Embrace the Imperfection

Last week, as I was wrapping up class, one of my former students stopped in and asked if I had a minute. Sometimes, just the way a kid says these words makes your teacher spidey sense kick in, and you know to drop everything else.

We stepped into the office as my class packed up, and this usually upbeat student unleashed a mountain of anxiety and stress. He is a performer, and had a show coming up. Long story short… the deadline was looming and he just didn’t feel like he was where he wanted to be. To him, this translated to meaning that he was not good enough and man, was he rattled.

I can’t tell you how honored I feel when a kid comes to me like this. There is so much trust and bravery in it, and I feel such gratitude toward the kiddo for opening up and such responsibility to do right by them.

I took a deep breath, mostly to sort through my thoughts and what I wanted to say.

And then, I fumbled along…I reminded the kiddo that he is an artist. That art, like life, is messy and imperfect. That life and learning doesn’t go in a straight line, and that we can’t expect to reach perfection… ever… because that implies there is nothing left to learn. That the best thing we can do for ourselves and our passions is to embrace the imperfection.

He looked at me and repeated slowly, nodding…. “Embrace the Imperfection.”

When a kiddo does that, you know you said something they needed to hear.

And yet, as he repeated it back to me, I realized that it was exactly what I need to hear as well.

It’s been a difficult and also remarkable year for me. Discovering this new lifestyle of simplicity and minimalism has been a game changer in such amazing ways. Writing this blog has helped me focus and helped me heal. And yet, I have these moments where I look around and realize I have so far to go, so much to learn, and so much I want to do! Sometimes I look at all the areas of the house that are still chaotic, or that need a second or third (or fourth) round of decluttering, and I get discouraged. I have books I want to read, lessons I want to improve, and people I want to connect with.

And on the grieving side, I have times when I know I have made progress and then a single song or photo or memory will derail me for days.

So having this kiddo look into my eyes and say to me, “Embrace the Imperfection…” well, I think it was no coincidence that that phrase popped into my head. We both needed to hear it.

There is a reason I named this blog “Crooked Path to Simple.” “Crooked” wasn’t meant to be a lamentation… it was my acknowledgment that the paths we take in life are not straight lines. They bend and curve, and sometimes even double back. There are rocky areas, and plateaus, and inclines so steep you have to climb them on bloody hands and knees. The thing is… it’s all part of the journey, and the sooner you embrace the journey, the sooner you can get on living a life of gratitude, even during the rough times.

So I am going to find that student next week and thank him for coming to me and working together to figure out what we both needed to hear…that we are not in a race to perfection in this life, we are on a beautiful journey, and we are happiest when we do our best to embrace all aspects of that journey.

I don’t need to be anywhere other than exactly where I am… with my house, my grief, my life. Neither do you. And as my dad used to say, “90% of life is just showin’ up.”

So, as crooked as my journey may be, I am going to keep living and learning with all the gratitude and awe I can muster… to me, that’s showing up.

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How I display little masterpieces (And keep them from taking over the house!)

Just a quick post tonight, my friends…

I’m sitting at the kitchen table, taking a quiet moment to myself, sipping a glass of wine and listening to my sweet Littles giggle and play upstairs. The weekend stretches out in front of me, and I’m feeling so relaxed and grateful.

In quiet moments like this, I have the perfect view. My Littles bring home TONS of art, math, and language projects from school each week, and then often create a few more masterpieces before bedtime. What to do with these dozens of pieces of their heart and soul?
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Whenever the kids bring these things home from school, we go through everything. I love listening to them explain each piece to me, and they pick out their favorites (I pick out a couple too) and we hang them up on our Gather Wall, just using twine and clothespins. (The rest goes in the recycling, which the kids don’t mind a bit because we make such a big deal about what is on the wall.)

We add to it for a few weeks, and when it gets full, I take everything down. I pick out a few things that the kids were most proud of, and anything else that is special… helper awards from school, sweet letters, etc. The special things go up to my office, and the rest goes in recycling.

By the end of the school year, I have a very manageable-sized file full of the things that are most memorable and most special to us from the year.

Looking at my kids’ beautiful art and hard work is a great way to start the weekend… I hope you all are having a great night too!

Mama’s Peanut Butter Granola

I have had a couple requests for the recipe for the granola that makes breakfast easy in this house:)
Here it is!

In a large bowl, mix together…
1 cup Peanut Butter
1 t vanilla
2/3 cup TOTAL maple syrup and local honey (I do 1/3 of each, adjust to your tastes)
1/4 cup brown sugar or coconut sugar (key for texture)
2T Chia seeds (Don’t bother measuring… that’s about what fits in a cupped palm – close enough!)
2T Flaxmeal
1t Cinnamon
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Stir…

Then add 8 cups uncooked regular oats. Mix VERY well… you don’t want any dry oats. Add a bit more maple syrup if you need too.
Add 1/2 cup sliced almonds if you want… mix again.

Then bake at 325 for 8 minutes. Use a spatula to flip and stir a bit, and pop back into the oven for 3 or 4 more minutes… be careful, it burns quickly!

If you let it cool in the pans, you will get some nice yummy chunky granola.

Hope you all enjoy it as much as we do!

Minimalist Mornings

I was lucky enough to stay home with my Littles for 5 amazing years after my daughter was born. Mornings were imperfect but leisurely, and there was no rush because the day stretched out in front of us. Those were the days of morning puzzles, chocolate pancakes, and pjs. Can you tell I LOVED staying home with my kids?

Then, I went back to teaching last year and our mornings dramatically changed. Now, we have to have two kids fed, dressed, and out the door by 7:45. At first, this was a bit overwhelming. When we found ourselves yelling to get out the door on time, it was time for a change. As we have been doing with everything in our lives, we have “decluttered” our mornings. We took a step back and decided what was important to us, and made sure we started with THAT.

What we realized was that our number one priority was to make our mornings more peaceful and loving. Yelling at the kids and stressing out at them, and then dropping them at school for the entire day just did not sit right with us. We had to do better, and so we made some changes.

1. Get up 15 minutes earlier. This applies to everyone, and applies to earlier bedtimes too.
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These extra 15 minutes allow us some leeway for the inevitable issues that crop up, and make time for us to find lost shoes or have some extra snuggles without stressing out about getting out the door on time. The benefit? I can’t remember the last time I had to yell at my kids to get out the door. (Ooook, now I remember. But it’s been a while!:)) I get up about 45 minutes before the kids… I take a few short minutes to meditate or have alone time, shower and get ready (SO much faster with a smaller wardrobe), and then I crawl into bed (yes in my workclothes) to wake the kids up with snuggles and kisses.

2. Let go of perfect. My 3 and 6 year old pick out their own clothes. This makes for…um…interesting combinations.

But you know what? We’ve completely stopped caring. They are KIDS and they love dressing themselves. We give them loose guidelines due to that day’s weather and then let them go to town. Usually, they pick the night before, but either way, they both dress quickly when they get to pick for themselves. 20150908_074502
As for me… I stopped doing my hair every day. Every other day I use a little trick… I have a jar of corn starch mixed with about 10 drops of lavender oil. It is the perfect dry shampoo. I use an old makeup brush to apply it to my hair, especially around my face, and then brush it through and put it up in a bun or pony tail. In about 10 minutes the starch absorbs any excess oil and my hair looks washed!

3. Find your favorites. For breakfast, I mean. When I was a stay at home Mama, I would ask the kids what they wanted for breakfast. Now, I give everyone their favorite. Every. Single. Day. My husband, son, and daughter are all obsessed with Mama’s homemade granola. As long as I make a big batch on the weekend, all I have to do in the morning is set out two bowls of it (one with yogurt for my son, one with milk for my daughter) and that is what they have every weekday. If I have a couple extra minutes, I set out some fruit too… but if not, I don’t worry about it. They get lots of fruit throughout the day. My husband has granola with almond milk and blueberries, and I make a delicious protein smoothie with spinach, banana, coffee, and cocoa every morning. No thinking, no fighting… it works great!
(In the winter, we often switch to overnight crockpot apple-cinnamon-raisin steal cut oats…the smell gets us all out of bed!)

4. Be prepared for one day of hell. My kids go to an AMAZING Montessori school. The teachers there are not strangers to the occasional preschooler tantrum. After one such morning tantrum from my daughter years ago about getting dressed, I called one of her teachers for advice. Her suggestion was to shrug my shoulders and say to her with love, “What a bummer, I guess we have to go to school in your pjs!” My strong-willed sweetie didn’t back down, and I walked her right into her school in her pjs and handed her teachers her clothes. Let me tell you, that only happened ONCE. She didn’t like explaining to her beloved teachers why she refused to get dressed, and that one morning showdown translated into years of calmer mornings.

Seriously, put your pants on.
Seriously, put your pants on.

5. Alternative responsibilities. If you can swing it, taking turns with your partner getting the kids ready and driving the kids to school is a lifesaver. Every other day, we each get to go in as early as we want, and then on alternate days, we get to be the parent who sings songs on the way to school or gets the kids started on a “work” before heading out for the office.

These ideas have really helped us… I would love to hear what you have implemented to make for easier and more peaceful mornings at your house! Please share!

Timing is Everything: How Grief led me to Simple.

This summer, my beautiful city experienced record-breaking amounts of rain. Every night was cool and crisp and it was almost magical to sit out on the patio with the kids at night, smelling the rain and watching buckets and buckets of it fall on our massive maple trees, the sidewalk, and the street.

The morning after one such night we were getting ready to leave for a graduation party, when my five-year-old daughter went down to the basement to grab some wrapping paper. Within moments we heard peals of joyous laughter and the sound of tiny feet splashing.

My husband and I looked at each other with the same question in our eyes: “SPLASH???”

We both rushed downstairs to find 2 inches of standing water throughout the basement.

Turns out, the sump pump had given out. We rushed around, grabbing the “important” things and carrying them up to the garage. We were able to save the bedroom dressers that I love, but the bed, sofa, the rugs, etc were waterlogged and already smelly. There were many boxes of jeans, winter clothes, and baby stuff that were ruined. Jackets, camping gear, toys artwork that was leaning against the wall to be hung… gone, along with the bottom two feet of drywall, the bathroom vanity….you get the picture.

We had alot of helpers come in an out over the next several weeks, and all of them said the same thing. They said they are dealing with a ton of flooded homes during this freak amount of rain basically around the clock, and then often with a sideways glance…

“You guys have a REALLY good attitude about this. How do you have a good attitude about this?”

We would shrug our shoulders and say, “It’s just stuff.” And the helpers would nod slowly, looking a little suspicious.

That was true, but it was only part of the truth. Here is the rest:
A year ago this flood would have upset us. So much stuff ruined! So much money lost!

But that was before February 4th. That was before I lost my dad.

I’ll save a description of my dad for another day, when I find a way to do the impossible and condense my love for him onto this tiny screen, but for now I will just say that he was Joy. He was Love. He was Patience. And he was Perspective.

And as my lovely and wise friend Jackie put it…

He was My Person.

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When you lose your person, it absolutely brings you to your knees. For a long time.

And then, slowly, it changes you. It narrows your focus. It brings you clarity. It drives home the lesson that life is short and precious and we should spend as much time as possible with the people and things and activities that we love.

The rest is Noise.

And it makes you want to get The Noise out of your life as quickly as you can so you can be in your life. At least, that is how it is happening with me.

So, dealing with a basement flood is not fun, but there was beautiful opportunity in it. Yes, we lost things that we used and would have kept. Yes, it was annoying and expensive. But the kicker was… A lot of the stuff that was ruined was just weighing us down. I lost count of how many boxes we threw away that contained random crap… college notebooks, knick knacks that we weren’t ready to toss so they have been moved from house to house in an unmarked box, books that we didn’t like enough to actually display, clothes we swore we were going to sell in a garage sale that just never happened. And in one fell swoop, it was in a dumpster. And as we threw it all out, we threw out a mile of to-do lists and we gained hours and hours of time it would have spent to look through, organize, store, stress about, and be responsible for all of it. And time is something that is not to be taken for granted.

I have learned so much since losing my dad. And one of the things I have finally understood is why he so seldom got rattled.

He knew the secret and he lived the secret… that there are a few very important things, and the rest is not worth getting upset over.

And now, still, he is teaching me.
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The Simpler Life

Several months ago, I begin decluttering this house and it helped change my life. I wanted life to be simpler. More peaceful. More in-line with my priorities. And I saw that just by getting rid of excess, I was successfully taking steps in that direction.

I now see that it was inevitable that this path would lead me to where I am now, but for a few weeks it was a little scary. It is not just the house that was feeling overwhelming and cluttered. My life in general needs more simplicity. I was feeling what my husband and I call “The Noise.” That’s the way we describe the incessant din of craziness and busyness that we are supposed to believe is inherent and unavoidable in this modern life of ours.

I have found myself rejecting this idea. Just like I don’t want the clutter in my house, I don’t want The Noise in my life. My husband and I are looking at options we have never considered, all in the name of simplicity.

I found myself in a bit of a state of disbelief that so much in our lives is up in the air. It is exciting but also unsettling. Plus, I am knee-deep in the grieving process right now (more on that in a later post if I can manage it), and I just wanted a reality check that I was on track. Was throwing all our assumptions out the window was the right thing for us right now?

I called one of my friends. She is wise and kind and beautiful and when she talks, I listen.

I explained everything that we were considering. I expressed a little bit of uncertainty that so much was up in the air. And then I got really quiet.

Without missing a beat, my friend laughed and said…

“Sounds perfect. You are just de-cluttering your drawer!”

Me: I’m listening…

“You have your Life Drawer open. You took everything out and put it on the table. Now you are being very mindful and deliberate about what you choose to put back into your drawer. Into your life.”

YES.

See why I listen to her?

That night I lay in bed and pictured everything in my life out on a table and an empty drawer in front of me. I picked up my husband and put him in the drawer and I smiled. I picked up my kids and put them in my drawer and I smiled. I picked up my beloved family and friends and I put them in the drawer and I smiled. I picked up our dog, Charley, and I put him in the drawer and I smiled, even though he weighs 30 pounds and takes up 2/3 of our bed every night. 🙂

And that was it. The rest I will figure out as I go.

PS. This beautiful friend of mine writes a beautiful blog about her journey since her daughter was diagnosed with Prader-Willi syndrome. Check it out at http://leaningintolove.com/

Yes, you have to wear pants. How and why to declutter your kid’s wardrobe.

The other day, one of my dear friends called me with a confession.

This undisclosed friend had just spent an undisclosed amount of money buying new clothes for her daughter.

She explained that her eldest daughter had zero fall/winter clothes, and that this year, she was doing things different. My friend explained that she realized that her daughter had 5 or 6 favorite shirts, a couple beloved dresses, and a few leggings that she wears constantly… and that’s IT. So, this year instead of her normal habit of buying a ton of cheaper clothes that my friend really liked, she bought just a handful of outfits that she knew her daughter would love (fun prints, colorful), and bought them at a higher quality store. We talked for a while about what we thought that sweet spot would be for each of our kids. How many pairs of pants does a kid really need?

What started out as a tongue-in-cheek confession ended up as a great lesson!

I couldn’t wait to get home that day and hit my son’s room. You see, I am ridiculously lucky and I have several friends that have passed on entire wardrobes of little boy clothes. In the past when he outgrows a size, I go through all these boxes of generosity and pick out all the clothes that fit him that season, and literally, his drawers were overflowing. But recently, I have noticed that the same 6 shirts come out of that shirt drawer and go back in, folded and clean for the next week. In order of importance these are: Darth Vader shirt, Spiderman shirt, T-Rex shirt, other T-rex shirt, other other T-Rex shirt, and in a pinch, he will settle for his Paw Patrol shirt.

Try to say no to this face.
Try to say no to this face.

After the conversation with my wise friend, I fully realized how unnecessary this is.

My goal was to simplify his wardrobe down to what he loves and wears over the course of one warm weather week, one cold weather week, and a few items he might need for the occasional dressy event.

1. SHIRTS. I went to his shirt drawer first… I picked out a week’s worth of short sleeve shirts (see above list), and a week’s worth of long sleeve shirts. In what situation would he need more than that?
shirts
That’s what I ended up keeping. Here is a photo of the shirts I gave away.
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The pile on the left is all shirts to donate!

2. PANTS. Next, I was on to the pants drawer. Let me start by saying my son has an opinion about pants. Mostly he finds them unnecessary, but after losing every argument about why undies should count as pants, he has some rules, people.
Rule number one: No buttons. Don’t ask.
Rule number two: No “cold pants.” Cold Pants are the adorable track suit pants. He has four such suits and he avoids them like the plague. #nocoldpants
Rule number three: I will choose between pants and shorts. Not Mommy. Not Daddy. Not the weather. ME.
So yeah, I’m not fighting it. I took all his adorable track suits, , all khakis and jeans save 2 pairs of each for dressing up or cold weather, and I packed them up to give away.

3. JAMMIES. I picked out just enough favorites to line the bottom of the drawer. This way, he can pick out what he wants without making a messy drawer.
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4. OTHER. In the bottom drawer, I kept two sweaters, two zip hoodies, and his beloved West Point sweatshirt. He mostly wears his spiderman hoodie everyday anyway… the rest are to tide us over in colder weather or laundry day.
5. SOCKS AND UNDIES. No reduction here. If you have a 3 year old boy, this needs no explanation 😉
And that was my adventure with my son’s clothes! How do you feel about the numbers here? Too many items? Too little? How many clothes items does your child need?

Ladies and Gentlemen…. the hubby is IN!!!

My husband has been on board with this minimalism thing since day one. Every time I bring minimalism to another area of our life, he is my biggest supporter and cheerleader. But until recently, he has never initiated a project himself. But the other day, something new happened!

There I was, sitting in my living room, giving the kids some snuggles while we watched a movie. My husband was making a snack in the kitchen. He open the knife drawer, rummaged around for what he was looking for. Then he stopped. And stared. And then he said,

“Babe… do we really need all these knives?”

Guys. I got a liiiittle too excited.

I practically jumped off the couch and said, “NO! NO WE DO NOT!” And danced into the kitchen for my first husband-initiated decluttering project.

In case you need to get at your own knife drawer, here is a little inspiration:

1. First, we took everything out of the drawer. Yes, that is all from ONE DRAWER.
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2. Then we pulled out the keepers.
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After I took this photo, we reevaluated. Do we little need those useless little corn thingies? NOPE. Do we really need three bottle openers? Actually, yes. One will be installed outside on the patio. The silver one is the one we actually use. And then, you will notice the USMA opener. It’s musical, people. Remember my post on keeping only what you need, use, or love? Yeah, well to say my husband loves hearing “On Brave Old Army Team” and watching the kids march around while sing the Army theme song every time he opens a beer is an understatement. It stays. Remember, we are creating a minimalism that works for us. 🙂

3. Next, we wiped out the drawer and put the keepers back. Check out what is still left on the counter!
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4. We put the rest into a box for our next trip to Goodwill!

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It’s so great to have a partner in this journey. I am one lucky lady!
Have a great night everybody!

Kids’ Art Corner… Decluttered!

If you ask my five-year-old what she wants to be when she grows up, she will usually tell you she wants to be an “Astronaut Artist.” If she can’t be outside playing with her buddies, you can almost find her inside at her beloved art table.

I used to go to great lengths to organize this well-used part of our home. I put two bookshelves there to hold toys and puzzles, and bought a large plastic bin for paper, art supplies, and coloring books. I collected all the stickers, markers, crafts, etc and found homes for them tucked somewhere in the art corner. Despite all my organizing efforts, this little corner was basically in shambles every night. This has especially been true every since my 3-year-old discovered the joys of “making confetti,” with his tiny scissors. I just repeat to myself… “HesdevelopinghisfinemotorskillsHesdevelopinghisfinemotorskills….”

The other day I found myself in the rare circumstance of being home alone for a couple of hours, so I decided it was time to bring minimalism to this little corner of our world.

First, I took everything off the shelves and out of the drawers to get my head around what I was dealing with here. As I emptied the drawers I found all the art supplies my kids had lost over the past few months, along with a bunch of random junk. Noted. As usual, there was just TOO MUCH STUFF and it was keeping my family from enjoying this area as much as they could.

Then I used the same strategy with the art corner that I used with my jewelry drawer.

1. Pick out the keepers. I started by picking out the really good stuff that my kids love AND use frequently. There were a handful of puzzles, white and construction paper, markers (each checked to make sure they are not dried up), crayons, scissors, gluesticks, and a small set of blocks.

What was left on the table was this:
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What. Is. This. Stuff.

2. Toss the rest. Whenever I am confronted with a pile of stuff like this, I freeze. It’s daunting to imagine putting each of these random pieces away. But then I remembered, I’m not an organizer anymore, I’m a minimalist. So I checked over this pile one more time for keepers, got an empty box, and I took my arm and swept the entire pile into the trash. It was glorious!

3. Create a functional space. Next I put away our seriously reduced art supplies. I made sure that the kids can access everything easily and put it away themselves easily. I got rid of so much rarely used stuff that after putting away the good stuff, this the storage that we no longer need:
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4. Admire! When the Littles got home, I immediately took them over to their art corner. My daughter gasped when she saw it and said, “I love it! I can SEE ALL MY STUFF!” She knows I threw the rest away and she couldn’t care less. Even my 5 year old immediately saw that her beloved art corner was so much better with all the clutter out of the way.
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Isn’t that amazing! Woohoo!
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Turns out my kids don’t need a million half-completed dollar store crafts. They need the basics. They LOVE the basics. And my husband and I love NOT picking up the art corner every night. Except, of course, the occasional confetti 😉
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