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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Happy New Year: 2012 Resolutions

I have love-hate feelings about New Year's resolutions.  I love the idea of resolving to change and making a fresh start with all the possibilities that come with the beginning of a new year.  At this time of year I automatically and excitedly think about what changes I can make to make the next year even better.  BUT... I hate the fact that my resolutions usually last about 3 or 4 days, and then "normal" life returns and I forget about the resolutions.  So this year, I am making a couple of unconventional resolutions and trying a new take on some of the same old ones.  

Live in the Now 
One thing that frustrates me about myself is that I constantly tell myself any of the following:
Starting tomorrow, I will....
I'll go back to eating healthy next Monday... 
So starting with these "New Year's Resolutions", I am going to Start Now.

Take Care of Me
Several of my resolutions are aimed at the theme of taking better care of me.  I often feel spread very thin, and I hope I can refine some of my systems to feel like I manage life better so I can really LIVE. 
{Shared to me on Facebook}

Daily To-Do Lists ("Brain Dump")
I resolve to incorporate a few minutes of every morning to improve my focus on each day's tasks and goals.  Despite having a running To-Do list, I always seem to have too many things swirling in my head that haven't been committed to paper.  And my To-Do list is so long, that I often get overwhelmed and end up spending a little time on several tasks or projects, but failing to really get anything DONE.  Instead of sitting down for several hours a couple times a month or once a week, it would be much more effective to spend a few minutes a day dumping the thoughts from my head onto paper so my brain doesn't have to worry so much with remembering things (thus I call it a "brain dump").  

Will-Do Today List
I very recently started spending a few minutes each day creating a "Will-Do Today" list from my massive (ongoing) To-Do list.  This allows me to focus on a few tasks which I resolve to FINISH that day.  Putting this into practice has been a lesson in revising my expectations for what I can really accomplish in a day with all of the distractions and obligations that can not be avoided.  And, at least for me, having realistic expectations is half the battle!  

This ingenious idea came from the Master-Mind Alliance; I recently attended a meeting of a local group.  The Master-Mind Alliance is a business coaching group that brings together owners of many different local businesses to pow-wow, brainstorm, criticize (constructively) and support each other.  Each meeting is kicked off with a seminar talk on a particular topic, and this meeting's topic was "Getting Things Done".  Love!

Plan for Long-Term Projects
I would like to complete more long-term, big projects (and post about them too!!).  I will work toward finishing them by planning better for them.  Putting aside money as I can will help complete those projects that are waiting for a budget.  Putting aside some time in my schedule that is dedicated to working on projects will help me set goals and make progress.  And I will continue to break projects up into manageable tasks and motivating milestones. 

Be More Aware of Myself
As usual, I resolve to incorporate exercise into my hectic days.  I just have to do it.  I don't have a great new plan other than to just do it.  No measures of failure, just a new daily resolve to fit it in. 

In addition to this, I know that more subtle changes would make a big difference for me.  Namely being more aware of my posture 
A lot of my aches and pains stem from poor posture and too much sitting, and I do these things to myself!  Research says it takes about 30 days to form a new habit, so I will build reminders to myself into my routine (and literally into my calendar) so I can re-program myself to become more aware, straighten up, and move and stretch my way to feeling better all the time.  Won't that be a treat??

From Pinterest

Remind Myself that Things are NOT so Serious
I have a tendency to get all worked up when things get hectic, especially when the family is going to be late for an event or when I feel overwhelmed by a looming deadline.  In other words when I feel pressured by TIME.  With a lot of work, I have gotten much better about this in the last few years.  I will continue to improve.  Only negativity comes from getting snippy and stressed out about time.  And usually when I look back at these instances later, it wasn't the big deal I made it out to be in my head.  This is the most impactful reminder for me - to remember that the seriousness is imposed by ME and I need to ALLOW MYSELF to let some of the seriousness go in the moment.

Implementing Fantastic Ideas from the Blogging World

Clearing Out Closet Clutter
A great idea to identify those items that you just don't wear for whatever reason: Turn all the hangers in your closet around backwards.  Then when you wear something, hang it back up normally.  In six months (or at the change of season, or whenever it makes sense to you) you will have identified the clothes that you should donate or sell.  My source, the Life Your Way blog, calls this the Oprah Winfrey Closet Hanger Experiment, but points out that the idea didn't originate there either.  It's great to pass on wonderful ideas, and almost no one can do that like Oprah! 

A New Take on my Filing System 
My filing system isn't working.  I have created "To Address" and "To File" files into which I sort the mail upon opening daily, and again after paying bills - this works great to avoid a pile on my desk.  But then the items in the "To File" file end up sitting there for 3 months until the file is too large for the box it lives in because the task of filing from there is just too daunting.  To combat this, instead of organizing my filing by category (ie. utility bills, credit card statements, loan statements, etc.), I am going to implement this ingenious idea from the Peace of Mind Organizing Blog to create a file for each month of the year, plus one more for tax deductible items (mine is a hanging expandable file with several labeled sections).  Then all the monthly items can immediately go to their final destination, I will still know right where to find anything I'm looking for at a moment's notice (much faster than sifting through the unfiled items in "To File"!).

What do you resolve to do or change in 2012??

This post has been linked to: 
Serenity Now: Weekend Bloggy Reading
Potpourri Friday

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Path to Our Dream Home - Main Bathroom Transformation

For the main bathroom transformation, we maintained the layout and size of the original room.  Here is what we had to work with:

There was some significant water damage in this room, so we took the room down to bare studs.  After replacing a few water-damaged studs and adding a coat of KILZ primer to all of them, we used cement board in the whole room for extra moisture protection.  And after all new surfaces, here's what we have today:

This main bathroom is shared by the whole family, as there is no bathroom in our master bedroom.  Luckily my daily "getting ready" routine features face moisturizer (the same natural baby lotion the kids use), toothpaste, deoderant and hairspray.  I keep the make-up, hair dryer and curling iron in bins in the utility room because I use them only a couple of times a year, mostly out of complete laziness!

My Favorite Features:

The neutral palette of the permanent fixtures allows for an instant makeover just by changing the shower curtain and linens.  I especially love the grayish brown color of the accent and floor tiles.

The size of the room didn't allow for a bigger bathtub, so we opted for a soaker whirlpool tub and curved shower curtain rod to make it feel larger.  Both of them make such a difference!  

Clear containers, some with chrome accents, provide decorative storage.

A vase with sand from our honeymoon in Aruba and a sand dollar from a family trip to Monterey Bay, California beautify the space with personal memories, and give simple context to the beachy palette.

The double towel bar continues the white on chrome accents, and multiple towels dry more thoroughly in this small space than they would on hooks.

What a difference!!  I still have a few projects in mind for this room, so I'm sure there will be updates to follow!  
One project for this room will involve framed photos.  How do you put photos in a small bathroom and avoid moisture issues? 

This post has been linked to:
Delightful Order
Home Stories A to Z
Shabby Creek Cottage

Potpourri Friday
Chic on a Shoestring Decorating

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Medical History (Freebie!): Putting Microsoft Excel to Work for You

My family has had individual insurance coverage for several years.  Filling out those insurance applications is a complete bear, and after the birth of my second daughter, we re-applied to drop my maternity coverage (super expensive, but not compared to paying for having a baby!!).  Filling out these applications AGAIN made me wish I kept better track of medical issues and doctor's visits.  Using the Explanation of Benefits forms from insurance payments doesn't help very much to really remember the circumstances surrounding doctor's visits.  So I went to my go-to application for tracking information - Microsoft Excel!!

I quickly created a spreadsheet for keeping track of our family Medical History.  I based the information captured on the questions from the insurance application.  Now I record any doctor's visits or medical issues we have in one place as they occur.  All the information I would need to remember the issue, or fill out another insurance application, is right at my fingertips.

Email me or contact me on my website for a free download of this file!!  Also let me know if you have any other household information that could benefit from a customized Excel spreadsheet!  How do you use Microsoft Excel to make life easier??

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Path to Our Dream Home - Back to the Beginning

Our house has so much potential.  We always saw the possibilities.  I will chronicle the constant improvements we've been making since it became ours in 2008 with a series of posts, starting with this story of where we started.  The before pictures are pretty awful.  I say this with the utmost love for my home because it belonged to my husband's family and my husband lived here as a young boy.  But it hadn't been updated (for the most part, but we'll come back to this) since it was built in the 1960s and it was a rental for nearly thirty years before it became ours.  And as I couldn't have imagined at that time that I'd be blogging about this a few years later, there are too few pictures from before and of the progress along the way. 

Here is the original floor plan.  It is a shallow rectangle, with two bedrooms and a den (bedroom with no closet), a galley kitchen, and one and a half bathrooms.  There was a rickety-looking, completely crooked raised platform that led into the house from the garage, and the washer/dryer sat in the open in the hallway between the garage and the living room/kitchen.  That large white box represents the hearth and wonderful wood stove that were added in the living room after a fire in the original fireplace in the early 1990s. 

The floor plan makes it seem simple and harmless.  Here is the fun stuff...
{Yes, that's a toilet in the backyard!}
{The world's largest Hydrangea!}
{Master Bedroom}   
{Main Bath}
{Kitchen (Living Room Side) and Dining Room}
{Kitchen (Backyard Side) and Dining Room}
{View from Living Room to Dining Room and Backyard}
{Large Hearth and Wood Stove in Living Room}
{Crooked, Scary Platform from Garage into House}
{Washer-Dryer Open Area}
{Half Bath}
Ack, right??

We were quite fortunate to be able to move in with my in-laws while my husband managed the enormous project of completely gutting it and making it our own.  I played the role of designer and with a lot of input from my husband we chose all the finishes - cabinets, tile, floors, paint colors, etc.  With some major help from some close friends that happen to be very skilled and generous carpenters, we stripped away the old and put the house back together the best we could within our small budget and the limitations of not adding to the square footage. 

It is hard to describe the feelings of love I have for this house.  Sometimes I get frustrated with its lack of space and layout, but when it comes right down to it, unless we had some (impossible) humungous budget to build a different, more unlimited house of our dreams, I can't imagine living anywhere else.  I have a lot of pride in the home we've made, and I'm excited to share it with the world.  

When we started this massive remodel, our first daughter was a few months old and we were so excited to have a home of our own, that it seemed to take forever and we moved in just as soon as it was livable. With the next posts in this series, I'll take you on a tour of how each room ended up when we called it good enough to move in, as well as the projects we are still working on today to make the spaces of our dream home work for us the best they can.  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Organized Holidays - Decorating Cookies

Kids LOVE to help in the kitchen, and it doesn't get much better than making cookies AND decorating them however you want in my house.  We will have several rounds of holiday baking and decorating before the season is over.

For sugar cookies, we use the Better Homes and Gardens recipe from a "100 Best Cookies" magazine I picked up many years ago.  I've copied the recipe here for your convenience, but you can also print it or save it for later at the website linked above.
Prep Time: 30 mins

Total Time: 1 hr 38 mins

Servings: Makes about 48


  • 1/3 cup  butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup  shortening
  • 3/4 cup  sugar
  • 1 teaspoon  baking powder
  • Dash  salt
  • 1   egg
  • 1 teaspoon  vanilla
  • 2 cups  all-purpose flour
  • 1 recipe  Royal Icing Glaze


In a medium bowl combine butter and shortening; beat with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar, baking powder, and salt. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour. Cover; chill about 1 hour or until dough is easy to handle.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Divide dough into thirds. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough one portion at a time to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut dough using 2-1/2- to 5-inch star-shape cutters. Place star cutouts on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are firm and bottoms are very lightly browned. Cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute. Transfer cookies to wire racks; let cool.
The icing recipe comes with the same sugar cookie recipe linked above.

Royal Icing Glaze: In a small bowl combine 2 cups sifted powdered sugar, 4 teaspoons meringue powder,* and 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar. Stir in 1/4 cup warm water. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until combined, then on high speed for 7 to 10 minutes or until very stiff. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons additional warm water 1 teaspoon at a time until icing is of glazing consistency.

*Note: Meringue powder is a mixture of pasteurized egg whites, sugar, and edible gums. Look for it in the baking aisle of your supermarket or at a specialty food store.

I couldn't find the Meringue powder, so I just used pasteurized powdered egg whites from my store's natural foods section.  I also added a 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla, and I didn't need to add any water after the first 1/4 cup.  The icing tastes almost bitter by itself, but the finished cookies are yummy!!  Be sure to mix the icing right before you use it, or at least re-mix it on high for a minute or two.
The kids used basting brushes and spoons to "paint" the icing on the cookies, and then green sugar sprinkles to finish them.  When they lost interest in decorating (after about 15 minutes!),  I finished up the decorating and let the cookies set.  Once the icing sets, you can stack the cookies without disrupting the decorations (with this recipe).    

The recipe also indicates you can make the cookies ahead of time and freeze them undecorated for up to 3 months, then thaw them before decorating.  Now that would be planning ahead!

There are many other Christmas cookie recipes to enjoy making, sharing, and of course eating!! 

What is your favorite holiday cookie recipe??  Happy baking!!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Organized Holidays - Homemade Stockings

To me an organized holiday means involving just enough structure to ensure that you enjoy the holidays as much as possible.  A little forethought into projects and new traditions makes for a meaningful holiday season for the whole family.  Welcome to the first of a special series of posts aimed at a joyous, stress-free holiday season!!

Every year I love hanging up our homemade stockings. Each one is an original masterpiece, but together they look coordinated, festive and cute!

I can't take any credit for this tradition in my family.  I have a wonderful aunt that makes stockings for all the kids in the family and has since I was little.  I was very touched when she was kind enough to make one for my husband so my family could have a coordinated set of homemade stockings.  I just love the playful embellishments and love that goes into every stitch. 

To make your own, start with a pattern (the one linked and shown below has great instructions along with the printable pattern), and cut out the two sides of the stocking... then you can decorate it however you like before you sew the stocking together.


Here are some ideas to start a stocking tradition in your home:

Simple monotones and sophisticated embellishments can make a beautiful, elegant statement in your home without being cutesy at all.

Make it a family project.  Cookie cutters are the perfect guides for cutting out adornments in fun holiday shapes.  Stitch them onto the stocking with contrasting colors to add to the look.

Sequins, puff balls and tiny bells add flair by themselves or with other embellishments.

You don't have to stick with the traditional sock shape, either.  Click here for patterns and directions for original and fun stocking ideas including the elf boot shown below, a bare foot, a ballet slipper, and more. 

What other traditions do you have with your stockings?  Do you have a traditional stocking stuffer that everyone in the family receives year after year?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Organized Cleaning: Carpet Stain Removal

I have a large off-white area rug in my living room.  With a toddler, a baby, and a dog around the house, I am always finding stains with unknown origins on my rug (and some with known, but unpleasant origins). In the past, I would always put off cleaning them with the carpet stain remover that comes in a red squirt bottle (it shall remain nameless).  It does work just fine for most stains, but I can't STAND the smell of it, and the smell lingers for hours in my house, even with the windows open and fans going.  And if it bothers my nose that much, I don't really want to use it around the kids.

I consider myself fairly chemical conscious, using natural cleaning and laundry products, and for that matter, mostly vinegar and baking soda.  But for carpet stains, I hadn't found anything that worked all that well.  Until now!

The all-natural wonder stain remover: BORAX!

I had tried everything else with so-so results when I decided to give this a try and wow, it works great!  I can't smell it at all, and the stains come right out.  It is quick and easy and I have no more reason to live with stains on my rug!

This is the process that works great for me:

 Using Borax to remove carpet stains

1.  Mix 1 to 2 Tbsp. borax with ~ 1/3 cup water (I didn't measure) in a small bowl

2.  Stir together - you could microwave for 15 seconds to help dissolve (it will not all dissolve - it will be like a thick paste at the bottom of the bowl with water above it - see the picture)

 3.  Scoop the paste onto a damp washcloth with your fingers.

4.  Rub paste directly onto stain (don't soak the carpet).  

5.  Let sit for 15 minutes and rinse with clean damp cloth (don't soak the carpet).

6.  Vacuum area when dry.  Note: keep kids and pets away from the area until after vacuuming.  While it is all-natural, borax isn't good for kids or animals to ingest.

Here are some of my latest results:

Unknown Stain: Before
Unknown Stain: After

Unpleasant Stain: Before
Unpleasant Stain: After
What do you use to remove stains from carpets or upholstery?? 
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