Monday, June 30, 2014

Raising Adults: Packing

Last week, the Cluttered Family went on vacation. The boys went up to Cowboy Grandma & Grandpa's ranch while Diesel and I went to Vegas for our anniversary. Of course, a huge part of going away on a trip is packing. I hate packing. I love travelling, but I hate packing.

A few years ago, I realized that my packing load was more than it needed to be. While Diesel will pull out his clothes, it falls on me to ensure that clothes, toiletries, and other sundry items for our family of 4 (5 if Rockstar is going with us) make it into the suitcase. 

Then I had a major Oprah-style "Ah-ha!" moment. Little Man, at 4 years old, was more than capable of packing his own suitcase. 

I know some of you just had the record needle scratch moment and are thinking "Cluttered Mama, do you mean to tell us that you let a 4 year old pack his own suitcase unsupervised?" 

And the answer is, yes. Sort of. 

I started creating a pictograph checklist for Little Man, which details all the items he needs to bring on any given trip.

As you can see, #1 I'm not an artist. #2 I include the number of boxes equal to the number of each particular item he needs to pack. This makes it easier for him to keep organized. After the first suitcase, I stopped checking his work. And so far, nothing has been forgotten.

Teaching him to be responsible for his suitcase is just one step in my goal of raising my boys to be self-sufficient adults. And the bigger upside? At 3 years old, Duckie is starting to want to pack his own suitcase.
Little Man packed just what he needed.
 Duckie packed a stuffed polar bear, a stuffed parrot, 6 books,
1 t-shirt (belonging to Little Man), 1 bed sheet (also his brother's),
1 pair of pajamas (shirt is his, pants are his brother's),
4 matchbox cars, and a giant pine cone

He doesn't always get it right, but it is the thought that counts!!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Life's a Garden, Dig It!

Today I am giving you a photo tour of all the things we’re growing around The Cluttered House. I popped out this morning and shot some photos of our burgeoning suburban farm. Please excuse the mess. Unlike gardens & yards on Pinterest, ours isn’t all that photogenic-- but we love her and she’s come a LONG way, baby!

On our deck:
Blueberries & Lemon grass

San Marzano Tomatoes, Purple Cherokee tomatoes, lavender, cilantro, red Russian Kale,  a grape plant, and one hopeful Rockstar (he loves nothing more than to eat produce).

Sadly all of this will have to come out soon because we have to tear out the planter and move the deck in advance of our giant life-eating home renovation and addition (more about that later!)

Clockwise from the left: Lemon grass, some kind of collard (I think), red Russian kale, Lemonbalm, bolted lettuce. And Rockstar’s head. He’s such an attention hog!

By the tent (our temporary “garage”-- again, because of the renovation):
We have one grape plant, and then two sets of “growing shelves” for tomatoes. Diesel built them out of recycled materials from around the yard. As soon as our baby plants are big enough, they’ll get moved out here to live.

Grape close up! (sorry so many of these photos are blown out, my camera has been being wonky). I get so excited to see all these plants growing-- baby produce is ADORABLE!!

The “Orchard” as we affectionately call the back garden:

These two photos are the yard as viewed from the deck. Pay no attention to the trash can full of weeds and other crap around my yard… (also, my thrifty side wants to point out that both the playhouse and the climber were acquired for FREE… woot!). Our grass is a little worse for wear, what with two boys, a dog, and a drought. Last summer, when it was new, it was quite gorgeous

Orchard up-close:
Cinderella pumpkin (grown from seeds I exchanged with a friend, hooray for free seeds!!!)

Howden pumpkin-- a jack-o-lantern pumpkin for the kids!

Peppers galore! The one on the left is a jalapeno (I think), on the right is a white bell.

White pepper up close

Lots of kale and broccoli in front of the wall. Behind the fence from L-to-R: plum tree that produces 3 types of plum, a papaya (non-GMO), tree collard, Valencia orange tree, another tree collard, Black futzu pumpkin, mandarin tree, and some more peppers (we’ll see those up close later!)

Also in front of the wall is a pole bean (with no pole) and a fairly ragged basil. Organic gardening= difficult pest control, which means our leaves are not always as pretty as I’d like them to be! It also means I kill a lot of stuff with my gloved hands…

Fresno chile (central valley, represent!), Poblano chile, and Chipotle chile

Another KEY part of our little pseudo-homestead is located in the orchard area:
This is the dirt pile. My boys spend 90% of their backyard playtime out here digging, making mud, and a whole host of other dirt-y activities. It is their favorite. I highly recommend installing a dirt pile in your yard.

Onions by the barn

We built a lovely trellis that connects to the top of the barn for our vining plants:
Right now we have a baby Moon & Stars watermelon (not pictured), a couple spaghetti squash plants, and one cucumber plant that survived the onslaught of predatory insects as a baby plant. Also, we have flax growing here too…

Ants in a cucumber flower. Ants are my mortal enemy. Ants, aphids, caterpillars, and keeled treehopers. They are all bastards and I will kill them when given the chance (seriously, if you know a good, organic, non-ecosystem disrupting method of getting rid of any of the aforementioned jerks, I’m all ears… )

Baby cuke. It is so cute I want to die!

Okay, now we are going to head over to the actual garden. Full disclosure, when I designed this space in my head, it was going to be a sweet, productive, Pinterest-worthy garden. The kind that has a whimsical water feature and a bistro table situated amongst the cool, tranquil greenery. Where I could retreat each morning to sip my coffee and gather my thoughts before heading inside to fix my children their homemade and ever-so nutritious breakfast, which they, naturally, gobble up with no complaint and with chorusing “thank yous” before scampering off to do their morning responsibilities without being reminded.

Needless to say, my once blank slate:
looks nothing like I envisioned.

You see, several months after we built our cute little garden and had stuff growing, Diesel approached me with the idea of starting a “small” hydroponic garden. I agreed, excited that he was so interested in growing stuff, and assumed that he’d be building something small and Pinterest-worthy.

Diesel doesn’t understand the importance of Pinterest-worthiness. I should’ve also asked him to clarify what “small” meant. Over the last few months, the hydroponic garden grew into an aquaponic garden-- complete with fish we can eventually eat. It is cool, it impresses people, but… um… it ain’t pretty. Nor is the disaster area that we call “the garden.”

So, without further ado…
The Garden:
The “small” aqua structure… Diesel is quick to point out that it has water AND fish, thus making it a water feature. We grow most of our greens here. Lots of chard and lettuce and kale and broccoli and what not. Please don’t ask me how this works. I don’t know. basically fish poop and pee and it feeds the plants… or something. The gutter on the second level is where our seedlings live right before we put them out in the big yard. 

Our growbed- it is just like any other raised bed, only instead of dirt it has water and some kind of media.

Strawberry & pepper tubes attached to the front fence; they are also part of the aquaponic system.

The garden boxes have become a jungle. I just really need to get in there and prune.
It’s a fennel jungle in there…


Also, since I’m being all honest, warts and all… Here is how the main walkway looks:
Soothing. Calming. Tranquil. Doesn’t it just make you want to sit in here and sip some coffee?

Yeah… me either! (Good news? People are coming to see our garden this weekend, so we have to clean it up!! Hopefully I’ll have some “after” photos for you!)

OH and last but not least I want to show you  the old lemon tree which was on the property when we moved in. Sadly, it is in the way of where our addition will go, so we may lose it. The lemon tree has made a “friend” too-- a random passionfruit vine has taken up residence amongst the lemon tree’s limbs. No idea how that happened!


So that’s it, folks! You have seen my “farm.” Questions? Comments? Let me know!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Tomato Paste

Our tomato plants, which until recently have been neglected, have started producing like crazy. Last week I picked about 6 lbs of tomatoes from our various plants. On Saturday I picked another pound and began the process of making my first every batch of tomato paste.

I roasted them  in the oven for about an hour. Then I pulled them out and lightly pureed with my immersion blender, and then began the tedious job of pressing them through a sieve to separate out the peels and seeds.

Yeah. I really need a food mill. This part SUCKED.

Then I spent a gajillion hours reducing my paste. Until eventually it was Sunday morning and I had about 16 ounces of tomato paste to can up.

That is right folks... 5 lbs of tomatoes + hours of work = 16 ounces of paste.
I have FOUR of these 4 ounce beauties now...

But, it was worth it. And I was only 2 hours late for a party.

Monday, November 4, 2013


So I was wrapping up at work today and a weird dizzy feeling came over me. I managed to pick up the kids and get home and not throw up or wreck the car, so that is a win.

Now I'm laid up in bed not feeling awesome, but feeling okay as long as I don't turn my head. If I turn my head I feel like I'm on a boat in very turbulent waters. And it makes me wicked seasick.

Long story short, you're looking at my post du jour. I was going to write about my foray into canning, but this will have to suffice.

Dizzily yours, 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Tasty Feelings

I'm in bad shape right now. And I'm not just talking about my feelings. My delicious, delicious feelings.

You see, I'm an emotional eater. Those of you who get so stressed or sad that you can't eat, I hate you.* I want to be one of you, but I'm not. The minute those bad feelings creep in they start yelling "EAT ALL THE REESES!!!!" and I just start hoovering in all the crap I can eat. Blizzards, cookies, candy, Oreo milkshakes, you name it... and they're often washed down with nachos and a margarita. 

Basically, over the last two months I have turned into a human landfill. All kinds of bad crap has gone in and just hung around, being all gross and stuff (yeah, all that "real food" eating I normally do went right out the window)

No joke, I currently weigh MORE than I did when I was 9 months pregnant with Duckie. Granted, before my dad died, I was already overweight, but I have gained about 15-20 pounds of delicious feelings in the last two months. My clothes are too tight and I've taken to wearing sweatpants 99% of the time I'm not at work (and I ain't gonna lie, some days those yoga pants go to work with me...).

To curb this, starting tomorrow I am going to start the whole eat less & move more thing, even though I so love the eat more, move less diet. I kind of have a vague plan, but it is something to the effect of starting out walking  more  this week and then if that seems to be going okay (I tore my calf muscle and it is just now healed enough to start working out on it) I'm going to start back on Couch to 5k next week. 3-4x a week I'm also going to be doing this diabolical plan that Little Man's godfather (co-founder of PrayFit, fitness guru, and all around good dude) cooked up for me:

5 push-ups
10 body-weight squats
15 crunches
Over & over, as many as possible in 10 minutes.

Just typing that makes me want to die a little.

So that is that... Hopefully in a few months I'll be fitting into my jeans and feeling a little better. And my feelings won't be tasting so delicious.

Also, I leave you with this, because she's basically me:

*I don't hate you, I'm just jealous. I love you. Even if you don't/can't eat when you're sad. 

Day 2:
NaBloPoMo November 2013

Saturday, November 2, 2013


Hi there!

I am slowly trying to piece back together some semblance of "normal" in the wake of the giant tectonic emotional upheaval which occurred in August. In an effort to kickstart my writing, I'm participating in BlogHer's November NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Post Month.

What does that mean, you ask? It means I am going to try to post daily for the month of November. I can't promise daily content, but hopefully I can re-ignite the writing fire!

So, what can you look forward to reading? A little about the house, a little about the garden, a little about the kids, a little about parenting, a little about grieving, and an open letter of apology to Jason Segel (trust me, you won't want to miss that! If I don't produce it by Thanksgiving, someone needs to call me on it!!).

Anyhoo... Stay tuned for all that Clutter-y goodness you've been waiting for!!

NaBloPoMo November 2013

Thursday, August 29, 2013

An Explanation of My Absence

A few months ago I posted vaguely that I wasn’t doing well. And then I pretty much posted nothing until now.

So, I thought I should share what’s been going on.

In early December, my Dad called me to tell me that he had been diagnosed with congestive heart-failure. This was a major blow, as he had been battling Hepatitis C for many years and at this point, his only (very distant) hope for beating it was a liver transplant. The CHF diagnosis knocked him off the transplant list and quashed the tiny glimmer of hope for a “cure.” It also hit home that my Dad’s life expectancy was being cut even shorter. While I can only imagine what it was like for him to hear this diagnosis, for me, it was crushing. I was finally having to really accept my father’s mortality. It was not a fun experience.

For the first time in my life, I couldn’t get excited about Christmas. I went through the motions for my kids, but I was just so sad. I even attended my church’s “Blue Christmas” service, which was helpful in allowing me to feel less guilty about feeling so sad at my favorite holiday. It just felt like so much hope was sucked out of my world in the span of a few weeks. 

During one of our regular Skype conversations in February, my dad told me of his newest diagnosis: Pulmonary Fibrosis. While we joked that he was trying to collect as many terminal diagnoses as possible, my heart was overwhelmed by the magnitude of what that all meant. It meant time was limited.

It was around this time that I stopped posting to the blog because we had a lot going on around the house, on top of my funky emotional stuff. As a result of some huge home improvement projects and my general malaise, honestly, my house was a mess and I felt disingenuous posting about great ways to get your act together, when my act was so far from together. (Though I feel it is also important to note that I wasn't suffering a major depression, but just wasn't in the greatest of head spaces. It ebbed and flowed throughout the spring).

Unfortunately, because I was unemployed and we had purchased a "fixer-upper house" we really couldn't afford to travel out to see my Dad, step-mom and sisters, so we made due with lots of Skype conversations. Little Man loved walking around the house and showing his Pops stuff and Duckie thought Skype peek-a-boo was HILARIOUS. While I loved that my boys could connect with my Dad, part of me sometimes wondered if it would just be better for them to not know their Pops. To spare them the pain of losing him, because I knew losing him would happen sooner than later. It was a selfish thought, and one I couldn't go through with, because I knew how much these Skype sessions meant to my dad.

And yet, with all this illness, my dad was still up and about. Not his old active self, but not on his deathbed, either. He seemed tired and out of breath, and sometimes puffy from the CHF, but otherwise, the normal that I had grown accustomed to. He was definitely not well, but I think my youngest sister said it best when she said “he was sick, but he never seemed like he was that sick.”

On Friday, August 16, my world changed forever. My cell phone rang. “Dad Home” popped up on the screen and I thought “YAY! I was going to Skype him today anyway.” I picked up the phone, expecting to hear his voice. When I heard my older sister’s voice, I was startled. She was calling to tell me that Dad had died that morning.

I wasn’t ready to hear that.

I’m still not ready.

I still needed to call him and say I loved him one last time. My boys needed to have one more Skype session with him. We still had so much to talk about.

And yet, despite all this, he was gone.

The past few weeks have been a blur of travel and childcare arrangements and funeral arrangements and family and all the zillion other things that go along with losing a family member. Now, I am home and I am trying to adjust to the new normal. I know I will get to a place where I will feel better, but right now, I just feel sad. As a normally happy person, feeling persistently sad is a really uncomfortable place for me. I’m allowing myself the time and space to grieve, but I hate knowing how long a process it will be. And that while it will not always feel this raw, it will remain an unfixable hurt.

I’m sure that for a while, if/when I post on here, the posts won’t always be chipper. I apologize in advance for that (I know I don’t have to, but c’mon, who wants to read a downer blog? Not me!). But, if you can bear with me for a little while, I’m hopeful that we’ll get back to a new normal and I’ll be telling you how to reorganize your life in a few easy steps…

For now, I just miss my dad so much that I barely care if my junk drawer is a hot mess.

Cluttered Mama (as a Cluttered Girl) with her Daddy, may he rest in peace