Monday, July 27, 2015

I Shall Call Them Squishy

Subtitle: What To Do With All Your Old Receiving Blankets, Burp Cloths, Holey Baby Blankets, Stained Onesies, Worn Out Baby Towels, Mateless Baby Socks and Other Squishy Detritus

But all that didn't fit in the Post Title slot.

As I've been weeding out our baby stuff (mementos, what to save for friends, what to consign, what to toss) I have accumulated quite a pile of the squishy stuff mentioned above.  None of it is worth keeping or donating, and the boys have outgrown the original iteration of these things.  But squishy is always useful, no?  As I was scheming on what to do with it all, I stumbled across these on my Pinterest profile:
Bazinga!  We have concrete floors in our rental and in the house we are building, and we are always on the floor playing with the boys.  Our grown-up asses are begging for a softer place to sit!  So, after a quick stop at JoAnn and a few YouTube videos, I whipped these puppies up:
They look hooker-boots red in the photos, but in person they're a tweedy, faded coral color.  Inside, they each have two 22"x22"1" square foam pads with all the squishy stuff sandwiched in between.   Like this:
The foam pads keep the pillows' surfaces smooth, and the zippers (yikes, I sewed zippers!!!) will let me unstuff them for washing.   And we all know something gross is bound to happen to them at some point...
So far, I'm sold!  The cushions have already featured largely in living room forts and obstacle courses.  They'll be just right for chilling on the floor or sitting at the coffee table (if we ever have a coffee table...) and stacked together, they're perfect ottoman-height in front of our couch. 
And, they're nice and squishy.
If you're in a sewing state of mind:
  • I was super intimidated by this project until I read this tutorial.  She's right.  It's not brain surgery.  It's an effen box.  :) 
  • Here is the tutorial I used to figure out the zipper business:
If sewing is not your bag (see what I did there?!):
  •  These would be rad for storage in a kids' room.
What's new with you? Any projects, squishy or otherwise?  I'd love to hear. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Me: 1, Toys: 0

You guys.  I went to bed in my own house (not clean, exactly, but reasonably tidy) and woke up in what must be a ransacked preschool.  Or a post-tornado toy store.  Or some other metaphor that implies that toys are senselessly, needlessly, every-freaking-where.  Where did they all even come from?  More to the point, what do I do with them all?

I've been writing lately about simplifying my possessions and generally slowing down at home.  I've pared down my closet, cut way back on news/social media, and have been tackling our deep storage one bin at a time.  But the toy thing has been a hang up for me.  I don't want to deprive my kids of a meaningful experience by limiting their toys, but I also don't want their play to be dominated by things.  Or, frankly, for my  house to be dominated by things.   I dug out my copies of Little House on a Small Planet and Simplicity Parenting, two of my favorite resources on less stuff, more life.  (If you haven't read Simplicity Parenting, get thee to the library!  Or come by and I'll loan you my copy.  It's my favorite book about parenting and family life, ever.)  In between pretending to kiss Ronan's baby bunny (a stick he found outside) and folding my third load of towels for the day, I've been reading.  My survey says: fewer toys leads to better engagement, more creative and sustained play, and the opportunity to cherish special toys.  Too many toys leads to overwhelm, stress, and devaluation. 

None of this is news, of course.  But I keep these books close by for when I need reminding.  My rereading was all the permission I needed to clean up and clear out.

I waded through the mess and did some sorting: toys and books that are above Ronan's developmental level or that have teeny pieces that Merrin might eat went in a box.  Shredded books, spent sticker books, and broken toys went to the trash (which seems obvious now), a box of baby toys that were never favorites went to a friend's garage sale, and half of what was left went into a storage box to be rotated out later.  Here's what's left:

What a ham.  :)  Scott and I made this play kitchen/toy console/desk for Ronan for Christmas (with pieces from the kitchen my dad made me as a kid, aww!) and it currently houses all the toys they have out.  There is a bin for dinosaurs, one for blocks, one for play kitchen stuff and one for a few baby toys for Merrin to dig through.  There are two tractors under the oven, and two puzzles (one for each boy) stored in the oven.  To the left of the kitchen end there is a kid-height mirror for play and dress up. 

Ronan has three dress-up outfits on hooks at the end of his loft...

...and here's his funny little room:

Chill, right?  My own bedroom is jealous.  I should say, the bedroom is jealous.  We are four people in a one-bedroom house for now, so Ronan's room is also the playroom/living room/dining room/sewing room/office.  Minimizing stuff and maximizing peace is imperative!  But I hope that when we move into a bigger place we can keep our emphasis on each other and our creative endeavors rather than on our things.  As my friend Amy tells her family, "We are not stuff people.  We are people people."  Love that.

I didn't imagine that cleaning up the toy situation was going to lead to any noticeable difference save for the condition of my living room, but it actually has.  The most noticeable is that there is far less bitching happening at my house.  We aren't constantly hounding Ronan to pick up his toys, the boys are fighting less, my house is cleaner, and I haven't stepped on a Matchbox car once this week.  :)  The other difference has happened over several days.  Ronan, in particular, is finding non-toy stuff to do on his own: playing hide-and-seek with Merrin, making them both elaborate snacks, building forts with the couch cushions, enjoying books independently.  Kid stuff.  Good stuff.  Stuff that makes me grateful that most of his toys are on a high shelf in my closet. 

By the way, if I'm sounding high and mighty about my toy organization, feel free to drive by the house and have a look at my yard.  It's keeping me plenty humble right now.  Cleaning up is a process.  :)

Happy Monday, mamas.  If you're thinking about tackling your own clean up/ pare down, fistbump and good on ya.

PS:  On a related note, I read this article about one mom's experience replacing her kids enormous stash of plastic-y, mechanical character toys with a much smaller box of open-ended materials (based on the research findings reported here.) The article is interesting, but what struck me about it was this mom's admission that her kids have tons of high-tech toys and TV distractions to keep them away from her.  That's powerful stuff.  What's also interesting is that the simpler "pocket playground" she provided for them actually held their attention longer, albeit with her participation. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Memento File Box

Since I've really been laying the introspection on thick lately, I thought it was high time to share some not-so-deep thoughts.  You know, for balance.  So here is a subject that hopefully twangs no heart strings at all: file boxes.

Yep.  You heard me.

One of the less reflective tasks Gretchen Rubin tackles in The Happiness Project is organizing all of her kids' important papers (letters, report cards, artwork, etc) to cut down on her family's paper clutter and to make sure that important mementos were properly preserved.  She accepted that she was unlikely to take on scrapbooking, so she took the file box approach: one file box with lid for each kid, files labeled by grade.  Boom.  Done. 

I am also SOOOO not a scrapbooker, but I needed a place to safely keep all the ultrasound photos, preschool art projects, and See How I've Grown! stickers that were piling up in weird places (my wallet, the glove box.)  So I gave the file thing a shot:

Genius.  Since everything is sorted by year already, there's no need to label it.  And if I feel like making a scrapbook later, all the stuff is ready to rock.  In the meantime, there's a safe place for all that stuff to go RIGHT NOW and no intimidating archival project looming in my future.   Mission accomplished!  All for about $15.

For now, I'm using a cheap file crate I already had laying around, which is totally doing the job.  In our new house, though, these boxes will live on an open shelf, so I'm on the lookout for prettier boxes with lids, ideally with space for some keepsake items AND files.  (I like these.)

Mamas, how are you keeping keepsakes tidy and safe?  Any advice?  Or, if you're stashing important stuff on top of the refrigerator, I'd love some validation.  ;)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Verbing Happiness

I spent the morning outside, alternately watching the boys goof off and reading this

(On a related note, the number of toys in my front yard suggests I either have 15 children or I'm running a daycare.  In reality, neither.) 

As a generally happy someone, I wasn't reading Rubin's book hoping to find the Holy Grail for happier living.  Rather, I was drawn to her idea of taking a very Type-A approach to something as smoooshy and immeasurable as happiness.  And it's been worth the read.  Rubin tackles everything from the relationship between money and happiness to how contemplating death and tragedy can foster happiness and resiliency.  In her smaller strokes, she also touches on some things I've been considering lately, like how reducing clutter can eliminate stress and how there's no sense in saving your "good stuff" for a hypothetical future situation.  It's fun to read something so immediately relatable.  It would be especially appealing to list-makers and bibliophiles.  (Lookin' at you, Jill...)

Naturally, the book has me reflecting on the happiness in my own life, which I am grateful to report is abundant and immeasurably deep.  Happiness is like health, I suppose, in that it goes unexamined until it is lacking.  But it occurred to me this morning that happiness is not something which crops up in one's life and then dies away without cause.  Happiness is cultivated.  And whether it is cultivated through gratitude, having fun, being with people we love, pursuing a passion, or reflecting on past happy experience, there is a VERB involved.  Happiness is something that we do.  I never thought about it before, but the happiest people I know are the ones who are most focused on bringing happiness into their lives and avoiding negativity.  They work at it.  Brilliant.

I've noticed as I wade through Rubin's thoughts that I stand in the way of my own happiness with unfortunate frequency.  For example, having a messy kitchen really stresses me out, especially waking up to a messy kitchen.  But I'm not trying too hard to change my behavior to fix that.  So I keep going to bed with dishes in the sink, and keep waking up ticked about it.  Another example: I'm naturally pretty critical, which is a great trait in an editor, say, but not so great when applied to my own cooking, or writing, or whatever.  These are pretty superficial things, and The Happiness Project addresses a lot of superficial things, which had me doubting its virtue when I first started reading.  But Rubin herself says, "What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while," and "By doing a little bit each day, you can get a lot accomplished."  Little actions can add up to big results. 

I'm left asking myself these questions: What are the persistent sources of negativity in my life that I have the power to change? What kind of an impact could I make in my life if I took small steps every day to reduce negativity in my own mind?   What makes me truly happy? And, what am I doing to cultivate happiness in my own life?  I feel some lists coming on.  :) 

What brings YOU the greatest happiness?  And how are you making sure to "do" happiness in your own life?

Secret Message Bracelet

I'm loving these Secret Message bracelets from Kukana Jewelry.  They spell out a short message of your choice (like your children's names, or a family motto) in Morse code!  My dorky hippie self is in love.

Image: Kukana Jewelry (

Monday, June 29, 2015

More Important Things To Do

Lately, I've been trying to slow down.  I'm amazed and, frankly, embarrassed at how easy it is to get caught up in silly busyness and forget to really sink my teeth into the present.  With children, it's even worse: I've become the Queen of Distracted Living.  And distraction makes me overwhelmed, and the overwhelm makes me grouchy, and I don't want to be a grouchy parent.  So, I'm working on it.   I've been loving the blog Slow Your Home for its regular reminders to just do less.  I listened to this podcast a few days ago in a rare moment of quiet, and it has me reflecting on our previous life as minimalist-by-necessity nomads.  I particularly loved Nina Nelson's comments on how having less stuff means spending less time caring for stuff and frees up more time for relationships.  It's absolutely worth a listen, even if it's just to be soothed by Brooke's voice.  :)

Yesterday afternoon Scott and I faced a long-list of to-do's to recover our house and yard from Merrin's first birthday party: laundry, dishes, returning borrowed tables and chairs, herding all the toys back inside, etc.  It was not looking to be a fun afternoon.  As we surveyed the arduous task ahead, Scott said, "You know what?  It's a gorgeous day.  Let's go do something outside.  Something memorable we can take pictures of.  Something fun."  Hmm, sweaty yard work or fun with my boys?  It didn't take much to convince me.  We returned what we had borrowed and blew off the rest and went fishing.  Chores can wait, this cannot:

Less stuff, less busyness, more life.

PS:  On the way home Ronan was egging Scott on to gun the throttle before each cattleguard and "bunny hop" the pickup.  He thinks "pop a wheelie" is "Poppa Wheelie" and he frequently requests "Momma Wheelies" and "Ronan Wheelies."  Love that.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Who We Are

I just read these words from Brene Brown, and I'm letting them slowly trickle down into the depths of what I know about myself. 
"Somewhere buried deep inside our hopes and fears for our children is the terrifying truth that there is no such thing as perfect parenting and there are no guarantees.  From debates about attachment parenting and how much better they parent in Europe to disparagement of "tiger moms" and helicopter parents, the heated discussions that occupy much of the national parenting conversation conveniently distract us from this important and difficult truth: Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting.
 ... (T)he question isn't so much, "Are you parenting the right way?" as it is: "Are you the adult that you want your child to grow up to be?"  (Daring Greatly, p. 216-217)