Progress, One Ornament at a Time

It’s January, which means I’ll start blogging again for a month or two before I don’t anymore. For now I’ll skip the lengthy post-analysis of how Operation Projects went awry last year, chalking it up to Reasonable Reasons. I did accomplish a couple of major goals that I never wrote about, but I’ll save those for another time.

Instead, I wanted to ascribe cosmic meaning to our Christmas tree.

Our Christmas Tree: The Origin Story

Once upon a time, it was 2007, and Jonathan and I got to decorate our first Christmas tree together. I love Christmas trees very much, and I’ve come to view tree-trimming as an art form. Alas, without much media to work with in 2007, the branches of our oversized fake tree far outnumbered the ornaments:
christmas 2007

Also, I think the bottom third had been ravaged by cats?

Growth Strategy

Instead of going to Hobby Lobby and filling our cart with pantookas and bamboozlers in one go, we devised a multi-year strategy for filling that tree. Each year, I pick out one set of four “fancy” balls and possibly one “ambiance” ornament (e.g. a garland or a box of pine cones to spread throughout the tree). Then, Jonathan and I pick out one single ornament together, commemorating another year together while testing our ability to agree on anything.

Here’s our catalog of ornaments as of 2014:

Year Ornament


Partridges in a pear tree? Not really, but a tentative couple’s pair of ornaments that were still separable enough should the partridges decide on separate trees.



A pair of bells. From here on out, I think all the ornaments aren’t very separable.



Two cardinals, commemorating our first Christmas together in Oklahoma where there were several cardinals in the backyard. Nevermind that this ornament shows two male cardinals.



Two gingerbread people riding a rolling pin with a measuring cup hanging upside down from the bottom? Jonathan believes in his heart that this somehow captures our first year of marriage. I believe it captures the ornament selection the day before Christmas at Target.



Two reindeer lovers, purchased from an ornament cart at Lakeline Mall. This was, unbeknownst to others, our “we just decided to have a baby” ornament.



2-month-old Talia’s handprint. This was our “we just had a baby” ornament. I actually didn’t finish making this until Christmas 2013 (when we gave a few away as gifts), but it’s definitely Talia’s handprint from December 2012.



A swan. At Thanksgiving, we saw swans at City Park in New Orleans. Ergo, we got a swan ornament.



Backpack ornament, commemorating our Major Life Accomplishment of hiking to Kalalau Valley.


So, here’s the same tree after 8 years of accumulating ornaments just a few at a time:


Look at the tree, not the baby! Okay, you can look at the baby too.

Cosmic Meaning, As Promised

When I think about the five million things I might have wanted to accomplish last year but didn’t, our Christmas tree encourages me a bit. Just by taking small but meaningful steps each year, it’s now lots more full of life and memories.

2014 was a hard year, but there were still meaningful steps, and I’m looking forward to taking a few more this year.




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Pumpkin Patch(es)!

Talia hit up 2 pumpkin patches this year. One had a lot of pumpkins but wasn’t very interesting (Central Market). The other had very few pumpkins, but they were spread around lots of interesting scenes (Cross Plants & Produce). I don’t have much else to say, so here are the pictures!
Pumpkin Patch 2014-1

Pumpkin Patch 2014-2

Pumpkin Patch 2014-3

Pumpkin Patch 2014-4

Pumpkin Patch 2014-5

Pumpkin Patch 2014-6

Pumpkin Patch 2014-7

Pumpkin Patch 2014-8

Pumpkin Patch 2014-9

Pumpkin Patch 2014-10

Pumpkin Patch 2014-11

Pumpkin Patch 2014-12

Pumpkin Patch 2014-13

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Talia’s first flight!

Due to family reasons I won’t get into here, Sarah’s been in Oklahoma for the past several weeks, for a total planned stay of a month. Because that’s obviously a long time for me and Talia to be missing her, we planned a visit midway through. And that meant Talia would fly on an airplane for the first time ever (exciting?), and I would be the only parent accompanying her (terrifying!).

Leading up to the trip, I thought about what might make it go well, and what might turn it into a disaster:
Signs of a good trip:

  • Talia loves airplanes. She always points out when she hears them flying overhead
  • Rather than act up in public, Talia tends to more often get shy and clingy. So hopefully no massive disturbance of nearby passengers

Signs of a bad trip:

  • Talia gets really frightened of loud noises (e.g. vacuum cleaner, lawnmower, etc.). Airplane jets are really loud
  • Talia is not generally a very cuddly kid. She prefers more action, running around and such, and thus may get really squirmy on the hour-long flight legs
  • There’s virtually no way to avoid the flight disturbing her nap, and that can make her really cranky

So, how’d it go?
Happy Talia at the airport
Super super well!

Talia was a great flyer. I think she showed brief moments of concern about twice across the four flights, but most of the time she was calm and even happy. We entertained ourselves with SkyMall (loooots of pictures to point out and ask “that?”), and the flights that overlapped her nap meant she rested her head on my shoulder (she doesn’t normally get this cuddly, so that was doubly nice). But making this a nice experience involved some good prep.

About a week before the trip, I bought Talia a toy airplane and began talking about the trip so she would get excited. I don’t know how much of it sank in, but as soon as we got past security I got her toy out so she could compare it to the real thing:
Airplanes, toy and real
Speaking of security, I don’t think I would have survived this trip if Sarah hadn’t helped by taking a ton of stuff with her when she drove to Oklahoma, meaning I had much less to pack. By bringing the pack-and-play, clothes, toys, and the current car seat (we upgraded her car seat so we could do this, but she was about ready for that anyway), she made it possible for me to travel with just a carry-on and diaper bag!

The next thing to take care of was getting Talia some breakfast. The Austin airport gets major props for having high chairs available (unlike Dallas Love Field), so after purchasing some milk and finding a water fountain, we were all set for a normal, casual breakfast!
Talia airport breakfast
We still had a fair amount of time before boarding, so we hung out by the window. Talia got quite excited when our airplane arrived.
Talia likes our airplane
Once on board, Talia started out her normal shy self, which I figured would last until she freaked out with the engine noise at take-off. But I planned to enjoy the peacefulness while it lasted. Luckily enough, the flight was not full, so the middle seat on my row was empty; that was a handy place to put things, as I quickly learned that having a toddler on one’s lap doesn’t leave room for much else.
Seated on first flight
I did my best to prepare Talia for takeoff: “we’re going to go really fast and it’s going to get very loud, but it’s fun!”. As I’ve already revealed, things worked out great! With a “whee!” from me and a giggle from Talia, we were off! She didn’t care much about looking out the window (even on later flights with a window seat), so it was time to bring out the entertainment. I had the diaper bag filled with toys, books, and snacks, but thanks to the sheer density of pictures in SkyMall, I didn’t need to pull out any of them. We got to the end just as we were about to land. I made sure landing sounded fun by telling her “we’re going to go bumpity-bumpity-bump!”, and when it happened it elicited another giggle.

Layover time! With an hour and a half between flights, I wasn’t sure what kind of entertainment I would find. I stalled for ideas by taking a stroller tour around the airport (small airport), and that exploration yielded the perfect option. We found an area between two (eventual?) gates that had no furniture at all, the perfect place to just run around! The first picture in this post is from the window in that area, where she spent a lot of time pointing out trucks (this was common at other stops/windows as well), but we did chase each other to make use of the space too. Eventually we stopped to eat lunch (this time with Talia on my lap), and with Talia eating slower than usual, we were all set to get on the next flight. This time the flight was so empty that the flight attendant guided us to a seat toward the back where we could have our own row to ourselves. Talia did enjoy the window during and shortly after takeoff, because she could point out all the “truck”s and “person”s she saw.
Talia looks out the airplane window
However, once we were in the air she lost interest, and I encouraged her to try to take some kind of nap. I’m pretty sure she didn’t fall asleep, but she rested her head on my shoulder the whole time (with a few position shifts).

Finally we arrived, which meant getting to see Mommy! Sarah was waiting right outside the one-way security gateway, and while Talia didn’t squeal with excitement, she did right away start asking Mommy to play with her in various ways, including showing her this frog.
Airport frog
A frog, and a lion, near a tree with a slide, in the space between the terminals and baggage claim. Don’t ask me why that’s there, but yay, something to play with :).

We had a really nice time over the weekend with Sarah, but I won’t get into that because I ramble too much already and this post is about air travel. But when our trip’s time was up, Talia was already a pro at the whole flying thing.
Happy Talia waiting for airplane
See? Super confident and happy, just waiting for the plane. We quickly set up camp at our gate, and Talia decided to pass the time taking selfies.
Talia Selfie Collage
I don’t have any pictures of the return flights, but it was much of the same. Some SkyMall on the first flight, supplemented by safety pamphlets and in-flight lunch, and more head resting on the second flight. All in all a quite enjoyable experience (except ergonomically, as the flights left me with a sore neck for a few days). I’d even look forward to it again, except any upcoming flight would certainly involve travelling with all the baggage I was able to avoid this time. Yay for airplanes! Now I leave you with a video of Talia and I taking off.. note how the acceleration pushes her against her Daddy’s chest :).

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2014 Bluebonnet Pictures!

Last weekend, we set out to take Talia’s bluebonnet pictures. We drove up the road to the school with the nice mini-hill where we took last year’s pictures, but alas there were no flowers, so we failed.

Then we drove to the field next to Sonic where I’d spotted/verified bluebonnets, and we “succeeded”:

Bluebonnets 2014-1
Bluebonnets 2014-4
Bluebonnets 2014-6
But these bluebonnets weren’t that big, so I wanted something better. I spent a fair amount of time planning where we might drive out into the Hill Country to find some amazing hills covered in blankets of flowers, but it’s maddening trying to make “Hill Country” more specific when reading search results for “good places to find bluebonnets”. Thankfully, within the last hour before we were set to leave, I discovered a) that bluebonnets weren’t actually flourishing in the Hill Country yet (Austin/Houston got a head start), and b) that there was a nice field by building 5 of Dell’s campus in Round Rock (thanks, Mary!). So this time, we succeeded:

Bluebonnets 2014-9
Bluebonnets 2014-15
Bluebonnets 2014-16
Bluebonnets 2014-17
Bluebonnets 2014-20
Bluebonnets 2014-28
As you can see, these are not only bigger, but incredibly more dense. Aside from being more pretty, the denseness had a super-extra benefit for me as the photographer. Since they basically buried Talia, she wasn’t running around the field like crazy with me having to chase her!

We’ll see what next year’s blossom brings!

Sarah’s Additions

Jonathan took too many good pictures, so I thought these deserved honorable mentions.
First, a flashback to Bluebonnets 2013:

I like bluebonnets. I picked one even though Mommy told me not to. Now I'm a fugitive.

I like bluebonnets. I picked one even though Mommy told me not to. Now I’m a fugitive.

Now, Bluebonnets 2014!

Bluebonnets 2014-5

One million teeth!

There's a storm rolling in.

There’s a storm rolling in.  Or not. I don’t really have a caption for this one.

This is my nominee for Family Picture 2014. Talia was almost smiling.

This is my nominee for Family Picture 2014. Talia was almost smiling.

This is my nominee for Chipmunk Picture 2014. Adorable.

And this is my nominee for Chipmunk Picture 2014. It runs in the family.

the end.


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Why didn’t they ever make “Baby’s Quest”?

A baby’s life, formatted as a 90’s PC adventure game…

Look Floor. “You see two books and the fifty small pieces of paper that you just threw everywhere.”

Take Book. “You pick up the book, looking forward to a quiet evening of reading by the fireplace.”

Drop Book. “You put down the book, realizing that your pack was too heavy.”

Take Toy Lipstick. “You pick up the toy lipstick, wondering what you could possibly use this for. It must be in the game for some reason, though.”

Touch Cat. “The cat feels soft.”

Touch Cat. “The cat feels soft.”

Touch Cat. “The cat feels soft.”


Use Toy Lipstick with Cat. “Nothing happens.”


Use Toy Lipstick with Forehead. “Nothing happens.”

Taste Toy Lipstick. “The toy lipstick tastes like all your other toys.”

Use Toy Lipstick with Cat’s Water Bowl. “Mommy picks you up and says ‘No! That’s dirty!'”

Use Toy Lipstick with Cat’s Water Bowl. “Mommy picks you up and puts you in Baby Jail while she makes dinner.”

Use Toy Lipstick with Cell Bars. “Nothing happens.”

Save Game. “Thanks for playing Baby Quest. Come back soon!”


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Some Baby Stuff

I’ve been bad about posting baby stuff, so here’s some baby stuff.

Exhibit A: Getting Dressed

March 9: Talia found a new use for laundry: wearing it. Only 1-3 more years, and she might be successful.

NOTE: This video is the longest on the page (~3 minutes). There’s some impressive baby logic near the end, if you like that kind of thing.


Exhibit B: Reading

March 22: Talia loves board books. Currently, she won’t sit still long enough for us to read a complete story to her except at bedtime, but she will read a story to US. I like how her latest baby language sounds like “blah blah blah”.


Exhibit C: Calling Daddy

Also March 22: Every weekend day, Jonathan and I take separate morning shifts with the baby so that we can each get an extra hour or two of sleep. Rather than dragging the baby upstairs to get the sleeping person, we usually call each other. Talia likes to participate:


Exhibit D: Mommy Needs a Thumbnail

March 3: Mommy took some pictures.


Talia likes to stand up on her push-car.

Winter smiles

Talia likes to smile.

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February Project: Make Memories Visible

The Goal

I love love love looking at pictures and souvenirs and scrapbookable items and artwork we made years ago. I love the people and places they represent, and I love rehearsing the events that brought them into being. I love it when, once every 3-4 years, I trick some hapless acquaintance into studying them with me. I like feeling like my family and I have a history.

I don’t love that I never quite finished my high school scrapbook, which prevented the completionist in me from ever starting my college, graduate school,  teaching, wedding, honeymoon, house, and baby scrapbooks. I don’t love that all my photos and souvenirs are locked away in drawers and external hard drives and file folders. I don’t love that our walls are mostly empty.

So, this month, I’m going to use these feelings to drive the fashioning of the front two rooms in our house: the piano room and the “formal” dining room. I’m not sure I’ll finish both…creative pursuits risk more paralysis than practical projects. I think I’ll start with the dining room and see how far I get.


Formal dining room, a.k.a. the dining room


Piano room, a.k.a. baby parking lot

The Why

I accidentally already covered this.

  • I like looking at and sharing personal memorabilia, but it’s hidden.
  • The walls in these two rooms are empty, which makes them feel less homey than I would like.
  • Last month, I implied that I find projects to be more worthwhile if they’re accomplishing multiple goals at the same time.

The Problems

  • We easily have upwards of 10,000 pictures to consider for this project. As a deliberative maximizer, this means endless fretting over finding the most meaningful 10-20 pictures to display. Now you know why I can’t finish a scrapbook (it took me five years to get as far as I did on my high school one).
  • Although we picked the wall colors for these rooms, I don’t love them.
  • The walls in these rooms have design elements that boggle my mind. WHY DOES THE DINING ROOM HAVE THAT EXTRA WINDOW??? When you put a table in the mix, it makes it very difficult to know how to center things on that wall.
  • I don’t really know how to properly frame, hang, or otherwise display pictures. I bought a picture-hanging kit once, and I didn’t know what 5/6 kinds of pieces were. The one I did recognize was a nail.

The Intermediate Goals

  1. Identify periods of life from which I want to display things. Then I can focus on a single “era” at a time, making it all feel less overwhelming.
  2. Research picture frames/display options. It feels kind of pretentious to call this “research”, but I need to justify my Pinterest time.
  3. Consider other decorative elements, like curtains! They might help me make sense of that extra window.
  4. Print pictures, buy frames, etc.
  5. Put it all together.

The Prizes

I’m not really sure that this is ever going to be an essential component of my projects. I’ve been giving myself prizes for non-project-related achievements (e.g. exercising every day, taking my lunch to work, etc… see my achievements page), but if I’m excited about a project, I don’t need a prize.

The Win

I’ll consider us successful if we:

  1. Put more stuff on the dining room wall(s).
  2. Buy and hang some curtains. Unless Pinterest teaches me that curtains are stupid.

The End

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January: A Retrospective

Before I move on to setting February goals, I wanted to record the successes and failures of January so that I can remember that I’m capable of many mundane things. This would have been a nice activity for the last day of the month, but I was busy fitting in my dinner party that day. Procrastination notwithstanding, I did almost everything I set out to do last month, which makes me pretty happy.

What I/we did this month

  • Washed the dishes almost every night – When I don’t do this, it always seems like a monumental task meant only for superhuman robot people. When I do do this, I don’t feel very superhuman…it’s kind of easy. It’s my clearest example of the futility of certain kinds of procrastination: if I don’t wash the dishes now, I’ll just have to wash them later, and I will never ever want to wash them later, so there are few legitimate reasons to delay. I don’t know why that’s so hard to grasp, but it’s one of those things for which I have a mental switch. I never know what flips the switch, but when it’s on, it’s on.
  • Got up at 6 to run or walk every day (except one, but I made up for it in the evening) – This happened because 1) we made the daring decision to move the treadmill into the living room where I can watch TV while I exercise, 2) I have a secret exercise goal, and 3) I’m a slave to my Fitbit. I think my Fitbit was the key to most everything I accomplished this month because it inherently encouraged me to move at times when I would otherwise be inclined to just huddle in the corner of my couch. Really, the only thing that suffered from the Fitbit was blogging…I haven’t figured out how to walk and write at the same time.
  • Cleaned downstairs – It took most of the month, and upstairs is still atrocious, but we did it! I had all the Christmas stuff boxed up within a week of New Year’s, I got new bins for certain categories of clutter, and I made a strategy for baby toys. AND, it’s all stayed just as clean for THREE DAYS. That’s kind of big for us…it implies that we even cleaned up after having people over.
Talia knew we like a good challenge. Here she is scattering all her play food around for the fifteenth time in a row.

Talia knew we like a good challenge. Here she is scattering all her play food around for the fifteenth time in a row. Still, we won in the end.

  • Bought and installed our Christmas-present TV – This might not seem like an accomplishment for normal people, but it is painfully difficult for us to make decisions about major purchases. This was Jonathan’s major success, and many thanks to Patrick for helping us get it on the wall.
  • Cooked at home 3/4 of the time – The Fitbit makes it FUN to shop for groceries. And to jog in place while browning meat.

Homemade pancakes…yum!

  • Took my lunch to work every day – Except the day we ate off campus with friends. Socializing trumps cold spaghetti…go figure.
  • Did active things with Talia – Fitbit for the whole family! I’ve refrained from putting it on her yet, but only because I wouldn’t get credit for my own steps while she was using it. Anyway, we went to the park and to the other park and even to the other park, visited the aquarium, and walked halfway around the block (just imagine that our block is big enough for that to be impressive. For a baby).

One of the “other” parks. Despite our success at going to the park so much, Talia failed at her January goal of relocating all the pea gravel into my hands.


Walking around the block…or to the park…or both.

  • Had people over! – January project complete! I still need to formalize the plan for keeping the house clean and having more people over (I could only manage a single tableful this time around), but I do think we have some good habits in place (did I mention the dishes?). Just as long as I don’t lose my Fitbit…

What I didn’t do this month

  • Work at home…as much – Turns out that I value work-life balance more when I actually have projects to focus on at home. I like my job a lot, but it’s good for it to have competition :)
  • Plan our secret hike – More on this soon. I meant to get started last month, but that didn’t happen.
  • Allow myself to work on other projects – I can’t decide if this is good or not. I wanted to start reorganizing my bedroom AND decorating our walls AND building shelves for the garage, but I thought it wiser to stay focused on my January project. I avoided starting too many projects at once, so that’s good, but it’s going to be hard to wait several months for the projects that don’t get scheduled until the fall.
  • Save on food bills – I was kind of shocked about this. I thought that, by eating at home more, we’d save food money for sure, but that didn’t really happen. We think it’s because we were temporarily in the habit of taking Talia out to lunch on the weekends, which usually landed us at a sit-down restaurant at least two days a week. Then we’d reserve an evening to get “high-quality” take-out. And, I’m not terribly practiced at being a frugal food shopper…it’s hard to eat healthily AND cheaply. I take this as a challenge, though, and I’m looking forward to doing better in February.
  • Post Talia pictures – We should do that.

What I should change for next month

  • Balance monetary and nutritional goals – Now that I’m on a roll with eating our food instead of take-out food, I think I can start juggling the financial aspect as well. At the very least, we’re not going to make a habit of taking Talia out to lunch every weekend, and I’m going to try making Jonathan’s lunch at least some of the time. I might also float the idea of having specific budgets for certain kinds of food (e.g. soda).
  • Continue working on procrastination – As I said, the dishes were an emblematic victory over procrastination for me. However, I really did put off my dinner party plan until the last week of the month (after working so hard during the first week!). I specifically thought that I didn’t need to do it earlier because I had time to do it later. I didn’t realize that letting it hang over my head would make me feel “guilty” starting other projects. Now that I’ve made that connection, maybe I can use it to my advantage.

Overall take-aways

  • I NEED two birds per stone – Exercise + tv, exercise + shopping, exercise + cleaning, healthy eating + saving money…whatever my goal, I’m lots more likely to do it if I’m doing something else at the same time.
  • Maybe it’s okay to live a project-based life – And maybe it’s too early to conclude this. However, it’s undeniable that the times I’m most productive are the times I’m working toward something bigger than a single day’s routine. Planning a party, decorating a nursery, creating a presentation for work – these are chances to frame smaller actions into bigger purposes and messages.
  • My future self is probably just me – Procrastination assumes that I’ll feel differently in the future, but I won’t. Remember that. And remind me.
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January Analysis: Where does clutter come from?

With a week left to finish my first monthly goal of the year, I’m just now officially getting around to the “analysis” phase of the month, though it’s been rolling around in my head ever since I kicked off this project.

So000, why exactly can’t I currently (circa December) host a dinner party on a whim? Here’s what I figured out about my first problem…

1. There’s stuff to put away.

Every time we want to have people over, we have to plan for a couple hours of decluttering, which includes handling unwashed dishes, clearing flat surfaces, relocating random piles of stuff from the floor, and putting away baby toys. Obviously, this problem is likely related to the fourth problem, there are habits to form, but I thought I’d take a look at the composition of some of this clutter. Is there a reason my childhood mantra of “put stuff away when you’re done with it” isn’t working for our mess? Maybe the clutter holds secrets into our psyche. Maybe it has legitimate excuses. Maybe it’s a problem I can solve just by thinking hard enough.

Anyway, here are three exhibits to study…

The Bar

We’ve accepted the fact that, no matter how awesome we make the rest of our house, if we’re going to have people over when food is involved, people will stand around the bar. So, it’s gotta be clean…and look! It’s not!



  1. Boogie wipes (oft-used-baby-gear) –  I think I put these here because I was using them very frequently, and I wanted to have them in an easily accessible place. There’s another place in the living room where they’re supposed to go, but the bar seemed like a more reachable location.
  2. Chapstick (something-that-goes-upstairs) – I’m not sure how this made it downstairs, but I didn’t put it in its natural location upstairs because I was watching the baby, and it didn’t seem worth it to lug the baby all the way upstairs to put away some Chapstick. Babies are heavy!
  3. Snack cup and Mommy’s cup (dishes-to-clean) – We ate food in the living room, and because I was watching the baby, I didn’t want to leave to put these dishes where they’re supposed to go.
  4. Wet diaper (trash) – Um…yes, I’m claiming that, at times, there’s not a better place to put a wet diaper than on the bar. Has it really come to this? Well, temporarily…there’s not a trashcan in the living room, and (all together now) I didn’t want to leave the baby to go to the trashcan.

Let’s see what exhibit 2 reveals…

The Console Table

This awkward, somewhat homeless piece of furniture has been serving as our living room Baby Station for the past year, but even so, I’d like it to look presentable.



  1. Clean wipes and diapers (oft-used-baby-gear) – This stuff technically belongs here because the changing table/pack-and-play lives right next to this thing, but this stuff just doesn’t LOOK clean. The diapers normally live in a somewhat attractive basket thing, but it’s so easy to want to use the basket thing for other purposes.
  2. Password board game (something-that-goes-upstairs) – Artifact of a pre-Christmas get-together that never seemed offensive enough to warrant an extra trip up the stairs.
  3. Used kleenexes (trash) – First, I didn’t specify what these were used for, so it’s maybe not as gross as it seems. However, I previously mentioned the fact that we don’t have a trashcan in the living room, and it’s beginning to seem that trash that appears while watching the baby is destined to decorate the living room for an indefinite period of time.
  4. Basket of baby hair doodads (things-I-think-I-want-on-hand) – We have a bald baby, and bald babies beg for froofy hair thingies to help them maintain balance (scientific fact). However, this pile of hair doodads looks somewhat unkempt, AND the daycare takes off the hair doodads anyway.

I see trends emerging! On to exhibit 3…

The Inexplicable Hall Table

This table resides in the hall between our foyer and the living room. I really don’t know why it exists, but it currently serves to keep Stuff off of other surfaces. Too bad it’s one of the first things you see when you walk into the foyer…


  1. More Boogie Wipes (oft-used-baby-gear) – Seriously, I need these things everywhere I go.
  2. Gift cards and to-do items (stuff-I-want-to-be-able-to-find) – So, all of this stuff is SUPPOSED to be in that clear organizer, but the clear organizer is full. It shouldn’t be full because it’s supposed to contain only to-do items and gift cards and checks, and there shouldn’t be so many to-do items that it’s full.
  3. Papers to do something with (to-do-items) – I guess we accepted the fact that we’re not doing stuff in our to-do organizer, so we’ve started creating piles of to-do items in other places. There are things like this on the bar as well, just not on the part I photographed.
  4. Shoes and camera bag (stuff-I-want-on-hand) – This is actually all Jonathan’s stuff. I don’t think there’ s anything more to say about it.

Now that I know what kinds of clutter are cluttering my house and mind, maybe I can propose solutions beyond “be strong enough not to put that in the first available location”…


I see trends in this clutter. First, I think we put a lot of stuff in the first available place because we can’t get to its rightful location right away (stuff-that-goes-upstairs and trash, for example). Other things accumulate because they don’t HAVE a rightful location (stuff-I-want-on-hand). And then there are other things that accumulate because there’s a back-up in some other should-exist-system (dishes-to-wash). If I can address these underlying issues, the clutter might proactively declutter itself. Let’s brainstorm…

  • oft-used-baby-gear
    • Respect my baby-care depot (the console table) and promise to always put things back there, even if I need to access them from across the house. OR…
    • Create a baby-care apron to wear when I’m caring for the baby and to store somewhere out-of-sight when I’m not. This feels crazy to me, but it’s a common teacher-trick that has promise. Really, it’s akin to carrying a diaper bag around your own house.
  • something-that-goes-upstairs
    • Create an out-of-sight holding place for this stuff and then commit to transferring the collection on a regular basis. One promising location is in pretty baskets on my living room bookshelf.
  • dishes-to-clean
    • As part of cleaning the dishes every night, collect dishes that have gathered in other parts of the house. I think this will work because dishes don’t necessarily accumulate throughout the house every day. Honestly, I do believe this stems most from not cleaning the dishes, which is a separate clutter problem.
  • trash
    • Get a trashcan for the living room. I even have a good place to put it.
  • things-I-think-I-want-on-hand
    • Regularly evaluate whether I really want them on-hand. Those baby hair doodads? No. They can live in Talia’s room, and I can pick one when I pick the rest of her clothes. Alternatively, I can get one for her later in the day, thereby accumulating extra steps for my Fitbit.
  • stuff-I-want-to-be-able-to-find
    • I need to understand this category better. Really, I want to be able to find everything that I own at one time or another. I think that the trouble arises when I start to allow myself to keep ANYTHING that I want to find in a visible, obvious location. Also, the default location for this category should be somewhere other than “right in front of the front door”. I propose the pending new “office”, so a later project might solve this problem.
  • to-do-items
    • Same answer as above; these need to be in an easy yet invisible location. Honestly, keeping them in plain sight isn’t helping us do them any more reliably, so we might as well put them somewhere more discrete and let a new process help us make sure they get done.
  • stuff-I-want-on-hand
    • Same as above. Put it somewhere easy to access yet invisible. Pending new guest room/office, you are our only hope.

Wow, I’m exhausted now. I’m honestly not sure I’m going to devote this much typing to all my other problems…I’d like to have my thoughts on record somewhere, but I need time to actually enact my solutions :) At any rate, though, I’m currently satisfied that this exercise has highlighted some mechanisms that remove the need for quite so much will power regarding clutter. That means I can save it for dessert…

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January Project: Dinner Parties, with People, Whenever

First, did you notice my goal sheet? I posted it. I did what I said I was going to. I’d give myself a prize for follow-through, but that feels like cheating. Anyway, if you didn’t see my goal sheet, it turns out it doesn’t matter. You’ll understand this post anyway.

The Goal

Prepare ourselves and our house to host a dinner party, and then maintain the house in such a way that we can have people over for dinner without stressing out over “getting things ready”. To test ourselves, we’ll choose a couple of “enforcers” to randomly invite themselves to dinner within the month of February.

Wait!!! Was this on the list? Not word for word. You had to read between the words of “have people over more often”.

What constitutes “readiness” for a dinner party? Here’s where I’m going to be realistic. Jonathan and I work full time, and we have a baby, and we have no experience maintaining a pristine house. So, my standards aren’t optimal, particularly because I know that our friends aren’t really that judgmental:

  • We can eat at the dining table, i.e. it’s clear and the surrounding area is clean.
  • The kitchen counters are clear of clutter and crumb-free.
  • The bar is clear so that people can stand by it, because, inevitably, that’s where people want to stand.
  • We have a plan for obtaining ingredients and making something delicious by the next evening. Yes, for now, I’m reserving a one day waiting period for on-demand dinners, where the demand must be made before 7pm.
  • There are few enough toys scattered throughout the living room that we can put them “away” (i.e. wherever we decided they belong, which might be in plain sight) within 10 minutes.
  • We can ask guests to bring things to the dinner, i.e. we aren’t committing to being on the hook for all four courses. At least not right away. Also, I’m not completely sure I know what “all four courses” are.
  • We have drinks and servingware on hand. Servingware isn’t a word, but I figure you can guess what it means.

The Why

  • Despite being a rather painful introvert most days of the week, I really do like people, and I’m always happy after people have visited.
  • Being able to have people over is one of the big reasons I care about cleaning the house. Although I KNOW I am personally happier when the house is clean, I really don’t make cleaning a priority unless people are coming over. So, I’m hoping I can harness the groundless fear of judgment to enforce a cleanly state of house, and in so doing, I can reap the personal happiness that shiny counters and crumbless floors bestow.
  • Introducing the possibility of needing to host a dinner “on demand” might keep us alert and able to keep this resolution beyond just a one-time event.

The Problems

Oh, the problems. I’ll have a more detailed analysis of why some of the problems exist, but here’s what we need to overcome…

  • There’s stuff to put away.
  • There are crumbs to clean.
  • There’s food to make.
  • There are habits to form.

Again, this doesn’t qualify as the “analyze roadblocks” phase of my solution. This is the list of roadblocks I need to analyze.

The Intermediate Goals

  1. Remove all unusual clutter, which, at this time of year, is all the Christmas stuff (decorations, gifts, packed suitcases, etc.).
  2. Put away usual clutter, i.e. whatever stuff that’s lying around on every single surface in the parts of the house that guests would encounter.
  3. Clean surfaces in the same parts of the house.
  4. Experiment with entrees and/or sides so that we have some “go to” options.
  5. Figure out what drinks to keep on hand.
  6. Develop maintenance plan for preventing clutter, cleaning surfaces, and keeping drinks stocked.
  7. Invite some people over to a dinner party.
  8. Assign people to test us over the next month or two.

The Prizes

Hmm. I don’t know if I need tangible prizes for these particular intermediate goals. I feel motivated to at least get to step 7 because it’s been a while since we had people over, and then step 8 lives on its own promise of embarrassment if we can’t follow through. That’s powerful stuff.

The Win

I’ll consider us successful if we:

  1. Have some people over for dinner by the end of January.
  2. Have some people over at their whim (well, the day after their whim) at least twice in February and March.

The End

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