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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

how to avoid chaos

I've had a few people ask me what I do to keep my house clean and in order. My first response is to laugh! Frankly, I feel I must stay on top of things all the time in order to prevent total and utter CHAOS, which is "can't have anyone over syndrome". And then I had a friend point out to me that my qualification of chaos in my own home is normal to theirs. Each to their own. We all have different tolerances. To me, though, a bathroom toilet that clearly needs a scrub is off-putting enough that I will go clean the loos before having a guest over. Forget vacuuming the rugs, I clean toilets!

However, I do actually have a secret to avoiding chaos. Chaos will attack even the best managed homes from time to time, but it can definitely be avoided in the greater part, and I find without a whole lot of effort. I have managed to procure the above saying from my husband about me over the years so I suppose I must be doing something right!

Would you like to know my secret?


That's it. Good planning. It doesn't matter whether you work full time, part time, at home or elsewhere, whether you have many children, few, one, or none. Household success all comes down to good planning.

Before Asher, in the days I worked full time I would leave everything until the weekend and then spend my entire Saturday morning blasting the house. It wasn't the most desirable system but it worked. The only glitches occurred when something pressing on Saturday morning came up. A commitment. Bad period cramps. "Morning" sickness. And so I started spreading my energies little by little through the week in order to avoid those awful situations of a friend just dropping by and feeling that I must apologize for not just the toilet bowl but the entire state of internal affairs. The dishwasher not unloaded, the laundry stacked up in several baskets, the mop and vacuum clearly ready to be used but floors still crunchy under one's feet, toothpaste on the bathroom mirror...

Add children into the mix and you really have some catching up to do. Children are like adorable little running cyclones. It doesn't matter how cute they are, even the well-trained, well-behaved ones magnetize outdoor dirt and bring it in with them, and somehow have the ability to walk past shelves without touching them and make the contents all fall off. I don't think boys are worse than girls, either. So if you're a parent, you know all too well how the jobs seem never to cease.

My plan involves a weekly schedule. The same chores always on the same day of the week. Even laundry is factored into the rotation. Saturday is now a catching up day, just in case a day or two went belly-up. I also have some other chores that I do less frequently, every month or two, and so those get ticked off the monthly list in my spare time. Would you like to try my plan?

Taped to the side of my fridge is a chart containing this:

Monday: Vacuum living, dust and mop. Wipe door knobs, etc. Clean laundry room. Laundry = bed linens
Tuesday: Clean bathrooms. Sweep living. Laundry = towels and kitchen cloths
Wednesday: Catch up if necessary. Vacuum bedrooms and dust. Laundry = husband's stuff + ironing
Thursday: Sweep and mop living. Wipe door knobs, etc. Laundry = mine and boy's stuff
Friday: Clean bathrooms. Vacuum and dust living. Wipe baseboards, walls, etc. as needed. Laundry = Papa's stuff as needed
Saturday: Catch up. Monthly tasks. Bountiful Basket and groceries, and meal planning for the next week. Wipe down fridge before loading it with the fresh produce.
Monthly tasks: Car. Windows in and out. Toys wash. Bathroom curtains. Kitchen appliances (microwave, toaster, inside the oven).

EVERY DAY: Check menu and get out dinner stuff from freezer. After breakfast, clean up kitchen, wipe counters and stove top. Before boy's nap, tidy up living room toys and get all noisy chores out of the way.

As you can see, my entire house is basically cleaned in one week. I don't bother with certain things I've heard some plans prescribe, such as Flylady's plan of wiping down the bathroom every morning. Who has time for that? I clean both my bathrooms twice a week so that they never become really dirty or germy, and they only take about 35 minutes together to clean. Less, if I ignore the shower tub. This way, too, if my family comes down ill (rarely) or something else pops up to cramp my style, I know that my bathrooms were already cleaned once in the last seven days and I don't mind so much waiting to blast it all again the following week. It seldom gets really bad, even with a little boy who likes to stand to pee. Also, I don't have cloth diapers detailed in laundry for each day as I wash them on an as-needed basis, but I have had no trouble fitting them in around the other things which are nicely set. I only have a clash when my set chores slip.

Added to this plan, which has worked quite well for several years now, I have a few tips that will help make sticking to your weekly cleaning plan a little easier, as well as cheaper, and quite possibly healthier. I know you like 'easier', and I'll bet you a clean bathroom that 'cheaper' and 'healthier' also don't sound too bad!
1. Don't use paper towels. Buy a large stack of cheap, white washcloths from Walmart or your local dollar store. 20 or so is a good amount. Old t-shirt rags are great, too, but washcloths are a little more absorbent. Place them in a box in your laundry room or somewhere handy, and have another box in the laundry room for the dirty ones. These white cloths will probably only cost you around the same value as a small pack of paper towels, but can be reused over, and over, and over. After spraying down the toilet and scrubbing the bowl, wipe the lids and outside of the loo clean and dry with a washcloth. Use another washcloth to dry your sink basin and counter tops in the bathroom after scrubbing them with rosemary and eucalyptus baking soda. Use this same second washcloth to damp clean your bathroom floors as you leave. Ta da! Two cloths to clean one bathroom. I use these washcloths for any and every type of cleaning task in the house except for my son. I have a different stack of colorful washcloths that are only ever used for hands and faces, so that tender skin is never irritated by exposure to a cleaning chemical residue in the white cloths. Launder your cleaning cloths once a week -- my day is Tuesday -- in a hot or an extra hot cycle with a small amount of regular detergent. No need for special measures. They're quite clean now, I assure you!

2. Get rid of the bleach. I'm quite serious. Go do your own research and don't take my word for it, please, as this article would become rather stupidly long were I to provide all that information here and now. Bleach is nasty stuff, though. Not only inconvenient, and deadly if you like deep red towels as I do and you run the risk of splashing that gorgeous red, or your own clothing, every time you clean the loo, but bleach messes with hormones, is a serious factor in miscarriage, is not at all good for the growth of children, is badly irritating to the skin, and if you have bleach and children or pets in the house together you really need to be careful about keeping it locked away. Rather inconvenient all round, don't you agree? Buy a large bag of baking soda and some essential oils and herbs. Use baking soda, with or without borax or salt, to scrub clean all kinds of hard surfaces. Use baking soda scented with essential oils or ground herbs to deodorize carpets and rugs, even sofas and the car. A bit of vinegar and biodegradable dish soap for oily messes and you should be all set. Use essential oils in a spray bottle of water to freshen air, deodorize clothing, and sanitize any number of things from little hands and the skins of fruits and veg, to banishing virus and bacteria from your kitchen and bathrooms and living rooms after a kiddo came home from school with the Hershey squirts and you don't want it spreading through the ranks.

3. Keep basic cleaning supplies in the bathroom. A small tub containing vinegar spray, a parmesan cheese shaker of baking soda and herbs, a couple of rags, one or two extra trash bags, a scrubbing brush and a scrubbing toothbrush, refill soap for the liquid dispenser, the toilet brush, and a cup for rinsing out the tub with clear water is all you need. Keep it handy so that you don't have to get all motivated to make a big job of cleaning the bathroom. Keep your products as natural as possible for the sake of your own health, at very least mental, so that if your toddler unlocks the cabinets and decides to try a swig of apple cider vinegar after covering himself with baking soda dust you need only laugh and plop him in the tub, not panic and rush off to the ER.

4. Get a white board or chalk board for somewhere handy, such as the side of the fridge, and write down your daily list of chores. As you go, erase each task completed. It is seriously motivating to see the list shrinking smaller and smaller. This way, too, you won't forget where you were in the day, and if, as happened to me yesterday, a crick in your lower back knocks you out halfway through the list of chores and you'll have to tide over a few through to the rest of the week, you can simply leave up that temporary list until you do manage to erase all the tasks. I also like to have a running list of groceries needed on my white board, put up as my husband or I think of them, which saves me much stress on Saturdays when I go to the store. My white board is also where I write down the dinner meal plan for the week, so when my beloved man asks me for the fourth time what's for dinner I can remind him to have a look on the fridge.

Well, I hope this might provide a clearer idea for how I manage. As I point out to friends, the ambition is to prevent that awful "can't have anyone over syndrome". But when chaos becomes the state of my home, as happens to all of us from time to time, a good plan for achievement certainly lightens the recovery workload. Even after returning from England to a house that had been emptied of all furniture while my husband resealed the cement floors, without even curtains back up and walls all needing a good dusting with a damp cloth, and us both being jet lagged and with a baby in tow, my usual plan had us back to normal affairs within a week.

What do you think? Is your method of household management similar? Do you use one at all? Could my plan, with or without a little modification to suit your needs, provide enough structure to help simplify your life?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

peanut butter playdough

Peanut Butter Playdough

We like to play with our food. We encourage it. As Baby Led Weaning, also known as Rapley Weaning indicates, "Food under one (year old) is just for fun." My husband and I, he in his own words refusing to grow up and me because I believe it is healthy, encourage exploration and food play after one year of age, too.

Asher is now 17 months old. Obviously, nut allergies are not an issue! Sorry, those of you for whom they are a concern. I have no alternate suggestions to nut butter. He is still exploring textures and tastes, eating gradually more and nursing a little less, and some afternoons we just need something to squish around in our hands other than mud. Playdough still is way too tempting and I am concerned it would be tasted -- and rejected -- rather quickly, making non-food playing doughs a little tricky still. Enter peanut butter playdough. My mum, Asher's Noni, made it with me and my three younger brothers. I am continuing the family tradition by making it with my son.

1 jar (18 oz) peanut butter
1/3rd to 1/2 c honey 
1 to 1 1/2 c milk powder (soy, dairy, coconut, doesn't matter)
yields approximately 4 cups, or double the original volume of plain peanut butter

This recipe is very adaptable. Mix the nut butter and honey together first, and add milk powder until you reach a somewhat firm, moldable texture.

 Add more honey to taste if you require, or less. Play, eat. Store remaining dough in the refrigerator.

 Leave a few pieces of dried fruit, apple slices, and pretzels on the side to add to the playing and snacking fun.

Get creative with rolling tubes on the table, rolling balls between the palms, pressing indentations with the fingers or the whole hand. Make a peanut butter snowman.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

lemon curd

Lemon Curd

Delightful stuff. Can't buy it in my neck of the desert, and I was recently brought some fresh, tree-picked lemons from Phoenix which we have been greatly enjoying. Such beautiful lemons seemed to beg creativity beyond standard lemonade. And so, up popped a memory of my cousin making lemon curd and sending a photo of beautiful, thick, smooth, yellow spread in a large jar, and I was quite jealous but never asked for the recipe at the time. Yesterday, I asked and received the recipe. Anna had found it here, by Nigel Slater, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised to read, and then to try for myself, exactly how simple and easy homemade lemon curd really is.

Lemon curd? Never tasted it? It is like the best part of a lemon meringue pie. That thick, creamy, tart-sweet lemon filling. But lemon curd, in my opinion, comes one notch higher as it does not bear any of the gelatin-like quality that meringue fillings often form. I have been eating this on bread. Stirred into Greek yogurt. Off the spoon directly dipped into the jar. It's that good. Even if you know how lemon curd tastes, even if you love it, commercial long-life products simply do not bear the deliciousness of homemade goods. Lemon curd proves this beyond most cases.

I urge you to try it. Only four ingredients, it is quite cheap and almost fool-proof if you actually follow the instructions. He does note that the recipe makes enough for 2 small jam jars. To be more precise, I found that it was enough to fill 3 of 8 ounce jam jars and one heaped teaspoon in my mouth. Also, if you're like me and occasionally process a load of lemons all at once, forgetting how much juice came from just 4... Well, measure a cup of lemon juice for one recipe of 4 lemons. :) You're welcome.

Nigel Slater's Lemon Curd
Most lemon curd recipes instruct you to stir the mixture with a wooden spoon. I find that stirring lightly with a whisk introduces just a little more lightness into the curd, making it slightly less solid and more wobbly.
Makes 2 small jam jars (I find this makes 3x 8oz jars)
zest and juice of 4 unwaxed lemons (8 fl oz juice)
200g sugar (8 oz weight)
100g butter (4 oz butter - 1 American stick)
3 eggs and 1 egg yolk
Put the lemon zest and juice, the sugar and the butter, cut into cubes, into a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, making sure that the bottom of the basin doesn't touch the water. Stir with a whisk from time to time until the butter has melted.
Mix the eggs and egg yolk lightly with a fork, then stir into the lemon mixture. Let the curd cook, stirring regularly, for about 10 minutes, until it is thick and custard-like. It should feel heavy on the whisk.
Remove from the heat and stir occasionally as it cools. Pour into spotlessly clean jars and seal. It will keep for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.