The Orange Slate

| simpler is more |
Home

A Simple Cleaning Routine for Spring (and a free guide).

March 13, 2017

simple cleaning routine 1

   

simple cleaning routine 4

 

Keeping a home clean and tidy with two toddlers (or any amount of children of any age!) is not for the faint of heart. I have become frustrated on numerous occasions when I start to feel like a hamster on a wheel – moving from one room to the next cleaning just in time for new messes to spring up. I don’t think housekeeping is less challenging when one parent is home full-time, but my work-from-home schedule means that I have to be very thoughtful about what I am doing when, which has helped me to be disciplined about establishing a cleaning routine.

Our current routine seems to be working for now and has give me a lot of peace of mind. I have certain tasks defined for certain days, but a flow that makes it easy to move chores around if something unexpected arises. Also, if something falls completely through the cracks, I know it will get taken care of soon anyway. 

Spring seems like just the right time to start re-thinking through home systems that may not be working or may need a refresh, so I’ve outlined our home’s systems below to inspire you. I’ve also created a customizable guide for you to use – click here to access it (if you’re already subscribed, it will magically appear in your inbox tomorrow!).

Right now, I have a weekly schedule pinned in my kitchen that includes 3 lists:

  • Daily tasks (basic room maintenance, things like dishes and sweeping that should happen almost every day)
  • Days of the week with cleaning tasks for those days.
  • Monthly (or less frequent) tasks that need to be occasionally tackled, but don’t merit weekly attention.

Daily Tasks

Daily tasks include things like making the beds, doing a quick clean of the main sink/toilet area, cleaning the kitchen after meals, sweeping after dinner, etc. Every day I also make sure that I full wash, dry, and fold at least one load of laundry. Having a list of daily chores helps prevent total chaos from setting in and frees me from constantly wondering whether I should keep cleaningor if things can wait. If there are a couple of loads of laundry to be done, but I’ve already done one and things are busy, I can just mentally check that chore off until the next day, knowing that today and tomorrow I’ll keep working through the dirty.

simple cleaning routine 2

Weekly Tasks

I’ve done this system differently through the years. When we first got married, all of our cleaning would happen on one day. When we first moved into this house, I tried to “batch”, by vaccuuming one day, mopping another, tidying another – this system outlined below is the best one I’ve found for right now. I don’t feel like I’m constantly trying to keep up or catch up and if something gets missed, I just take care of it the next day and roll everything forward by one day. In general, following this little schedule has kept our house at my “happy level”* of clean without too much stress. It also takes into account our busy days, days I run certain errands, Mark’s schedule for certain days, etc. 

I separated our main, primarily used areas into Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday cleaning sessions and do all of the cleaning for each area on the designated day. On Monday for instance, I dust, vacuum, and steam** the living room. 

On Tuesdays, I meal-plan and order groceries (if I’m ordering that week) or I go to Costco with the kids in the afternoon.

I designated Wednesday as my paperwork/receipt/bills/whatever day and I pick up groceries if I’ve ordered.

Thursday is our biggest laundry day. I start early and no matter how much laundry is in there, I make sure that the room is empty by the end of the day with everything folded, dry, etc. I also take some time on Thursday to clean the washer and dryer bodies, dump out the trash can, and sweep and steam the laundry room.

On Friday, I change all of our sheets and knock out a few big occasional chores. I also take an opportunity to sweep up any rooms that may be collecting dirt or dust.

Over the weekend, I deep-clean our main bathroom and maybe do an extra sweep of major areas or an additional big monthly chore if there is time.

simple cleaning routine 3

Room Cleaning Routine

When I say I “clean” a room, I generally do the following:

  • Pick up and put away clutter
  • Use a cleaning cloth and damp water (or this oil soap on wood furniture) to quickly dust major open surfaces. 
  • I use this feather duster to dust shelves, nooks that have more “stuff” on them, lamps, gallery walls, etc. 
  • I use this duster to dust both sides of blinds, high corners, and floorboards as well as to quickly sweep beneath any furniture. 
  • I use my steamer to clean the floors (sweeping first if there are a lot of dust or dirt partcles).

This sounds like a lot, but all of the steps outlined above except the steaming take me no longer for any given room than 2 or 3 minutes. Steaming takes maybe 5 minutes for our largest room. 

Also, knowing exactly how I clean has allowed me to slim down the cleaning supplies I keep around to just a few basics, which the clutter-buster in me LOVES.

Ready for a guide? Here is  a free customizable planner to help you refresh your home’s cleaning routine.

So now I’d love to know – what is the most challenging part of keeping your home tidy for you? Or do you have a schedule that just magically works? Tell me below!

*This is different for every one and every stage. Some would probably be shocked at things I’ve left off or the infrequency of certain chores, others by how often I do certain things. This is just some encouragement to try systems until you find the one that works for you and your home. 

** For some, this would be mopping and not all rooms necessarily need to be mopped every week. But I absolutely swear by my Bissell Symphony steamer. The heat ensures that the floors are really deep-cleaned and it’s as quick as vacuuming. If a room is particularly dirty, I might sweep before running it. I used to get really frustrated by how long it took me to truly deep clean floors and how dirty they immediately got, but the steamer has changed this completely. It’s paid for itself so many times over – it’s honestly saved me dozens of hours by this point!

Continue Reading

Food

Easy Weeknight Lentil Stew.

March 4, 2017

 Easy Weeknight Lentil stew

Soup and weeknight cooking are two things that get an unfair rap. This is entirely unnecessary when something as wonderful as The Kinfolk Table’s Four Corners Lentil Stew exists. This is a recipe that boasts three particularly positive qualities:

  • 12 minutes of hands-on time.
  • 40 minutes from cupboard to dish. 
  • Scrumptious.
  • Healthy.
  • Did I mention that it takes 40 minutes?

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 cup of red lentils
  • 1 onion
  • 3 tbls. olive oil
  • 3-4 cups of water
  • A few cubes of chicken bouillion or chicken broth
  • About 1/2 a cup, or a splash, of whatever white wine is open
  • A lemon
  • 15 oz of crushed tomatoes (or, in my case this week, some whole tomatoes that need to be used up and a little bit of paste)
  • 1 tbl. cumin
  • 1 tbl. garlic
  • 1 tbl. ginger
  • Cilantro (or not, again, as in my case this week*)
  • Flatbread

Mince the onion. Toss it into a pot with the olive oil on medium heat and allow the onions to cook until transparent. Slice the lemon into medium-thin disks. At this point, if you’re using these cubes, unwrap four and heat in two cups of water (about 3 minutes in the microwave) until the cubes are mostly dissolved. If you’re using chicken broth, skip this step and drink some wine while you wait for the onions to cook.

After the onions have cooked for a few minutes and are transparent, toss in the cumin, garlic, and ginger. Wait about 3 minutes or until the spices start to become really fragrant. Then add the crushed tomatoes (or about two cups worthof whatever tomatoes you have lying around.) If you use whole tomatoes instead of canned, be sure and add a few tablespoons of tomato paste or sauce as well. Add the broth, about 1/2 cup of wine, and additional water, totaling 4 cups of liquid. The ratio of broth-wine-water does not need to be exact. Toss in about 4 of the lemon disks.

lentil stew 2

Cover the pot. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a medium simmer. Chop about 1/2 cup of cilantro. After about 30 minutes, or once the liquid is mostly absorbed, turn off the heat. It can sit for about 45 minutes before being served or you can serve it immediately. Serve with a generous toppig of cilantro and some warm flatbread.

This soup freezes well, can be doubled easily, and makes a great lunch the next day. The portions above make about 3 generous meal-size servings and could probably serve 5 adults if not served as the main course.

*In these photos, there’s a dollop of pesto on the soup rather than cilantro because it was all I had on hand. It was fine, but cilantro would have been better. 

Continue Reading

Home

10 Suggestions for Simplifying.

February 24, 2017

 Simplifying3

Simplifying4   

Simplifying is always on my mind – how can I make this less complicated? More streamlined? I want more time, less “to-do”, ya know? Minimalism is the hottest trend since pancakes, but I’ll never achieve true minimalism. And I don’t particularly want to. But I do want to continually ensure that our possessions are items that we actually need, use, and love, that we aren’t just storing stuff that we will never use. For me, it’s an issue of stewardship and of focus. 

If I have less, I have less to care for, organize, clean, and thus, more time to spend on the things that matter to me. I’m less distracted and I can simply enjoy our home and life more.

I’ve noticed though that sometimes I’m even over-complicating my pursuit of the simple. So I thought I would share a few practices in our home that I rely on consistently to keep things simple, keep us moving forward, keep us connected. Hope you enjoy! What are some practices you would add to this list?

Simplifying6

Regularly shed clutter. 

“One of the magical effects of tidying is confidence in your decision-making capacity.” – Marie Kondo

Scheduling an enormous spring-cleaning purge may be cathartic, but I’ve found that my heart and home benefit more from simple consistently shedding things. Do I keep passing up the same shirt in my closet? I toss it into the donation pile. Do my kids keep ignoring the same toy? I hide it to see if it will be missed and then donate it. The likelihood of deeply regrettingthis process is low; the reptition will improve the practice; slowly your home will become less filled with distracting piles of stuff you don’t use and never will and more filled with things that bring you joy and items you truly use.

Practice a routine. 

“We become what we think about.” – Earl Nightingale

A routine is not the same as a schedule. A routine helps eliminate the overwhelm of choice and gives your day momentum. For instance, almost every day, my morning looks like this:

Wake up. Make coffee. Drink a cup of coffee. Nurse Violet. Feed my kiddos breakfast. Get everyone (including myself) completely dressed and ready for the day. Make beds and clean up the kitchen and bathroom. Performing the same basic activities every morning helps to propel all of us into the day. Hesitation and listlessness seem to breed frustration and grumpy hearts while a sense of direction and purpose put all of us in a better mood. 

Simplifying5

Enjoy daily rituals. 

“What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.” – Gretchen Rubin

A ritual can be part of a routine, but it is not the same thing. A ritual is something done regularly that fuels your heart, body, and or mind. Some of our family’s rituals include:

  • My cup of coffee in the morning
  • Snuggle time with our babies first thing in the morning.
  • Reading a short devotional together. 
  • Reading stories to my little ones before bedtime (this is a great way to introduce kiddos to Bible stories!). 
  • Summer evening walks after dinner.
  • Enjoying cups of tea together after our babies are in bed.

Rituals provide moments throughout the day for decompression, connection, and slowing down. I can be swamped with work and our schedule can be filled to the brim, but if a few of these rituals are scatted through my day, I still feel as if I have margin. Start by writing out a few of your favorite daily moments. These are probably your rituals, or some of them. Begin to prioritize them, to build your day around them, to use them as moments to connect with your loved ones. 

(A quick note on rituals and children: Kim John Payne has some wonderful suggestions for establishing rituals with children in his book, which I HIGHLY recommend!)

Reduce choices on things that don’t matter. 

“Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker

8 different kinds of mascara, five different brands of creamer, 5 breakfast options, 18 different pairs of pants – an abundance of choices isn’t necessarily beneficial. In fact, it can be downright frustrating. I’ve slowly begun the process of elmininating the quantity of choices I need to make every day. I have certain brands of makeup and personal care for me and my children that I know we like so I just stick to buying those when we *actually run out* rather than constantly trying out new products. For instance, we’ve begun offering limited choices for meals, especially breakfast, for both ourself and our kiddos and it has reduced the morning/meal craziness immensely. Menu-planning has helped me make grocery and meal choices once a week rather than having to make 12 different decisions afternoon at 4:00 p.m. (Do I go to the store? Do we go out? What do I cook? How long do I spend cooking? How old are those zucchini?) I’m trying to carry this ove into the wardrobe department, but we’re still working on that. 

Bottom line? If you find yourself standing in the same place every week (or day!) trying to decide between the same options, start there. Commit to one small decision and elminate the back-and-forth. Then do it again. It’s refreshing! 

simplifying1

Don’t fight your nature.

 “Define yourself as one radically loved by God. This is your true self. Every other identity is an illusion.” – Brennan Manning

I will never be the world’s greatest interior designer. It’s just not in me. I’m impatient and have a pretty short attention span when it comes to perfecting a room – I also get frustrated by the (pernicious?) message of consumerism that seem to subtly hide underneath the perfect “minimalist” rooms of my dreams. Most of our furniture (all?) is used or inherited; neither one of my children had a nursery designed before they were born.

Our furniture is meant for rowdy rough-and-tumble, for messes, for littles. The pieces we’ve purchased either can endure all of the above or I plan to replace them and so am not terribly attached. These things used to stress me out (“We will never have our gallery walls designed!” “My couches look dated!”) but I’m slowly learning that quickly perfecting a house is just not something that really interests me.

I’m slowly learning that the pressure I exert on myself to make a Pinterest-perfect house just isn’t worth it because it doesn’t bring me joy and it distract me from things that do (if it brings you joy, by all means, focus there!) Slowly editing our house to fit our lifestyle and actual needs (rather than a computer image – white is in! So is Danish!) as I have time and inspiration has brought me a great deal more joy and so I try to focus there. 

This is all to say – if Instagram and Pinterest tell you that it’s important, but you don’t wake up wanting to do it, THEN DON’T. You don’t need to grow indoor plants or weave or paint all of your rooms monochrome white to succeed at the things you are meant and called to do. 

Simplifying2

Intentionally step away from screens.

“Silence is a source of great strength.” – Lao Tzu

I think we’ve all lectured ourselves on this a million times and anything I could say has been said better elsewhere. I’ll just leave it at this. The peace and joy in our household is almost perfectly proportionate to the discipline I have demonstrated about my devices that morning. My temperment, the behavior and focus of my little ones, my own ability to focus – it’s all related. We don’t all need to have our devices on and available every single second. Make time to just go outside without your phone. Spend time with your kids and be unavailable to the world. Do this EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. for at least a few minutes and you’ll begin to treasure time without your devices.  

Identify the things that are important to you. 

“You get more of what you notice and affirm.” – Michael Hyatt

On my list? Intentional time with kiddos. Reading. Reading aloud together. Reading by myself. Time together cooking and eating. Time remembering and recording our memories. Time writing. Getting to know my neighbors. Time with Mark. #notmoresocialmediafollowers If your “thing” is growing a virtual audience, go for it. But I recognized a while back that this was just not the area I was ever going to be particularly passionate about or good at. If I have blog readers, great. If some people like a picture I post, fun! But my livelihood and my children’s future is not tied to the time I spend on my screen. So I’ve tried to step away from Social Media more. I’m also never going to be a famous painter. 

“It” stuff – clothes, furniture (see above), shows. Being right on the edge of fill_in_the_blank trend just has never mattered a ton to me. So I don’t spend a lot of time on those things.

Also in this category? Activities with kids that *I don’t care about*. All of the moms in the world may be taking their kids to Wally-Wonder-Goo-Goo-Place on 5th street. If that is not your thing, let it go. My children have never been to the local Children’s Museum equivalent. Or the Trampoline Park. Or anything else remotely that cool. This is because I’m an unashamed germaphobe and we have ton of toys and I’m The Most Boring Mom on The Block. My children are under 3 and will never remember visiting these places. If my kids want to play with something different than our toys, we go outside. Or we go to a different park. This is just us.  Find your “you” and then shed the rest. 

\

Simplifying7

 

Spend time outside. “The earth has music for those who listen.” – William Shakespeare

Off you go now. 

Meet your actual neighbors. 

“It will be our love, not our opinions, which whill be our greatest contribution to this world.” – Bob Goff

Chances are, you live in a neighborhood. With actual other houses (not Pinterest ones!) with actual other people (not bloggers!). Make some bread or bake some cookies, and go ring a random doorbell. And then do it again. Amazing gifts start to come your way when you realize that friends are actually everywhere, not just on your phone or your moms’ group or church.  The world begins to seem so much more full and simple and beautiful all at the same time when we stop overcomplicating basic things like “do you have some butter I can borrow?” 

Maintain a basic neatness standard. 

“If you can’t find something, clean up.” – Gretchen Rubin

This is different for everyone. For me, this means that beds are made, bathrooms are presentable (sinks and toilets cleaned, trash removed), and the breakfast dishes cleaned. If you would be mortified if someone walked into your house, maybe it’s time to reassess. If you spend half of the day cleaning your house and can’t ever get anywhere before 11:00 a.m., maybe it’s also time to reassess (or see the first item in this list – maybe you just have too much stuff!). 

Hope these little tips help you on your journey towards simplifiying and creating a home life that you love! 

Continue Reading

Parenting

Ramblings about Nap Transitions and Saying “No”.

January 31, 2017

slow childhood 4  slow childhood 6

We’re through that phase that I like to call “the fog” in Baby Time. I feel like I’m the mother to two energetic happy curious toddlers instead of a toddler + cranky picky baby. I know some people LOVE that infant stage (the “glowworm” days), but honestly? I don’t. I love having a little one who is more mobile, more energetic, more excited, less “what-is-going-on-let’s-spend-all-evening-Googling-parenting-articles”.

So January, which is normally boring and depressing and cold has been a January for the books (the unusually warm weather hasn’t hurt, either). Watching my kiddos slowly learn to interact and relate is one of the most fun aspects of parenting yet, and one I didn’t see coming.

Right now? Miles is talking a million miles a minute. I love watching his vocabulary explode. I may have a had a slight panic-episode the other evening when the mom of one of his friends started talking about preschool applications. But that’s for another post another time.

 

slow childhood 7

slow childhood 5

Violet craws like a mini-speedster and cheerily practices standing whenever she decides she’d like some attention. I think her days on all fours are numbered. This is ironic to me, because when Miles was this age, I was not on my “let them live” band-wagon and we pushed and prodded and encouraged him all we could. And he didn’t. And he decided to crawl at about 10 months and didn’t walk until 19 months.

Violet? We’ve let her take her time. We’ve spent a lot less time time prodding and a lot more time in quiet observed independent play. I know this isn’t always the case with timelines nor do I think one should measure a child’s progressor success at this age by (fairly artficial) imposed developmental milestones, but it was a good lesson for this Mama.

slow childhood

slow childhood 2

Speaking of transitions, we are DOWN TO ONE NAP a day with Violet. Only other parents who obsess over schedules and rhythms and nap timelines will care at all about this but, folks, this is like Second Christmas to me. I LOVE the one-daily-nap phase. Our daily rhythm now involves one nice transition from lunch to bed right around 12:30 and lasting until 2:30/3:30 (or whenever around this time they wake up). I can’t “make” them go to sleep. But I can enforce a family quiet time consistently. (Spoiler alert: they almost always go to sleep. Violet sometimes wakes up early as she is still transitioing a little. If she does, I give her time and space to play quietly alone in her crib instead of quickly snatching her out of bed, a practice which consistently buys me a few more minutes of precious quiet time for now.)

It was only in the midst of this nap-time transition that I realized how much saying a firm, kind “No” is a part of maintaining our family’s rhythm. It’s boring. It’s lame. But it’s important. It’s especially vital to our week because I work from home and have to protect my work windows as well as my time with my little ones. When we say “yes” to too many things or overschedule or skip or fudge naps or bedtimes, there is a prety rapid domino effect and it’s not pretty.

slow childhood 3

Sometimes, unique events or schedules merit a missed nap or a late bedtime. But these are rare and intentional. Most of the time, my childrens’ need for a predictable, steady routine has to trump Everything Else. Playgroups, events, outings, lunch with other moms, appointments – all of it falls second to our big-picture routine.

This is coming on the end of a few weeks where I’ve found myself saying “no” more than usual. It has felt both weird and freeing. No, I can’t commit to that; it’s my time to work. No, we can’t attend; that’s our nap-time. No, we can’t plan dinner late; we need to put our kids to bed.

This may earn me the title “Neighborhood’s Most Boring Mom” and sometimes I feel like a cranky hermit, but you know what? It’s been worth it. I think sometimes moms and dads who spend most of their day at home with their littles fall into the trap of feeling like their schedules (and the schedules of their babies) don’t matter. After all, you’re home! Where do you need to be? Why does it matter if you have lunch at 10:00 or 2:00?  Who cares? Throw caution to the wind. Stay up late. You can sleep in tomorrow.

Maybe this works for some. But for our family? When I start to be careless about our time, individually and collectively, moods and behavior and emotions start to slide. I’m slowly learning how very much my kids need me to protect their days and routines, even at the expense of things that are fun.

A side benefit of this is that I have an added excuse to protect *my* day and routine. We are all more productive and rested and happy. Everyone wins, except for Exciting Mom Awards, of which none are being handed out over here.

A quick piece of unsolicited advice? I think sometimes we stay-at-home parents undermind our own work. We think “Oh, I’m just a parent. I have so much time My schedule doesn’t matter.” No, you don’t. Yes, it does. Your time is not free or value-less. Your time is dedicated to taking care of lots of little finicky humans. Respect yourself and your time and your little ones. Treat the work you do with the dignity you would treat a job. Draw boundaries; follow through; protect your tools of quiet and rest.

I am not one who enjoys saying “no”. I hate it. But I’m getting better at it, for my kids and for me. One of the greatest gifts these baby days have given me is the gift of days that are covered by a quiet peace -peace-filled days AND peace about turning down good things for better. This is hilariously ironic considering how very un-peaceful some days feel with littles, but this unexpected fruit of these efforts to build a maintain healthy home rhythms? I’ll take it.

P.S. Need some more encouragement? This book taught me so much about confident, calm parentng.

Know a friend who needs to read this? Share the image below to Pinterest!

Nap transitions. simplify schedules.

Continue Reading

Life

A Word for 2017.

January 6, 2017

awordfor2017

awordfor2017_simplehome3

 

Happy New Year!

January is one of my favorite months of the year – the prospect of the new year holds so much promise and hope and excitement. One tradition that I’ve kept over the past several years is that of picking a word early in the year and reflecting on it as the year moves on.

In 2013, my word was SAVOR. (There are no posts to link to about this, but here’s a somewhat related post about savoring moments.)

In 2015, my word was CREATE.

In 2016, it was FLOURISH.

awordfor2017_simplehome4 awordfor2017_simplehome2

It’s been so fun to set goals and a vision for a year around a chose theme and then to look back over the years through the lens of that particular word.

For 2017, my word is STORY.

Part of this is my exhaustion with our sound-bite, tweet-infested, 10-second availability-infused world. We are meant for deeper, richer, longer stories and I want my year to be about the long game, both in stories I consume and tell.

With littles (mostly, a toddler!) this becomes especially apparent. Sometimes the thing that buys me five minutes of peace or my toddler 2 minutes of attention isn’t what’s best for our hearts and homes over the long haul. As a mom, I want to focus on the big picture and do the hard work that writes a bigger story of contentment and peace and simplicity and togetherness rather than just jumping from distraction to distraction and immediate solution to immediate solution.

We’re in our home for the forseeable future, which is eternally longer than we’ve ever been in any home together. We’re generally settled, but I want to focus on truly building the story of our home and our family this year, building the traditions, the rituals, and the memories that will carry us far beyond 2017.

For as long as I can remember, my aspirations and education and career have pivoted on words. And social media, driven by words and images, has been a fun source of inspiration and creativity for me. But at some point last year, it began to feel a little endless, a little cyclical, and little hopeless. I felt, as Cal Newport puts is so succinctly, like I was trying to run “a one-person media operation”, the exact end-game of which was fuzzy at best. I need, I’ve realized, to be creating stories, not just sound-bites, to survive and thrive, and I need some time and space to create and build those stories, time and space that requires stepping away from the onslaught of every other story the internet has to tell.

awordfor2017_simplehome1

I especially want to dedicate time this year to telling our family stories through albums – my children’s baby books, our family albums, the memories Mark and I have of advenures before babies, and a few other projects that I haven’t prioritized – and more regular journaling.

Finally, the word STORY serves as a reminder for me to incoporate more stories and story-time into my children’s play (as opposed to just more books and isolated words and vocabulary). Stories are a crucial part of a young child’s development and intentionally incoporating it into our playtime and conversation is one of my goals for 2017.

Do you pick a word for your year? What is yours? I’d love to know!

Continue Reading

Friday Links

This and That.

December 30, 2016

  12-30-16_minimalism  12-30-16_minimalism2

 12_30_16_slowparenting3

There is nothing quite like this quiet week between Christmas and the new year, is there? This year it feels particularly sheltered, falling, as it does, over exactly one real week.

This has been a December of lots of reflecting, lots of half-finished posts, lots of good intentions, not much social media, plenty of activites with my littles that fell short of my Pinterest dreams but that hopefully carved out some real impressions and memories in their little sweet hearts, and some unusally warm weather that gave us opportunities (outdoor family pictures!) often impossible this time of year.

So often we talk about how our littles won’t remember – and that’s fair and true – , but I think it’s still so important to set an example during this season. Memories fade, but family rituals have a way of burying their way deeply into a child’s being. So we selected special ornaments to cmmemorate the year (four matching gold bells to mark our first Christmas as a family of four!), we shared cookies and cinnamon rolls with our neighbors and friends, we convinced our kiddos to join us for half of our church’s candlelight service. Miles and I made it through exactly half of a very-very-abridged-for-children Christmas story before he had a complete meltdown for absolutely no reason at all.

12-30-16_minimalism2

12_30_16_slowparenting2

Now my 8-month-old has the flu virus despite our best efforts to vaccinate and wash and disinfect and we’re quarantined for a few days and I made a barley stew (a recipe modified from this cookbook) while praying that Violet’s afternoon nap was long enough to help make up for the many hours she and I lost two nights in a row and listened to this wonderful playlist on repeat.

This post is a perfect example of how I feel right now – lots of random ramblings all sort of taking off and forgetting to land. There’s a term that counselors use called “spider-webbing” and of it I am currently the queen.  But isn’t that sort of what this week is for? Spinning our quiet webs, preparing, reflecting, waiting  – Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas without this week of patient magic (and if you are curious about some actual liturgical basis for this, this piece provides some wonderful background).

And while you’re spinning your 2017 webs, here are a few pieces to inspire your heart, encourage your intentions, and quiet your soul.

12_30_16_slowparenting

12-30-16_cinnamonrolls

I’ve been trying to establish a consistent cleaning routine for our home so that I’m not always tackling fires and feeling behind. The schedule I used for the fall didn’t feel quite right, so I’m changing it up for the rest of winter. Here and here are some suggestions for routines if your home feels out of control.

Here’s a cozy recipe to try during slow mornings this week.

An interesting piece on balancing home-roles and a career for both men and women.

These bookshelves will make the whole world seem right.

Fika and hygge – two words to chase away the winter blues.

Continue Reading

Friday Links

Weekend Reading List // 21.

October 28, 2016

pieces on coffee, wine, creative children

Happy weekend, dears!

So, this will be the *last* weekend reading list for the blog, at least for a while. I’ll still be creating it, but I’ll only be sending out to this blog’s email list beginning next Friday, so if you are subscribed to that and get my notes in your inbox, don’t change a thing.:-) If you aren’t getting occasional notes from me, provide your email here.

Love your avacados? Grab a Kleenex. (via The Atlantic)

Here’s how to best pair your wine and herbs this holiday season.

I just overhauled my spice cupboard using these jars – I love the way they look and function now!

Yet another reason to drink coffee everyday. (via WebMD)

How to cultivate creativity in your children. (via The Atlantic)

Do you work part-time? Your children might be more empathic. (via Inc.com)

From Pinterest

Writing helps you to remember and pay attention.

I’m obsessed with this two-tone dresser.

From Instagram

This entire account is break-taking.

The power of menu-planning.

From another writer

“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.” 

-Woodrow Wilson

Continue Reading

Friday Links

Weekend Reading List // 20.

October 14, 2016

Weekend Reading List

It’s Saturday! Fall weekends are so different than summer weekends, aren’t they? The one calls for icy drinks, flip flops, and time outside – the other conjures up images of warm meals inside, heavy cloudy skies, and lots of cozy layers. Ready for the transition? I am! (Now if I can just convince the Indian summer heat to cooperate…)

We are unraveling from some time away this weekend. Here are some things that caught my eye this week . . .

Family life in a teensy apartment. (via Washington Post)

My mind is boggled by the concept of mise en place. (via NPR) Do you do this when you cook?

This piece made me cry.  (via NYT)

One method for chronicling your baby’s milestones.

From Pinterest

Fall colors.

Ice cream’s history!

From Instagram

Her food styling is out of this world.

From a Better Writer

“We’re not going to save the world one street style photo at a time now, are we!”

Jessie Bush, We The People

 

Continue Reading

Parenting

How We Play.

blog-title-how-we-play

Playtime 4 2016_oct_bp_playtime00007

2016_oct_bp_playtime00009

Rich playtime is something that, I think, is unfairly taken for granted with very small children. A Google search of “Playtime with [pick an age, any age]” churns out a neat and tidy list of age-and-developmentally-appropriate activities such as “Blow bubbles! Build a tunnel! Sing songs!”, instantly gratifying and frustrating me at the same time.

I have a problem with this sort of definition of playtime.

Playtime 2

2016_oct_bp_playtime00012

2016_oct_bp_playtime00011

 

First, these lists are only particularly helpful if your child is on an average developmental track. Mine rarely are (where IS that elusive average child?), which means that I spend half an hour searching the activity sheets for the month prior to and following the one dedicated to the current age of my child, at which point said child wakes up from their nap of un-average length and it’s time to play again.

Secondly, these lists are sometimes ridiculous. One suggested that my 13-month-old would enjoy a blanket fort. I once spent 15 minutes constructing a blanket fort while he watched me in amusement. I convinced him to crawl through the “tunnel” portion of it maybe twice, at which point he became utterly bored.

My instinctual need for a parenting play check-list has been somewhat abated by pieces lauding “slow parenting” and the theories of child development like that promoted by Waldorf educators that place an emphasis on self-directed play.

I am not wired to provide non-stop entertainment to my babies and I would argue that parents, stay-at-home or otherwise, aren’t contractually obligated to provide non-stop entertainment to the little humans entrusted to their care.

2016_oct_bp_playtime00010

2016_oct_bp_playtime00005

Playtime with my kids is honestly not something that always comes easily to me. I feel as if I am constantly battling the urge to SET A GOAL AND TEACH THEM SOMETHING or the lure of multi-tasking (“I’ll just check my email while we do this puzzle”). This is, I think, the symptom of a bigger problem that has more to do with my own inability to just appreciate stillness and presence.

But rich play-time (as opposed to “entertainment time”) and intentional presence is probably the single greatest gift a parent can give to their child and is certainly something that should be prioritized, if imperfectly.

Even as a stay-at-home mom, however, this is not something that just happens. There is always another errand, another chore, another play-date or activity, so intentional time together is something I have found I must purposefully make space for everyday.

In the hopes of providing you with a bit of encouragement, some practical help, and a shorter path to some hard-won lessons, here are a few steps that have helped encourage our family to have regular and rich play time.

2016_oct_bp_playtime00013

2016_oct_bp_playtime00003

a dedicated space // The number and size of toys in our house has increased exponentially since Miles was tiny and we lived in 800 square feet. This is another post in an of itself, but when we first moved into our house, the lack of a comfortable, usable play space became quickly apparent. I dedicated a corner of the living room to toys baskets, but the flow of the room meant that the toys were never naturally played with in that corner or, for that matter, in that room at all. This lent itself to a constant clutter battle.

I’ve since turned our dining room into a dedicated playroom. The center is left free for play and baskets with toys and books are along the walls, which makes playtime in that space a logical step. The room is also right next to our kitchen, which means that my little ones can spend time there and practice independent play without actually being too far away from me and Mark; important both for their comfort and our peace of mind.

This option wouldn’t be available to us if we were in a smaller house or apartment, I realize, and I’m grateful for the option. For those of you in small living quarters, I would encourage you to make children’s bedrooms or another logical space as play-friendly as possible. (Often, this means leaving a space free of furniture so that the children can actually have space to, you know, play and so that the adults have space to sit.)

limited toys // Limiting the visible toys helps in two ways: it limits distracting options during a child’s playtime and minimizes the toy clutter (read: keeps parents sane and the space attractive). I cycle toys between Miles’ bedroom closet and the playroom. This will work itself out differently for different families and is a constant process, but the key here is that toys should be visible and reachable.

If toys or books are piled up and require untangling and sorting constantly, there are probably too many in a given space. A clean, visually open space makes it more appealing for parents and children and makes it more tempting to settle into the space for some quality time. Bonus: It’s easier for children to learn to clean up after themselves if toys, even small ones, have an obvious home.

toys that encourage creativity // When choosing toys for a play-space, focus on toys that are sturdy, don’t require a lot of adult supervision or assistance, and that can be used in many different ways by different age groups. These might include small wheeled vehicles, blocks, animal figurines, beads, textured items, and musical instruments. Some of our family favorites are these:

* Small colored wooden blocks.

* A basic train set.

* A basic large wooden bead lacing set.

Vehicles. So many vehicles (these aren’t wooden, I know, but they are SO LOVED).

* Random items with unusual textures, like these rubber potholders.

* This multi-use pound-and-tap musical bench.

routine // An example of this is: “After we get dressed in the morning, we sing these three favorite songs, and then we read two stories and then we play with blocks and then we take a walk.” Circle Time models may not be your gig (although studying examples like this one and this one have been vastly useful as I’ve worked to structure our circle time), but having some kind of routine that signals to your child that playtime and intentional quality time has commenced and that he can count on some focused time with his parent will help both of you maximize this time. I normally try to leave my phone or other devices in a separate room during our playtime routine since I am more prone to be distracted than my little ones.  Your routine may change weekly or monthly and will certainly change and shift, but having a routine of some kind will ground your playtime.

Our ideal playtime normally begins with a few (familiar!) songs, followed by some fingerplay activities, followed by a few books, followed by free play with toys. Remember, kids LOVE repetition. They will thrive as they recognize the same songs and fingerplays day after day, so don’t pressure yourself to constantly interject new material into their playtime.

A quick note – I am continually working towards letting my child lead the play-time rather than trying to force Miles (and now Violet) into a structure that isn’t working. So if they are just not into storytime or singing that day, we move on. If they just really need to get outside and we need to scrap the indoor reading, we do. Don’t stress. Rich playtime is about quality time with your little ones and about them learning about their world, not checking off boxes so you can give yourself a gold “parent of the week” sticker.

light // We are so blessed with tons of natural light in our home and I’m realizing what an enormous difference this makes on my mood and our family’s interactions with each other. When we lived in a small apartment with limited windows (three, to be exact), I tried to maximize the light by opening the blinds (and sometimes the door) and using lots of mirrors and lamps to enhance the light. Most of us are drawn more towards spaces that are well-lit, so if your play area is the best lit area in the home, your children and you will naturally want to spend more time there!

I would love to hear about your playtime routines and tips for encouraging healthy playtime! Comment below or send me an email!

2016_oct_bp_playtime00006

Continue Reading

Photography

Simple Album Title Pages: A Tutorial

September 11, 2016

Simple Album Title Pages

One of my favorite aspects of this year’s family story album is the title pages I created for each month. I just love the way these capture our month’s activities at a quick glance.

 

In fact, I’m almost tempted to make an album using just these sheets. If you are searching for a way to quickly and efficiently capture your family’s year, 12 of these would definitely do the trick. Another option is to make sheets that capture each individual family member’s month of the year and then combine them for a low-stress large family year album.

I’ve been creating these album title pages using Canva, the VSCO app, and Becky Higgins’ Project Life app.

First, to maximize the time I spend on our albums, I created a style guide to use while I work. I pick a few fonts and a general layout pattern and stick to this almost entirely throughout the album.

For our 2016 album title pages, I’m using Pinyon Script and Aileron Regular. (Right now, I’m satisfied with the fonts offered through Canva, but there is an option to upload you’re own if that’s how you roll.)


First, I created the title blocks.

I created a new design in Canva by clicking “Use Custom Dimensions” and designing a 3 inch x 3 inch template.

I created two new text boxes – one for the name of the month and one for the year – and arranged them within the new design.

Here are a couple of other ideas for creating a month/year tile:

Once you’re happy with your template, download it from Canva (as a .png). I normally make all 12 at once to save time – to do this, just change the name of the month and continue saving until you’ve created and stored all 12.


Next, I selected 15 photos from the month. First, I scrolled through the folder of my Instagram photos for the highlights. If I found 15 that I liked, then I was done with this step. If I need a few more, I then open the month’s photo folder and select additional photos. (You can see a little peek of my filing process for my photo files below, if you look carefully.)

I don’t spend a ton of time agonizing over this process. Because it’s a title page, I focus more on unique shots or photos that capture emotions or special moments and memories rather than pictures that are perfectly composed. I also pay attention to white space to prevent the sheet from appearing too busy.


Next is the editing. I normally leave any photos pulled from my Instagram file alone, since these are usually already edited.

If you are cool and professional and use a desktop editing program, this next step will be quick for you. Simply edit the photos and save.

If you’re like me and you depend largely on your phone apps for quick post-processing, this will take a bit more time. Here are my editing steps:

  1. Email or Airdrop the unprocessed photos to your phone.
  2. I like to use VSCO, so I upload all of them at once.
  3. I try to use the same filter for the majority of the pictures and, for this group, I minimize how much I play with the photos. A quick touch-up or filter and I’m done. (I normally use the filter B5 for any black and white and the filter A5 turned down a few notches for color.)
  4. Save the photos to your phone and then email or Airdrop them back to the computer.

Create a new template in Canva using the custom dimensions of 5000 px. x 5000 px. Upload the 15 selected photos and the month’s title tile. At this point, I normally rely on the 4 x 4 layout grid in Canva. It allows me to simply drag and drop each photo into a square slot.

(Note: you can edit the exact placement of your photo within the layout square by double-clicking on the photo once you have dropped it into the layout, shifting the photo, and then clicking the checkmark.)

Again, I play around with the exact layout of my grid to maximize the overall look without sacrificing too much time or thought on it. I always reserve one of the most central four spaces for the month’s title tile, although I change its exact location.

Once I’m satisfied, I save the file (Note: always save the highest resolution .png version possible to your computer).

At this point, you can upload the file to your favorite printing source. I normally send it to the Project Life app because I order a printed batch of 12 x 12 sheets at once and I include these title pages with  other pages I’ve created within the app.

Once I’ve ordered the physical pages, I cover them with page protectors like these and snap them into an album.

Easy, right? Do some story-telling about this year in just a few minutes, then include a link to a quick Instagram post of your project in the comments below to share!


Products used:


Simple Album Title Pages

Continue Reading