.  We could truck everything off to a thrift store.  Many of my friends and acquaintances have done that in the last couple weeks.  Truck and van loads of stuff to charity.  January seems to be their windfall month.  Yes, the secondhand store seemed to be a good option.

But I had also seen people asking for things on Facebook.  Does anyone have a salad spinner?  What about any maternity clothes to share?  Oh, shoot, friends would respond.  I did have that, but I dropped it off at the thrift store last week.  So I thought, well, I will offer up my cast offs on Facebook before we truck things down to the thrift store.

I was amazed at the response.  We had a respectable pile, over 35 individual things, plus books, dishes, Christmas decorations, and adult clothing.  At least half was claimed, and most of that was picked up that same day.  Everyone's response was similar: Thanks, this is great, I will get a lot of use out of this.  People sent me Facebook messages and left comments saying, "This is a great idea.  We should do this, too." 

One message I received told me this story:

"It was nice to see someone else who gives things they no longer need away instead of selling. When we moved overseas, we gave everything we weren't taking with us to a local charity that has a food bank and store to raise funds to help those who need it. They also give things to people who may have lost stuff in a house fire or are really in need. So we gave beds, living room furniture, kitchen stuff, toys, etc. I couldn't bring myself to sell it because I KNEW when we moved here people would give us a lot of stuff and I was right. We got beds, a beautiful cupboard for in the livingroom, dishes, bedding, tables, a TV and microwave.
Sure we could sell it like most people do and we have before had garage sales, it's just at this point in my life it's like sharing what we've been blessed with."

Sharing what we've been blessed with.  What a simple and profound way to look at things.  I have to admit, I thought I was just getting rid of junk.  But I was surprised at how good it felt to just give things away to people who could use it.  We'll definitely do it again.

Storage room 'After' picture
See that clean floor?   Imagine it stacked to the ceiling with junk, and you've got your 'Before' picture. ;-)