How I organize it: Pantry (a before and after!)

There were multiple things that drew me to our house when we bought it. The old woodwork. The character. The urinal in the basement bathroom. (Hey, don’t raise your eyebrows, do you know how nice that is to have when your husband’s friends are over?)

The walk-in pantry was another one of those things that drew me in. The other places we had rented had all had terrible (TERRIBLE) kitchen storage options. Our kitchen doesn’t have a ton of cabinets (and absolutely NO upper cabinets) so it’s a good thing we have the pantry.

I had made a few half-hearted attempts to organize it over the years, but the mish-mash of random bins and canisters was starting to get to me. It just wasn’t working. I couldn’t tell if canisters were full or empty. What the heck was in that basket up there? Do we even have spices?

I finally had enough, especially after my recent kitchen utility closet reorganization. So this weekend I went to work. This was definitely a case of buying stuff in order to declutter and simplify; while I’ve been working on getting stuff OUT of my house, sometimes I find buying certain items makes things MENTALLY more minimal, more simple, and more functional.

I did a lot of purging. Got rid of a bunch of expired food and other crap that was in there. Purged canisters and bins. Replaced them with something more streamlined, and I like the the unified look of the canisters and baskets that I used.

Before:

pantrybefore

After:

pantryafter1

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(click to enlarge)

Aren’t those plaid boxes cute? They’re the only things that don’t really “match” but I still love them in there. They are photo boxes from Michaels (I plan on writing about them soon) and they are for the foods that are specifically purchased for the kids (a separate box for each, since our daughter is still so young). I think they are fun and I like that they stand out and look a bit more kid-friendly.

There are a couple of things that aren’t labeled yet, or that I put labels on but didn’t write on them because they aren’t yet used for something specific yet. It will take some tweaking to make it work for us. We need to go grocery shopping, so I’m sure I’ll see what is needed soon. It was so disorganized before that it’s going to take some getting acquainted with.

I had toyed around with the idea of repainting, or adding a pretty backsplash, or something. But then I decided against it, in an effort to simplify my life a bit. I love pretty household projects, but I’m pretty burnt out after painting the living room and the utility closet in the last month (plus we have plans to paint our entryway and upstairs hallway in the next month or so). So I left it. And that’s okay.

Cleaning a greasy stove top (or hood) filter: a before and after!

I was browsing Pinterest today and saw a pin for this blog post about how to clean a greasy stove hood filter. That is some good stuff right there. Check out her post, it gives detailed instructions and pictures on how to clean the filter.

We don’t have a stove hood, but our Jenn-Air stove has a built in vent and there’s a filter right on top. It has a cover on it, and usually I just try to ignore the idea that it’s there.

In fact, I believe I tried cleaning it awhile back and finally threw my hands up in the air and declared, “Good enough!” because I couldn’t cut through the grease… and went back to ignoring it. Thank goodness that cover helps me pretend it doesn’t exist.

Anyhow, so I came across that blog post today. And I was already planning on cleaning the top of our stove today (er, well, I meant to do it last week but whatever). Perfect timing!

This was super disgusting but in a (kind of) fun way, because it just feels good to watch all that grease melt away. Be careful to watch this carefully, mine bubbled up a lot and I had to keep pulling the filter out so it didn’t boil over. I had to do the whole process a second time, mostly because I couldn’t get the middle of the filter because the water wasn’t deep enough. The second time I didn’t add the baking soda right away, so I could let the hot water really get to work on the center part without worrying about it boiling over. I still couldn’t get the middle super well, but it’s still better than it was. The really dark areas are the parts that are closest to the griddle/grill part of our stove, so I’m guessing they are just really burnt.

Before:

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During (yuck!):

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After:

filterafter

Not perfect, but at least it’s clean.

The rest of the stuff on top of our stove is dishwasher safe, so I put them in the dishwasher and then I thought, what the heck, I’ll put that metal filter in there, too (although it didn’t seem to make a difference). And then I somehow worked up the motivation to do some stove top scrubbing and made our stove fit to be cooked on again. Ick. I’d rather clean the bathroom than deal with kitchen crud.

I need to do the oven soon. Not looking forward to that, but it needs to be done. I need to win the lottery so I can pay someone else to do this stuff for me.

Forgetting/Remembering

Oh, how there are things about my children that I just don’t want to forget.

I know that I will, of course. Because when I try to remember what my son was like as a baby, I only remember in little bits: an image, a feeling, a memory. And I’ll watch a video clip and hear his coos or his babbles, or see how he made a certain face, and I’ll think, ‘How could I have forgotten?’ It’s the tragedy of motherhood.

I remember when my son was still very little, and my sister told me that she could hardly even remember her oldest (4 years old at the time) as a baby. And I thought how insane that was. I thought I was immune, as I gazed at my sweet baby boy. He was my heart. I’d never forget what he was like. And then I did. Or at least parts of it, of him. Slowly, it errodes. Not completely, but it becomes fuzzier and suddenly it’s hard to remember if he was 4 or 5 months old when he started rolling over, what made him giggle for the first time, if we gave him sweet potatoes before peaches, what he smelled like when he nursed in the quiet hours of the night.

And my daughter will do something, or make a face, or a certain sound, and I’m brought back two years and a vague memory hits hard in my heart. “Oh yeah. He did that, too.”

This week, I wish I could forever remember overhearing my son play pretend (which is a relatively new thing, since he’s only 2 1/2 years old). He was sitting on his little trampoline, except it was a boat or a raft, and he was using his sister’s stuffed dog to “fish,” and talking to her. And I snuck a wooden fish from our play food set and quickly put it under the trampoline, then I told him, “Wow, I see a fish! Can you catch it?” and then he looked and actually SAW A FISH and it was like Christmas morning and magical and he believed and then I walked away so he could enjoy it and he went back to talking to the stuffed dog, only now his cheeks were a bit flushed and he was still smiling a bit.

I am blown away watching the relationship grow between my children. They hold hands. Like, a LOT. My baby girl laughs harder for her brother than anyone else, and it comes more easily. I remember feeling guilty during my pregnancy with her, like I was about to destroy my son’s whole world by taking his “only child” status away. But watching them together? It is nothing short of amazing.

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My sweet baby girl… she has such a cute voice. She goes back and forth from being very quiet to very noisy. She has such a personality already. Mellow, but lets you know her demands. She gets frustrated easily, yet is incredibly patient in other ways. She likes when I rub the top of her head quickly, like she’s a dog or something. She squints and gets a goofy, appreciative grin when I do it. Right now she likes to stick her tongue out a lot. A package of baby wipes is just as much fun as her other favorite toys (a doll and an owl). She smacks herself on the top of the head, just because she can and it makes a funny noise. She gets bashful with us, in a playful way; she’ll snuggle with my husband in the evening and I’ll peek at her, and she’ll get overwhelmed and smile and then turn her face and bury it into his chest. Today, she figured out how to clap her hands together.

I can’t believe these things will be a memory very very very soon. Where does the time go?

How I organize it: Utility Closet (a before & after!)

We have a utility closet in our kitchen. It has always bugged me, but we need the space because we don’t have a garage, and our basement isn’t easily accessible (and it’s a very “basementy” basement, old and cementy and yuck).

Anyhow, back to the closet. When I painted our kitchen in late 2011, my husband asked me if I was also going to paint the closet (which desperately needed a paint job). Ugh. I said heck no, that it could wait until spring. Closets and shelves are a pain in the butt to paint.

Needless to say, I didn’t get to it last spring, either. I reorganized the closet a bit. Decluttered a little. Other than that, I did my best to ignore the closet. Until last weekend, when I decided It Was Time.

I took EVERYTHING out of it. I purged. I reorganized it all. I labeled. I repainted. And then I put everything away as neatly as possible.

This project was not fun to do, especially because I decided to do it while my husband wasn’t around to help. Other than about 30 minutes when my mom was over and I could focus on painting, I had to do it in little spurts throughout the entire weekend. My kitchen was unusable. It sucked. But I’m glad I did it.

Here’s the before (which isn’t as terrible as it was about a year ago, but still icky):

closetbefore

And the after! Much better.

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Total cost: about $40

I already had the teal paint from when we painted the nursery in 2010. We bought way too much paint. We purchased painting supplies (you can buy a set with a tray, roller, and brush for under $10 at Lowes). And then I bought the brown & black boxes at Michaels… which I will write about in another post soon. They are for storing photos, but I use them around the house and they are awesome. They retail for $3.99 each at our store, but they frequently go on sale. They were 6/$10 at our store last week, plus I had a coupon.

My biggest piece of advice? DECLUTTER. Seriously. Get rid of stuff and your closet (and house) will be easier to organize and clean and maintain.

Here’s a bit of a breakdown as to how its actually organized:

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The very top shelf (not really shown; it was difficult to photograph as the closet door opens up and almost touches the refrigerator) just has a bag of potting soil, cans of paint, and the photo boxes for painting and gardening.

The next shelf has yellow canvas bins, which we already owned. One contains spray paint, one contains fabric & ribbon, and one contains educational items for our children.

The next shelf is full of the photo storage boxes, and contains household items. Things from light bulbs to batteries to power cords. Labeled carefully, of course.

The next shelf contains boxes with our Scentsy bars and for candles. The striped tote contains cleaning supplies (although I plan on ordering an organizing utility tote from Thirty-One very soon to better store those items). The little drawers contains “junk drawer” type items, such as Command strips, hooks, emergency candles & lighter, Tide/Clorox pens, etc.

The bottom shelf is for crafting. My sewing machine is there, and the boxes contain various craft items. My son’s markers and crayons and paints are stored elsewhere, but messier child crafts as well as my own craft items (glue gun, glitter, etc.) are in these boxes. There used to be one of those over-the-door shoe organizers on the door (the black and white monstrosity in the before picture, to the right) that contained craft items. That’s no longer there, as everything was able to be organized in the boxes and bins.

Under that bottom shelf I have two storage drawer thingys. The one on the left is for our medicine and first aid items (I will be posting separately about that one soon). The smaller one on the right contains DVDs, video games, and games.

Hanging up on the wall we have a basic tool kit (red thing on the left hand side), and hanging on the right hand side is a metal basket for paper towel and tissues, and I have a quick push mop hanging up as well. The vacuum and the steam mop are on the floor.

So there she is. I am very glad that I took the time to do this, even if I should have waited one week so I’d actually have some help doing it. It is SO EASY to find things now that they are carefully labeled in those boxes. My mom was over a few days ago and needed batteries for something my son wanted to use, and she was able to just go get them without me having to explain where they were. I’m hoping this means that my husband won’t have to ask me as frequently where basic household items are as well (although I doubt he’d want me to also store his wallet, phone, and the remote controls in there as well).

How I organize it: Command Center

Paper clutter was one of those beasts that I felt like I was always battling with. It took some tweaking, but I finally have it under control. I thought I’d share what works for me/us (because if my husband didn’t also use, or at least understand, my system then it wouldn’t be nearly as effective).

I have set up a command center area in our kitchen, and it has changed the way we run our household. We have the perfect little area for this in our kitchen, but you could really do this anywhere that will be easily accessible. I like the kitchen because it’s an area we go to a lot.

We have a separate office, but it is upstairs (much harder to get to quickly, especially with young children). We do keep our important papers and files up there, but that’s not what the command center is all about.

Here’s what ours looks like from afar (with the drawer open, obviously it’s usually closed):

fullview

Sure, not the prettiest thing in the world to look at, but it’s simple and effective and it WORKS. And hey, it certainly looks better than a pile of mail spread out all over the counters, and makes more sense than asking, “Hey, honey, have you seen the electric bill?” every month.

Let’s start at the top:

meds

We have two narrow shelves. Originally I tried to make these pretty, when I first gave our kitchen a facelift back in 2011. Then we started putting practical things on them, and now I have just accepted the fact that these shelves just aren’t meant to be pretty. They are meant to be useful. The top shelf is for our dog’s meds and supplements (can you tell she’s a pain in the ass?), and we keep our vitamins on the bottom shelf. If anyone is taking a prescription medicine, we keep that out on there as well. We are much better about taking our vitamins when we don’t have to go searching for them.

Here’s the bread & butter of the command center:

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I got this idea from A Bowl Full of Lemons (scroll down to see their mail station). I bought the filing thing at Target, but you can find similar filers at any office supply store. Mine came with six files. This is how we divide things up: unsorted mail, bills, stuff for my husband, stuff for me, things that we need to deal with, and things that need to be filed.

Attached to the front of it is our family calendar. I use my own Filofax planner for person things, but this keeps track of activities and appointments that the whole family needs to be concerned with. Our kids are young, so it’s pretty straightforward. This will become more important as we get “busier,” but I like being able to easily check to see when my husband has a basketball game, or when an appointment is scheduled. I scored the calendar from Target’s dollar section back in December. You can find free printable calendars online, though. But keep an eye out at the end of the year for more of these calendars, I’ve seen them for the past few years at Target. They are smaller and really great, and I like that they have sections for things like appointments and important events (and easily tear off each month).

Finally, the drawer is our billing & mailing drawer (see first photo). It’s where I keep my Home Management Binder (HMB). We also keep things like pens, scissors, and tape in this drawer, as well as a small coupon binder.

hmb

My HMB contains an entire section for paying bills. When it’s time to pay them, the bills come out of the filing command center file, and then go into a folder inside of the binder.

A few general suggestions:

  1. Try not to handle your mail more than once. Sort things immediately as they come in; don’t toss it on the counter to deal with later! At the very least, put it in an “unsorted mail” file to keep it off your counters and tables (but don’t forget to handle it ASAP). When I bring in the mail, I don’t even set it down. Catalogs and other recyclables go right into the recycling bin, I shred/toss things like credit card offers, and then the rest goes into the appropriate file.
  2. Set aside time each week to go through the command center. File things weekly. You don’t want to completely forget about things just because they aren’t clogging up the flat spaces in your home. Mine is currently overflowing because I did some household decluttering, and it’s been a busy few weeks. It doesn’t take long for it to get out of control.
  3. Keep your bill paying items together. We keep stamps, a calculator, envelopes, our checkbook, etc. right inside the HMB so we can just grab it and sit down and pay them without having to grab 800 other things from around the house. We pay most bills online, but some places here still require mailing a check.
  4. Keep a magnetic notepad on the refrigerator. I try to keep our fridge pretty bare, but I like having the notepad there. I use it to jot down things when we run out of them, or when I think ‘oh crap we need this,’ which makes it easier when one of us is going to go shopping. If my husband is going to the store and asks if we need anything (other than the usual list) I can look at it and say, “Yeah, we’re almost out of dishwasher detergent and we need more vinegar.” We also frequently grab a blank sheet from there to make a list or write something down. It’s one of the few things that my husband doesn’t ask me, “Honey, where is the x?”
  5. Develop a SYSTEM for paying your bills. This varies too much for me to give real advice on, but if you have a spouse then make sure they understand the system and will use it as well. For us, it helps that we both know to put bills in the filing center when they come in the mail, and then take them out of there when we sit down to pay bills and put them in their new home inside of the HMB. We both know that the bills inside of the filing center are unpaid, and the ones inside of the HMB are paid. Whatever works for you, do it, but make sure you are BOTH doing it.

So there you have it. This is the command center of our home. It’s where we start the day with vitamins, where we visit with the mail each day, where I end my day (I take my vitamin at night). This area keeps our household running, makes things simpler, and takes a lot of the guesswork out of our home management. 🙂

5,648 Days

Last night, while lying awake in bed waaaay too late, I was thinking about how fast it all goes.

How the days are long but the months and years and so so so unbearably short.

In 5,648 days, my son will become a legal adult.

It’s not enough.

Things have been exhausting lately. Tantrums and trying to figure out how to discipline without being mean or negative or too harsh. Wanting him to know he is loved no matter what, while balancing this little thing called My Sanity.

So, in those hard moments, I am trying to remember that our time with them is limited. That my son has already changed so much in the 926 days that I’ve been fortunate enough to have him in my life. He no longer falls asleep on my chest (or can fit on it, for that matter) and he is very independent and I miss having him sleep with me in bed.

But he still likes to hold my hand and fiddle with my fingers, and climb on me, and grabs my face to kiss it, and sometimes even lets me carry him up or down the stairs. Soon he’ll be too heavy for that, or will roll his eyes at the thought, or not want to kiss me (or let me kiss him). He won’t long for my touch the way he does now, the comfort it brings him to reach over and know that I’m still here. He fell asleep in my arms the other night, heavy in my lap but so comforting and warm and sweet. I wanted to hold him all night. It can be hard to let go.

My sweet little Greta puts it all into perspective. It’s going even faster this time around. She’s almost 6 months old already. Just 182 days old… but she already fights those snuggly chest snuggles that Grant kept for well over a year (they are SO different sometimes). It’s almost time to start solids; the first step toward not needing me for sustenance. But she doesn’t like to sleep without me. Sometimes it’s very frustrating. And then I think of Grant, and how he no longer sleeps with my arm draped over him, and how soon she won’t either.

littlearm

This time is precious. I know it’s not practical to “enjoy every minute,” like we are told by so many to do. And we shouldn’t feel bad or guilty about those times when we are tired and stressed and all touched out and just need a break. Because this parenting thing isn’t for faint of heart. It is HARD.

But damn… it goes fast. We get 18 years, and even those aren’t a guarantee. It’s an amazing journey that is way too short. More often than not, we need to enjoy the ride.

DIY Stuffed Animal Storage – A Stuffed Animal Sling

I am not big on stuffed animals. But people tend to buy them for kids (especially babies). And I’ll admit to buying a few. And some of the ones that we have are sentimental items. I limit them to a reasonable amount, as we are doing our best to not have excessive amounts of toys.

Stuffed animals can easily take over. Last month I decided we needed something to wrangle the kids’ stuffed animals, but I wasn’t too impressed with the options out there. Even Pinterest failed me (sad face).

I wanted something like a stuffed animal net (like we had as kids) but I wanted it to look nicer. I was putting my daughter in her ring sling a few weeks ago when the idea hit me. A “sling” would be perfect!

I reached into my own closet for the perfect material: scarves. No, not the winter ones (although I imagine some of those might work as well). I mean the pretty ones that you use to spruce up an outfit. I have a modest collection of them. I like to wear them occasionally to brighten up my rather boring wardrobe (or to hide my now sagging breasts).

The solution is a simple one. Knot each end around a plastic shower curtain ring (found for around $1/pack), and latch those onto hooks mounted onto the wall (I used those 3M/Command types). When putting it together, you want it to create a bit of a pocket for the stuffed animals… much like a baby in a sling. 🙂

My son’s animals:

sling1

My daughter’s animals:

sling2

What’s nice about this solution is that scarves are easy to find, often on clearance (so a few bucks at Target), and you can match them to the decor or color scheme in your child’s room. Or (as in my case) you might already have some in your closet. I found the gauzier, stretchier ones work best as they have a bit more “give” and make an easier pocket for them to go inside of.

An added benefit (in my opinion) is that only a limited number of stuffed animals will fit. If you’re like me and aren’t a huge fan of the little buggers, and/or are trying to be more minimal, this is a much better solution than the nets or other ideas I have seen that allow for a LOT of stuffed animals.

Disclaimer: Be careful about where you put these. These could present a choking or strangulation hazard, so make sure they are out of reach of small children or kids who may handle them in an unsafe way. This is just my own personal idea that is working for our family, so use your best judgment about the material you use and how you go about this! I put the one in our youngest child’s room up high and out of reach just to be safe.

White Flag

Mercy!

Uncle!

I surrender.

Whatever it is, I admit defeat and am happy to shut the door on this week. I am writing this as I listen to my two year old scream upstairs, a sign that my husband is not having an easy time getting him down for his nap.

Oy, what a week. It’s been a week of missed naps, frequent wake-ups, and a whole lot of attitude all around. One where I have had to grit my teeth, keep going, take many (many) deep breaths, and choose to laugh instead of cry.

This, too, shall pass.

I’m trying to focus on the good. The moments that stood out above all else. And there were some, so instead of dwelling on the negative I am opting now to highlight the positive.

I made beautiful fondant flowers in my cake decorating class:

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There have been many sweet sibling moments, like this one:

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And my sweet Greta fell asleep like this last night (and in her brother’s old dinosaur pajamas):

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Also, she’s so close to rolling over. She almost did it last night (while I was in the kitchen… ran out just in time to see her almost get there, only to flop back over) and then she rolled over as we snuggled in bed, but I don’t think that quite counted. But soon. Much later than Grant did, but that’s okay, too.

Fingers are crossed that a certain little boy falls asleep soon (he’s overly tired from lack of sleep last night) and that the rest of this weekend is a good one. Otherwise, coffee and wine. Coffee. And. Wine.

Goals for 2013

Like countless others, I made a list of “resolutions” for the new year. I like to think of them as goals for the year… areas in my life that I want to improve on, or things I would like to try.

One of them was to start this blog. I had a different blog, but it never really felt like it was my own. I don’t quite know how to explain that, and I don’t quite know why I feel that way. I changed the name several times, and I wrote sporadically (and usually not at all). It was a half-hearted attempt to blog, yet then I would become discouraged because no one was reading it. This time, I want to write consistently. I want to try harder.

I am so excited about this year. I always love that time right before the new year begins. I am getting over the sadness that Christmas is over, and I reflect on myself and my life and my relationships. I feel full of hope. There is so much potential. It feels like a clean slate.

I’m not sure why I’m so excited for this year. We don’t have anything “major” to look forward to. But I’m very happy with this place in my life… so I’m just excited for the day to day adventures with my family. I’m excited to just BE.

Goals for 2013:

  • Blog. Start this blog and stick to it. Write. Take photos. Participate in other blog challenges. Even if no one is reading.
  • Write more. In addition to the blog, I want to write more. Fiction. Nonfiction. Poetry. I want to work on my novel. I want to submit poetry to journals, even if they are quickly rejected. This is a part of myself that has really been lacking since I started having children, and it’s a part of myself that I really really miss.
  • Purge 2,013 items in 2013… and continue simplifying and organizing our home and our life. In 2012, I joined a challenge to purge 2,012 items that year. I surpassed that goal, and ended up purging nearly 3,000 items. After our daughter was born, things began to creep back in, and I had less time (and energy) to focus on our home. I have been working on our house again, and I want to work hard this year on decluttering and living more simply, as well as getting back into a household routine that is easy to maintain and allows for more free time.
  • Finish my cake decorating courses. My mom and I began taking the Wilton classes through our local Michaels; we completed the first two and there are two more to go.
  • Be a more patient, fun, and loving mother. Overall, I actually think I do a good job in this area. But there is always room for improvement, and I know new challenges will continue to present themselves. I am still adjusting to having two children, and those children will continue to grow and change and have new needs. Toddlerhood is a whole new ballgame. This summer I will have a one year old and a three year old. Patience will be my virtue.
  • Put my marriage higher up on my priority list, and value my husband more. 2012 brought us many challenges, and the first half of the year was (to be quite honest) pretty depressing. Summer was good to us, and we welcomed our daughter into our family. Things have steadily improved since then, and the past few months have been the most solid in our marriage. We are in a good place, and I want to get to an even better place.
  • Read more. I have read a pathetic amount since having children. I read plenty of things online, but I need to get back to novels and other creative works that inspire me. Yesterday I charged my Kindle, downloaded a new book, and I also brought a few books out from my bookshelf that I want to get started on. My immediate goal will be two novels in January.
  • Get our photos under control, and our kids’ scrapbooks completed. This year I want to create photo albums beginning from when my son was first born… but I still haven’t really printed off pictures since then… from 2010! Yes, I’ve printed some off, but I need to sort, delete, organize, and otherwise just ATTACK all the photos taken over the past two and a half years. And I need to put them all on a drive in order to protect their digital copies, as well as to save space on my iPhone and memory cards. Instead of making actual scrapbooks for their first years, I am going to order photobooks from Shutterfly intead. Then I plan on printing off lots of pictures and putting them in actual albums, with as many captions as possible. I also want to finish my son’s babyhood shadowbox. This will all be a large undertaking, so I need to set small monthly goals to accomplish it. But it’s been looming over me for a long time, and causing me too much guilt and anxiety for it to continue on for another year. It’s important to me, so it needs to become a priority.
  • Finish my frickin’ dining room walls. In May of 2011, I decided to start a stencil on my dining room walls. It was looking beautiful, but it was very tedious. Because, of course, I chose a project that involved hand-stenciling a smallish thing, instead of buying one of those large stencils that you can just roll paint over. I haven’t even completed an entire wall, and it’s really, really, really starting to bug me to look at it. My husband agrees, so we’ve decided it’s time to finish it. Which means he gets more quality time with the kids, while I work on it. I don’t actually mind doing it, it was just hard to do with an infant in the house, who quickly grew into a toddler, and then I became pregnant… yadda yadda yadda. It’s time to get it done, or just paint the whole damn room a different color. 😉

Here’s to a happy, productive, fulfilling year.