Thursday, January 24, 2019

Oatmeal on a Dusty Stool

My husband and I had our first meal together in almost three weeks. He has been on three other continents for ministry (not including North America) while I have been at home in a house going through renovations. If you have ever had renovations done, you know that there is a complicated mathematical equation required to figure out how long they will take. Something like:


(amount of time they say) x (estimated cost)
(current temperature) + (number of holidays in the year) 



I joke. But it is always longer than you hope. Meanwhile I've been living in a house devoid of all furniture (which has been stashed in all the bedrooms except mine) with one chair, one side table and one ottoman to sit on with my feet up for my quiet time and my evening reading. So I've been standing in the kitchen to eat my meals, which I had hoped to pare down sufficiently to lose four pounds while my husband was away, but that's another story. And, as I told you last week, I have been decluttering and reorganizing. I must have some contractor blood in me because clearing out my kitchen cupboards, bathrooms, dresser, and closet took me over a week. (Of course, in between I got to spend half a day with two of the cutest little boys I know and we had a parade around their family room, spend two days with two of my favorite little girls while their parents celebrated their anniversary, and spend a day with my dad so my mom could have a relaxing day out.) 

Yesterday I drove two hours through snow and ice to meet my husband who had just spent 24 hours traveling by car, two planes, and a bus over two continents to come home. I was so glad to see him and, I believe, the feeling was mutual 😉. We got home at 11:40pm and collapsed into bed. He was even able to trick his body into thinking it was night and sleep. 

So back to our first meal together in nearly three weeks. That would be the oatmeal we had this morning at our kitchen counter, sitting on two stools we dusted off (literally). The flooring men arrived (finally) and we left them to it. He went to work and I'm spending another day with my dad.

What's so special about oatmeal in your floorless kitchen at the counter? Nothing. And everything. The meal and the surroundings were not special, except that it was home. The company and the fact that we sat down together to eat and talk and enjoy our companionship, that was everything. We did it because we plan to, we have a habit of doing it, and we want to.

And that is the key to family meals: planning to, habiting of, and wanting to.

So start making a plan now.




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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

My Secrets for Decluttering and Organizing

Last August our daughter and family were visiting from Germany. Our son and family from Chicago came for a week to be able to celebrate my dad's 90th birthday and see all the family. While he was here our son heard about an opening teaching at a university in town. They had been doing everything they could to find a way to move here to be closer to family, so he immediately applied. They ended up staying two more days for interviews and two days after he got home (and three more Skype interviews) he was offered the job!



Just two weeks later they moved in with us. We were together for three weeks and then we left on a three week mission trip. When we came back they had made an offer that was accepted on a house, but the condition was that the sellers weren't moving until January. So my husband and I moved into my parents' basement so the family of six, who also homeschool, could have the house to themselves until their place was ready. To help my parents we did lots of odd jobs and I did all the cooking for dinners.

Being out of my house has forced me to live with less of my things. That has gotten me thinking about what I can live without permanently. Besides that, we plan to do some renovations to open up our house a bit more and I am losing four wonderful drawers, a cupboard, and our coffee space in the kitchen. I think it will be worth it because with seventeen family members in town, our Sunday dinners have gotten really crowded. I moved back into my house this week and am in full organize and toss mode. Well, sort of...

After cleaning the shower, this is probably my least favorite task. Actually it may be my absolute least favorite. Decision making is not my forte and it takes me a long time and a lot of energy. I'm depleted after just an hour because I'm so scared I'll get rid of something that I will wish I hadn't. And that I will keep all kinds of things that I have no use for! And then, the organizing in a useful, helpful manner--that is just not part of my DNA.

So I did some researching last week. Here are the most helpful hints I gleaned for decluttering, simplifying, clearing out, and organizing:


  • Get in the mood - I did this by researching how to organize and declutter, by watching shows on how to do it, and, probably the biggest factor, was the life situation we are in. But I was ready to toss, organize, and clear out.
  • Make time - Going through your things, reorganizing, and making decisions takes time. Don't expect to go through a cupboard where you have been stuffing things for five years to get done in 15 minutes. I know that my project is going to take days, but I'm in for the long haul. So be realistic about the time this will take.
  • Limit your time - On some TV shows they get up early and work 15 or 18 hour days to go through their things. (Of course, it requires extreme cases to make a show interesting!) No one has that kind of time. Plus, if you go too long, you won't be making good decisions. But I think sometimes the best thing to do is to estimate how much time clearing out one drawer or one cupboard will take and set a timer for that amount of time. If you want to complete the task when the timer rings, that's fine, but knowing you only have to work for 45 minutes, might get you started. 
  • Buy organizers - When I was setting up my spices, I found an expanding stairstep spice rack that was perfect. I was motivated to put my spices in alphabetical order and get rid of spices that were dated from five years ago!
  • Don't overbuy organizers - If you look, there's an organizer for everything. Sometimes just putting things neatly into drawers and cupboards is enough. You can rack up a big bill if you fall for every organizer available.
  • Ask questions:
    • Do I love this?
    • When was the last time I used this?
    • Does it have only one use?
    • For clothes: 
      • How many other pieces of clothing does it match?
      • Does it fit?
      • Try it on. How does it make you feel?
      • Does it need mending? Can I do it or get it done reasonably?
      • Is it outdated? Faded? Worn?
But my first and most important question is:
  • Why am I keeping this?
When I ask myself this question first, I can evaluate the purpose of the item, whether it has useful or sentimental value worth keeping. This has been a key to me getting rid of things that I don't need to clutter my house and life.

  • Reward yourself - whatever little reward will help motivate you, do that for yourself. Maybe 15 minutes of sitting and sipping a cup of coffee or pop. Maybe watching your favorite program. Maybe getting outside for a short walk. You've worked hard, give yourself a prize!

I wish you a clean, clutter free, and organized house and life this year!






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Monday, January 7, 2019

The Grocery Store Challenge

I walked around Aldi juggling a gallon of milk, two bottles of sparkling water, three mangoes, a can of black olives, and a bag of frozen meatballs. I came in for the meatballs because my grandson was coming for dinner and I know he loves spaghetti and meatballs. Because I was only going to get "one thing" I hadn't gotten a cart or even brought a shopping bag with me. As I checked out I commented to the check out clerk that I had just come for meatballs. She laughed and said, "At least you remembered the meatballs!"



I am a big proponent of once a week grocery shopping with a menu planned and a list that covers it. But there are times when I have fallen into the habit of once a day grocery shopping with no plan at all.

So the other day when I was telling my husband my big goals for 2019, he suggested one:
One trip to the grocery store a week. 

I have a lot of reasons, especially over the holidays, that I make more trips--unexpected guests, a potluck I forgot to plan for, a new family gathering where I need to bring something. But in normal weeks (if I have those) I should be able to plan my menu so that I go only once a week. He did say "plus one emergency trip." And he's right. If I am not spending time going to the grocery store as often I will have more time. 

Plus, grocery stores love people who come in often because, like me, we tend to do more impulse buying and spend more money. That's why they have weekend specials, 10% off in certain departments on certain days, and one or two days sales, in addition to their weekly ads. So I will save time and money! 

So who is with me on this? 
Will you take the grocery store challenge and try to only make one trip a week in 2019? 



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Friday, December 7, 2018

Three Great Ways To De-Stress Your Christmas!

How is your Christmas season going?

A. Overwhelming
B. Cozy
C. Worshipful
D. Stressed Out

If you said "A" or "D" or "A and D" could you possibly just take the evening off to make it B or C tonight? Come on, this is supposed to be a happy, loving, joyful time of year. Pull back a little. Turn off the Martha Stewart recording in your head. Close down Pinterest. Put your to-do list aside for a few hours. I have some fun ideas for you.


Let's Be Tired Together
A few years ago my husband was traveling the beginning of December. My daughter was involved in a Friday night ministry and I was going to spend another December Friday night alone. 

So I decided not to. 

I wrote in my Facebook status "If you are reading this, you are invited over tonight to watch A Christmas Carol with me." I had some expected guests and some I wouldn't have guessed would come. We were a small group. I made popcorn and we just relaxed together and got into the season.


Cookie Baking Night

Are you and your friends behind on your baking?
What's that? You can't face the work and mess?
Besides you want some accountability on cookie dough snitching?

Whip up 2 double batches of sugar cookie dough, wrap them well and stick them in the fridge. Get a hold of some friends and ask them to come over and bake cookies with you. Bribe them by telling them they can take 2 dozen they choose home with them.


Play Christmas carols and cut, bake, and decorate. Your friends will help you wash the pans and wipe the counters I'm sure. If you don't have disposable plates, tell them to bring their own dish to take their cookies home in.

(Cheat: Buy ready made cookie dough at the grocery store!)


Carol Sing

Our brother-in-law started this. There was a very musical college student attending our church whom our brother-in-law invited over along with anyone who could come for a carol sing. But even if you don't have a musician handy, you just need someone who's not afraid to start the song and can basically carry a tune. Get copies of the words from somewhere (we sometimes borrow hymn books from church) or only sing first verse. 

Ask everyone to bring along some plate of snacks to share if they can, but come even if they can't. Provide coffee, tea and water if you can. Remember, we are trying to relax here!

And sing yourself into the joy of the season!

Do you find yourself saying, "But my family..." Get into the spirit yourself, get some other people over who enjoy it, too, and you'll be surprised what your family will do.

You might not be around the table, but you'll be connecting in a great way!

Have a very Merry Christmas!




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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Nine Ways to Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

For several years when we lived in South America I would find myself very depressed feeling and tired by the time Christmas arrived. I couldn't figure out why--I had a wonderful family, my husband energetically took part in and planned fun Christmas activities with the kids, we didn't go into debt but had nice presents, although extended family wasn't always around we had lots of friends, we were happy in our lives and ministry. Then it dawned on me that I was sneaking and snacking on lots of Christmas goodies which my low blood sugar doesn't allow and the result is depression, tiredness, headaches, and, as my youngest daughter says, "Grumpiness". The next year the first cookies I made were sugar free treats for me. When we made all our other traditional cookies and I got the urge to sample, I ate mine and did so much better!



Since then I've learned other tricks to help me truly enjoy the Christmas season, and by extension, the rest of the family, because it's true: Mom sets the tone of the house. 

Here are some of the suggestions I have to help you have a Merry Little Christmas (or all out big one if you prefer).

  1. Sleep Tight - Are you staying up late to shop for and wrap presents after the kids are in bed? Did you start your favorite Christmas movie at 9 pm? The best way to get enough sleep is not to hit the snooze button, but figure out what time you should get up and work backwards the amount of sleep you need--7, 8, 9 hours--and get into bed with the light off at that time. You'll thank me later.
  2. Eat Light - There are parties and cookies and Christmas cakes and pies and candy everywhere you go. Make your meals full of veggies and chicken or fish. Your scale will thank you later.
  3. Hydrate - Sometimes you think you are tired or hungry when what you really are is thirsty. Besides, staying well hydrated is one of the best ways to flush out cold and flu germs.
  4. Exercise - Don't try to take on a new activity at this time of year, but make sure you keep your regular schedule of exercising. If you don't do any, at least take the stairs, park at the back of the lot, enter the store from the farthest entrance to what you are looking for. Move and it will up your mood. Your body will thank you.
  5. Sunlight - This can be combined with number 4 if you live where it is sunny and  warm enough to get outside. My sister-in-law used to lead tours to Europe. To stave off jet lag when the sky was gray, she would shine a light at her face (eyes closed) for 5 minutes. She said it really worked! Besides, "they" say all of us who don't get outside enough are low in vitamin D. So get some bright light--natural or other.
  6. Devos - Don't skip on your time with God. Remember the Word of God is a mirror in which we see ourselves. Through it God can show us how our attitudes and actions need to change and that makes for a better holiday time. What about reading thoughtfully through the Gospel accounts of Christ's birth?
  7. Write - If you like to write, take a few minutes to journal. Talk about what is going on in your life, what is frustrating you, what is good, what you should do to get past the problems. You can throw out the parts you don't want anyone to read, but just getting it out and thinking it through on paper helps many people.
  8. Gifts Lite - This is not something you can really do at this time of year, but start talking about it for next year. It has taken our family years to come around to giving and receiving less by doing a Secret Santa gift exchange, but we have less shopping to do and less stress about finding just the right gift for everyone. We also set a dollar limit on the gift we are giving. Your wallet will thank you later.
  9. Delight - Take time to sit and look at the tree with the lights on and Christmas music playing. Watch your kids playing in the snow (or better yet, join them!). Sip your coffee and stare out the window. Make your gift wrapping time fun by playing Christmas music and eating a candy cane. Go shopping with a friend. Reread your favorite Christmas story. If it gets you in the spirit, put antlers or a wreath on your car! Do what it takes to make you enjoy the season.
We all have ideals for this time of year and often people end up feeling disappointed rather that fuzzy and warm. I can't promise you perfect family moments, but you can be proactive to help make your December merrier.




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