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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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

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And a few happy home shots this week:

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

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

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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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Irma Evacuation Part 1

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Before I even begin, I have to preface this with the fact that this is an evacuation story, not a hurricane story. There is some real devastation happening in the state of Florida right now–not to mention Houston’s residual heartache after Harvey–and ours is more of a flee-the-scene-turned-wild-adventure that, yes, involves some anxiety, inconvenience and a few tears, but it ends okay. I mean, our frantic exit landed us in a Georgia lake house where we’ve been sipping coffee watching the news at a very comfortable temperature (FALL!) for the past five days which is more than my friends who stayed back home can say right now and certainly nothing compared to those whose homes were destroyed this past weekend. So, we’re good. Our home was spared. The pool cage is ruined, and there’s a broken window and crap blown everywhere in the garage, but that’s less than what I expected. Our home itself is intact, and once the power is back on, roads are cleared and gas stations are restocked, we will make our way back to where this all began…in my kitchen last Friday morning when I lost my shit.

Maybe it was when I woke up to check the latest projections on how Irma was shifting and watched Jim Cantore take his finger through the map on the screen and practically draw the exact route from my favorite beach to our house.

“It could change,” Brett said calmly, “Nobody can really predict this.”

“BRETT. JIM CATORE’S FINGER IS BASICALLY TOUCHING DASH’S TRICYCLE IN OUR DRIVEWAY WITH THE CAPTION “Will Be Catastrophic.” DUDE, I’M OUT.”

Or maybe it was all my friends who, a day earlier, assured me they too were riding it out–I could count on them–and then I woke up to find out they all escaped and left me in the middle of the night. So, yeah. The trauma of childhood rapture nightmares revisited.

“Oh my God, Brett. We’re the only ones left. We’re those people you see on the news when everyone says “WHY DID THEY STAY?”

“We’re going to be fine. Stop panicking,” he said. But it got to a point where we have very different comfort levels with–oh, I don’t know–CATEGORY 5 HURRICANES COMING RIGHT AT US.

While I knew Brett would be safe (he studied elevation maps, had a plan with my dad and his dad along with a shelter back-up plan), I couldn’t take worrying anymore, not to mention the idea of riding through the storm with three scared kids, one of whom is terrified of storms. In fact, Nella’s little school friend’s mom called me after the hurricane and said that during the storm, her daughter said, “But Mom, is Nella okay? She’s really scared when there’s a storm at school.” Friday morning, I was picturing those horrible dreams I’ve had of who will grab which kid in an emergency, and I finally decided entertaining it all was insane when I still had time to get out. We knew there were gas shortage issues and mass exodus traffic, but Friday morning the news reports were telling people, “The time is NOW. Get out.” Thankfully, my wonderful mother-in-law (lucky to have two of them–this is Brett’s dad’s wife) was equally anxious and uncomfortable and offered to come with me and the kids. So we hugged the boys who were holding down the fort (and our dogs!), and left early Friday morning with no plan or destination. It was surreal–packing my kids’ baby books and keepsakes, running through the house knowing time was running out, throwing things in bags, reassuring the kids everything was fine. Also, I’m a bit dramatic, so I shine in these moments. Like, I threw out the term “evacuation” as much as I could that morning for effect.

Hotels were booked all over Florida, and there wasn’t really a city free from Irma’s wrath, so we just kept driving north, tracking gas availability on gas apps and stopping whenever we could to top off our tank. We drove for 19 hours straight amid this eerie scene–all these cars headed north with the south traffic practically non-existent but for an occasional parade of National Guard trucks.

So many of you reached out on Instagram, offering your homes. Good Lord, it was comforting–so much love in this community. I had reached out to a few friends who I knew would take us in, but shortly after we crossed the Georgia line, my cousin texted me that her best friend who I met once when I was in college offered her empty lake house in Blairsville, Georgia for us to stay as long as we needed–the kindest gesture we will never forget. So we kept driving north until 3:00 a.m. when we landed in the driveway of the home that’s been the most wonderful retreat for us this week.

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And then we waited, calling back home and tracking the storm every second until we knew it was time. And when it was? Well, let’s just say Sunday is a day we won’t soon forget. “It was unreal,” Brett says of the winds. “The house was shaking, and at one point the sliding glass doors literally bowed in. That’s when we ran.” The worst winds on the east wall of the eye lasted for about an hour, and during that time, we watched the news live (so weird to see national news talking about your neighborhood during a time like that) and made as many calls to the men back home as we could. And yeah, it was a little scary.

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Our people are safe. Our house survived (“It’s just a house,” I told myself many times), our friends’ houses survived, and though our town looks like a war zone, we are so thankful that what could’ve happened didn’t (our town didn’t get the surge that was expected, praise be). But for many people, it did happen, and my heart breaks for so many losses I’ve seen on the news these past few weeks due to the hurricanes. There’s a lot to be done to rebuild both Florida and Houston, and it’s going to take time. I’ve felt so helpless being away, but I’ve done what I can from where we are–donating to the Red Cross, families that have been hit harder than us (my friend and fellow D.S. family, the Eichers, lost so much in Harvey) and registered with Volunteer Florida to help when we get home (if you live in Florida, it’s quick and easy to register).

And the rest? Well, we ride the storm in our own way, searching for adventures and memorable moments on this crazy adventure.

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We’ve tucked away so many stories and look forward to a big family get together when we get home where we all get to share our hurricane stories and laugh (that time we got pulled over at 2 a.m. after 18 hours of driving) and hug and feel grateful.

The best part in all of this is witnessing the incredible human spirit of togetherness and love and support. The little town we’re staying in is full of evacuees–Florida license plates as far as the eye can see, and everywhere we go, people are so welcoming. I checked out at a little shop the other day, and the store owner–in her southern drawl–said, “Honey, we’re glad you’re here. We’re glad we can make ya’ll feel safe away from home.” And it makes me want to hug the entire state of Georgia.

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There are still massive power outages at home (our house has no power, but Brett’s at his dad’s with a generator), the roads are impassable in many places, the water and sewage systems are a mess, and school’s been canceled at least until next Wednesday (we’ll have to make it up this summer). So we’re waiting until we know it’s a good time to go home. Inconvenient? Yes. But, man, have we ever had fun on the journey. The memories we’ve made will be tucked in a special place, retold for years to come.

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And our friends who’ve been so generous to let us use their place?

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 photo print 14_zpsstv72vtq.jpgWe listen to records all day–Bing Crosby and Count Basie–and have fallen into a little Irma routine with memories I know my kids will cherish.

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We make lemonade…that’s what we do. And when you’re given the Georgia mountains, a lake, a beautiful home and a lot of love, you can make some damn good lemonade.

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Thank you for all your sweet comments and love this past week…we really are okay, so you can send some of that love to those who really need it by donating to the Red Cross or help my friend, Lisa.

More from Blairsville, Georgia soon.

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