Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Small Wins: To Begin

My hubby took my picture when he picked me up after my first day of paid work in 17 years this fall. It was a huge win.

As far as I understand it (which may not be very far) a small win is something that moves you forward towards achieving your goal. Apparently, according to the research, it is the small wins which, over time, get you to your goal.

Say you had a goal of writing a novel. Getting up and meeting your word count for the day would be a "small win."

Losing weight-- which is part of my goal for my health this year --involves a myriad of small changes and hopefully a lot of small wins. To get the ball rolling, I have enrolled in a class by Cathy Zielske at Big Picture Classes called "Jumpstart." I plan to share the class with you while I work on it.

My first assignment was to make an introductory page with a favourite picture and my statement of intention. Getting that page done (above) is my first small win.

Journaling reads:

I am starting this year-- the year I am turning 50 --with a laser-intense focus on my health and vitality. My health rests on a tripod of great food, varied exercise, and sound sleep. I am going to use this program to help me establish some great habits -- for the rest of my life.

Monday, December 30, 2013

New Direction

I don't have that much to say about keeping house any more.

(Illustration notwithstanding, I'm not going to say much about beer, either! Though, I do love me a strong beer. Have you done a google image search for "strong women"? Crazy stuff.)

The struggle isn't over: it is still a challenge to keep the house picked up and clean, but the nature of the challenge has changed. It's not so much about overcoming my internal resistance, but more about overcoming or managing the external obstacles: time, and the habits of the people I live with. I may continue to write about that from time to time, but I really don't think there's enough to write about twice a week.

The same goes for organizing. Thanks to "The FUNdamentals of Getting Organized." at Simplify 101 I am about as organized as I need to be. Except for paperwork, I have extremely effective systems in place. My budget binder keeps our finances on track, my menu planning keeps me sane. Except for the tchotchkes on a table in the basement, everything has a home: it's just a matter of getting things into them. Organizing projects, thus, are not the priority they once were. I have made up an organizing schedule where I plan to tackle one area of the house each month. I'll keep you posted on that.

As for decorating, I am itching to paint more than a few rooms. I would love to change up more than a few things. But, as we still have debt, I am doing my best to keep changes to a minimum. As well, I just don't have the time I used to have.

No, my focus is shifting away from caring for my home and towards caring for my body. I lost 40 pounds from October 2012 to May of 2013. Since May, though, I have put it all back on. I miss being forty pounds slimmer. Life was considerably easier without aching knees and the awkwardness of trying to bend over sausage shaped. I have plans in place to help me change things-- and I'd like to share those plans and this journey with you here. I think of those of you who read and comment as friends-- so I am taking a leap and hoping you will continue to be interested in what I have to say even when it isn't about the house, but about my body instead.

So, here's to a new year--and a new direction for my life and the blog.

I'm curious, are any of you embarking on any big changes this year?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Story of a Gallery Wall, Part Deux

Before, before.

from June 2012

Pretty but vapid.

After the Tchotchke Challenge in June, I rearranged the living room and "floated" the couch.

That left the gallery wall looking like this:

I didn't do anything right away, because I wasn't sure if things were going to stay this way or not.

One of the things I realised during the Tchotchke challenge is that I wanted more meaning in my home. I have long tried to live according to the strict interpretation of Morris's maxim; that is, I like my things not merely beautiful, but useful, too. Wanting both beauty and now, meaning, seemed a natural evolution.

In July, it seemed, the stars aligned.

Both IKEA and my photo developer had a sale in the same week. Frames were 50% off and 8x10's were going for 40% off. I decided that I would take down the pretty crap, make the wall more meaningful and get vacation photos that I'd taken up onto the wall.

I bought the frames (VIRSERUM (black) and RIBBA (black and brown))  and worked on the photos feverishly for two evenings. On the third, I went to upload them for developing-- and discovered the sale was over.

I'd already started mucking with the wall, though.

I moved the couch back against this wall when I put down the newly cleaned carpet.
July to December 2013

I have been checking every week ever since.

Last week, I found out that the 8x10's were on sale again and so I started to play. I found some photos I'd thought I'd lost from a trip we took out east five years ago. That was good.

I decided I would mix my photos with paintings I found at Value Village (and other places). I traced each frame onto stiff paper and arranged them on the wall.

Many times.

This is only a small sample. If I counted right, I made eleven discrete arrangements.  Moving paper is easy.

Here's where I started:

 I quickly decided I wanted to make it bigger and go from one lamp to the other.

I experimented with making a straight horizontal line through the composition.

I decided I wanted it as random and as jagged as possible.

It occurred to me, as I studied the pictures I took of each arrangement, that, really, a good number of them "would do." I almost lost my way completely and scurried over to my Pinterest board to get back on track. Even after I looked at many arrangements I liked, it was clear to me there was no "one" right way to do it. I did have one or two doosies along the way, though.

Those coloured bits on the brown paper are small copies of the photos I sent for developing. The squares without pictures represent paintings.

 But, fortunately, balance can be achieved in many ways.

It took me more than a couple of days, working here and there. Finally, on Sunday, with my daughter's input, I got it done.

It changed again, of course.

That's my helper there on the sofa. She made an excellent argument for leaving off the plates (the round bits in the pictures above.)
The before and after:
(I did not move the wall hanging.)


One more:

I love the strength of it.

Linking to Work It Wednesday at Happy Housie.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Outdoor Christmas Decor

This month, I am struggling with most of the blogs I visit and love. It's no particular blog--it's just this general feeling I have picked up that somehow to be blog worthy, it must be "pinterest-worthy." There's a message creeping through that our holiday décor needs to be inventive, imaginative, unique, beautiful and environmentally conscious. To me, it seems we're reinventing Christmas in order to have new things to show each other.

Nothing wrong with that. But, I'm not there. I'm just not. And I have no wish to be. Not this year.

For example, the humble Christmas wreath.


On a little internet jaunt one night, I came across it reinterpreted in fabulous and inventive ways. Clothespins! Embroidery Hoops! Even those made with greenery, ribbons and ornaments looked fresh and new. (The collection which I'm speaking about can be accessed here.)

There are some really wonderful wreath projects out there--and some unique and gorgeous Christmas decor--and they are just the thing if you are looking to infuse your decorating with something new and different--if you need a bit of something to get your creative juices flowing.

But from where I sit all this wonderful creativity is a choice, not a necessity.

You do not have to create beautiful, unique, creative Christmas décor. You don't even have to create simple, frugal, minimalist Christmas décor. You don't have to have any décor at all-- that's not what Christmas is all about. We all know this, already. I just wanted to remind us.

Many years ago, decorating for Christmas was a creative outlet for me. Before I married, I used to take great pains with wrapping presents. Nothing too far out there--but every single one had an artfully placed ribbon (sometimes two) and a bow. My first Christmas as a married woman, I made a popcorn garland. It was my beginning to celebrating Christmas with my own little family.

But as the years have gone by, Christmas has become less and less about me and what I want--and more and more about us, the family, the kids, and what, sometimes, they want. No one but me really wants to fuss. And so, over the years, I've learned to let it go.

My own wreath, an old fake form of wire and plastic simulating pine boughs, festooned with various picks my daughter found at Michael's seems, well, unambitious would be one word I could use.

My daughter loved the colours in the berries and the sparkle of the birds. So did I. I gave her the job of putting it together while I was at work, but she wasn't happy with her efforts.

So, I did it.


My husband and my son hung the lights one day while I was at work, too. As my husband drove me home one dark evening, he didn't say a word about it. It wasn't 'til we rounded the corner to the house that I knew they had gone out and put them up. It was a lovely surprise. My husband enjoyed the fuss I made.

Taken at 8am. It's too cold to set up the tripod and take a proper photo in the dark!

This is us.

This is how we have chosen to celebrate Christmas. The decorations are things we do together--and the "together" part is our challenge --and our choice-- this year.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

November Goals Report.

Our first snowfall was Nov 4.


I set my goals low: and I failed to meet them.

As far as I recall, I had planned to
  1. clean the living room and prepare it for Christmas
  2. clean the kitchen
  3. plan Christmas activities, begin to make progress on Christmas cards and the calendar
  4. sew a slipcover for my POANG chair.
Using small pockets of time, as I found them, I rearranged the living room and decluttered the shelves. I took down the inadequate purple drapes and put up the brown ones.

I purchased some Christmas cards and some paper for the Calendar.
I put up my wreath.

We finished sprucing up the back entry way and I spring-cleaned our bedroom. (Thank goodness.)

We moved out our old range.

After we got it down the three steps from the kitchen to the landing, we realised it was too wide to go through the door. My son had the brilliant idea to remove the stove top. It fit--just barely.

That's it.

I am still finding my feet after starting to work part-time. My hours are erratic and I don't know what they are until three weeks before. (For example, I have no idea what days and hours I am working Christmas week.) Some weeks I work 29 hours, some 22. (The 29 hour weeks have been more common, however. Come to Alberta, people. No one has enough staff.) So far, it seems that all I have time for on my days off is running errands and cleaning the house.

A couple of things I've also managed:
  1. keeping our budget up to date. By this, I mean I have been recording what we spend weekly, paying bills on time and paying down our debt. This was why I took a job so it's great to see my efforts actually paying off. (you may groan.)
  2. menu planning. I do this weekly, now, because I need the flexibility. It is a chore. But I cannot imagine trying to figure out what's for dinner and checking the freezer, the fridge and the pantry to scrounge something together every single day. Once a week is quite enough!

I volunteered with some parents of my daughter's school this month and I was shocked--not one woman in that room besides myself planned dinner further ahead than that evening. One ate out or microwaved something exclusively, all the time--as did her kids. Unfortunately, I was also the fattest person in the room, so I felt I hadn't much credibility in the "but it is better for you" argument. (Though it is and I know my being fat has nothing to do with it. It is better to eat home cooked meals than processed stuff, no contest. I'd probably be even fatter if we didn't eat at home every night of the week!)

So, I will continue to adjust my expectations and organize my time so I can get out of this cycle of work--do dishes-do laundry-clean the house--work--do dishes-do laundry-clean the house--work--do dishes-do laundry-clean the house--work--and so on.

But, probably not in December!

Friday, November 29, 2013


Staying organized is about overcoming resistance.

Keeping house is about overcoming resistance.

Keeping fit is about overcoming resistance.

In fact, doing anything difficult, anything that doesn't come naturally to you, paying off debt, living well within a budget, taking showers, accepting help, forgiveness: all of it requires overcoming resistance.

It may be internal. A lack of motivation, or a certain kind of inertia that takes over the minute we step out of bed. A lack of know-how. A lack of discipline. Overwhelm.

It may be external. No time, no opportunities, no space.

Today, I was paralysed. Utterly.

I got up late. My first words of the day, still in bed, were a moan and “Oh no.” I have to get up early tomorrow. I work at 7am. I will be horribly tired tomorrow.

I'd left the dishes undone when I'd gone to bed the night before. They mocked me. Horrible, horrible dishes.

I had a long list of chores to do today.

Cleaning chores.


I felt the weight of all the Christmas stuff I have to do bearing down upon me, as I huddled at the computer cruising Pinterest and reading up on paint colours and colour schemes. The morning completely gone.

It was too late to start the crock pot for the rib dinner I’d planned.

It was day three of three days off. The last thing, the very last thing I wanted to do was clean. But, I had to. The dust bunnies in my bedroom would probably attack me in my sleep this very night. The bathroom floor was disgusting. I'd cleaned yesterday and made note of all that had to be done. These were things that took top priority yesterday, but I'd run out of time to do them. I put an asterisk beside them on my cleaning checklist and soldiered on. The plan had always been to catch up today.

Today, I didn't like that plan.

So, I set the timer and played beat the clock. But first I made a list of those urgent chores. They seemed more doable, isolated and alone.

Vacuuming the living room? Five minutes.
Vacuuming the stairs? Ten minutes.

I walked into my room at 1:07 pm. I walked out at 2:25pm.

I stripped the bed and started washing the mattress pad. I picked up and put away. I vacuumed. Thoroughly. Pull out the bedside tables, pull out the the bed and vacuum all along the wall. Vaccum the things under the bed. That thoroughly.

I dusted. I cleaned the screen in our window. Put away two laundry baskets full of clothes and bedding. (Ten minutes) Even the summer shirts were put away (but not ironed.)

Two hours later, I was exhausted. But I'd broken the back of my inertia. Slowly, through the rest of the afternoon, I washed that mountain of dishes, more than once. I scrubbed the bathroom floor. (Even the nasty bits. By hand.) I cleaned out the microwave and watered the poor plants. I even hung the wreath on the door outside.

And tonight, after dinner, I had my husband help me flip the mattress over and wrestle the washed and shrunken mattress pad back onto it. Then, I made the bed.

I wanted more of a Christmas bed with grey and red and cream. This is more of a summer bed.

But, today, this is what we have.
I\m glad.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Zone 2 CONVERTed: The Cheery Back Entry Way

Not only am I thrilled to have this done: but I am very happy with the way it turned out.

Last spring, during Anti-Procrastination month, I started spiffing up in earnest. I was going to leave it as is, but this summer I was inspired by the book The House that Cleans Itself, by Mindy Starns Clark. I decided to use the approach outlined in the first edition to CONVERT my house into one that, if it doesn't clean itself, is much easier to maintain. The first step was to divide my house into zones. The back entry way was zone 3. You can read about my efforts with the book by clicking on the label HTCI.

What this area needed was a thorough cosmetic lift. Think Nicole Kidman. Essentially, all the rough spots needed to be smoothed out, the holes and cracks patched, and the walls and trim painted. I started in September. I finished the last step on Wednesday, November 21st.

CONVERT, is, of course, a pithy acronym. Here is what it stands for and its relevance to my back entry way.

C- clear out the clutter

There really wasn't a lot of clutter in this zone. I change out the seasonal items as it makes sense.

O- open up and clean

Always a good idea.

N- neaten, organize, and solve problem spots.

For organization we have:

1. The pocket organizer.

yay! my husband got a new lunch bag! You can see the old one hanging here.

2. Hooks on boards, now all of them silver.

3. A boot shelf with the magazine holders hacked into flip flop and sandal holders with a new curtain rod mounted above from which to hang things, namely, the rubber boots.

Problem Spots:

This eyesore:

yep, that's the electrical panel for the house. Yes, we need to upgrade.

When I saw a Ribba frame mounted to the wall on a piano hinge in the IKEA showroom, I knew I had my solution.

those are peel and stick magnets on the wall to help keep the frame closed (eta: we had to replace those with 3M command velcro fasteners.)

Many years ago, I had put up a paper towel bar to hold towels for cleaning off the dog's paws. Somehow, it got taken down and lost. I needed to put something back up.

installed during the Spring Cure 2008

installed Fall 2013

The spray bottles are there because we received complaints about the dog barking. We spray him with water and he stops.

V- verify rabbit trails and set up stations.

Not applicable in this situation.

E- examine sight zones

According to Clark, sight zones are those areas which you see first when you enter the area. If the first thing you see, as she says, is a messy bookcase, your impression of the room is that it is messy. If, on the other hand, you see something neat and organized, say, the made-up bed, then your impression is of a clean room--even if when you turn your head you see a cluttered dresser. To you, it will still be a clean room with a messy area.

She identifies four ways in which this all important first impression can be made--two of which concerned this area. They were
  1. the sight zone when you entered through the back door and
  2. the inevitable invisibles--the nicks and cracks and nastiness you just stop seeing after a while but which leave you with a sense of disorder and disrepair.

This was the sight zone as you entered the back door and looked down the stairs, straight ahead:

This is what it looked like today:

Admittedly, not a whole lot better. For this to dramatically improve, I need to paint the stairs (could happen), the basement floor (not going to happen), and do something about the stuff on the basement floor (will happen from time to time).

This next little area of the entry way is a great example of the nasty nicks, cracks and general groadiness that becomes more and more invisible as it builds up over time.

But we dealt with the nicks and cracks handily--and by "we" I mean my husband. He did a fabulous job in here.

R- record future improvements needed

I'd like to figure out a way to remove the old lock properly--both from the door and the molding. That will have to wait for the Spring, though!

We put all the weather stripping on the door we could. (The door is so uneven in its frame we had to use two different thicknesses.)

what is sunlight pouring through through the crack in August is frigid air in November

T- take steps now for ongoing maintenance

That rag on the towel rack isn't just for the dog's paws, of course, but for messes tracked in by other wet and dirty paws, ahem. I used to keep a rag in the kitchen drawer--this is so much easier.

A new rug and the area is done. It is a thousand times more pleasant than it's ever been. Finally, I feel like it is part of the house, instead of just an area to get through quickly on my way to somewhere else.

that photograph in the frame is one I took of some flowers we had on the kitchen table
Is there an area in your house that might benefit from a little cosmetic face-lift? Let's hope it won't take you six months!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Just a Pocketful of Time....

Ten minutes.

That was all the time I had before I had to go and catch my bus.
But I had it--and I wanted to use it effectively.

I'd been working on my living room. A few days before, I'd brought out my box labelled "drapery hardware" and found all the extra rings and the prongs I'd need to hang up my triple pleated fourteen foot long brown drapes.

I'd also taken down the drapes I had had up there.

I love the colour of these purple drapes, but they are really too small for the window
But, it was taking forever for me to find the time to put the new drapes up.
That day, with ten minutes to tick away before I left to catch my bus, I decided to just put the prongs into the pleats. One drape, fourteen prongs. I didn't even take them off the hanger.

Five minutes and I was done.

I had five minutes left.

I took out my step ladder and attached the prongs to the rings on the curtain rod, and bam! just like that I had one drape up and on the window.

(I didn't have time to take a picture.)

I left for work.

That evening, I had my daughter insert the prongs into the pleats and I hung them the next day.

The length of the pole was originally cut to fit these colossal drapes.

I took the same approach to weeding out the bookshelves in this room and writing this blog post.

the haul from the bookshelves

The single most effective way to take advantage of little pockets of time?

Have a list.
Use a timer if you're uneasy about losing track of the time.

Easy peasy.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Ode to the Range

I was just at the end of cooking my son's 16th birthday dinner--just keeping everything warm, actually, while my husband ran out to Safeway to pick up some last minute item for dinner.
While he was gone, the beast died.

I say I learned to cook on its back, but that's not quite right.

I met this range when I moved into our house. My husband owned it and shared it with two rent paying friends. I started using it right away, but only in a limited way.

Since I knew how to bake, I started our marriage off there. I decided to replace my husbands weekly box of taco chips with home made muffins. I thought it would be healthier for him to eat those on his breaks at work.

I did know how to cook. I could whip up spaghetti sauce. I could cook meatloaf and muffins. But I cooked like single people do: a few times a week, living off the batches I made between times. It took a while--a long while--before I learned how to cook a meal every single day.

I had to find flylady first. That happened in 2000, after my daughter was born. I was surrounded by chaos, a three and a half year old son and a baby. Like a drowning man sees the lights upon the shore, I found her late one night on the internet.

I remember the first time I took my knobs off the stove to clean them, I scrubbed off all the markings.


I never cleaned them again.

Through her, I discovered Leanne Ely and her marvelous cookbooks, Saving Dinner. She could have called them, "Saving the Family." I ordered my copy through a local independent book seller, now, sadly, closed.

I eventually got into the rhythm. I added soups and stews to my repertoire to replace the ramen noodles my husband took for his lunches. I started roasting chickens every Sunday, and stir-frying other bits --something every single night. I discovered I enjoyed cooking. And my husband loved it. He grew up on boxed cold cereal for breakfast, heavily watered canned soup for lunch and I don't know what for dinner. Yesterday, while wolfing down a homemade chicken corn chowder, he told us the only soup his mom ever made was to add a can of corn to a can of Campbell's chicken noodle. That's the sort of "home cooking" he got.

He loves mine.

But, over the years, the oven ran hotter and hotter. A few years ago, I put an appliance thermometer in it to discover just how hot. At 400 it was 500. But it wasn't consistent. So, to be safe, I reduced all my baking times by five to ten minutes.

My husband replaced the baking element twice, maybe three times. I know we bought two heat sensors at $100 a pop. My husband learned his way around the back of the stove.

The elements got slower and slower. He replaced an element earlier this year and had to learn how to change the wiring from hard wiring it in to a "plug-in." It worked, but it would unplug itself whenever a pan knocked against it (and a pan was always knocking itself against it.)  
He replaced the fuses constantly.

I believe the range was built in the late 70's. My only evidence is the colour scheme and the faux wood metal handles. If that's true, then this range was over thirty years old before it became unfixable. (And actually, we could have fixed it had the part we needed still been manufactured.)

When we bought our new range, they said it should last ten years. Ten years?
A blink of an eye.
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