Start Your Year Clean

Woman cleaning a mirror

Hogmanay in Scotland is more than just singing a Robert Burns song, taking a shot of whiskey, and dancing around. It can be that as well, but in Scotland New Year involves clearing out the old year and welcoming the new, which means house cleaning.

When I lived in Scotland, I found that this obsession with New Year cleaning extended to having not even a teaspoon in the sink at the stroke of midnight. The New Year offers you the possibility of a clean slate.

The focus on cleaning is less about fetishizing cleanliness and more about removing obstacles to real action. As long as you have that nagging sink full of dishes, you have an excuse not to focus on what you really want. So, let’s focus on clearing out the baggage, then we can turn our minds to what the new year might bring.


CHAOS

Is the house out of control? It’s easy for everything to slip into chaos when you have little kids. One of the most effective systems I’ve seen for gaining control is the Fly Lady. Years ago, when the Fly Lady was just a Yahoo group, I followed this system daily to dig out from under physical and other garbage holding me back. Fly Lady calls this CHAOS, Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome.

First step? Reclaim one small space every day. Shine your sink. It’s not about your sink; it’s about a guaranteed success, an area of calm within the chaos.

If the state of your house is holding you back, I recommend Fly Lady in any format as the cheerleader who can help you take back control.


What Are You Tolerating?

What holds you back from doing everything you want to do with your family, your children, and just for yourself? Maybe your house is sparkly and you still feel like something is holding you back. You have a few days to figure it out and clear it out so you can face the new year ready to roar.

What are you tolerating around you? Make a list. I love this exercise to bring all of those tiny issues into consciousness. Get a big piece of paper and start listing all of the little things you are putting up with. The tap leaks, the dog’s hair is too long, my son’s shoes are too small, not enough hangers, too-small kids cloths are piling up, and so on. You know how it goes. Start with the obvious that you see around you then move on to the less obvious. Haven’t gone out with my husband for weeks, tired of the foods we eat regularly, haven’t taken my new yarn out of the bag. Keep digging. When I go through this process with friends, I tell them to number every item and don’t stop until at least 50. If you create enough calm around you to think clearly, you can probably get to 100 without much problem.

Then, look at the list for three things you can knock off immediately. Then, three more. Don’t let these ridiculously tiny things hold you back from big dreams.

Time to clean up!

Image © Iakov Filimonov | Dreamstime.com

Play Outside in the Snow!

Toddler playing outside in the winter

Do you feel that temptation to stay indoors and cozy up in front of a fire for the next week? Don’t do it! Well, not the whole time, anyway. Bundle up and go outside everyday, even if you are anxious to return to your warm house.

What happens when young children aren’t tired enough when bedtime comes? You know the answer, don’t you. They keep tired parents from sleeping. Especially with little kids, outdoor activity can make us tired enough to sleep well during a mostly lazy holiday. Better yet, when you come in from the cold, it is a perfect time to have hot chocolate or wassail.

My family will be spending the rest of today with friends. If there is enough snow, we will go snowshoeing; if not, we will go hiking. Either way, we anticipate windblown cheeks and cold noses as we unwind our scarves when we return to the house and to the sweet smells of lunch. That feeling is one of my favorite parts of the holidays.


8 Outdoor Activities for Your Family Holiday

Go for a Walk. Make it a habit to walk after lunch. My family has two fuzzy dogs, so our walks through the snow mean dogs covered in little snowballs like Christmas treat ornaments. The dogs have a great time romping like puppies, and we have a great time chasing after them. No matter whether you are in town or in the country, a walk is a great way to spend a part of your vacation days.

Build a Snow Fort. If you pack the snow tight enough, your fort can last long after most of the snow is gone. Last year, our whole neighborhood contributed to one snow fort, with adults and dogs included. This can be an ongoing activity.

Make Snow Angels. Drop down onto your back in the deep snow and swim your arms and legs back and forth until you create a wings and skirt. Toddlers love this activity. The first year my husband spent in the heavy winter after growing up without much snow, I convinced him to fall into several feet of powder. I fished him out and told him, “Welcome to Winter!” I’m a bit more careful with my children, but they still do this.

Scavenge for Winter Nature Table Decorations. Are there still evergreens, pinecones, winter berries. Children will tromp from place to place not even realizing that they are actually on a walk.

Sledding. Whether you have an old-fashioned sled, an old tire, or a cardboard box lid, you can probably find something slippery around the house for sledding. We have quite a few steep hills near our house, but we have another version of sledding that involves my husband grabbing tight to the rope on the sled and hauling children around. It worked better when they were little, but everyone still wants to see who can pull the rest of the family. If you celebrate Festivus, this could be one of your feats of strength.

Moon and Stargazing. The moon is past the quarter and will be full next week. If the sky is clear, you should have enough light for a late night walk. During the most recent full moon, my son stared out the window and said, “It’s so light! I wish we could go outside.” I asked, “Why can’t you?” He had no answer, and within minutes we were all bundled up for a midnight walk under the full moon. I was back in quickly, but they just sat in their tree swings, swinging patterns in the snow and talking for nearly an hour. Little children might not be able to take a long walk in the extreme cold, but the adventure of a nighttime walk can awaken the senses.

Bundle up and make sure snow can’t sneak into boots or mittens. Stay out long enough to have fun but not so long that children become miserable. The cold helps you and your children appreciate the warm. The activity helps you appreciate the opportunity to curl up with the family without the stresses of every day.

Happy Holidays and warm fingers and toes to your whole family.

Image © Miniimpressions | Dreamstime.com

Last-Minute Gift for Yourself?

Natural buckwheat body pillow

Christmas, birthdays, and other big, gift-giving holidays are a perfect time to ask for those very nice gifts you wouldn’t necessarily buy for yourself every day.

Do you end up buying your own gifts? I do. I ordered mine yesterday, and I don’t mind. I don’t really need much, and I don’t assume my husband can read my mind about what I want. I would be terribly disappointed with jewelry, flowers, chocolates, or any of the gifts I see marketed to men for women. My son wanted to buy the gift himself, but he finally asked me yesterday to help him. He and my husband are both very happy that I’m happy with what I get. Plus, buying for myself makes getting that very nice gift even easier.

So, here is my suggestion for you if you have family members who are still looking around at the last-minute for the right gift for you: a Buckwheat Body Pillow.

Natural buckwheat pregnancy pillow


Buckwheat Body Pillow

If you bought separate pillows for pregnancy comfort, for nursing, and for sleep comfort, you probably wish you could use the same pillow for all three purposes. With the buckwheat body pillow, you can. This pillow is versatile. Lay it out the long way to support your belly during pregnancy; tie the ends together to make the perfect size for nursing; and continue to sleep with the pillow in a variety of shapes long after pregnancy and nursing are over.

This pillow can be used in many ways, and you can keep it clean by removing the buckwheat to wash the cotton cover and even replacing the buckwheat after years of use.

And, this pillow is beautiful! You won’t want to hide these bright cotton prints.

Comes in a child size as well.

Buckwheat pillows made in Canada


A Pillow You Can Feel Good About

There are more reasons to feel good about this pillow.

Your Health. Filled with dust-free, roasted buckwheat hulls which are hypoallergenic & naturally dust mite resistant.

Environmentally Responsible. All the raw materials use in our buckwheat pillows are local, long-lasting, compostable, and renewable.

Made in Canada. Natural buckwheat filling supplied by a Quebecois organic farm.

Socially Responsible. Each buckwheat pillow is handmade by a Montreal-based reintegration company that fights against exclusion and poverty.

Ask for the perfect last-minute gift, or buy it for yourself today. Our store is closed for the holidays, but we are still shipping.

Lemony Cornmeal Shortbread Cookie Recipe

Lemony Cornmeal Shortbread Recipe

During the holidays, maybe you like to have sweets, but you don’t want to offer your children and the rest of your family cookies that are overly sweet. I have lemony cornmeal shortbread cookies for you.

I started with Ginger’s Cornmeal Cookies recipe from the Iroquois White Corn Project based in upstate New York. They grow, process, and sell heirloom Haudenosaunee corn. This isn’t white sweet corn but the corn used for masa, corn tortillas, grits, and hominy. This is not instant cornmeal, either. This is corn that takes a while to cook. This is the best kind of slow food.

Cornmeal and corn flour offers a great alternative for those who cook gluten free. This recipe, however, is not gluten free. This is a basic shortbread recipe that replaces 1/4 of the wheat flour with cornmeal. This particular cornmeal is rough-cut, giving the cookies a lovely crunch. Also, the roasted corn flour from the Iroquois White Corn Project has an amazing nutty smell. Try it, and you’ll want to find more and more recipes where you can substitute corn flour for wheat flour.

My version of the recipe keeps the ingredients but changes the way the cookies are shaped and baked. I used my grandmother’s old candy dish to press stars into the cookies, since I plan to give them as gifts. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), it took less than a day for these cookies all to go missing. Each of the cookie thieves in my family have offered their own explanation, including my husband wondering whether there is some kind of mystery, “mawish” chemical in the cardamom. (Which he tells me means one can’t stop eating it. Likely story. Maybe it’s a British thing.) I now need to make a double batch and hide them so I can give them to neighbors.

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Roasted Iroquois White Corn Flour
1/2 tsp of salt
2/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
Zest of one organic lemon
1/ tsp ground cardamom

Directions

  1. Prepare heavy cookie sheet by greasing and lightly flouring. Butter papers provide enough grease.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix flours, salt, and cardamom; set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and lemon zest; beat until smooth. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture, mixing until just combined.
  4. Use teaspoon or melonballer to scoop 1″ ball of cookie dough. Flatten each ball to a disk shape about 1 1/2″ across and 1/2″ high. Using the bottom of a crystal wine glass or any cut crystal, lightly floured, press shape into cookie disk until about 3/8″ high and set onto cookie sheet.
  5. Chill cookies on cookie sheet for 2-3 hours.
  6. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  7. Bake until edges are golden, 20-21 minutes.
  8. Transfer cookies immediately to a wire rack; let cool completely.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Full disclosure: I’m a volunteer on the Iroquois White Corn Project. Over the past 16 years, I’ve worked with this version of the project as well as with the original project based in western New York. I’m very excited that we have this great corn available again.