A Solution for Floppy Boots -- plus, a clean closet.

One good result of the recent polar vortex is that I've tried to combat my winter-weary-blahs with small, productive house projects.  I've brought color indoors with crepe paper orbs in my daughters' bedroom.  I've made versatile, easy, and inexpensive wood hoop wall art.  I've organized my laundry room.

Admittedly, these DIY activities are merely distractions to keep me from doing what I actually want to be doing when temperatures plunge into single digits, which is to lazily alternate between sleeping and eating my body weight in carbs.

Regardless, I pressed on to finish the final task on my to-do list: cleaning my closet.  My husband, good sport that he is, agreed to weed through his clothes alongside of me, and together we purged the items that have passed their prime. 

Four bags, which are destined for Goodwill, stand as a testament to our success.  It's a closet veni, vidi, vici.  Take that, outdated garments.  We came, we saw, we conquered.

In addition to creating more space along the clothes rod, I finally solved the problem of floppy boots.  If you own tall boots that slump when you'd prefer them to stand, you know what I'm talking about. 

For one pair, I repurposed short segments of a pool noodle that my daughters had destroyed this summer. 

For my second pair of boots, I simply broke down a shoebox into two sections and duct-taped them into rolls.  You could achieve the same results by rolling up magazines or newspapers and securing them with a rubber band, or fortifying empty paper towel or wrapping paper tubes.

Simple as pie.

Of course, my daughters entered the closet as I was getting dressed one morning and immediately noticed the pool noodles and cardboard rolls, which to them had nothing to do with boots and everything to do with an invitation to battle. 

The resulting skirmish spilled from the closet into the bedroom, spanned the terrain of hallway and staircase, and involved much shouting and a few tears.
Like I said: closet veni, vedi, vici

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Organizing Places You Use the Most. (Hey there, laundry room.)

Every woman I know has one domestic task that she'd readily give up if she magically got a free pass for life.  (Try this sometime.  Ask your friends to share their least favorite chore, and they'll spit out an answer so quickly it's as if they've been waiting their entire adult lives for someone to have posed the question.)

What would I give up?  They'll respond, eyes alight with even the flicker of such a far-fetched idea becoming reality.  Oh, cooking dinner, hands down!

Or, depending on the person, they'd swear off cleaning bathrooms, or ironing, or doing laundry.  Especially doing laundry, it seems.  Laundry, when loathed, is loathed with the intensity of a thousand burning suns.

Now, no haters for this admission, but I've never minded doing laundry.  (I mind other lesser tasks instead, like the entire bath process for my children.  It's a wonder they're ever clean.)  But laundry, I can handle.

Part of my peace with laundry is simply that I'm blessed to have a house with a laundry room, rather than lugging clothes to a laundromat.  It's a luxury I sometimes forget I even have, but it's huge.  On top of that, I've organized this space so it's functional and organized, which leads me a few tips for you today.

1) Look for secret storage.  Most laundry rooms aren't large. (I can touch opposite walls with my extended hands when I stand in my laundry room, and trust me, I don't have a significant wingspan.)  Given this, I'm always on the lookout for better places to store products.  Hanging bottles instead of cluttering shelves with them has worked wonders for me.

2) Add storage where you can.  Is there room for more storage in your laundry room?  There might be.  Think about creating high shelving for off-season items or squeezing in a small shelf directly above the dryer.  I noticed an empty space last year, mounted this wire shelf, stood back, admired my work, and wondered, "Shelf, where have you been my whole life?"  It's that nice.

3) Toss the laundry cap in with the wash.  Are you tired of gunky, sticky laundry caps?  Simply measure the correct amount of detergent and drop the entire cap into the washing machine with your clothes.  Pull out the clean cap when you transfer the clothes to the dryer, and voila, no more gunk.

4) Remember who you're serving.  This might sound obvious.  Of course you're serving your family as you're painstakingly turning EVERY. SINGLE. PIECE. of their clothing right-side-out, or plucking Kleenex from their pockets, or realizing that your child goes through an ungodly amount of daily wardrobe changes.

This is the nature of service.  We give of ourselves -- our time, our energy, our focus -- to care the ones we love.  In this vein, I've hung a picture of those little imps who generate the most laundry directly across from the washer and dryer.  Just take a look at them.


Yeah, I'll serve those little ones, and this small visual reminder is helpful when I'm tempted to throw in the towel.  (Yes, the pun is entirely intended... and entirely awful, as puns tend to be.)

If you have any tips for making laundry an easier process, feel free to share!

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A Heaping Serving of Cold, with a side of cold.

I'm growing weary with headlines such as "Relentless Surges of Arctic Air Continue." Despite its depressing content, this map made me chuckle.  (Let it be known that it was a shallow, it's-really-not-that-funny kind of a chuckle.)

We're in it together, at least.  (Readers in New England, how are you fairing?  Midwesterners, you're made of tough stock, but are you hanging in there?  My Southern peeps, are you holding up?)

I've brainstormed a list of good things that come from an arctic blast:
  1. It could be useful for smoking cessation.  I mean, if I had to take my cigarette break outside on a day that was negative five degrees, I'd consider breaking up with my pack-a-day habit.
  2. It tests the mettle of men who insist on only wearing shorts in the winter.
  3. It alters perspective enough to make a 30 degree day feel downright comfortable and a 70 degree day, heavenly.
It's a pretty short list, admittedly.

What's the weather like where you are?  Can you add to my list or give tips about how you're coping with the cold?  (Better yet, anyone want to go on a vacation with me?)

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Wood Hoop Wall Art (easy and delightful)

On a quest to bring the sunshine indoors and add art to my bedroom walls, I recently completed a simple project.  I think you'll love it, but before I explain I must confess something: I can be cheap.

I don't like spending money on things that I deem to be superfluous, yet I love decorating, which admittedly, could be considered a superfluous expense.  This paradox has encouraged me to find inexpensive DIY projects that a regular person can pull off, which led me to this easy wood hoop wall art.  It's lovely, no?

To duplicate the look, first buy wood hoops at a craft store.  I chose three that would be sizeable enough to look significant on a wall: 10 inches, 12 inches, and 14 inches, respectively.  The hoops cost between two and three dollars each, and you easily can score an even better deal with a coupon.  (I nabbed these for 40% off, in fact.)

Then paint each outer hoop with an acrylic paint of your choice.  I opted for a neutral gray to compliment the yellow fabric I had selected.

This next picture shows my hand during the painting process.  Primarily, I've added it so you can check out my fingernails.  Lately, I've noticed a nail polish shade that's perfectly light and airy, pale and fresh, professional yet fun.  Turns out, this is not that color.  This color resembles silly putty. 

Moving on.

After the painted hoops dry, you can secure your fabric into them.  A yard of this chevron provided more than enough.  (Fabric stores often have sales or coupons, too, and I snagged this swatch for just $3.00.)

Once the fabric is secured, cut around each hoop, leaving a small edge to pull the fabric more tightly if necessary. 

The final step is simple: hang these fabric-filled delights on the wall.  They're so light that I used a simple tack nail.  If you're using three hoops like I did, stagger the layout so the design doesn't resemble the Mickey Mouse icon.

And that's it.  All told, including the fabric, hoops, and paint, the project cost me under ten dollars, and it was completed in two brief installations: painting one day, adding the fabric the next.

Craft on, my friends, craft on.  And come back again soon, would you please?  I'm still on a little kick of decorating and organizational tricks, and I'd love to have you join me!

Check out Then I Became a Mother: humor, hope, and encouragement for moms!  Available in both Kindle and paperback editions.  Enjoy!

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Bringing Color Indoors (especially when winter doesn't end)

Typical for January in Pennsylvania, it's snowy and bitterly cold these days.  Winter generally doesn't bother me, yet I'm starting to itch for life beyond the gradient hues of white, gray, and whitish-gray.

Plus, my parents currently are vacationing in Florida, and I anticipate several phone calls interspersed with adjectives like colorful and lush and nouns not part of our Pennsylvania vernacular like lanai and bougainvillea.

Until this bright lushness migrates north, I'm inviting as much color as possible into my own environment and getting a jump-start on spring cleaning.  Yesterday, I began with the bedroom belonging to my two youngest daughters -- de-cluttering here, organizing there.

Then, I hung crepe paper decorations from the ceiling, which created an instant celebratory vibe that transcended all of the white, gray, and whitish-gray that has been happening outside.

The girls were delighted by the simple addition.  Plus, if I get desperate, I can imagine that those hot pink poufs are actually the center of the sun radiating warmth. 

Please don't get technical and say, "But Robin, we only have one sun and you have three orbs of fluffed tissue paper, so your explanation doesn't line up scientifically."  And please don't point out that these decorations eventually will collect unsavory amounts of dust, because I've already imagined the aftermath of good-intentionally dusting them with the attachment on my vacuum cleaner.  (I've got three words for you: tissue paper carnage.)

No, just hold those thoughts quietly to yourself and let a girl dream unscientifically and without regard for dust.

While we're at it, please let me invite you to visit here these next several days.  I'm feeling inspired, and I have several decorating, organizing, and "life hack" tidbits to share with you in my upcoming posts.

I'm spreading the sunshine, friends.  Just spreading the sunshine.

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The Slow Return to Health

I thought that my family was recovering from the flu-like symptoms that walloped them this past week.  Fevers broke, coughs lightened, fewer Kleenex filled our waste paper baskets, and feisty irritation between siblings picked up again, which always is a sure sign of feeling better.  Nobody randomly fell asleep in their chairs while watching TV, reading, or just looking at things, either, so the sensation that I was living in a nursing home lifted.

The older two girls returned to school mid-week.  Early that same morning, my husband got a call that our five-year-old had thrown up during gym class.

Now I wasn't there, but considering that none of her symptoms prior (or latter) had been stomach related, I imagine that gym class went something like this: the exercise caused coughing, and extended coughing caused gagging, and extended gagging caused, well, you know, and all of this combined caused poor Mr. George, the janitor, to mop up a puddle of my daughter's tossed cookies while the rest of her classmates were safely ushered to the opposite side of the gym to continue their rousing game of barnyard tag.

Needless to say, she didn't go back to school the next day.  You never return anywhere the day after you publicly vomit.  There's an unwritten rule about that, I think.

Today I thought that our normal schedules would resume.  Then I noticed the school district's calendar magneted to the side of our refrigerator, and how the box for Friday, January 17 was marked with a stripe, indicating "no school" for some undefinable reason.  (Inservice?  Record keeping? Spite?)

I've spent the bulk of the afternoon washing all the towels, sheets, blankets, and stuffed animals that have been touched, slept with, potentially drooled upon, or perhaps just looked at by offending germy family members.  The task has been liberating.

Even if we haven't had a fighting shot at a regular schedule in weeks due to holidays, artic snow days, and illness, the family is on the mend, and that's what matters. 

Plus, Monday is a new day.  We'll get there.

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And Boldness Arises

For days I've been cringing when I see wadded up Kleenex on the floor, flinching when a child coughs on me, or otherwise doing that internal eeeby-jeeby dance when I consider the teeming germs that have converged on every surface of my home.

Yet another day has passed with my family languishing in various stages of sickness around me while I remain healthy, and I'm beginning to feel bold.  It's like I'm protected in a bubble of immunity, like I'm a superhero who's testing the limits of my powers of superior health, like I'm ready to venture forth and lick a public water fountain because germs can't touch me. 

It's getting crazy here.  I'm living on the edge.

I'm also paring down our menus, as members of my family arrive at the table without much appetite.  Unless they think they still have an appetite, like the youngest child who stared longingly at my grilled cheese sandwich during lunch even though she barely had touched her own peanut butter and jelly.  When I gave her half, she took one small bite, fingered the rest of the sandwich, laid it down on her plate, and announced that she was full.  And so it goes.

When they're capable of being upright, we play rounds of Parchesi and Racko and Sequence for Kids (so many rounds!) and read storybooks (so many books!) as stuffy little heads rest on my shoulders (so many sniffles!).  When those options are exhausted, they watch cartoons (so many episodes!) as I look over my teaching notes or read one of the books I just picked up from the library.

Even though nothing exceptionally noteworthy is happening in my house these days, I feel immensely important.  My purpose as caregiver is clearly defined. 

I'm the last one standing, after all, and boldness arises from that, too.

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Hanging Tough

Four out of five members of my family are now sick with deep coughs, sore throats, stuffed noses, and pounding heads.  Against all odds given the number of times I've been coughed on by children who possess uncanny aim and incomplete covering-their-mouths skill, I still cling to complete health.

According to my husband, I am "hanging tough," which automatically conjured deeply-buried recollections of awkwardly dancing and singing New Kids On the Block songs during recess in fifth grade at the tennis courts behind my middle school.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, OH!  I'm hanging tough.

Still, I'll take it.  On this January day, I hope that you're hanging tough, too.

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Down and Out

Title: Down and Out

Subtitle:  In an internal war, a mother wonders what is worse: gazing at the growing pile of used tissues, or picking them up herself as the child lies feverishly on the couch. 

The Antidote for Envisioning a Different Life

Maybe it was an episode of House Hunters where real estate in Texas was ridiculously inexpensive, or that my husband recently was asked to draft his five-to-ten year goals for work, or that I, a generally change-resistant person, occasionally itch to invite sweeping alterations into my life beyond getting a drastic haircut, but something triggered a subtle, niggling discontent in my here-and-now routine.

I find myself wondering what else is out there, dwelling on what I don't have.  I feel bored, trapped in monotony, locked in a small town.  I recall George Bailey as he stood on the platform and the train whistle blew, mourning the adventures he wasn't having beyond his sleepy Bedford Falls.

Do you ever feel this way?

It happens to me every so often, and I've learned that it's useful to let myself experience the longing while grounding myself back into the immediate.  Yesterday, a simple fix came when I piled on the couch with my girls and read the stack of books they brought my way.  Acts as simple as turning pages, feeling my the weight of my youngest daughter's head as she leaned on my shoulder, and sharing a blanket made me focus on my own life. 

As I was reading storybooks, I was doing exactly what I was meant to be doing.

It's a wonderful life, really.

So, once again, I find myself asking God what life He envisions for me as I live out these days.  That's the life I want to embrace, whether I'm hidden or well-known, whether I perceive my impact to be small or large, whether the road is difficult or smooth, or whether others are asked to travel different, more glamorous paths.

After all, If I'm aligned with God, I won't miss the life I'm supposed to be living.

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When You're Surprised that You're the Adult

I'm sitting cross-legged on the kitchen floor, right there on the linoleum, eating an apple, when my oldest daughter walks by. 

"Why are you on the floor?" she asks.

I point to the slant of sunshine streaming through the sliding glass door.  "Because I want to get some sun." (Vitamin D deficiency, I raise my fist against you, even in the midst of winter in central Pennsylvania.)

She nods, says okay happily, and continues on her way.

I take another bite of my apple and wonder whether she'll retain a memory of me eating lunch on the floor, whether this image will resurface years from now when she's an adult who feels a bit trapped inside of a house on a bitterly cold winter day. 

Then another question, one not foreign to me, settles into my consciousness: How did I become the adult in this scenario?

The brunt of this question hits me several times each year.  A moment comes when I look at my children like I've never seen them before, like they just sprang up, and I wonder how it came to pass that I'm the one in charge.

On occasion, this also happens in my professional life, like one moment last semester when I was writing on the chalkboard and turned to face my college students with the crazy realization that I wasn't one of them.  For a bizarre minute, I found myself talking and engaging with the class, but as if having an out-of-body-experience, my internal dialogue only could process how I was the person in front of the room, not just in one of the seats, and how, oh how, did this happen?

Yes, I'm still surprised that I'm an adult some days, which makes me wonder when -- if ever -- will I feel as if I've grown up?

Until I feel like an adult, I'll keep eating my lunch while sitting cross-legged on the floor when the sun shines and the mood strikes.  And hopefully when that realization of adulthood settles firmly, I'll keep doing so, too.

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Behold, I Make All Things New

After pushing through this morning's sleepiness, one of the first thoughts that crossed my mind was how each new year is a gift.  Each year we're given the chance to start again.  It's fresh, full of hope, ripe with possibility.

For some of us, we need a fresh wind of hope, especially if 2013 was marked by challenges or hurts.  I have friends who have experienced the gut-wrenching unexpected loss of a child and a young husband, friends who have dealt with the sorrow of a miscarriage, friends who have coped with extended unemployment. Even if your hurts weren't as severe, last year might be tainted with the ache of disappointments, broken relationships, embarrassment, or failed goals.

For others, 2013 rolled by neutrally -- more blah than bad.  When you think about the year, nothing stands out: neither traumas nor triumphs, just the status quo of everyday life.  Nothing was exceptionally wrong, but perhaps nothing was exceptionally right, and you're left feeling bored or unfulfilled.

Still others might have had a banner year that was full of joy and good experiences, memories that you savor, goals that have been met, and relationships that are thriving.

Regardless of last year, this is a new day.  This is a new year.  God already has surveyed the landscape of the days that lie ahead, and He knows what we'll face.  He knows the uphill climbs we'll encounter, the highs we'll experience, the lows that will bring us to our knees. 

I'm so comforted to know that God will walk with me through 2014, as always.  I'm not alone.  This morning I prayed that I'll see my circumstances, whether good or be bad, as factors that will build my character and draw me closer to Christ.  If God is working to make me more like his Son, then nothing can happen to me this year that escapes his notice.  Nothing can separate me from his love. 

The God of yesterday, today, and forever tells us, "Behold, I make all things new."

It's a do-over, a calendar flip, a fresh opportunity, and I'm looking forward to the journey.  Happy New Year, my friends.

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