Revisiting my New Year’s Resolutions

End-of-year pile of artwork

End-of-year pile of artwork

Today is the last day of school for Miss Seven and Mr. Ten. It’s not even June! And it seems a very long time until August. (Though when I look at my calendar, it’s clear we won’t be sitting at home with nothing to do.) I thought it might be a good time to revisit my New Year’s Resolutions, see what we’ve accomplished, and make a plan for what I might tackle over the summer months.

2013 Resolutions

  • Paint and paper the kids’ bathroom; replace the shoe moulding; add floating shelves (bonus points: raise the light fixture and frame the mirror)
  • Organize the tools in the garage
  • Clean out the laundry room
  • Replace the computer armoire with a simple desk in the living room (maybe a DIY with an old door and some IKEA table legs)
  • Continue the landscaping project–at the very least, the vegetable garden and compost pile
  • Spackle and touch up/finish paint all over the house
  • Figure out two comfortable reading chairs and lighting in the living room
  • Refinish or paint the extra kitchen barstools
  • Cut down the rest of the old shrubs around the driveway (just one left by the lamp post)
  • Patch the concrete under the garage door
  • Organize basement sewing area and kids’ craft area
  • Paint, refinish dresser and redecorate Miss Seven’s room
Our growing veggie plot! I am now addicted to freshly picked lettuce.

Our growing veggie plot! I am now addicted to freshly picked lettuce.

After five months, I guess that’s not too bad. Add the powder room makeover, which wasn’t even on the list, and I feel pretty good about our progress. I have all the supplies for the computer desk project–now I just need to DO it.

As I look at the list, I realize those extra kitchen barstools aren’t really a priority. Since I found a place for them in the pantry, I don’t have to look at them when we’re not using them. In my mind, I’ve added Mr. Ten’s room to the list. After seeing the redecorating plans for Miss Seven’s room, he decided he is also ready for a new look. We’re going to repaint, get him a tall bookcase and maybe a reading chair, rearrange the furniture, and generally declutter. He’s picked out a cool gray-blue color called “Ozone” for the walls, which should take him into the teen years without needing another big change.

Here's hoping that if we move it away from the wall, it might be easier to make the bed.

Here’s hoping that if we move it away from the wall, it might be easier to make the bed.

So what’s at the top of my summer list?

  1. Assemble the new computer desk already! (And probably add some wall shelving above it.)
  2. Paint both kids’ rooms.
  3. Landscaping: repair and replant grass in the front yard, and add some new plants in front of the porch.
  4. Organize tools in the garage.
  5. Patch the concrete under the garage door.
This grass needs help.

This grass needs help.

That feels plenty ambitious for one summer! My goal for today is to strip the paint off the door that will serve as the top of the computer desk. This weekend, weather permitting, we hope to work on the yard a little.

What summer projects are on your list this year?

How to refinish a dresser, the not-quite-perfect way

This was the scene in Miss Seven’s room a couple of months ago. We had moved my old dresser out of the master bedroom and into her room, because she (and her clothes) had outgrown her smaller dresser. Unfortunately, her immediate reaction was, “I don’t want an ugly brown dresser!” Knowing her, she’d refuse to get dressed in the morning if her clothes were housed in something BROWN. You haven’t seen stubborn until you’ve seen her little lips pinched into a tight line, usually accompanied by a brief but emphatic, “UNH, unh!”

Fine, I said. You can’t really tell in the picture, but the finish had seen better days. It was scratched, scuffed and generally dinged up. I didn’t want to paint it–see all those interesting wood grains? I decided a colored stain would be a happy medium. Miss Seven picked out a stain color (Sangria by Minwax), and then winter came and the project stalled.

Eventually, the Hub and I carted the dresser downstairs and out to the garage, where I coated it in Citristrip. Lesson #1: Do not cover the whole piece in stripper if you don’t have time to scrape it all off the same day.

That dried-on drippy gunk is a combination of stripper and old varnish, and it required a lot of elbow grease to remove with countless wads of steel wool dipped in more stripper. Elbow grease applied in short bursts over several weeks.

After stripping as much as I could without going crazy (I didn’t get too picky about getting every last nook and cranny in those carved areas–that extra patina gives it character, right?), I sanded a little, wiped everything down with a tack cloth, and then brushed on some Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner.

Two coats of stain (this was the fun part), and then some Paste Finishing Wax (which I much prefer to polyurethane as a protective finish). Lesson #2: A dark-colored stain covers a multitude of sins. I even dug out some gold paint and applied it with a tiny paintbrush to the outline on the three bottom drawers.

I soaked all the formerly blackened drawer handles in Jules’ homemade brass cleaner, which restored the brass finish nicely. Miss Seven helped me reattach all the handles, vacuum out the drawers (after all those weeks in the garage, we had a nice spider collection), and carry them to the foot of the stairs. The Hub and I hoisted the dresser back up the stairs into her room, and we had a quick and dirty session sorting all her clothes into their new drawers (and filling yet another bag of outgrown clothes to pass on).

It’s hard to get a good sense of the true color in these photos. The one above looks a little browner than it really is. The photo below looks a little more accurate.

We are all happy with the result. It is purple enough for Miss Seven, but not too purple for me. I think it will stand out nicely once we repaint her walls from pink to a pale aqua. And as for her old dresser, I already sold it on Craigslist and got it out of the garage.

Smoothie Week

I declared last week Smoothie Week. If you’re going to stay home for spring break, you need to inject a little excitement into the usual proceedings. Without the need to get everyone out the door early in the morning, I decided it would be a good time to bust out the blender and experiment with some new smoothie combinations.

Why smoothies? 1) They taste good. 2) They’re a sneaky vehicle for getting more fruits and veggies into all of us. 3) Depending on the ingredients, they can help prevent annoying tummy complaints that some of us have been suffering from. 4) A smoothie is also a good way to get some calories into Miss Seven, a reluctant breakfast eater.

I did a little bit of googling to find out what ingredients to have on hand. I decided to stock bananas, frozen berries, baby spinach, plain yogurt, chia seeds, milk and orange juice. I also created a little smoothie station on the counter: the blender, the jar of chia seeds, and a jar of colorful straws. I sliced up the bananas (I like to buy the overripe bananas that are marked down) and stored them in a container in the freezer.

The kids really got into the smoothie spirit. Every morning they would ask what kind of smoothie we were having.

Day 1 (dessert): Chocolate Banana

(banana, ice cubes, yogurt, milk, honey, chocolate syrup)

Day 2: Orange Strawberry Banana

(orange juice, strawberries, banana, yogurt, milk)

Day 3: Green Smoothie

(kiwi, banana, yogurt, chia seeds, spinach, orange juice, milk)

Day 4: Banana Cream Pie

(banana, yogurt, drizzle of honey, milk, vanilla, cinnamon)

Day 5: Purple Smoothie

(banana, blueberries, spinach, yogurt, milk, chia seeds, drizzle of honey)

Day 6: Mixed Berry

(strawberries, blueberries, banana, spinach, yogurt, chia seeds, orange juice)

By Day 7, I was starting to repeat the rotation. If you can believe it, Green Smoothie was a heavy favorite, along with Banana Cream Pie. I’m not sneaking the spinach into the blender anymore–they figured it out pretty quickly and don’t seem to mind. I overheard Mr. Ten telling his friend, “You can’t even taste the spinach!”

The verdict? I have had far fewer nights where my stomach has felt out of sorts. We’ve all had extra servings of fruit and vegetables, and we’re all getting a serving of yogurt every day. The kids didn’t seem to need a mid-morning snack. And they all asked if we could still have smoothies, even though Smoothie Week is officially over. And so we are.



Choosing busy

I read a blog post the other day about how people should stop complaining about being too busy, and just slow down. While I read the post, I found myself agreeing with it. I don’t like to be so busy. I don’t thrive on dashing from one activity to another. I’d like nothing more than a few uninterrupted days of NOTHING. Time to read a book or three, watch a movie, fiddle with a DIY project, work a little in the yard (if it ever warms up again, O Snow on the First Day of Spring). But then I started to feel guilty about the busy-ness in my life, and now I resent that article for making me resent (more) the many claims on my time and attention.

I say no to a lot of things. No to PTA meetings, no to chaperoning field trips, no to scouting and soccer and Little League. No to joining a second choir, no to Wednesday night club meetings. But there are still so many things I can’t opt out of–and wouldn’t want to–and it doesn’t do much good to anyone to resent the time they take.

Cooking dinner, doing laundry, helping with homework, sweeping up the crumbs, writing. Junior high band festivals, supervising snow fort construction, book signings with a favorite author. It’s all about choices.

Yesterday I said no to folding the mountain of clean clothes in favor of finishing the paint job in the bathroom. Little Five spent some quality time with Curious George and PBS Kids, and I spent an hour and a half painting the baseboards and giving the beadboard wallpaper a second coat of paint.

Today I skipped emptying the dishwasher, and instead framed and hung the kids’ artwork. Later this afternoon I’ll say no to folding clothes again and say yes to a playdate. But at least the bathroom is complete.

Monday Menu

I dropped Little Five off at preschool this morning and went straight to the grocery, feeling so prepared with my list and my reusable bags. But alas, not my wallet. I’m just thankful I realized how light my purse was while I was still sitting in the parking lot, and not at check out with a cart full of groceries! So I came home to write my morning blog post and empty the dishwasher, and I’ll do the shopping on the way to preschool pick up.

A comment on someone else’s blog reminded me of this great Skillet Lasagna recipe from Cooks’ Illustrated. I made it once or twice more than five years ago, and then forgot all about it. I think the kids will like it. They’re also beginning to come around to salad, which is such a relief (well, not Little Five–he’s deep into a veggie-hating phase). Mr. Ten used to say, “Salad just isn’t my thing,” but he’s progressed from eating just the tomatoes to adding a few leaves on his plate. Miss Seven doesn’t like the tomatoes, but at the Band Spaghetti Dinner last week, she asked for a bowl of salad. And then she ate it. It must be time to teach them how to make salad dressing!

Other vegetables still aren’t very successful, but I keep making them. I doubt they’ll eat any roasted cauliflower or more than a couple of bites of zucchini (I just don’t understand why they don’t like squash, but they’ll eat broccoli), but at least they always eat raw carrots and ranch dressing. Maybe in another ten years they’ll like zucchini, too.

Monday: Skillet Lasagna, salad

Tuesday: Garlicky pork chops, roasted cauliflower salad

Wednesday: Turkey Tetrazzini (from the freezer), Zucchini with Lemony Crumbs

Thursday: Olympic Seoul Chicken, rice, green beans

Friday: Fish tacos, refried beans, cabbage slaw

For lunches: Chicken noodle soup (the broth, chicken and noodles are all left from Sunday’s chicken dinner); barley with roasted peppers and feta

Computer desk plans

Little Five lost his television and Wii privileges this week, and so there have been long afternoons when he has NOTHING to do and NO ONE to play with. Oh, and EVERYONE IS SO MEAN. On the plus side, he has spent some quality time with his matchbox cars and his Tag reader, and I haven’t listened to the Caillou theme song in four whole days.

So it’s been a tricky week for getting anything done. I suppose I should be embarrassed to admit that I can’t get anything done when my kid isn’t entertained by a screen of some kind, but there it is. Just Dance 4 has been my babysitter lately. He’s getting exercise, and I can attack a project or write an entire paragraph without interruption.

Did I accomplish anything this week, beyond emptying the dishwasher and folding clothes? I cleaned out the computer armoire, which is Step 1 toward the goal of replacing it with a simple desk. Step 2 is to measure and cut down one of our old closet doors into a desk top, then a trip to Ikea for some table legs (that’s on the calendar for next week). Just writing this post motivated me to find a home for the things I removed from the armoire (one bag of computer games to Freecycle, several reams of paper, a box of CDs and cords, and a stack of old photos).

Except for the photos, the contents of an entire cubby went straight into the recycling. This is why I want a desk without storage–fewer places for junk to hide. This is the computer the kids use, and the only desk accessory they really need is a waste basket. I envision an uncluttered desk with only a small tray containing a pencil cup, note pad, and a little box to store a few flash drives. We might keep a small memo board to post frequently used usernames and passwords, and maybe some hooks to hang their headphones.

With an open desk, I’m going to have to wrangle some cords and decide how to disguise the modem and router, but I’m not there yet. Baby steps, no?

Reorganizing board games

Yesterday I boxed up all the Christmas decorations and returned them to the basement. I stopped there, not returning any pictures or other decorative stuff to their previous places. I figured it would be a good time to rethink what I want to display, and besides, everything needs a good dusting. Since we concentrated most of our holiday decor in the family room (the fireplace and tree were there), it looks the most bare at this point. I can imagine all sorts of things if I could have a clean slate and start over with paint, new furniture, built-in bookcases and a fireplace renovation. But since that’s all just in the thinking phase, I decided to finally sort out the mess of board games in the corner cupboard that I don’t like.

We bought this cupboard from the previous owners because it fit the space, and we knew we needed storage. It’s designed as a media cabinet for a small television and components, but ours is too big for it, so we’ve always used it to store toys and games. Unfortunately, the triangular shape is less than ideal and the oak finish is dated. We paid too much for it at the time, and I regret it. We’ve lived with it for five years, but maybe in the next couple of years we can replace it.

Before Christmas, I cleaned out the toy shelves, but gave up before tackling the games. Despite the dusting I still haven’t done, the four half-built Lego sets and mess of stuff on the coffee table, the crumbs on the kitchen counter and floor, I feel incredibly productive now that I’ve sorted through that game cupboard.


I filled two boxes with games and puzzles that we don’t play with anymore. I set aside one stack of games for Miss Seven to decide their fate. I sorted all the scattered playing cards (miraculously, there are several complete decks) and returned stray pieces to their boxes. I culled the duplicates–how many versions of Memory do we need? I even branched out and sorted through the puzzle cupboard under the tv, where wooden toddler puzzles and bead stringing sets have gathered dust for many months.


Even though I am eager to demolish those dinky little concrete shelves above the fireplace, and fill the niches on either side with shelving, at least things are tidy for now. I want to take plenty of time and thought (and save some money) before making those big changes. And now I’m off to see if I have some volunteers to dust and sweep.

Covering a headboard

Since Little Four moved out of the crib (about two years ago, now) and into a twin bed, I’ve been on the look out for a cheap headboard for his room. You don’t really need a headboard, but it seems to finish a bedroom (and keep those metal bed frames from rolling all over the floor). I picked up a wooden bed frame from Freecycle at one point, intending to paint it, but soon realized that it was just too big for such a small room. (I think it had been the top bunk from one of those twin-over-full bunk beds.) It didn’t take me too long to pass it on to another freecycler.

Then early this fall, I spent a couple of weeks cruising the garage sales in my neighborhood. I happened across a multi-family sale full of old furniture, tools, linens, and vintage Pyrex and Tupperware. I found this little vinyl upholstered headboard irresistibly priced at $1. It even had a plastic bag with four bolts taped onto the back.

The shape was nice and the height was good, but the vinyl was terrible. I think my grandma had kitchen chairs upholstered in something similar. It was yellowed and ugly, but there were no rips and no funny smells, and the legs seemed to be made of sturdy oak.

Once I got it home, I started shopping for fabric to reupholster it. I wanted something neutral, sturdy and not too precious–this is a little boy’s room, after all. I had nearly settled on a navy corduroy, when I remembered an old blue and white ticking stripe shower curtain I’d been saving to repurpose in some way. Neutral, sturdy, and FREE.

I thought about adding piping, but decided it wasn’t worth the effort. I did use a double layer of batting (which I already had) to add extra cushion and soften the edges of the existing vinyl piping. The project was as simple as cutting the batting and curtain big enough to wrap around the headboard, and securing it all with a staple gun. I tried to pleat the corners nicely and make sure the stripes stayed vertical.

So for one dollar, Little Four has a soft headboard, and we have nice place to lean when we read bedtime stories. It was getting crowded in the rocking chair.

Pre-Christmas toy purge

Every year as Christmas approaches, knowing the deluge to come, I get the urge to sort through the kids’ toys. We have sorted through toys several times already this year, and as the kids get older (and their toys get smaller), they slowly occupy less space in the house. Now that they all can play independently in their rooms or in the basement, we are gradually reclaiming the family room as a space for ALL of us, not just toy storage. Little Four (who will turn five next week) is the only one who clocks a lot of time playing there, and these days it’s mostly building with Legos or writing cryptic messages in his assortment of notebooks.

Still, we had baskets of toys shoved in every corner, and they were all mixed up–dominoes in the Legos, barrettes in the marble run, Nerf darts everywhere. Stir in some broken crayons, candy wrappers, broken junk from Chuck E. Cheese/birthday party goodie bags/Happy Meals, and a handful of stray puzzle pieces, and you get the kind of stew that festered in each basket.

While the kids were at school yesterday, I dumped every basket out on the floor, vacuumed out the baskets, and sorted all the stuff. I boxed up a few things to donate, hauled lots to the basement play area, and reorganized toys into more appropriately sized containers. A few things went straight to the trash.

It was cathartic. Little Four came home from school, played nicely with several different toys, and put them all away when asked. The Hub and I were able to stretch out in front of the tv after the kids were in bed without first having to clear a space among the wreckage and fish for the remotes under the cushions.

I know it will devolve into chaos again. And again. But I hold out hope, especially since I only found a single item belonging to Mr. Nine in all the mess, and aside from a large handful of hair accessories, only a small bag full of things belonging to Miss Seven. I know, pretty soon they will all hunker down in their bedrooms and never come out. I should enjoy this time when they still want to play nearby. I do. I just enjoy it more when it’s tidy.

So that was Step One in the family room. Step Two is the game and puzzle cupboard. Maybe today? Step Three involves decor decisions that I don’t want to think about, and probably won’t until after Christmas. At least now there is room for a Christmas tree.

Homemade Halloween costumes

I’m the first to admit that I don’t get that into Halloween. I don’t keep bins of Halloween decor in the basement and I still haven’t hung the single string of ghost lights that the kids love so much. Carving pumpkins is about as crazy as it gets. In fact, I get annoyed just thinking about the glut of candy that the kids will bring home next week. Candy that I will have to police and hide and manage its consumption. Lest you think I am some kind of Halloween Grinch, let me assure you that I let the older kids regulate their own sugar intake. They eat a few pieces a day and make it last until Thanksgiving. But Little Four has no such restraint and will inhale as much in a sitting as he can get his grubby hands on. The fallout is not pretty.

However, I do enjoy getting a little crafty with Halloween costumes. Nothing too elaborate, but if we can make a costume at home in a reasonable amount of time for less than it would cost to buy one, I’m in. It’s a great opportunity for me to use my haphazard sewing skills. No need to fuss with patterns or perfect fit. The kids don’t care if seams are puckered or the hem is crooked. I hunt around for some simple instructions and then wing the rest.

This year, Miss Seven is dressing up as a black cat. She suggested recycling the black witch’s robe that I made her last year into a tunic to wear over black leggings. Perfect–didn’t even have to buy any new material. I cut it shorter and fashioned a belt with a cat’s tail attached. I also attached some felt ears to a headband. On Halloween we’ll draw some whiskers on her face (and make sure she’s wearing a warm black sweater under her costume when she goes trick-or-treating).

After some conversations with his grandpa, Little Four settled on Frankenstein as his costume. I found a tutorial for this wonderful Frankenstein hat, which was not difficult at all. Cheap, too–what little fabric I had to buy cost me less than $3. You could even hand stitch it if you don’t have a sewing machine. I found some spare hex nuts floating around the house, so I stitched those on instead of trying to make bolts out of fleece. As soon as I finished it, Little Four put on his Frankenstein hat and wore it through an entire piano lesson and several hours of play. We’ll add some green face paint and some ragged clothes for Halloween. He’s already mastered the monster walk.

Have you gotten crafty for Halloween?