Archive for ‘better homes than yours’

November 11, 2017

Romanticizing the morning commute

by Decemberbaby

We’re living at my parents’ house this year, while our house undergoes extensive (and expensive – I always wonder how often those two get misheard as each other) renovations. Yes, after so much deliberation we’re finally gutting our little bungalow, adding a second storey and an attic, and completely rearranging the main floor and basement. It’s exciting and I want to tell you all about it, but not today.

Anyhow, as I was saying, we’re living at my parents’ house this year. Normally we’d drive to school – at 8 km, the distance is too great to be able to bike there. Living with my parents, though, puts us a mere 2 km from school – and so we bike as often as we can.

If you’re one of my two loyal readers, you know how I feel about biking. Imagine how exciting it is that three of my children can finally ride their own bikes. I have to say, the bike commute is something I’m really going to miss when we move back to our own house.

Despite their initial complaints (“I’m tired!” “This is hard!” “It’s too far!”), the children can now do the 2 km ride with no complaints and without stopping… on a good day. On a bad day, the ride is 25 minutes of whining, stopping, crying, kicking, screaming, complaining… On our most recent (frustrating) ride to school, Mr. December looked at me and said, “Remember this when we’re back in our own house and can’t bike anymore. Don’t romanticize this biking to school thing. This is terrible!”

I actually don’t mind that the ride is sometimes more an exercise in frustration than just exercise. One of our parenting goals is to help our children develop some serious grit. As often as I can, I like to tell them, “It’s okay that it’s hard. You can do hard things!” I like to remind them, as they pedal right up the incline at the end of our street, that they used to have to get off their bikes and walk up that “hill.” I’m hoping that this contributes to a growth mindset, where the kids see that with repeated practice the morning ride becomes easier, and more good than bad.

But every day, easy or hard, good or bad, we start the day with physical activity, fresh air, and a tour of the neighbourhood where we greet the same faces day after day. It’s awesome even when it’s not, if you know what I mean.

And I have to say, it makes my heart feel very full every time I see this:IMG_3062

Or this:

IMG_2997

And yes, those photos were actually taken en route to school. Aren’t we lucky to have such a picturesque route? I’m going to miss this – and I’m not romanticizing!

 

 

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March 25, 2015

The more kids I have, the more organized I get.

by Decemberbaby

It’s been an eventful five(!) months since my last post. Most notably, I had a baby. She’s beautiful, magical, sweet, everything a baby should be, really. For those of you who have difficulty keeping track, I now have four kids.

I get a couple of different reactions to my large family. Generally, religious people (of any faith) say something along the lines of, “what a blessing!” or, “isn’t that wonderful!” while the non-religious seem to favour, “you really have your hands full.” It’s a fascinating dichotomy which I’m sure reveals some deeper societal tendencies, but I’m too sleep-deprived to think any more deeply about it right now. If you can draw conclusions and articulate them, please share with the rest of us by leaving it in the comments.

But I digress.

I’ll let you in on the secret to having four kids and not going completely insane: organize, ritualize, and build infrastructure. And having some help, either paid or grandparents, doesn’t hurt either. But I can’t tell you how to make that happen, so I’ll elaborate on the first three.

Organize:

Every person in our family, adult or child, has a binder which contains all of their official documents, all of their health information, school reports (for the kids), extracurricular information, tax information, and – for those who need it – sections for speech therapy, occupational therapy, etc. Everything gets filed in these binders so that everyone knows where to look for the important stuff.

Each child (well, not the new baby) has a “look at me binder.” It’s just a plain binder with plastic page protectors inside. Whenever they bring home work that they are especially proud of, it goes into a page protector in that binder. If there’s a whole pile of artwork or school work, I ask the kids to choose a few favourites to keep. Those go into the binder, and everything else goes into the recycle bin. The binder doesn’t require any annotation, creativity, or time, and yet it creates an archive of work that’s very easy to flip through and enjoy.

We write everything down. Corollary: if it’s not in writing, it didn’t (or won’t) happen. I have a chalkboard in the kitchen where I write down the menu for tomorrow’s breakfast (usually a smoothie and something else) as well as any important notes, like “remember to bring gym clothes for trampoline class” or “no lunches – today is pizza day.” Not only does it remind us of what needs to happen, it seems to reduce tantrums, too. Recently K suggested, “Eema, you should write down what’s for dinner on the blackboard, too. That way I won’t have to feel disappointed.”

Speaking of dinner, I finally got smart and typed out a 3-week meal plan along with recipes for every dinner on the plan. The recipes are written simply (so that one day the kids will be able to cook from them) and include serving suggestions and side dish recommendations. It’s all in one binder (yes, I love binders) in the kitchen, which eliminates the frantic scramble for dinner ideas and then for recipes. Of course, we often don’t feel like what’s on the plan, so we improvise, and then there’s a scramble anyway… but on days when I can’t think or decide, the dinner binder is a lifesaver.

And lastly, the smartphone. Yes, I caved and bought the smartphone I was so afraid of. Everything is on it – calendar, “to do” lists, random notes – and it’s like walking around with an extra brain outside my body, which is a good thing since the brain inside my body seems to have lost its sharpness for now.

That’s about it for being organized. In fact, that’s it for this post. Tune in next time, when I expound on creating rituals.

What organizational tricks can I learn from you, readers? Please comment and let me know.

November 19, 2012

What comes after purging?

by Decemberbaby

Mr. December and I have decided to put a moratorium on buying things (actually, on bringing anything new into the house, consumables being the exception) until all of the clutter has been purged. But decluttering is only the beginning of the battle. Our plan of attack looks like this:

  1. Ruthlessly purge all clutter. We covered this one a couple of posts back.
  2. Fix all the broken things. You know how it is. Once you’ve been living in your house for a few years it’s easy to overlook the cracked tile in the kitchen, the doorknobs that have to be jiggled and lifted at the same time in order to work, the rust on the bathroom light fixture (seriously, who looks up there?). By the time we’ve done this step, everything in our house should be whole and in perfect working order… for about an hour, right before the kids come home from their time with their grandparents.
  3. Thoroughly clean everything. I’m not an exceptional housekeeper, and thus there are many things in my house, from the glass shades on light fixtures to the moldings above the doors to the windows themselves, that have never been properly cleaned. That’s going to change, though. Once the house is clear of the clutter and everything is working properly, we’re going to give it a really good, top-to-bottom clean.

Why are we doing all this? Right now the clutter is not only depressing, it’s costing us money and time. And our house is feeling a bit crowded, but I have a hunch that it’s the clutter that gives that impression. Well, the clutter and the mess. And the stuff that doesn’t work is just aggravating. Those things combine to make living in our house less pleasant than it could be (although we do love our home.) I hope that by really thoroughly organizing our home we’ll discover that it’s a bright, open, welcoming place that we’ll be happy to live in for another five years… or more. And if it’s not… well, our house will be uncluttered, in good repair, and ready to put on the market.

November 17, 2012

The pit bull eventually lets go.

by Decemberbaby

That is the difference between a pit bull and a hoarder, isn’t it?

The next step in our process towards loving our small home – and continuing to live in it as our children get bigger – is getting rid of stuff. All kinds of stuff. Our basement hallway has become the repository for so much of it that it’s kind of hard to get to the laundry machines without stepping on things. It was hard, at any rate. It’s much easier now.

Today was the third day in a row that I spent an hour purging the basement of its clutter. I got rid of things like the half-empty box of grout, a box of brand new switch plates, and extra hardware pieces from our IKEA kitchen. In theory these things could be useful in the future. Then again, these sorts of things pile up and end up obscuring the things we really do want to use again, like the infant rainsuit that I hadn’t been able to find for two years and ended up replacing with a brand new one. If you take that example and monetize it, subtracting the cost of the grout and switch plates and hardware from the cost of the rainsuit (not to mention all the time I wasted looking for said rainsuit,) the clutter didn’t save me any money or time. In fact, it cost me.

Tonight Mr. December and I culled the stuffed animal collection. We’re getting rid of more than half of our stuffies, and even the number remaining seems excessive to me. It’s physically sickening at times, how many useful things are just idling in our basement – enough to clothe a whole family and provide toys for their children – while other people go without. Why is it so easy to just keep acquiring things we don’t need?

This is cathartic for me, this purge. I’d like to get us down to the necessities that we love and use. I’ve made peace with ruthless purging, accepting that when I needed different clothing sizes for the kids we had plenty of friends willing to lend or just give us their outgrown things. We’re not living in a post-apocalyptic world, and it’s time to accept that thinking as if we might be impoverished at any moment is actually robbing us of a peaceful, relaxing, calming home.

Children definitely complicate this process. For some reason they attract stuff (most of it tiny and plastic) the way a magnet dropped in Parry Sound will attract lots of tiny little pebbles. And the stuff hides everywhere and mates and has babies, until the room that was clutter-free two weeks ago is once again littered with collections of the Brattiest Pet Shop and dinosaurs from The Land Before Time-Warner Productions. I’m left to wonder whether any of the people who speak or write about conquering clutter actually were able to live that way with small children in the house.

It’s a huge pile, and as I remove one layer of stuff another is revealed. Every trash bag that leaves this house (6 so far) and every box of donated stuff (4 and counting) makes me feel lighter, more relaxed, and less stressed. It actually inspires me to get back on the weight-loss wagon, because how better to characterize my recent gain-back of almost everything I’ve lost than to compare it with decluttering my entire basement and then going on a huge shopping spree and filling it back up?

It’s definitely time to start considering food the way I consider a potential purchase. In the meantime, though, at least I get a surge of pleasure every time I head down to the basement.

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October 9, 2012

Choosing to love our small home

by Decemberbaby

Our house is small; I’ve mentioned that many times before.

I’ve also mentioned that we’re unsure of whether we should renovate or move when this house becomes too cramped for us.

After a lot of research, hours of discussion, and many spreadsheets (my husband is an engineer. Every major decision gets its own spreadsheet,) we have decided to take the third option. We have decided to stay put.

It sounds odd, but there it is. When we asked the question, “what problem are we trying to solve?” the answer was that our house feels crowded and cramped, and that there isn’t room for our stuff. Our STUFF. Not “there’s no room for our kids to play” or “we don’t have space to entertain the way we’d like.” We have plenty of space for the people… but not for the stuff. Am I the only person who thinks that’s a really sickening reason to move? Talk about first world problems.

We know that we have too much stuff. We have so much stuff that we don’t even know what most of it is. During the summer Mr. December and I spent a couple of days clearing space in our basement rec room, and we unearthed most of Mr. December’s life as a bachelor as well as much of our early married life; quirky cocktail shakers, a once-prized alcohol dispenser, an entire box of things to re-gift, even dishes that came from his student hovel. All that stuff made its way to the curb economy. Whatever remained went in the garbage. And we still have more stuff.

Our house isn’t like an episode of Hoarders. We’re more like the people who call Hoarders and offer themselves up only to be told that they’re nowhere near as cluttered as the TV show’s guidelines require. But there’s stuff everywhere, and when we remove it there’s more stuff, and it’s just too much. It’s enough to make me think – fleetingly – of how nice it would be to start from absolute scratch the way people do after a natural disaster. Not that I would ever, EVER wish for any kind of disaster to befall us (or anyone); it’s just the thought of being able to have only exactly what we need without having to dig through boxes and piles of our old stuff.

Anyhow, as I was saying… that’s not a reason to move. We love our home, and we’ve invested so much of ourselves (also our money, but moreso our time, sweat, and creative energy) in making this house work for us. We don’t want to leave, and that’s that.

And since we’ve decided to stay put, something has to give. Our new plan is to get rid of all the junk over the next few months, and then make small modifications to the house that will enable us to stay here as long as possible. It’ll be a great winter for DIY projects (did I mention I got a great deal on a circular saw and a table saw? $100 for both!)

Someday, hopefully soon, I’d like to take you all on a photo tour of my house so that you can see why we love it so much. In the meantime, tell me: do you move frequently, or do you like to stay in one home for a long time? Do you find moving easy? Difficult? I want to know.

August 8, 2012

We interrupt this lull to bring you… my life.

by Decemberbaby

People keep asking me how I’m enjoying my summer vacation. It surprises me every time. I’m a mom. I don’t get summer vacation. Summer is my busy season – no school, later bedtime for the kids, earlier wake-ups (I have a love-hate relationship with the long summer days,) the garden, day trips… I’m busy. I can’t wait for school to start, not because I don’t enjoy my children’s company, but because I’ll actually have time do get things done in increments greater than ten minutes. Oh, and I might get enough time to myself to do something decadent, like going back to Weight Watchers (yes, I’ve fallen off the wagon and am crawling back on, shamefaced, seven pounds heavier.)

And yet, I get a fair number of things done. Without further ado, here’s my list of

THINGS THAT MADE ME FEEL GREAT TODAY

1. I fished N’s pyjama pants out of the kitchen wall vent. The vent has now been covered.

2. I managed a Lowe’s run in under 20 minutes. Also, everybody there greeted me by name and asked about my current projects.

3. The construction worker who stands at the end of our street to stop cars from entering told me that she always recognizes me (and therefore moves the pylons aside) because I always smile at her.

4. Our garage is now clean and empty of anything we’re not currently using.

5. I biked about 30 minutes today. So much better than driving.

 

I feel lonely out here in the big, cold internet. Leave me a comment:

What do you feel great about today?  And

If I have limited blogging time, what kinds of things would you rather I blogged about? Crafty stuff? My life? Deep thoughts?

June 24, 2012

I may be off the wall, but our shoes aren’t!

by Decemberbaby

I was going to post this on Wednesday, but it was our wedding anniversary and so Mr. December and I chose to spend our evening together. On Thursday it stormed and we lost power for eight hours… so no blogging. Here we are, after shabbat… I’ve been dying to share this with you!

Our home has a very small entryway. It’s so small that in order to get everyone out the door in the morning, we need to put on shoes and coats 2 at a time. You can well imagine that as soon as there’s anything on the floor, it become impossible (actually, impassible.) Sadly, the kids’ shoes are constantly on the floor.

We’ve tried having shelves for the kids’ shoes. We’ve tried asking them to line them up neatly next to the wall. Most recently,  the shoes have been kept in an IKEA Trofast bin in the hallway bench – easy to put the shoes away, but finding a pair generally involves dumping all the shoes out onto the floor.

I decided to sew a pocket shoe organizer that can be hung on the wall, with smaller pockets to hold more (and smaller) shoes. I bought all the supplies. Then I procrastinated. And then I thought.

I don’t know about your kids, but in my house if there’s a pocket, someone will fill it with tiny “treasures.” And if you’re putting shoes in pockets, the dirt that falls off the soles of the shoes stays at the bottom of the pocket pretty much forever. And the kids will inevitably either overstuff the pockets or pull on them, leading to tearing and subsequent uselessness (of the pockets, not the kids. The kids are all heavy enough to serve as very cute doorstops, if nothing else.)

So I came up with something new, that addresses all of those problems. I ask you, readers: is this solution patentable? ‘Cause if it is, I’m totally applying for a patent.

Have a look:

It’s got elasticized straps (kind of like a scrunchie,) one for each shoe, and a vinyl layer on the backing so that dirt from the shoes can just wipe off. I’ve firmly attached it at all possible stress points so that it doesn’t come away from the wall (actually, from the wooden backing that is affixed to the wall) even if the kids grab the straps and lean backwards. The straps are stretchy enough to fit even our bulkiest running shoes, but tight enough to hold baby sunglasses and rolled-up hats. I’m already looking forward to winter, when all of the kids’ hats, scarves, and mittens will be visible and ready to go.

The best thing? It takes up no floor space and doesn’t protrude into the room much at all:

(For reference, from the wall to where you can see the watermark on this picture is a ten-inch (25 cm) space. Even accounting for the angle at which I took the picture, the shoes still only take up about four inches in depth.)

The best part? The floor in our entryway has been clear ever since I put this thing up! Oh, and leaving the house takes way less time, since we don’t have to stop and hunt through a bin for the shoes we want. That’s a major plus.

So, what do you think? Patent-able or just patently obvious?

 

May 29, 2012

Patina

by Decemberbaby

I have wooden countertops in my kitchen, and I love them. I can take a dish straight from the oven and put it on the unprotected counter. I can chop veggies on our counters. They’re even fabulous for kneading bread.

I do all these things on my bare countertops, and certain people get nervous. I hear comments like, “Shouldn’t you put a trivet under that?” “Use a cutting board! You’ll leave knife marks all over the counters!” and, of course, “won’t water ruin it?”

The answer to these comments depends, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, on what your definition of the word “ruin” is. Might the hot pans, sharp knives, and water mark the counters? Definitely. Do I care? No. Won’t the counters look ugly? In my opinion, no. They’ll just develop a lovely patina.

In other people’s opinions, though, the wood isn’t beautiful if it’s not pristine. I wonder whether these are the same people who spend hours every week using lotions, creams, makeup, and cosmetic “procedures” to look young and “perfect.”

In case you couldn’t tell, I’m not one of those people. I probably never will be. I only use moisturizer when my skin is dry. My hair is frizzy and I don’t generally use a “product” to correct that. I wear makeup so rarely that if I followed industry guidelines to replacing makeup, each item would become single-use (and prohibitively expensive.) I wear sunscreen when I’m likely to burn, but not just to leave the house and run errands. All these failures on my part will probably guarantee that in thirty years I’ll have wrinkles and freckles in record numbers. Know what? I don’t care.

My favourite guitar (yes, I have several) has a nasty crack in it, courtesy of a careless passerby at St. Jacobs farmer’s market, where I used to busk on weekends. It hasn’t affected the sound (not badly, at least,) and to me it’s a reminder that my guitar and I have gone places. Numerous small scratches offer a testament to the times my kids have tried to strum the guitar – admittedly, with materials not suitable for use as picks. The finish is uneven, too: the wood is darker and shinier at the bottom left side of the body, where my strumming arm rests, and at the top end of the neck, where my left hand glides up and down to form the chords. My guitar has a beautiful patina.

Our living room has hardwood floors. They look pretty good, considering that they date back to 1946, but there are quite a few shallow scratches, some gouges, and some spots where the stain is starting to look patchy. The scratches are from the kids moving furniture around (mostly their table and chairs,) the gouge is from the time we sold the refrigerator that came from the house (we were doing much of the renovation work ourselves,) and we just happen to rub certain parts of the floor more often than others (hence the uneven finish.) Our floors squeak, too. Every time I take a step, a floorboard says, “yup, lots of people like to walk on me. I’m part of a well-trodden path to the door, and have been for over sixty years!” Our floors have developed a patina.

When I think about it, my stuff never stays looking new for long. I spend more time using my things than thinking about how to keep them looking new, and that extends to my body. My hands are scarred from being bitten by autistic campers, cutting myself while installing new gutters, slicing my knuckle while deboning a chicken, and burning myself on my first attempt to fry schnitzel. If I hadn’t done any of those things I suppose my hands wouldn’t be scarred; on the other hand (no pun intended,) I wouldn’t have had any of those experiences. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a person to trade in life experience – and the satisfaction of a job well done – for perfect skin.

The word “patina” only ever gets used in reference to materials or objects, but I think it can describe people rather well. People with patina have been places, done things, had adventures, and have the scars to prove it. People without patina may look very pretty, but I can only imagine that the constant preventative measures and maintenance required to keep looking that way take time away from actually living, just as polishing and displaying the guitar would take time away from actually playing it, and keeping the floors scratch-free would mean stopping the kids from playing in there. People with patina have this glow, this energy that tells you they’ve spent their time purposefully.

Just as I can sand and oil my countertops, I can clean myself up nicely when the need arises, and the combination of the makeup and the patina is what really makes me shine. I can only hope that my patina, just like the patina of my counters and guitar and home, deepens and becomes more interesting over time.

There are so many analogies here that I could go on writing all day. And now it occurs to me that you really can sum up my life’s philosophy in one word: Patina. Experience makes beauty.

September 17, 2011

It’s an odd thing…

by Decemberbaby

We had some visitors drop by this evening. Friends of ours who are more religious than we are (they’re Shomer Shabbat, we’re not… but that’s a post for another day) dropped by to visit – well, the mom and kids stayed, and the dad went off to shul for mincha (afternoon prayers).

You have to know that my house was a mess today. I spent most of yesterday evening and some of last night having painful, menstrual-type cramps that kind of felt like early labour, so I didn’t even clean up after shabbat dinner. There were toys all over the living room, food under N’s highchair in the dining room, and the kitchen counter was hiding under all the dirty dishes and pots. Charming.

And yet, I wasn’t self-conscious about the mess. It occurred to me after they left that I feel much less ashamed of our chaos in front of our religious friends. Why is that? Maybe it’s because they tend to have more kids (or be heading in that direction) and they already understand the reality of life with tiny mess-makers. Maybe it’s because I feel that they understand that receiving guests warmly is more important than having a spotless kitchen. Whatever the reason, I wonder whether I’m making an inappropriate generalization.

Observant Jews aren’t different from non-observant Jews in terms of human variation. Did that make sense? I mean to say that within the frum (religious) community there are certainly neat freaks, slobs, and everything in between. There are frum Jews who are judgmental and frum Jews who really aren’t, and some who are obsessed with appearances while others focus on substance over style. I know this.

So why do I generalize about frum Jews’ acceptance of my messy home? There are two very simple reasons:

1. Because the frum Jews who are my friends really do value substance over surface, and

2. Because I’ve been to their homes (insert evil cackle here), and it looks to me like we’re all in this mess together!

Shavua Tov!

August 25, 2011

Renovation deliberation

by Decemberbaby

This is our house.

(Well, this was our house before the city cut down the ailing tree, before I planted a rock garden and a vegetable patch and three fruit trees, and before our front yard started looking raggedy around the edges… but you get the idea.)

It’s a three-bedroom bungalow circa 1946 (or possibly earlier – it was built with a coal chute from the garage to the furnace room). We think it’s probably 1100 square feet. We love it.

But one day, possibly soon, we’re going to wake up and realize that life with two adults, three kids, and one bathroom is just a little too crazy for us. Or maybe we’ll start feeling cramped when our kids no longer fit into their toddler beds.

And so we’re faced with a tough decision: renovate or move?

Renovating would mean keeping our proximity to the subway and major highways, our awesome backyard, and our very walkable neighbourhood full of small, privately owned shops and restaurants and bakeries. It would also mean moving out of the house for at least 6 months and spending about $200 per square foot to build a second storey complete with five bedrooms and three baths (look, if I’m going through this renovation, I will have an ensuite bathroom at the end of it) and $150 a square foot to rearrange the main floor just a bit. Renovating would mean making decisions about finishes, the locations of light switches, and where to put the walls (YAY!) and staying on top of the architect, builder, engineer, etc (BOO!). It would mean going from 1100 square feet to somewhere around 2500 square feet (palatial, if you ask me). Renovating would mean having the exact house I want.

Or we could move. To stay within our price range we’d basically have to move to an area that is farther from the subway, thus necessitating the purchase of a second car (before you ask, no, Zipcar doesn’t have any cars in that neighbourhood). It would mean being very close to K’s school. It would mean a much longer commute for Mr. December. It would probably mean more of our life lived in the car and less lived on bikes and walking. It would mean having to get our home ready to show (i.e. make the front yard less ugly, for starters) and then moving out for a couple of weeks so the agent could show it without us having to be on our kids all the time to “keep your things where they belong, dammit!”. It would mean changing our address with all of the people who like to send us bills, and with the Ministries of Transportation and Health. It would mean being within walking distance of my parents’ home. It would mean having a house adequate for our needs, maybe even too big, but not necessarily quite to my taste.

We’re not sure which to do. I’m feeling very attached to our location despite the 10-minute drive to K’s school. I also love the thrill of designing spaces (I did our kitchen and bathroom, after all) and choosing finishes. I even love the problem solving that comes with, “There’s supposed to be a light fixture here, but there’s a stud here instead. What do we do now?” I think I would opt to renovate.

Mr. December, however, is more risk averse. He’s worried about us wasting money or getting taken advantage of by unscrupulous contractors. He’s concerned that I’m not consistently organized enough to oversee a project of this magnitude. He ruminates on the issue and comes back to, “How do we know that 2500 square feet will be enough for us ten years down the road?” (my answer: “Because that’s not counting the basement with its awesome rec room. And because we’ve never coveted large amounts of space. And because we don’t want the lifestyle where family members can’t hear or see each other 90% of the time. And because we understand that a large house is a choice, not a need, even with a large family.”)

We figure we have another 2 years or so in which this house would serve our needs well. After that, it’s… renovate or get off the pot, I suppose. And we’re still so undecided.

So I’m asking… what would you do, and why?