Thursday, January 31, 2008

Over Flow!

My kitchen reeks. There is a faint, acrid smell lingering in the nooks and crannies and curtains of the entire rest of the downstairs of my house. I am so irritated!

I made butterscotch cookie bars today. As usual, I doubled the recipe. After all, if one batch of cookies is good, then two is better, right? And . . . well, there's no nice way to say this: I have two HOOVERS living under my roof, by the names of Shaggy and Dr. Doolittle. Seriously, I can't remember the last time I made a meal that had more than one serving of leftovers at the end. These boys are eating me out of house and home, and pantry and freezer and garage and . . . you get the idea.

So anyway, on the back of my recipe card, I had noted a while ago that a double batch of this recipe fills one Pampered Chef bar pan. I remember that I wrote it and felt proud of myself for writing it down so I didn't have to wonder in the future. Because I do that often. Double a recipe and while I'm doing it, wonder what I used last time to contain it all, I mean. So, I was happy to see my "note to self" and proceeded to mix and stir.

The whole reason I went with cookie bars as opposed to actual cookies was to save the "on my feet time." I was babysitting "Miss GOHgeous," writing the bulletin, and working on some renewal documents for the adoption process. Ha. So much for saving time. This particular effort at a double batch proved instead to be a huge TIME SUCKER! Yup, you guessed it. The bar pan seemed quite full once I transferred all the batter, but I went against my instinct and trusted the "note to self." After all, I did take the time previously to help myself for future efforts, didn't I? Oh, silly me!

About 12 minutes into baking time, I sniffed the air. Mingled with the pleasing scents of buttery, vanilla-y butterscotch chips was a faint stink. As I opened the oven door, the stink took over the lovely butterscotch scent. In fact, it took over the whole kitchen. The bar pan was overflowing on to my recently cleaned oven! One of the butterscotch chips actually caught fire. I pulled the bar pan out quickly, shut the oven door and turned on the fans. I threw open all the doors and windows and took out the oven racks to clean up the smoldering embers of butterscotch chips. I was smoldering by this time.

Once the mess was cleaned up and the smoke finally disipated, I threw the bar pan back in the oven, only to have to monitor it every 4-6 minutes while the oven re-heated and the bars baked. I had to keep scraping off excess that puffed up over the sides (which I admit made for some very nice snacking after I skipped lunch), and basically hover over the oven for the remaining bake time. I'm happy to report that only the crustiest edges taste faintly like smoke and the rest of the bars are creamy and yummy.

And all that time I "saved?" Well, now I can clean my oven. Again.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Big News!

Baby Blue Eyes has lost his first tooth! By natural means, that is. You may recall reading about his accident a year and a half ago, where he lost his four upper front teeth. So the event of a "for real" loose tooth has been big news here, and he's been diligently wiggling and waggling that poor tooth to death. Yesterday morning, he informed me that he could see and feel the "little string" that keeps his tooth attached to his gum. (I know, how gross is that?! And telling it to ME? Come on, I cannot STAND loose teeth or anything to do with loose teeth, you may recall. Apparently it's genetic: Li'l Sis was grossed out with me!)

I knew we'd soon have big news to share. But I really didn't expect it to be just a few hours later, while eating pizza with his sweet cousin, "Miss GOHgeous." But there it was, sitting on his plate amidst the pizza crumbs. Big news!

We've never done the whole "Tooth Fairy" thing with our kids (no real reason or deep theology attached, just never picked up another expensive habit!), so imagine our surprise when BBE put his tooth under his pillow. Imagine our further surprise when he was actually irritated that there was no money beneath his pillow this morning. Seriously! We had this conversation at least 3 times last night before bed, patiently explaining each time that we didn't really ever do that with the other kids, and we're not really planning to start now. (Less patiently each time, I confess.) And imagine our complete exasperation when this morning we had to finally request (far less patiently this final time!) that he STOP hinting, pleading and quietly commenting (read: mumbling and grumbling under his breath!) on the issue during our morning routine.

So, instead of the Tooth Fairy depositing goodies under Baby Blue Eye's pillow, he has agreed to this blog posting all about him and his momentous accomplishment! Wooo Hoooo, way to go, Baby Blue Eyes!

Now, can we PLEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAASE stop talking about the "cool feeling hole" in your gums? Seriously. Thanks.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Urgent Prayer Need

Please pray for Ana. Last year, it was discovered that she had a malignant brain tumor. In the course of removing this tumor, she suffered a stroke that left her very sick and incapacitated in many ways. She spent a good part of last year in the hospital. When her family was finally able to bring her home, she started making good progress in her recovery. Even started being able to feed herself finger foods again. Recently, she developed a severe case of RSV (the bronchial infection so harmful and dangerous to babies and those with compromised immune systems). The news is not good, in the doctors' eyes. They have told the family that this little 4 or 5 year-old girl may have only 2-3 months to live. You can read more of her backstory here.

Our church family is standing against that dire prognosis and asking God, begging really, for complete healing. They have a great, solid church family standing behind them and our church has decided to partner with them in prayer and support for this family. This precious family has attended our various children's events over the years, so many in our church are familiar with them. And they also attend the same elementary school as my children, so The Gang has yet another connection with them. And I can tell you, the school community is watching the church minister to them and seeing His love shown strong.

Won't you please join our community, from where ever you are, and stand in the promises that Jesus wants to show Himself strong and mighty in this little girl's body? That He is passionate about seeing her walk in strength, healing and wholeness again? Our church is right in the middle of a season of prayer and fasting, and we believe that adding her & her family to our corporate prayer focus is completely in line with His will for us and the calling we have to our community. Please, consider joining us in lifting Ana to the throne of The Most High God!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Happy News!

I have a new blogging friend. I "met" her through my sister-in-law, who met HER when they were taking their sons for golf lessons at the course in their town. They got talking, as moms do when following their kids around to various activities. Turns out, they live in the same neighborhood of their small town. Turns out, Kateri is in the process to adopt a daughter from China. From the same agency we are using. Turns out their Log In Date (LID) is just one month prior to ours. My sister-in-law put us in contact back in the summer and we've enjoyed getting to know each other and sharing stories. I pray for her often, enjoying the support of a "sister" who is going through a similar journey to our daughters.

Well, Kateri and her husband have obeyed the calling of the Lord for their family and in December they "switched" from the Non-Special Needs list to the Special Needs list. And in the first week of January, they got their referral! In adoption speak, that means THEY GOT THEIR GIRL! So, they are spending their busy days and nights and weekends preparing the final documentations necessary to travel. Hopefully, they will be traveling in the spring - I think they are shooting for April. There is much to be done, a lot of loose ends must come together, and the Lord needs to move on the hearts and the bureaucratic process of Immigrations Services (USCIS) to coordinate all this.

Additionally, they need our prayers and if I may be so bold, they need some financial support. The Special Needs list tends to move quicker than the traditional route for adoption, so coming up with the final funds has to happen sooner than they had originally planned. She doesn't know I'm doing this, but can you consider heading over to her blog and reading her story? While you are there, let the Lord speak to you about what you can do for little Alayna Fu Chang. You can find them all, and their amazing story (back up a few posts to get the whole picture!) at this link below:

Journey to The Five of Us

Tell them The Gang sent ya!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Knowing Where You Come From

Oprah's show had an interesting segment today, about a Harvard professor that has been helping African Americans discover their genealogical roots. Chris Rock, the famous comedian, was featured. In his family history, he discovered that a great(x3?) grandfather served in the Civil War as a freed man and went on to own more than 60 acres of land and serve in local politics. All three of these accomplishments were quite impressive for any man, even more so for an African American in the years following the Civil war. They made an amazing impact on Chris Rock - he was visibly moved. He said a lot of pretty good stuff, about who he is now and how knowing about his roots changes his view of himself. But it's what he said below that really hit me hard. I'll be brewing on this one for a while.
"It's weird how you don't realize what low expectations you have for yourself until somebody shows you what your people have actually accomplished,"
This is the kind of conversation I have with my kids frequently. We have some very compelling characters in our family tree. A soldier who rode with the Rough Riders. A girl who gave up her family's business for love. Her husband, who had to find a way to raise his children after her death. Another father who drove an ice truck to feed his family. A girl who secured her passage to the States by working in Senator Seward's home. A young boy who played checkers on Harriet Tubman's front porch. Determined, gritty, salt-of-the-earth type of people who carved out lives for themselves and their families, no matter the struggle or the discrimination or the hardship. Many of them had deep faith in God and in this land they loved. All of them loved their families and sought to improve their lives. It's a lot to live up to, a lot to live in honor of.

Then there's us. We whine when the garbage man is a day late, or when the hot water runs out. We are offended when we lose a parking space to a faster driver. We complain that our curtains, our shoes, our jeans are out of date. We moan and groan about cooking dinner AGAIN. We get stuck in the mundane of life. We flounder in our ruts of comfort and pleasure and ease. We live our daily lives, often caught up in our To Do lists and our soccer schedules and our volunteer work at school and, yes, even in our church life. We do, do, do. We live below our expectations for ourselves in the craziness of this pace of life. And in doing so, we forget who we are. Where we came from. We start to sound like the Israelites again, only with better haircuts and stylish boots. We forget that we are children of the Most High God. That our accomplishments mean nothing without Him. That we are His workmanship. That we can be called His friends. That the most accomplished Man of all time, Jesus Christ, IS "our people." We often live way below His expectations for us.

Several years ago, I came across this resource. You've probably seen it, or a variation of it several times yourself. I've pulled it out many times over the years. When Chris Rock spoke about the impact that learning of his descendant's greatness had upon him, I pulled it up again. It's good stuff. It sets the bar high. It pushes me forward. And pulls me onward at the same time. Not only do I want to be found worthy of the lives & destinies of "my people," I want to be found worthy by the Creator of my people. I want to live to His expectations.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Favorites Friday

I love to cook, bake and putter in my kitchen. I'm sure most of you have figured that out about me by now. There's something magical about the completion of a full meal, or the conquering of a new and intricate recipe. It makes me feel accomplished. Taking a basic recipe and revising it for my family's tastes challenges me. I love "skinny-ing down" a favorite recipe, and having it come out just as scrumptious as the original. I even love my bright red and yellow kitchen and all the things that surround me when I'm creating family meals.

In addition, I love the connections that many of my recipes evoke. Making my potato soup reminds me of a sweet friendship with a former pastor and his wife, hanging out in their home with their adorable daughters. Layering a lasagna calls up the happy memories of pasta dinners around my parents' table. Putting together my mother-in-law's casseroles reminds me of how much she loves us and how she glories in making our favorites when we come home. Reading a recipe in my grandmother's elegant scrawl brings a tear to my eye as I assemble the ingredients and think of the special occasions when she cooked for us.

Today, I'm sharing with you some of my favorite dishes. If any of them sound yummy to you, feel free to drop me a line and I'll share the recipe. After all, those connections should go on and on - we need each other. Sharing how we nourish and sustain and even lavish the ones we love is an essential part of supporting and connecting with each other. Don't you agree?

My Favorite Dishes
  • Chile Rellenos - This egg-y, cheese-y casserole is HANDS DOWN the most favorite of all the yummy dishes my mother-in-law makes. I first had it when The Boss and I were dating, and even though I occasionally make it here at home, NOBODY makes it with the same skill and love as Mom W.
  • Ham and Lentil Soup - My mom has been making this for years and it's the absolute best soup for cold winter nights. Healthy and filling, I love to pair it with crusty dinner rolls or hearty rye bread. The secret is in the cloves!
  • Whole Wheat Pasta with Sausage & Pesto - (or whatever other additions I can find!) I especially love this recipe because it came from total creativity and ingenuity. I had a little of this and a little of that and no money to run to the grocery store. It's never completely the same each time I make it, but even my pickiest eaters never complain when I make it for dinner. And there are almost NEVER any left-overs . . .
  • Baked Oatmeal - I found this recipe in my Weight Watchers resources, and have made it over and over. It's an excellent breakfast or brunch meal and, with a few revisions, it also makes a great snack bar for the kids. There are so many yummy things you can do to this recipe, it's almost fool-proof!
  • Chicken Chalupa Casserole - This Mexican-style recipe comes from my sister-in-law, over at Life and Lessons. She's a great cook and this one became a big favorite in our house after she made it for us when she was a newlywed. I haven't made it in a while, but now that the winter weather is really here, it's on the meal rotation for this month!
  • Mexican Chicken & Cornbread - My favorite "ooooops" of all time. We were planning dinner with friends and I was "revising" a less-than-healthy recipe I had. The chicken breasts fell apart and we've all been raving about the dish ever since. I'm particularly fond of how easy it is.
Yes, I've noticed that there are 6 here, instead of the customary 5 Favorites. You get a freebie from me today, I'm feeling generous. . . I also noticed that the majority of these recipes are Mexican or Spanish-styled. We like food with lots of flavor and flair around here. The Boss grew up in California and grew up eating this style of food. I love the flavors and textures of Mexican, but I mostly love the casual feel that meals like all of these create around my dinner table. Homey and comfortable - for anyone who joins us. Whatever the origins of the meal.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cracking Myself Up - AI Style

Okay, did y'all see American Idol in Dallas, Texas tonight? Did you see that cute little perky newlywed, who introduced her new hunky model husband to the judges? Did you hear her say that he helped her pick her songs? And the new hubby say that he thought she sounded great? Did you hear his "Wooo Hooo!" at the end of her song?

Simon commented at the end that at least now she KNOWS that her hubby really loves her. And after she left, Simon said it again, that he "must really love her." I couldn't help it, I lost it. I just cracked up.

Maybe it isn't that he (the hunky model hubby) really thought she sounded that great. Maybe this wise new hubby is just ridiculously relieved that someone else finally told her that singing probably isn't in her future. Or maybe it's just me, cracking myself up . . .

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Wings and Womance

Today, The Boss came with me for a couple errands and some "alone time" together. We are in the FANTABULOUS stage of life that affords us a built-in babysitter. Sadly, we find that we are rarely taking advantage of this stage for "couple time." It's become a very utilitarian benefit: "Shaggy, can you watch the kids for an hour while I work out and pick up a couple groceries?" Or, "Shaggy, Dad and I have a meeting for church tonight, can you put the kids to bed for us?" We are trying to break Dr. D into the responsibility but have to proceed differently and with caution. After all, who can bother to check that LadyBug and Baby Blue Eyes are safely occupied when one is engrossed in a Calvin and Hobbes anthology?! (He spends way more time "in his head" than Shaggy does, so the caution is well-warranted!) Anyway, I digress. . .

While we were enjoying our time out (can you really ENJOY a crowded Saturday afternoon at the local Wal-Mart?), we talked about this stage of life that we are in. We can safely leave our children in Shaggy's care for several hours (we always stay very local), call occasionally to check in with them, and enjoy some time holding hands and talking without interruption. So why aren't we doing it more often? Why do we wait till our To Do lists become the driving force that propels us out the door and forces our "dates" to become practical, too? The usual answers - pace of life, increased family busy-ness, increased individual activities, and so on - are just too easy for me. The number of hours that are spent planning, executing, and maintaining our family's calendar, budget, and identity is exhausting. And in that planning and executing, no matter how meticulous we are, some things just fall through the cracks. Recently, time alone together to talk and re-connect has been slipping through the cracks. Neither of us really like it, but it's been so busy that we haven't had a chance to even sit and talk about it until today!

So, after our errands, we stopped at a local Mom and Pop pizza shop for a snack and time to sit away from the crowds in the shopping plaza. We took the time to talk about our adoption process, raising the finances for the process, and what the Lord is speaking to us about that process. We have so much on our hearts and minds. The longer we are part of this new international adoption community, the more we realize we don't know about the details of the process between countries. This brings up more questions about individual nations, agencies, and the journey we are on to bring our daughter home. Our little lunch together brought some answers for us personally; but even in finding those answers, we have discovered a whole new set of questions to be pursued. That's okay, I'm learning a lot and I think he is too. It's a tough journey, but we're in it to learn all the Lord has for us, spiritually and otherwise. It's opening our eyes every day to more that He may have for us in the future.

I came away from the conversation feeling energized on many levels: first, time alone with my husband always energizes me. As much of an extrovert as I am, I love the times I can pull away with just him to talk and be talked to. Second, I feel excited about the level of agreement we were able to reach without very much "back and forth" discussion or debate. That tells me that our hearts are still on the same page, moving forward. And finally, I am incredibly thankful that we made the time to do this. It was a rocky start, as I really bristled this morning over another "utilitarian" date. That was all me, expecting him to read my mind and make it more than I had suggested, without telling him that I wanted something more romantic. I knew better, but I am so grateful we pushed past it and went anyway.

For The Boss's part, he's just really, really glad we stopped to eat. He found "the best wings (he's) had in years" and still hasn't stopped exclaiming to the kids just how amazing these wings were! Who knows, I may be able to milk this one for a while and go back there again and again for wings and my own brand of womance! :)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Favorites Friday

I got to do a lot of reading over the Christmas holidays - snuggled into a deep couch with a glass of eggnog or hot coffee and a blanket. It's my favorite way to 'de-tox' and wind down. In addition to my great love for reading, I love to talk about books and authors and learn about others' thoughts and perspectives.

So, today's favorites are some of my favorite recent reads, old and new, or new to me. I certainly didn't read all of these just over the holidays, or I'd never have come up for air to be with those that I love. But I did make sure to quiet myself in a corner frequently - my own little Christmas break!

Some of My Favorite "Recent Reads":
  • Karen Kingsbury - I just read Between Sundays on the trip to and from my folks' house. While it is definitely different in its feel from her Baxter family series, it was no less impacting and powerful. Being in the adoption process, I was especially moved by the foster and adoption story line. A beautiful story by a consistent, gifted and convicting author!
  • Harry Lee Kraus, Jr. - This guy is a surgeon-turned-author. And his medical suspense thrillers are amazing! I've been working my way through as many as I can get my hands on over the past several months. The topics are incredibly relevant (cloning, gene manipulation, abortion, etc.) and if even half of this stuff really happens in the medical community, I feel even more inclined to vote NO to universal health care than I already was feeling!!!!
  • Ron Luce - I've heard about this guy for years, through the various ministries that he's associated with, but I started Battle Cry for a Generation recently. It's a tough read with lots of statistics and facts that can be hard to weed through. But his writing style is compelling and really pulled me in - I didn't even mind (so far!) all the numbers that he kept throwing my way.
  • Liz Curtis Higgs - Recently I re-read her series of the Scottish clan McKie. It's meant to be a fictional re-telling of the story of Rachel and Leah. The settings, the descriptions, and the plot all came together beautifully to expose the hearts of each character and the depth of their need for redemption and forgiveness. I love this series, and I love that I felt like I was in the Highlands right there with them, peeking into their lives. She has that gift with many of her other books I've read!
  • EveryDay with Rachael Ray - I know, it's not a book. But I've been devouring it nonetheless! My wonderful sister-in-law gave me a subscription for Christmas and I've really been enjoying the articles and the recipes. Some of the tips and the make-over ideas are great for spicing up the dinner table this winter. I'll let ya know when I try some of them . . . .
I'd love to hear your impressions of these authors or titles. Maybe you have some new ones to share? After all, it can't stay in the 50's and 60's in the middle of January forever can it? We really ought to be prepared with some good, uplifting and captivating reading for those cold, windy winter nights, shouldn't we?!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Another Day At The Zoo

  • Today, Shaggy got cut from the jr. high basketball team.
  • Dr. Doolittle became a finalist in the 6th grade Geography Bee.
  • I think I may have gotten majorly "snowed" by a salesman.
  • I definitely got put waaaaaay behind in my daily routine by said salesman.
  • I haven't even started the bulletin, let alone my grocery list for tomorrow
  • Or dinner for tonite, for that matter!
  • Melting wax from some candles I'm trying to refresh and re-use just splattered all over my microwave door and stove top.
  • Somehow, we're out of snacks, milk and orange juice - just decimated by one after school snack!
  • And Shaggy just informed me that the National Jr. Honor Society induction ceremony scheduled for tonight has been moved.

Good thing! I totally forgot that I was supposed to have that on the calendar and attend it. Oh, goody. Now I can tackle the 4 loads of laundry that are prowling around my laundry room right now, that should have been running all morning. When I was listening to this salesman run his mouth.

Just another day at the Gang's house. Or should I say, the zoo?! Cuz it feels like a zoo right now. A zoo at feeding time, with all the big cats hungry at once. Only the growling, snarling noises are coming from my completely obliterated "to do" list and laundry piles. Shoot, and I was really looking forward to crashing in front of the tv tonight without a pile of coupons or other crap in my lap to do.

Just another day at the Gang's zoo!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Notes In The Lunch Box

LadyBug has a tiny appetite. And she's a social butterfly. So there are many, many days that she brings home up to half of her lunch. After all, one cannot possibly adequately catch up with one's little girlfriends about the latest in Littlest Pet Shop news AND eat a full lunch in 25 minutes, now can one? :) At least she usually eats the healthier, more nutritious stuff first. I'm okay with her skipping the dessert portion and saving it for an after school snack. I'm quite curious as to how a child of mine can skip dessert, but I'm okay with it.

However, it appears that Dr. Doolittle isn't okay with food left uneaten. Especially when it's obviously been purposed for a particular meal in a particular location at a particular time. More especially when that time happens to be a lunch period that he shares with his sister. How do I know this? Here's the note (to himself) that I found in his lunch box this morning:

"Ask (LadyBug) for her leftovers at lunch today!"

I'm still shaking my head and chuckling.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Not Just Another Family Day

Yesterday, my darling new niece was dedicated to the Lord in front of several family members and her church family. It was a neat time to share with my brother and sister-in-law, pledging with their church family to point her to Christ and to support her parents in their parenting journey. It was also a very convicting time for me, causing me to stop and reflect on my own parenting journey and how I'm doing in pointing my kids to Christ.

Sometimes, when I'm being completely honest with myself, I find that I am more often pointing them toward my path and my agenda. That I am showing them how to pursue selfish motives and self-comfort. It's such a sobering thought: that how I live, how I speak, how I love them and how I serve them will set them on a path. I'm a pretty big-picture thinker, and I tend to take times like these (dedications, weddings, welcoming new members to a church family, etc.) as very personal, internal checkpoints on my own journey. I like that about myself because I think it keeps me aware of who I am and where I'm going. But it makes these ceremonial events pretty intense for me as well. I knew going into the service that I was there to witness the dedication. I started out the morning service by examining my heart in regard to supporting my brother and his wife in their journey to point her to Jesus. But, it never stops there for me! So during the entire worship service I kept re-directing my heart and my mind toward examining my own parenting path. The Boss often shakes his head at how "hard" I make these events for myself, but I don't really know any other way to handle them. I'm a wreck at weddings, let me tell ya!

Anyway, by the end of the church service, I felt a little wrung out. I tend to be pretty hard on myself. Shocking, I know. As I sat through the sermon (which by the way was a phenomenal discussion on Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Law and how that should help us in our journey as citizens of His heavenly kingdom), I continued by praying that my heart and mind would be open to His finger pointing out my sin. I looked for things to offer to Him as areas in which I can grow. But I also felt the warm approval of My Father. I felt that He was pleased with my heart-check time, and that He is pleased with my desires for these re-directs. I certainly won't pretend that He's always pleased with the daily choices I often make, but it was a wonderful thing to sit and bask a little bit in the idea that He appreciates that I seek His re-direction and adjustment along the way. It helped me connect a couple things that I've been praying about for my kids - that the progress reports are sometimes almost more important than the end product. That how they went about earning that grade in Math is as important as the actual grade. That how the boys are growing in their ability to nurture and cherish their younger sister is as important as the fact that we want them to treat all women with respect and gentlemanly protectiveness. Just for example.

So, it was a great baby dedication. My niece was adorable, as she always is. My brother and sister-in-law were wonderfully humble as they committed to teaching their daughter to seek Christ above all as she grows. And I was humbled and lavished by My Father as I opened my heart through it all, for His inspection and approval.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Favorites Friday

Happy New Year, All! I've been enjoying my little blogging hiatus - using the time to read, hang out with the kids and host my sister-in-law & family after the Christmas visit to my folks' home. We had a wonderful holiday, beginning to end and I'm sad to see it end. I'm quite surprised by the number of people around me who have been chomping at the bit to "return to normal" and put an end to the Christmas festivities. One neighbor on my folks' street had their tree out at the curb by the 27th!

We almost never take the tree down or "de-decorate" the house until the first weekend after New Year's - we like to draw out the season as long as we can. But when I allow myself to return to our regularly scheduled programming, I mean, life :), I dive into a variety of projects and re-organization of my home. Not one corner is safe. My kids quiver in fear of what they will find upon returning home from school. The Boss gives me strict warnings of the zones I am not allowed to tamper with. I try to listen. Really I do. So, today's list is comprised of the first things I love to do to begin the New Year on the right foot.

Favorite Ways I Start to Re-Organize My Home!
  1. Tackle one kid's closet at a time - I look for outgrown clothes, broken toys, games with missing parts, duplicates of toys and clothes, and so on. When I can fill one 13-gallon garbage bag a day with either donations or trash, I am a content woman!
  2. Take inventory of my pantries and cupboards - I use this to refresh my memory about what I have and what I need. This has been especially important and helpful since Shaggy and Dr. Doolittle started growing like the proverbial weeds. Man, those boys can eat!
  3. Take inventory of my freezer - Planning to feed my gang and having reserve for surprises or company or friends who need a helping hand takes thought. Doing a regular inventory has been helpful, but I often lose track of what's "in stock" over the busy weeks from Thanksgiving till New Year's.
  4. Give the kids a break - In preparation for the big "de-Christmas-ing" of the house on the weekend, I try to cut the kids some slack with their regular jobs during the New Year's holiday. Especially if we are home with no company. As long as the bathroom is clean, I've found it helpful to give all of us a break from "regular jobs."
  5. Get all returns and exchanges done - I really push on this one, making sure that if the kids need something done, I do it before they return to school. It can make for a long day, if I have to bring all four. But this year, my neighbor invited the two little ones for a play date, so I threw in lunch and got to spend the entire afternoon with my two oldest. Two tasks got accomplished: a date with my boys, and all our returns and gift card spending done at once!
These are the things that help me put Christmas behind me gracefully and allow me to focus on the year ahead. I don't enjoy the mad dash to get to this season or the breathless pace that goes with that. I try to make concerted efforts to enjoy the process wherever I can. (As one friend says, I am steeped in traditions and I have one for everything this time of year - dragging out the fun and making memories wherever I can!) I love the "no school, it's Christmas break!" feeling that I still get when the kids are home for the holidays. I dislike the end of lingering over coffee and cookies, of sipping eggnog and watching old movies, and of preparing and sharing special meals with friends and family. Packing up all the gems that inspire "remember when" conversations and putting away the decor that illuminated my home and my heart can make me melancholy. These five things help ease that transition for me. They distract me from the abrupt departure of twinkling lights and sweet treats and move me forward. Onward, to a new year - cleaner and more organized than the previous, I hope!