Home improvements

As we headed toward the new school year, I felt the need for a few new workspaces.  The more classes I outsource, the more the kids use the computer (read: internet) to connect with teachers and the outside world.  And because it’s the internet, the more we need safeguards to keep all of us accountable.

So first up: a different computer station in the study.

The old one set-up gave me a nice view from the computer station, but I couldn’t see what the kids were doing on the computer when I walked by.  This desk gives us two workstations and a nice view of the monitor from the hallway.

Second: a device charging station. (It’s the basket threatening to vomit cords onto the floor at any minute.)


Moriah asked for three things for her birthday: #3, a camera, #2 a phone, and #1 a LIVE cat. Well, I wasn’t up for #1, but #2 and #3 could be combined.  Sam made her write an essay on why she should have a phone. She wrote 3 pages, and (most of) her points were apt.  So we gave her a phone with a camera on it and a phone case that looks like a cat. [Compromise.] We quickly made a rule that all phones had to live on the main floor (away from the bedrooms) and then had to make them a place to live.  Hence, this charging station. For the most part, it’s working, although I had to put a good-sized hole in the backboard of the bookcase to fit the plug of the surge protector through it.

Third, we added counter stools to the kitchen.

We’d been looking for the right ones for awhile- since we moved in, really- and it turns out that Sam and I had completely different ideas of what we wanted.  In the end, we went with what was available.  And while there was considerable push-back from a certain child who really prefers to work on the couch, this has become an acceptable workspace.  See?


I’m calling this one a win.

Finally, I wanted a place for games that wasn’t the kitchen table so we could set up a game or puzzle and leave it up through a mealtime (or two).  Hence the coffee table.
image Have you been tweaking your interior environment lately?


Last week I wrote “rearrange furniture” on the white board “schedule” three different days.  It didn’t happen.  Sam came home from work and read it.  Alarmed, he said, “What are you rearranging?!”

When I was growing up, my mom rearranged the furniture regularly.  Moving things around gave a room a whole new feel, without the expense of buying something new.  I loved the feeling of a fresh room, but as an adult I haven’t been much of a  rearranger.

So Monday, I tackled the living room.  I didn’t quite know what I wanted except for “cozier” and “better for conversation.”

I started by pulling the couches away from the walls.  There was nine months (have we really lived here 9 months now?!) of dust, plus a few marbles and pencils, along the baseboards.  Alas, the lost library book wasn’t hiding there.  The boys helped me with getting the couches onto the rug and bringing my special chair back out of our bedroom.

The result:


Better for conversation.

I don’t know how long it will stay this way, but for now I’m happy with it. Especially since everyone wants to snuggle there and read books on the couch with me. That’s what we need on this cold, snowy day.

Spring Cleaning

Don’t get any funny ideas that this post is going to give you any tips on spring cleaning.  I am a half-hearted cleaner at best, and I certainly don’t have any  secrets to make cleaning any easier.  Except that telling you what I have done helps eliminate the feeling that it’s being done in a vacuum and no one will ever notice.  You may not have been to my house, but you can tell house much cleaner it is, right?  I thought so.

This post is a little spring cleaning Ebenezer: thus far have we come.  And if I don’t get any further, then at least we got this far.

  • We washed the outsides of the first floor windows.  They were much cleaner until it snowed.  Four more times.  (Five if you count today.)


  • I washed the floors.
  • I washed and hemmed the kitchen curtains.  The last time they were washed?  Um, maybe never.
  • I made a quilt for the porch.  (Does that count?)
  • The boys swept out the garage.
  • I dug 10,243 dandelions out of the ground (with roots).  And then two days later, a whole new crop popped up, and we dug those out, too.
  • We spackled holes that have been gaping open in the school room, the study, the upstairs hallway, SweetP’s room, our room, and M’s room.
  • We emptied the old strawberry bed (full of dead plants) and filled it with the happy baby plants that were populating the rocks around the bed.
  • We left 14 bags of leaves, sticks (all of which I had been “saving” to compost for the past three years) and garden trash for the garbage men.  Thank you, garbage men, for taking it all.
  • Sam touched up the living room paint.  Then a child who shall remain nameless rocked the rocking chair into the wall and scraped it off again.
  • Sam touched up the front porch paint.
  • Sam touched up the paint in the children’s room.
  • Sam repainted the front door.
  • I replaced the broken doorknob.
  • The kids emptied the front flower boxes, and I have repainted them and filled them with flowers that haven’t died yet.  (They carded me when I bought the spray paint! very exciting.)



  • I cleaned off the garden shelves in the garage.  (On the bottom were the hand weights I hadn’t been able to find for the last six years.)


  • I washed out the window tracks.
  • I fixed the kitchen faucet.  (That was a post in itself.)
  • I vacuumed the vents and dusted a ceiling fan. (Four more to go.)

Are you spring cleaning?  Please leave a comment to inspire me.  And remember that talking about spring cleaning makes it less like a tree falling in a forest.

I should have been a plumber

Okay, the title of this post is a little crass and self-satisfied.  But here’s what happened:

Our kitchen faucet stopped working.  For awhile (which could be as long as a year but who’s counting) the faucet has been finicky.  It would drip if you didn’t have it shut off just so.  I can work with that: I’m touchy myself sometimes.  But then one day it wouldn’t swivel laterally back and forth between the two sides of the sink any more.  And then a week later, the handle fell off into the sink.

Whoops.  Maybe I should have taken the first signs as signals to fix it before something bad happened.

I tried without success to reattach the handle.  It would stay, but then when you tried to use it, the handle fell into the sink with a loud crash.  On further examination, I realized the stick (which comes out of the ball and onto which the handle attaches) was snapped in half.  Aha!  I called Delta, and they mailed me the new part for free.  Meanwhile, the faucet handle was falling into the sink with a crash every 4.2 seconds.

The parts arrived; I called our usual plumbing company.  They sent out a technician I’d never met before.  He was young.  Like, maybe twelve.  After ten minutes of looking at the faucet, he declared it couldn’t be repaired and that I needed a new faucet.

But I have the parts sitting right there on the counter! I wanted to cry.  Nope, he said.  It’s done.  He had no idea why it wouldn’t swivel anymore, but it was dead.  Could not be resuscitated.  He could install a new faucet for me for only $750.  (Well, $698-824, depending on which model.)

Thanks for coming, I said.  I paid him for the service call and got him out of the house before he could see the steam coming out my ears.

What happened to fixing things?  I have noticed this trend in many areas.  Everything is cheaper to replace than to repair.  But that’s why the landfills are overflowing.  They’ve told me the same thing with my watch, a TV, a vacuum, a computer, shoes, a car…

Obviously, I had no confidence I could fix it myself, or I wouldn’t have called the plumber in the first place.  But I couldn’t do worse that he had.  If I couldn’t fix it, I’d just get a new faucet, right?  I pulled out the home repairs book and opened it to the faucet page.  I opened the little packages that Delta had sent us and tried to match up the pieces.

I have to say it was a good 12-15 tries before I had the water coming out the actual faucet and not from the joint of the handle.   But once I scraped off [what I think was] the old, disintegrated O-ring and replaced it with the new one, the faucet even starting swiveling again.  Almost like new.  Like a newly repaired faucet.  One that doesn’t have to go to the landfill yet.

Anyone need a drink of water?

P.S. The plumbing company is sending me a refund.

Channeling their Inner Cinderella

In their undying quest for more screen time, my children sometimes ask me for chores by which they can earn more time.


Last week the boys vacuumed, dusted and wiped the sticky stuff out of all my cabinets and drawers.


It took the better part of an hour and a half.  As far as I can tell, the only downside was that now I can’t find anything in my utensil drawer.


SweetP wanted to mop.  And who can blame her.


Rgwt so all sorts of chores on a daily basis, but I was pretty blessed by these two “extras.” Do you have any Cinderellas at your house?

Baby Steps on School Planning

Isn’t this guy awesome?  Look how his little leg pouches are totally full of pollen.  (Probably if I had allergies I wouldn’t appreciate this photo quite so much.)  I’m still learning how to use my new camera, and I found trying to get this shot in focus was hard, between my trembling hand and the wind moving the sunflower.

I’m starting to think concretely about school for this fall.  I think I’ve already bought most of what we need– I have our math (Singapore primary and NEM), our history (Genevieve Foster’s The World of William Penn and The World of George Washington), our writing (Classical Composition from Memoria Press), and a lot of our literature– already on the shelves.  I have a list of a few more titles I’d like to find used.

I’ve written out the actual expectations for what “a clean _______” looks like in hopes that it will minimize the number of times we have this conversation:

Me: Why are there dirty socks all over the floor?

Kid: Are there?

Me: Look down.

Kid: [looking down, apparently for the first time] Oh.  I didn’t know I was supposed to get the socks off the floor.

Now the expectations clearly state, “Put all dirty socks in the laundry basket.”  It may shift to, “But I don’t WANT to touch the dirty socks!” but at least they won’t be able to say they didn’t know they were supposed to clean them up.  I still want to revisit when we do our given chores, and I haven’t decided how frequently we’ll rotate.  Each child doing their certain chores for a month has worked well for us, so that they have a chance to work toward mastery before we switch… and it eliminates the protests from an interruption in the routine shortening one person’s turn at a dreaded chore, since they all think a month is way too long for ANY chore.

I’d still like to make a sewing area at the top of the stairs– my friend Ruth suggested it when I said I wanted a small space (so it wouldn’t spread everywhere) that wasn’t in my bedroom.  We have a small shelf atop some built-in cupboards, and I think it will be just right (or at least better than any other option we’ve tried) for making a sewing nook that is accessible to the kids.

Also, I’d like to find different baskets for our daily work.  And I need to make a specific plan for SweetP’s projects, so I’m not scrambling by Thursday wondering what I should set out for her for the day.  I’d like to have 2-3 activities planned for her each day in different combinations of content (like specific books to read, or a cooking project) plus skill (like cutting with scissors, or lengthening her attention span).   Any predictions on how long my grand preschool plan will last?  Two weeks?  A month?

What are you changing up for the fall?

New Paint!

Several years ago, Sam was overtaken by the urge to paint all the bedrooms over Thanksgiving.  You know how that it– craziness, and beauty, and chaos all at once.

Our first floor, however, is all soffets and open spaces and windows, and the idea of painting it has been overwhelming.  And yet, I need color.  Winter is the perfect time to add color, no?

This year, we were blessed by meeting a friend-of-a-friend who is a skilled house painter.  And while we were visiting (over the river and through the woods), he painted the living room, kitchen, school room, entry way and TV room.

Here are a few before photos:



Looks very naked without all those books, no?

You can’t imagine what I vaccumed up from the corners of this room…

In this next photo, I’d like you to pay extra attention to the line of paint the kitchen chairs have scraped off the wall there.
Yeah, attractive. That’s what I thought.

Think color.  Red.  Green. Bringing the outside in.
On Friday I’ll share after pictures… if I can manage to get any of the furniture back in its right spots.

Summer Changes

The change of seasons stirs so much in me.  On Memorial Day weekend, even though Sam was still out of the country and the kids and I had been staring each other in the face for days– or maybe because of all that– I decided to move the girls together into one bedroom.

We’d been planning this for awhile, and for many, reasons but we’d been putting it off.  We had great fun moving things around (so much fun that I don’t have photos of the process) and hanging SweetP’s things on the walls.  I hung up some hooks for dress up clothes.  I culled M’s clothes that were too small or the wrong season.  I put up the extra brace for the curtain rod.  All these things needed to be done, but I had been putting them off.

Then came the going-to-sleep.  And really, this was why I did it then.  Summer is when we travel as a family, and I wanted the novelty of sharing a room to wear off now, so that when we’re in a hotel or rental condo or tent, most of the work of teaching them to go to sleep in the same room will have been done.  But oh, those first few nights were painful.

Our neighbors had a garage sale where I picked up a second bookcase for the boys’ room.  You can see their different interests by the contents of their shelves.

J's shelves: books, swimming ribbons, certificates

O's shelves: Lego creations, a few books, space for MORE

But the major change is that moving the girls together gives us a guest room.  Wanna come and be our guest?

sewing corner in the guest room

And until you get here, I get to use the room as my creative space– where I can go and close the door during the kids’ rest time.  So I can spend just an hour– even an hour!– here an there being creative without putzing around doing laundry and picking up toys and doing dishes.  Sam calls it my “Virginia Wolf room… without the wolf.”

writing desk-- see the Jane Austen action figure?

What changes are you making for the summer?


Shoentropy: being the eleventy-first law of thermodynamics, that shoes will always go from a state or order towards a state of chaos.

Do you have this at your house? 

Shoes confound me.  Shoes for six people confound me.  You’d think we were all centipedes, for all the shoe chaos we have.  Boots for each of us.  Slippers.  Inside shoes.  Outside shoes.  Church shoes.  Play shoes.  DInosaur shoes.  It is an embarrassment of riches.

I had a metal shoe rack that I thought was going to be the answer– it held 18 shoes.  Until it fell apart, all the soldering giving way under the constant trauma of shoes on/shoes off that happens here all day long. 

I just moved to a 26-pocket vinyl shoe organizer… we’ll see how long it lasts.

If you have a better shoe-lution, let me know.

Organizing the School Room

I finally organized the schoolroom.  I forgot to take a before picture, so here’s a photo of some schoolroom fun, in which you can see the disarray in the bookshelves behind her. 

(Pay no attention to the seemingly happy toddler.  The messy bookshelves are truly driving her crazy.  You can see it in the angst-ridden art she creates because the room is such a mess.)

So one day, soon after my triumph in the basement, I decided I had enough gumption to organize the schoolroom.  I did great taking all the books off the shelves and lining them up against the walls in alphabetical order.  Then along came the children. 

Child#1:  “Wow– look at all these books!”

Child #2″ “Look, it’s like a library!”

Child #3: “Where’d all these books come from?”

Mommy: “Don’t touch those books– I’m putting them back in order!”

Child #1: “Can I help?”

Mommy: “Sure.”

Child #2: “Where does this one go?”

Mommy: “Guess what, you can’t help.  I just can’t handle your help right now.”

Child #3: “So what should we do instead?”

Mommy: “Go play.”

Child #1: “I’m bored.”

Somehow all the books got put in their respective spots, and then I couldn’t take it any more, and I called my friend to go do something.  I’m not even sure now what we did, but it didn’t involve any children tripping over a large pile of alphabetized novels and completing worsening havoc within my havoc.

By the time Sam came home, I had all the adult novels (adult meaning non Young Adult, not the other meaning of that descriptor) on the upper shelves and a shelf of Shakespeare and poetry alongside them.  Then I have a shelf of youth anthologies (like Lang Fairy Tales and Junior Great Books and mythology collections), and then YA novels.  Finally on the bottom shelves, I have picture books and some non-fiction: biographies, history, biology, astronomy and physical science, and then our Spanish books.  All the philosophy and religion went into the TV room shelves.  Also in the TV room is a bookcase with deep shelves where I have our old piano books, medical books and art books (which are always so big).

Over here you see what used to be our cubbies.  However, the cubby system quickly disintegrated into a cube for all the random papers my children were too pack-ratty to recycle, and after several days, each cubby would be vomiting papers onto the floor any time someone walked by.  Something Had to Be Done.  So I have co-opted these cubbies and made them our school book shelves.  I have all our books for next year here, plus some reference book we use frequently and are just too big for the regular shelves.

What was left was a disaster of all the papers and half-used workbooks and clippings and flashcards that I had stuffed into the shelves– now all over the table.  I couldn’t handle any more, and I had the piano teacher coming in 15 hours.  She’s a great teacher, but very neat.  There was no way I could let her see the mess.  So I begged Sam to put his fabulous organizational skills to work while I took the kids to swim practice.  When I came home, he had recycled about 20 lbs of paper, and had three tiny stacks for me to sort.

Thanks, honey.

So here it is.  Nobody touch anything in there till the fall, okay?