A Wintery Mess in the Coat Closet

It’s that time of year that brings with it a wintery mess.  I’m not talking about snow or slush; I’m talking about all the hats, mittens, scarves, boots, and winter detritus that go along with the cold weather.  If left unchecked it can quickly take over closets and make the entryway look like an end-of-season sale.  Not to mention the chaos that ensues when you are trying to leave the house in the morning with a four-year-old and an infant and you cannot find a hat to save your life.  Since there was snow in the forecast, this week’s challenge was tacking the front hall closet.  I was determined to be able to find a warm hat for both my boys.  I am proud to say I did it!  My family now has an organized, functioning coat closet.  The best part is in the mornings my four year old is now able to get his hat, mittens, and coat all by himself.  I don’t know who is prouder, him or me.  Here are the 5 things that helped my coat closet and family’s life get a little bit better:

1.  Make a 2 coats per person rule.

I am terrible about seasonal purging (it sort of goes without saying here) but, our coat closet is small and winter coats are big.  So, all fall/spring coats went into the guest room closet.  I was surprised at how many there were!  All I left in the closet was one puffy-warm coat and one fancy-warm coat per person.  Let’s face it, that’s really all you need. Suddenly I have loads of room in my coat closet!  Not too shabby.

2.  Hang an on-the-door shoe rack.

This is officially my favorite organization trick!  It takes a mess of winter wear and suddenly gives them all a place.  They are easy to find, out of a bottomless pit of a storage bin, off the floor, and use minimal closet space.  It also makes it easy for my 4-year old son to keep track of his own things.  He knows which row is his and goes there to find his mittens and hats.  This also lends itself to an easy drying system.  After getting clothes all wet from playing in the snow, simply use a clothespin to attach the wet clothing to the outside of its storage pocket.  It will dry quickly and it will be easy to return it to its place.

3.  Bag the bags.

Moms are the black hole of bags.  I constantly find myself holding onto random bags.  If it is not a disposable bag, I will hold onto it because “it could be a good bag someday”.  Gee, good thing that mindset doesn’t add to clutter.  (Eye roll here.)  But taking a page from my 2-coat rule, I was intent on purging.  Tote bags, grocery bags, book bags, and handbags all came out of my closet.  Then, I simply asked two questions: “what do I use it for?” and “how often do you use it?”.  If I used it often, I hung it from a hook or from a hanger.  My favorite, go-to tote bag goes on a hanger and I swear it makes life easier.  I am able to find it easily, load it easily, and clean it out easily. A few other favorite bags were stored on the top shelf. All other bags found a new home inside a suitcase in my closet.

4.  Add some shelves.

Make the refill of that diaper bag as easy as possible by adding some small, thoughtfully stocked shelves that store a few necessities for quick replenishing.  My diapers, wipes, and extra clothes are now all together in the same place where I keep the diaper bag.  Loading the bag now is as quick as one, two three instead of frantically running up and down the stairs to grab things I forgot.  Granted the mini work out I got on the way out the door was probably good for me, but maybe I should just take my easily stocked diaper bag to the gym.  A musing for another day…

5.  Add a trashcan. 

I threw a trashcan in the front hall closet on a complete whim, thinking “if it works, great, if not I’ll take it out”.  I love this trick so much I am getting a bigger trashcan!  Whenever my family comes home from anywhere, it does not matter where, we somehow have gathered a ton of trash.  Honestly, the amount of random pieces of paper, used apple sauce pouches, old wet wipes, and disposable coffee cups my car collects on a daily basis is embarrassing.  But suddenly I have an easy place to dump all of it. As soon as we walk in the door, coats go in the closet and trash goes in the can. I love it!  My goal this weekend to put a bag dispenser in my car (this sound fancy – think an empty tissue box filled with plastic grocery bags) so I can easily collect the car trash and throw it away as soon as we are inside.  Brilliant!

Until next week, enjoy the mess!

Bathrooms and Snow Days

Week 2 of the My 6-week Get-Organized Challenge.

The bathroom.  Let’s face it, when it comes to cleaning, bathrooms, and kids it really should be a four-letter word.  When we bought the house, the master bathroom was the huge selling point.  The jetted, corner tub inspired visions of a blissful, spa-like bathroom with an orchid and decorative rocks filled my head.  Two years later the only thing this room inspires is a headache.  My jetted tub creates wild storms for Mr. Man and his collection of Jake and the Neverland-Octonauts-sailing-submarine-pirates bath toy collection.  My sink has challenged my husband to a beard growing contest might be winning.  My vanity holds everything from deodorant to band-aids.  I even found a half-eaten bag of graham cracker snacks left there from October. It. Was. Gross.

The Before:

Here’s just one drawer to give you an idea…

 

So this last snow day I took full advantage. While one boy napped and the other vegged out with a movie (ah, the beauty of snow days!) I tackled the bathroom.  All it took one kid’s movie, two mini-muffin pans, some snack-size zip lock baggies, and elbow grease.  It’s not perfect, but it is a huge improvement.  Week 2 of my organization challenge complete!  And I included one cute shot of what a VA snow day looks like.  The New Englander in me chuckles every time!

The After:

IMG_3885 IMG_3880 IMG_3882 IMG_3913

 

 

Taming the Laundry Room.

Where has the time gone since I made that resolution to really get organized this year?  Just between you and me, I haven’t even begun to take the Christmas ornaments off the fire-hazard, I mean Christmas tree!  But, it’s time to start.  Time to get off the couch and clean under it.  Mess and clutter foul up my family more than anything else. We bicker trying to find things, feel rushed and thrown together, and never just rest in a peaceful room. There is a reason why teachers take weeks before school planning, setting up and arranging their rooms – environment matters.  So, I am rolling up my sleeves and working on my environment.  I am holding myself to a six-week cleaning challenge. Hopefully by then I’ll be a bit closer to fulfilling one of my greatest resolutions, living in an organized house.

I thought the most logical place to start was the least sexy place in the house – the laundry room. It is the minivan of the home – maybe not sexy, but boy it can hold a lot of useful crap. I figured if I could get it under control I’d be off to a great start. I’m not done yet, I still need to figure out where to keep the cats’ food so the dogs don’t eat it yet I can still use my folding table and I need to develop a good recycling system, but it’s a start.  Here’s what helped me tame the laundry room:

  1. Install a shelf over the washer.  It sounds so simple, but installing a shelf next to the washer was the best thing I did.  Suddenly my detergents are right at hand, spills don’t matter because they go right into the washer, and I have room on my folding table.
  2. Mount a wall drying rack.  I took a short cut here.  I had hooks already on the wall and a standing drying rack.  So I simply put them together.  I now have a place to hang shirts to dry, nothing drags on the ground, and when I’m done it folds completely out of the way.  I love simplicity!
  3. Repurpose a back-of-door shoe rack.  I am in love with this simple, clever idea!  I spent $7 at Wal-mart and got a completely made over, tidy closet that is easy to maintain.  Cleaners, miscellaneous things like extra screws and other things that live the junk drawer are contained and easy to find when hung on the door.  I am now obsessed with adding back-of-door shoe racks to all of my closet doors.
  4. Hang a broom rack.  Brooms, mops, and dustpans need a place live when not in use, and cluttering a poorly named “broom closet” simply was not cutting it.  So I spent $5, attached a broom rack to the wall behind the door, and now all my brooms are off the floor, ready for use when I need them, and I have room to store the kitty litter in the broom closet.

All for now – until next week!

Jane

PS: If you have any great organizational tips or life hacks that you think are brilliant, please share them! I need all the help I can get to get my self not just off the couch but also cleaning under it. In a home with two kids 5 and under, two dogs, and two cats I am looking for simple to create, easy to keep going hacks. Bonus points are given to anything that helps wrangle the tumbleweeds of pet hair and mountains of kids’ arts and craft projects!

 

 

 

 

Yes, there are boy fairies!

photo(25)When I signed my child up for the local park’s preschool “Fairy Chase” program, I had a pretty clear idea of what it would consist of – exploring the gardens, chasing fairies with nets, and maybe a craft of building a fairy house with sticks or making fairy circles with rocks. My assumptions were mostly right. It was a charming program. The day was sunny and bright. The staff members were warm and welcoming. It was the perfect day for a fairy chase. And yet we left early.

The problem was my child is a boy. He is a sweet, typical three-and-a-half year old boy. He loves playing pirates, soccer, and super heroes. And he believes in fairies. We build fairy houses in our garden, imagine the world fairy-size, and have watched every Tinker Bell movie multiple times. So when spring break rolled around, he begged me to sign him up for the Fairy Chase program. I knew it was going to be geared towards girls, but it was a preschool program. I figured it would be like a little boy in a ballet class or a little girl in pirate camp. It might be going a bit against gender stereotypes, but big deal. It was a big deal. Many times the instructor referred to the group as “girls” this, and “come on girls” that despite the fact that my son was a part of the group. During the fairy circle time the group was asked their favorite colors, yet pink and purple were the only colors offered as suggestions. All of these bothered me, but I could shake off. Then the lead fairy told the group they would all make lovely fairies, yet the instructor then turned to my son and said “and you would make a lovely pixie or an elf”. That was it. No one tells my son he can’t be something because of his gender. Even a fairy. I whispered to my son it was time to go and we quietly left the group.

I understand that these were all innocent comments and in no way meant to be harmful. However these innocent comments are noticed. On the drive to the program my son’s car chatter centered around how to find fairies, whether he’d be fast enough to catch one, and hoping the fairies saw the bright colors he wore. (“Everyone knows fairies like colors, Mommy. That’s why flowers are so colorful!”) On our drive home from the program my son was quiet for a long time. Then he quietly asked, “Mommy, why don’t fairies like blue and green? Why do they only like pink and purple? Don’t boy fairies like blue and green? Are there no boy fairies?”

Yes, there are boy fairies! In both the old folklore of the English countryside and the modern day stories of Tinker Bell and Pixie Hollow, there are boy fairies. For anyone who needs a quick fairy education, here you go. (Listen up, Ms. My-son-has-to-be-a-pixie-or-an-elf). Fairies are most closely associated with the British countryside, especially England, Scotland, and Wales. They are magical, usually tiny, winged creatures that live in nature. They are fond of pranks, often get into mischief, and tend to quick tempers. And there are both female and male fairies. So, why can’t little boys like fairies? Nothing in their historic roots seems extremely “girly”. Yes, Disney markets their fairies to girls, but Tinker Bell and believing in fairies a fundamental part of the Peter Pan – Captain Hook myth that appeals to the masses of preschool boys. Fairies teach children to be kind, clever, and imaginative, while appreciating the beauty of nature. These are not girl-only traits last time I checked. If I had a little girl who wanted to go to “pirate school” I would hope she would have fun pretending to be a pirate while learning to be brave, bold, and strong – not return wondering why girls cannot be pirates.

So my son and I returned home and did our own Fairy Chase. We watched Disney’s Tinker Bell and talked about how Terrance (the BOY fairy) was a good friend. We hunted for rocks and sticks to add to our fairy houses, and ran around the yard trying to catch bugs who could be friends with the fairies. My boy went to bed happy, believing in fairies and himself. The time he will believe in fairies will be brief and fleeting, and I want him to be allowed to enjoy it. I will not let some park-led class tell him otherwise. All children should have chance to believe in the magic of fairies.

A Year Without Heels

I always loved high heels. When I was twelve I practiced for hours in the upstairs hallway of my house (carpeted, thankfully) walking back and forth in them. As an adult, heels were a staple of my working wardrobe. I have never been described as tall, and I loved the added height they gave, but it was more than that. I loved the way they made me feel – powerful, sexy, and fully in control of any situation. Just their click-clacking sound gave me a confidence boost. Then suddenly I walked into my closet, took off my heels, and I have not put them on since.

A year ago I traded a successful, rising career of a marketing executive for the messy raising of a now-three-year-old. I knew it would be a life-style change, but it turned out to be an utter life change. When I left my marketing job, I could count the number of times I trimmed my son’s fingernails on my own hands. We outsourced everything – from cooking to cleaning – or it simply did not get done. I know many amazing, wonderful women who work full-time, juggle it all and have loving, cohesive families. Only I have never been a good juggler. I struggled to keep all the balls in the air, but my family was falling apart. It was only when I forgot about a monthly senior staff meeting – the type of work meeting you can count on as regularly as coffee breaks and office memos – that I realized how far my family, and especially I, had fell.

We survived day-to-day like primal beasts. Family meals came from restaurants served to us by surely waitresses. An exhausted silence always filled these gatherings, often ending with a tantrum (not always by the toddler). Laughter and joy were superficial and forced. When we did eat at home, the mythical homemade meal had been replaced by premade, prepared foods with the standard ingredients of too much salt, fat and money. Whether it was to eat, to feel brief joy, or to make it through the next day, we hemorrhaged money. I remember going to Target to buy clothes for the Mickster just so he would have clean clothes to wear the next day, and honestly wondering what the hell I would do for the day after. My family was a mess and it was anything but wonderful.

Fast-forward one-hellova-year later. Today we spent a lazy, rainy day doing laundry together in between kitchen science experiments, chasing imaginary dinosaurs, and building cardboard space ships. Of course, the highlight of the day for Mick was dumping the freshly folded clothes out of the basket. (Gravity, entertaining children since Newton.) There are long days of course, frustrations aplenty, and some days I honestly long for the ability to go into my old office, shut the door and have some actual alone time (this usually happens after the third candid appearance of either a boy, a dog, or a cat while I am trying to use the bathroom). But my family is happy. We laugh genuinely, deeply, and often. If I ever miss the click-clacking of my heels walking powerfully into an office, I just think of that laughter and I know this year has been more important to my family than any bit of work I did in my past life. I know if given the chance, I would hang my heels up all over again.

 

(Many, many thanks to my sister-in-law and her inspiration.  Thanks, Manic Pixie Dream Mama!)

Going down the road feeling… ok.

It’s hard for me to believe, but I’ve now been a stay-at-home mom for one month. I can already feel our house becoming a home. It’s due to small things, really: clearing the clutter and reorganizing the kitchen and living room; cooking dinner and eating it as a family around the kitchen table; waking up and taking morning walks…. But of all, there is simply a peace about the house that had not been there. Before we constantly running from one “must do” to another and we had forgotten how to relax and simply enjoy the ups and get through the downs of being a family.

That said, between the trip to New Zealand, the Outer Banks, and now Vermont I have been on the road or traveling for 20 out of 31 days, but the lesson of simply relaxing and going with the flow applies even more when traveling with a 2 year old. Even now, I sit in a dark hotel room with ear plugs in as my two boys sleep next to me (one more soundly than the other). After a twelve hour car trip spread out over two days, I don’t think anyone would have blamed us for just staying in, ordering room service and watching the Olympics. But instead we decide to try going out and it ended up being a wonderful night!

We had an early and relaxed dinner in Burlington at this french-style bistro called Leunig’s (http://www.leunigsbistro.com/). I had the scallops, Pete had the burger and we were both blown away by our meals. Both Pete and I enjoyed two drinks and outstanding meals and Mick enjoyed taking a few trips to visit the teddy bear statue outside in between bites of his pasta. The window’s were open, the place was bustling, and our toddler was well behaved. Quite the feat after the road trip! We then all had a leisurely walk up to the flagship Ben and Jerry’s store where both Pete and Mick (yes, both of them) needed wet wipes to clean up at the end of their ice-cream cups. I could not be more proud of my little traveling, and most importantly relaxed, family.

Here are 10 quick tip’s I’ve learned along the way from traveling with a two year old:

1. Less is more. I am always tempted to bring the whole toy chest and book shelf “in case they want something”. They won’t want anything and odds are you’ll be getting them a new, fun little toy from the trip. That toy (no matter how stupid it is) will surpass any toy you could have brought from home. At least, until you return home.

2. Drink water in the car. Only water. It’s great for them, especially when traveling, and easy to clean up. And it will not result in any sippy cups that you just might as well toss rather than clean.

3. Bring both healthy snacks and snack that your kid loves (in our case fruit snacks). Then use them as bribery whenever needed. Tonight we had a wonderful dinner. This was not without a lot of talk about how to act in the restaurant beforehand and a chance to “earn” his favorite treat in between bites of pasta and trips to visit the teddy bear statue. Judge all you want, but we had a wonderful dinner.

4. If you wear disposable diapers, when traveling wear the nighttime diapers. Extra absorbancy is a good thing.

5. ALWAYS bring one more pair of clothes for your toddler than you think you will need. Otherwise you will end up flying to Boston with a naked and very stinky kiddo (I’ll save this story for another time). Trust me, bring one more than you think you will need.

6. Keep paper towels, Resolve, Ziplocks, Lysol, and a regular towel (to lay on any wet seats) in you car whenever you go on a road trip. If you do not have these, you will end up driving with the windows down in 40-degree weather thinking that the pine-tree scented air freshener you just bought from the gas station is the best thing you have ever smelled in your life. It is not. Bring the cleaning supplies.

7. Stop before you think you need to. This goes for bathroom breaks, meals, or sleeping. It keeps everyone happy.

8. Movies or ipads can be your best friend. In fact, you’ll find you stop thinking about “4 more hours to go” and start thinking in terms of “two and a half more Disney ‘Cars’ viewings to go”.

9. Even though things are going to be wonky, still do little things to keep them on a schedule and remind them of home. If you normally read a book before nap time, still read a book even if “nap time” is supposedly going to happen from the car seat.

10. See above – relax. You’re traveling with your toddler. Tantrums, dirty diapers, and messes will happen. Things are out of your control. If you just count on “responding” instead of “planning” you are automatically setting your trip up for success.

The One with the Jellyfish

I’m dating myself with this reference, but I feel as though I departed the beautiful mountains of New Zealand to land smack in the Friends episode when the coffee-shop group goes on a week beach vacation. Only it rains the majority of the week. On their last, and only, nice day they finally take advantage of the beach and Monica gets stung by a jellyfish leading to Joey peeing on her leg.

After 43 hours of travelling which included: one cancelled flight, getting stuck in security behind one Hari krishna monk with full orange robes and a strapped-on, full chest wrap containing approximately 20 different metal pens, doing a full-out, 7am sprint through Dulles to catch the Norfolk connector, and making it out of the Norfolk airport fifteen minutes before the entire place shut down for the President’s arrival, I finally joined my family and in-laws to settle in for a week beach vacation in the Outter Banks. Only my father and mother-in-law ended up babysitting my sick child while I was in New Zealand, and during the week my sister-in-law got food poisoning, my brother-in-law got a sand-and-water induced ear infection, my husband caught a cold and some how lost all of his underwear, and it rained or was debilitating hot for the majority of the week, much to the chagrin of my two-year-old. I believe the only one who was perfectly content was my husband’s 93-year-old grandfather who watched the British Open, its play only broken by the ADD-like updates of the financial channel. I’m ready to be home tomorrow – but despite it all, I had a wonderful time.

After these last two weeks, I realize that parenthood and traveling have more in common than I ever realized. You plan with care and with all the best intentions, but in the end you are simply at the whim of planes, of your child’s mood, of a bad chicken sandwich, of life. When we plan, God laughs. Thankfully, we can laugh, too. What saved this beach vacation is that we laughed together as a family and recognized that sometimes the beach is, well, a beach. The rain will end eventually, even if your two-year-old has you doubting if it ever will. In the meantime, I suggest we relax, find a way to enjoy the ride and know that we’ll get where we are going eventually. But don’t forget to buckle up as it can be quite the bumpy ride – oh, and I’d suggest passing on the chicken sandwich or getting stung by a jellyfish.

The Beginning

When Pete and I booked my solo New Zealand trip six months ago we had no idea the turns our life would take. Since hitting the “buy now” button we realized through a series of events that my full-time job was no longer working for our family. Now six months, one resignation, one career change, and one big life-style change later I sit on a couch next to a snoring dog in Queenstown, New Zealand half-way around the world. It seems amusingly fitting. Once your actions turn your life upside down, why not fly so that your physical location matches your state-of-mind?

But at least I am doing it. That has become my refrain. Our life had reached a point where we were simply surviving each day just to survive the next. We had no time to enjoy our family, to live our life, or even to simply keep our house a home. We were missing the good stuff. So we did it. We cut our family income in half and suddenly I am a preschool teacher and stay at home mom. Four days later I said good-bye to my husband and two-year-old son and hopped a plane for New Zealand to see my good friend and her new baby.

On the plane over I watched “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and I think I might have to replace my refrain with Sonny’s: “The end is good. If it is not good yet, it is not the end yet.” Our life has become very new and unknown. Things have not settled down yet and some things still have yet to land. We are in the hard-work stage and not yet seeing the rewards of our hard work. But, I know we will. It is just not the end yet. In the meantime it is a wonderful mess.