Category Archives: housekeeping

My daughter’s room

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Dorothy has been living in filth. She’s a hoarder by nature, tucking baggies of rocks and shells and old toilet roll tubes away like squirrels do nuts for the winter. The difference is that squirrels eat all their nuts in the winter, but Dorothy’s room just gets more and more crowded with junk. Telling her to clean her room didn’t even help, because she wasn’t sure where to put baggies of rocks and old toilet paper tubes. I drove to IKEA right after Christmas to pick up some storage furniture to replace daintier but less useful pieces and enlisted  her help getting organized. Fortunately, she got tired of helping after the first hour or so, so I got to spend all my “free” time for the better part of two weeks putting together furniture and throwing stuff away without her there to witness it. I’m sharing my after photos. She’s now one very organized 8-year-old, and my hope is that the new system will help her keep it that way. I bought 3-inch foam to make a seat on top of the shelf under her window. All her doll accessories are now tidily at hand. Don’t notice my measuring “oops” on the side of the seat cover! After spending that much time sorting through 3rd grade ephemera I apparently lost the ability to do simple math.chair

This chair was in her room before, but it got a coat of white paint and a new seat cover. On the wall behind her is a pouch she sewed herself to hold keepsake letters.cubes

This IKEA shelving unit got a little dressed up with pretty glass knobs on the cabinets and drawers. She painted the ruby slipper canvas at an art camp last summer.
earringsI found this earring tree on Amazon.com to keep all her ear candy organized. She had earrings crammed in boxes and baggies all over her room. We put some other pairs in ice cube trays in her top drawer.
labels

I made labels with a craft punch for all her bins. We use a velcro label system for toy bins all over our house. I staple hook tape to the bin, and glue the loop tape to the back of our labels. I keep a jar of the extra labels on hand for when we want to repurpose a bin. The bins can be exchanged for others in our playroom and in Worth and Daphne’s room when they want to rotate playthings.lamp

I bought a wall-mount lamp at IKEA and spray-painted it to match the room. Putting the lamp on the wall helped free up space on her desk and alleviated my long-standing worry that she’d knock it off and break it. Dorothy made the name banner hanging over her bed.
window-seatHere’s a final view of her new window seat. I left her doll-clothes storage system of a ribbon strung in her window intact because it’s pretty and functional. I think I’ve blogged about her quilt and curtains before. When we moved into this old house, Dorothy fell in love with the bedroom she now occupies and the specific wallpaper hanging on the walls. I removed wallpaper and repainted every other room in our house, but we’ve honored her wish to keep her vintage wallpaper. I collected old bedsheets in similar colors from thrift stores and made her quilt and curtains out of them. It’s made a sweet little-girl room, with a nice blend of old and new. I’ll probably flip out in a few weeks when she lets it get messy again, but I’m enjoying the view from the doorway in the meantime! Because of course, as soon as I was done with the job and turned the room back over to her all sparkly and clean, she shut the door and hasn’t welcomed any other family members in since. C’est la vie.

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What a mess: One mother’s response to the latest mommy wars

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I think I need to weigh in on the articles and blog posts that have been circulating in the latest round of the “mommy wars,”–whatever that is. I’m not big on making sweeping judgments about other people’s lifestyle choices. Feel happy and fulfilled and like you’ve got your financial shit together working outside the home? Great! You’re a good mom, and you’ve probably got awesome shoes. Feel happy and fulfilled and like you’ve got your financial shit together while staying out of the paid workforce and raising your kids? Great! You’re a good mom too, but you’ve probably got less awesome shoes. (Like me.) Send your kid to public or private school? Great! They are probably going to turn out fine, and they leave your house for eight hours a day, which is clearly a good idea. Homeschool your kid? Great! They are probably going to turn out fine too, and I’m sure you have a reason for keeping them there that makes their relentless presence in your house worthwhile.

Now moving on to the details. Lately these so-called “wars” seem to have descended from these more obvious issues and into the petty realm of party and event planning, and whether or not you keep your house clean. I think these articles that bash a “culture” of Pinterest-obsessed mothers who plan picturesque birthday parties or set leprechaun traps are meant to make mothers who opt not to do these things feel better, but is that really the way to do it? Why are we giving other mothers a hard time at all? No mother is out there posting cupcakes on Pinterest or scrubbing her kitchen floor to make you feel inadequate, nor should they be asked to stop because of your negative response. What your house looks like is between you and the other people who live in it. It’s not about the articles or the bloggers or the playdate mamas. There is no vast conspiracy of military-industrial anything telling you to plan Pinterest holiday events or keep your mail slots beautiful. You do what feels right at your house, and let’s stop spilling ink on whether or not it’s a contest.

All the articles about how the Pinterest stuff takes it too far, and no one else’s house is really that clean, and every birthday party doesn’t have to be magical, and that’s not even really a holiday, blah, blah, undermine other mothers. Because mothers who plan elaborate parties love their children. Mothers who don’t plan elaborate parties love their children. Mothers who use Pinterest ideas to turn small holidays into big moments of wonder love their children. Mothers who would rather eat roadkill than handle glitter love their children. Mothers who are too up to their eyeballs in case work, or shift work, or depression, or a dirty novel to even notice this conversation is going on love their children. Making a plea to other mothers to stop doing whatever they are doing–whether it is icing gorgeous cupcakes, or cleaning their house before a playdate, or having a job, or not having a job–is not an act of sisterhood. It is trying to take another mother’s behavior and make it about you.

Maybe what we need is to stop talking about the behavior of other mothers. Maybe all the moms just need a nice shot in the arm of self-confidence and the space to get a grip on what is important to them and what is not, and then mind their own business. If you know you love your children, and you make your decisions based on what is right for you and for them, then what everyone else is doing is just not relevant.  And housekeeping, for pete’s sake, why is this a conversation in 2014? It’s not a ranked activity–it’s your own private thing. The dirty underwear on your floor is, quite literally, your dirty underwear (or to be perfectly honest it’s probably your toddler’s) and if it bothers you that much go and pick it up. And if it doesn’t then literally shut the front door and no one else will see it. No one on Pinterest or the blog world or uninvited to your house is going to know about it.

By the same token, if looking at photographs of “perfect” birthday parties or Hallmark holiday celebrations on Pinterest or blogs is some sort of trigger for you, why don’t you stay off Pinterest and the blogs? You are a grown-up. Read bodice-rippers or dirty fan-fiction in the time you would have spent “getting ideas” about how everyone else’s life is better than yours. That always puts me in a better mood, and I never end up spending $50 on new art supplies next day. But I’d like to point out that the problem is probably not that other people are posting blogs or Pinterest photos of parties and celebrations, but that you are responding to them by feeling inadequate. I doubt that anyone ever iced cupcakes just to make someone else feel bad. Get a backbone and say “I want to make these cupcakes” and then really do it. Or say, “I am never going to make these cupcakes, and I’m having a negative reaction to seeing other people’s cupcakes, so I need to work on my self-esteem. I’m going to remind myself that I’m a mother who loves her children, that quality mothering and cupcake baking are not actually correlated. Now I’m going to shut down this browser and stay away from cupcake photos. I will not resort to the middle-school coping mechanism of running down the mama who baked the cupcakes (who also loves her children) to make myself feel better.”

I’m a cupcake-baker. I have cute birthday parties for my kids. Sometimes I even have cute half-birthday celebrations for my kids and blog about them. Sometimes we totally forget about the kids’ half-birthdays, and if anyone happens to remember at the last moment we run to the corner gas station and buy packaged cupcakes. Or we don’t even bother. Sometimes my house is beautifully clean and my mail slots are worthy of Pinterest. Sometimes random piles of crap appear all over my house and there is no clean laundry and my mail slots overflow. Sometimes I like to browse ideas on Pinterest. Sometimes I like to read dirty novels and pay no attention to applesauce on the floor or the yogurt being dumped on the dog or the fact that yesterday was a Hallmark holiday I missed. And I LOVE MY KIDS. I don’t judge myself based on anyone else’s criteria because I am comfortable in my own skin. That is a gift, I realize, but it is also a choice. I honor that you are a good mother because you love your kids. I am not going to judge the choices you make about working or schooling or (the biggie!) crafty holiday decorations. I’m not going to ask you to lie about your house, or to lie about lying about it. Because you are your own person, and, like me, you probably keep your house the way it needs to be right now for you. And you love your kids.

Now I’m a little embarrassed that in a state where slightly more than a third of children live in poverty I have just spend an hour acknowledging any importance in the petty “mommy wars,” in which well-fed mothers argue over things that don’t really matter. Except that niceness always matters. And making some theoretically heroic summons of sisterhood for mothers to stop fussing over Hallmark holidays (if they enjoy it) or planning cutesy birthday parties (if they want to) or having a tidy house (or lying about it?) isn’t nice. It just isn’t about you. Take it or leave it. It didn’t become a contest until someone who felt like they were losing started whining about calling off the contest. You can decide what to look at it and what to avoid. Live you own life. Love your children. Go talk about things that matter. And if you have something to say to another mother let it be positive.

I’ll start. I honor you and the mother that you are. I don’t care what your house looks like, even if it is spectacular. I don’t care if you are baking picture-perfect cupcakes (though if you are and you have extra, my favorite flavor is lemon). I don’t care if you are picking up cupcakes from the gas station (though if you are and you have extra, my favorite flavor is that waxy orange with the white squiggle on top). I hope you are in an employment situation that feels right to you. I hope your children are in educational situations that feel right to you. I hope you have the self-confidence to look at ideas and tuck away what you like and discard the rest. I hope you realize how beautiful you are. I hope you realize that you are the right parent for your child. And I know you love your children.

Peace, Mama!

Right Start Math bags

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Since last spring I’ve had this niggling feeling that I should better organize our math manipulatives. We use the homeschool math curriculum Right Start Mathematics, which is a good fit for me and my third-grader, and it comes with lots and lots of little bits and pieces and sets of cards. I have a small secretary desk in my living room that is dedicated to holding our math supplies. The problem was that I couldn’t close it anymore because it was so crammed full with our manipulatives, cards, and the various sandwich bags or dog-eared envelopes I was employing to hold them. I bought some white zippers in bulk and used canvas left over from our field trip bags to make 13 zipper bags for our math supplies. I took the time to embroider a label onto each bag, which seemed like “OMG, have I really become a person who embroiders labels on to homemade canvas bags to hold math manipulatives?” but yes, it seems I have. Assuming we stick with this curriculum, I’ll be using these supplies for many more years, and I’d have been mad if my previous disorganized system had caused me to have to re-purchase supplies I could have kept track of better. I am not, under any circumstances, going to follow this project up by crocheting a cozy for our abacus. So here we go. Hopefully these bags and I will have quite a future together, and it’ll be worth the time spent when my current toddler learns her fractions with their help. And if there is just a little voice in the back of my brain that says, “really? You made special bags to hold math supplies?” I’ll just tell it to shut up. In Latin, because that’s all homeschool-y, right?

Linen hand towels

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These towels were a just-for-fun summer project. I get tired of our standard, Costco cotton towels. I love things that look old, rumply, beautiful and real, like vintage linen hand towels. So I bought a yard of stonewashed white linen and had fun making eight new towels with a vintage look. They come out of the dryer just as they are pictured–rumpled but not wadded. They are very absorbent and dry quickly. I used my embroidery machine to embellish four to match my upstairs bathroom, and another four for down. (I don’t think they all showed up for the photos.) I don’t do laundry quite often enough for these to be our only hand-towels, but they are all in frequent use and it makes something as ordinary as washing my hands into a nicer experience. Why not?

St. Patrick’s Day and some organization

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The first year that Rob and I were married I collected holiday decorations a little obsessively. It was some combination of nesting in our first home, having two incomes and no kids, and a love affair with eBay that made me do it. Now some years I have not had the time or energy to put out useless tchotchkes for minor holidays. This year, with two kids big enough to avoid catastrophe while I bring a box up from downstairs and a house that is no longer such a project on its own, I have really enjoyed putting out all manner of holiday decorations. The kids take total delight in “decorating” and making a celebration out of days big and small.  These green and gold fishing floats were my newlywed eBay purchases–a pot of gold for St. Patrick’s Day. My mother bought the Leprechaun when Dorothy was a baby and this year the girl loved seeing him keep watch over his treasure on our entryway table.

Green candles in my candelabra, more fishing floats, vintage glass goblets that belonged to Rob’s grandfather, and some felt clover from the dollar store made us feel lucky and maybe even a bit Irish in the dining room.

And my very favorite, a set of vintage-inspired plates from that newlywed eBay spree. I didn’t know then how much our children would enjoy them in 2012! We ate off of them for a couple weeks prior to March 17. We rounded out our celebration of the Irish within us (Dad assures me it’s there, and my current red hair situation would lead you to believe it if you weren’t aware that all hints of the hue came from a bottle) by eating this delicious apple and cabbage soup and fried patties of mashed potato, garlic and cheese–probably not authentic, but reminiscent of a favorite Irish pub food in my college town.

On another topic, I’ve been prettying up the insides of closets and things that don’t always show. I spent the first year at this house taking care of big-impact things, but in this second year I get to move on to some crafty projects that might not be noticed when you walk in the front door but definitely improve my quality of life. I was so pleased with the new rag bag of a few weeks ago that I made a similar bag with an inserted hanger to hold plastic bags. While I do use cloth bags frequently at the grocery, I also like to hang on to those good, sturdy Target bags and the bags the newspaper comes in to reuse. I’ve seen patterns for small bag-holders, but we also save paper shopping bags so I felt like I needed something larger. This one is working out very nicely and looks pretty good too. The tote bag in the stairwell holds old batteries until I can drop them off at the recycling center.

This little bag turns an unused bar on the inside of my kitchen under-sink cabinet into a sweet little spot for reusable mop heads and dusters. I don’t think the buttons show very well in the picture but they are very pert make the bag look a little sassy–just what I need to make me feel better about some chores that are not my favorites.

Gifts for my nieces and a rag bag

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This was meant to be a Christmas gift for my niece Maggie but, well, it wasn’t. Now I’m giving it to her as an early birthday gift instead because by mid-March it’s probably going to get too warm to wear it. I used the Easy No Sew Summer Baby Doll Sweater pattern which I’d also used this summer as a gift for a friend. This is a good pattern and it worked up nicely in this Swish Tonal yarn from Knitpicks. I hope the soon-to-be-3 Maggie likes it.

My other niece Lila turned five this past week. She’s about Dorothy’s size so after my recent success with Simplicity 5704  (see below) I decided to try it again. This time I used Michael Miller cowgirl prints, which were surprisingly soft and should make this a comfortable dress for Lila. She loves pretty ponies so I hope she loves this dress too. As I was stitching this dress together it occurred to me that while having my children and my nieces close in age is nice now, it might be kind of sad in a few years when all the kids in my family are too old for homemade pony dresses (or heart dresses, or whatever). It’s a privilege to be turning out these frilly little sewing projects; not everyone has a pretty little girl to sew or crochet for, and I’m blessed with three at once!

This project is not nearly as cute but it will probably be in use long after the pink sweater and pony dress are outgrown. I replaced the tattered and torn Target bag that held rags on the back of my guest room closet door with a sturdy and sensible rag bag sewn from old sheets. The opening, as shown, is on the front for easy access. I did not use a pattern for this but it is basically two rectangles sewn together, one cut in two then sewn back together with a finished slit in the middle, and then gussets added in all four corners. I’d picked up the sheet it’s made from at a thrift store and it actually looks pretty nice in the yellow, red and orange brightness of Aunt Stephanie’s room.

Christmas t-shirts and a dresser

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This picture is what you get when you set the camera on something, focus on your children, hit the timer, then jump in yourself. Oops! I really do have a head–it just didn’t make it into this photo. Anyway, the point of this photo is the matching Santa t-shirts I made for Dorothy and me. I cut out round scraps from fabric left over from the pillow project (below), a coffee-drinking Santa for myself and a stocking-stuffing Santa for Dorothy. I ironed them onto the shirts with Wonder-Under and zigzagged around the edge in red. Also with the red thread I did decorative machine stitching around the neck and bottom hem of the shirts. I paid $2 for my like-new, name-brand cotton shirt at a thrift store and $.50 for Dorothy’s from the same place. Not bad!

Now the sad thing about making a t-shirt for Dorothy is that it was going to end up going into her closet, which is often a Horrifying Pit of Filth and Stuff, kind of like the rest of her room only worse. Housekeeping is not a talent of my five-year-old, but unfortunately hoarding does seem to be. One of the problems has been that she really hasn’t had enough drawers for folded clothing items. She has one vintage chest-of-drawers my Mom refinished before she was born, but it has very shallow drawers that won’t begin to accommodate the piles of accessories she accumulates. We were keeping skirts and pants in labeled kitty-litter buckets similar to these but as she got larger her clothing got larger too, and suddenly not very many pants would actually fit into a bucket at all, so they were mostly getting thrown in the direction of the buckets, spilling out, then mingling with doll clothes, dirty clothes, cat hair and who-knows-what-else on the floor. I got completely fed up with the situation all at once last week, drove to the nearest Goodwill, and promptly bought an old wooden dresser for $15. The drawers didn’t fit in quite right but I figured I’d see what I could do–I wasn’t making more than one stop.

The problem with the drawers ended up being that they weren’t in the right slots–easy fix! I sanded the whole piece, used leftover wall paint to make it a cheery yellow that coordinates with Dorothy’s beloved wallpaper, and sprayed the old handles white. I did need to purchase new knobs for the top because they were missing entirely, so I bought cute glass ones that look appropriately glamorous. We spent a productive afternoon organizing Dorothy’s things with the help of the roomy new drawers. She loves it and claims to be determined to stick to our new organization plan. I suspect she won’t, but at least now I can chalk her big mess up to her creative spirit instead of a system stacked against her.

As an update to an old post, we had a good thing happen in our family this week! Rob, who had been on crutches since he ruptured his Achilles tendon in September, is finally able to hobble around on his boot but without the crutches. He missed being able to drag the dresser downstairs to my work space and then upstairs to our daughter’s second-floor bedroom, but by the next time I drag home used furniture he should be much more useful!