Tidying Marathon

Tidying Marathon - Under the Monkey Bars blog

I completed one of my New Year’s Resolutions: I finally read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Her book has been on my mental To Do list since it was published in 2014. I’ve procrastinated reading it because I knew that when I did, I’d have to start my tidying marathon.

But then Kondo pubished her second book Spark Joy, so I absolutely had to read that book before I could start, right? Just a wee bit of procrastination going on here. I just finished reading it, with tons of pages dog eared. The time has come for massive organization and tidying (insert scared face emoji). 

I come from a long line of ladies who keep things “just in case.” I remember needing odd items for school projects growing up. No matter what it was, my Mom always had it in the attic. Like magic! It was incredible. By the time my parents moved out of that house in Easton, the attic was filled with so much stuff that I’m surprised it didn’t collapse.

Since I’ve had a house of my own, I’ve never put anything in the attic. However, I have no qualms about storing things in the basement. What’s down there? 2 complete childhoods, 15 years of marriage, 5 houses, and every piece of paper the monkeys have ever created – among other things we don’t need. It’s a bit of a project to say the least.

I love to organize, but I hate to make a mess. It’s really because I don’t like to start projects that I won’t have time to finish. Aka, my basement. Every year “Clean out the Basement” is on my list of New Years Resolutions. Every year, I chip away at the stuff down there, but the amount we add is always more than I remove. Sigh.

The stuff in our basement takes up space in my head. It takes time out of my life. And now that I’ve read Kondo’s books, I know I must tidy it once and for all so that I can clear my mind and feel less heavy. I’m armed with a strategy and I’m motivated. Apparently this process can be life changing. We’ll see!

While I was reading the books, I had the urge to purge – which I normally get in January anyway. I made 3 trips to our local donation center already. I’d love to hunker down in the basement and get it done once and for all. But if I really want to use Kondo’s KonMari Method, I can’t.

According to the books, you must start your tidying marathon in your closet. The order of categories is important because if you start with easy things first, you’ll hone your decision making skills so that it becomes easier when you get to the more difficult items, like things with sentimental value. There’s a tiny problem with that principle.

Tidying Marathon - Under the Monkey Bars blog

Tidying Marathon - Under the Monkey Bars blog

My messy walk-in closet…where I stand and stare each morning.

See, I’m a collector. Not figurines or statuses. I collect clothes: sweaters, shoes, jeans, dresses, scarves, and belts. I have lots of “just in case” clothes, including items I’ve owned long before I met Don in the late 90s. The master bedroom in our house here in Newburyport has 3 closets. My super sweet and generous husband let me have 2 of them…and they’re both packed. Plus, I have coats in the coat closet and at least 6 bins of seasonal clothes and shoes in the basement (see that pile of plastic bins below?). Apparently switching your closet by the season is a big no no. Kondo says that all of your clothes must fit inside the closet and drawers in your room. I’m in trouble.

Tidying Marathon - Under the Monkey Bars blog

Welcome to my basement…it’s in dire need of tidying!

To follow the KonMari Method, you put every single item of clothing you own on your bedroom floor and bed. If you leave anything out, you have to discard it when you find it. That means I’ll have to carry up those 6 bins from the basement and empty the coat closet too. Here’s the problem: it won’t fit. And it will make a huge mess!

But I’m going to do it! I haven’t bought clothes since I started reading the tidying books. January sales are my favorite so it’s been quite an exercise in willpower. I’ve decided to reward myself with one new item in each clothing category when I’m done. I definitely need the motivation!

While my house looks organized, I know we don’t need all of the stuff we have. I spend way too much time picking up things that don’t have a place. The KonMari Method really makes sense to me — everything should have a place. It’s something my Dad always says. I’m an organized person but somehow, with all of our moves over the years, we’ve accumulated way too much stuff. I would love to live closer to minimalism and only keep what we need plus those things that truly make us happy and “spark joy.” 

Here we go! Join me in my tidying marathon. I’ll post after pictures of my closet and let you know how it goes. Have you tried the KonMari Method of tidying up? Any advice before I jump in headfirst?

Internet Safety

Internet Safety - Under the Monkey Bars blog

The internet suddenly became scary when we had kids. They can see and read anything with just a few clicks. Once they do, we can’t take it back. Images and words are so powerful. I know I can’t shelter the monkeys from everything, but it’s my job as a parent to help them find their way — safely.

It’s ironic that most of the information I’ve learned about internet safety I’ve read online. It wasn’t until I heard Detective Aaron Wojtkowski and Officer John Lucey III from the Newbury Police Department speak about internet safety that the topic really came to life.

The officers not only educated parents about the risks of social media, but also they shared real stories about local kids getting into trouble online. Big trouble. I got the chills more than once.

I’m quite certain that if I’m not vigilant, one of my monkeys could be their next case story.

It’s a complicated world out there. The internet is far from safe. Many social media applications can be dangerous. But regardless, kids are already using them or will be in the near future.

As parents, how do we keep our kids safe online? With new technology like mobile phones, iPods, laptops, and video games coming into our homes, we as parents need to educate ourselves and set family rules to protect our kids.

Officer Lucey recommends keeping all computers in a common area where an adult can monitor computer use at any time. He said that shared computers are easier to monitor and therefore safer. You’ll be more apt to check browser history on a computer you also use, not to mention how powerful walking by can be!

Well, that was my first mistake. I immediately took the laptop out of Bean’s room after the presentation. She has been respectful of our new “computers on the first floor only” rule but I’d image this will become more difficult as she gets older. Officer Lucey recommends that parents don’t allow kids to bring their phones to bed. We’re planning to have the kids leave their devices on the kitchen counter when we reach that point. This gives kids some healthy insecurity and gives you a chance for random checks.

Limiting the amount of time that kids spend online at night is another great tip. Most predators work during the day, making kids at greatest risk at night. This never would have crossed my mind and I definitely haven’t read about it online. “No computers after dinner” is another new rule at our house.

My monkeys don’t have mobile phones or an iPod touch yet, and I plan to hold out as long as I can despite the constant requests from the 10 year old. Common Sense Media, an online resource that helps kids and parents navigate our technology driven world, suggests that kids are mature enough to manage a phone at age 13 when they have a better sense of what’s happening in the world around them. Read more about their reasoning here

The internet brings cyber-bullying to the forefront 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Once kids are connected, they can’t avoid it. Victims can’t win. Detective Wojtkowski says not to engage bullies over social media and never reply impulsively. Some apps will allow you to access the privacy settings to block an abuser. Make sure to save and print the conversations first. It’s good to know that companies like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter that are based in the U.S. cooperate with law enforcement, but not all apps do.

If you have teenagers, watch the move Cyberbully on Netflix together. I watched it myself last week and can’t believe how much stress social media adds to teenagers’ already complicated lives. There are so many apps out there it’s hard to keep track. Take a look at this guide on Common Sense Media.

Surprisingly, dating sites and apps are really big right now in middle and high school. This was a bit of a shocker for me. Kids can lie about their age to get access to a number of apps. Some are designed for kids over 18 — but some allow access to 13 year olds. Have you heard of MeetMe, Tinder, Hot or Not, Plenty of Fish, Okcupid, and Zoosk? Time to get acquainted. Besides avoiding dating apps, Officers recommend steering clear of the following apps because of cyber bullying and predators: Ask.fm, Chat Roulette, Omegle, Kik, and YikYak.

Have open conversations with your kids about internet safety. Let your kids know that you’re watching. Keep track of their passwords. Set rules. Have clear, set consequences for when they’re broken.

For more information, check out the following websites:
– NetSmartz
– Yoursphere
StopBullying.gov
KidsHealth.org
SafeKids.com
– Facebook’s Family Safety Center
– Instagram Tips for Parents

Locally, the Newbury Police Department will hold another Internet Safety presentation for Triton Middle School parents on January 28, 2016 at 6:30pm in the Triton High School auditorium. Contact your local police department to find out if they host talks on internet safety for parents. 

You can reach Detective Aaron Wojtkowski from the Newbury Police Department at 978-462-4440 ext. 124 or via email at a.wojtkowski@newburypolice.com. Greg Whitney is the School Resource Officer in Newburyport and can be reached at 978-462-4411 or via email at gwhitney@newburyportpolice.com.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from Under the Monkey Bars Blog

Playing :: With my monkeys…so great to be home together
Listening:: To A Very She & Him Christmas
Reading :: The Engagements now, Twas The Night Before Christmas tonight!
Drinking :: Green smoothies with my new favorite ingredient: eggnog almond milk
Walking :: On the beach (in denial that it’s 65 degrees today)
Wishing :: For this sweater coat
Making :: Oh She Glows Coconut Whipped Cream for tomorrow’s pumpkin and apple pies
Watching :: Google Santa Tracker
Eating :: Christmas Eve dinner at Ceia Kitchen + Bar in Newburyport
Packing :: For winter vacation. Looking forward to lots of family time, skiing, and relaxation. See you back here in 2016! Until then, find me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Have a magical Christmas with your families and loved ones! XO

Schmaltz Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Shallot Puree

Schmaltz Roasted Brussel Sprouts - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

Did you catch last week’s post about Ceia Kitchen + Bar? If you can’t make it to Newburyport, you can experience a taste of Ceia in your own home with this delicious recipe for Schmaltz Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Shallot Puree from Ceia’s Executive Chef, Jeremy Glover.

I’ve made these brussel sprouts twice since Jeremy shared the recipe with me. You are going to love them! Brussel sprouts are so decadent roasted this way. With the sweet and tangy puree on top, Bean couldn’t get enough of it! 

I’m not going to pretend Schmaltz was part of my culinary vocabulary. I had to look it up. Wikipedia says it’s “rendered chicken or duck fat used for cooking in European cuisine.” You can skim the fat off homemade bone broth, or cheat like I did and pick up a container of duck fat at a local market like Grand Trunk World Market or Whole Foods. For a vegan option, just roast the sprouts with olive oil and follow the rest of the recipe for the shallot puree. Chef Jeremy recommends this olive oil.

Set up your puree ingredients while the sprouts are roasting. Pre-measure your olive oil. Pour the shallot vinegar and honey into the blender or food processor. I used my 15 year old Cuisinart and it was totally fine. Once the shallots and garlic were roasted, the shallot puree came together quickly. I can see myself making it with other meals for sure.

I served these Schmaltz Roasted Brussel Sprouts on a weeknight with a roast chicken, butternut squash, and quinoa.  The flavors meshed really well with the sprouts. There was plenty of shallot puree to drizzle over our plates, which we did. Maybe even more than a drizzle! It tasted amazing over the quinoa. 

Schmaltz Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Shallot Puree may sound complicated, but it’s not a hard recipe to follow. Add it to the menu for your next dinner party because it will definitely impress your guests! These fancy sprouts will be a gorgeous addition to any holiday table with their festive combination of red and green. Cómelo todo!

Schmaltz Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Shallot Puree
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Ingredients
  1. 24 Brussel sprouts
  2. 3 tablespoons chicken or duck fat
  3. 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  4. 2 shallots, cut length wise
  5. 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  6. 2 tablespoons raw honey
  7. 4 tablespoons quality extra virgin olive oil
  8. 12 pomegranate seeds
  9. Salt to taste
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Cut sprouts in half lengthwise, smash the cloves of garlic, cut shallots, and toss together with warm chicken or duck fat and salt.
  3. Roast on sheet pan until Brussel sprouts are dark and crisp. The garlic and shallots should be soft as well. This may take 20 – 25 minutes.
  4. Take sheet pan out of oven, peel shallots, place one and a half in blender with vinegar, honey, and garlic. Blend mixture until smooth. Drizzle oil slowly until fully emulsified.
  5. Arrange sprouts in a pile, petal out the half shallot that isn’t in the vinaigrette. Place vinaigrette in a few spots on the sprouts. Finish with the pomegranate seeds.
Adapted from Executive Chef Jeremy Glover
Adapted from Executive Chef Jeremy Glover
Under the Monkey Bars http://underthemonkeybars.com/

 

Simplify Holiday Traditions

Simplifying Holiday Traditions - Under the Monkey Bars blog

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” But is it?

The holidays create so much extra stress layered on top of already busy lives. We search for the perfect gifts, decorate to the nines, angst over the perfect holiday card photo, host and attend numerous holiday parties. It’s exhausting!

The holidays always overwhelm me. I try to carry the sentiments of gratitude and mindfulness from Thanksgiving into December, but it’s not easy with such a long list of To Do’s.

I only started to feel the spirit of the holidays the other day when I snuggled up on the couch with my monkeys to watch the TV special Yes, Virginia There is a Santa Claus. You know that feeling that swells up inside you and fills you with hope and joy? There’s not much in our crazy world that does that anymore.

After the show was over, Sweet Pea was struck by the tangible example of how one person can truly make a difference — even a little girl. Virginia’s letter to the New York Sun impacted the whole city. One article in the paper lifted spirits, fostered giving, and created holiday cheer.

It’s amazing how hope can change us. At a time when our world is suffering from strife and anxiety, we must cherish every moment of peace and love. Seeing the world through a child’s eyes often simplifies problems. While watching an uplifting holiday movie will not bring us world peace, it can spark sentiments needed to create change.

As parents, Don and I have been through ten years of holiday traditions. Some traditions are fleeting and only last through certain ages, while others carry on from year to year. Our Christmas this year will be very different from our first Christmas as parents in 2005.

In the early years, we went overboard on absolutely everything without even realizing it. We’ve simplified our traditions so that we can spend more time together and feel more relaxed. We still decorate our tree, send cards, play holiday music, and exchange gifts. It’s taken me ten years to realize that the Christmas spirit will thrive in our home whether or not I spend hours upon hours preparing for it. Keeping it simple allows this time of year to be truly wonderful.

One of our favorite holiday traditions is the twelve books of Christmas. It not only fosters a love for reading, but it also builds our home library. I collect books for the girls throughout the year, stocking up on used books at the Great Old Book Sale at the Newburyport Public Library and buying the rest at bookstores locally.

We give each little monkey a basket of wrapped books as a countdown to Christmas. The girls choose one book per night to open until Christmas Eve. The excitement lies in deciding which book to choose and seeing the number of books in the basket decrease. We’ll curl up by the Christmas tree to read the new books together before bedtime.

Books have always played a large role in our holiday traditions. On Christmas Eve, we read Twas The Night Before Christmas in front of a roaring fire. I’ll never forget the first year that each of my daughters read the whole book themselves. It was truly magical. We cherish this Holiday tradition most of all.

This holiday season, welcome new and old traditions to foster holiday cheer without the stress. I hope your holidays are magical and the most wonderful time of the year for you and your family.