Sunday, December 30, 2012

The holiday highs come to an end.

I spent a large portion of today taking ornaments off the tree, carefully wrapping them, and packing them away. Then the lights came down. My husband was unable to find a tree bag anywhere in stores so the tree is still up until we dig out from our shed all the random boxes that have been housing it in the off season. It wasn't until I was in the kitchen making dinner and turned to look into the living room, saw the unlit, lonely tree in the darkened room, that I realized the holiday lows are upon us.

our 2012 Christmas tree
Our family celebrates what I would call "secular Christmas." We put up a tree (which, I know, is actually an ancient Pagan tradition, and not secular at all), write letters to Santa, cut paper snowflakes, bake cookies, and exchange gifts and acts of goodwill with each other and our friends and family. It is one of my favorite times of year. The beautiful decorations, the feelings of love and generosity that tradition has brought, the togetherness that the various crafting and activities provides. Most of all, I love the tree. I can't quite put my finger on it, but there are few things more beautiful to me than a brightly lit tree decorated with lovingly handmade or thoughtfully given ornaments. We don't do a "theme tree" with color coordinating ribbons and baubles. Our tree is an eclectic collage of memories: each unique ornament has a story or a history. Even the simple colored stars and silver balls that we use as fillers are special to me, because they were purchased by my husband and placed on a little tree, ready and waiting in our first home for us to arrive together in North Carolina after our winter wedding in New York.

Seeing the undecorated tree this evening was the official sign to me that the Christmas season is over and it's back to normal life now. That's always a bit depressing. I do have some ideas in mind to keep the lovely feelings that I associate with Christmas going into the new year, though. And on the bright side, only 360 days until next Christmas!

A houseful of aloha.

Yesterday was a great day in our house!

It was my mom's birthday and I was able to be on the phone with her when she opened her present, a boxed set of Unsolved Mysteries. She loved it and told me, "You definitely know me!" That is wonderful praise, because my mom has always been tough to shop for. She doesn't have many hobbies, having devoted herself so wholly to her work most of her life. It absolutely made my heart light up to know that she was so pleased with her gift.

a beautiful protea arrangement straight from Hawaii
And speaking of my mother, a box of flowers arrived from my parents. A protea arrangement from Hawaii! They're in a beautiful woven palm basket that will dry and be something we can always keep. I remember dried palm baskets in my parents' house growing up, and it is so wonderful to have one to have in my home now. My dad is Hawaiian by blood, born and raised there, and my mom was raised there. We never lived there as a family, but often visited family still on the islands. I haven't been able to take my own family there... yet! Someday. Hawaii is such a wonderful part of my heritage and culture, and while I do what I can from where we are, I regret that I'm not able to pass along more of it to my children. I just hope the day comes before it's too late and it's lost on them!

The final aloha blessing in our house yesterday was being able to spend time with family and friends. Levi's brother and his wife were able to come for a short visit. It is always wonderful to see them! Her family is from North Carolina so they were able to move down here a few years ago, and while we don't get to see them very often, it is nice to have some family that we can see more than once a year or so. The rest of our immediate family is all located in the north east, a long 16+ hour drive away. In addition to the in-laws, some close family friends came over with their kids. We always have such a great time with them! They're also military and will be leaving the area later next year. It's been so hard to watch friends go over the years, but I will have a particularly tough time saying goodbye to this family. But enough of that now. They're not leaving yet so no point dwelling on it and ruining my good mood rolled over from yesterday's fun!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Motivation, my old friend.

I spent a large part of the day yesterday restoring order to the house. The toy store that threw up under our Christmas tree was sorted through, and homes found on shelves and in closets for all of our new arrivals. I enlisted the kids' help cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming, mopping, and getting the dishes done. Let me tell you, having a child old enough to provide productive help, as opposed to "help" that teaches responsibility but must be properly done after they've moved on, is wonderful. My two year old, V, and my four year old, S, are both willing helpers; they're at an age when cleaning is fun because anything Mommy is doing is fun. And certainly, there are some chores they can do well. But my eight year old, N, is actually at an age when he can truly help around the house. Of course, he isn't always such a willing participant... But he sucks it up. I think it helps that I lavish praise upon him for how appreciative I am for his help.

In all disclosure, the urge to get things picked up is a new habit I am still working on. For all of my adult life I have naturally been disorganized and lived in a cluttered home. A few weeks ago though, it was like something broke. I went on a rampage and cleaned up everything! Clear counters, a clean and orderly playroom the kids can actually play in, a dining room table we can fully sit down to. I even went through and emptied the various laundry hampers that have been sitting neglected in corners, holding random bits and pieces that we haven't missed. You don't want to know how many twin sheets we were holding on to all this time. Suffice to say they've all been washed and Goodwill is getting a sizable donation.

The motivation to clean really comes from having a clean house to start with. I've started a new system of morning chores, evening chores, as well as weekly and monthly chores. I printed out my system and have it framed in the kitchen so I can use a dry erase marker on the glass to check things off as I go, then wipe clean and start again the next day. It is really helpful, and I've started making true habits. The first two things I do every morning are make my bed and wipe down my bathroom counter and sinks. The trick to making a room look orderly no matter the state of the rest of it, is to have a clean focal point, that one thing your eyes are immediately drawn to as soon as you step into the room. Obviously, in a bedroom the bed is the focal point. Same goes for the counters and sink in a bathroom. It has gotten to be such a habit to do these two chores every morning that I don't even think about them anymore. The same goes for the kids. N and S make their beds (V "helps" in the way a toddler does), then N cleans their bathroom counter and sink. I had to remind him for the first few days but then he caught on and every day he'd already done it when I asked. Now I don't even have to ask. I am hoping that by instilling these basic habits in them while they're young that the kids can avoid the same pitfall Levi and I have grown up with of not having clean and organized habits. It truly is so much easier to clean up as you go, rather than wait until the mess overwhelms you and you just can't take it any more.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

I can't help myself! Back again.

Since I have so much free time, I decided to try blogging again. The truth is that I love blogging. I first got into the online journaling community in 1999 and maintained a journal for the better part of 8 years, on various sites. I love to write out my days; I often end my day by writing a short-story-length status on Facebook, before I realize that I'm about to post a short-story-length status, and I delete it because I hate long statuses on Facebook. Why not try blogging again, and have an appropriate place to put it all? I am often asked, "Are you blogging this anywhere?" when I post pictures of the various crafts, recipes, and activities I am doing around the house, so now I can say, "Yes!"

Today was Levi's, my husband's, birthday. He had to work late, but I had a nice dinner planned for when he arrived home. I rubbed a beef roast with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, then soaked it in red wine for a few hours. It was cooked at 350° until it reached 140° internal, which was a nice medium rare. So yummy! I also roasted a veggie mix of sweet potatoes, red potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic cloves, and cherry tomatoes, and made a fresh fruit salad. I am already looking forward to leftover steak sandwiches tomorrow. I have a recipe pinned on my Pinterest account for some easy no-knead bread I've been wanting to try, that looks perfect to slap some thinly sliced steak onto.

DIY photo transfer on wood
After dinner we gave Levi his presents: a rugged cigar humidor and a humidifier tube, and a wood photo transfer I made. The transfer was really simple to make, but a learning experience. It's made with a gel medium, a laser printed image, and mod podge. The tutorial that I used is detailed and easy to follow. The edges are roughed up because the large section of the picture over Levi's shoulder didn't transfer for some reason; I think I didn't use enough gel medium. I roughed up the other edges to make it look intentional, since they all transferred clearly. Levi was pretty impressed with it, and said if he had a desk at work he'd take it there. High praise, in my opinion! However, with a lack of a work desk, we'll have to get some hanging hardware and find a place for it somewhere in the house. I've been itching to try the process again with other photos or phrases, so now that Levi's seen this one I can get started! I wonder if he has any scrap wood laying around in the shed, otherwise a trip to Lowes may be in order.