Getting Rid of the Toys

Posted by on Aug 31, 2014 in children's toys, motherhood, organization, simplify | 0 comments


For the first time since we moved in, I feel like our house is too small. Except that it’s not actually our house that too small – like everyone else, we just have too much stuff.

I’ve been wandering from room to room, wondering how I can possibly clean up when there is no room left to put anything, and then I cry because I’m 37 weeks pregnant and I am totally incapable of controlling my emotions in any way. But I press on and pick up a few things here and there before I collapse from exhaustion or discomfort or the emotional trauma of finding a sock in the pants drawer. Hurray for hormones.

Despite ending up on the couch 43 times a day, I feel compelled to keep working away at the clutter. Sometime in the next three or four weeks we are going to have a baby and at some point we will have to put him somewhere. And when I put him down, I want to be able to find him back.

Right now, I’m just not sure where that place is going to be.

When our second daughter, The Pixie, was born, it was easy to just squeeze her in to our home. We had less furniture and fewer toys and so adding a dresser here and a crib there wasn’t too difficult. That was three and a half years ago and now our space already feels tight without adding a fifth person to our home.

Our original plan had been to move the baby into the girls’ room, move the girls into my office and move my office contents into – well, wherever we could cram things randomly throughout the rest of the house.

It seemed perfectly reasonable, back when I was only half way through my pregnancy and far more useful. We started by moving things out of the office and finding them new homes, a task made far more complicated by the fact that I left my retail store on August 1, so while I was busy moving everything out of my home office, I was also moving in stock and supplies from the store.

Most everything ended up in the basement, which is normally my husband’s domain. He’s quite delighted that I’m spending more time there with him, but I have to admit that I miss having a space of my own for my things – and a room on the main floor so that I can keep an eye on my girls. And I think it goes without saying that no matter how nice and clean (and bright pink) the rooms are, basements are inherently spooky. Especially when you husband is working late at night and your cats have mastered the art of slowly opening creaky doors. Stupid cats.

So while I’m sad that I’ve lost my room, we’re pressing on to get the two rooms switched and ready. As of today, the room is mostly emptied of my stuff and it now features a bunk bed, a bookcase and a dresser. And not a whole lot more room for toys. Uh oh.

So where on earth are we going to put all the toys? The only answer is to declutter – to an extent that we’ve never decluttered before. And, luckily, nobody is more enthusiastic about decluttering than a pregnant woman in nesting mode.

Thankfully we’ve been at this decluttering thing for a couple of years now and I know that there are TWO areas that make the most difference, not just in the bedroom but for the entire house.

1) Clothing – paring down the clothing to about five outfits per child has worked wonders for us in the past and I regret straying from this system in the spring. With fewer clothes, we end up doing far less laundry overall because my kids can’t change 62 times a day, leaving their mostly-clean clothes on the bathroom floor where they inevitably get wet and smelly. Given that fall doesn’t start for another month, it’s a bit too early to put away the summer clothing for good, but I bet I can pack up half of it without anyone noticing. I’m certainly going to give it a try!

2) Toys – I wish I could pare down the toys to five per child, just like the clothing. In fact, I wish I had the guts to take away ALL their toys like this blogger did, but I’m afraid of offending the people who gave us the toys as gifts.

You would never know it by looking at my house, but I spend at least an hour just picking up toys every single day. You know what I’d rather be doing?


Right now, I can barely reach the ground but I know that if I don’t pick up that teeny little bright pink Barbie shoe, I am going to end up with it embedded in my foot by the time the day is done.

The Pixie is at three and she’s at that stage where a good part of her day is spent filling boxes, bags, treasure chests and buckets with a random assortment of trinkets, only to be dumped in a new location and refilled with other random trinkets. Yesterday when I was at the checkout desperately searching my purse for my debit card, I found six seashells, a headless Snow White doll and half a wooden cupcake. Not super helpful when you’re trying to pay for stamps.

I do get The Pixie to help me clean up, but sorting 52 different toy pieces into bins is a bit beyond the scope of a three year old. She’s more at the “put this pillow back on the bed” level of cleaning, and often only after a lot of encouragement.

Sometimes it’s just quicker to work on my own, and with that in mind, a couple days ago I put a movie on for the girls and tackled their old room by myself. Somehow I ended up in hormone-induced hyper-organizing mode. I didn’t plan it, it just happened.

mean, it all started innocently enough: I had accidentally bought a 3-pack of large-sized Ziploc baggies that were too small for what I needed but PERFECT for toys.

I grabbed a baggy for seashells because I swear one of these days I am going to step on one and it will break and the sharp pieces will stab the arch of my foot and I will teach the girls a variety of new four-lettered words. Just like they will learn in a few weeks when I go into labour.

Next, I started a second bag for game pieces. Suddenly I couldn’t stop myself. I sorted almost every single toy in the whole entire playroom and sealed them all up in baggies. I now have bags for plastic flowers, tiny plastic princess accessories, small pieces from the wooden doll house, letter blocks, magnetic blocks, magnetic letters, Barbies, Barbie clothes, My Little Ponies, My Little Pony clothes (????), tool sets, tiny wooden shapes, peg dolls, felted toy food, wooden toy food, plastic toy food, seashells, jewels, beads, three different doctor sets and more. We have 20 bags worth of toys that I was previously sorting out each and every day.

Sometime this week, after we have finished gathering orphaned pieces from around the house, these baggies will be sealed in a large Rubbermaid bin and that bin will be time-capsuled away in the laundry room, along with our out-of-season clothing and other toys that have already been forgotten.

Already the room feels lighter. You have to understand – this isn’t a punishment. I’m always amazed at how eager the girls are to play in their room once I’ve emptied half of the toys out of it. In fact, they even enthusiastically helped me sort out the toys on Friday night (it might have been a bedtime stall tactic) and they haven’t once asked to have them back. Now they have just their favourites and the room to enjoy them.

So what’s left over? A toy kitchen with some dishes, a metal tea party set and a wooden cupcake set; a lemonade stand that they use as a store, the wooden doll house with furniture and dolls in a bin underneath; a basket of dolls and stuffed toys (which I will be attacking next), the plastic princess dolls that my Pixie takes everywhere, and a chest of dress up toys (half of which I already emptied out a month or two ago). I figure that 30% of that stuff can be moved to their new room, 30% can find a home in our living room, and the rest will be moved to the basement.

As for the toys that have been sorted out, they’ll be pulled out again in six months or so, when we will decide 1) what needs to be kept for sentimental reasons, 2) what might be enjoyed again, and 3) what can be safely donated because no one has missed it in the least. This will be after two birthdays and Christmas have come and gone, and I suspect we’ll be more likely to add more toys to the bins rather than take any out.

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Cooking Whole Foods from Scratch

Posted by on Aug 24, 2014 in healthy living, home life | 0 comments

This post is not vegetarian-friendly.

I feel obligated to add that disclaimer because it seems that half of my friends have become passionate vegetarians or vegans over the past year or so. The other half of my friends have gone the other way and embraced a life dedicated to sourcing out the absolute tastiest meat from happy animals that are raised on spa-like farms where they are indulged with wild grass smoothies and deep-tissue massages each day of their blissful, pastured lives. Or something like that.

On any given day, my Facebook feed looks positively schizophrenic:

“Look at these cute baby lambs! Animals are our friends, not our food!”
“Look at these cute baby lambs! Is it too early to marinate them?”
“Look at these fresh vegetables from my garden! I can’t wait to eat them for dinner!”
“Look at these fresh vegetables from my garden! I can’t wait to wrap them in bacon and stuff them in a duck!”

Ironically, all of these friends are passionately against factory farming, though I don’t expect to ever see them at the same activist events. Maybe PETA needs to start a paleo chapter…

Our family is never going to be either vegan or paleo because, quite frankly, we don’t want to live in a world without butter. That doesn’t mean I’m not sympathetic to the cause though. I was vegetarian for a year or so – not so much because I love cows in any great capacity but because I was frustrated by the ridiculous amount of resources that a meat-based diet consumes.

I’m not sure what got me started – it was probably a David Suzuki challenge to regularly replace a meat-based meal with a vegetarian one. Looking back, I have to laugh at how hard that was for me! I remember finally getting the hang of it by replacing fast food burgers with fruit smoothies and salads. I felt fantastic - because daily fast food burgers? EW! It didn’t take long for me to give up meat for an entire day each week, then finally then switch to a full-blown vegetarian diet.

However, the vegetarian food phase ended the day I found out I was pregnant with The Princess – suddenly I understood why visions of spareribs were dancing in my head – clearly I needed some protein. That night I devoured a basket of chicken wings and never looked back.

Besides, I had done the math and decided that my vegetarian diet had actually increased the amount of meat that our household was consuming! My husband dutifully ate whatever veggie masterpiece I prepared for supper, but then he would go on to top up his meal with frozen chicken fingers or frozen Jamaican beef patties or frozen burgers - all of questionable taste and quality and sodium levels. I had already realized that by adding a small amount of fresh meat to our meals, he wouldn’t need to supplement with prepackaged “food”. He would eat healthier and our overall meat intake would decrease – which was my goal in the first place.

Since then, we’ve abandoned the vegetarian diet and focused on whole foods made from scratch whenever possible.

Which is why I woke up to the heavenly scent of homemade chicken stock wafting through my house this morning. Thank you, sweet slow cooker.

Cooking Whole Foods from Scratch

I’ve been cooking up my own chicken stock for about a year now. At first, I was terrified I’d poison the family – just like I was convinced that I’d poison the family by cooking a whole chicken or by preserving fruits and vegetables.

I decided to try making stock after reading up on traditional diets and their role in dental health back when The Princess needed fillings in literally half of her teeth. The idea of healing teeth through a traditional diet was made popular by Weston A Price, a dentist that encouraged people to consume a diet high in mineral-rich broths, high quality meats including organ meats, raw dairy and fermented foods, among other things. I couldn’t see The Princess chowing down on chicken livers or drinking fermented cod liver oil – a simple stock seemed to have the highest chance of success.

And, of course, it was the easiest thing to make in the world. And, of course, I can’t get The Princess to try it to save my life. No, not even in rice.

But now I’m hooked. There are a ton of different recipes but I keep it simple (ie lazy): chicken bones, an onion, some carrots and some celery. Yesterday I added the cobs of corn that we’d eaten for dinner too. I like to use the stock for soup and I’m trying to get used to drinking a warm mug of stock in the evenings, replacing my normal cup of tea (I did better in the winter – not so well through the summer).

Even though The Princess won’t try it, I make it whenever I can. Last year I discovered that our favourite family-run chicken farm gives you a free bag of chicken bones with every purchase. Now we head out to the farm two or three times a month to buy eggs, a whole chicken, and bones.

After a year of stock success, I knew it was time to try cooking a whole chicken in the oven. For some reason, I saw a roasted chicken as some sort of milestone in homemaking – one that I was afraid to attempt. Because, you know. My fears of poisoning the family.

Yet I knew that buying a whole chicken is far cheaper than buying a couple breasts at a time. For example, at the farm we shop at, the antibiotic-free whole chicken is $3.99/lb while the antibiotic-free boneless chicken breast is $10.65/lb. Potential food poisoning or not, I wanted to give it a shot. I was just waiting for the right time.

Then one cool summer day, I saw a fresh chicken in the farm’s refrigerator. “You can do it,” it seemed to said. “I’m so tasty”, it seemed to said. Who am I to argue with a talking dead bird?

I brought it home and stuck it on my counter. There was no turning back – this sucker had cost me nearly $20. We were committed. But I wasn’t sure where to start. So I did what I always do when I’m unsure about what I’m doing: I went on Twitter, looking for reassurance.

Luckily my dad happened to see my tweet and gave me a pep talk in 140 characters or less. I ended up giving him a call and he coached me through it, even the part where I freaked out because the neck was still attached. He was right though. It was ridiculously easy and SOOO tasty!

Of course I didn’t write down a word that he said and so the next week I just searched the Internet for a recipe. For the past three or four roasts I’ve followed the famous Thomas Keller recipe, using just salt and pepper. Yesterday I tried stuffing it with lemon and garlic too, which was a nice change.

The best part is that my WHOLE family enjoys the chicken - even my picky daughter.

And even better? No one else in the family likes the skin so I get it ALL to myself. Hello, salt. Yum.

But the best BEST part is that one chicken easily lasts for two to three meals. I’ve tossed some pieces in broth with carrots and celery for a quick chicken noodle soup. Tonight I’m going to heat some up for a lemon-basil stir-fry. Tomorrow we’ll reheat what’s left for chicken sandwiches. I’d love to try chicken fajitas too if I can find a gluten-free wrap recipe that doesn’t make me want to tear my hair out.

Chicken stock – check.
Roasted whole chicken – check.

Next on the list is preserving fruits and vegetables. And given the amount of pears about to ripen in our backyard, I better figure that one out soon.

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Our Kitchen Makeover

Posted by on Aug 11, 2014 in home life | 0 comments

Last week when I was looking for photos of Daisy Days over the past five years, I stumbled across a picture of our kitchen that I took a week before we moved into the house.


Sorry for the lousy picture – clearly I wasn’t thinking about possible blog posts four years down the road when I snapped this shot.

It’s been a long time since we looked at this photo. White walls, cheap white laminate cabinets on one side and dingy wooden cabinets on the other side. A floor that was falling apart. I actually think this picture is identical to the one that was in the real estate listing – the listing that made me initially turn down a viewing. I mean, really – it’s not much to look at, is it?

But of course, we did end up buying the house and we knew that eventually the room would need to be redone – we just figured it would be another five or ten years before we would get around to it. In the meantime, we decided to just have fun with the space. We painted the walls a cheerful green and covered one wall in chalkboard paint. We even tried to brighten the faux-brick back splash by painting it white, but after spending tedious hours dabbing paint into all the crevices (thanks mom!), we gave up and never attempted the second wall. Which is probably a good thing – I had no idea how hard it is to keep white brick clean.

Overall, I didn’t love my kitchen but I didn’t hate it either. But now? Now it’s the most beautiful space in our house – you’d never believe it was the same room!


The west wall had the two windows, the chalkboard, the white brick back splash, and the wooden cupboards and cabinets. This is the counter that had been measured once and cut twice (which always made us laugh).




Now we have counters that run across the entire west wall and wrap around to the refrigerator. We also moved the oven over from it’s original spot on the other wall and placed it between the two windows. Both the dishwasher and the range hood are brand new. You can see too that the ugly faux-brick back splash has been replaced by pretty white tile.


I was a bit unsure about replacing the double sink with a single sink, but I’m happy with our decision now. The sink takes up less room than the old one did so we have more counter space. It’s also wide enough that we can lay an entire baking sheet or muffin tray in the bottom to soak – something we never had enough room to do before. I was worried mostly that a single basin would be less convenient when washing dishes – but who am I kidding? We have a working dishwasher again. Why would I bother washing dishes?



The south wall started off with a fridge plus a dresser that we used for storage. It was cluttered but more or less functional. I was actually quite pleased at how well the dresser worked in that space – it made me feel like one of those clever upcyclers that you see on Pinterest.


Now the south wall has counter space, cabinets, cupboards and even a pantry beside the fridge! Looooove the pantry.


My favourite touch is the grey shelf that was added on to the wall below the cupboards. It lets us keep most of the clutter off of our counter and that makes wiping the counters down much faster. We even have a matching white shelf in the far corner above the dishwasher for our tea and coffee. The shelves weren’t planned but matched so nicely that I couldn’t resist – and do they not just fit perfectly? Clearly the dedicated beverage shelf was meant to be.



The west wall had the most dramatic change. We started out with a hodge podge of wooden cupboards and white laminate cabinets, plus the oven tucked in the counter. It wasn’t pretty, but again, it worked. My husband baked some pretty delicious cakes in that space, so I can’t really complain.



But look what we have now!! A huge hole was cut through the wall and a breakfast bar was installed and I LOVE it. I love that I can see kids when they’re in the living room. I love that I can see my husband baking when I’m reading on the couch. I love how much more open and bright the whole main floor feels.

We put in tall narrow cabinets under the counter top to make up for some of the storage we lost when we removed all the top cupboards. The cabinet doors are white because apparently mixing white and grey is a trendy thing right now and I just liked the idea of breaking up all the grey. In truth, I prefer the white doors because they’re so crisp and clean, but given how not crisp and clean we are, grey made more sense. I think we made the right choice. And hey – it’s Ikea. It’s not like we can’t switch up the doors later on.


Awesome, right?


Of everything we had to choose, I was the most nervous about our countertop. I had my heart set on butcher block from Ikea – but when we brought it home, we discovered that their kitchen planning software hadn’t calculated enough to do the whole kitchen. And then we found out that Ikea was out of stock until October so we couldn’t buy more.

I was so frustrated – I had picked the cupboards and the paint colours specifically with wood counter tops in mind. Despite that, it seemed like we were out of luck and laminate was the affordable alternative. I must have taken home 20 different “granite” laminate samples to match to the floor and cabinets. There were a lot of beautiful ones but they really didn’t suit us at all. I hemmed and hawed over a couple butcher block designs but most people that I asked for feedback seemed lukewarm on the idea of fake wood. And I’m not much of a decorator myself – I was terrified of ordering something that would look tacky.

My husband finally threatened to pick a ridiculous retro boomerang print if I didn’t decide already ,so I chose a gorgeous white laminate with a grey and brown marble pattern. It matched the floor and the cabinets and even the paint. And then at the very last second, as I was going over the details with my cousin, I ordered the Old Mill Oak butcher block design from WilsonArt instead – surprising my husband and even myself. The heart wants what it wants, and my heart wanted the look of wood.

I can’t even tell you how nervous I was. And to make it worse, rather than the 2-3 weeks that I was expecting, it took six weeks for the counters to be installed. Six weeks for me to obsess that I’d made a bad choice. But once they came I knew they were perfect. They’re beautiful – I couldn’t be happier with them.


Even though the whole renovation took far longer than anticipated (which, of course, I should have anticipated), I’m so happy with how it turned out. The kitchen has always been the heart of our home and I feel blessed that we should have such a lovely place to spend our time in.

Now to convince my husband that the bathroom needs a makeover…



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