Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Friday, November 28, 2014

Clutter drives me bananas but it seems inevitable when you live in a small space with three small people and one big guy. As a kid, my bedroom was always the neatest. I liked things put away and organized in their places, even if it wasn't done meticulously (think: stuff shoved into least, it was away and off the floor...). But I also had a lot of stuff. It was hard to throw things away and it was hard to not want things. Everything was special and important. Eventually, I reached the point where I was able to throw things away without a second thought, if I thought it wasn't necessary or if it just didn't appeal to me anymore. But I still had a lot of paper clutter, and worse, no one place to keep all that paper. There is paper all over my house, and every nook and cranny is storage for something, no matter how important or not important the item being stored.
Last month, my husband read an article in the NY Times about decluttering and mentioned it to me, something to the effect that things should have a place. I hadn't read the article and I was so indignant and offended that he dared to mention this article to me, as if it was news to me, as if it was something that *I* needed to read, when obviously the problem was not me but my messy kids and my messy, packrat husband. AS IF. Really, the nerve...
No. It struck a nerve but not for the right reason. After I calmed down, and stopped yelling at my husband in frustration, I just let it go. A few weeks later, I got an email from Blogging for Books that the book on which that Times article had been based was being offered to members. Oh, that article had been about tidying up? It wasn't about clutter? I made a mental note to myself to go to the source in the future instead of relying on my husband's slim synopsis, (along with the many other mental notes about patience and taking a deep breath and not overreacting and being oversensitive). I jumped on the  book request, convinced that it would change my life. After all, it had to be fortuitous that this book had come into my life two different ways.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo makes so much sense. Part self-help, part how-to, this book started changing my life as I read it.


So much in this book spoke to me, and even before I finished the book, I was making small changes in the way I behaved in my home. Marie Kondo advises against this, though. She believes everything should be done in one fell swoop. Just get it over and done with, instead of doing it piecemeal over time; Otherwise, it just feels neverending. It just so happens that we are getting ready to move house, which is the perfect opportunity to employ the KonMari method. 

The KonMari method feels like a more realistic approach to zen minimalism, with a bit of "form follows function" thrown in. The book's soothing, earnest tone inspires confidence while the slimness of the volume keeps the reader from feeling overwhelmed. This book is not for everyone but if you feel unsettled and you can't put your finger on why, you might look at the space in which you live and see what small changes you can make that lead to big revelations and a lifting of burden. 

{I recieved a copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links.}

Review: Dancing on the Head of a Pen

Thursday, November 6, 2014

I love to learn about the craft of writing from other writers. A well-written story can seem like a bit of alchemy at times, a true mystery-- how do these words come together to evoke these feelings? Seeing a writer break down his chosen method inspires confidence, the feeling that "yeah, I can totally do this," without any accompanying delusions that it'll be easy. In fact, no good writer would ever say that writing is easy and that is a relief to me. 


I am slowly but surely building a collection of books about writing by writers. Though I've never read anything by Robert Benson, I felt drawn to this book, which describes the craft of writing in small snapshots, theme by theme. In the same way that good writing emerges over time, the advice in this book unfolds one by one, each building on the one before it. 
I found it very useful in thinking about creating the conditions in our lives that compel us to make time to write. Though I have an ebook copy, I will buy a hard copy, to annotate and  to place on my bookshelf alongside my other About Writing books. 

{I received a copy of this book for free, for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links. }

What Aging Looks Like.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

{This is an excerpt of a post I published in May of 2012, after my grandfather passed away. I wrote it a month before he died.)

I began visiting him at the rehab facility, with trepidation. I am not an "old people" person. I'm afraid of offending their sensibilities.  I worry about not being able to hear them or understand them. I suppose I don't give them nearly enough credit. Diminished physical capacity doesn't always mean that intellectual capacity has suffered the same fate. Often, sure, but not always. I started out with small talk: "How are you feeling today? Are they taking care of you? Are you getting what you need?"  Grandpa Sol is a quiet guy, and with a paralyzed vocal cord, conversation is difficult for him, I think. His voice comes out raspy, jagged, the effort visible. He's not used to my speech impediment. He says, "We have to talk more often. So I can get used to the way you talk."

He has trouble eating. He complains about the blandness of the food, having subsisted on a diet of processed foods and fast food for years. His skinny-ness is alarming. A photograph hangs on the wall, of Grandpa Sol with two of his great-grandchildren on his lap. Taken only two years ago, his face is noticeably fuller and his eyes have more light in them. When I see him now, his face is haggard, his cheeks sunken in. I see his eyes light up when I walk in with my daughters in tow. He reaches out to them while they hide shyly behind my legs or in my shoulder. Alice confesses to me later that "old people are scary" and I understand what she means. By the time we leave, Grandpa is able to get a handshake from his great-granddaughters and maybe a kiss on the cheek, too.

This is what aging looks like.

He reaches out for support as he stands up. He asks for help cutting his chicken. He complains about his already-roomy pants being tight and uncomfortable.  Young, pretty speech therapists tell him how to eat. Attendants help him shower. The PT directs him around the room as he pushes his walker obediently. Later, he complains to my sister, "I get more exercise at home."

And it's true. At home, he was often found in his backyard, tending to his bamboo. But that was before it became apparent that he was not taking care of himself. He seemed to age tremendously during that week in the hospital. He seemed to lose confidence in his ability to walk, to go to the bathroom on his own. At the rehab facility, he stays in his room all day. He talks to no one except his visitors. The nurse at the front desk asks me one day as I leave, "Is he always this quiet?" "Yes," I say.

Observing Grandpa Sol this past week, I've come to realize: aging is one thing. Accepting that you're aging is another entirely. Of course, he knows he's growing older. "I'm almost 90 years old. I should be able to eat whatever I want." "I'm going to be 100. I don't need to be here." "Slow down, " I tell him, noting that irony only in afterthought. "Slow down. Let's get to 89 first. We'll worry about getting to 100 later, Grandpa," I say, as I  sit on his bed, holding his outstretched hand, his arm laying slack on the bed. I study his paper-thin, dry skin, his tattoos now shrunken, colors faded.

He says to my mother, "How did I get here?" He's still figuring it out. When he tells me he doesn't need to be there, I give him a little lesson in how his poor nutrition is a contributing factor. I don't know if he understands that. He doesn't watch documentaries about America's obesity epidemic. He doesn't think about the pitfalls of the corn-based American diet. He has no wife or girlfriend nagging him about his health. All he knows that after years of eating whatever he wanted and doing whatever he wanted, he's being served food with no salt, and drinking coffee that's been thickened to a sludge. He's getting more attention now, on a daily basis, than he's ever gotten before. I don't know how he feels about that. But I know he wants out. He wants to be back home, where he can do what he wants and go where he wants, without approval from anyone, except maybe Mickey, his gentle pitbull.
On Thursday, I stop in with a sleeping Stella, only meaning to stay for a short time. I want to find out how his ENT appointment went and I hope to meet the doctor on his floor. When I arrive, he is being interrogated by a nurse-practitioner, who is trying to fill in the blanks on his charts, his records having not yet arrived. I fill her in on the throat cancer, the quadruple bypass, the valve replacements. There is still more to his medical history that I would find out later, from my mother. At lunchtime, he is visited by a speech therapist, one that had visited him the Saturday after he arrived. She notes that he seemed better on Saturday than he does at this moment, Thursday. She watches him eat his food, coaches him to keep his chin down as he swallows, so that his airway will close and block the food. He eats all his food, having been granted the gift of margarine for his mashed potatoes, and the chicken being a flavorful thigh, smothered in a tomato sauce. I see him eat more in that one sitting than I have all those previous days I'd been there. He finishes off a cup of peaches in syrup, and a container of apple sauce. He finishes his food, looks down at his tray and says, "I ate a lot," a hint of surprise in his voice, and maybe a need for approval. I wonder, did he eat to please us or was he hungry? Was the food finally tasting better to him? I hope for the latter.

I want to take him on a walk. I wait while he cleans his dentures, and cautiously takes hold of his walker while I push a still-sleeping Stella in her stroller. I lead him out to the patio, where there is a warm breeze and a bright sun. We sit in the shade for awhile, Stella having woken up from her nap grumpy and anti-social. She buries her head in my shoulder while I watch Grandpa take in breaths of fresh air. He tries to engage Stella, to no avail. Feeling guilty, I make excuses for her but he seems to understand. He basks in the sun, pointing out the Long Island Rail Road. I gently correct him, "Yes, the metro-north, Grandpa but it's on the other side." I lead him over to the side of the patio where he can see the water but the tracks are not visible. "The Hudson River, Grandpa,  and the Palisades. Do you see them?" He squints through his glasses and nods.

He is getting tired and it's  time to pick up Alice from school, so we shuffle back inside, where I help him get settled into bed. Stella and I say our goodbyes as his eyes close for a nap. "Get some rest, Grandpa," I say, by way of parting.

This post was inspired by The Goddess of Small Victories by Yannick Grannec, a novel about the brilliant mathematician Kurt Gödel as told from his ex-cabaret dancer wife’s perspective. Join From Left to Write on October 16th as we discuss The Goddess of Small Victories. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Where's the Menu?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Oh, yeah...where's my menu? I didn't post one last week either. But I have a good excuse...I promise.


Okay, yeah, it's only part-time but it's a huge change for our family in terms of our day-to-day operations and I'm still ironing out the kinks and getting settled.

This didn't really come out of nowhere, though. It just moved fast. I applied for a bunch of school-based, non-teaching positions in my area over the summer. I was called in to interview at a school in the next town over from me, and I was offered the job the same day. This was two Fridays ago. Since last week was the high holy days, I requested a start date of September 29th, this past Monday.  So, yeah, this week has been nuts. I'm working twenty hours-three full school days- but I'm out of the house early and it's nearly dinnertime by the time I round up the kids and get home.

Clearly, I need a new plan for keeping house and home. My husband takes up his share of slack when he gets home but the day-to-day operations fall to me, pretty much. More on that later when I get my act together.

In the meantime, I have a little office that is all mine. It was a little drab but my sister sent me flowers today at work!! Much improved.

Menu Mondays: The Back to School Edition

Monday, September 15, 2014

I'm headed out the door in ten minutes to bring Stella to school (she goes every morning this year!), I'm applauding myself for getting Alice to the bus stop in time and I'm typing one-handed because I have a cranky, teething 13 month old on my lap. But Menu Mondays are back, after a summer hiatus!

My menus lately reflect the changes that we've made in our family over the past month. You see, Henry and I have some serious financial goals that we need to tackle, so we've cut every aspect of our budget including the grocery budget. Remember my post on buying in bulk? That is one strategy I've employed in grocery budgeting. The other is planning meals that are inexpensive but nutritious and filling. Whole chicken was on sale at Whole Foods last month, so I've got a bunch of birds in my freezer. Besides roasted chicken, I've made stock with the bones. This week, I'm boiling up a chicken to use in my stir fry. I keep my eyes peeled for other deals that I can use without coupons, because I'm just not a clipper...

Here are some links for this week's menu:

The "meatballs" are actually lentils! Don't tell the kids. I want to see if they'll be able to tell the difference.

Spanish tortillas have become a mainstay in the house. All the kids will eat it and it packs well in lunches the next day.

I think everything else is self-explanatory. If it isn't, ask me in the comments!

And don't forget, the MO+M carrier discount code is good until the end of the month! Get the discount code from this post:

Short on Space, Long on Hungry Kids: Storing Bulk Buys in a Small Kitchen

Monday, September 1, 2014

I only have three kids but I might as well be feeding an army. It took me an awful long time to understand why people shop at warehouse stores. That one little bag of Pirate's Booty from the supermarket barely lasts the ten minutes it takes me to put the groceries away. In our old apartment, we had tons of cabinet space so shopping in bulk was no problem. In our little cottage, however, it is a different story.

See this? This is my "pantry." It's all I've one other cabinet holds our drinking glasses, small dishes and mixing bowls. I have a little shelf to the left of this cabinet where I put our bananas, and containers of spices. 

So, I stopped buying in bulk. But I finally reached my breaking point this summer. Having the kids home all day, everyday meant that I couldn't keep any food in the house--it was all flying out the kitchen in a day or two. Kids have a fast metabolism and since I try to keep my kids active, it's inevitable that they'll be hungry throughout the day. It's annoying and expensive but I can't blame them. 

With the new school year rolling around, I knew I had to do something-- besides the fact that I wanted snacks to last longer, I wanted to stop spending so much on them! If I was going back to warehouse shopping, I not only needed to make the food last for a month but I also needed a place to put all the stuff. And that's when I decided that I would just ration the food, not just to make it last but to also get it to fit in this tiny cabinet (just barely, as you can see from the photo above). 

I did not go to the warehouse and buy a jar of mayo big enough to last us ten years, nor do I ever buy anything fresh there (gross...).  I stuck strictly to snacks for the lunchbox and for after school. I bought a giant thing of raisins, snap pea crisps, granola bars, trail mix, rice rolls, and animal crackers. 

When I got home, I calculated how many servings I could dole out every week to make it last all month by dividing the number of servings by four, then doubling or tripling that amount to account for each kid, each week. So, what you see in the ziplock bags above is one weeks' worth of each kind of snack. The trail mix is a hot commodity and would disappear in seconds if the kids had unfettered access to it. Because of that, I divided the servings of trail mix into two ziplock bags, and labeled each one with the girls' names. I told Alice and Stella that they could have as much trail mix as they wanted but if they ran out before the coming weekend, too bad! They'd have to wait before I would refill the bags. 

After sorting a weeks' worth of snacks, I put the packages of food into a storage bin that lives in my laundry room-slash-utility closet-slash-supply closet off the kitchen. (The animal crackers came in a huge plastic container so I transferred those to ziplock bags.) 

We're entering the first week of school for both kids (Alice started last week, Stella starts Wednesday), so we'll see how it goes. I have high hopes that my little experiment will work because I am not going to the warehouse more than once a month. In a similar vein, I plan to avoid the grocery store until this coming weekend. Menu Mondays will return next week, but after a summer of not really planning out meals, I'm really sick of running to the store every couple of days-- it's terrible for the wallet, too! 

Babywearing Magic: The MO+M Baby Carrier Review + Discount Code!

The day Alice got her one month shots, Henry and I took her to Cape Cod for the weekend. She cried the entire weekend. I am not exaggerating. There seemed to be nothing we could do to comfort her except hold her (both of us) and nurse her (me). I had borrowed a ring sling from my neighbor, Ann (aka The Rock Star Mama), and Alice would not sleep unless she was in the ring sling.

We were exhausted that weekend! 

That was my introduction to the magic of babywearing. I had a popular soft-structured carrier (SSC) already when Alice was born, so I planned to babywear but as a matter of convenience. I didn't yet know that babywearing is also a great way to get a baby to mellow out and relax but I figured that out after our exhausting weekend on the Cape. Though I was a first-time mom, I went straight for the soft-structured carrier because my sister had told me that other carriers hurt her back, so I didn't even bother! The ring sling seemed like the perfect thing for those early months, especially since Alice was a teeny tiny baby but otherwise, I was a diehard SSC fan. I wore it while out running errands and at home, when I needed my hands for household tasks but a baby needed me for comfort.

Stella during our first family camping trip, using my old SSC. She was five months old. 

Fast forward to kid #3, and I was still faithful to my SSC, even though both me and the baby were drenched in sweat by the time I took it off.  Right before I left for my annual Cape Cod vacation, I was offered the opportunity to try out a new soft-structured carrier on the market, in exchange for my honest review. I checked out the details on the carrier, called MO+M carrier,  from Mothers On the Move, and decided to try it out. I was mostly curious about how it would compare to the SSC I already had, and to be quite honest, I didn't think it would measure up. 

The first thing I noticed when I put the carrier on the first time was how LIGHT it is. It is 100% cotton, and because of it's lightness, it has comfortable heft-- Micah felt secure and snug on my body. The mesh panel in the front went a long way in keeping my sweatbucket (just like his sisters!) cool and dry, even when we walked around the Wellfleet pier in the midday sun. I was using the carrier that day because we planned to pop into a few store and galleries, and in Wellfleet, these places tend to be tiny!
Me, Alice and Micah at Frying Pan Gallery in Wellfleet,
definitely not stroller friendly! 

It was so hot that day!
Micah is a tiny guy.  The MO+M carrier has a narrower seat, so there was no seam or fabric digging into the back of his knees, as there is in my other carrier. This is a huge plus and made the experience much more comfortable for Micah.
Because I never used a forward-facing carrier, none of my kids were carried forward-facing and I'd always wanted to try it. With the MO+M, you can wear it facing in, on your hip, on your back AND facing out, and still get hip-healthy support for baby. Micah enjoyed being face-out for awhile, until he got tired of it and wanted to snuggle back in. My husband especially appreciates being able to wear Micah forward-facing--since Henry is a big, broad-shouldered guy, Micah was smushed tight against his chest whenever he was facing in.
Can I tell you something? I haven't used my old SSC since I got this carrier, seriously. It's everything I love and am used to in a soft-structured carrier but the light weight, the mesh panel, and the narrow seat addresses all the issues that I have with my old SSC.  I think my old SSC is going to end up on the auction block... it's been good to me but my new alternative is better. 

I am really pleased to be able to offer you a discount code, on behalf of Mothers on the Move! On Amazon, the carrier is $79.95, but with the coupon code, the price drops to $59.95, plus if you have Prime, the shipping can be free.  So, head over to Amazon to learn more about the carrier and use this coupon code: BLGRPRMO when you order. It is good until September 30th! Thank you to Mothers On the Move, for your generosity!

I would love to hear your babywearing stories! Tell me about a time babywearing made your life easier. 

{Mothers On the Move generously gave me this carrier to review. All opinions are mine, and honest. All links to the Amazon product page are my affiliate links.} 

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