Saturday, December 31, 2011

Decluttering my 2012 Resolutions

Just like last year, I started out with a long list of things I wanted to accomplish in the New Year.  Blame it on being a slightly perfectionist list-maker, but I do like resolutions. Ah, a plan for the new year! A chance to cross things off and become a better version of oneself. Or just get the house organized. Whatever.

It's almost 2012. So here we are again, and I have another long list of things I want to do. Some of them sound familiar, because I didn't really get them done last year. Learning to sew. Take better pictures. Be more relaxed with the kids. Oh, and then there is the basement. Sigh.

Then there are the ones I saved for this year. Like exercise. Take better care of my garden. Bake my own bread. Oh, and countless DIY and organizing projects. Because even I realized I wasn't going to get them done in 2011.

There are two problems with this list.

For one, I am never going to get it all done. I'm going to start too many things at once and at the end get none of them really done. Or just a few.

Also, exactly why am I doing these things in the first place?

I'm sure it would be nice to sew. Stuff for my kids. A library book bag. One of a kind tees. Pillows. Handmade little pouches for their Advent calendar.

There's this image I have in my head. Of me, making things, growing things, cooking things and having fun with my kids, all the while taking great photos of it and posting on my blog. You know, creating all those nice, happy memories.

In reality the kids are probably going to remember not the handmade pouches but mommy being busy all weekend and fighting with her sewing machine.

As you may have noticed, I am slightly crazy. Ok, a lot (just ask my poor husband). Once I make a plan, I want to stick to it. And no, I am not good at being spontaneous. I want to get things done. Cross stuff off my list. So if there is a long list of home projects I was planning on doing, sitting around at the playground for an afternoon or even a Saturday morning feels sort of like a waste of time. There you have it, I admit it.

Just let that sink in for a minute. I set goals for myself because I want my home to be a nice place and end up making my home a stressful place because I obsess over things that didn't get done.

Uhmmm, something is wrong here, don't you think?

So, I made a new list. And this one is entirely preliminary, because I have signed up for Aby's class, starting Thursday. I have a feeling I might be updating this list. Anyhow, here it goes for now:

1) Have more fun with my kids
They are 5 and almost 3 years old. Big brother will start school in Fall. And I don't know if it's the age, some development stage, being one of the big boys at preschool, his parents being too busy with and worried about work, a to-do list obsessed mommy or little brother getting more attention due to his age - maybe it's all of the above, but things haven't really been smooth lately. Yeah, I know, kids are loud and messy and all that. But when the entire family feels worn out from the weekend on a Sunday night, something is going wrong.

And when I think about what would really make my day, make my year and make all of us happier, then it's have more fun with the kids. At the end of the day goals are about making things better, right?

So the plan for 2012 is to have more fun. Start really enjoying each other's company again. Spend some time at the playground every week. Get some fresh air every day. Get ready for school.Practice being quiet for 15 minutes. Do at least one day trip as a family each month. Let the kids help more with household chores, like cleaning their room, emptying the dishwasher, help cooking, do laundry. Ok, the last one might not be so much about having fun, but about doing things together. Instead of mommy being grumpy because she has to clean and pick up toys and sort laundry while the kids are acting up because mommy doesn't play with them.

2) Take better care of myself
When you become a mother, you quickly learn to ignore your own needs. Sleep? Ha! Take a shower? Luxury. A healthy, balanced and warm meal? Hmmm, not unless some leftover pasta plus a half a banana counts. Fashion? Oh come on, that's for those mommies who will show up at the playground wearing high heels.

I could continue. Except that at some point, kids get older. You finally get to go to the bathroom when you need to and not when they finally finish nursing (and wake up from the nap that they took right after nursing, still on your lap, of course). You could cook something that takes no longer than 30 minutes to prepare. You could take some care how you dress. You could moisturize. Drink enough water. Excercise (and no, I'm not taking about vacuuming against that endless supply of crumbs here).

Except that, at least in my case, other things seem more important. After all, you're used to neglect yourself. And at least for me, I sometimes really need to see a result of what I'm doing. Yeah, I know, healthy and happy kids, paycheck, ... yeah. That's wonderful. But I need some more, I want something to show at the end of the day/week/month/year. Something that lasts longer than the two nanoseconds the house stays clean after I've spent two hours getting it clean. So I write those to do and goal lists. And ignore everything else just to cross something off that list.

Well, just like I'm putting my family first in 2012, I'm also going to put myself somewhat higher on the list. And not just because that could help with achieving goal No 1. But because I deserve more attention that a closet in need of cleaning and decluttering. Period.

So in 2012 I plan to take better care of myself. Sleep. Eat right. Moisturize. Excercise, and that's the hardest part. I hate sports. I'm really, really bad at it. And I don't like things I am bad at. But my shoulder hurts so much I can't sleep on it and my belly, oh let's just not talk about it. My shoulder at least was much better the few weeks that I actually stuck to the excercise DVD my coworkers forced me to do gave to me because they care.

But as I said, I need something more. So I'm adding two things here for my creative well-being, too: Photography. And blogging.

I've always loved photography. It helps me save all those family memories and I love doing our annual photo books. So in a way I am sneaking in one of my previous goals here. But I do believe that mastering my camera and shooting in manual mode will be an accomplishment that helps me feel really productive. Also, I want to save the memories of the fun with my kids now and not five years later. And I want to get better at that.

I've also come to love blogging. Where else do you meet people who are as crazy? Who else would listen to me ramble on and on about my goals for 2012?! See.

Besides, don't those productivity experts always say that making yourself accountable helps in achieving goals? See.

I might combine the two and do a photo project. I don't think I can manage a 365 one just yet, but maybe a weekly linkup like Rebecca's {simple things sunday}. 

And that's it. No more goals for 2012.

Well, almost.

I made a list. Of all the things I would like to do. I call them bonus goals. If I cross something off that list, good. If not, that's ok too. Here it goes, and yes, it will sound familiar:

  • bake bread. I really want to try Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.
  • keep spending less, plus track spending.
  • live with less, or that William Morris quote about nothing in your home that you don't think is beautiful or useful that's been going around blogland. I would love to do this as a project the way Jules from Pancakes and French Fries did, but, well, see above. So I'm just keeping this in mind, because even if I'm not trying, things will come into this house, things will need to be cleaned out and dealt with.
  • garden. One of my flower beds needs some serious re-arranging. And I didn't garden a lot on 2011, but I miss it. Who knows, maybe this is going to be something fun to do with the kids. If not, then maybe the garden will have to be neglected for another year. Oh well.
  • some of what feels like a gazillion DIY and home projects. Declutter the closet, reorganize my newly acquired craft supplies, get a desk for big brother's room... Chances are, some of these are going to be done. But I am not making this a priority. I don't need to, because I love these projects and I know that I'll fit some of them in anyway. But my focus will be something else this year.
  • make progress on the basement. Ugh. 
  • try new recipes. Try things I wouldn't normally do, like this flatbread. 
  • cook more from the cookbooks I already own and the recipes I've already clipped.
  • clean out the pantry and freezer. Use up what's there before buying more stuff.
  • learn to sew. At the very bottom of the list.

I actually look forward to my goals. I can't wait to get started. The only things I know will be hard to get into a habit will be excercising (oh how I hate that), not yelling or snapping at the kids at the end of a long and trying day (suggestions, anyone?????), putting myself before my to do list oh, and adding things to the list.

Do you make resolutions? I'd love to hear.

Have a wonderful start to the new year!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Not a perfect Christmas. But a good one.

So we did have a good Christmas after all. Even my husband, who had been hit hardest with what turned out to be the hand foot mouth disease, recovered enough to at least enjoy Christmas Eve celebrations.

Still, it felt like I was troubleshooting all week. Going from one doctor's office to the next, with pharmacies inbetween. Taking temperatures, cooking pudding, buying the traditional red cabbage frozen instead of making it from scratch and trying to survive on too little sleep. Every time we had one thing taken care of or it seemed to get better, there was the next thing. Like my last post where I was still glad everyone's fever was down and it was no strep throat. Next day it turns out it's the hand foot mouth disease. Day after it turns out I've got it, too. Oh well.

Luckily I didn't get it nearly as bad as my poor husband did. And the kids were pretty much fine, too.

We decorated the tree the weekend before, when little brother was already running a fever. Little did we know...

Our clay snowflakes got some last-minute glitter and looked great on the tree.

And then came Christmas Eve:

My husband trying to dodge the camera. Can't blame him.

Big brother opening little brother's sibling gift. He loved it.

The brothers made thermos travel mugs for their dad. One of these days I'll show you pictures.

My table decorations. Just a couple of larch twigs, pinecones, leftover snowflakes and yarn-wrapped votive holders (can you tell I like yarn-wrapping these days?!). Not the most glamorous, but all I could muster,

Our cat (well, one of our cats I should say) checking out the presents under the tree. Hmmmm, this one looks nice.....

The brothers starting to pull out presents from the pile under the tree and trying to read the tags. This one turned out to be for dad.

Playing with grandpa is the best!

So we had a fun Christmas night after all, some nice food and best of all, the whole family was there. The kids loved their presents and have been playing with them ever since. But I was so glad I had been starting early and got most things ready. Some things never got done, but that's ok. Christmas isn't about being perfect, after all.

By the time we all have to go back to work and preschool next week, we should be all well again.

So tell me, how was your Christmas?


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Merry Christmas! I hope.

I had grand plans for this week. Do some final crafts. Make some candy for my dad and some Christmas chocolate for my father-in-law. Wrap some more gifts. Do some organizing. Post the recipe for the cranberry liqueur I'm giving my mom for Christmas. And a couple other things.

Oh, and relax. Yep, relax. Read Christmas books with the kids. Go for walks. Wait for snow. Drink hot chocolate.

Then came Monday night.

I got sick. And went to bed.

By the next morning we were all sick. Of course.

Oh well.

Fingers crossed, it seems to be getting better. Little brother is well. Big brother's fever is down and the strep test today was negative. I still hope they can go to the preschool Christmas party on Friday. And I hope that we'll all feel better for Christmas.

So no pics of the tree this week and likely no recipes or any other Christmas posts.

But I really wanted to pop in and wish you a very merry and healthy Christmas - and thank you for reading my blog. I just started out what seems like a few weeks ago and I am so amazed by the wonderful comments I get.

Thank you.

See you all in 2012!

Merry Christmas,

Saturday, December 17, 2011

{Handmade Christmas} Wrapping gifts. And wrapping some more.

I feel like I have been wrapping gifts for days now. And I'm nowhere near done. That's sort of funny considering I don't buy a lot of things and don't give that many things.

But we've made a lot of gifts this year. A lot.

And so I'm wrapping.

Small gifts for some friends (these are little notebooks and there one of the few things bought).

Cookies ready to be shipped - using paper cups bought at Ikea.

I love these boxes the post office had this year.

These took forever: the clay ornaments the kids and I made. I tied each one to a second smaller one shaped like a Christmas tree, and then tied the whole thing to a piece of cardboard. That got stamped and wrapped in cellophane, and again tied. With a tag. Sigh. But it did make a lot - enough to give to preschool teacher, friends, family and neihgbors. Love that.

 But as I promised, I did not make all my gift tags. So I printed these from ellinee. Oh I love them.

Used them to wrap my toffee (and no, I did not make a third batch).

And the Cranberry Vanilla Liqueur I still have to post about.

And of course my Spekulatiuslikör.

Plus some cranberry jam I got from reusing the cranberries that were left over after straining the liqueur.

I also wrapped lots of books, the bride & groom presents and a bunch of other things, and made little stamped paper bags for all preschool teachers, neighbors and friends. They each got a tag with Christmas wishes and I can use them to collect the goodies to give - from cookies to the memory game, dog biscuitstoffee, Spekulatiuslikör or felt brooches.

Now I'm exhausted. But I love sneaking a peak in my closet where all the goodies sit and wait to be given away next week. That's my favorite part. And I can't wait.

Now the only thing I need is some snow so the kids and I can take the sleigh like we did the last two years.

Feels like Christmas now, doesn't it?


Friday, December 16, 2011

{Handmade Christmas} Sibling gifts: DIY bookmarks

I start bookmarking DIY gift ideas early. Like September. Or earlier. This year I also wanted the kids to make small gifts for their grandparents, so I specifically looked for quick and simple things to do. Well, actually I always look for quick and simple projects. I don't really do well with complicated and fussy projects. I leave those to the pros.

Apparently I do well with complicated and fussy starts to my posts though.

Anyway. While looking for simple kid crafts, I came across an idea at Design Mom: Sibling gifts. I had never really thought much about that before. I'm happy if I manage to have the kids do something for their dad (which I'll share after Christmas), for their grandparents and maybe something small for their preschool teachers (last year we did cookies).

Sibling gifts? Really?

This is for those crafty moms who have all these supplies on hand and lots of patience and who don't get nervous at the thought of preschoolers with scissors, right?

But the idea stuck. No matter how hard I tried to ignore it and tell myself that I didn't have time for that, I kept coming back to it. You see, little brother doesn't fall asleep at night without mommy next to him. And since he's been in that in-between phase where they can neither do with nor without naps, I got quite a few nights on which it's taken him a little longer to fall asleep. Like an hour. Or an hour and a half. So as I'm lying there in his toddler bed (talk about comfort here), I try to focus on something that'll keep me from falling asleep. To keep my mind busy I go through party preparations or Christmas gift lists or projects to do around the house. Some of my best ideas come from those nights. Most nights I fall asleep though and make it downstairs by 9:30pm, still sleepy and cranky because I'm not going to get anything done anymore.

So one of those nights I came up with idea of making bookmarks. Big brother loves to read, and he's usually reading about five books in parallel. For some reason, regular paper bookmarks just don't live long around here. He has this pile of books next to his bed with everything from scrap pieces of paper, tissues (clean ones. I hope.) and torn bookmarks sticking out. 

This year, little brother will give him a set of shiny, all new and handmade bookmarks. And it was the easiest thing ever. Here's how:

I got a set of fingerpaints, which I was going to get anyway. Then I covered the dining room table with an old shower curtain and let little brother paint a plain sheet of white paper (not even cardstock, just plain computer paper) to his heart's content. Of course, the first color chosen had to be yellow.

We let it dry overnight, then I laminated the whole sheet and cut it into strips the way I thought it would go with little brother's design. Punch a hole, add some matching ribbon and - done. Originally I wanted little brother to help with the laminating, cutting and hole punching, but he got sick so I quickly did it myself while I was laminating the memory games

Meanwhile, big brother did a simple longsleeve tee for little brother, ironing on a purchased car applique. Yeah, I know, it's sort of lame. But it looks really cute and big brother was excited about using the iron (with me watching, or course). Originally I wanted little brother to do the same, because that was my first idea about sibling gifts. But then I had the bookmark idea. And when the tees I had ordered arrived, big brother's was the wrong one, they sent one with a print instead of the plain one ordered. So I sent that back figuring we'd just do little brother's.

Maybe I'll do something more elaborate with him for little brother's birthday in March. I'm thinking felt accessories for his stuffed dog. Ikea sells these really cute and cuddly stuffed dogs which big brother got for his birthday last year and the matching accessories for Christmas last year. This year, little brother got the same dog, but doesn't have anything to go with it. Maybe big brother and I can make a yellow collar or a cape or something. Or a felt version of the doggie biscuits. Hmmmm.....

See? This is why my to-do list is too long. I have too many ideas. And I can't keep myself from adding them to the list and trying to squeeze them in somehow because I think it would be so great and really, it's just this one little project... But I'm getting much better at just adding them to my inspiration file instead. So I'm bookmarking this for his birthday. And I'm not going to do any additional, dog-related felt projects for Christmas. Really. None.

Although it would be cute. And I have felt left over from these. And big brother could use some more practice with his scissors. And I got an email yesterday saying that the wrongly sent tee is being exchanged and the new (plain) one is on the way. Hmmmmmmm.... technically I could do that one AND one felt project, saving the other felt projects for later.

I'll keep you posted. Which of course I am not going to do because it's only one week until Christmas and I'm sticking to my strategies here .


Please tell me you can relate.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pass the milk, please: My favorite Christmas cookies

There is no Christmas without Christmas cookies. Or Plätzchen, as they’re called here. My mom makes about a million elaborate kinds. Every year in October and November I think I can compete. Of course I never have a chance. By the time I get two kinds done, she has made six. Oh well. So I leave the elaborate ones to my mom and focus on my tried-and-true recipes each year and only try out one or two new ones. Well, mostly I want to try new ones. I don’t always get around to them.

Fig swirls. My all time favorite.

Christmas cookies here are bakes with what seems to be a pound of butter for every 10 cookies. I’m exaggerating here (just slightly), but is it just me or is there a fundamental difference in Christmas cookies between the US and Germany? I’ve seen American recipes for vanilla crescents and all that, but what cracks me up is when they say that the cookies keep for like a week or two “in an airtight container”. 

I have no idea if the tins that I store my cookies in are airtight. I doubt it. But for some reason, Christmas cookies here have to be stored in good old-fashioned tins. And you make them weeks ahead of Christmas, because they need time to fully develop their flavor.

As you know, I don’t do well with complicated and fussy projects. And I don’t do well with complicated and fussy cookies, either. I need my cookies to be done once they come out of the oven – quickly coating them in some sugar is about the maximum I can get myself to do. Here’s my list of fuss-free cookies I do every year:

  • Fig swirls – dried figs and red wine cooked to make a jam-like filling for simple roll-up and cut cookies. Find the recipe here
  • Cinnamon swirls – if I get really lazy, I do the same dough as above and just sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar.
  • Pecan crescents – I love pecans, and these ones are flavored with honey and orange. The recipe is from here . It doesn’t make a lot so I always double it.

  • Plum streusel stars – this is about the fussiest cookie I do. It needs to be cut out (well, technically you could just roll it out, top it and bake it…) and gets a plum butter and streusel topping. I do love this recipe though, because to me this is the ultimate cookie dough, soft, buttery, a little sweet and fairly easy to handle.

  • Christmas cantuccini – tiny biscotti with almonds, hazelnuts and Christmas spices. I use this recipe but there are lots of them out there. Leave the spices out and it becomes suitable year-round. 

New this year were chocolate snow balls, a recipe suggested by my friend Alex. Half of our email exchange is about food and recipes. And I needed a chocolate recipe to add to my collection. I think I may have found it. It’s one of those recipes I’ve had all along as it’s from an old issue of a favorite magazine (you can find it here ). I had just never tried it – sounded too fussy for me. But Alex convinced me, so I gave it a try. Yum. I mean, the dough is mostly chocolate and butter, with some egg, sugar, flour and cocoa powder thrown in for good measure. Once chilled, you can form little balls that you coat in powdered sugar, sort of like making truffles. Except these are baked. 

I split all of the recipe steps and do a little here and a little there. Start with the dough, chill. Do the fig filling. Next day, roll out, spread the filling, roll up and chill again. Next day: cut and bake. That makes it more manageable for me – well, it would if I resisted the temptation to double recipes. Because in the end, it does make a difference if you’re baking three or six baking sheets. Oh well. One can never have too many cookies, right?

This is what the streusel stars look like when you drop a freshly baked batch. Oops.

What are your favorite recipes?