Friday, January 27, 2012

Today I Will Percolate!

We are fairly new to the cat world. Neither Chris nor I had cats when we were kids. We both grew up with dogs. Elizabeth came into our lives about 5 months ago. Every week Ryan and I spend time at the horse barn while Molly takes her lessons. Miss Debbie, the owner, has a number of barn cats. My kids love all animals. They really don't seem to have a preference to just one kind. In Ryan's eyes "our home is like a zoo." Words taken right from his published essay for all to see. 

But Miss Debbie had a litter of kittens, not from one of her own cats, but from a stray cat. She couldn't keep them. She has four cats of her own already and so she had the kittens in the barn and said that they were up for adoption. Each week we would go back and there would be one less kitten, until there was only one. That last little one was going to the pound if she wasn't adopted. That's how we got Elizabeth. 

Over the last few months, I've gotten to see the differences between cats and dogs. Elizabeth is an observer, she sits and watches. She sits and watches what goes on outside from her cat perch near the window. She sits and watches the fish tank from the kitchen counter. She sits and watches the dogs from the top of a chair in the family room. She's mulling, pondering, thinking, considering, ruminating. She reminds me of the post I read the other day of the lady that picked the word "do" for 2012 because she is "done" mulling things over. It's good to think, study, mull things over, but eventually there needs to be action, eventually you need to "do" something after all that observing.

Thursday is my volunteer day in Molly's classroom. It really is one of my favorite things to do. I work with some of the kids one-on-one with their reading, I read aloud to the class on that day, and while the kids are at lunch, the teacher usually has that busy work for me to do that every teacher never seems to get caught up on: copying, folding, stapling, making booklets. I don't mind this work. My hands are busy, they almost seem to have a mind of their own and then it gives me time to think, to mull things over. Last week I was making flip books in the teacher workroom...fold, fold, staple, staple, fold, fold, staple staple. My hands took over. As I was standing there a sound came from the other side of the counter. It was the coffee machine. Someone must of just turned it on before I came into the room because it started percolating. My hands knew what they were doing fold, fold, staple, staple, but my brain was thinking about the word percolate. What a great sounding word, percolate! I have a book L is for Lollygag: Quirky Words for a Clever Tongue. It's filled with great sounding words, flabbergast, diabolical, and flibbertigibbet just to name a few. These would be great words on a spelling bee. Fold, fold, staple, staple, percolate, fold, fold, staple, staple, percolate. Everything seemed to be in a rhythm. The word percolate is now running through my head. Percolate has two meanings. The first is to pass through a porous substance: filter; ooze; seep; trickle but it also means to become active, lively, spirited; to show activity, movement or life: to grow or spread gradually, germinate. I want to do this. I want to percolate. I want to filter out the bad stuff in my life but I also want to become active, lively and spirited...I want to percolate!

There are times to mull things over...fold, fold, staple, staple, fold, fold, staple, staple...but then we have to become active, lively, and spirited and percolate...fold, fold, staple, staple, PERCOLATE!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Do you have a word for 2012?

One little word can change how you think. For 2012, my word is enhance. I'm not sure if I chose it or if it chose me but at sometime of the day, everyday, that word crosses my mind and helps me to make choices. I want to enhance my home with the things I do, I want to enhance my family by the way I choose to spend our time together, even how I spend my money is affected by the word "enhance." When I'm standing in a store, I ask myself, "Is this 'thing' really going to enhance my life or someone else's?" Just yesterday I was in Bed, Bath, and Beyond. I was looking for pillow tops for the boys beds in their room. For the past week and a half they have been sleeping in the basement in the guest room while their closet was being put back together. They did not want to go back to their room when the closet was done. I think they liked being in the basement, away from everyone else for a while, but they also told me that the beds in the basement were so much more comfy than their own. Their beds are platform beds, they have drawers underneath the beds and so there is only a mattress, no box spring. How could I make their beds more comfy for them? So there I was standing in Bed, Bath, and Beyond trying to decide on what kind of mattress topper to get for them. I wanted their beds to be comfy, but within a reasonable cost. Some of them were really beyond what I wanted to spend and I needed two. But I didn't want to go the cheap route either because they really didn't seem like they would "enhance" the boys' comfort. So middle of the road I went, still not cheap, but hoping to make my boys a little happier. Now I only had one coupon left from my organizational craze from a few weeks ago and when I bought Molly's new bedding set last month. But after standing in the aisle where the mattress toppers were, which Molly informed me was forever, unzipping bags to try to feel how thick they were, how soft they were, and reading labels, I finally made a choice and we made our way to the checkout counter. There was a gentleman in front of us with his daughter just making one purchase. He looked at our cart with the mattress toppers and some refrigerator bins I picked up because the ones I got last time worked out so nicely that I decided I needed a few more as well as a few other organizational items that made their way into the cart. He saw all this and then asked me if I wanted his two coupons that he wasn't using. I told him they don't expire and that he can use them another time but he insisted that he had a ton of them at home and said that I could have them. He enhanced my day by giving me his 20% off coupons and I enhanced my boys' beds because they said they loved them this morning and that their beds were definitely more comfy.

One little word can change your thinking. But this is not a new concept, having a "word" to keep you focused, to help you make decisions. I was on the computer the other day and came across a blogger, Ali Edwards, and she has a whole online workshop that you can sign up for called One Little Word 2012. It was a little too much for me but I did enjoy reading some of the words that people had chosen and why: experience, joy, adventure, time, listen, and focus just to name a few. Some were only two letter words: up and do. "Up" meaning ready, eager, open, awake, into a happy mood. What a great word when you stop and think about the meaning. The person who chose "do" said that she was "done" mulling things over. She would mull over everything and this year she wanted to "do." Having a word for the year instead of making a New Year's Resolution seems like a great alternative. How many times have you made a resolution and then broken it by now, three weeks into the new year? Picking a word instead of a resolution I think will make you happier because we always feel guilty when we "break" a resolution. Picking a word gives you focus to make your life even better than it is today. I certainly can relate to that and so now that the boys closet is finally done, I am off to finish enhancing my new scrapbooking photo box at a time, one shelf at a time, one drawer at a time.

Do you have a word for 2012?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What do you find when you clean out a closet?

So here's the boys' closet before shots. You can see attempts of trying to get them organized but obviously unsuccessful. I had a bookcase on one side but somehow the books always were on the floor. The top of the bookcase became a dumping spot for Timmy's basketball, his uniform and sneakers. I had purchased some bins from Target to help organize the one shelf in the closet, but they just weren't enough. I also had some Container Store drawers on the other side of the closet, another attempt to get them organized. But it wasn't enough.

...And so we emptied the closet and pulled out that one shelf. 

...We then painted the closet. Molly helped just like she did with her closet and Shannon's closet.

The elfa shelves from The Container Store made their way to the boys' room...their messy glory.

On Sunday, Chris finally got the shelves in and the cleaning of their room began.

The whole process of reorganizing their closet has led us to uncover little treasures of their past, present and their future. We started with their books. I asked the boys to sort their books, make a pile they want to donate, books that can be passed down to Molly, and then make categories of the books they were keeping. I found out that there are really only two categories, sport books and non-sport books.

These are the books that they read now. These are the books that they have read in the past and want to reread. There are times I have asked Timmy, "Haven't you read that book before?" He will respond with a "yes," but then explain how it was a while ago or last year and he forgets the details of the story but he remembers enjoying the characters, he remembers how the book made him feel when he read the story the first time. This then reminds me of what I tell my kids all the time, people may not always remember the words you say but they will remember how you made them feel. Did you make them feel welcome, did you make them feel included, did you make them feel like you were their friend? Books are the same way. We may not always remember all the details of a story, but if it was a good book, you will remember how you felt when you read it. For my boys, Mike Lupica, Dan Gutman, Matt Christopher books are the books that they read over and over again.

My boys love sports books. Not only can they tell you about today's athletes, but they can tell you the stories of the great players of the past...Ted Williams, Satchel Paige, and Lou Gehrig. Timmy is especially touched by Shoeless Joe's story and it breaks his heart that he was banned from baseball and couldn't enter the Hall of Fame.

This is a glimpse into the future. These are some of the books that have yet to be read, books that have been given to them from my brother who also enjoys a good story about sports. 

And here is the finished product...only the clothes that they wear today, only the things that they use today and we now know where everything is.

We found a home for Nealon #3 jersey so that I won't hear, "Mom, where's my jersey?"

We found a home for Nealon #2.

We also found a little something from the past, this adorable little sock, size 12-24 months. How could this still be in their stuff all these years, but it was.

Oh, how they have grown.

More stuff from the past, we found lots of clothes that were either too small or they just weren't going to wear anymore. The best way to organize is NOT to organize, but to get rid of your stuff.

We found some of their team baseball shirts from years past. They said they didn't want them anymore but I couldn't just throw them away without taking a picture. When Timmy saw the picture, he said, "Thanks, Mom!"

The best thing we found while cleaning out their closet are these empty drawers. The room feels lighter not having every space occupied. A little room for the future.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

How the Inside of a Kitchen Cabinet Door Enhanced My Day

On her blog, The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin has been talking about pigeons of discontent...those things that are not real big problems but those little pet peeves that we have. We try to find a solution for them but we just can't seem to find it. For me one of these pigeons of discontent is making a grocery list. When I was a kid, my mom always had a pad and pen under the phone in the kitchen. If we ran out of something, I would write it on the list. It was always there. Seems like a very easy thing to do. Well, for years now, I have tried to do this in my own house and it just doesn't happen. I've had pads in the kitchen, one of us will start a list but then someone else will need a piece of paper, rip the list off the pad and then the list gets swallowed up by that pile of papers on the counter to be lost forever. Then someone else will start a new list but not know what was on the first list and so there will always be something missing on the new list. Then there are those times when the whole pad just disappears and a person by the name of "It Wasn't Me" has put it in a place where no one can find it. 

It's such a simple concept...have a pad in the kitchen and when we need something, write it on the list...too hard for us Nealons. Then I saw this idea on Pinterest. Someone painted the inside of one of her kitchen cabinets with chalkboard paint so that she can make a list. I liked this idea but really wasn't sure if I wanted to paint the inside of my cabinet. Then I remembered I had some leftover contact paper that I bought for the kitchen drawers. I remember that the wrapping said that you could write on it with dry erase markers. An "AH HA" moment for me. I picked the cabinet with all the snacks, a cabinet that everyone is in everyday and placed the contact paper on the inside. I wrote in the middle,"If we need something, please write it down."

At dinner that night I explained to everyone what I wanted them to do. Just two days before, Shannon had written on the container of milk in the refrigerator, "Not A Lot Left." I told her that does not count anymore as writing it down and that she needs to write things like "milk" on the list. 

As moms we are constantly trying to find things that work for our families so that things will run more smoothly. It is all about trial and error. There are many things that I have read in parenting magazines that sounded like great ideas but just didn't work for us and that's okay. So would my new idea work??? Well, a few days in and this is what I have on my list:

yellow gatorade
another date night
a good night sleep
more love
ice cream
toothbrush for RyRy
and a *snow day*

This is why I love these people, because when I am consumed with trying to get all the "work" done that is involved with being a mom: the laundry, changing the sheets, making doctor appointment and dentist appointments, doing homework, chauffeuring kids all over town, making meals and shopping for the food for those meals, they give me these small little pearls of reminders to slow down and remember what's really important and what we really need. Yes, I will go to the Giant and get yellow gatorade, ice cream, waffles, and a toothbrush for RyRy but I will also make sure that we all get enough sleep, and give out more hugs and have more date nights with my guy because that is what we really need.

And if we get a snow day this year, I will stop for a moment from doing all the "work" of a mom and take some time to do something fun with the kids, maybe play cards, draw a picture, or make some cookies, because that is what we need. 

You never know how something will enhance your life. Who would of thought that I would find enhancement on the inside of a kitchen cabinet door?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Happier Than a Bird with a French Fry

Yesterday on Facebook, I posted this picture of a note Molly wrote to her teacher. I found it in her homework folder as I was going through her school bag making sure she had everything.

I LOVED it! Molly has a naturally happy disposition. That is just who she is. But when I picked her up from school and told her to get ready for horseback riding, she was not happy. She had a mini-meltdown and did not want to go. I know it was because she was overtired. She even told me she was tired. Even though yesterday was Tuesday, it was really "Monday" for us because of the three-day holiday weekend. We have had late nights. I feel bad for Molly because I know she doesn't get enough sleep. That is one of the disadvantages of being the youngest of four. Six years ago, when Shannon was in second grade, I had our bedtime routine down with no problem. Dinner was always between 6-6:30, everyone was in the bath after dinner, one right after the other, bedtime stories were read and lights were out by 8:00. Usually everyone was sleeping by 8:30. Today, Molly is lucky to get her dinner at 8:30 and in bed by 9:00. It's funny, but in a way Molly is not growing up in the same family that Shannon grew up in. Shannon is the oldest with three younger siblings, there were routines and everyone was in bed by a certain time. The family that Molly is growing up in is different, same siblings, same parents, but her life is not the same being the youngest. She knows songs that she wouldn't have known if it wasn't for her older brothers and sister, she watches TV shows and movies that she wouldn't if it wasn't for her older brothers and sister, and she has things like a hand-me-down ipod touch from her sister that she never would have had if she didn't have older siblings.

So yesterday, when I saw that she was tired from her school day and the meltdown was coming, I asked her where my bird with the french fry was? She replied very forcefully, "Well, this bird doesn't have a french fry and so she can't go to horseback riding!!" Again, I know she was overtired. I was tired too. I knew that Chris wasn't coming home for dinner and I also knew we had a free schedule after horseback riding was over. I didn't have to drive all over town to drop kids off at basketball and soccer practice and so I told her if she went to horseback riding she could have french fries for dinner. It was a deal. We went to horseback riding, which she absolutely loves and she did great. 

My little bluebird of happiness was back to her old self with her french fries in hand and then she made me this picture in "The Mom Book."

Last night, I was a mom as happy as a bird with a french fry. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Messy Glory in a Pantry, a Closet, and a Sitting Room

What did you do this three day weekend? Well, the Nealons are in the mist of Messy Glory! Every January I make the resolution to get more organized. I know, not that original. Many people do it. But that's why it's the best time to look for all those organizational gadgets. The stores are filled with them this time of year and lots of sales. I am always on the lookout  for new ideas on how to get my home to run more efficiently so that there is more fun time with family. Truth is though, our family is always changing and growing. We constantly are finding new interests so old toys lay on the shelves untouched for months. The kids are physically growing and so those closets have to be sorted out again and clothes that are too small are either passed down or are put in the donation bin.

Chris is not a big fan of Messy Glory. He hates when I get one of these organizational binges. He really can't stand the messiness but like many things, you have to go through messiness to get to the glory. He gets overwhelmed and I understand it. When I get an organizational craze it's like that book, If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, one thing always leads to another.

It started with The Container Store's annual closet sale. They have it every January. Every year, I organize one space or closet during their sale. 

I have reorganized Shannon's closet.

After...Builder's shelf knocked out, closet painted and a year later the girl can straighten up her closet in five minutes. A little bit of organization made all the difference in the world.

I have reorganized Molly's closet.

Molly loved helping me paint Shannon's closet as well as her. You can see I tried to be organized with  some bins on the bottom but Molly couldn't reach her clothes and so she would pull them down and not be able to get them back up. In her new set-up, the clothes she wears the most are either in the drawers or hanging on the lower rod where she can reach them.

I have created an art room under the basement stairs.

I have organized our garage.

This year, it's time to redo the boys' closet and so there is lots of messy glory in their room. 

They are presently sleeping in the basement until their room is put back together.

Chris pulling out the shelf and rod so I can spackle and paint the closet. Then it will be his turn to put up the new shelves.

More messy glory sitting in the master bedroom, the boys shelving just waiting to be put up. This is in addition to me reorganizing the sitting room.

I've turned the sitting room into my scrapbook room. Many things have found there way to the floor with no real home or place to put them. So, more reorganizing. 

This is still a work in progress. A new book shelf was built and now the organizing of years and years of pictures will take time. I once read that the best way to get organized is NOT to organize...but to get rid of stuff. Simply...we have all heard that word many times in magazines, on blogs, and on talk shows. We need to simplify. I have had bagfuls of garbage this weekend of things I haven't touched in years.

When organizing you need to ask yourself the question...Do I find this thing useful or beautiful?

I always get stuck on the how useful a thing is. How often do I use it? Do I use it enough for it to take up valuable space in my home? If I do want to keep it, how often I use it will dictate where its home should be. Do I need easy access to it or can it be on the top shelf? These are the questions I've been asking myself over and over this weekend.

One project that was actually completed this weekend was the pantry. We have a very small pantry for the size of our kitchen and for a family of six.  Utilizing the space well and keeping things neat is important. I have heard many times, "Mom, where are the cookies?" "Honey, where did you put the popcorn?" This weekend, I had Shannon paint the pantry. For her first real paint job, I think she did quite a nice job. But this did lead to more messy glory around the house.

The finished job! I had her paint it the same color as our laundry room. I found this contact paper that just happened to match the paint perfectly when I was having the laundry room painted back in November. Then we threw away any old food, placed the rest of the food in our new containers, and then labeled everything. 

A little bit of glory was found in the pantry this weekend and hopefully soon, the boys' closet and my scrapbooking room will be glorious as well!

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Importance of a Thank You

Do you remember these? 

Before school let out for winter break, I found a free candy wrapper download and wrapped candy bars for 17 middle school teachers, a small token of thankfulness for all their hard work and wishes for a happy holiday. Of those 17 teachers only 2 wrote thank you notes back. Now, I wasn't really expecting thank you notes. They were just a couple of candy bars with a ribbon around them and I was actually thanking them. But I cannot tell you how happy I was to receive yesterday's note. Two little words, "thank you" really enhanced my day. Not only did this teacher take time out of his day to write a thank you for candy bars, but also wrote a little something about Timmy.

"Timmy, I want you to know that the best gift you have given me is the one you bring to class everyday, that is your drive for excellence. You, my young friend, have a great attitude and always give your best effort; no teacher could ask or hope for more."

I was a proud mama yesterday and Timmy was proud too because this teacher is Timmy's favorite teacher this year, maybe ever. The second thank you note came from one of Shannon's teachers. This is the same teacher that had called our house after 9:00 in the evening a few weeks before Christmas. This teacher called just to say that Shannon was doing a great job in her class, she really has been working hard, putting forth a great effort, and doing all the work needed to learn the units and to do well. That phone call was a mere two minutes but meant so much to me. The hand written notes, took five minutes out of their day, but brought great happiness when we received them. 

I know hand-written notes are a dying art. These teachers could of sent me an email, but it wouldn't have been the same. There is something about sorting through the mail, seeing all your bills, throwing all the junk mail away and then seeing that one little, brightly colored envelope with a hand-written address. Someone has written us a note!

Some people think they don't have the time to write a thank you. Yes, it does takes time to write that note, but the person that sent you a gift or showed you an act of kindness also took time out of their day. Some people think after too much time has passed, it's too late to send that note. I remember talking with a mom years ago and she told me that it took her forever to get her daughter to write her thank you's from her birthday party. Then she had them sitting on the kitchen counter to put stamps on them but then they got shuffled under some paperwork and when she finally found them a few weeks later she said she was so embarrassed that they were so late that she threw them all away. I don't think it is ever too late to let someone know that you appreciated what they did for you or that you are grateful for the gift that they sent you.

I think a thank you note also says a lot about someone's character. It sets you apart from everyone else. Now that I have two kids in middle school, I don't feel as connected to my kids' teachers as I did when they were in elementary school. I do not know every teacher's name. But I do know the names of the two teachers that sent us those thank you notes.

This year I am going to be more mindful to write those thank you notes. It is never too late to say thank you. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

I love you because...

I found this sign on Pinterest the other day.

...And then I found this note in the corner of my desktop calendar.

Just a reminder from a seven year old, that when I'm comparing myself to other moms and feeling a bit inadequate  because the house is a mess or because I don't bake enough or because I don't do crafts with them enough, or because I don't read to them enough or because I'm not organized enough and one of them misses a party : ( 
...they still love me.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What Can You Get Done in 15 Minutes?

Yesterday I worked on my Project Life album. After only ten days into the new year, I’ve already seen lots of blog posts of what their first few pages look like...journal cards filled—out, pictures already in place and some with lots of embellishments to make them all look pretty. I have found some pins on pinterest as well and started my own board for Project Life. 

This is what mine looks like.

Not exactly like some of the ones I’ve seen posted. But I am caught up on my journal cards. What I try to do is sit down once a day, usually in the evening after the kids are in their rooms, and write my journal card. But sometimes life gets in the way and it doesn’t get done. That’s when my back-up plan comes into place. Every Monday, I set time aside to catch-up. With my camera by my side and my plan book open, I can write those journal cards pretty quickly. I still don’t have my pictures in the album. They won’t come until the end of the month. At the end of January, I will download all my pictures for the month to Shutterfly and when that bright orange envelope arrives in the mail, I will slide the pictures into place. Not all of my cards will stay exactly where they are now. Depending on how many pictures I have for a particular day, my cards may get moved around. Project Life can be different for different people. Some people take a picture a day. I try to do that, but I don’t always stick to it and that’s okay.  There are some days that I wouldn’t be able to stick to just one picture…Ryan’s birthday or Molly’s pictures from her own little picture project, for example.

I follow Gretchen Rubin’s blog, The Happiness Project. She has written about organization, using time more wisely, and getting things done and how it all relates to your happiness.

Some of her words that run through my head are:

People usually overestimate what they can get done in a day and underestimate what they can get done in 15 minutes.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a “to-do” list for the day and at the end of the day I am disappointed because I didn’t get everything done. It wasn’t because I wasn’t busy. It wasn’t because I wasn’t focused. It really was because I overestimated what I could get done in that day. We sometimes set ourselves up for failure. We think about all the things we didn’t do and not all the things we did get done that day.

Once a week, Gretchen Rubin posts a video on her blog. In 2011, she was focused on resolutions. Each week she would have a resolution suggestion. This year she is focusing on getting rid of those “pigeons of discontent,” kind of the opposite of the “bluebird of happiness.” What are those “little” things that weigh us down and then make us discontent? On yesterday’s post she talked about that overwhelming task of doing something with all those family pictures. She said if you do something for 15 minutes everyday (which equals an hour and 45 minutes by the end of the week) you will make a dent in whatever overwhelming task is before you.

Click here to see her blog.

People overestimate what they can get done in a day and underestimate what they can get done in 15 minutes. So if you take 15 minutes out of your day, everyday to do something with your family pictures, whether it’s scrapbooking, digital books, or Project Life, by the end of the year, you will have something that documents your family’s life.

It only takes 15 minutes.