Thursday, January 23, 2014

The First Trimester, Fatigue and Housework


I have a friend named Kim. She is in the first trimester of her pregnancy. In addition to being pregnant, she has other little ones underfoot.

Before our visit today, she warned me that her house was not up to her normal standards. As you may have guessed, Kim is somewhat of a perfectionist.  Some people believe that the cleanliness of a home is a reflection of the woman who lives there. If it does not pass the white glove test according to them, whoever them is, we feel shamed, as though we don't measure up.

So as I entered her home, imagining the floors would be strewn with socks and dirty clothes, I found it to be virtually spotless as usual.  But of course, it matters not what I think. It wasn't up to her near perfect standard.

As we talked in her kitchen, we were surrounded by her two adorable and extremely active toddlers. They were running back and forth one minute. Then they were riding by us in a little scooter waving as they went. Then they had some sort of swords they were using to fence one another, and then using the blades to slide through the Christmas tree branches. I surmised by it being late January that she didn't have the energy to put the tree up yet.  Eventually, she cut up some cheese and crackers and we were joined by the little ones as they colored and snacked away.  When I asked her how she felt, Kim told me how exhausted she was.  Of course, the exhaustion was compounded by having to run behind two toddlers all day.  She asked me for some words of wisdom, knowing I had been down this path before.

A flood of memories surged through my mind....and took me back....way, way back.

It was August of 1992 and I was pregnant with my third child. I had two other rambunctious tykes running helter skelter all around me. They were five and three years old.  We were in the backyard and I was laying on my back with my feet up on a lawn chaise. As they played and screamed in high pitch tones I remember the feeling of utter exhaustion consuming me as I laid my back. My eyelids felt like potato sacks and I closed them. I came as close to sleep as I could because I had to keep an eye on them.  I was depleted of all energy.  "How am I going to make it through this?" I wondered.

And got through it I did. And I learned some lessons along the way. Here's some of my survival advice that I gave to Kim.

SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY

LOWER YOUR STANDARD

It's not often I give this advice to anyone. But when it comes to an immaculate home and the first trimester of pregnancy, lowering your white glove standard is crucial.  A few dust bunnies never killed anybody. Carpets don't need to be vacuumed everyday.  Instead of worrying about the dirt and clutter growing around you, concern yourself with the miraculous new life growing and forming within your womb! This first trimester takes it out of you.

If you are a perfectionist, this will be especially difficult because it means you will have to ignore and look past the dirt. I know how hard it is but this is a life lesson. What's most important is not a clean house, but a rested body and a quiet heart. Not you running around like a chicken trying to impress other people or live up to your mother in law's standards or even your own.  There'll be plenty of time to clean


REDUCE THE LAUNDRY




One of the best ways of reducing laundry is to wear clothes more than once. I know some people may be aghast at such a thought. Granted, if your little toddler was outdoors making mudpies all afternoon, then his clothes undoubtedly need to be thrown in the laundry pile. But if on a typical day, he's coloring, playing with blocks, watching Sesame Street, his clothes are not dirty. He can certainly wear them again, and again. Your goal is not to be washing clothes for washing clothes sake. Only if they are genuinely soiled or smelly.  Remember, your energy at this time is precious, conserve it!


SIMPLIFY DINNER - BREAK OUT THAT CROCK POT! 

If you fancy yourself to be Betty Crocker or Julia Childs, that's fabulous. But save that ideal for another time. Think in terms of simple dinners. Chopping veggies up can be tedious work. Buy pre-cut vegetables when you can.  Dust off that Crock pot and put it to good use.  There are so many delicious recipes you can find online like on http://allrecipes.com/recipes/everyday-cooking/slow-cooker/ or purchase a slow cooker recipe cookbook. Just make sure the recipes are not complicated and read reviews to hear other's feedback.

Here's one of my favorites which I learned from a friend.  In the morning, put a few chicken breasts in the slow cooker along with drained black beans, salsa, corn and some sour cream. Let it cook on low for the day and by dinner time you'll have a tasty meal. Serve over rice.  Sorry I don't have exact measurements. I just kind of eyeball it.


So these are just a few ideas to make life easier for the exhausted first trimester mom. What other ideas do you have? Please leave your ideas in the comment section.

Meanwhile, get some rest!



Thursday, January 2, 2014

Undecking Those Halls Part II - Putting Away Your Christmas Stuff So You Can Find It Next Year

In Undecking Those Halls Part I, I talked about the chore it can be once the holidays are over to undecorate the home.

But over the years, I've gotten a little smarter and more efficient with the process of undecking the halls. It's not perfect and I'm sure I'll tweak things in years to come, but I'm convinced that with a little forethought, undecking as well as decking for next year will be much smoother.  My hope is that in reading this post you'll laugh a little, say "me too" a little, and find some inspiration that will help lighten your load as you undeck your own halls. Below is the system that's making my life easier as I forge forward into the New Year.

Number One:

HAVE A PLAN

Before you grab one ornament off that Christmas tree, have a mental plan of where all your decorations are going to go. This is important because in your zeal to get the house back into its pre-holiday state, you can be tempted like I was to just grab things and stuff them in boxes. So from the start, think about categorizing your decorations so that when you store them, like things will be with like things. Also think about the best location in your home to store the items. I used to store our Christmas stuff in a remote closet upstairs. This became a drag because then we had to haul these big boxes down the stairs. And once the boxes were emptied, we had to haul them back up again. So for ease of retrieval, we store them on the first level where there is a closet under the staircase. The Christmas decorations are kept in the back since we only need them once a year. Planning may take some extra mental effort, but it will be well worth it and save you valuable time next year. This leads to Number Two.

Number Two:

THINK OF NEXT YEAR

This overlaps with Number One. As you develop your plan and begin the undecking process, don't just think of the relief you'll feel after putting everything away for this year. Think about next year and the ease with which you want to be able to find all your Christmas and holiday decorations.  If everything is just stuffed in anonymous boxes helter skelter, then next year the decorating process will be a potential nightmare. There's not much joy in rummaging through boxes trying to find a needle in a haystack.  So imagine that it's next November (or earlier for some people). The songs of Christmas are wafting through the air, and you're beginning to feel that holiday zeal flowing through your veins. Instead of foraging through boxes looking for your favorite Nutcracker CD and the decorations for the tree, you'll have a system in place that allows you to retrieve them immediately. Won't that be amazing? In order for this to happen, you must plan for next year this year.  So do it now, and in a year from now, you'll be so glad you did.

Number Three:

HAVE A STORAGE SYSTEM THAT WORKS FOR YOU

This is crucial, and the emphasis is on the words for you. There are a multitude of storage containers at the stores to select from. But it's important to assess your storage needs as well as storage space to determine what works in your individual situation. If you go buying a bunch of containers without doing an assessment first, you can end up wasting money.

The above container is one of several I use to house sundry Christmas items. It is a 35 gallon tub I purchased from Walmart. I've also collected some over the years from the thrift store.  I use this container to store bags which hold different items. I purchase the bags from Ross for $1 (see below). They're big and have cute designs. I also use old gift bags.  These bags are great for containerizing and separating items. That way everything's not just dumped inside and it makes for easy retrieval.

Bags separate items within the 35 gallon container to keep it organized

      These containers were purchased from the Dollar Store. I used
       them to hold all the Christmas music CD's. They were available
 in green and red which worked out great theme-wise.

This bag holds decorations for centerpieces and table decor


Each bag contains a different category. I use one bag for ornaments. Another bag for centerpieces.  Another bag for the tree skirt and my Nativity sets, etc.














I store my wrapping paper in this great bag from Calico Corners. It is roomy and lengthy. Before using this, I purchased an expensive wrapping paper container years ago from Joanne's Craft Store. It was nice, but it was not roomy or tall enough. So this bag has served me well. The prior planning paid off really well this year as we wrapped gifts. All the boxes, tissue paper, gift bags and gift tags were in the same place. I can't tell you how thrilling that was as opposed to years past. "Mom, where's the gift tags?" "Do we have any tissue paper?"



Number Four:

LABEL, LABEL, LABEL!

Containers are wonderful but an unlabeled container is like a black hole. You open your closet and all you see is mystery containers. So take the guesswork out and make it easy on yourself. Label everything. Label the outside of the container. And inside the container you can label sub-containers. If you want to buy a fancy label machine, fine. But if you're on a budget like me, print out your categories at home, then use mailing tape to adhere the label to the container. It works perfectly and it's uber cheap!


Number Five:

RECRUIT HELP

Don't go it alone. If you have children who are older, have them help you. Even little ones can help take down ornaments.  I will be recruiting my whole family in the process. Don't wait for them to volunteer. If I waited for my crew to volunteer, the decorations would be up all year. At the same time, don't order them to help. You can catch more flies with honey. So for my family, prior notice is always the best plan of action. Since my kids are high school and college age and have busy schedules, I have to consider what their availability is and let them know I'll be needing their help. I also have to think who will be best at what job. My one daughter is great at organizing, while the other is better at just taking things down without making it too complicated. And my tall men-folk are good for reaching the higher places.


Hope you enjoyed this article and found it helpful. What about you?  How do you keep your Christmas stuff organized? Please share with us, and by all means, post some pictures!


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

UnDecking Those Halls Part I - Putting All That Christmas Stuff Away So You Can Find It Next Year

Okay. Christmas is over.  It's the beginning of January and a new year has been thrust upon us. The number 'two thousand fourteen' sounds alien to our lips, like something from some bizarre Orwelian novel.

At  my house, the halls are still decked out and the tree looms large in the living room.  Only a few weeks ago, what was fresh and pine-scented is fast becoming an ancient relic.

After Halloween, it was as if someone grabbed the remote of my life and fast forwarded. Everything whizzed by at warp speed and the holidays were over. Now all the glitz will have to come down, like Cinderella at midnight. The golden carriage becomes a pumpkin, and the glass slippers turn to ordinary house shoes. It's time to forge forward into a brand new year.

In the past, when putting away all the Christmas decorations, I used to just dump everything into boxes. The  magic had worn off and I just  wanted to get it over with. It was a chore I dreaded.

January stands in stark contrast to November.  The onset of the holidays has always been a magical time for me. Bing Crosby is crooning everywhere I go.  Before I know it, I'm pulling out all the stops, excited to add sparkle to every corner of the house. As we trimmed the tree this year, serenaded by Nat King Cole, it seemed there was fairy dust everywhere. The aroma of cloves and cinnamon wafted through the air.  When we were done, the luminescence of the season descended on our home like gently falling snow.

But after the last relatives were gone, and we're eating yet another turkey sandwich, the thrill seems to  dissipate, especially as I ponder all the undecorating that needs to be done.

We've all seen people who still have Christmas lights on their houses in April (and sometimes even July.) Or the tired wreath still hanging on the front door in May. I guess their getting a head start on next year.  I sympathize with them. Behind those doors is someone whose saying, "ah, forget about it. I'm worn out."

Foyer decked out with Christmas bling and cards
There's no getting around it, it's a lot of work undecking those halls, and undecking seems like twice the work of decking because we don't have the holiday inspiration that fueled our fire.  Where's Nat King Cole when I need him?

Inspiration or no, I have a job to do. Part II will cover some of the strategies that I use to make the process smoother.