Oh, Monday: listing & planning

Life is all about balance. And this month has followed true to that. Two weeks ago, I got everything done. ALL the things! And just in time for the weekend, too. I figured I had earned some rest.

And that’s exactly what I got. A whole week of it.

This winter we have had a strange series of “colds” (for lack of a better name). For the most part, we have avoided stuffed sinuses, sore throats, upset stomachs, and instead were plagued with week-long bouts of nausea, tiredness, coughs, or runny noses. Nothing serious. So much so, that it’s hard to tell whether or not we’re actually sick. And if we were sick, were we contagious? I have no idea. But I was really tired last week, so I slept. And read. For 8 days.

And when I finally felt rested (does that mean I’m “better”?), my to do list was out of date. So I did nothing. Nothing all weekend. Before you say “good, you totally deserved that rest!” or “ooh, I bet that was wonderful and needed!” remember that life is about balance. And even though I’m enjoying a work hiatus right now, I still subjected myself the proper amount of guilt and shame for being a lazy-ass. Because if years of working in the consulting business has taught me anything, it’s that you should feel guilty about being sick and that laziness, even for a weekend, is shameful. (just think of all those hours you could have been making up for that sick time!)


By Sunday I felt I couldn’t get away with another read & rest during Max’s naptime, so I caught up on my feedly (blog feed), played games on my ipad (yes, I was THAT bored), finished my house chores, and still had enough time to sit around and annoy Chris until he started giving me tasks: design the built-in for the living room, pack the bag for an afternoon visit with friends, plan for dinner. Even moving at a lazy, glacial pace I quickly ran out of things to do. So I spackled the living room walls and watched Chris plaster the living room ceiling. And, still, Max happily slept in his room. Out of sheer boredom, and because I was getting annoyed with myself, I stomped loudly outside his bedroom door until he woke up. Oh good! Looks like it’s time to leave. We were in the car in less than 7 minutes (which is probably a record for us).

What a waste of a LONG naptime. Shameful, really. But I don’t handle boredom well. I’m so annoying I can’t be around myself. (that’s a character flaw, for sure)

The rest of the day went much better. We had a great time with our friends and their new-ish (4 mo old) twin babies. We visited the city (which we love and miss) AND we went to Whole Foods!!! Ok, fine. Judge away. But we LOVE Whole Foods. It smells nice. They have great food. They have SAMPLES of great food. And the cashiers are the friendliest people I have ever met. It’s also the place where we used to buy almost all of our groceries before we had a kid and were forced to budget. Oh, the happiness and freedom of our pre-baby lives, with all that local organic produce and those hot meals we used to eat the same day we cooked them. Sigh.


And now it’s Monday. I have a lot to do this week (I think?). And I want nothing to do with it. So I’m making a list of things I want/need to do this week. Listing is my way of being productive without the pressure of doing something. It’s active, useful, and great for planning. I make weekly “to do” lists in my best penmanship, add check boxes, and leave room for adding stuff later. Some weeks, I hardly have time for anything. But having the list as a point of reference gives me peace of mind and helps me stay on track.

How do you motivate yourself to start the week?




Posted in Sustain.Me, Sustain.Work | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Building a Kitchen Pantry – Part 2

This week was all about design and finishes and, thankfully, this is the type of task that comes easier to us design engineers (finally, it pays off!). Here are the steps we took to decide on the design of our pantry:

1. Find your favorites. We scoured the internet with searches like “pantry design”, “kitchen pantry design”, “pantry design ideas”, “pantry storage” and, surprisingly, each search gave us slightly different image results. We shared our favorites with each other via email and pinterest (find our Pinterest board here) and noted what our favorite design elements were: lazy susan, unique spice racks, and double doors.

2. Measure the space (aka. Be Realistic). Think length, depth, and height. There are a lot of beautiful pantries on the internet. It’s true. And while my favorites were walk-in style professional baker’s pantries, I’m not a professional baker, nor do I have the space to pretend to be one. Instead, what we have is a reversed bedroom closet with a modest amount of room for food. Will it hold everything we want? No. But that’s ok. It’s still totally worth it.

3. Combine concepts with reality. This is the part where we pared down what we loved with what we actually have. By abandoning the ideal U-shaped design for a more practical L-shaped design, we maximized our space while leaving enough room to hide away our ugly appliances (which, until now, were conveniently located next to our front door.. because nothing says “welcome to our home” better than our microwave).

4. Design for what you need. This can be the hardest task for most people. Let me break it down.

  • First, go through your cabinets. What do you see? We found: lots of large canning jars (homemade tomato sauce, applesauce, etc.), cereal boxes, grains (rice, dried beans), cans, and a random assortment of snacks (various sized bags, boxes). We also need to store appliances that are used occasionally like a rice maker, crock pot, blender.
  • Second, what do you access most/least? For us, cereals and snacks are daily needs and jars/cans are used less often. Our homemade marinara, salsas, and applesauce jars are rotated throughout the year and because we know what they are, it was ok to have them out of reach. The daily needs should be placed on the most accessible shelves so that you can grab it quickly without a stool.
  • Third, sort based on weight. You don’t want to be on your tip toes sorting through glass jars that could accidentally smash to bits. Anything breakable that you need to sort through (think small jars of peppers, olives that you keep on hand “just in case”) should be placed within reach and within sight (not on deep shelves). And the lighter stuff, like boxes of crackers and cereals, should be placed towards the limit of the shortest adult’s reach.

Photo Evidence of Progress: Part 2

Adding the lighting to the pantry

Adding the lighting to the pantry

Because this is an old house and because there are codes and laws that you have to follow for electrical work, we decided that the most efficient way to get lighting into the pantry was to install it on the wall, rather than the ceiling. Sounds weird, I know. I was very skeptical at first too. But it actually works well (as you’ll see in the next progress post).

Installing shelf bracing

Installing shelf bracing

Once we decided on the shelf spacing (more on that in the next post), it was time to add shelf bracing to the walls. This is the support that will ultimately hold the weight of the shelves and all of the contents, so they needed to be very strong and very secure. We used simple pine boards and screwed them into the studs in several places. They are very secure! We climbed up the supports and – sure enough – they stayed in the wall.

That’s all for this week. Stay tuned.. the pantry is nearly complete!

Posted in Sustain.Home | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

One Little Word: February

For several years Ali Edwards has started her year with a word. No resolutions or promises to break, just one little word to check back on for guidance or reflection. As she describes it, “You live with it. You invite it into your life. You let it speak to you. You might even follow where it leads. There are so many possibilities.” This year is all about moving forward. So join me on this journey and let’s see where it takes us.

Forward: February Edition.

I have a bad habit of not giving myself enough credit. It’s something I’m sure you do as well. When you’re in the moment, progress can seem slow or nonexistent. But when you take a step back to look at the bigger picture (in this case, my month of February), suddenly you can see things for what they are. We all move forward. We try new things. We work towards doing things better, smarter, faster. Each day is a step closer to something. I can tell you that I didn’t start each day thinking that my life would change in any measurable way, but when I break it down, it is totally there. Here is what FORWARD looked like in February.

  • I learned about the power of intention in every day moments.
  • Connected with friends and have no photos of it. I was having too much fun.
  • Worked hard. Life threw stuff at us, we chose to knock it out of the park.
  • Made lots of “to do” lists.
  • Finally completed one of the many craft projects on my list.
Name sign for my nephew's bedroom with left over scrapbook paper

Name sign for my nephew’s bedroom with left over scrapbook paper: I LOVE how this came out

  • Pondered life. (Seriously, this is something I actually did, and it was useful)
  • Made plans. Set goals. Thought about the future, and liked how it looked.
  • I went to my first out of town work conference/committee meeting in nearly two years. And took no pictures. But, I promise, it was amazing. More on that to come.
  • Chris and I kicked butt with renovations, made major strides in the pantry and living room upgrades.
Renovating the Pantry: our February home improvement project

Renovating the Pantry: our February home improvement project

  • Shoveled lots of snow, partially just for the exercise, mostly because we got a lot of snow (grumble, grumble).
  • Decided to use the power of intention effectively by deciding it was spring. This did not appear to slow mother nature’s winter wrath, but I was decidedly more pleasant than most New Englanders this month. To the point where strangers made comments. Note: I took it down a notch after that. Too much too soon. I get it.
This chihuahua has had enough snow for a lifetime of winters

This chihuahua has had enough snow for a lifetime of winters

  • Read books. Now that’s a fun new concept I haven’t tried in a very long time. It was such a wonderful experience that I came up with an unofficial reading goal for 2014 (now that’s progress!).
Story time with Max

Story time with Max

What I read in February:

(besides lots of baby board books)

1. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. The tone of this book is similar to that of Eat Pray Love (a book I have mixed feelings about), and – to be honest – the list of lists that are used to organize the book are difficult to follow and meaningless. But, if you can get passed all of that (or better, maybe you like it), it’s a great book to skim when you’re feeling introspective and looking for a jumping off point for something like my One Little Word project. I am passing it along to a friend that I think would like – and benefit more from it – than me. Definitely worth picking it up at your local library and skimming over a long weekend.

2. Divergent by Veronica Roth. An engaging, exciting, quick read. I was hooked, and read the other two in the same week. The series as a whole was exactly what I needed to get back into reading this year. And, as a happy side effect, I found a way to incorporate reading into my all-eyes hours with a toddler: audiobooks!

3. Insurgent by Veronica Roth. Solid part two of a three-part series.

4. Allegient by Veronica Roth. I have mixed feelings about the ending, but I really appreciated the message of this book, especially for the teen reader audience. It was more substantial than I would have expected from the YA genre, and for that I was pleasantly surprised.

Side note: did you know that libraries now have networks of digital media books (for kindles/ipads/etc) and audiobooks available for lending? I spent all of last evening working out the process, downloading the OverDrive software (the app the local library uses) to desktop and ipod, building a wish list, and renting my first two books. Definitely not an early adopter, but this totally rocked my world.

Posted in Crafts, Sustain.Home, Sustain.Me | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Building a Kitchen Pantry – Part 1

We have two home renovation projects going at the same time. The first is our living room, where we are adding sophistication and function to an otherwise empty space, and the second is our kitchen pantry, which we need in order to be able to do simple things, like cook and eat, in the kitchen.

Here are some progress photos of the pantry so far.

first cut to pantry

Pantry: first cut; closet reversed; doorway open!

Pantry: first cut

electrical prepped then drywall in place

When we renovated our two bedrooms, we decided to block up the closet in bedroom #2 (Max’s room) in order to give more space to our tiny, ugly kitchen. Fast forward five months and the first cut was made. While Max and I were enjoying some sun and rest in Florida, Chris was working hard to start the pantry build.

Prep included an initial design (L-shape to maximize shelf space), placing plastic sheeting and tape on the doorways (to prevent dust migration), locating the studs, investigating the materials in the wall, and setting the cut. Once he was through, we had to wire the electric to two GFI outlets (for our appliances) and an overhead light. Well, an almost-overhead light.. thanks to some difficult existing conditions and code restrictions, we went for the path of least resistance and placed it towards the top of the open wall.

After the cut, there was a lot of dusting – everywhere: every shelf, every piece of floor, every toy had to be cleaned.

updating electrical and priming the walls

finishing the electrical work

We then mudded and sanded the drywall seams again. Once that was dry, we primed and painted the walls crisp white. You’ll start to see a trend towards lots of light and lots of white in these renovations.. it’s because the house, when we entered it, was dark and dirty. And that needed to be changed. But more on that in future posts.

pantry is primed and painted

Pantry is primed and painted!! And look at how clean the walls are!

I’ll end this with the pantry being primed and painted. Next step is adding outlets, framing the door, and designing and installing the shelving.

So far, the total project cost is $6, since we used scrap materials and had all of the tools we needed. That’s the benefit of doing a total makeover.. cost per project goes down with each additional project. And it gets easier because your skills improve. I have a love/hate thing with this house right now.. everything we do: I love. But there is so much I still really dislike about this house. Ah, well, one thing at a time.

Posted in Sustain.Home | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Power of Intention

Inspiration Monday is a series of posts that come as, well, the inspiration comes. I post as often as I can, though it’s not every day that something remarkable happens.. that is, after all, what makes something remarkable. If you have a story to share, contact me so I can post it here, on Mondays. Have a wonderful week!

As a New England-er, it is my responsibility to take part in complaining about the weather. It’s the one thing that we can easily agree on with any passing stranger, even if it is fickle (the saying is: if you don’t like the weather in New England, wait 5 minutes). But the 2014 winter has been a series of frequent, high-snowfall storms, followed by sub-zero temperatures (thanks to the Polar Vortex). Not fun. Add to it that we have very little indoor lighting (it’s on the list of renovations) and all of the chaos that comes with a toddler, and we were perfectly placed for a miserable first quarter 2014.

I decided to take action and booked an 8-day trip to Florida, where we could enjoy some mild “winter” weather, replenish our vitamin D, and maybe even catch a swim or two (in an OUTDOOR pool!). The whole trip was a wonderful escape from the uncharacteristically frigid, oppressive winter here in Boston and a great excuse to spend some quality time with meme and pepe. And even with an extended trip (we never vacation that long!), we were sad to leave.

Max buckling his seatbelt on the plane.. deep breaths!

Max buckling his seatbelt on the plane.. deep breaths!

After saying our goodbyes at the airport, I found myself feeling apprehensive for the flight.
And for good reason: Max was being a total nut. He ran laps the length of the terminal, climbed up and down the stairs a dozen times, and ran from window to window watching the planes take off and land. There was a moment where one of our flight attendants was trying to hand me a ticket and ended up chasing me down the hallway, while I chased my kid, who lost a shoe, and was barreling towards a group of unsuspecting travelers. He then threw a large cup of fruit in the middle of a busy walkway to impress the pretty girl at the sunglasses counter (it worked, she took the compliment and even cleaned it up) and shoved several small children in the play area.

All in 30 minutes.

S0 as we sat in the seat we (me and Max, my crazy 16-month old) would share for the duration of the flight, I – nervously sweating in anticipation of being THAT mom with THAT kid on the plane – took a moment to set some intention for the trip: let this be a smooth, incident-free flight, let us get home safe and happy without being too much of a bother to the people next to us.

The crazy thing is, it worked!

Not only did we have a great flight, Max made friends with everyone in our seating area. He made them laugh. He checked on them while they were sleeping. He said “hi” to the crying babies behind us and in front of us. He patted people on their heads and arms, and they greeted him with smiles. After the flight the guy next to us thanked us for being wonderful travel companions. It was an amazing experience.

The power of intention, people. It actually works!

my first flight with a toddler

After we landed, I needed a minute to pack up our stuff. I asked Max if he could see daddy, he stared intently out the window for several minutes. I think he missed his dad.

So the next time you find yourself under stress, or worried, take a moment to set some intention for your day. If you believe it will be okay, maybe it actually will be.

Posted in Motherhood, Sustain.Body, Sustain.Me, Sustain.Others | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Let there be light!

We have been going hard on renovations since we moved into our new home in August. A lot has changed! Our approach is to focus on one or two rooms – or projects – at a time. We spent the first month working on our bedrooms, which were total gut and replace projects, and the rest of the fall was spent updating the second floor apartment.

And all of that work has resulted in a comfortable second floor living space which was easy to rent, but left us in an ugly, dark downstairs apartment. So you can imagine my excitement when Chris installed a light fixture in our dining room.

Now, mind you, the space is still hideous. Really, no need to hold back! It’s ugly. Note the uneven rail on the wall, four different colors of green/grey on the walls, the bad layout, mismatched furniture, and the list goes on. Don’t worry, we have a plan. For now, I am literally jumping for joy every time I switch on the light.

dining room before added light fixture

dining room before added light fixture.. it looks far brighter than it actually was. thank you, photo magic.

We also updated the bulbs in the wall sconces, which is why it appears much brighter in the room than it actually has been.

The light fixture came from my mom’s house, which is also being renovated (well, mostly by my future brother-in-law). So there you go: new light, little to no cost, and topped off with some high efficiency compact CFLs that will last a long time and cost little to use.

dining room after, with added light fixture

dining room after, with added light fixture (and a chihuahua!)

Yay for lighted indoor spaces!


Posted in Sustain.Home | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

One Little Word: January

For several years Ali Edwards has started her year with a word. No resolutions or promises to break, just one little word to check back on for guidance or reflection. As she describes it, “You live with it. You invite it into your life. You let it speak to you. You might even follow where it leads. There are so many possibilities.” This year is all about moving forward. So join me on this journey and let’s see where it takes us.


January is such a difficult month to start new things (in Boston): it’s cold, it’s dark, the holidays are over, and this year the snow storms have come at least once a week. We are barred indoors, watching the snow fall and buying up all of the milk and bread in the stores (seriously, every time it snows there is no bread or milk in the store.. and we always need milk!). But this year is about moving forward and, in fact, I did a lot of that this month.

shells at the beach

shells at the beach

Each month these posts will be different, this month I made a list:

  • Survived another birthday in the 30′s. Oh my, how time flies!
  • Two amazing kick-butt weeks of getting “life stuff” done (that is code for all the boring stuff no one but me and my husband probably care about) and fully “earned” the rest and relaxation of our Florida trip
  • Successfully accomplished a special train ride on MLK Day where both boys (nephew and son) got exactly what they wanted: the oldest got a train ride while the younger got to hang with his friends in the city. I like to call that an “awesome mom” moment.
  • Renovated a basement storage room. Put a pause on renovations for a couple weeks. Took a breather.. it was wonderful and necessary.
  • Spent a lot of time with family. It’s a month of birthdays (there are 4!), so some were last-minute balloon/ice-cream cake celebrations with pizza. We pulled it off very well, despite the lack of planning. Yay, us!
visiting family in florida

visiting family in florida

  • Visited my in-laws in Florida.
  • Rested.
  • Relaxed.
  • Took deep breaths.
  • Gave Max time with his grandparents, aunt, and cousins.
  • Visited the ocean.
swimming in an outdoor pool.. in january!

swimming in an outdoor pool (in january) how fabulous!

  • Swam in an outdoor pool.
julie went to a rock show

julie went to a rock show AND ate out AND went out for coffee the next day “just because”. amazing!

  • Made friends with strangers.
  • Ate out.
  • Went to a rock show.
  • Took lots of pictures.
zoos and aquariums, oh my!

the tampa zoo has a screened in room where you can feed the birds.. so cool

  • Let each day pass without stress or strain.
  • Smiled.
  • Laughed.
  • Spent time with people I love.
  • Felt happy. Read a book about happiness (The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin), and confirmed that the feelings I was having were – in fact – that of happiness.
sunset in florida

sunset in florida

All in all, it was a great month. I moved forward. I learned about myself. I worked hard and thoroughly relaxed. It was a great start to a wonderful year.


Posted in Sustain.Me | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Impromptu Valentine’s Day craft time! We had extra time today, thanks to our latest winter storm which cancelled school yesterday and landed us with a 2-hour delay this morning. I love craft time, and so do the boys! So here you go.

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

valentines day craft time 0

cutting out paper hearts

valentines day craft time 1

craft supplies.. everywhere

valentines day craft time 2

special valentine for his amazing kindergarten teacher

We wrapped it up into a single heart, included a project life card with a hand-written to/from and added some chocolate-covered Tahitian caramels, just for good measure.

valentines day craft time 3

to/from Project Life card from the Sunshine Edition

Valentines Day card for the teacher

Valentines Day card for his Kindergarten teacher

We wanted to do something special because his kindergarten teacher has been so incredible. The first year in grade school is a hard transition and seeing his recent successes has been so heart-warming. Teachers have such an influence on a kid’s life.. and it’s nice to have an opportunity to show how much we appreciate all of her hard work.

valentines day craft time 5

lots of smiles!

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

Check out the Project Life Sunshine Edition on Amazon.com and BeckyHiggins.com.

Posted in Crafts, Motherhood, Sustain.Me | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Home Renovation Series

Last August my husband and I bought our first home: a 110 year old converted two-family in a small town, Massachusetts. Just a short walk to a growing downtown center, farmers market, and duck pond, we are lucky to have wonderful neighbors, easy access to school, and there is a brand new park and sledding hill across the street.

The moment we opened the door to our first house

The moment we opened the door to our first house

The house, however, needs some love and attention. Years of cheap cover-ups have left us with layers upon layers of wall, drop ceilings (think: office), plastic finishings, and poorly made built-ins that don’t quite fit. Most of the rooms have weird layouts and lack function. The walls in the kitchen smell like years of cooked-on oily food. And the first floor apartment has just one bedroom, but three living rooms. And I haven’t even mentioned the electrical and plumbing work to be done.

In summary: each room is an excellent candidate for a floor to ceiling tear-down/rebuild.

The first month that we owned our home, we packed the three of us (me, husband, rambunctious 12-month almost toddler, and two dogs) into a single bedroom on the second floor apartment along with my mom, my sister, and her 5-yr-old son while we tore out and completely replaced three rooms on the first floor. It was hot, cramped, stressful, and incredibly challenging. But we survived! And our space is slowly transforming into a place that truly feels like home.

I can’t wait to share pictures of our before and afters. So follow along with me most Thursdays, as I look back and move forward, highlighting how much we have done and how much we still have to do!

Tearing down walls and ceilings

Tearing down walls and ceilings in August


Posted in Sustain.Home | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Snow Days

Inspiration Monday is a series of posts that come as, well, the inspiration comes. I post as often as I can, though it’s not every day that something remarkable happens.. that is, after all, what makes something remarkable. If you have a story to share, contact me so I can post it here, on Mondays. Have a wonderful week!


As a kid growing up in New England, snow days were a rare mid-winter break from school. They were something to celebrate, to get excited about, to hope and wish for. If you were lucky, they came on a day when you had something you were happy to miss (tests, papers due, homework that wasn’t quite finished). Instead of the chaos of getting ready, packing a bag, and bundling up to carefully step over ice, snow, and salt, and spend hours at school, you get to stay in your pajamas and play. All. Day. Long. The day is whatever you want it to be: play games, play with toys, visit friends at the park, watch a movie. And it’s a wonderful, cozy break from life.

Snow Day!

Snow Day!

Through early adulthood I held on to that feeling of excitement, despite the change in responsibility. Rather than taking a break during a snow day, I suddenly had to decide: do I risk life and limb to fight through traffic, slip on ice, get covered in slushy wetness, suffer with cold, wet ankles all day, to sit in an office with almost no one, just to avoid using up my limited vacation time? Ugh. Eff it. I’m going in. I’ll get a coffee on the way.

I hate snow days now that I’m a parent. Allow me to paint a picture: trapped in a house for the better part of the season (December to March), children morph into small, unpredictable, wild creatures that – for the sake of entertainment – destroy everything in their path. What was once an innocent bin of socks is now a weapon with 30 individual projectiles. Food is scattered all over the floor. The bathroom is filled with wet clothing… and wet food? Pets are covered in sticky things.

And that’s just the first hour.

See: Exhibit A.

Exhibit A: Snow Day disaster

Exhibit A: Snow Day disaster (hour 1)

As you begin to take in what is occurring, you think quick: we need a game! Does anyone have any ideas? A tent, you say? How fun! Let’s clean up this mess, then…. oh, you’re already making the tent.. in the other room.. I’ll just get these socks picked up, in that case…

Exhibit B: The tent (Room 2)

Exhibit B: The tent (Room 2)

Good work! The tent provided a space for entertainment to get through the morning! Now for baby naptime / movie break. From there, it’s just a matter of surviving the afternoon. As long as the baby sleeps…

Exhibit C: The aftermath

Exhibit C: The aftermath

The afternoon goes much better. We play outside. We read books. We eat. We clean up. And when we’re bored, we look out the window and watch the snow. It’s beautiful.

watching the snow fall

watching the snow fall

And when dad comes home, everyone goes outside. I get a little peace and some time to clean up. Unwind. Drink my morning coffee (just before dinner). And it is a beautiful, quiet moment. We survived this day. Tomorrow will be better.

Max and Dad in the snow

Max and Dad in the snow

Happy snow days, everyone


Posted in Motherhood | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment