Friday, January 25, 2013

The Year in Chores

This is one of those lists that I am, at the outset, positive will be rearranged and completed as we can. In between, there will be other to-do's like preparing for parties, coop chores, and hopefully getting more done than we'd planned. But here it is, in its near entirety. I'm positive things have been forgotten or will merely be added as we come to them. Also, I know: this is daunting. This is a lot. This is too much, really. And that is fine! I'm not so stuck on some of the items, but I wanted to get them down so I wouldn't forget. I also find it helps to have the full picture so I get what I can done in a way that won't be completely disrupted when the later projects are finished through.
  • organize books (purge)
  • build driftwood bench with hairpin legs (find reasonably priced legs online)
  • create a reception station (boot & shoe area, place to put down bags, garbage can, shredder, mail sorter, key rack, coats hung up, hat rack)
  • buy large all-weather mat for the space from the dining room to front door
  • new bed frame (iron from
  • buy extra bedding
  • take doors off closet
  • purge clothes
  • organize clothes by function (for birch) and color (for me)
  • take out boxes to the garage
  • create a space for desk and a wall filing system (for dealing with bills, etc)
Nursery corner:
  • set up crib
  • sew flannel bedding for crib
  • put up decorations
Laundry area:
  • more plants (ferns, etc) in the window
  • put up a line for drying some things
  • build shelves in the cabinet for detergent
  • keep counter above washer and dryer CLEAR for folding
Dining room:
  • clear up cold breakfast station
  • clear up hot drink station (with added coffee supplies from kitchen)
  • create recycling area
  • clear off buffet table
  • organize dishes
  • buy serving dishes once a month until we have what we need
  • buy dining chairs (at least four)
  • buy booster seat
Kids' room:
  • take doors off closet
  • hang up clothes (by function for keats, by color for frida)
  • new bed for keats (smaller, lofted?)
  • buy bins and organize toys
  • buy another bookcase
May/JuneLiving room:
  • replace and paint windowsill
  • paint fireplace white
  • create photo wall
  • paint remaining walls
  • put up artwork and photo frames
  • more light (!) especially over the mantle
Front garden and porch:
  • rake/sweep
  • build raised bed around perimeter
  • plan garden
  • put up birdhouses
  • put up shelving for cookbooks (purge some we never use)
  • oil drawers so they pull out and push in smoothly
  • small shelf or rack for frequently used items right above the butcher block (to clear space for chopping, etc)
  • shelf above counter for smaller bulk item jars
  • move coffee making supplies to a special station in dining room
  • move toaster to the counter
  • clean out fridge and put down liner for easier clean-up
  • sort drawers and label
  • herb garden in the window
  • purge glasses (so many means infrequent dish-washing and dishes piling up)
  • buy new teapot (le creuset)
  • put up shelf for pots OR get more hooks for the pot rack
  • put up the three-tier basket for heavier vegetables and fruit
  • paint walls
  • buy/make new shower curtain
  • buy new shower curtain pole/holder
  • organize diaper changing station
  • purge all old/expired products and medicine & REPLACE what is needed (medicine, especially)
November/DecemberBack garden: 
  • build duck enclosure
  • buy and put up aviary netting to keep out hawks and little birds
  • build raised beds for vegetable gardening
  • secure shed and paint
  • put up garden art
  • put up shelving for boxes (at least three feet off the ground)
  • organize tools on pegboard
  • clean out chick brooding box
  • sweep

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Resolution Three: Unclutter

At the end of last year, I borrowed this book from the library. I've renewed it once already and I may need to again, but perhaps I should just buy it! It is fantastic.

It sections out into Morning, Work, and Evening from Monday through The Weekend. For example, Monday parcels out as follows: the morning is dedicated to purging and organizing your wardrobe, your time at work is dedicated to organizing your desk and surrounding area in the office, and your evening dedicated to creating and organizing a reception station. This section is what hooked me completely. It rang true like a giant bell ringing away in my heart. It may sound ridiculous, but I just about started crying. Suddenly, I knew that not only could I get my house in order, but that I would actually enjoy it! I also knew that it would be hard work. The description of going through clothes made me a bit woozy as I knew the volume in our house is insane. Birch and I are clutter freaks! I tell you, we are downright redonkulous when it comes to cleaning up and making time. So, with this book in hand, I am venturing forth to declare 2013 the year of organization and improved sanity. #unclotterproject is underway. The clothes are being washed, sorted, purged, stripped into pieces to make a ragrug, and hung in a closet without doors. 

In the meantime, during glorious car naps and moments of quiet playing, I've been putting together lists of needy areas in our house and snapping photos to remind me of what needs to be sorted, organized, chucked, or donated.

For those of you wondering, yes, the book does account for the fact that not everybody works in an office and some have children and I left it feeling quite confident that going at our own pace is exactly fine. I've been even more fortunate to have a friend or two join in on the project in their own homes. Care to join in, too? We can link up blogs, have an email list, or have a hashtag on Instagram, maybe a group on Facebook where we can post photos of our progress/discuss our ideas, etc.  

In between the bigger projects I've been eying our books. Since the last flood, they've all been breeding in our built-in bookcase, piled up and cozy-like. My order-by-color has been sullied with horizontal stacks of books I'm not always sure why we own. At least, still. They are books we've read and books we've enjoyed, for the most part, but they are not books we need or want to keep and read again (think: outdated textbooks, ridiculously depressing novels, and informative books I'm not sure were ever helpful). So, I've vowed to purge, purge, purge. And no, I'm not going to listen to my husband's odd attachments to outdated geology and math textbooks he studied from over ten years ago. I will allow him to photocopy what he needs, etc., of course. I'll even make him a special binder to keep the copies in and then take to work. Eventually, I will organize his work cart for him as well. He doesn't have his own classroom so he moves from room to room with a cart and it is a complete disaster.

Initially daunted by the task, I was inspired to actually write out an entire list of what I'd want to accomplish this year as far as this project goes. It's long, it's exhausting, it's overwhelming... almost. I think Birch and I can do it. I'm giving us two months to "complete" each room. One month to save up money for anything we may need to buy and to do what we can without the item(s), the second month to buy whatever it is and complete the space. With January nearly over, I'm happy to say our first area is coming together. A sudden small dinner party at our place spurred me on yesterday afternoon to rearrange the entry a bit and now I have a very clear idea of how I will proceed.

I also started snipping away at old tee shirts, etc., creating strips and braiding them together to make a rag rug. I'll be working on that for months, I think. Though I've only been working on it for two days, I've taken nearly every opportunity to work on it. It's relaxing and I can braid while watching the kids (ideally) or while relaxing as they take a nap or are down for the night. It's been an especially nice project to have while I settle for the night with something yummy to drink and an episode of "All Creatures Great and Small."

One project at a time. One step at a time. One day at a time. #unclutterproject is now underway!

What are you worst at organizing? What are you best at? I'm the worst at dishes and putting away clean laundry. I'm best at vacuuming and making the place appear clean for parties (but don't go in the one room I dumped all the unsortables into).

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Resolution Two: Date Night

This didn't start out as a New Year's Resolution. Birch and I decided we'd had enough excuses and we were going to force ourselves to go out and enjoy ourselves without the kids. It was really frustrating to realize that we'd gone an entire year without a single kidless date and then truly disheartening when we realized there was no good reason.

I could go into the saga that is Frida's first year (in fact, I wrote it all down but it exhausted me just thinking about it) but I'd rather save those nitty little details as ammunition when she's sixteen and complaining that I won't let her go out until she finishes her homework. Sufficed to say that she was difficult and demanding. After Keats' super mellow babyhood we were not prepared for the infant that was Frida. Holy moly (as we've taught Keats to say in lieu of certain other phrases he's picked up from these two irresponsible people who claim they're his parents)! For Frida, life is either blissful or excruciatingly awful. There is no uncomfortable and there are no minor inconveniences. Basically, we were afraid and riddled with guilt. Not for Frida, for the poor sucker we got to babysit for us. The last couple of months have seen a change in her, though, and with the realization that Birch and my relationship needs a serious overhaul of awesomeness, we promised each other (while I cried over the phone to him before he came home from work) that we would go on a date. I utilized the glory that is Facebook and within about two minutes, maybe less, my sister-in-law was slated to come over that Saturday evening. I'm telling you, if I could have jumped through the computer screen into her arms, I might have done something drastically inappropriate. She was a life-saver.

That Saturday, Birch took the kids out so I could get ready. I did everything I could think to do to myself and I was shaking the entire time. I was nervous! I was actually nervous to go on a date with my husband. I was tingling with anticipation. I even shampooed my hair twice by accident and nearly the shaved the same leg twice, too.

In the end, the date was calm and relaxed. We didn't really know what to do with ourselves, actually. We went with the old standby of sunset and sushi. I mean, you just can't go wrong. We came home relaxed. Relieved. Refreshed. All the moments that had been so difficult in the last year had just melted away in those few hours. We could just enjoy each other.

We've had a couple of dates since then, but they felt random and unplanned (and not in a good way). Then we met our new neighbors. They have two children right around our kids' ages. They invited us to dinner at their home and as the kids played amazingly well together, the adults drank a little too much wine. Match made in heaven. So, we made a plan. We'd switch off date nights and babysit for each other, that way we'd get at least one date in a month if not more! When we got home, the wheels started turning. How could we go on even more dates? 

I made up a calendar. Every first Saturday, grandparents babysit. Every second Saturday, we babysit and our neighbors go out. Every third Saturday, our neighbors babysit. Every fourth Saturday, either we stay home OR hire a babysitter for all four kids, split the cost and go on a double date! If there is a fifth Saturday, we stay home. Genius.

After finishing the calendar, I immediately went into our budget and adjusted and rearranged. Now there is a big, new category: Date Night. It has three subsections: solo dates, double date, and babysitter. We don't need our dates to be extravagant. Sometimes we'll most likely stay in and enjoy the quiet in our home or watch a movie together, uninterrupted, with the volume up so we aren't constantly asking each other what that person just said. I've scoured Pinterest for date night ideas, too.

Some of my favorites:
Wife.Mom.Superwoman's 30 (Non-Cheesy) Date Ideas
The Bridal Tree's First Anniversary Idea (our 5th is coming up!)
Love the Grow's His & Her Q & A

Keeping our relationship growing and alive is very important to us. We love each other so very much and we know we both deserve to not only have more fun with our relationship but also to continually get to know each other. People change as time passes. Birch and I are both different people than when we met, than the people we were when we married, and we are certainly different after having two kids. Growing and changing is perfectly fine and expected. I just want to make sure I stay connected and never grow so busy that I forgot to know the person I chose to spend the rest of my life with and I hope/know Birch feels the same.

What is your favorite date night activity? What have you been yearning to do?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Resolution One: Family Budget

Why we needed a budget: 
At the end of each month, we were routinely running out of money, sometimes with bills left to pay. This made it so that some bills were doubled the next month and our money very quickly began slipping through our fingers

Deciding what we value:
Food. Once I put together an initial budget, it became clear that we spent a whole lot more than most people we knew on groceries. Since we buy high quality food, we accept and expect the higher cost. We try to buy food we can feel ethically sound in buying (pasture-raised meat, eggs, and dairy; local and organic vegetables and fruit, organic grains and sugar, etc). We also spread our money around many different grocery stores and farmer's markets. We have one store that has the best deal on bulk items like flour and rice, another store where we buy harder-to-find "ethnic" ingredients like fresh locally-made tofu and noodles, and we buy the bulk of our vegetables and fruit in season at the local farmer's markets. Though we knew we wanted to pay more for higher quality, we also knew we were spending too much and too impulsively. So we made up a system for ourselves where we buy bulk items and household necessities (like toilet paper) once a month, then have a set weekly budget for the farmer's markets (where we buy our meat, vegetables, and fruit). Having a set amount before entering the store or market (as well as eating beforehand) has made our spending decrease by $200 per month.

Eating Out. It became clear that since Birch and I cook almost exclusively from scratch for each meal of the day, we really appreciate a meal out of the house at least once a week. Nothing too extravagant, just a pop-in to the local taqueria or a snack at the bakery. Looking at our unstructured budget, we could see that we were eating out too regularly and most of all when we were stressed. Putting a cap on what we could spend eating out meant that we had something to look forward to each week. We have come to look at it as a little present to ourselves instead of an escape.

It also meant we had to figure out how to make mealtime at home a better experience for everybody. Birch is an amazing cook, but the nature of cooking from scratch is that it takes longer! After spending all day with the kids, I'm usually in dire need of a break when Birch gets home. So, we're working on meal-planning and stream-lining chores so Birch doesn't end up washing dishes he needs instead of preparing the family meal.

Doing this has saved us about $100 per month.

Monday, January 7, 2013

When It Rains, It Floods

Like I said before, winter here is wet. Spring even more so. Since November, we've had two flooding scares. The first time was the most emotional for me. We weren't prepared in any way for it. It's not a flash flooding situation, more of a five-foot-high-and-rising situation (though, not five feet high, thankfully). The water rises high first from the field across the road from us. The creek floods there and then Pescadero Creek floods coming down our road from the other direction. When that happens, our house is in danger of major flooding. Our place is already raised about two and a half feet from the ground, but when it floods, we're still in danger of our floors getting soaked. Yuck. Our landlords will be raising the house even more in the coming months, though we're not sure when. We assume they'll have to wait until reliably dry weather which isn't until August and September. 

That first flood of the season was a doozy for me. Not knowing what to expect, I ran around the house like a madwoman, collecting all of what we deemed to be "favorites" and boxing them up to either put up high or bring with us in the car. I found gifts from friends who've passed away and took photos out from their frames. In hindsight, much of what I did to prepare was an overreaction to the situation. I was scared and a newbie to the whole situation so I'll go ahead and excuse myself. That experience left me a bit numb and I questioned whether to decorate for Christmas, but in the end, I did and I was glad.

The second flood took place the night before Christmas Eve. We were calmer this time. Most things were still arranged for easy pick up and removal. And this time, we saw it coming. The timing was a bit crazy as we were out of town that morning, but we got home in time and packed up to go stay at a cabin the owners provided for us. Driving up to it, Birch and I immediately relaxed. It was beautiful and serene. If we had to be out of our place for Christmas, this is where we wanted to do it. The morning of Christmas Eve, we checked our floors at home: all dry and the water was already draining from the yard. We were so happy and relieved as the water had risen higher than before and we were nervous driving home. We spent Christmas Eve and morning cozy and grateful at home. We awoke to our Christmas tree towering above us and clear light shining through the window. It was a clear, beautiful day and we were right where we wanted to be.

These experiences also just furthered that spring cleaning bug we've been feeling for months. That ongoing project of perfecting our various systems and routines, the purging, the journey to Less Stuff. You'll hear more of that another time.

It should also be noted that both floods were a dream come true for Keats...

Friday, January 4, 2013

Winter on the Farm

It is wet and cold now. There are days of bright sunshine when we run outside and soak it up, even when the air is chilled and our noses turn pink. Mostly it is cloudy, overcast, and rainy. Of course, temperatures don't dip below thirty degrees Fahrenheit and it doesn't snow here, so "winter" is used loosely here, but to us it is a far cry from a California summer where everything is just lovely and perfect outside and to stay in seems like sacrilege. So, we made a promise to ourselves that we would get out in it every day and bring at least one thing back to put up on our nature board.

Even Frida now understands the going out process and brings us each article of clothing she will need especially: coat, shoes, hat. With Keats, it's almost always a frustrating process with reminders of patience and "You don't have your boots on yet." That boy loves stomping in puddles and they are everywhere this time of year. The ground is squishy and the creeks are high. He stomps and trudges through fresh and muddy puddles alike, coming out soaked and smiling ear to ear. We've learned to bring two strollers with us now as Keats quickly realizes that it's not actually comfortable to walk in boots filled with water. We need to get him some waders!

We still haven't found any good quality boots in Frida's size so her puddle stomping days will have to be in the coming rainy months when she reaches a toddler's size five (her feet are tiny). For now, Keats helps her by pushing her through the puddles in her stroller. They both squeal as the water splashes up.

Frida more and more wants to be out of the stroller and walking about just like her big brother. She is good about holding hands which makes it easier to steer her away from tricky spots on the path. It takes us about an hour to walk the entire forty-acre farm at a leisurely (read: baby step) pace, but that's without stopping too much to see the animals and play, so usually we're out and about for at least two and a half hours if not three. During the rest of the year, the kids get two farm walks a day: one with me in the morning and one with Birch once he gets home from work, but with the sun going down so early, they're only getting one in these days. If Birch gets home with some time left before dark, the kids go out with him to the basketball court next to our place and play kickball. I am so grateful to Birch for these breaks. On the busiest of days, a break means I can finally wash some dishes or vacuum the floor. On lazier days, I can take some time for myself to watch something, write, READ, or even... gasp... take a long bath. When the day hasn't been too wearing, I go out with the rest of the family and play. It's nice to get a break from the kids, but that usually means more time away from Birch so I go out with them when I can, if only to get a strong arm wrapped around my waist for just a moment or to hook arms and hold hands while the kids entertain themselves a bit.

The farm changes quite a bit from season to season. Some of the larger willow trees are cut back after the fall harvest while the smaller trees and bushes are left to bud and then harvested to make more decorative fences and things. We've watched this process only twice since we began our time here on the farm and have pieced together what we could from our distant observations. I'll have to ask about it more the next time I see the owners. The farm has so many things going on, there is always something being done. Hustle and bustle is a way of life here, but there is a great rhythm to it. The busyness here is different than that of the city or even the suburbs. The country is a special place. The work here is hard and constant but it has the appearance of leisure. Riding around in tractors and forklifts, herding sheep with a pack of dogs, feeding pigs... it all seems so idyllic. To me. Some people look at us like we're crazy when we tell them what we enjoy. You should have seen my sister's face when I told her Birch wanted a whole hog for Christmas. Let me clarify that I do mean "idyllic," not easy, not always fun, but idyllic. Farming in this way seems to us to be the perfect marriage of doing what interests us and acting on the principles that are important to us in order to make our world a little better.

This place is a wonderland to us. Seeing it everyday, coming home to it everyday, watching it change and evolve right before our eyes is all absolutely stunning. We see so much wildlife everyday. I count all the different seasonal birds, take note of who stays year-round, and watch for other wildlife like coyotes, bobcats, deer, and the very occasional mountain lion. We hear frogs and crickets every night. We have daily visitors such as owls, hawks, kites, egrets, and herons. Ducks and geese land in the flooded field across the road. We see tracks from raccoons, badgers, and so many more. Often we find the remains of animals in various states of decomposition. Keats is curious and compassionate, so we discuss what might have happened to the animal and what might happen to it now that it has passed on. It's a good opportunity to introduce him to the topic in a way that isn't overly traumatic. When we lost Harlequin, our rabbit, Keats was still quite young and couldn't really understand it. He just waited at Harlequin's cage for him to come out. Birch and I would see this and tear up. Not knowing what to say, I told him that Harlequin had "gone bye-bye." It worked, but it felt a bit like cheating. Now that Keats is older, I feel like he needs a better understanding of death and loss. I've always been afraid of death and even more afraid of others dying. My very first memory is standing next to my aunt right after she passed away. I can see her face very clearly, not her face as she was in life, but the strange face that appears after we die. I've seen it too often. I've seen too many relatives, too many friends pass away and I can only hope that my children will have a better understanding of the event than I. 

Winter can have the appearance of a mass death among all things, but looking closely, I can see life pushing forward, growing stronger, and making its way to being even more brilliant than it was the previous year. 2012 was the winter of my marriage. It was hard. It seemed like too many things were falling apart. Birch and I didn't love each other any less than the day we got married, but our days became relentlessly filled with frustration, sorrow, and exhaustion. We've learned our lesson now. We're pulling ourselves back up. I can only hope we have the resilience of the farm that takes what it is given and makes itself stronger and more beautiful than it has ever been. I know we can do it. I've told some friends and family that Birch and I are struggling and they immediately become quite worried. Don't be. Birch and I are fine, we are in love, we are committed to each other and to our life together. Some days are harder than others; some years are harder than others. I'm so very happy that a new year has begun, that Birch and I have summoned up and renewed our energy, and that we have such caring individuals all around us who help us to be who we want. Who knows, this may be another hard year for us, but I already feel stronger as my roots sink deeper into the earth here on the farm.

Thursday, January 3, 2013