Friday, March 30, 2012

Everything in its Place

So the Cluttered House has a few problems.

In January, we packed up about half of our household so that we could put the Cluttered House up on the market. That means our awesome mail sorting system was packed up when we moved our pantry out of the house in order to make the dining room look better. We also packed up the odds and ends bowl, the storage area for Diesel's "stuff" and our dead battery bowl. These are all very important to keeping the clutter at bay on the entertainment center.

Our other issue is that Diesel and I have taken to sleeping in the living room. You see Duckie does not sleep well if we are in the room with him, and he wakes up Little Man when we try to put the two of them into the room they, in theory, share. In a final desperate act, Diesel and I gave up the comfort of our king sized memory foam bed for the relative comfort of our couches (we'd be sleeping on our air mattress, but that is packed up too).

 Anyhoo, that leads to another problem: laundry. Oftentimes, we aren't able to tackle the laundry until after the boys go to sleep, but then, it leads to the problem of putting everything away. Sure, clothes are folded or on hangers, but then we can't go into either room to put the laundry away. So it ends up on the entertainment center.

 That means our entertainment center, the first thing you see when you walk in the door, looks like this:


So today, I decided to tackle the problem head on. Our biggest problem is the mail. Laundry is easy enough to deal with. I just put it away. I was pondering how we were going to deal with the mail when I remembered that I had this beauty sitting on my nightstand:
 It is a cool caddy that Diesel made me in his hand tools class last semester. That's right folks, he made that BY HAND without the aid of electric tools. I use it to hold my magazines, Bible, glasses case and other sundry items that I don't want the kids knocking off my nightstand. I moved all the stuff into the top drawer of my nightstand, which means I won't remember it until we move, but it also means we have somewhere to store the mail! YAY! 

During naptime, I not only tackled the mail, but also the inside of the cabinets where a lot of the kids' stuff is now residing.

So here is the final product::

Inside the cabinets

 The upper exterior:

Here is the mail sorter. I didn't really get rid of much beyond the junk circulars because paying the bills is one of Diesel's jobs, so I didn't really know what needed to be filed and what needed to be paid. I just neatened it all up and we will go through it later this weekend.

I also created  a basket to act as the "catch all" for the stuff that doesn't currently have a home, and the shoe box from Duckie's new shoes is making a hand-dandy dead battery storage area.

Of course, as soon as the kids were up, they were more than happy to undo the fruits of my labor!

This whole half-packed, but not moved living situation has really emphasized how important it is to have set "homes" for items. Ever since we packed up our stuff I'm feeling quite un-moored and although we have less stuff in the house, it seems to be messier because a lot of the stuff that is missing served essential functions in the battle against clutter. As we move into another home sometime in the future, I hope I can be mindful of this and take the extra time and effort to make sure every thing has its place!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

I am Dug

This week, in an attempt to better understand how I'm using my time and to create a more accurate schedule for myself and my family, I'm auditing my time. For the whole week, I'm keeping detailed notes on what I do and for how long I do it. I feel a little anal retentive in the process (seriously, I'm writing down stuff like "picked up phone for 2 seconds then set down"), but my hope is that I'll be able to cut out/pare down items that eat up too much of my precious time and thus be able to devote more time to doing the things I actually want to do.

It is Wednesday and you know what I've discovered just by glancing at my use of time? I must surely have ADD.  I am like Dug from the movie Up.  I am working along all focused, and then I see something and I'm like "Squirrel!" and an hour later...

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Suburban Agriculturalists

Feet in the dirt & loving it!
The Cluttered Family spent the weekend redoing our plot at the community garden. Last year we jumped in willy-nilly and just fumbled around planting seedlings with no plan or any real knowledge of how to garden. Yet, somehow, we managed to yield a pretty decent haul and the title of "best looking garden" at the Community Garden. Diesel claims it is because he comes from a long line of farmers, so he has a genetic ability to grow things. I think it was just dumb luck.
The neighbors are stepping it up this year, so we gotta represent!

At any rate, we've decided to try square foot gardening to see if we can more bang for proverbial buck.  This past Wednesday, I went and tore out all of our dead/dying plants, except for one purple broccoli which was looking like it would bear fruit.
The lone survivor
 Saturday Diesel threw together some 4x4 frames out of scrap wood, then we headed over to the garden to finish stripping down the plot and getting everything set. We also worked on getting the paths mulched to keep the weeds down.
Diesel and Little Man shoveling mulch

Our original plan was to work all day Saturday, but we had to take a break and  go look at some houses, which ate up a chunk of time, so we ended up picking up our compost & peat moss late in the day and just dropping it off at the plot under cover of darkness. We went back on Sunday morning and we were racing a storm headed our way. We managed to get the boxes set and filled, the broccoli replanted before the rain started to fall.
Just a touch of rain headed right for us!

 This weekend we have to get the watering system and our grids set (not to mention our seeds planted) and we'll be ready to head into the summer!
New and improved Cluttered Garden
(all battened down for the rain & wind)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Feeling Convicted

Today I bring you a guest post from my dear friend Dragon Mama. She's an American expat currently living in Beijing with her husband, two boys and dachshund. She is the person who has made me feel the most convicted (in a good way) in my life. In fact, she's probably most responsible for my environmental fervor and overall crunchiness. Oh and she's the person who slammed a voter registration form on my desk when I was 22, looked me dead in the eye and said, "apathy is not an option." I have voted diligently ever since. In a word she's amazing.  

This piece, copied with her permission, was originally posted on her blog Her Name is Dragon. It made me feel convicted all over again and made me take a moment to pause and reflect on MY priorities. I wanted to share it with you, in the hopes that you might also be moved by her observations.


99 Bottles of Gas in My Van

At age 12, I declared myself a vegetarian because "I like cows." I donated my allowance to PETA. I cried when developers began paving over the Tucson desert, destroying coyotes' and horned-toads' natural habitat. I declared war on golf courses. (Have you heard me snort when you've asked whether I play/like golf? You're lucky I just snort--you should hear my internal excoriations.)

In short, I became a tree-hugger and for years have stubbornly clung to my self-imposed moniker, trying my best to make Greenpeace proud. In sum: I love nature and hate what human's voracious appetite for convenience/wealth is doing to it.

Until moving to China, I was been pretty pleased with my enviro cred and pretty underwhelmed by everyone else who is not on the same bus. Until our trip to Burma, I would have readily ticked off my "impressive" list of green accomplishments to anyone willing to listen.

My Erstwhile Impressive List
(Please feel free to roll your eyes and skip this)

1. We don't have a car here in Beijing.
2. I've never had air conditioning
3. I only use vinegar, baking soda and natural, biodegradable soap for ALL my cleaning needs.
4. I participate in CSA (community-supported agriculture) for my fruits and veggies. (Not true in China.) I'm not vegetarian, but I can get pretty close to it.
5. I buy organic, I buy local.
6. I never use paper towels or paper napkins, I use washable, reusable rags.
7. I never use plastic sandwich bags for kids' lunches
8. 80% of the boys' clothes/toys/books are second-hand
9. I have a clothes line and use it whenever possible.
10. I recycle and compost (even in China.)
11. My family uses public transportation whenever possible.
12. Austin rides his bike to work (I get association points for this.)
13. I use non-toxic products, like paint, and drive anything toxic to the household hazardous waste sites.
14. I gather used batteries from people so can recycle them.
15. I diapered my babies with cloth and washed them myself and dried them out on the line.
16. We don't even use a heater in Beijing! (We use our passive solar heating very well!)

Now, if you read this list. Ignore it. It's pathetic. Here's why:

When me moved to China, we could only take what could fit into box roughly the size of a washing machine and our checked baggage, mainly duffle bags sausaged with clothes and shoes. We had a much larger shipment coming by boat which was scheduled to arrive between 1 and six months after us.

We lived well off this one box. We did great. We were fine. We were happy. Our earthly Beijing possessions consisted mostly of Legos, kitchen utensils and children's books. We had to supplement the box with a trip to Ikea to buy bed sheets for the larger beds in our apartment, but mostly we lacked nothing and did not miss our American "stuff," aside from our bikes and my pole.

So when our sea shipment arrived I was horrified. WHAT WAS ALL THIS SHIT? And why did I feel the need to bring it? With each box that was dumped into my living room--there were 56 in all--I felt my cheeks burning hotter. It was like unwrapping a department store. It was judgment day in my own heart. I immediately began foisting items onto the movers: "Here take this!" "You want this?" "A gift from America, the world's most egregious consumers!""With love, from Macy's!"

My moment of shame was intensified by our Ayi's presence. She was there to witness my abject hedonism, my consumption addiction, my one-woman assault on our gorgeous earth. Unloading our clothes was the worst part. I cringed until I had lockjaw when she pulled out one, two, three, four, five pairs of Austin's jeans. Five pairs? This does not include all his pants. I thought all along that we were modest apparel consumers, after all our clothes fit into two tiny, circa 1930 closets. We've never had these walk-in closets that are bigger than most world denizens' living quarters or anything. Really, how irresponsible are we?

I wanted to dismiss our Ayi early, I couldn't bear the shame. I could not look her in the eye. I was thinking of how to say "you can go home now" with my two classes worth of Chinese (Ayi does not speak a word of English) when she held up a pair of jeans riddled with holes and shellacked in coal miner's patina. She asked me a question. I did not understand. She always knows when I'm confused because I bobblehead and my jaw drops open. She is sweet enough to pantomime until I understand, and acted out throwing-away-the-pants. Surely I had meant to discard them? Trashed-out jeans such as these were not suitable to wear in public.

"Oh! NO! NO! NO! Those are nice jeans! The are expensive! They are designer! We bought them with holes and grease and stains! You can't throw those........" Yep, I was speaking in English again as my most patient and intelligent Ayi carefully placed the designer jeans on the heap of other designer jeans.

I began to giggle. Then laugh. Then laugh so hard tears welled in my eyes. I felt so stupid, so hypocritical, yet I know that Ayi was not judging me for my consumption. I think most humans secretly or openly aspire to reach the American standard of living. How can I tell her it's too much? I want to warn her of the pitfalls, the fact that money in many cases comes before family, before God. How can I let her know that the world cannot support an American lifestyle for everyone?

Our trip to Burma was the second proverbial slap in my ignorant face. Tree Hugger? Please. In an ivory tower, there ain't no trees.

Burma was like time traveling. Progress has passed the country entirely. The fields of Burma are still plowed by oxen, water hand-carried from wells and cars are scarce. Gasoline is purchased out of used water bottles and liquor bottles at road-side stands. I did not see a single gas station in all of Burma, not even in Yangon, the capital city.

I saw two cars outside of Yangon and the occasional tractor. There aren't yet decent paved roads. Taxis were horse-drawn in Bagan. Some enterprising Burmese take simple tractor engines and attached them to pickup truck cab to make some incredibly loud and jittery vehicles that looked comical with their exposed belts whirring and the exhaust huffing and puffing. You certainly don't need gas or oil for heating. The country is bloody hot--the cool, dry season posting temperatures in the 90s.

This will change, I give it ten years. Don't get me wrong, I want progress for the beautiful Burmese. I want everybody in this world to have access to education, healthcare, clean water and healthy food. I am just not optimistic enough to believe our earth has the resources to sustain 7 billion 3-car families.

So my youngest son Finn was studying the petrol stand under the tamarind tree when he asked: "Mommy, how many bottles would it take to fill up our mini-van in Seattle?"

"About Ninety Nine." Ninety nine. Ninety-nine fucking bottles of petrol in my van. Ninety-nine bottles to haul my over-privileged family to The Children's Museum of Everett, to private swim lessons, to Remlinger Farms, to the beach, to Whole Foods, to the Science Center, to the library, to sundry parks, camping, hiking, biking.

At least I don't drive an RV.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Busy and/or Lazy Mom's Guide to Batch Cooking

I absolutely LOVE the idea of batch cooking. The thought of opening my freezer, grabbing out a homemade, largely preservative free meal and being able to serve up a delicious, healthy dinner even on the craziest of weeknights is tantalizing. So tantalizing that I've scoured blogs and read batch cooking cookbooks for information.

But here's the thing... I barely have time to brush my teeth on a daily basis, so when I read these blogs/books about batch cooking and they are telling me to set aside no less than 2 days for a batch cooking extravaganza-- which for a working mom such as myself means AN ENTIRE WEEKEND-- I die a little inside. Not only do I not have the time to take a weekend away from my family and work commitments, but I also HATE the idea of being in the process of cooking for 2-3 days. It makes my feet hurt just thinking about it. Nonetheless,  I WANT to have a fully stocked freezer.

Then I had an Oprah style "Ah ha!" moment. What if I didn't have to devote an ENTIRE weekend to batch cooking, yet could have yummy, homemade meals at my disposal? And thus, the Busy and/or Lazy Mom's Guide to Batch Cooking was born!

First, I make my monthly meal plan. I use this free printable calendar from Life Your Way as my meal planner.  On days that I know I'll have a little more time (read: Saturday and Sunday), I plan meals that are easily doubled (or even tripled) and freeze well.  Then, when those days come up, voila! I batch cook. So, for instance, on a lasagna day, I double the recipe then cook one lasagna and freeze the other.

No muss, no fuss. It takes me MAYBE 10 extra minutes, but I get to have a sense of satisfaction and togetherness!

When I first started looking into batch cooking, I couldn't fathom buying a bunch of disposable baking pans to freeze my meals in, nor did I like the idea of tying up my bakeware by leaving it in the freezer for weeks on end, so I got a little creative in how I freeze my foods. I line my baking pan with freezer paper-- waxy side up-- and then spray the paper with a light coating of cooking spray. After that, I assemble my dish as usual.
I stick the pan in the freezer and when it is frozen enough, I lift the paper out of the pan and slide the food (with or without paper. I like to keep the paper on it) into a freezer bag.

Then, when I pull the meal out of the freezer, I take the paper off of it, set the frozen food into the baking pan and thaw. Easy peasy!

I will admit that sometimes I do squeeze in a little more batch cooking. This past weekend I put together some freezable Crockpot meals (Goulash and Orange Chicken) for Diesel and Little Man to eat this week when I'm not home. These were SUPER easy, because they amounted to chopping food, opening cans and tossing everything into a freezer bag. THAT is my kinda cooking. In the morning, I dump everything into the Crockpot and set it to run for the appropriate time and when the Cluttered boys get home, dinner is ready! (Now I just have to hope that the Crockpot decides it doesn't hate me anymore and doesn't overcook/ruin the meals!).

On top of my dinner batch cooking, I did a little breakfast batch cooking when I made cinnamon rolls for breakfast on Saturday. I figured, if I'm making 6, I might as well make (over) 2 dozen cinnamon rolls for the next time the cinnamon roll bug bites me!

I also whipped up a batch of 12 egg muffins. These are even better than the golden arches' version, because in my version I get a whole wheat English muffin and Havarti!

Plus, I had a cute little helper!

So there you have it folks, the Busy and/or Lazy Mom's Guide to Batch Cooking!