Little Projects

I finished a few little projects this weekend and wanted to share them with you, my lovely readers.

Weekend Project #1: Painting and installing an above-the-commode cabinet in hallway bath

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I found the cabinet at World Market the weekend before.  It was originally a dark brown with “whitewash” splotches.  In other words, it was a new cabinet trying to look old.  I didn’t care for the paint, but I did like the cabinet itself.  I bought it, took it apart, sanded it, primed it, and painted it yellow to match a small slate wall-hanging that I have in this bathroom.  I took off it’s dingy wooden knob and replaced it with one of the original bathroom cabinet knobs (which I’d recently replaced with new glass knobs).  I’d kept the old knobs to give to ReStore or turn into a coat rack or some other such thing.  When I bought the cabinet, I thought it was fitting to use one of the original pieces of bathroom hardware for the new cabinet.

Before this, there was nothing above the toilet.  Just a blank, white wall.  I wasn’t sure about a yellow cabinet in a blue bathroom, but it works.  It matches the slate wall-hanging (something I’ve had since Chris and I were married) and it matches the other picture hanging in there, the one that I bought on our honeymoon in Spain.  And it had an unexpected bonus: it helped me finally decide on a color for the bathroom vanity.  I’ve been trying in vain to find a shade of blue that would work with both the wall and floor tiles, but nothing did the trick.  Seeing this yellow, however, made me settle on painting the vanity yellow, too.  I know it sounds a bit weird – yellow in a blue-tile bathroom – but I think it will work, especially if I add in some fluffy yellow towels to match.  I’ll take a photo of the finished project whenever I get around to painting in there again.

Weekend project #2: Painting trim and hanging shades in dining room windows

This photo is terrible, but hopefully it’ll give you an idea of what the windows look like now.  The trim has been painted with 2 coats of Benjamin Moore Super White, and I’ve installed the new shades.

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This lighting in this picture is awful, very dim and dark.  Then again, this room is dim, so maybe it’s more accurate than I’d like to think.  But the paint is definitely, definitely not this orange.  Oh well, moving on.

The roller shades are installed. They’re more sheer than I thought they’d be, but perhaps that’s best given how dark this room can feel. From the dining room, you look out onto our deck and the back yard ravine (or wooded slope, whatever you want to call it) so privacy isn’t a concern.  Wouldn’t want these shades for a bedroom, though!  I still need something “else” for these windows, but what?  A single valance?  Curtains?  I don’t like the idea of curtains right now because Jack is a food-flingin’ fool at the table.  I’ve already had to wipe down the new paint job to clean up after him, and I don’t want to get panel curtains only to have to wash them each week.  So, I’m leaning toward a simple valance for the moment, something to cover up the tops of the shades.

Weekend project #3: finally cleaning up Joe’s 2-step shelf.

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This little thing was a side-of-the-road freebie that I picked up on W&M’s campus. It was banged up and beat-up and, to be honest, still looks kind of rough.  But it was free, and all it took was some sandpaper, primer, and leftover blue paint to freshen it up.  Joe loves this step stool and carries it into the kitchen whenever he wants to assist me in my cooking or baking.  Another bonus: one less item in the landfill!

Speaking of freshening stuff up, here’s a photo of the storage bench that I got at the ReStore a few weeks ago.  It was $42.50 and when I saw it, I knew it would be great in the toy room.  I went out the next day to buy some MDF board, high-density foam, and used some outdoor fabric to make a cushion.  Here’s the end result.

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OK, it still needs some TLC.  I also realized that I don’t care for the fabric color – you can’t tell in the photo, but it’s actually more “seagreen” than “blue” and doesn’t work with the blue-gray walls.  Also, I want to paint the wood but haven’t settled on a color.  Not white.  There’s too much white in that room.  White trim, white baseboards, white crown molding.  Maybe a darker version of the blue gray with a different fabric on the cushion, but this will do for now.  Or maybe I’ll find a fabric that works and paint it a totally different color, something that ties the room and the fabric together.  Who knows.  I love that it provides even more storage for the toys that seem to overrun this room, as well as some much-needed seating.

Other weekend projects were less about home DIY and more about homemaker stuff!  I made some banana bread for the freezer along with banana bread mini muffins for snacks.  I also put together over 6 dozen meatballs, also for the freezer.  Oh, and hung out with these 3 goofballs.

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Definitely a full but fun weekend :-)

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Clotheslined, but in a good way

I think my clothesline is amazing.  Yes, that probably sounds silly, but I do.  In the photo below, it’s holding 2 “super plus” sizes of laundry (per my washing machine’s measurements) as well as a day’s worth of Jack’s cloth diapers.

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Another way of looking at it: I hadn’t washed any clothing since Friday, and this was taken on Monday.With 2 little boys, a husband who generally speaking does 2 outfit changes a day, plus me with all of my painting clothes… that’s a lotta laundry.  This clothesline is big enough that I can hang our king-size bedsheets on it (you have to fold the top sheet in half, but it still dries without any trouble) + a load of laundry.

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I got so used to hanging clothes to dry whilst living in NZ that when we moved back to the USA, it was only natural to keep up the habit.  My mom also hung out laundry as often as she could (and that was for 10 children) so I wanted to continue the tradition.  And of course there’s the benefits: energy saving, money saving, environmentally friendly, and so on and so forth.

I keep the clothesline outdoors all summer and haven’t seen any rust (and I’ve been using it since last summer).  It folds flat so that, in winter, I can lean it against the screen porch wall (or slide it under a bed, tuck it in between the wall and washer, etc.).  I have the large model, and I’m glad that I spent the extra $$$ for it.

The key thing to maximizing the clothesline is to use hangers.  I make the most of every inch of this line by using kid’s hangers, adult hangers, and pants hangers.  I hang kiddie clothes on the lower bar between the legs (or in other words, the middle line in a capital “A”) and hang other stuff on the end bars in between the cables.

It costs more than your run-of-the-mill clothes rack, but worth it.  I’m sure that it’s paid for itself in terms of lower energy bills.  If you live in a place where you need to hang clothes to dry inside or if you love to hang out your clothes or if you can’t find the space for a traditional clothes line, then this is the one for you.  Way, way better than anything I’ve used before.

I bought mine from the US website, but the company, Mrs. Pegg’s Handy Line, also has an AU and an NZ site.  Only thing is that when I checked the US and NZ sites today, they weren’t loading.  Hmm.  Hopefully the still ship here and to NZ!  If you want to order one and can’t get the site to load, then I’d email them from the AU site to ask what’s up, because it’s that good.  They’ve also got a Facebook fan page (and yes, I am a fan).

I realize that it’s just a clothesline, but when we lived overseas I felt like I was always waiting on clothes to dry or trying to figure out the best way to get the most out of my small clothes racks, and I really wish I’d had something like this.  Love it!

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Phase Two Window Treatments

Now that the toy room/den is mostly complete, I’m moving onto the dining room.  I primed the walls and trim yesterday and have my fingers crossed that I’ll be able to apply the first coats of paint tomorrow.

But before doing anything, there was first the issue of the old curtains hanging in there.

Now, I’ve learned the value of making-over old things so that they can be used like new.  These curtains had their place in our home… and now they have their place in our garbage.

I was grateful for the fact that the house came with the window treatments.  For starters, it meant that I wasn’t hanging bed sheets over the windows on the first night of our arrival.  For seconds, it meant that we could live in the house for awhile and get used to it, figuring out over time what kind of shades/blinds/curtains we wanted to put up.  But over time, all of the former window treatments have come down, one by one.  The only treatments remaining are the curtains hanging over the massive 5 panel picture window in the front.  They’re still up, but not for long.

I’m still not ready to plunk down money for custom window treatments.  Everything that I’ve bought thus far has been “off the rack”, usually from Overstock.com.  No different with the dining room.  I’m continuing on with “phase two” options, and because I’ve spent a lot of money on paint, roof repair, an electrician, and hardware this month, I went for something quite basic: roller shades.

Cordless, naturally.  Safety first!  I opted against the uber-economical shades (because they had cords) and got the next most economical option, which was cordless.  Factoring in their prices with the whopping $0.80 remaining in my rewards balance for Overstock.com + a slightly more hefty 15% off discount code, and I ended up buying both blinds for $80 (and that included shipping).  So roughly $40 apiece.

Contrast the price of these to a couple of hundred dollars on custom window treatments, or $200 each for the tension Roman blinds that I liked from Pottery Barn.  My heart constricts just thinking about the first time Joe would get into his head to use them as a modified bungee rope or swing.  A fast $200 down the drain!  Thanks, Pottery Barn, but no thanks.

Added bonus: when (not if) Jack flings food from his highchair tray and some lands on my phase two shades, I can just wipe them down and not be too bothered.  I’ll probably get a valance of some sort to go up top (again as a phase two interim thing) but hopefully they’ll do the job until I can save up/figure out what I want to go there permanently!

Now, I just have to finish painting :-/

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Broken Bone and a Trip to Urgent Care

Poor Joe.

This past weekend, he learned the hard way that gravity works :-/

Joe was riding his bicycle – a favorite gift of his from the grandparents – with his daddy running/walking close behind.  As Joe put it, his feet stopped but the bicycle didn’t, and the end result was him and the bike landing in a heap on the side of the road.  Apparently, it landed in just the wrong way and fractured his elbow.

You don’t always know right off the bat if your kids are hurt, or if they’re really hurt.  I examined his arm but didn’t see any broken skin, no dislocation, no swelling.  He was pretty teary but, then again, it was late afternoon and he’s been skipping his naps.  I figured he was probably already tired and the bike accident was making him even more tearful.

After 30 minutes had gone by and he was still fussing, I decided to try some Tylenol.  He fell asleep within 15 minutes, which was a bit weird but not entirely unexpected.  He was probably tired.  But after another 15 minutes I decided to wake him up, see how his arm felt, and that’s when we noticed the giant lump.

“That doesn’t look good,” said Chris.

Nope, it didn’t look good at all.  I felt around, asked Joe to try to extend his arm, but all he did was cry whenever I touched it.  Definitely not his normal response to an injury.  In the past, anytime he’s hurt himself he brushes it off within a few minutes.  The swelling + guarding + tears made me decide to bring him into urgent care.  I wanted an x-ray.

We got to urgent care, where Joe and I waited in the waiting room for an hour and a half.  Another sign that something was off: Joe sat in my lap the entire time, content to listen to me tell stories or look at “Reader’s Digest”.  Odd, indeed!  Each time I shifted, he would cry out, “You moved it!” and start to whimper.

They called us back.  The nurse listened to what happened and said, “Tsk, it’s probably not broken.”  The PA came in and told me that it most likely wasn’t broken.  The doctor came in and said, “He fell?  It’s swollen? We need to do an x-ray.”

Thank you.

I could tell that the nurse and the PA didn’t want an X-ray, but I let them know that I felt one was required.  When the doctor came in and agreed with me, I felt a boost of confidence.  Like I could agree with my inner voice and say, “See – we’re not the only one who thinks this is abnormal!”  I knew that Joe was hurt more than a bad sprain or bump.  My 3 year old does not sit perfectly still for an hour and a half, then cry each time I brush against his arm.

It was broken, he got a temporary cast + sling, and we’re going to see the pediatric ortho doctor today.  Joe has been bearing it all as well as a tired 3 year old can, especially a tired 3 year old who’s only pain management is ice, Tylenol, and Ibuprofen.  I stopped to get him a chocolate milkshake on the way home and that seemed to do almost as much good as the Tylenol :-)

Hopefully the news from the ortho doc will be good.  I’m praying for (a) a simple, easy prognosis and (b) a short healing time with minimal pain.  Apparently, this type of fracture accounts for 60% of all fractures in children under the age of 10, and most often occurs when they outstretch their arm to brace themselves from a fall.  Definitely fits the bill for Joe’s accident.  I’m thankful that it’s a non-displaced fracture (i.e., the bones are basically in alignment, there’s no chipped bone, etc.) and that we were able to get it diagnosed so quickly.  I’m also glad that I didn’t second guess myself and went straight into urgent care.  A good reminder that, even if you think it might be “nothing”, if there’s something in your gut that tells you it could be “something”, then get it checked out.

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Jam Ma’am

I’ve gotten into a jam-making, water-bath canning, blueberry and strawberry and blackberry craze.

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I grew up with a great big garden in our backyard.  I will be honest with you – gardening and yard work are not my first loves.  However, I grew (ha ha, “grew”, get it? bad pun, I know) to appreciate it and hoped that someday I would have a garden of my own.  Fast forward to our new house in Williamsburg.  We live in a neighborhood that is OVERRUN with deer and rabbits.  The deer meander down the street like they own the place, for cryin’ out loud.  The researchers at William & Mary are all in a tizzy over native plant and bird life being driven out of the area because of too many deer.  People walk down the trails and have deer run into them.  Growing a garden in this part of the world, especially in our neighborhood full of large, beautiful, shade-providing trees?  Not going to happen.

So, my gardening dreams suffered a small setback, but I got over it.  Instead of me planting the seeds and toiling between the rows of tomatoes and berries, I let someone else do the work.  Then, I go pick the berries myself (and by “pick”, I either mean I literally pick them off the bushes or I pick some up from the store, ha ha!).  I picked 12 pounds of blueberries (with some help from Chris and Joe) and then picked up 4 pints of strawberries at the local Fresh Market.  I made 32 jars of blueberry jam and I’m still not done with the strawberries.

Are we going to eat 32 jars of blueberry jam?  No, not likely.  At least not this year.  The majority of those jars are the small gift-giving variety.  I can recall my mom handing out jars of jam at church around Christmastime.  They’re perfect little gifts for pre-school teachers, the neighbors on your street, your husband’s work colleagues (or your work colleagues!), friends, and family.  Just cut out some pretty Christmas fabric to put over the tops, tie a red ribbon around them, et voila!  A gift of summer that’s gluten free, egg free, soy free, dairy free, and so on and so forth.

I was intimidated by the thought of making jam at first.  Thoughts of botulism and everyone we gave them to coming down with food poisoning would fill my mind, but it’s surprisingly easy.  I bought the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and Blue Book Guide to Preserving from Amazon, got a large water bath pot + rack at our ACE Hardware Store (side note: I looked in our local Target and Walmart and neither had one, though Target did have a “kit” that cost over $80 that included one).  I also bought some jars, lids, rings, and pectin.  My mom had given me a jar lifter and I bought a wide-mouth funnel, a foley food mill to crush/smash the berries, and a magnetic lid wand (this one really isn’t necessary, but it is so handy and for only $2.00, I recommend it).  So yes, there is some financial investment but when you add it all up and divide it amongst the many jars of jam you make, you still come out saving money, especially if you do it year after year.

The jam turned out perfectly.  A little hint that I learned from my mom: add a dab of butter at the beginning of the jam-making process to cut down on foam (if you make jam, you’ll know what I’m talking about).  Chris tasted all of the varieties that I’ve made thus far and given them a thumbs up.  A neighbor has already eaten a jar or the blueberry jam and didn’t die of food poisoning, so that’s certainly a good sign.  Chris even told me that he’s never cared for strawberry jam, but he’s only ever had store-bought.  When he tried my homemade variety, he said that it tastes so good that it makes you wonder what’s in the stuff at the store.  Again, a good sign :-)

I’ve already shoved some of the small jars to the back of the cabinet to keep for Christmas/teacher appreciation gifts.  Joe will start preschool this year, and there’s also the nursery staff at MOPS who will take care of Jack every other week.  And if you’re a family member and reading this, odds are that you’ll get to sample some of it, too!

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Leaky Roof Update and the Benefits of Lists

This morning dawned bright and beautiful without any rain clouds in sight.  I know that the farmers need the rain and I’m very glad we’ve gotten some, but I was hoping for a dry day today so that the roof leak could be repaired.  Prayers answered.

The roof repairman arrived on time (hooray!) and surveyed the damage.  The good news is that our roof is in great shape.  The bad news is that the skylight had developed a leak.  I was worried about that.  Skylights are nice, but they eventually leak no matter what you do and we have two of them.  The “repair” that was done pre-purchase of the home wasn’t done correctly.  Whoever fixed it basically climbed up there with a caulk gun and put a bead of caulk around the edge.  They might as well have stuck a bunch of chewed-up bubble gum in there.  Not only was it the incorrect type of caulk, but it wasn’t applied correctly.  You need to use a trowel and spread the caulk out in all directions, both onto the roof and onto the glass.  Simply plugging in the leak will delay the need for a full repair, but it’s nothing more than a cheap, quick fix.  In other words, nothing more than the bare minimum to hold over for a couple of months.

No surprise here, but the warranty company excludes skylights.  What a shocker!  Oh well, moving on.

I’ve made up a list of 10 tasks for our home DIY updates and put them in a semi-prioritized order.  Lists help me stay on track and know where to go from there.  I’m limiting it to 10 because if I put up any more than that at this moment, then it will overwhelm me!

1. Finish the laundry room side of trim around play room door.

2. Finish baseboards in play room.

3. Finish crown molding in play room.

4. Remove broken guest room ceiling light.

5. Install dry wall patch around light opening and install ceiling fan.

6. Paint guest room walls.

7. Paint guest room baseboards and trim.

8. Replace guest room closet doors.

9. Paint interior of above-the-commode cabinet that I purchased at World Market (naturally I see it, think “Yes, that’s perfect – I just need to change almost everything about it.” and take it home to add to my work load).

10. Find an above-the-sink mirror for the hall bathroom.

So there you have it.  Ten items that I would like to cross off by the end of August.  Anyone who wants to fly out to Williamsburg and help me is more than welcome (though you’ll have to stay in a guest room with a broken ceiling light!).

 

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Painting is the worst, and other thoughts on home ownership

It’s been over 3 weeks since my semi-intentional blog break.  There were a few moments where I would head in the direction of the computer to work on a post, but then I’d either get distracted en route or sit down and feel exhausted.  Too tired to write!

We’ve been busy.  I think that I was pretty naive at how long it would take me to update our house.  The simple act of painting is painstaking.  And I’m tired of people asking me, “So – are you finished with the house yet?” or “You must be about done by now, right?”

Uh, no.

I’ve said before that if it were just about painting, then that would be one thing.  It’s the prep work that’s killing me.  For example.

Painting the “den”, as it’s referred to on our house blueprint, was a multi-multi-step process.

First, there’s the cleaning.  Wood paneling loves dirt and it took multiple washes to get the oil and dust off of there.  Then, there was removing she strange shelves that were fused into place.  I ended up having to use a hammer and a chisel.  There was locating all of the holes, spackling them, waiting for that to dry, sanding it down, then re-spackling, re-drying, and re-sanding.

Then, I sanded all of the paneling, the baseboards, and the crown molding.  Then washed it all down again.  Then put caulk in between the quarter-round and the baseboard so that when I painted, it would be seamless rather than show the join.  Same deal with parts of the crown molding.

Then, there was the fun process of removing all of the face plates for various outlets and switches, along with a few built-in lamps that were attached to the wall.  In one case, I took off the face plate for a dimmer switch and found that the wires had been cut (that would explain why it no longer worked).  So many times I’d be working on the room, and then discover a new problem to add to my list of stuff to do.

After that, it took 4 coats of primer.  This is partly because wood paneling is notorious for leeching through paint and primer, but also partly because of the primer I chose.  I didn’t want a toxic, high VOC primer, so that meant multiple coats.  Same deal with priming the trim, quarter-round, and crown molding.

And finally, after all of that, I got to put some paint samples up on the walls, look at them, and make a decision.  The winner was Wickham Gray from Benjamin Moore.

 Two coats of that plus cutting in.  LOTS of cutting in.  Then rolling on the paint and going back over to fill in the grooves (because the wood paneling has grooves between the boards, it requires painting that area in by hand rather than with the roller sponge).

I also removed all of the doors in that room + hallway (7 doors) and replaced all of the old door knobs, primed them, and painted them + their trim to match the crown molding and baseboards.  In one case, I got rid of a door and filled in the hinge spaces and the chiseled out area in the trim for the door knob catch.  More spackling and wood putty and sanding and drying time!

I’ve finished basically everything in that room except for painting the baseboards, remaining trim, and crown molding.  I’ll also need to take another pass at the repaired (former) door trim with the wood putty and spackle knife to get it nice and smooth.

All of that work for a single room + hallway.  Do you see why it’s taken so long?  And mostly doing it during childrens’ nap times or bed times or in the few moments when Chris is able to take the boys for a couple hours on a Saturday.  It finally reached a point where I realized that all the time that I kept losing on set-up and take down/clean up was really extending my work.  I decided to hire a sitter for 4 hours in the morning for 7 days during July (well, I’d advertised for more days, but 7 was all we could work out together with our various schedules and I wasn’t about to turn it down).  That way I would have a good chunk of time to work on stuff rather than sneaking in an hour’s worth of work here, and hour and half of work there.

It’s frustrating to see how little progress I’ve made.  Like I mentioned above, many times during my work I’ll find more issues to add to the to-do list.  Most recently, it’s been regarding the electrical wiring.  I’m newbie-homeowner competent when it comes to basic electrical stuff.  I can change blown fuses, I can change lightbulbs, I can change outlets.  Changing light switches is another ballgame.  I tried to change out the switches in the den and quickly realized that I was out of my depth.  One of the things about old houses that you sometimes find is that you’ll have one switch (or in our case, many switches) that don’t seem to do anything.  We have a lot of those.  I decided to hire a professional and I’m hoping he’ll be here in the next few days to sort out the wiring.

Still to paint are the nursery, the guest room, Joe’s bedroom, the laundry room, the kitchen, the dining/living room, the master bedroom, the master bathroom, and the front entry + hallway.  All of these rooms have lots of prep work needed, to.  Some has already been done (like removing wallpaper) but most of it is still undone.  I still haven’t fully removed all of the nasty wallpaper in the laundry room.  What a nightmare.  That stuff must be bonded on with some sort of superglue on steroids.  I already can tell that I’m going to have to sand all of those walls, then seal them with a problem wall sealer (like GARDZ) before I can prime and paint them.

So, I think about all of the work to be done and I end up wringing my hands and shaking my head.  I can see why people hire out, but the plain cold truth is that in our financial situation, we would have to pull money out of our investments to do that and I have NO desire to go down that road.  Nor do I want to set up a payment plan for the work or take out a loan for home improvements.

Oh, and to top it all off, this morning whilst washing dishes I noticed that there was a puddle on our screen porch floor.  Not near the screens, where you might expect a puddle to form if, say, the wind blew rain inside, but smack-dab in the middle of the room.  Where a puddle most definitely should not be.  I went outdoors to investigate and yep, sure enough, there was a leak.  Bum bum bum. It was the same area that was spotted by the home inspector and supposedly fixed as part of our home purchase agreement.  I’ve already filed a claim with the home warranty company and a repair guy is coming out tomorrow.  It’s a $100 call out fee and I’m praying that he isn’t like the plumber.  In other words, I’m hoping he doesn’t put a band-aid on it (figuratively speaking) and then say that it’s our problem.  That plumber pretty much turned us off from ever renewing the home warranty.

So, yeah, I’m a bit grumpy right now and not feeling super excited about home ownership.  Blah.  I’m sure that I’ll get over it in a little while.  In the meantime, I’ll just keep telling myself to keep my nose to the grindstone (or in this case, keep my eyes trained on the cutting-in brush while I paint a crisp line between the trim and wall) and think about how it will all look once it’s done.  And start planning my “I’m finally done with all of that painting!” celebration party :-)

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Vacation Recap: Orlando and Marco Island, FL

We did our annual Tucker family vacation/reunion last week.  This year’s destination was Florida.  We spent a few days at the Marriott Grande Vista in Orlando, then drove down to stay at Marriott Crystal Shores in Marco Island.

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As an added bonus, both Chris and Joe celebrated their birthdays while we were with extended family.  This little guy is 3 years old!

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And “the big guy” is 33 years old!

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My mother-in-law, my husband, and my father-in-law

We truly enjoyed the time in the pools, on the beach, and catching up with family.

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Apparently it was really warm while we were down there.  I honestly didn’t even notice.  I spent most of my time there hanging out in tank-tops and shorts or swim suit.  Plus, seeing the ocean each time I looked up made it feel cooler!

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My brother-in-law and niece on their parasailing adventure!

There were plenty of activities at the resorts.  The resort in Orlando had some really cute kid-centered activities in their “Tree House”.  Joe was able to make his own mug cake (with some assistance from the Tree House staff) and both he and Jack had fun playing with the toys there.  This was the perfect hang-out spot for the few times we were rained out of the pool.

There was a lot to do at the Marco Island resort, too.  Joe loved the swimming pools and the beach (as did Jack) and both had fun playing foosball (well, as much as a 3 year old and 13 month old can “play” foosball) and chess!

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On our second-to-last day, we were all feeling a bit tired of the sun and the beach, so we decided to head into Naples to check out the Children’s Museum.  I thought for sure that the boys would want to play with the exhibits outside, but no – they wanted to be outside in the water!

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I eventually took Jack inside for a diaper change, leaving Chris and Joe outside.  Jack and I headed up to the toddler area on the 2nd floor of the museum, and Jack had a blast.

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We flew out of Ft. Myers airport on Saturday.  I’d managed to get of our departure airfare through points (we only had to pay $6/ticket for a processing fee) but this meant that I had to select a later flight rather than the first one in the morning.  I’ve learned that when you travel with kids, it’s almost always a good idea to get the earliest flight that you can.  Yes, it may mean getting up at 4 am, but it’s worth it.  Flights are often delayed, and I’d rather start my travels with two fresh, mostly well-rested children than with two kids who had to miss a nap to get to the airport or who are approaching bed time.

Anyway, we flew out of Ft. Myers but, guess what?  Our flight was delayed.  By an hour.  And we only had an hour in Atlanta till our next flight.  Rats.  I’ve learned to just go with it when these things happen.  Getting anxious and worried won’t make the plane fly any faster!  We got there 5 minutes before our connecting flight was supposed to depart but, thankfully, it was delayed by 20 minutes.  We ended up running from terminal C to terminal B and were the very last ones to board the flight.  I didn’t care – just so long as we made it!  I really didn’t want to wait another 2 hours for the next flight.  But honestly, I’m thinking that the next time I fly through Atlanta, I’m wearing running shoes.  I’ve run through that airport far more times than I’d like to admit.

Our luggage naturally didn’t make it, but that was fine.  We de-planed in Norfolk and went straight to the lost luggage department.  Chris gave them our baggage tags, they gave us all of the info that we would need to track where our suitcases were and when they would be delivered to our door, and that was that.  The bags showed up less than 24 hours later :-)

All in all, a great trip with minimal stress.  I’m still in my post-vacation recovery mode (what do you mean I can’t see the ocean each time I look out the window?! and what’s with all of this laundry?!) but feeling refreshed and ready to go back to everyday life!

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Weekend Rewind

Ahh, weekends.  That time of the week where Chris gets to experience the “craziness” that I live with day in, day out :-)  Oh, and make breakfast for the boys so that I can sleep in a little.  That’s always nice!

Here’s what we had going on this weekend.

Friday

A pretty typical Friday.  I went to work out in the morning, came home and played around with the boys till it was time for their nap, then rushed through a shower and got dressed only to find that Joe wasn’t napping but instead loudly calling for me to come get him.  This woke up Jack, so naps were short.  Chris came home early, just in time for me to give him a quick kiss and head out the door.  I’d made dinner in advance, set the table, etc., so that all he had to do was entertain the boys for about 30 minutes before eating.

I was volunteering at the hospice and support house for the evening.  It was a quite time (a big contrast from how my evenings usually are).  While there I ran into 2 other volunteers that I know from around town.  Williamsburg really is a small place!  Makes you think twice about yelling at your kids when you’re at the grocery store :-)

After volunteering, I headed to Target to pick up a few last-minute things for an upcoming beach trip.  Home by 9pm.

Saturday

I got the boys ready and we 3 headed to Newport News while Chris relaxed at home.  I had to pick up Joe’s birthday gift from Toys ‘R Us and wanted to get a few items from Sam’s Club.  It was one of those trips where I really didn’t want to go, but I’d chosen store pick-up rather than shipping for his present.  Since I had to go down there, I figured I might as well make the most of it and get some fruit and eggs at Sam’s Club (the prices there are better than our local grocery for those items… when the local stuff isn’t on sale… and it wasn’t…).

Joe is young enough that yes, I can pick up his birthday gift and put it in the shopping cart without him knowing what it is.  I’m guessing that I won’t be able to do that next year.

We headed home and did birthday presents for Joe and Chris.  Their birthdays aren’t till the 12th (Chris) and 14th (Joe) but we won’t be around during their actual birthdays, so we wanted to celebrate early.  Joe loved his presents from us (a Little Tikes Water Table and a Spider Man sandwich box – it was $1 at Target!) as well as presents from the grandparents.  Chris loved his presents, too.

We enjoyed the rest of the day, with Chris trying out some of his gifts and Joe and Jack relishing in the water table.  It’s set up on the screen porch and the boys love it.  Hours of entertainment!

Sunday

Church, lunch, naps.  Me running out to return a pair of shoes at the Stride Rite Outlet.  More relaxing at home.

All in all, a great weekend!

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Whole Wheat Peanut Butter and Jelly Muffins

This, my friends, is what happens when you take your peanut butter and jelly sandwich out for dessert.

PBJ Muffin

That’s right – you get a peanut butter and jelly muffin that’s bursting with yummy goodness.

Oh, and did I mention it has no refined sugar?  I didn’t?  Well, it doesn’t.  I’m guessing you’re loving it just a little bit more right now, aren’t you ;-)

Peanut Butter and Jelly Muffin

I decided to do some experimenting and try to make a muffin that would (a) let me use my homemade peanut butter, (b) not have any refined sugar, and (c) use whole wheat flour.  I based my version largely on this one et voíla!  Whole Wheat PB & J muffins that are just a bit healthier and taste delicious :-)

I don’t have a link to my peanut butter recipe because, honestly, it’s so simple.  Put 1 lb of roasted, unsalted peanuts in a food processor or heavy-duty blender (my Ninja Blender is perfect for this recipe – makes those peanuts into peanut butter super-fast).  Add 2 T of peanut oil + some salt to taste, then blend till smooth, scraping down the sides of the blender as needed.  Store in the fridge.  Easy-peasy and perfect for this recipe!

Whole Wheat Peanut Butter and Jam Muffins

1 2/3 C whole wheat flour

1 T baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 C milk

2 ripe, medium bananas, well-mashed (I puree mine in the blender)

1/2 C creamy natural peanut butter

1/2 C canola oil

1 large egg

1 1/2 tsp vanilla essence

1/2 C no-refined sugar jam (or whatever type of jam you have in the fridge)

Peheat oven to 350° F.

Combine all of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl.  In a smaller bowl, combine all of the wet ingredients except for the jam!  Whisk the wet ingredients together, then pour into the dry ingredients.  Stir till just combined.

Line a standard muffin tin with cupcake liners (or spray with non-stick cooking spray).  Put scant 2 T of batter into each muffin cup.  Place 1 heaping tsp of jam in the center of each cup, then cover with another 2 T of batter.  Bake in preheated oven for 35 minutes.  Allow to cool for 15 minutes before removing from pan, and enjoy!

Note: These muffins freeze well – just put them in a large Ziploc bag or freezer-safe container.  Allow to thaw in fridge or heat one up in the microwave for a snack :-)

Whole Wheat Peanut Butter and Jelly Muffin

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Kids in Williamsburg: Jerusalem Marketplace

Thanks to the local MOPS Facebook page, I recently learned about “Jerusalem Marketplace”, which took place this past Saturday at Wellspring United Methodist Church.  A fun, family-oriented (and free event), it seemed just up our alley!

I’d never heard of Jerusalem Marketplace before, so I clicked on over to the webpage to find out more about it.  The site said that it was from 4 – 7pm and that there would be costumes, a petting zoo, puppet shows, crafts, a bakery (to try some unleavened bread, naturally), and even some ancient “coins” to spend throughout the city.

Jerusalem Marketplace

Entry to the city, guarded by “Victor”

Jerusalem Marketplace Victor

Joe wasn’t quite sure what to make of Victor…

We headed through the city gates, picked up 2 bags for the boys with their “coins” and information about the marketplace, and made a quick stop at the tailor to get Joe kitted out in authentic garb.

JM Tailor

As authentic as you can be with polyester Biblical robes…

JM Tailor

JM Headband

Father Son Jerusalem Marketplace

Joe was so pleased with his costume :-)  The headband was definitely his favorite part – he kept it on all night, even leaving it in place once we arrived back home.

There were so many things to see, but the first stop for us was the petting zoo.  Both boys love animals.

JM Petting Zoo

Jerusalem Marketplace - Petting Zoo

Jerusalem Marketplace Petting Zoo

Look at that tiny piglet!

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Jack was so thrilled with all of the animals.  I took him out of the stroller and he was able to pet the bunnies, the piglet, a miniature horse, and a goat.  He laughed each time he touched one of them – melted my heart.

We walked around a bit more but headed inside once it was time for the puppet show.  The story?  “David and Goliath”!  We’ve read that one to Joe a few times in his “The Jesus Storybook Bible” (we love this Bible – such a great one for children!) so he was familiar with the plot line and followed along with rapt attention.

Jerusalem Marketplace Puppet Show

Jerusalem Marketplace - Puppet Show

Jerusalem Marketplace - Goliath

Mean ol’ hairy Goliath

Jerusalem Marketplace - David

Small but brave David!

Someone (ahem, Jack) was not so enthralled with the show and began to kick up a fuss.  Naturally, the only option I had was to put him in jail.

Jerusalem Marketplace - Jail

He doesn’t look too upset, does he?  I tried to convince him that he was in big trouble, but it didn’t seem to get through past the snacks and giggles :-)

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This kid, I tell ya!

Chris and Joe came back outside once the show was complete.  We heard it was nearly (but not quite) an Oscar-worthy performance.  Or so Joe seemed to think :-)

It was nearly time for us to head home but we made time for a few more crafts.  First, we visited the instrument shop where Joe made a jingle-bell rattle.

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After this, we visited the carpenter’s shop.  Chris and Joe worked together to make a nail, rubberband, and wood star craft for us to bring home.

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We had a lot of fun and will definitely visit the marketplace again next year.  If you missed this year’s event, be sure to check the website for information on when the next one will be :-)

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Get 20% off Oranges This Week!

SavingStar is offering another great healthy deal – save 20% on your oranges this week!

Save 20% on any single purchase of loose Oranges at participating retailers. See offer info for complete details.

I love how SavingStar has such great deals on things that normally don’t have coupons, things like oranges, bananas, fresh corn, onions, etc.  You get your savings into your online account at SavingStar, and once you have a $5 minimum you can choose to have it sent to you through your bank account or PayPal.  I typically get a little over $5 cash back each month and that’s by doing mostly only the healthy offer of the week (like the oranges linked above) or doing the “Friday Freebie”.  That averages up to a grocery savings of around $60/year.  Every little bit helps!

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And the budget went “BOOM”

What do you do when your budget goes “boom”?  That moment when you suddenly and unexpectedly have a big cost added to your monthly expenses?

A big cost like, say, a dishwasher going bust.

Leaking Dishwasher

No, that’s not a picture of leftover mop water.  That’s from our dishwasher :-/

Our current dishwasher came with the house.  It’s already had 1 major repair + several DIY fixes (thank you, YouTube).  It’s had drainage issues, it only cleans dishes on the bottom rack, and so much steam escapes mid-cycle that you get a facial each time you wander near it.  I’ve slipped in the puddles but thankfully haven’t fallen.  Just the other day, however, Joe ran into the kitchen, slid through the water, and landed on top of Jack.  Lots of tears and a few bruises.

Falling in leaking water isn’t its only safety risk.  Chris and I have scratched ourselves on the rusted racks several times.  I’m glad we’re up to date on tetanus shots.  I considered replacing the racks but knew this was like pouring money down the drain.  Like putting a band-aid on a severed limb.  Like adding air to a punctured tire.  Do you get the idea?

Kenmore Dishwasher

It’s not dirty – that’s how it looks after cleaning it with disinfectant

Dishwasher Soap Build-Up

The soap dispenser build-up that keeps coming back

Rusted Dishwasher Racks

Rusting Dishwasher Racks

Rusty Dishwasher Racks

Just a few rusted out spots

Old Dishwasher

A corner bends away from the whole unit whenever I open the door

Clearly, this machine has seen better days.  While we weren’t happy about having to deal with this unexpected expense, we knew that there were ways to minimize the cost.

For starters, we’ve learned to ask questions.  Questions like:

- Is this a repair or a replace job?

- If it’s a replace job, does it need to happen now, or is there time to save up for it?

- If we’re replacing it, do we want a “final” or a “fill-in” replacement?

Our home came with a 1 year home warranty that expires in September.  We’ve used it once and weren’t impressed.  We knew that, whatever was wrong, the warranty company would want to spend the least amount to get it running.  If the repairman did say it was a replace job, then the company got to make the decision on the new machine… which could mean the cheapest model, not energy efficient, etc.  We thought about it, looked at new dishwashers, and decided against repairing it.

Here’s why:

- It’s already been professionally repaired once and it was recommend that we replace it if it broke down again.

- It’s old and needs to be replaced soon regardless of any repairs.  Do we want to sink any more money into it?

- Any repairs done via home warranty would incur a flat $100 fee.  That’s at least 15% of the cost of a new dishwasher, depending on how much we spent.

Everyone needs to answer these questions based on the information they have at the time.  Our finances are different than our neighbors, our neighbors finances are different than they’re neighbors, and so on and so forth. Depending on where you’re at with your budget, you might answer the above questions differently to how we did.  You might say, “We know it needs to be replaced, but we only have enough for a repair.  Lets fix it, but keep saving for a new or used one.”  ***Craigslist, ReStore, and various scratch ‘n dent shops are great for used or floor model appliances.***

Or perhaps you might answer those questions with, “Yes, it needs to be replaced.  Yes, it needs to be repaired, but we don’t have money for either of those things.”  Then what?

At that point you ask yourself, “Can we make do without?”.  A dishwasher isn’t a necessity in our house.  We considered doing dishes the old-fashioned way.  It wasn’t my favorite choice, but when it came down to it we were already spending a lot of time at the sink because the dishwasher did such a terrible job.  Giving up the dishwasher for awhile wouldn’t mean that much extra counter-time.  Or, if you don’t have the money for a repair or replace and are handy (or know someone who is) you might post a request on Freecycle for a working dishwasher.  It’s a risk as to how well it will work (it is free, after all) but it’s another option.

In the end, we decided against leaving it as it was (no repair, no replacement) and opted to buy a new one.  We decided against a “fill in” phase replacement and went for a “final phase” machine.  Why?  We had the savings for it (albeit I was hoping those savings would go toward other things, but we can adjust and make do).  We also didn’t want to buy one that would work but would likely need yearly or bi-yearly maintenance, not to mention another replacement down the road (which would mean another installation fee).

After all of our research, talking, and Facebook polling, we settled on the Bosch 500 series model.

Oooh, spacey!  It looks so shiny and new!

Why Bosch?  Because every. single. person. who recommended a brand on my Facebook poll recommended Bosch.  Everyone.  It was also the highest ranked brand and the brand with the least call-outs according to Consumer Reports.

Okay.  We’d decided on a replacement.  We’d picked out a model.  Now, for the fun – trying to eke out the most savings possible :-)  Yes, there can be some fun involved in budgeting.  It brings out my competitive, type-A nature!

We went to 4 stores and spoke with sales associates at each store.  In the end, we bought from Sears.  We asked questions like, “Do you offer free installation?  What’s the cost of hauling away the old machine?  What discount would we get if we signed up for a store credit card?  Store X is offering this deal – can you match or beat that?”  It’s worth talking to people, and in some instances it can be worth a lot.  Did you know, for example, that some stores charge up to $75 for installation?  And that doesn’t include the $20 kit you need to purchase to hook up the machine?  Did you know that your local township may have a better haul-away rate than the store?  Some counties offer a free once-a-year bulk trash pick-up.  It may be worth finding out when that is and stowing the old dishwasher in the garage till then.

By asking questions, doing research, and informing ourselves, we were able to knock $292 off the price (already on sale for $90 thanks to Memorial Day).  We shopped through Ebates ($30 savings).  We have a free ShopYourWay account, and they’re linked with Sears (earned us $8.10 in rewards).  Our county offers a $50 mail-in rebate if you replace your old dishwasher with a new, energy star model (check with your county to see if they offer the same sort of thing).  The Sears associate gave us a $50 price adjustment because, essentially, we asked if they’d give us a better deal than the other 3 stores we visited.  Last but not least, Bosch was offering a prepaid Visa gift card for up to $150 to cover installation and haul-away.

Budget busters can’t be predicted, but hopefully they can be minimized.  And while you may not be able to foretell the exact day that your A/C will break or dryer will fall apart, you can start to save for it (and other big home repairs).  I like the book, “America’s Cheapest Family”.  They have practical guidelines on smart ways to start saving for unexpected expenses.  You should read it.

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Have you had any budget-busters lately?  What are some ways you’ve been able to successfully navigate those unexpected expenses?

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Walking in Williamsburg: Freedom Park

Continuing with my desire to up my physical activity, we headed out to Freedom Park this past weekend to do some walking.  I’d read about the newly re-done trail linking the park to Jolly Pond road, and wanted to test it out for myself.  I had 3 guys who were happy to join me!

Freedom Park Sign

Not pictured: Jack – he was hanging out in the stroller behind me

Freedom Park has 600 acres and includes hiking trails, biking trails (we saw a lot of mountain bikers), the Williamsburg Botanical Garden, an 18th century cemetery, and reconstructed cabins marking one of the first free black settlements in the USA.  The park is also the site of the Battle of Spencer’s Ordinary that took place on June 26th, 1781.

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Map of the action – Yellow = American, Blue = British

There’s a lot to see and do in the park.  We briefly checked out the Interpretative Center and some of the displays, but couldn’t stay long as we had 2 little boys who were raring to go!

Freedom Park Interpretive Center

We headed down multi-use trail #3 (marked in brown in the map below)….

Freedom Park Trail Map

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Multi-Use Trail 3A

Freedom Park Trail Entry

The trail was stroller-friendly and meets ADA standards.  I had no problem pushing our Phil & Ted’s Navigator on the paved walkway.

Walking in Freedom Park

Freedom Park Trail 3

We meandered past the cemetery (the gravestones are no longer standing, but a memorial stone marks the site) and to the bridge spanning Colby Swamp.

Freedom Park Cemetary

Freedom Park Cemetery

Colby Swamp Bridge

Bridge over Colby Swamp

Colby Swamp Freedom Park

Colby Swamp

Freedom Park Colby Swamp

After stopping a moment to enjoy the view of the swamp (something that I didn’t expect, that I’d enjoy viewing a swamp, but it truly is beautiful) we kept on down the trail.

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My fearless partner-in-crime and I made it to the end of the trail (a 1 mile walk) and went a bit further down Jolly Pond Road to stop at Hornsby Middle School’s sports fields.  We ate a snack on the bleachers and took advantage of the drinking fountain to refill water bottles.  After that, we headed back the way we came, jogging for part of the journey.

Upon our return, we made use of the picnic tables at the interpretive center as well as the bathroom facilities.  I was surprised that there were no changing tables (I even checked with a staff member – nope, no change tables).  Perhaps this is something they could add in future.  As it was, everything else was great.  I’m sure we’ll be back a few more times this summer to walk the other trails, see more of the interpretive center’s displays, view the cabins, and walk through the botanical garden!

For hours and directions to Freedom Park, click here :-)

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Kids in the Kitchen

I love the idea of a play-room.  Some spot in the house where all of the toys can remain and the kiddos can go off and play, leaving the rest of the house looking clean, picked-up, and not like a wild bunch of hooligans live there.  In fact, having a play room was a big feature of our house-hunting when we moved here.  I felt that it was important to have that separation.  It was as if, in my mind, having some small space of the house off limits to children was a way of keeping some small part of my identity intact.  A way of preventing “motherhood” from fully swallowing up whole the person I was before children.  I am more than my children’s mother, right?  I’m a nurse.  A woman.  A wife.  A thinker and a creator.  For me, there was a fear that having a house overrun by toys and toddlers was the same as losing a big part of myself.  I don’t even know if that makes sense, but it certainly did to me at the time.

I mentioned the play-room feature to my mom, and she had an interesting comment.  She said, “You know, it doesn’t matter if you have a play room or not.  The kids are going to want to be wherever you are.”  Boy, is this true.  If I’m in the bathroom, they want to be in the bathroom.  If I’m in the kitchen, they want to be in the kitchen.  If I’m hanging laundry on the porch, there they are banging on the screen door demanding to join me.  If I leave to go volunteer, there’s wailing and weeping that I can hear even as I shut the back door.

In the end, we found a house with a semi-designated play room.  Our house is fairly open-concept for a 1970s single-level home (I can sit in the dining room and view the master bedroom, the kitchen, the den/fireplace room, and the laundry room all without leaving my chair) and the play-room (what used to be the den) is fairly open.  I’ve blocked it off with baby gates and set up a desk in there as well, so it doubles as our office area.  You can’t walk in there and not know it’s a playroom thanks to the thick foam interlocking mats that create a child-safe rug over the wooden floor.  It’s a fun place to be – lots of light, books, toys, a fully-stocked play kitchen and table… you’d think they’d never want to leave.

Except, the boys don’t seem to understand that it’s their play room.  I say, “Go, play!  Look at all of these toys!  Do you really need to sit underneath my feet while I’m getting dinner ready?  You have your own kitchen!”

Kids in the kitchen

And in their minds, the answer is, “Well, yes.  Of course we need to sit here, as close to you as possible, even if it means risking being stepped on.  Being near Mom is the place to be!”  They’re like little ducklings, trailing along after me.  Sometimes it’s aggravating and sometimes I think it’s good to set a boundary (“No, you may not always join me in the bathroom.  Sometimes you have to sit outside the locked door, whether your like it or not.”).  Many times, I enjoy it.  But if I’m being completely, totally honest – it can be frustrating.  I feel guilty even saying that because what mother doesn’t want her children to gather around her?  What mom doesn’t want her children to love being near her?

I do love those things.  I want those things.  I just don’t always want them all of the time.  Like when I’m midway through making lasagna and I turn from the stove, nearly kneeing one kid in the face because he silently scooted up behind me.  I end up having to hop-scotch across the rug (trying and failing to avoid the measuring spoons and cups that my children want to play with) and find myself biting my tongue to keep from saying sharp words.  Sometimes, I have to bite down pretty hard to keep from yelling, “O-kay – everyone out of the kitchen.”

Motherhood can feel the same way – I’m trying to do what needs to be done, only now there are 2 small people that have silently worked their way into every part of who I am.  I love it, but it can mean that I have to do some pretty fancy steppin’ to keep from hurting them or myself.

This is why boundaries – baby gates – are so important.  I don’t think it makes you a bad mother at all if you say, “I need some time to recharge.”  I need to set up a baby gate here at this part of my life and, eventually, I can take it down and put away as I do with all baby things.  But for now, I need to step on the other side, read a book, take a deep breath… and allow myself to be filled up.  Filled up with the words of good friends, filled up with the peace and assurance that comes from God.  It may mean taking an evening off – hiring a sitter or asking your husband to let you skip dinner (I think that a good book can be as filling as a good meal some times!).  It may mean taking a brief moment for yourself in the middle of the day (it’s amazing how the simple act of deep breathing – in through your nose, out through your mouth – can recharge you).

For now, right now, I’m at peace.  I can’t say that I’ll feel the same once dinner time rolls around and I’m hop-scotching across the rug, trying to avoid the toys while carrying a bowl of salad greens.  But for now, I’m glad that I can take a moment to breathe, relax, and let myself be filled.

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What are some things that help you recharge?  Do you feel stressed, overwhelmed, and overrun?  Where are some areas in your life that you might need to set up a “baby gate”?

“Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance.  The Lord be with you all!” – 2 Thessalonians 3:16

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Pinecone Research: Every Little Bit Helps the Budget

One of the ways that I bring in a little extra income is by completing online surveys.  I’ve tried a few different survey websites and the only one I do anymore is Pinecone Research.

Pinecone Research

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This is for 2 reasons: (1) they consistently pay the same amount per survey and (2) the links to surveys always work – no clicking on a link, answering 4 or 5 questions, and then being told you don’t meet the criteria.

The surveys are interesting and don’t take too long to complete.  Each survey pays 300 points which can be cashed in for $3.00.  There’s no minimum amount that you need to earn before cashing in (i.e., once you’ve got 300 points, you can cash it in for $3.00).  Payments are either done by paper check or PayPal.  I earn anywhere from $9 – $12/month… sometimes more, sometimes less!

You need to be the judge as to whether it’s worth your time or not.  For me, earning an extra $12/month (in other words, an average extra $144/year) is worth it.  I can do surveys when the boys are sleeping.  There generally aren’t too many surveys being sent to me, which means I don’t feel a lot of pressure to sit at the computer for hours filling them out.  I do one and that’s it for a few days or even a few weeks.  Another bonus: a manufacturer may send you a product to trial for them (you complete a follow-up survey later on and you get to keep the product).

There’s no kickback to me by sending people to Pinecone Research.  It’s something that I like to do, though, so I wanted to share it with you, my lovely readers :-)  Let me know if you’re interested (mrs(dot)practicallyperfect(at)gmail(dot)com) and I can send you the link.

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