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A Happier, Simplified Home

The problem with clutter in our home is that Brett and I are both hoarders. Not last-year’s-dinner-still-on-the-table-and-twenty-cats-hiding-under-living-room-garbage kind of hoarders, but definitely the can’t-throw-away-anything-of-remote-sentimental-value kind of hoarders.

Under our bed? Oh God. It’s a graveyard to our past. Brett still has a cassette tape holder full of his Holy Trinity–Boston, Styx and Journey. And my boxes are full of paper treasures so overgrown, they happen to include, among many other things, a stack of twenty funeral programs from when my grandma died because the act of slipping even one into a garbage bag feels wrong. Our home has slowly become a museum of memories which is not as charming as it sounds.

Recently, in a house blitz (my mom called them blitzes–as in “No, you can’t go play today. We’re blitzing the house.” Which was the last thing you want to hear on a Saturday), I cleaned out a living room trunk to find a stack of Magic School Bus tapes. Yes, tapes. As in VHS.

“Well these are surely going in the garbage,” I mumbled as I pulled them out to make room for other meaningless crap that would take their place.

And like a dog who responds to the whistle only canines can hear, Brett suddenly appeared out of nowhere. “What? What are you throwing away? Those tapes? No! Those were the boys.”

“Are you serious?” I asked incredulously (I know–big word. It’s for dramatic effect). “Brett, do you know how old the boys are? They’re teenagers. Mrs. Frizzle is, like, dead. These are VHS. VHS, Brett. We don’t even have a VHS player.”

He looked pained for a moment and then finally agreed. “Fine. Throw them out. But then you have to throw out something too.”

And this is how it goes. The hose coming into our home flows much more freely than the hose going out of our home, and the result is not only a cluttered home but worse…a cluttered mind.

The way that I’ve always dealt with this in the past is a big house blitz accompanied by a call to my sister where we justify to each other why we are the way we are. Brett calls this Therapy Hour. Our calls usually end with this pumped up team spirit where we’re all “Yeah, we’re Crydermans! We’re creative! We’re laid back! We make great friends! Messes make us cool! We’re so awesome, we shouldn’t have to change one thing about ourselves!” This is, as you are probably thinking, a load of worthless crap.

Maybe a little bit of it is true. No, I will never be one of those women who clean fan blades every Tuesday. Yes, I am laid back, and minimalist does not very well describe my style. But I do need changes. I need to simplify in many areas, and it wouldn’t kill us to maybe clean out the Boston tapes and pare down to saving just one program from my grandma’s funeral. My girls have too many toys they don’t use, and half of my closet is filled with “just-in-case” clothes. Like just in case I get invited to a Roaring Twenties party or just in case a national Dress Like a Cowgirl holiday is proclaimed.

I just finished reading Gretchen Rubin’s new book, Happier at Home.


In true Gretchen Rubin style, Happier at Home combines memoir with science and philosophy, leaving you not only inspired but equipped with solid advice–things you can do right now in your own home to create a more peaceful, comforting environment.

It comes at a good time. Brett and I have been talking a lot about our home lately–what we love about it, what we want to change, what little things we can do to make our place cozier, more family-oriented and yet with quiet need-to-be-alone-without-toys places too (I used to think toys in every corner meant “cheerful” and “we love our family” but I’m accepting that it’s okay if I also sometimes think “I don’t want to live in a freaking daycare.”). With another baby on the way, older boys who come and go and new kindergarten routines that demand consistency and organization, we’ve really begun to examine the space in our home and how we use it.


Sure, we dream of wood floors and bathrooom fixtures that aren’t brass and tarnished. But those things aren’t what give our home its character. Ultimately, we want our home to be a place where everyone feels safe, where family memories are made, a space that is peaceful and yet stimulates creativity. We already have the resources to do just that.


I’m giving myself until the end of the year to completely purge every room, every closet. I will pare down and focus on simplicity. I’m going deeper than I’ve ever gone before because I know this is part of why the clutter seems to keep reappearing after blitzes. We have too much stuff. And I’m asking for help because I know orgnanization isn’t my strong point. I have friends who are great at it, and I will trade favors for a little assistance. Not to mention, when I clean I need someone behind me, scolding me for my saving tendencies.

Last weekend, we started in Nella’s room, weeding through clothes that needed to head to the attic, gathering toys for Goodwill.

This shirt? I know. I love it. Buy one from our sponsor, The Shine Project, and help at-risk youth!

When we’re finished simplifying and deep-cleaning, we’ll take everything off the walls and paint. Start fresh. It’s time.


Reminds me a bit of the old June Challenge. Climb aboard if you’d like to join me. If your home is in need of a project, a purge-and-simplify, efforts that will help make it a happier place, tell me what you’ll be doing to yours. I’ll update bits and pieces of our simplify-our-home projects (along with where I find inspiration) over the next few months and share some of your ideas as well (our Instagram followers share favorite home space pictures under the hashtag #happycornerofmyhome, a great place for inspiration).


A perfect new sponsor for home inspiration, Quiet Home Paints was started by a mother and daughter design team with the common mission to create a paint line for children’s rooms that was not only beautiful and cohesive but safe for both earth and child. The Quiet Nursery Line (with lush colors such as Wisp, Petal and Pond) soon expanded to a full home line of colors to encourage the use of safe, beautiful paints in the entire home. All Quiet Home Paints are organic, odorless and completely solvent-free. Quiet Home Paints offers a full palette of colors from rich and bold to soft and muted. We are leaning toward soft and muted for the new baby room (yet to find out gender–can’t wait) and are deliberating between Melt and Bee.


Check out Quiet Home Paints’ beautiful line of colors and flawlessly crafted safe paints for your home.


And a few happy home shots this week:

While I’m simplifying home, perhaps I’ll take a moment to wash that window behind the high chair.


The just-got-home-from-school sister hug



Going Home, Coming Home

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I flew home to Michigan early this week to celebrate my dad’s retirement party and flew home last night, truly full after some heavy family time and all the Christmassy things we packed into a few short days. As evidenced: my dad and Gary picked me up from the airport wearing Santa hats and had another one waiting for me in the car. We pretty much just rode a virtual sleigh for the rest of the week.

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Also, this is what “Act Normal” looks like for us:

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After my initial Oh-my-God, I’m-in-a-box-that’s-flying-through-the-sky-and-held-up-by-nothing-but-some-opposite-forces observation/panic that begins all of my flights home, I went into the familiar reflection that the space in the sky between two homes provides. I’ve been there many times before, mentally transitioning between going home to be a daughter and coming home to be a mother; feeling small and safe and protected at the same time I feel large, the safe place, the protector.

Seated on the plane, I fished through my purse to find a pen and smiled when I pulled out the one my dad let me use the other day—the one he retrieved from the inside pocket of his sport jacket and handed to me, like he’s done many times, with, “Always have a good pen on you, Kelle. I always have two. And don’t settle for those cheap things.” In our family, we talk about pen types like car models. This one was a Pilot Precise Rolling Ball—V7 to be exact. Glides nice. Thin tip but good distribution of ink. I opened my journal and wrote a few memories I wanted to remember from the week. Falling asleep next to the fire with my siblings in the same room. Feeling the cold wind behind me from the sliding glass door I purposely left open while I wrapped up tighter in the electric blanket, the same one I used through winters when I was in college. Sipping drinks around the table at my favorite restaurant on Main Street, telling stories about our childhood, remembering my grandparents, watching my dad pull out his credit card and hand it to the waitress with a proud “I got this” as if the simple act of paying for his kids’ meals gave him a good surge of that protector/safe place/largeness that parenthood grants. And yet I saw just moments earlier—when we were talking about his mom—the need to be held up, to belong to someone, that never really goes away.

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I heard a lot of stories this week. At my dad’s retirement party, friends he’s worked with over the years, patients whose hands he’s held through losing loved ones and family who drove in special to celebrate, all shared stories about the last thirty years since he started his job. “I wanted to tell you how I met your dad,” one woman explained to me, her eyes already pooling with tears. “Many years ago, I was here in the hospital and had just received some really sad news. I was making my way through the main hallway back to my car, and everything suddenly overwhelmed me. My knees buckled and I started to fall to the ground, but someone caught me. Out of nowhere, a hand grabbed my elbow and lifted me up. I turned around, and there was your dad–a complete stranger. He lifted me up that day, he helped me, and I came back to volunteer for him here later. I just thought you should know that.”

In a way, I already did.

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Whether it’s holiday nostalgia or the evaluation of where we are and where we’re going at the end of the year, I think a lot about belonging this time of year. I want my kids to feel a strong sense of home, of belonging to this family and being loved by us. I cozy up everything—hang twinkle lights, play music, tuck them in at night with winter poems. Bake cookies, keep traditions, watch movies snuggled into the couch with blankets, searing memories into my own minds as well as theirs. At the same time, I feel my own needs to belong—I miss my family back home, I want my mom’s cinnamon rolls, I remember what it feels like to fall asleep with new pajamas, snuggled in bed with my brother and sister, waiting for the magic the next morning will bring. I think about what this all means—the holiday, the things I used to believe, the things I believe now. Who do we really belong to? I feel strong and secure in my uncertainty, in the openness of all the possibilities and yet this time of year, sometimes I miss the ceiling and walls of the church where I felt scared/confined/judged but also quiet/inspired, especially when no one talked, when candles were lit on Christmas Eve and the flicker of lights would dance on the stained glass windows. Where I could close my eyes and listen to the choir sing “Silent Night” and for a moment feel like I completely belonged…to what, I don’t know, but I felt it. I feel sad especially this time of year for the people who don’t feel a place of belonging, and in my own little holiday quest to make my children feel warmth, to find my own warmth, I try and let that sadness seep in—to teach it to my kids—because it’s important.

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(My brother and I picked out this house–the one at the top of the hill, with the fire crackling inside. This one’s home.)

I let it all seep in last night, while I temporarily belonged to the middle space of clouds and dark sky lit only by the tiny blinking lights of the plane’s wing. The woman in the seat next to me could have easily been my grandma—late 70’s probably, her white hair brushed and sprayed into a perfect round fluff like the top of a cotton candy cone; her hands, like my grandma’s, maps to where she’s been—lots of wrinkles, faded brown spots and large purple veins that run like rivers from her fingers to her wrist. I was too tired to talk, but I looked over nosily at the Woman’s Day magazine she was intently reading, the open spread full of holiday recipes and craft how-to’s: Spiced Cider, Scented Sachets, Cozy Mug Cuffs. She dog-eared the page, and I fist-bumped her in my mind for her holiday spirit before trying to figure out which of the three ungodly sleep-on-a-plane positions I’d attempt (weird side curl, crooked neck hunch or seat tray head drop). I opted for the latter, opened my tray table and hunched over it, stuffing my scarf between my head and my crossed arms. I didn’t think I’d stay there long but found myself waking up, what had it been—30, 40 minutes later?—opening my eyes to the horror that I had slumped over and was resting the entire weight of my head in the woman’s lap. Embarrassed, I slowly resurrected, yawned and tried to play it off. “Sorry, guess I was more tired than I realized,” I quipped.

She smiled a smile I’ve been lucky to see many times in my life. “I was holding you up,” she answered.

There’s so much to belong to, there’s more than one thing holding us up. The forces of flight, the people we love, the stranger next to us who shows up out of nowhere and lifts us, the stranger next to us who needs us to show up and lift her. We belong to all of them.

The wheels of the plane found the ground, the rumble of the landing quieted, and I pulled out my phone to text my dad:

Landed. I’m home.

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The Best Travel Souvenirs to Bring Home

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My dad’s friends from New Zealand stopped by yesterday as they were traveling, and I loved the way they described the scenery up here. “As I kid, I watched the scenes in old Disney movies like Bambi and Snow White, and we didn’t have those scenes in New Zealand,” his friend explained, “The lakes surrounded by so many pine trees with the chipmunks and the squirrels and the woodland creatures–I came to Michigan and was like, ‘This is it! This is where Snow White lives!”

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This is our last week in Michigan, so I’m waking up with heightened sensors for everything I love. Drink in the scene! Listen to those birds! Breathe in this air! You’re going to miss it! 

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We have a few more Michigan adventures before we leave and then we are headed to Chicago to enjoy a city hit before heading back home–without a travel companion this time–but I think the kids are old enough, we’ll make it okay.

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Now that the trip is winding down, I thought I’d answer a few questions from Instagram about what camera/lenses I’ve been using on the trip as well as some of our favorite souvenirs we take home when we travel. I’ll intersperse some more favorite Summer in Michigan shots to pretty it up.

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Other than a few iPhone camera pics, most of the photos I’ve shared from the trip are from my Canon 1D. I brought two lenses, the ones I use most often for everything–my 1.4 50 mm and my 24mm for wide angle shots. How do I get them on my phone to share? READY FOR THE GAME CHANGER? I use this card reader for iPhone (I have an SD slot CF card converter in my camera so this works). It takes seconds to pop out the card from my camera, insert it in this little card reader on my phone and pull up everything I’ve taken from my iPhone photo album to choose what I want to import to my phone. You do need to shoot jpegs to see them on your phone, so if you shoot RAW, you need to change your camera settings so you’re shooting RAW+jpeg. I was using a wifi card so I could transfer to my phone but this is so much quicker and easier, allows you to import just the ones I want on my phone and doesn’t rely on good Internet connections.

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When we get home, I’ll back up everything from my laptop to my hard drive and then print all these babies in a book so we can remember our summer adventures.

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How do I balance enjoying the moment and taking pictures on vacation? I pulled something from a recent online interview I did about photographing my family:

How do you balance being present in the current moment and snapping photos to document the days?

This is a common question for a lot of photo-snapping moms, but I think it’s one of those things you just have to figure out on your own. I used to pick up my camera a lot more than I do now and took it everywhere I went—grocery store, pediatrician visits, park dates, restaurants—but I don’t necessarily regret it. It’s where I was at the time. I was enamored with babyhood, and wanted to capture everything. As my kids have grown older, we’ve become busy in different ways as a family and I have a little hindsight, I look back and laugh at my silliness or skewed balance in far more areas than just taking pictures. But it takes living a little to figure that out. I know that being behind a camera makes me happy but that feeling my face pressed against my kids’ cheeks as I kiss them goodnight is what truly makes me come alive. I’m so grateful to have both in my life and know that with every year I explore living my passions and loving my family, I’ll deepen my understanding and practice of balance.

Because I’ve been doing this a long time, I’ve gotten used to what feels right for me. I love the heady cloud of inspiration that comes from both making memories with my family and seeing my kids happy, and delving into the art of photography and the beauty of capturing light, spirit, joy ad nature.
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We found our dandelions for bucket list seed-blowing and wish-making.

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(Traverse City’s Brew)

…and finally crossed off an outdoor picnic in the woods at Hartwick Pines State Park:

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As for souvenirs we’re bringing home? Whether it’s picking out things to display in our home that remind us of places we’ve visited and family adventures we’ve loved or picking out treasures to share with our friends back home, these are our favorite treasures to scoop up while traveling:

11 Fun Souvenirs to Bring Home from Travel Adventures:

1. Mugs/Cups
Pottery mugs from local artists are a bonus, but I also love mugs that have the logo of our favorite small town breakfast joint or a pilsner from our favorite lodge to keep in our freezer and smile every time we use it. A cupboard made up entirely of mugs from all of our travels is my goal–with stories behind each one.

2. Wearables
T-shirts and baseball caps are my favorite. I love to search shops for the coolest ones. We love Michigan’s M-22 shirtsThe Mitten State vintage tees sold in a lot of northern Michigan shops and the new Enjoy Michigan shop we found in Traverse City.

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3. Bumper Stickers
Even if you don’t put them on your car, it’s so much fun to find unique ones and collect them–put them in a travel jounal.

4. Canvas Tote Bags
You’ll use them all year long!

5. Postcards
Help me out here–keep the art of postcard sending alive! I’ve bought probably 20 on our trip–half to send out to our friends back home and half to tuck in travel journals or display when we get home.

6. Flour Sack Dish Towels
Another souvenir that won’t just clutter up your lives, these are something you’ll actually use. We’ve seen so many cute ones in shops along our way on this trip.

7. Pennant Flags
Fun to display, especially in kids’ rooms.

8. Earth
This one’s completely free. Making amazing memories at a special spot on your travels? Scoop up some earth–dirt from the ground, sticks, pine cones, shells, smooth stones. Put them in a Ziplock, stash them in your suitcase, and when you get home, pour them in a little jar (we look for vintage ball jars on ebay and Etsy for ours). Make a tag for the jar to mark where the earth is from, what the date was and any special memories you want to remember from that trip and collect and display them over the years. We have shelves of Earth memories in our kitchen, and they make me so happy. Remember the I Love Lucy with the stones she stashed in the camper? :o) That’s me.

9. Local Food
This one is great for bringing home to friends. We are visiting one of northern Michigan’s famous food stops today–Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor, and we always stock up on a bunch of Michigan’s cherry goods there to share with friends at home–a bottle of cherry wine, preserves, salsas, cherry soda, etc. Whether it’s a city’s famous coffee, maple syrup, hot sauce from the south or popcorn from the city (Garrett!), your friends will love getting a taste of your trip, and you’ll love revisiting your adventures weeks later at home when you’re smearing cherry preserves on your toast.

10. Accessories
These are great for kids–enamel pins (great ones for Michigan here), patches, earrings, rings–and fun to collect.

11. Spoons
Another nostalgic souvenir, you can still find travel demitasse spoons at any tourist shop or even gas stations on state lines. My grandma used to collect them and had over 100 from mission trips and vacations. After she passed away, the kids and grandkids all got to choose which ones they wanted (I have London :o).

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Happy Monday!