On priorities and compromises

I live in a lovely, 3-bedroom condo. One room for the parents, one room for the boys.  And one room that is MINE. Only mine. Oh, does that sound a bit stingy?  {Yes, it does.}  My family has been kind enough to support my desire to escape into crafty/sewing land at my every whim {I am a sometimes introvert} over the past five years.  And I got to feeling like I owned that room, like I deserved it.  As if it was a sacred, holy land of creativity.  And it was that, but one day we had to look at the facts.  My boys were sharing a room- which is just fine!  BUT they had gotten into a bad, bad cycle of not being able to go to sleep in the same room {we’re talking staying up 3-4 hours, until 11pm} and then the older one waking up at the crack of dawn, while it was still dark out- even with blackout curtains- and turning on the light and waking up the cranky little brother.  Each morning was a disaster.  Crying, fighting, yelling, tearing the room apart every exhausting day… I may have joined in the crying and yelling once or twice after being woken up to referee or triage at 5am.  They were not happy.  My husband was not happy.  I was not happy.

So on a Saturday at the end of May, I packed up my beloved sewing table.  I put away all my crafting supplies and my lovely decor.  All the lovely things brought back for me by family members and friends from their travels Japan, Korea, Thailand, China, and India, and maybe a thing or two from Africa and Spain {can you tell we love Asia?}.  All of it in boxes.  I cried.  I moved it all out.  In went a twin bed, an adorable little three year old, and a whole heckuva lot of toys.

And you know what?  Peace.  In so many ways.  My boys are sleeping until at least 7am now, sometimes later.  They play quietly in their rooms for a while, then ask to play in the other’s room.  When things start escalating during the day, I send them to their rooms for “calm down time”- with their doors sometimes open, sometimes closed, until they feel calm enough to play together again.  Much less crying and fighting.  A happier Mama.  Was it worth it?  Yes.

Lest you think my crafting and sewing days are over, think again! I cleared out some floor space and drawer space in my room, and my sewing table lives in there now.  I still have 1/3 of the closet space in my old sewing room.  My computer desk is crammed almost hilariously in one of the corners of my living room.  Whatever.  It’s not feng shui but it is a good compromise.  I do occasionally find myself walking into “my” sewing room only to remember that it’s not MINE anymore as I see toys and flip flops all over the floor. >sigh< The benefits do outweigh the sacrifice though.  And this small sacrifice of mine seems right.

Someday I will have a room to myself again, but for now, I will smile every time I wake up to… quiet.

Have you ever had to make a compromise that in the end was worth it?

I am still here.

Sometimes these things just happen.  Sometimes we walk away from our blog even though it has been a positive thing in our lives, because there are other, more positive things to focus on for a while.  Like improving physical and emotional health, and working on family relationships that need to be strengthened.
I feel bad that I have been MIA for 5 months without saying anything (if there’s anyone still reading this blog!) but I kept thinking I would be coming back to it… anytime now!  But things didn’t happen that way.  I had a really hard winter.  I did what I needed to do to nurture myself and my family, and I’m pleased to say that after everything, I am feeling like I might be able to have somewhat more of a presence here.

I have learned some things about myself.  I have rearranged some of my priorities, and found some tools and resources which have helped immensely.  I have recommitted to nurturing my personal spiritual health (meaningful daily prayer and scripture time, as well as meditation- I have particularly enjoyed Kundalini Yoga  mantra meditation).  I feel good.  :)

I am coming back to blogging.  I have been writing a few posts in my head for a while now.  I have been working on making a cute, comfy dress for myself which I am excited to share.  I plan to continue sharing sewing and crafty type projects, but I anticipate a slow change to start including other types of posts here too.

I guess the other thing I learned is that the {figurative and literal} winter doesn’t last forever.  Eventually spring does come, and the world is rosy again.  Aren’t new beginnings wonderful?

Home Again, Home Again, Joggity Jog…

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind for me, and I expect the next two weeks to be more of the same.  However, I wanted to pop in and share a bit of what I’ve been up to…

Baby shower fare

A road trip to Oregon, during which we packed in a baby shower, a cousin tea party, taking my handsome brother’s senior pictures, a backpacking trip, an anniversary getaway, visiting family, and all the outdoor stuff the guys like to do (tennis, racquetball, golf, paintball, shooting), shopping, etc.

Tea party lovelies

Since we’ve been home, I’ve registered my son for preschool, gone to work (I am an RN), attended playgroup with my kids, and had eye surgery.  Yup, it’s been crazy. 

My brother… photo credit to my awesome hubby.

In the next little while I have trainings and meetings, my usual work, a webinar, and a mandatory weekend conference for work, playgroup, preschool starting, and working extra hours at a health fair.  Add in a couple of birthdays and family coming into town, plus all the laundry I still need to catch up on from our trip and things are about to get interesting!

I’m certainly not complaining about my life right now; in fact, I feel incredibly grateful.  Just busy, so with that, I will leave you with a these pictures, and I will be in and out, hopefully, with more photos from some of the things we have been doing, and some new projects.

Until then, peace!

Watermarking Your Blog Photos (After Publishing)

Photo watermarked after original publishing on blog

If you blog, and your blog is public to anyone on the web, you probably know that you should be watermarking your photos to offer them a bit of protection from… well… plagiarism.

But what if you’ve been blogging for years, and somehow watermarking just wasn’t a priority?  Now you’re looking at hundreds (at least) of photos that need watermarking.  It’s overwhelming and altogether impractical to think of going through and editing each and every photo and re-uploading it into each post.

That has been my dilemma for quite some time, but after Picnik went away (RIP, Picnik), Google integrated some of the Picnik functionality with Picasa Web Albums, and the result is that you can edit photos that were uploaded long ago, and they’ll be automatically updated on your blog (and any other blog that might be hotlinking your photos) without having to re-upload anything, if you save it correctly.  I’m going to show you how to do that.  The only downside is that there is no way to batch-edit that I am aware of- you have to pick and choose which photos are most important to watermark, and do them one at a time, a little at a time until you’ve finished them.

This tutorial is for bloggers who use Picasa Web Albums to host their images (i.e. instead of uploading photos from your computer straight into your blog post, the images are stored in Picasa Web Albums and embedded into the post by the URL generated by Picasa).  Also, I use Blogger, so I can’t speak for how well this works on WordPress or Typepad blogs, or for using a photo hosting site like Photobucket.  If anyone tries it with another photo hosting site or blogging platform, let me know, and I’ll post those results.

On to the tutorial:

Here is a screenshot from a post I did a couple of years ago, and I had not watermarked any of the photos.  I really didn’t feel like I needed to watermark each and every one, but I wanted to do the first photo, shown above, and the last photo, shown below.

First, I went into my web album where I was storing my photos for this post, and I selected this photo.

Second, I went into the “Actions” dropdown menu and clicked “Edit in Creative Kit”.

Once in the creative kit, I clicked text.

In the text box at the top left I typed in my blog URL and clicked the font I wanted to use, then clicked “Add”.

The text was added, and I had the opportunity to re-size it and choose the placement.  Then on the menu that pops up while the text is selected, I used the slide bar to select the amount of fade I wanted.  Depending on the colors and exposure in the picture, 40%-70% fade is the range that typically works the best.

Once the watermark is in place, click “Save to my album” in the top right corner, then when the “Confirm Photo Replace” popup comes up, you must click “Replace”.  Obviously, if you haven’t yet published the blog post, you could click “Save a new copy” if you wanted to preserve the original for some reason, but replacing the original is the only way to update the photo in your already- published post without re-uploading the photo and re-publishing the post.

Within a minute or two, the photo will be updated on the blog.

As I mentioned before, replacing the original photos with watermarked ones in this way will not only automatically update your own blog posts using those photos, but any other site which is hotlinking your photos (that is that they are displaying your photos by copying your photo URL and inserting it into their own post, or just straight out copying the html for your whole post… this will not work if they have copied your original photo to their own computer and uploaded it themselves) will be updated with the watermarked photos as well, hopefully regaining you some lost traffic.

I have to mention that watermarking is not the most foolproof way of protecting your photos, but it probably is the easiest and most time-efficient deterrent to photo- swiping.  I think when it comes down to it, nobody wants to be the photo/ blogging police- after all, most people are well intentioned, and/or perhaps aren’t up-to-date on their blogging etiquette.  In these circumstances, sometimes the best thing is to do… nothing (except watermark your photos- ha!).  Do you agree?  Disagree?

New Things Around Here

A new color scheme…

A new Twitter account and button…

A new site badge (that actually works- check out the right sidebar)…

A new page (“I believe“)…

And a new policy…

This new policy will be explained in more depth on its own page soon for those with questions.  Until then, just shoot me an email!

Escaping the Clutter

I struggle with clutter.  Growing up, it took me years to realize why my dresser top and my shelves didn’t look tidy even after spending an hour “cleaning” them- or more accurately, re-arranging the knick- knacks and clutter on top of them.  I did eventually learn that cleaning was more than reorganizing a mess (without putting anything out of sight) and that the best look for my dresser was “bare, with 2 or 3 attractive accessories”.

My kitchen clutter “hot spot” (ala FlyLady)

These days I feel oppressed by clutter, stifled even, but still it accumulates… doo-dads in hidden nooks and crannies, baskets full of random items longing to be put away, and even stacks of mail and broken toys that dare to loiter in plain sight on my kitchen counters.  The clutter has become so much more offensive now that I am acquainted with the freedom of shiny, clear counters and dresser tops that imply endless possibilities.

Shiny dresser… ahh!

So what is a girl to do?  If only it were as simple as just putting all the clutter away…  Is anyone with me here?  A year ago or so I really got to work organizing and busting my clutter.  Don’t get me wrong, it is still an issue and I am working on it everyday, but when I realized that we were not going to be able to sell our condo (due to the economy) and move to a bigger home, I decided I was going to do what I could to be happy for as long as we end up needing to stay here.

Are you in a similar situation?  Have you reached a point where you know Something Must Be Done (!) or have you learned to embrace the clutter and just go with it?  Or maybe you are a champion homemaker and you don’t have this problem… (?)

I can’t promise that I can solve your clutter monster problem, but I can share what I did and what is starting to work for me.

Ack!  Another hot spot (office)

Here’s where I started: I looked at my clutter problem (which had me all antsy and irate about my perfectly lovely and comfortable condo, which we seemed to grow out of at an abominably quick rate) and decided to figure out what I could do based on where the clutter problems were coming from.  I think we can classify some clutter problems as “out of our control” issues and others, well, it is up to us to “take control”.

The “out of our control” issues:

  • Apartment/ condo/ home is too small; there just isn’t a “place for everything” 
  • Babies/ Toddlers/ Kids… need I say more?
  • Budget- to a degree, you have to work with what you’ve got as far as furniture, organizing materials, etc.

 The “need to take control” issues:

  • Tendencies to hoard certain items
  • Priorities- If you can’t stand the situation and there is something that can be done to improve it, then make it more important than browsing Pinterest, right?
A little closet organization never hurt anyone.

First, I addressed the “need to take control” issues.  I am not a hoarder per se, but I love a good recycling/ upcycling project, and sometimes I tend to get a little carried away in the materials collecting process.  There came a point that I had bags and bags of empty toilet paper rolls, boxes of glass bottles that I had washed and saved from various drinks or condiments, and containers of random pieces of junk that I “might use someday”.  I just had to realize that enough is enough.  I used quite a few of those toilet paper rolls for various projects, but when those were finished, I had to just be done with them, and recycle the rest.  Same with the glass bottles.  I went through all my craft materials and recycled, donated, or otherwise disposed of several huge bags worth of junk.  New rule for myself: I will not hoard craft supplies unless I have a clear plan of what I will be doing with them.  As for my priorities, I didn’t just try to organize the whole house in one day, I have been trying to pace myself a bit and work on one area at a time- and it is working, slowly but surely!

My crafting supplies (not counting sewing stuff) all fit in these bins (at least now they do)!

As a side note, one of my clutter problems stems from junk mail… half of it I can’t throw away because I feel like it needs to be shredded, so it accumulates.  Here is one solution I have found that seems to be working: Catalog Choice.  Just save your junk mail, go to their (free) website and enter the information they ask for for each catalog, and they will opt you out of mailings and name sharing. It’s pretty cool, and no, I didn’t get paid to tell you that!

Next, I got to looking at the “out of my control” issues and wondering if there really wasn’t anything I could do.  As it turns out, there really wasn’t anything I could do about moving to a bigger home yet, but I could rent a small storage unit and fill it with as much rarely-used stuff as I could possibly squish into it.  So I did, and that made a huge difference in how spacious my home felt.  Crib?  Gone.  Changing table?  Gone.  Unused furniture?  Gone.  Boxes of baby clothes too small for my kids?  Gone.  During this whole process I had to really ask myself “Do I want to pay to store this for x number of years?” each time I put something in a box to go to storage.  Consequently, I donated or tossed a lot of stuff here too.

Cheap shelf and baskets that add storage to our guest bathroom.

As for the kids?  Yeah, nothing I can do about the constant messes they make, but I did what I could to organize their toys, and I try to hold them accountable for at least picking up all the toys in the front room before going to bed (at a minimum).  Last week I changed my routine for the morning, so that we all do some cleaning together.  I have my 2 and 3 year old sons picking up items and running around the house putting them away.  They help me clean every room in the house, put away laundry, throw garbage out, and pick up their toys.  I pay them (mostly pennies and nickels) for each task they do, and they love putting the coins in their money jars through a little slot I cut in the lid (originally a small plastic peanut butter jar).  Last weekend I was shocked to realize that every single part of my house was decently clean- not perfect- but acceptable.  Today is more of the same.  It is because of this little routine change that we have implemented.

Now the budget was a tricky one, but I got my husband on board with me and we made a list in a spreadsheet of all the items we wanted or felt like we needed to make our home more comfortable.  That list includes things like smaller furniture for certain rooms, organizational materials like storage containers, shelving, paint, and a few home improvements that would add storage space.  We save our money and try to check a couple of things off the purchase list each month.

It is working!  I think I am always going to have to be mindful of clutter and work to keep it at bay, but for the first time in my life I am starting to feel like I am going to be able to conquer it!

What have you done to combat clutter from taking over your home?  Changed routines?   Are you a pro?  Still working on it?  I’d love to hear what you’re doing!

Tender Mercies

This post is a little different than my usual subject matter, but I am full of gratitude and I feel I need to write this story and share it with all of you.

In my last post I mentioned that we went to Eastern Washington for my brother’s wedding, and that it was a crazy trip… well, it really was crazy.  We were going to go visit my husband’s grandparents first, and we were excited to finally see them in their new home.   We made the 13 hour drive with two somewhat unhappy children in the back.  But that’s not the crazy part.  I meant to say that it should have been a 13 hour trip.  But, things rarely go as they should, right? 

We are a nutty family.  😀

We left our home at about 3pm (kind of late to be starting a road trip, I know, but we were only going to go halfway that night) and got as far as Boise, Idaho.  It was already almost 9pm but we were still planning on driving a couple more hours- the kids were asleep and things were finally peaceful (we love doing our driving at night for that reason).  We only stopped for gas, but as we were finishing up at the pump, we noticed that our car was overheating.  Really, just overheating as we sat there- the needle was almost at the highest level.  We ended up buying some coolant and filling up the reservoir, but that didn’t help.  We decided we had better have our car looked at, but nothing was open at that hour.  We knew we would have to stop for the night.  We were so bummed.  We got a hotel, and tried to get a good night’s sleep.  Bright and early the next morning, my husband took the car into a nearby dealership to have it fixed.  I was stuck in a hotel room with two small children, and no toys or clean clothes or shoes for them!  I put on a show for the kids to watch, but they weren’t very interested.  Despite my best efforts, the boys spent the morning teasing each other and wreaking havoc (my youngest actually broke a beside lamp- oops).  When my husband finally came back, it was with bad news, and without the car (the radiator and a fan needed replacing- a repair running upwards of a thousand dollars).  The dealership did not have the parts we needed, and had to overnight them in from somewhere else.  Worst case scenario, we would be stuck in Boise until the following day at 5pm.  We decided to try to rent a car and just eat the extra expense so we could have that potentially irreplaceable time with my husband’s grandparents.  We called every car rental agency in Boise, and the two nearby cities.  Every single one.  Who knew it was spring break there?  We don’t have kids in school and it took us forever to figure out why there were no rental cars available anywhere.   I felt like crying (maybe I did, just a little).  Would this mean that we wouldn’t have time to visit our grandparents (and who knows when/ if we would ever be able to visit them at their home again) on this trip?

'Car broken down' photo (c) 2004, Mark Cartwright - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

So far this story just sounds like one big sob story, full of complaints and angst, right?  That’s how I felt about it at this point, but let me fill in a few details I haven’t mentioned yet, and you will see how God’s hand was in all of this– yes, I really believe that we were blessed with countless “tender mercies” in this instance.  For example:

  • We were planning on driving over the blue mountains that night.  Imagine overheating at that time!  What a horrible and unsafe place to break down that would have been.  I had no cell phone reception in that area. Boise was really the last “big” city that would likely have been able to meet our needs so quickly.
  • The gas station we broke down at shared a parking lot with a truck stop/ travel station, and a Shilo Inn.  We were able to head over to the hotel just a few paces away from our car.
  • My husband told the woman at the counter about our problem, and she upgraded our room to a suite.  For free.  I didn’t love being stuck in the hotel with my boys, but imagine if it had been half the size!  >shudder<
  • Also, the hotel offered a continental breakfast.  I know lots of hotels do, but some don’t, and I’m really glad that the one we ended up with had food, because we were starving in the morning!
  • My dad suggested we check the antifreeze/ coolant level and when we checked it, it was really low, almost gone, so filling it up may have prevented worse damage.
  • We could have left home later in the week.  By leaving when we did, we arrived in Washington later than we wanted, but still in plenty of time for the wedding.  If we had left a couple days later, we probably would have missed it.
  • The dealership (Bronco Motors) really went the extra mile for us.  They shuttled my husband around, and then brought us a loaner car to use until ours was repaired.  We were really anxious, and kept calling to see how things were coming, and they were really nice and promised to call us when the parts arrived and when they had an idea of when the car would be fixed.  They even had a rental car they were working on which was almost done and said they’d try to persuade the rental agency to give it to us!  Haha.  Glad we didn’t have to do that.
  • I called my parents to let them know our situation, and they made a few calls to family- I discovered I had family in that very city!  I didn’t know it before, but my cousin lived there with his wife and kids, not far from where we had been staying.  I hadn’t seen that cousin in years, and we had the opportunity to reconnect.  They even graciously let us stay with them in their home.  Our kids were thrilled to be able to run around and play with their kids (and nobody broke any more lamps).  This was a huge relief and blessing to us.
  • My uncle and aunt who lived in a nearby city called to offer us their car to drive the rest of the way in case ours couldn’t be fixed that day.  We didn’t end up needing to use it, but their sincerity and love for us really touched me. 
  • I know there were probably so many other ways we were watched over… it seemed like every time a door closed a window opened to us.

Long story short(er), the car was repaired a whole two hours before 5pm that following day, and we were on our way.  We weren’t able to have a long visit with our grandparents that day, but the following morning we drove out to see them.  My family was very supportive of us making that a priority despite all the wedding preparations going on.  The wedding was wonderful, and happily, we had no car troubles on the way home.  In fact, the kids were much happier (despite one bout of carsickness) on the way home.  I don’t know the reason (if there was any) that we had to break down, but I am grateful for the witness that God is in the little things as well as the big things, that he cares about the details of our lives, and I know that with His help, we can find happiness even in difficult circumstances.

Psalms 145:9 The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.