Thursday, October 30, 2014

My Mop-Free Clean Up

 Usually by November, when we're done going in and out of the house in dirty garden boots every five minutes, I like to start giving our house a really good once-over to restore some domestic sanity. It feels a lot like raking up bits of our life that have fallen to the ground and have been forgotten.

The past month I've been busy with an unconventional housework project where I cleaned up some things that had started to weigh down my domestic bliss. Forget the broom, not a single thing got polished and yet I feel like our home got a mini-overhaul.

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. (1 Thessalonians 5:21)

1) Weeding.
I weeded out something everyone said would work for our family when it did not work for our family. 
Some months ago, our speech language pathologist wanted us to start working on sign language with our son. This was fine, although our son has yet to really get on board with it. Anyway, just about everyone recommended a specific video series to help him (and us) learn ASL. It was great...for the first few months. Then Little Mister grew bored with the series, absolutely didn't want to watch it. The music annoyed him, there wasn't enough boy action, and it was just going no where. Although it was inexpensive I hated paying for the digital subscription every month. One day I stopped the charade and canceled it. Done. I don't know what communication tactic we'll end up doing in the future, but I have to let him have some say in it, too. 

2) Reorganization.
I used the seasonal clothing swap as an excuse to do a fast decluttering.
It took me about two weeks to evict a hundred unused items from our house. It started with some clothing that I never got around to wearing this summer. Or maybe the summer before that. Right off the bat, I cleared about 20 clothing items and donated them to an overseas clothing distribution project. I reorganized an enormous kitchen drawer of baby feeding paraphernalia and sold half of our sippy cup collection through an online yardsale page. Then, I was really blessed to be given a flyer for a food and household item drive taking place for people in need. I have a lot of excess from couponing, far more than we need in our stockpile. I'm all too happy to donate all the excess laundry detergent, pasta sauce, lotions, toothbrushes, and other free items that I've accumulated over the past year. It seems like a lot of food and clothing drives are starting to take place in time for the holidays, so it's a great time to donate these things and free up space in the pantry and bathroom cabinets. 
By the way, my big declutter was inspired by Thrifty Frugal Mama who has been doing a big declutter of her own. I started seeing pictures of things she was getting rid of and started thinking, hey, I have one of those laying around too, and it needs to go live someplace else.The list of things she has managed to sell is inspirational.

3) Repurpose or Upcycle. 
 I found something in our routine that was no longer working for me and fixed it. In this case, I stopped going to the really popular playground. I must be the only mother with a love-hate relationship with playgrounds, and the biggest and best in our community was fast becoming my nemesis. Although it is filled with a really wonderful collection of equipment, it's also filled with acres of athletic fields and equipment sheds that were far more attractive to my little curiosity seeker than any slide or jungle gym. I would often run into other mothers there, usually when I was exhausted and least felt like socializing. What I needed was place where we could go where Little Mister to burn off some serious steam and I could simultaneously work in some speech therapy homework without feeling self conscious. When I found a tiny, unused playground on a side street just a half mile from our house, it met our needs in a way that the massive community recreation complex could not. There's less playground equipment, but guess what? What is there is in great condition because it sees a lot less action. It's also very clean. Weee!  

4) Maintenance.
 I'm getting back to self care.
You know how when you are a mom and are on duty twenty-four hours a day, you are the last to see a doctor or dentist, or anyone you need to see? I've been working on trying to take care of myself more, because I know it sounds trite, but it is true that I do feel better and function better when my health needs are met, too. I spent all summer with a minor tooth ache. It's gone now, but let's not do that again. I'm clearing up my back log of health concerns and actually scheduling in some personal time to relax. It's not easy, and some weeks it never even happens. It also sometimes means that something else on my to-do list lingers a little while longer, but it has been worth it. The trick: To make the appointment, and then go. It's harder than it sounds!

5) Raincheck.
I took an energy-sapping annual tradition and filed for a deferment. We survived. 
For the past couple years, we invested lightly in some nice, professional family photographs. I feel strongly that nice memories are worth preserving. Picture day is always a little stressful, hoping that the weather will cooperate, and that our clothes will remain unwrinkled for the shoot. Out of a hundred and fifty pictures, there might be a tiny handful that I actually like, for which I pay a formidable sum and then spend three weeks chasing down the photographer so she can send me the digital files in time for me to make Christmas cards. This year, The Mister was all too happy to hear that we would settle for a less formal portrait, with our own camera, for free. 

All of these mini-projects have helped to simplify things a bit, at least for the time being. Things only stay clean for a little while, and I hope to make it a habit keep any eye on the cobwebs that need to be swept away in life as well as our mudroom.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Easy Baked Apples

It was before I even heard the first flock of geese fly away for the winter. The unmistakable whirrrrr of a combine started in the field one evening. Can you see its lights? Like a thief in the night, he began taking down the field. My beautiful corn field was being harvested by a green and yellow monster, driven by a friend and neighbor who sits within twenty feet of me every Sunday.

The next day, Little Mister and I went out to wave and watch as the field out front was harvested, the corn was poured into a truck. He bent down and picked up a husk, and peeled it back to nothingness.

"Waaaah!" He expressed his disappointment at the cob that had disappeared.

"No, no, that's GOOD!" I tell him, and then go on to explain how it all works, ending with "...and that's how he makes money." 

I think he understood, but he still seemed suspicious. 

"What a marvelous system God designed to feed us," I tell him. He looks pensive. No way to know if he is actually listening and thinking about what I tell him, or planning his next adventure. 

I often feel like motherhood is just casting some seeds and hoping that somewhere, something good will grow.

I've encountered all of the usual suspects this October: Apples, pumpkins, hayrides, and of course, harvest festivals. Our local apple festival included all kinds of seasonal goodies, like fried candy bars and cookies...


I much preferred these neat gourds that look like enormous green apples. They are about the size of a medium pumpkin and would make unique decorations...

At one farm we took a hayride that turned out to be an apple picking hayride. I kid you not, it was like an abduction where we were forced to do the lightest and most enjoyable farm labor imaginable, all for our own benefit. It was fun to pick a few fresh apples, even though it meant a hearty surplus at our house.

I wanted to do something quick and easy with some tart apples, so I carved out the centers and cores, and filled them with butter, raisins, brown sugar, walnuts, and, just because I had some at the moment, a piece of caramel candy. Sprinkled with cinnamon, I placed them in the slow cooker with a little apple cider, and cooked on high for two hours. They were delicious for dessert, and reminded me of the baked apples we always made on Christmas morning when I was growing up.
It hasn't all been hayrides and apple picking this month. Some of Little Mister's most important services, such as speech therapy, end in just a few weeks and we have been working on securing new avenues for help. I feel awash in paperwork, phone calls and meetings, all on top of some yearly deep cleaning projects that I'm anxious to start. With that in mind, I'm trying to keep life as uncomplicated as possible right now. I hope to share some of my recent simplifying domestic/parenting/life tactics in an upcoming post.

Autumn selfie.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Five Fall Moments

Those green fields are yellowing, the sunflowers have hung their heads in a sorrowful pose. That chill in the air has come too soon and whispers a warning of long, cold months ahead. I know how to make it all go away. Want to know a secret? I will just pull out the cool weather clothes for the seasonal clothing swap, and that will guarantee an eighty degree day. You just wait

The cooler days suited me just fine since I spent a few afternoons with the oven running non-stop in preparation for the bake sale at our church's community outreach day. I was packaging up a few dozen cookies when I saw that I was going to be late picking up Little Mister from a therapy appointment. I quickly grabbed my purse and jumped into the car. About halfway there, I made an awful realization. All of my packaged baked goods, including the previous day's work, were in a laundry basket left out in the open, in close proximity to a mischievous dog.

A dog who devours everything.  

A dog with super scent-tracking capabilities.

All of my hard work. Right there in that basket. The basket I had meant to put away somewhere before leaving, and then was forgotten. There was no time to turn around and run back home to save them, if it wasn't too late already.

I'm sure a tear or two sprang to my eyes. I started praying.

"....and dear Lord please protect the banana bread too..."

Almost a half hour later I pulled in the driveway, my heart heavy in my stomach. Would you believe I found a perfectly untouched basket, with all my goodies neatly wrapped and undisturbed? Buddy laid nearby, completely uninterested.

Exhale. Thankfulness. Laughter. 

Then, on the first official day of Fall, my true love gave to me....

A giant bucket of paw paws. I've never heard of these, and certainly had never tasted one. Years ago, The Mister planted a paw paw tree at his parent's farm and they are just now bearing fruit. In case you have never eaten one, I'll describe it. They are very fragrant with a sweet aroma. They are easy to peel and have a soft yellow texture inside that reminds me of a cross between an avocado and a mango. They are mildly sweet and kind of tropical tasting. Some say they taste a little like a banana. 

The last blooms before winter are the Montauk daisies. They bloom in a big shrub all through September.


It wouldn't be early Fall without applesauce.
Remember our big strawberry harvest? I pulled some berries out of the freezer and did one batch of strawberry applesauce, just for something different this year. It was five pounds of apples to three cups of frozen berries, simmer and sieve. It smelled wonderful cooking on the stove!


Finally, window washing. DO NOT be impressed by our housekeeping. We just happened to have the scaffolding up for a home repair, and I suggested we leave it up so we could clean off the picture window properly. Window washing occurs around here on an as-needed, as-is-convenient basis. It works out to once every other year in which there are fourteen full moons and two months with additional Wednesdays. Or something like that.

Not a bad start to the season. I hope you're enjoying it, too.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Small House Living

It happens all the time. I get excited about an article entitled something like "How We do X with a Small House" or "Maximize Your Space in a Small Kitchen". Living small is one of my pet topics. I click on the link. Maybe it has some useful tips.

Then, I see that the house in question has a basement for storage, the small kitchen is three times the size of mine, and the house has two, yes, TWO bathrooms. I get indignant. No, no, you do not have a small house. Get out of here, you can't even play this game, you are unqualified. 

We live in a tiny old tenant farm house which suffered a few random additions over the years, ultimately concluding with less than 1,000 square feet of total space. Far from a micro-home, it probably was closer to average just fifty years ago. We do not have a basement. We do not have a garage. My laundry room is a stacked washer and dryer in a corner of the kitchen. I know people with homes like ours who do it with six times as many children, and I pray they are richly blessed with creative storage solutions.

Do you want to know if your house is small? Here is a quiz I created to find out:

If someone gives you something you would really like to own, do you immediately have to consider where it will be stored in your home and what you may need to get rid of in order to keep it?

When you get chilly, is it viable to heat up a couple rooms by baking something in the oven or putting a load of laundry in the dryer?

Is your food preservation strategy to place an empty jar everywhere you can fit one, in all kinds of crazy places, and then fill as many as you can?

When it comes to family planning, are you concerned about the possible legal implications of a one child per square foot ratio?

If you answered yes to all four, then you are in the big little-house leagues. If you got two or three out of four, you are in the game. If you answered no to all three, then you are a spectator. Enjoy your indoor swimming pool.

No great honor comes with living in tight quarters. I am not more spiritual or virtuous because I live in a smaller than average one-story doll house. There are a few hidden blessings, which I've mentioned here in the past. In general, less cleaning, less clutter, smaller bills.

I also have no magical formula for living small with great ease. 

Well, okay. I've picked up a few reliable tips:

For instance, try to make the most out of storage space underneath large furniture. For instance, here are some things we store under the couch:

Likewise, you should try to utilize overhead space above doors and windows. For example, I hung an organic insect control device on the kitchen ceiling. No one but me has noticed it, and I hope it will help with the late summer fruit fly problem.

Alright. It's a spider, and it moved there on its own. Who can blame it? It must enjoy a cozy habitat where every room smells of a freshly baked pie, a warm fire heats even the farthest nook on the coldest day, and the family living space is always full of life.

Even though we'll likely build a modest addition in the future, I'm choosing contentment for now. You can never have too much of it, and it's a good fit for any home. Sometimes I lose it, grow discontent, and have to find it again. When that happens next time I'll just look under the couch. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Late Summer Love

Have you ever had one of those days where it felt like you got nothing done? It was the most unproductive day, ever. Maybe you had a headache and every time you thought to start a project, calamity broke out, followed by organized chaos and a complete memory loss of what it was you were trying to start ten minutes ago. 

Then, at the end of the day you realized that although you did nothing, someone managed to do two loads of laundry, served three meals, answered the phone, changed the dead batteries in two toys, volunteered for the church bake sale, cleaned up the kitchen, and gave the dog a bath? I guess someone might have done something after all. Sometimes summer feels like that. It flies by and you think it went so fast and didn't get a chance to do it all, but you find that somehow, you did even more.

 I've been blessed with some lovely summer moments these past few weeks. The freezer corn is all in, the last pickle has been picked, and we were able to enjoy a few days in PA visiting and enjoying some family time together. One day I even got to fly solo and do a little shopping. It felt a little decadent to take my time browsing in a bookstore while, all around me, women were pulling wagons of empty jars and peach bushels.

 I adore windmills and don't see them very often anymore. There are other ways of pumping water now, but I hope they don't disappear altogether. 

One of these things is not like the other...

We enjoyed a day with some extended family at one of our favorite antique tractor events in mid-August. Last year, Little Mister fell asleep in his stroller and I dashed out for a quick trip to the fruit farm. No such luck this year! His plan was to start his own parade of power while the others fell asleep at the wheel.

The field corn is starting to brown a little bit on the edges now, but did you know it is still fun to run through and hide while mom chases you and visions of helicopters and search teams dance in her head? True story. Someone save me.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Recipe: Spaghetti Pie

The Mister actually spotted this recipe while reading one of his farm newspapers. I was skeptical because we've eaten baked spaghetti ten different ways, but this one looked a little different than my other stand-by pizza casserole dishes. I think it's the layer of herbed cream cheese that  makes it extra delicious. As an added bonus, there was plenty left over for a second meal.

I like that anything right now that's easy to put together because, most days, I'm all about just getting some kind of nutritious food on the table. 

It was definitely a winner.

12 oz. cooked spaghetti
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. salt (I just sprinkled)
2 T. butter 

Combine crust ingredients and spread into a 9x13-inch pan. 

Herb layer:
8 oz. softened cream cheese
1/2 tsp. salt (Again, I just gave it a few shakes)
1/4 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. oregano
1/3 tsp. pepper
1 cup sour cream

Combine herb layer ingredients and spread over crust.

Meat layer:
1 pound ground beef
24 oz. spaghetti sauce

Brown and drain ground beef and combine with spaghetti sauce; pour over herb layer. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Top with:

Mozzarella cheese
Parmesan cheese (I omitted the extra parm and it was still delicious)

Heat until melted.

Picnic, anyone?    

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Summer Delights

So far this summer I've encountered  more than one blessing in disguise, and I sure needed some. 

For one thing, I just could not keep up with our garden this year. As Little Mister's therapy schedule grew more demanding in June, I had to make a calculated decision to just focus on saving a few of our crops that we really count on and enjoy. That meant corn, pickles, berries, and a tiny watermelon patch. I had to say good bye to beans and peppers. It was a sound strategy. As I'm fond of saying, I can't do everything, I'm already doing too much.

Here are five little unexpected delights:

Free tomatoes! 
I only planted three tomato plants this year, and planned to buy tomatoes for canning projects. As it turned out, I didn't have to buy anything! This bushel came from my brother-in-law, and a neighbor gave us a box for free.

Help in the garden. Little Mister is a champion berry picker. Just forget that he sometimes eats them all before they ever make it into the house. 

Mystery flowers! I must have thoughtfully scattered a pack of flower seeds and then promptly forgot about it.  A  row of these tall flowers  prompted me to wonder if they were wildflowers or what? I honestly don't recall planting them, but I have a whole row.

Butterflies! This year I planned on doing several batches of pickles and was a little worried when I saw these bugs systematically eating every ounce of my dill.  It turns out they become eastern swallowtail butterflies, and now we have butterflies everywhere. Oh, and the dill recovered. So far I've done three kinds of pickles and am planning for one more batch.

Oh, the view! I love when the farmer who works the land around us plants field corn. More often it's soybean, but I think this is so much nicer.

 And to think it's not over yet. How I love summer.


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