Thursday, April 28, 2011

Closet Maid Storage Cubes, You've Met Your Match!

Right around the time Little Man was born, we purchased some ClosetMaid storage cubes at Target. And since that day, they have been what kids these days refer to as my "frenemy." One part friend, one part foe.

I love them for the storage they provide and that they're fairly easy on the eyes. It is actually pretty amazing the amount of crap you can store in a 10x10 cube! Currently, they're acting as storage for Maverick's clothing and all the other accoutrement of babyhood.

So if I love them so much, why have they been the thorn in my side for the better part of 3 years? Because they were virtually unlabel-able! I made this horrifying discovery the day we brought them home. I loaded them up,  pulled out my trusty P-Touch label maker and made my labels. When I affixed them to the front of the storage cubes, they merely curled up and fell to the table. I eventually came up with a fix by adding Scotch tape, but even still, it was not uncommon to find that a label had launched itself, Kamikaze style, off of the bins to the floor below.

Finally, I gave up and pulled all the labels off. Worked fine for me, because I knew where everything was, however Diesel was not nearly as adept at navigating the bins.

Then, like a beacon of hope in my darkest hour (as I was preparing to fill said bins with Maverick's clothes and imagining the chaos that would ensue as Diesel attempted to put away the laundry), I stumbled upon this post on That Mommy Blog during Project Simplify. That Mommy had come up with at BRILLIANT solution to my problem: chalk board tags and ribbon. HUZZAH!!!

Just bought some ribbon and set Diesel to work cutting out and painting wooden circles with chalkboard paint. (If you don't have a handy hubby, you can get wooden circles at most craft stores). I love that they look nice, can easily be changed and, most importantly, don't throw themselves off of the cubes to the floor below!!

So mad props to That Mommy for solving my problem The storage cubes and I are now BFFs!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Frugal, Green and EASY!!!

Want a quick and easy way to cut some spending our of your budget AND give Mother Earth a little hug?

Cloth napkins and washcloths!

This was a novel concept to me, because I grew up in a household where cloth napkins were reserved for special occasions, such as Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner. Every day napkins were paper. When Diesel and I set up house, we registered for cloth napkins-- y'know for all those fancy sit-down dinners we were going to have in our placial manor. Said Crate & Barrel napkins sat on a self in our linen closet for a good 4 years, all the while we were purchasing and using paper napkins. About a year ago, as I started trying to find ways to be more "green," one night we ran out of paper napkins; right then and there it dawned on me: USE CLOTH NAPKINS!!! Of course, our 4 Crate & Barrel napkins only went so far, so eventually I had to run out to Target and pick up 8 more. Then I remembered that someone had given me a set of cloth napkins in a picnic basket a few years ago and I dug those out. Now we have 16 napkins tucked away in the drawer of our dining table.

Interestingly enough, my cheapy Target napkins have retained their color better than my expensive C&B napkins. Oh, and to save on the cost of laundering, we reuse our napkins through a couple meals (unless they get really messy-- like on the rare occasion that we eat crab legs for dinner!).

My next easy-peasy money and earth saving tip is buying lots and lots of washcloths and using those in the place of paper towels. I own roughly 2 bazillion of them. I like to buy the multi-pack of bathroom washcloths at Target. They're something like $7 for a package of 7, whereas the kitchen washcloths tend to be more pricey. I use them for just about everything.
Using washcloths to clean up messes around the kitchen has also impacted how we clean up messes around the rest of the house. Spills and other wet messes get cleaned up using old bath towels and rags. We do still buy paper towels, but we use much fewer than we once did-- and usually only for things too gross or messy to be cleaned out of a washcloth or towel. We also buy paper towels made from recycled paper, so that sort of offsets it, right?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Present Dilemma

Late April to Late June are chock full of celebrations for the Cluttered Family. Starting in late April, we have the following birthdays/celebrations approximately every 1-2 weeks:
  • my birthday
  • Mother's Day
  • Little Man's Birthday
  • Diesel's Birthday
  • Father's Day
  • our anniversary
This year we also add to the mix the baby "sprinkle" for Maverick at the beginning of May and his arrival in late May/early June.

 
With space at a premium in our home and now that we're really trying to be intentional about what we allow to take up this space, I'm finding myself struggling with how to convey to friends & family that while we appreciate gifts for such occasions, they really don't need to buy us gifts for these occasions-- or how to convey that IF they feel they want to give us something, to ask what it is we really need or want.

 
Of course, some of these occasions, like Mother's and Father's Day and our anniversary are ones that will just be celebrated by the 3 (and eventually 4) people in our family, so there is more "control" there. For the past few years we've done nothing for Mother's and Father's Day, and will probably continue with this until the boys start bringing home macaroni adorned crafts and handmade cards from school. Our anniversary also goes by without gifts and fanfare. We usually try to go out to dinner and last year, being a milestone anniversary, we took a trip, but we don't give each other gifts and dinner is usually something non-extravagant.

 
But how to deal with the well-intentioned gift givers who give us things we don't need or have space for? I don't mean to sound ungrateful. Quite the opposite, I'm very grateful that there are people who love us and are so very generous with us. It just creates a new layer of how to de-stuff our home and life-- and how to convey that to the people we know an love in a non-offensive way.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Round-Up Time

Okay, so I've shaken off my funk (mostly) and thought I better post a quick round-up of what the Cluttered Family and I have been up to the past week!

Saturday I spent the day at my sister-in-law's yard sale. It was roughly the temperature of the sun all day, which is super fun when you're GREAT with child, but the sale itself went well. None of the "big ticket" items that I brought with me sold, so they got schlepped home to be listed on Craigslist. That being said, I made enough to buy this week's groceries completely in cash AND I got to leave my "to donate" stuff at my sister-in-law's house for THEM to take to the donation site! (I think Ready.Set.Simplify would agree this was the best part of the whole deal!). I did discover that the way people check out yard sales makes you feel rather like you're back in the Jr. High cafeteria. They cruise by slowly, surveying what you have and THEN decide whether your sale is worthy of them stopping. I started feeling very judged!


Sunday was my usual Farmer's Market/Whole Foods run, which leads me to my current dilemma. My town has a little farmer's market on Sundays. Usually, I drive to the farmer's market in a neighboring town because it is AWESOME! This week, in an effort to "keep it local" and to save time, Little Man and I went to our town's farmer's market. It had been a while since I had been there and I was saddened to see that our market now consists of mostly craft booths. There were literally 3 produce vendors, none of whom were advertising organic produce. Bummer. We bought a couple items, but then high-tailed it to Whole Foods for the rest of our shopping.


At Whole Foods, I am not to proud to admit that I gave an audible squeal of delight when I saw this:




BULK SHAMPOO, CONDITIONER, LOTION AND SOAP!!! Hooray!!! I will still need to cross-reference to see if this is actually a bargain, but I LOVE the idea of being able to just refill my 32 oz shampoo and conditioner bottles, rather than buying new containers!


The next HOORAY moment for me came when I went by to water our garden plot and spotted this little beauty:


A tiny little tomato! Granted, something has been gnawing the life out of the leaves on our pepper and melon plants and the lettuce seems to have lost its will to be green, but we have a tiny little tomato starting. Soon we'll be reaping what we sowed!


My final HIP, HIP, HOORAY for the week is that for the past few months, Diesel has been doing some side work on the boat belonging to a friend's grandfather (and I have been complaining incessantly about him never being home). He finally finished the big project on Sunday and brought home his pay. Per an earlier agreement, x-percent of his profit on side projects goes directly towards paying off debt. I am happy to say that we will be paying an additional $1000 on the truck loan this month! HUZZAH!!!


In other news, I've decided that while I love Miranda Kerr for her public pro-breastfeeding stance and her line of organic (and way out of my price range) beauty products, I'm pretty sure I hate her! Why? This (well, there is also the whole married to Orlando Bloom thing!) I breastfed for a year and was definitely NOT bikini ready  as a result (though I did lose a ton of weight, thanks to Little Man's dairy & soy allergy).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cosmic Wake-Up Call

As you know, I started out the week having a lovely bout of panic/anxiety/depression, which has not completely gone away, but has been quelled a little. I was given a cosmic wake-up call mid-week when I learned that a dear, dear former colleague's 30-something daughter passed away in her sleep.This was, obviously, unexpected, as 30-something people aren't "supposed" to pass away in their sleep. It is really hard to throw yourself a major pity party when you're faced with how quickly life can change at the drop of a hat. Made my petty worries seem rather insignificant in comparison to the sheer magnitude of his loss.

If you are the prayerful type please keep this family in your prayers as they struggle to come to grips with this terrible loss.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Worrisome Nature of Worry

Today I’m going to veer off my usual topics of happiness, organizing and simplicity and, as the illustrious Dr. Phil would say, “get real.” This is not to say that any previous posts are not “real,” but in the interest of wanting to be honest and forthright, I feel today needs to be different. Because I have been struggling the last few days.

You see, I am prone to fits of severe anxiety and worry.  Panic, even.  And the last few days have been a worry spiral for me. I am nearing my much desired maternity leave, after which it is my fervent desire to return to working outside the home on a reduced work schedule. This is not a definite—the only definite is that I will be returning to work at my current job at my current schedule of 40 hours a week. Those are the definites (and I will definitely be running around like a chicken with her head cut off since I’ll have a 3 year old and an infant to get out the door every day).
But it is the “indefinites” that are causing me worry and distress and have plunged me into an anxious, nearly depressed, funk for the past few days.  The what-ifs are burrowing their way into my brain and disrupting my vision of the future.
“What if you didn’t budget correctly and you CAN’T really afford to do this?”
“What if you can’t get a part-time schedule at your current employer? What if you then can’t find part-time employment that pays you what you need while giving you the schedule you desire?”
 “What if there is some unforeseen event that saps your entire emergency fund and still isn’t satiated?”
“What if you’re just being selfish in wanting to be home with your children more?”
 “What if you’re about to drive your family into the poorhouse?”
All these little insecurities and concerns and what-ifs that I have little to no control over right now are eating away at my happiness,  my sense of direction and my sense of progress. It makes me feel like any progress we’ve made is just a figment of my imagination and that we’re NOT doing as well as I think we are.
As a result, I spent the weekend teetering on the precipice of a panic attack, and I hate that feeling. Even as I type I feel that tightness in my chest which is indicative of my highly anxious state.
Yet, as my irrational brain goes haywire, my rational brain is trying desperately to right the ship, to remind me that I do have a job, that we’re doing fine and that if push comes to shove, I can work outside the home full-time for a little while longer.  And it keeps trying to remind me of the impotence of worry, or as Leo Buscaglia once said “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy. “ And sapping, it is.
So I keep reminding myself of the fruitlessness of worry and trying to direct my mind and spirit towards those things that I can control. For me, the number one place I turn in this type of situation is to God and to the Bible. I keep reminding myself of the following verses:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?"  Matthew 6:25-27
"So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."  Matthew 6:34
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.”  Proverbs 3:5-6
And this brings me peace as I try to reflect on the idea of letting go and letting God handle the worry.  I have also found great solace in reflecting on some secular quotes about the fruitlessness of worry. Here are some of my favorites:
“Panic is a sudden desertion of us, and a going over to the enemy of our imagination.” --Christian Nevell Bovee
“That the birds of worry and care fly over you head, this you cannot change, but that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent.” --Chinese Proverb
“It only seems as if you are doing something when you're worrying.”  --Lucy Maud Montgomery
“Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow. “ --Swedish Proverb
“Do not anticipate trouble or worry about what may never happen.  Keep in the sunlight.”  --Benjamin Franklin
I particularly like the first and last quotes. The first because what I am essentially doing in all this worry is letting go of what I’ve been striving for and allowing my imagination run rampant with scenarios of doom and gloom, which are robbing me of my contentment. The Ben Franklin quote I love because it taps into the fact that I am worrying about unknowable things right now. For all I know things will work out exactly as I am hoping and in 6-8 months I’ll be looking back at my fears and realizing how foolish they were.
But right now, they’re at the foreground of my every thought and are causing me to dread the quiet time where I’m alone with my thoughts. So I ask you, dear readers, how do you cope with worry and anxiety?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

I Hope I Can Grow a Green Thumb!

Back in January we found out that we "won" a plot at the community garden, demand being such that a lottery is required to select who will get the available plots. I was BEYOND excited! Visions of my yet untapped horticultural prowess danced through my head and I was chomping at the bit to get started!

Then we went through a spate of winter-related illness and other such things which kept us away from our little 10'x10' veggie farm.

On Wednesday night I received a phone call from Dave, the Community Garden chief, wondering it everything was alright and whether we intended to ever cultivate our land. He also pointed out-- very kindly-- that our plot was overgrown with weeds and that we needed to take care of them post haste! I told him I was 8 months pregnant and THAT played a huge roll in why we hadn't been out there, but I assured him I would come out and get it all taken care of. He had a genuine concern at HOW I was going to clear the land in my delicate state, but I assured him that I could handle it (I have a secret weapon, his name is Diesel).

So this morning the Cluttered Family loaded up into the Cluttered Truck and picked up some organic gardening supplies, some seedlings and seed, and made our way to our plot. A mere 6 hours later, the Cluttered Garden had transformed from THIS:
This is not our actual plot, but what ours looked like at the outset
(I forgot to take a before shot)
To THIS:
Isn't it lovely???
Thank goodness I had my lovely assistants to help me, or I would've never gotten it completed on my own. I try to not let being roughly the size of a blue whale slow me down, but there are just some things I couldn't do (like lifting huge bags of mulch and soil!)
The Cluttered boys clearing our plot
In roughly 60-80 days our plot will be providing us with such yummy things as eggplant, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, bell peppers and melon. I also have seeds to start some green beans, sunflowers (Little Man's choice), squash, carrots and cucumbers. Although it is basically a veggie garden, I had to include some sweet alyssums, because  I fondly remember that no matter where we lived, my mom always had sweet alyssums growing around the borders of her gardens. For me, a garden just isn't a garden without the presence and aroma of those tiny flowers.

Sweet Alyssum in memory of my Mom
It was  a long day, and we're all aching, sore and bone tired, but I love the feeling of having done something productive! Now let's hope my brown thumb doesn't help me kill all our hard work!!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Project Simplify Hot Spot #5: After

Tackled the linen closet tonight.
All the crap pulled out

Diesel taking measurements... maybe I WILL get that wizbang linen closet afterall!
Dyson in its home. We've decided the A/C  unit will spent the not hot months in the garage

No more "misc crap" shelf!

Nice neat towels and sheets, paper goods moved down to the floor (alongside the baby bath)

I put Diesel in charge of neatening up these baskets...
 So there you have it folks! My final Project Simplify Hot Spot! I have a BIG bag of trash and a smaller, but still impressive bag of to sell/donate. Feels good to have the linen closet cleaned out!

Project Simplify, Hot Spot #5

This week Tsh threw us a curveball-- Hot Spot #5 is whatever we want to choose!

So I'm picking our linen closet. It is the thorn in my organizational side! 6 years ago when we bought the house, we framed out the closet with the intention of making it a wizbang cracker jack of a linen closet (our condo had 1 closet and minimal storage when we bought it). For a year or so it sat empty of shelves, but crammed full of crap. One day I got fed up and begged Diesel to put up SOME kind of temporary shelving, as SURELY we were going to get to this project soon.

Fast forward 5 years and I still have my temporary shelves and lofty plans for the linen closet, but you know the old addage "the cobbler's children have no shoes?" Well, the running joke in our home is that the woodworker's wife has no doors (or moulding, or wizbang linen closets). When it is finished, it will be AWESOME, because when given the time and opportunity, Diesel turns out some amazing pieces for our home (those pesky paying clients take priority, can you believe it???) and from what I've been told, it should be done before Maverick arrives.

The linen closet as it is has two MAJOR flaws. #1--more than 1 foot of storage space is virtually inaccessible because of the wall which we built in order to accomodate the closet doors and have to have shelves that are half the depth of the others in order for us to get anything in or out. #2-- the doors are too wide so you get access to less than half the closet when you open either door. It is a pain. (I'd say there is a third flaw in that a member of my household can't seem to read the nicely labelled shelves and stuffs things higgledy-piggledy wherever he so desires, but that would be snarky, so I won't say it...)

The linen is also a catch-all for any items that don't seem to have a home.

Anyways, here are the before shots:



It appears so unassuming... cue Psycho music


This photo illustrates the two main flaws: drop wall and too large doors.


That big space is where our vacuum (to left) is supposed to go, but instead a fan and our portable A/C unit have taken up residence there, rendering my poor Dyson homeless!

Don't you keep your RC trucks in with your cleaning supplies? No? Oh...

Proliferation of towels and sheets. I actually purged the linen closet a few months ago, so it really just needs neatening.

I go through those baskets every couple months, but they end up looking like this because you can't see into them very easily... and it is too much effort to take them off the shelf!

My cleaning supplies bucket teeters precariously on this half shelf. It falls at LEAST once a month. Apparently someone in my house thinks TP is a cleaning supply. In theory I suppose it is...
 

You KNOW your linen closet is in bad shape when you actually have a shelf called "Misc crap"
  Okay so THAT is what I'm going to be doing tonight... woo hoo!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Internal Happy Dance of Delight

You know how little things can make you SUPER happy? Since this blog is one part Happiness Project, I thought I'd share what makes me giddy like a little school girl and makes me do a little internal happy dance of delight:

People following my blog!

You guys make me happy and I get so excited when a new person starts following my blog. Add to my delight when a person I don't know adds my blog and/or says they found me randomly. HOORAY!!!

Today I gained two new followers! I'm ecstatic! YAY!

Thank you for the support and the comments and the following! It really does fill me with joy!!!

(and yes, my title is redundant, but I'm just that dang happy about it!)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Food, Glorious Food!

As part of the pantry clean out, I’ve decided to take a closer look at what and how we’re eating and set goals accordingly. My first reaction to changing how we eat is to toss everything and start over new, but I also know that is not realistic—and it is tough to maintain. Instead I came up with three food goals for us to work towards during the month of April. I figure this is the best way to take baby steps towards eating the way I want us too.
Now, before we get to the food goals, I think it is important to note that food poses a particular challenge in our household, so dealing with eating habits is always a sticky wicket.
You see, I’m a pseudo-vegetarian. I hate the taste of beef, pork, lamb and your sundry woodland creatures. I hate the taste of dark meat poultry and only really eat the white meat. In all honesty, I could easily live without poultry too.  I like most fish and shellfish. I LOVE beans in all their forms. Green beans are my ultimate favorite vegetable. I am a total carbovore and have been known to eat cereal all 3 meals of the day; however, I want my bread, pasta and rice in their whole grain form.
Diesel, on the other hand, once expressed a desire to someday own a large chest freezer just so he could buy a side of cow. The man would easily eat steak 3x a day.  He hates beans. All beans and anything remotely bean like (so far as to hate coffee and chocolate, which come from beans).  It is tragic, really. He also hates fish, but loves shellfish.  Cereal is NEVER filling enough and he complains heartily when presented with anything other than his beloved white rice and enriched white pasta. His preferred form of bread is sourdough, which is delicious, but super white!  His preferred form of chicken is the deep fried, skin on, drumstick.
Little Man is almost three, which means that on any given day, getting him to eat ANYTHING is a crapshoot. It is the cold hard truth that I don’t figure his preferences into our food planning. If I did, we’d be eating “cheese hambingers,” plain “noonoos” (noodles) and/or bacon every night of the week. 
So this is the framework around which I have to try to structure meals each week.  Let me tell you, it ain’t fun.  In fact, although I know that it is the best way for me to only purchase what we need at the grocery AND it keeps us from eating out more than we should, I often skip weekly meal planning all together because it is such a pain. I look to Sunday afternoon with dread, knowing I have to lug out all the cookbooks, pick meals, write lists, check the pantry/fridge/freezer and revise said lists, all before going to the actual grocery store.  It seems like the minute I have a plan set up, time fast-forwards and it is another Sunday afternoon and I’m trying to do it all over again.
This brings me to my first food goal for the month of April:

Plan meals monthly


A month of meals just for us!
And plan I did! I photocopied our family calendar, so I could cross-reference meals to our schedule and selected approximately 20 different meals for the month of April. I worked in some leftovers nights; bean heavy, meatless meals on the nights Diesel is in school; easy to make, occasionally out of a package meals for nights I have to work late and Diesel is in charge of dinner; and even a few nights when Diesel  can get his red meat fix by throwing a piece of cow on the sizzling grill (I refuse to cook beef in my kitchen, so it only shows up when we’re grilling outside).
Food goal number two for the month of April actually added a challenge to selecting meals for the month:

Buy only seasonal produce and buy local produce as much as possible

A VERY Southern CA Farmer's market
I’ve begun the eye-opening “reading” of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (I’m listening to the audio book on my commute) and am saddened at my own ignorance of food.  Being a typical American consumer, coupled with dwelling in the eternally temperate Southern California, I am woefully uninformed as to what is and is not seasonal when it comes to my produce. Heck, we barely have seasons here behind the Orange Curtain, so how am I to know what is and is not seasonal?  
Before I could proceed any further, I had to cull the ‘net for information on the topic.  I found that the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA), based in San Francisco, had a wealth of information and even some handy-dandy charts for learning about seasonal fruits and veggies.  I printed out both the veggie and fruit charts for my use throughout the year and made myself an April “cheat sheet” out of the “Seasonal Produce for April” list that CUESA provides on their website.  I realize that “seasonally” speaking, San Francisco is different than Southern California, however this at least gave me a good point of reference for my shopping.
Armed with my list of seasonal produce, I pounced upon my cookbooks with reckless abandon! Many of my favorite recipes had to fall by the wayside because they featured out of season produce, but I see this only as an opportunity to try new recipes.  Once the planning was done, it was off to the Farmer’s market and Whole Foods, where we purchased seasonally and locally… with the exception of some organic apples at Whole Foods, at Little Man’s insistence that he “NEEDED” them.  Apples aren’t in season right now (so I’m told by my chart), but I figure they’re organic and local, so that makes it okay, right???

Little Man enjoying the bounty of our trip to the Farmer's Market, located in the marina
Now my third and final food goal for April is:

Think outside the (cereal) box for breakfast


I ain't bluffin' with these muffins!
As I mentioned earlier, I LOVE cereal. LOOOOOVE it. I’ve unintentionally passed this love on to Little Man, who will often ask for cereal for dinner.  About a year ago, Diesel introduced Little Man to the Pop Tart, which has also become a staple in our home. Once upon a time, my child only ate unsweetened organic cereals. Now he eats a bowl of frosted flakes almost every morning. I hate this, so we’re changing it.
I went to my cookbooks in search of some breakfast foods we could make ahead of time. My underutilized Food to Live By and Organic Baby and Toddler cookbooks  proved to be the most useful in this endeavor. Last night I whipped out some Apple-Pear Bran Muffins, some Strawberry-Banana muffins (which have only a tablespoon of honey for sweetening in them) and a batch of homemade granola. Tonight I’ll be making an egg casserole that should keep very nicely throughout the week and will hopefully be filling enough for Diesel.
Today for breakfast Little Man and I had a smoothie and a muffin. Yummy! In the presence of strawberry-banana “breakfast cupcakes,” his usual “frosting flakes” made nary a blip on his breakfast radar.
So there you have our three food goals for April. I'm hoping this serves as a permanent change in our household and encourages you to look at what and how you're eating and make some changes too!