Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Organization Challenge Final Link Up

Well, it's that time.  Time to share my final photos of my combo dining room/play room.  My after pictures are dark because I took them last night, but I hope you can see the progress!

I decided this was the space to really tackle for several reasons:
  • I felt like the clutter had gotten out of control and was causing me stress - I used to have a clean and orderly house before kids and I want my kids to enjoy a clean orderly space because I am sure it is less stressful for them, too
  • I didn't think the cluttered play space and messy piles of toys were really "good" for my kids - and certainly not conducive to productive play
  • It was really an embarrassing mess that I was simply not getting control of until this challenge gave me a push
It was really hard to get this done in 29 days because with three little boys, no closets, and our house being plagued with illness most of the month, we lost a lot of time to just trying to get through the day.  I feel like it is still in progress - but I do think it is much better than it was.  I still have one tote with the boys current year art work and all their big paintings rolled up on top of it.  Last year we went through the whole year of art they brought home and narrowing it down to 10 pieces we framed in their room.  We are planning on doing the same thing again this year.  There really was a progression in their work - and it they love having it up on their walls in their room.

As I have gotten it more under control I have realized other options for the space that never entered my mind before.  (Like now that my kids have space to paint - they do it almost every day and want me to hang the pictures up.  I'd like to add a cork tack strip to the arch way where we can pin up their work.)   To make it happen I committed to planning during the week (first toys, then papers, etc. ) so I could really implement the plan on the weekend when not at work and the kids were napping or after they went to bed. 
The toughest part of this challenge is the fact that my 100 year old house has NO closets downstairs at all - and is an open floor plan of sorts.  This meant I couldn't shut the door and tear it apart because the kids (3.5 yr old twins and 15 month old) would be able to get at it the minute they came downstairs.  That meant I really did have to plan and think about what could I do in steps that would keep everyone safe - including a few really sentimental antiques, but also keep moving in the right direction.

I purged a lot of stuff.  I was very happy (ok, almost giddy) as we packed up the car with stuff.  We took a lot things to Good Will and offered up the baby toys that everyone had outgrown or not played with on FreeCycle.  I also tossed/recycled anything broken, had pieces missing, or that I really couldn't remember why I had kept it in the first place!

The first time (yes, first time) I saw the top of my dining room table I was thrilled.  I hadn't seen it since we started using it as a "safe place" to put pretty much anything we wanted to keep out of the reach of the kids almost 3 years ago!  I actually saw the top of the table come and go several times during the process as I tackled a new corner of stuff.  We do still have 3 little boys - so as much as I wanted to ditch the baby gate - I just couldn't.  It still protects the curved glass china cabinet and a few other antiques that had to be moved to safety. 

Boys new play space

The best physical tool I used to contain the mess was the cubby shelves for the boys to put 
their toys on.  They were so excited as we put them together and immediately started organizing their toys as soon as they were up.  Now they actually put their toys away as they play.  Even the 15 month old 'gets it.'  Without any promoting I watched him take his xylophone from the living room and carry it all the way across the foyer, through the sitting room and put it on the shelf when he was done with it.  I used a small rolling cart to contain all my scrapbooking stuff.  I would like to get a real storage system for it one day and maybe set up a corner in my room - but for now the rolling cart works because I can move it to where I am working, then roll it back to the corner.

Look!  I have a table!
These shelves also gave me a limit to how much stuff we were willing to keep.  Once the shelves were loaded, we were done.  This lead to a more careful look at what we had and the removal of toys that really weren't getting played with or were on their way out because the boys were getting older / moving on to new things.  We tried to make sure the shelves weren't jam packed so the boys could really see and get to what they had.  What you can't tell from this challenge is that all the tpys that used to be in the other side of the house are now all in one place.  So we got our family room back.  It used to store tons of toys under the coffee table, on the coffee table, and just all around.  Now everything is over in the dining/living room and contained.  (Double bonus!)

We also moved the table on a bit of an angle and told the boys that "this side" where the cubby shelves are is "your side."  All this stuff is for you to play with and enjoy (and take care of - as much as preschoolers can, which is more than you might think!)  We added a little table for them to use as a work space.  This helped them have a limited, central location on which to paint, color, play kitchen, etc.   Then we told them everything on the other side where Mommy's china cabinet is - is the grown up side.  We don't touch things on that side without asking first. 

I think my advice to anyone wanting to organize a space is to set a deadline and just make it happen.  Even if it feels overwhelming - you don't have to do it in one day, or even one week.  All you really have to do is just start.  I found that breaking my huge task into smaller ones and being able to walk away from it each weekend was helpful and made me start each new session with a fresh and critical eye.  I know if I had tried to do it all at once I would have started purging less and less as the project wore on and I got tired.  It would have seemed like I was throwing/giving away so much stuff, but taking a few bags and boxes out each week felt great - AND the kids weren't overwhelmed by the change or loss of 'stuff' because it happened gradually.

Now, I have printed the list of hints for purging clothes and since we are so closet challenged even upstairs - I am preparing to purge as I do the seasonal change over of the closet.

This has been just what I needed.  I feel like letting go of the clutter really lightened my overall stress.  I might even update the pictures to daylight when I get home this afternoon - because there is only one little overhead light and it didn't give the space justice last night!

Thank you OrgJunkie for making me start the process of getting my house back!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Chair Stacking 101

I usually don't post too much about work on my blog because - well, it's work and I don't like for it to creep into my at home time.  HOWEVER, this is just too good to let go without a mention.  This semester I have an extended 4th block class - which means my few 10th graders who are ahead of their peers are not allowed to leave the room during FLEX solely because they are 10th graders.  (It makes no sense, but what-ever.)

So these few are bored.  Really, really, really bored.  This is how they are entertaining themselves...

It's a sousaphone...

Gabe is in a phase right now where he is obsessed with all things musical.  When we watched the Christmas parade in town, he was not concerned with Santa.  Nooo - he was excited to see the marching band.  We took him to the HS band concert - he literally danced in the isles.

Every instrument is equally loved - pianos,  the fife (yes - fife), drums, xylophone, and his current most favorite - the sousaphone.  Which, in case you didn't know, is the actual name of the tuba that gets carried in a marching band.  (I admit, I did not know this, but somehow my 3.5 year old DOES know this.)

Having lunch at the Hardware store
And would someone please tell my 1.5 year old that he is growing up way too fast??  He insists on sitting at the table, with a fork, and eating the grown up food available.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Meal Planning Monday : Feb. 27, 2012

We are finally all starting to feel human again at our house so I feel a little more motivated to plan some real food.  Only Reece is still feeling yucky - complicated by teething, so he doesn't care what we have!  I made bread again on Sunday - kept one loaf plain and made another cinnamon raisin for breakfast toast.  I think we are slowly getting back on track!

Monday: Grilled Chicken
Tuesday: Taco Salad
Wednesday: Homemade Pizza - woo hoo!
Thursday: Frittata w/ veggies, salad, hot rolls
Friday: Pasta w/ freezer sauce (will depend on what mood I'm in)

Linking to Org Junkie where MPM lives

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

We have a toddler infestation...

that is further complicated by the preschoolers that have just gotten tall enough to open the pantry door.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Meal Planning Monday : Feb 20

This is the first week since I started meal planning that I just don't feel like doing it.  I know a lot of it has to do with being sick and the fact we are all worn out and exhausted - but I also know that is even more reason that I SHOULD be planning.  Ugh.

The one exciting (?) thing is that yesterday I made my weekly batch of bread and decided to make one of the loaves cinnamon raisin.  I wasn't sure how much I should use, and now that I have sliced it I realize I could have used A LOT more, but it still smells heavenly in the toaster.  It even kind of looks like the fancy $4.00 a loaf bread in the store.  After almost sending Gabe to the hospital last week because I used a different brand of Nutella and didn't read the label (may contain traces of other tree nuts) I have decide the more control I have over our food the better.

So my half hearted attempt of meal planning for the week looks like this:

Monday: chicken / pasta something...
Tuesday:  Homemade Pizza that didn't happen last week
Wednesday: Beef and Barley Veggie soup with biscuits
Thursday:  Soft Tacos
Friday:  Crock Pot day - taking Grayson to Baltimore

Linking to Org Junkie, where MPM lives

Friday, February 17, 2012

Feb Organization Challenge Update #2

We continue to be plagued by sickness in our house, so progress has been really, really slow going.  I had hoped to have more done by this point.  This week I managed to get the second cubby shelf put together, take things to GoodWill, and I got the dining room table completely cleaned off.  I know, there is stuff on it in the picture - that is new stuff.  I am tackling the piles of things that have been lurking behind the baby gate - so I started by pulling out a huge mess of it and started sorting and purging.  Again - it is slow, but there is at least some progress.  I'm happy this challenge made me start.

Now I hope to get the kids play table in the room and continue to tackle the mess in the back corner.  I would have liked to have moved things around more, but we just can't because of the placement of windows and the radiator.  The mirror and table in the corner would be way too hard to move, as are walls are plaster on brick - and hanging that huge mirror was quite the task in the first place.  We decided it was better just to work around it for these few years when the kids are still so little.

So, like I said, not show room / magazine perfect - but getting better and hopefully it will be highly functional for us.  That is what we are aiming for.  With three boys under the age of 4, I have long let go of the concept of perfectly clean!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Story time with Reece and Daddy

Story time with Daddy before bed

Sick Day

This morning the twins woke up with raging fevers and feeling really lousy.  It seems they have finally caught the nasty, nasty crud that is rampant in the schools right now.  We decided that Doug would stay home with them and let them veg out on the couch and take it easy all day.  Since they don't get TV very often, we figured we could let them watch Blue Clue's, drink juice, and lay on the coach most of the day.

Of course, as luck would have it, the ONE day (yep, first time ever) that Doug stays home with sick little boys his dad calls and gives about 2 hours notice that he needs a ride to the airport an hour away.  I'm not thrilled with loading sick, fever ridden kids into the car for a 3 hour back and forth - but I didn't find out until after the window of opportunity for me to get a sub had passed and I was already at school.  Ugh.

I hope they get the rest they need today - and I hope I can stop feeling guilty for not staying home so they could sleep in their own beds like they need to. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bunny wants to read the story, too

Setting up bunny to read

I'll sleep down here so he has room!

How stinking cute is this?  Tonight Gabe decided that his bunny wanted to read Mike and the Steam Shovel, too.  It has been his most favorite book for months now - and now he has decided he needs to share it with his bunny. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Loud, but Fun!

Just one of the fun things little boys can do when they go to work with Daddy!

Reece is Ready!

Reece would like very much to just go ahead and start attending school with the boys!  He just walks on in and makes him self at home - playing with the toys, or today - plops down in the reading chair and grabs a book.

I think he will like it next year when he is 2.  We just have to figure out how to pay for three little kids in school plus a nanny. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Meal Planning Monday : Feb 13, 2012

I have noticed that simply planning the week out on 'paper' and shopping mindfully is really helping with the grocery bill.  We still have odds and ends that end up in the cart on occasion, but what I do buy tends to end up in a meal more often than not and the amount of stuff wasted has gone done a lot.  We are also not buying nearly as much junk as before. Things like chips and crackers that are tempting when you have no real plan feel wasteful when shopping with a purpose.  Who knew?  We have also not bought bread in a whole month!  That is 5-6 loaves a $3.00 a loaf.  I've found a recipe I like and we are making it at home.  No moldy bread, no mystery ingredients.  It's a win-win!

I'll add links to the recipes shortly.

So this week is looking like:

Monday: Gnocchi with blue cheese and walnuts  (not safe for Gabe, so this is grown ups only - it is one of our 'go to' dishes.  We don't have arugula right now, so I am using broccoli)
Tuesday:  Curried coconut soup with chicken (new recipe for the week)
Wednesday: Black bean burritos with homemade cooked salsa  (we have made this so many times we don't use a recipe anymore!)
Thursday: Artichoke ravioli (Costco) with side salad and garlic bread
Friday: Homemade Pizza (prosciutto and goat cheese)

Linking to OrgJunkie, where MPM lives.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Feb Organization Update!

Cubby unit on the right!
Well, a little over a week ago I decided to take the Feb Challenge and get my dining/living room under control.  Since I got hit with a mega-illness last week and was dragging around with a fever and my head about to explode I didn't get much done - but I was thinking about it!

Saturday we went and bought a 9-cubby shelving unit to use to get the project started.  I purged a box of toys and a baby seat, but clearly still have a lot more to go.  Saturday night we put the unit together and almost instantly the boys started putting their toys on the shelves and in the baskets - telling us they were putting Reece's stuff so he could see it and deciding what should go where.  Doug was amazed, as this was with no prompting from us at all!  I know he had his doubts about the whole idea of the shelves, but I really thought it would work - and it looks like it is going to!  I think I will probably end up going back and getting another unit in the next week or so to finish it off.

So the photos don't show much progress, but things have been removed and we have started organizing the toys.  I also can now see a lot of the top of the table.  The big mess in the back corner is all my scrap-booking stuff.  It needs a new home, so that hasn't been tackled yet, but is coming.

I really wish I could do the empty it out / start fresh approach, but with three little ones and no storage space (or even a door you can close downstairs!  It is all open) it just can't happen that way.  So for now I will be hanging my hopes on the fact it always gets worse before it gets better - and keep plugging away at it.

Linking to OrgJunkie, where all our messes are being showcased for the world ;)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Playing with Light

Gabe looking down at the blue tile on his flashlight
I am feeling pretty crappy today so my efforts with the boys have been pretty low key - however, they seemed pretty content to sit on the couch and let me look at books with them, which is a good thing since I have little to no voice.  Hopefully the antibiotics will start to work their magic soon!

Later in the evening a simple flashlight became a toy that entertained for over an hour.  Doug would see what he could make "fit" in the circle of light.  Then the boys took off with the flashlight and did the same all over the house.  They discovered that when you shine it up through the plants you see shadows on the ceiling.  Then they started taking their little transparent colored tiles and putting them over the top of the flashlight and shining it up on the ceiling.  They were very excited to see the colors and shapes all the way up on the ceiling!  The made finger shadows, mixed colors, and explored how moving closer and farther away changed the shape/size of the light circle. 

I love seeing how something so simple can be so fun.  I kind of feel sorry for the people who plop their kids down in front of the TV all afternoon and miss out on seeing the excitement they have when they discover something new.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Water Beads!

I was so excited to finally get to try this very cool PAHM idea with my kids.  I had been searching for these beads at the craft stores with no luck, so I sucked it up and made a trip to the local "stuff-mart" (aka- Walmart.)  Sure enough, they had them - so I bought a bunch so I wouldn't have to go back again for a long, long, long time. 

We had an early release from school because of impending (turned out to be nothing) snow, so I had a few extra hours at home.  I had thought I would use the time to clean up the disaster area of a dining room/play room - but once we started with the water beads I decided playing with the kids was a much better use of my time! 

For hours they returned to the bowl in the kitchen.  We talked about how big they were getting, what they felt like, then mixed in a different color and they compared sizes, textures, etc.  It was a great OT/Sensory activity for Grayson - he practiced fishing around to pick out the tiny purple ones before they hydrated.  Even when Reece got home he immediately came over and stuck his hands in and squished them, splashed them, and played with them.

The next morning the first thing the boys wanted to know was if they were going to get to play with them again!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Meal Planning Monday : Feb 6, 2012

This week "should" be a little less hectic than last, though I am feeling what seems to be a nasty cold coming on :(  We are finally done with the 'big stuff' in the apartment and are going to take a little breathing room before starting anything else.  Well, that is not exactly true, I am thinking of taking the 28 day challenge and getting my dining room/play room under control.  The mess is driving me crazy.  But at least the renovation push can take a breather.

I'm trying to keep the menu easy this week since I know I am feeling less than up to par. I am still making our bread, I am finding the "everyday" bread to be a big hit and it is saving us about $6 a week on buying store bread - and it is tastier and has no mystery ingredients!  (That's $24 a month - almost $300 a year!)

Monday: Polenta with mushrooms and steamed brussel sprouts
       * today I also made two loaves of 'everyday bread'
Tuesday: Pasta with Grilled Tuna
Wednesday: Chili - not sure if it will be traditional or 5-way yet. 
Thursday: ??
Friday: Grilled Steak and Potatoes (if the weather cooperates)

Linking to OrgJunkie, where Meal Planning Monday lives

Sunday, February 5, 2012

February Organization Challenge!

I decided to take the OrgJunkie February Organization Challenge. Our dining room / play room is so out of control.  Every time I round the corner and see it I cringe.  So this month I am going to tackle it and try to make it work.  It has to stay the playroom - because we live in an old house with a cellar - not a basement.  We really don't have anywhere else to put the kids stuff - plus they are still so young (3.5 and 15 months) that they need to be where we can see/hear them!  So what I am hoping to accomplish is a more organized play/storage space for them and to be able to see/use the table (for projects, meals, etc.)

Linking to OrgJunkie, where all our messes are being showcased for the world ;)

Sunday Morning

I'm still slowly introducing ideas from Play at Home Mom to my kiddos.  The glass beads were such a success that we moved on to the colored plastic tiles.  I don't have the chance to set up the cool invitations that PAHM does, but I kind of set it up on the fly.  We cleared the table off together and then I pulled out the bag of tiles, some white bowls, and some animals.  I just put it all out on the table and let them have their fun.  They were a little more 'prepared' for the free play this time.  They dumped them out, named the colors and shapes they saw.  Then the cool stuff started - all on their own they started holding them up and looking through them.  They were excited every time they did it - now you're green! now you're red! now you're blue! and so on.  Then they started holding up two at a time.  (yellow and blue - you look green!) Very cool to watch it unfold.
Grayson was the first to declare a plan.  He told me he was going to make a road.  He started lining up the tiles.  Then Gabe grabbed a dish, filled it and said he was feeding his lion.

Reece and I had some one on one time later where we worked with the pegged blocks.  He seemed to like to put them on randomly, but then pull them off and make sure the block matched the peg.  

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Power Lines

Driving home today I was detoured around town for a mystery reason.  What I could tell from a distance was that the street was completely blocked off and there were 4 - yes, 4! - cherry picker/bucket trucks working on the power lines.  And did I mention it was 68 degrees outside - in January??  Well, putting two and two together I decided that the absolute instant I got home the boys and I were taking a walk to see what all the excitement was about.

I came in the back door and we promptly left out the front door about 3 minutes later - just long enough to insist the little boys take some potty breaks.  We walked all the way to the other side of town - maybe half a mile? - to see what was going on.  Gabe carried his trusty stick the entire way, poking it in every puddle and grate we came to.  We saw the police directing traffic in the intersection where there was no power.  The boys decided he didn't have a "real" police car because there were no lights on top.  (It was an unmarked one.)  Then we hopped over the railroad tracks - more fun, to be sure!  Finally we came to the bucket trucks.  They were hanging new lines.  Apparently someone had been kind enough to plow their big truck through a few poles this morning and knocked power out to half the town.  The boys were disappointed they couldn't get closer.  It was a long walk - over half a mile each way.  We were out for at least 90 minutes.

Another odd thing about this weather - we saw this coming out the back door on our patio:

It was just slowly walking across the concrete.