Green Thumb Quandaries

I must confess; I’m not a ‘gardener’ per se. I put things into soil, water them, nurture them, and basically hope they stay around long enough to be pretty, smell good and keep me company.

I’m one of those people who whisper to the plant as we are on the way to the check out stand, “Say your prayers.”

Sad, but true.

I enjoy flowering plants on my deck. I’ve even attempted planting a tomato or two. My basil plant went great guns until it didn’t. I’ve had houseplants that have stuck around for years (!!!) only to decide one day that, thanks, but that’s enough…

I’ve known Gardeners. Those folks who diligently search out Just The Right Plant. Put it in Just The Right Space and give it Excellent Care.

Me? I can’t get down on the ground. My balance is not what it once was and I don’t particularly care to be outside in the Weather.

All this being said, I do enjoy plants. I strive to have a few in the house – and I’ve gone so far as to put a reminder on my computer to Water The Plants. I also have one that reminds me to Take The Trash Out…

Over the years I’ve contemplated hydroponic gardens and thought, “Maybe”. This is important when I consider the idea of fresh (!) tomatoes that actually have flavor. Salad greens that are young, crisp and handy. Herbs – Fresh Herbs! – and then I realize that if the thing actually works and the plants grow and I get a decent harvest, I could be up to my (!!!!!!!!) in produce.

Not exactly a bad thing, but

Ah, ‘but’.

I know it is way too late this year to be contemplating anything closely resembling a ‘garden’. How do I know this? I ventured over to the website of a reliable nursery and saw how many items were ‘out of stock’. But the idea is still there, the possibilities are still there, the potential is still viable.

And I have at least 6 months to contemplate, dream, ponder and pontificate, right?

Need a Refresher?

Focus on the household chores.

Yep, chores. Those things we don’t want to do but need to be done. The boring stuff.

The irony is that while you are doing the boring stuff, your brain can be working on the Next Big Project. You know, that quilt you want to make, the scrapbook pages you want to develop, the fancy dinner you want to make. Or, you could be working out the mystery of the book you are reading. Contemplating the meaning behind that plot device on that show you have been watching.

β€œThe best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”

Agatha Christie

Clearly, one of the most accomplished writers of our time did the dishes. But more than that, she found opportunity in the task. Find opportunity in your tasks today.

One of the side benefits of household chores is that you actually burn calories (aka: exercise) while you are doing them. Another is the satisfaction and pleasure you get when they are done. So, you’ve worked on your physical as well as your mental health simply by doing the dishes, sweeping the floors and dusting.

How’s that for a Win/Win?

Tired of The View?

Many of us have spent more time in our homes during the past few months than we have since we moved in.

Homes, like clothes, are a reflection of the person occupying the space.

Some folks are instinctive about style, color, placement and all the other bits and bobs that are part and parcel to the project. They simply “know” how to put things together.

Others approach the process, be it homes or clothing, by copying the latest looks and fads and feeling not quite at home in either the homes or the clothes. Why wouldn’t they? The ‘style’ chosen isn’t really theirs, after all.

Still other people tip toe into the arena armed with ideas, but not sure about how to implement them.

My mother was one to rearrange furniture every 6 months. For many years she made do with second hand and out of date furniture. Her solution was to reorganize the rooms to change the layout, update the look and change perspective. It worked.

Not sure? Give it a try. Switching things around will give you a clear(er) idea of how the room flows, where the light patterns change and if function is improved.

I have a seven foot sofa in a room that can easily accommodate it, but not side tables. It also has dual aspect – windows on east and west side of the room. Placing a television can be tricky because the light can flow over the screen making it unwatchable at two separate times during the day. Needless to say, the TV did not remain in That Spot for very long.

Speaking of light, pay attention not only to where your windows are placed, but where your lamps reside. Light can be functional or an impediment depending upon the source and location.

So, if my TV lives in a certain spot, I can move the sofa about to change the way I use it to watch television. That change can affect the way I move about the room and how I use the rest of the room.

Unsure about the reshuffle? Consider that you aren’t bolting it to the floor, so if you don’t like it, you have the opportunity to put it back where it was. πŸ™‚

Tired of the “look”? Slipcovers can be a great option, not to mention a lot less expensive than buying a replacement piece of furniture. But what if you aren’t really sure of color? Why not take a look through your linen closet and pull out a comforter, blanket, bedspread or even a flat sheet and drape it over the offending piece?

Voila! Change of color and you didn’t spent a penny!

Speaking of flat sheets, if you have a couple twin sized flat sheets you aren’t using on beds, you can use them as window dressing. I know it might sound strange, but consider that sheets can be quite colorful, not to mention easily found in second hand shops, and often less expensive than regular curtains or drapes.

These simple changes can be made whenever the mood strikes. They are not permanent and can be altered if you aren’t happy with the result. They also provide you with a way of re-energizing your home. Best of all, most of them already reside in your home.

In a pinch, worth considering.

Putting It All Together

There is something extremely satisfying about taking bits and pieces and putting them together to make something new. Something wonderful. Something unexpected.

It’s not what happens to you, but how you handle it. If Life gives you lemons, make lemonade. If the lemons are rotten, take out the seeds and plant them in order to grow new lemons.

Louise Hay

One thing I, like millions of other folks, have discovered is that while the Rest of the World may be chaotic, focus on simple things, simple steps can restore peace and order.

Quilters take big pieces of fabric, cut it unto small pieces and the sew it to other small pieces to make a big piece once again.

Cooks and bakers combine ingredients to make things that not only feed your body, but your soul.

Musicians take sounds, combine them with other sounds and magic happens.

For some, this process is a new and potentially scary endeavor. For others the process is not only a necessary way of basic survival, but a trusted ally in good and bad times.

Sending you warm thoughts and virtual hugs.

A Little of This

And A Little of That

For those of us who are staying put, sheltering at home can be a bit of an unexpected, not to mention unwelcome, opportunity to discover ways to keep ourselves busy.

Some folks will dive head first into a lot of binge watching. I know I have quite a few series I’m behind on.

Other folks will gather around the gaming table, or find ways to do their online gaming with friends.

Crafters will catch up or start projects that have been waiting in the wings.

Folks will head to the kitchen to see what miracles they can create from the cupboard and pantry.

There is a lot of Spring Cleaning going on.

My YouTubers have been working hard to provide content for their regulars.

All of these are attempts to provide a sense of “normal” in a world that is pretty much anything but.

There is no “Right Way” to find normal. Each person does certain things because it provides a way for him or her to focus away from stress and worry and relax.

I encourage all of us to take walks, check on those we love via phone or email, watch, read, do the things we do in a safe and thoughtful manner.

We all know the drill; wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Stay at least 6, if not 10, feet apart from other folks. Pay attention to the medical experts.

We will get through this. Together.

Are You A Follower or A Leader?

A few months ago I came across something unusual on YouTube. A young woman who was dressed in not so modern clothing who was reorganizing her small New York City apartment to be a sewing room.

The video quality was amazing. The background music was above par – obviously not cheap filler. The perspective and attention to detail was impressive.

I’m not a seamstress. I have no desire to make clothing – of any era. And yet, I was intrigued.

After a few months of following this woman, I was introduced to some of her costuming fellows. Turns out she is one of a cadre of people who, for a variety of reasons, makes clothing to replicate earlier eras. And they are all darn good at what they do.

Last week three of these women (including the original I talked about) made a video about their various preferred eras and why they dress the way they do. You see, each dresses within their own preferred era(s) to a degree each day of their lives. For some, the “costume” might be wearing regular 21st century dress not what they choose to wear on their own.

Mind boggling, isn’t it?

Over on another channel, I found myself watching a variety of manufactured home walk throughs. These are of relatively new homes that are being marketed at various home shows. All are quite nice sized, although the one prevailing thought I had was that it would require a lot of work to keep them clean and tidy. The other prevailing reaction was to the decor used by the various manufacturers.

Disclaimer: If you prefer this style, great. It really isn’t my cup of anything.

The majority of the homes were presented in the current modern style. Predominately white, grey, charcoal with little to no actual other color. There were, however, one or two that had rooms with a focus wall with Color or a room that had Color on all the walls.

I found myself drawn to the homes that had color on the walls. The ones with architectural details. The ones that had some personality and didn’t look like a cookie cutter version of a Pinterest spread or the latest edition of some home decor magazine. In short, the homes where it looked like a real human being lived there, not just spent a weekend.

On top of all of that, one of my favorite home DIY vloggers posted this week about a project she is doing for a family member in a small apartment. Her taste is very different from that of the person whose apartment she is working on and she commented on the fact that she was looking forward to exploring that difference. One of the commenters remarked on how that would be great because while the rooms on Pinterest and in home decor magazines looked beautiful, most people don’t live like that.

It got me to thinking.

Human Beings tend to not only be tribal but followers. The majority are more inclined to follow the latest trends, be it in home decor, clothing, food, music, media or pretty much anything else, rather than step away from the tribe and decide for themselves what they prefer.

Granted there is a percentage of people who follow their own paths. We see it in pretty much any category, but even within those categories we can find leaders and followers.

When the three women were talking about their clothing choices, the comment that prevailed was one of comfort. One remarked that while it seemed a bit unusual to use natural fibers, it turns out that those fibers were more efficient at heat control, were easier to clean and maintain and were more sustainable. Above all, however, it was the way she felt wearing the garments. She felt comfortable in the them. More so than in any modern off the rack garment.

Self comfort is something that I think we don’t always consider when we choose what we wear or how we decorate our homes or even, to some degree, what we follow. The rest of the pack might not agree with those choices.

The irony of this idea is the lack of realization that the “rest of the pack” does not wear the clothes, live in the homes, or occupy the same space as the one making the choices.

I’ve been around long enough to remember when there was no cable TV let alone streaming. Some folks are shocked at the thought of that. They can’t imagine not having that monthly bill, let alone all those channels they don’t watch.

Some people can not consider not having a monthly loan payment on a vehicle. The idea of not having a brand new vehicle each year or so is so alien they can’t contemplate it.

Some folks come home to a house that may be Pinterest friendly but isn’t comfortable, let alone “homey” and don’t know what they can do to resolve that problem.

I think one of the reasons we have so many leaders in social media is that so many more people are looking for ways to resolve problems they feel unempowered to deal with on their own.

The problem is, making changes takes courage. Stepping away from the pack and going a different route can be frightening. It can also be strengthening.

There is a natural phase when you evolve from the way you were raised into the way you choose to live. That being said, there seems to always be carry over; family traditions, family recipes, for example.

When you choose not to make changes that you know (or at least ‘think’) will make your life more comfortable, you deprive yourself of self comfort. You deprive yourself of self expression. You deprive yourself of you.

When fear of the unknown stops you, you lose.

Now I’m not saying you need to jump out of an airplane or go cliff diving or swimming with sharks – unless, of course, that is what you really want to do. What I’m saying is that you can do little things to see if you really like something. If you do, keep going. If you don’t, stop. Re-evaluate. Reconsider. Try a different thing.

You do You.

The only way to know what “you” is, is to try. Experiment.

A sample sized can of paint is inexpensive. If you don’t like it, paint over it. And, by the way, painting as an activity can be very therapeutic. This can be applied either to a canvas, as in “Art” or on a wall, which, ironically, can also be “Art”.

Trying different clothing can mean a trip to a charity shop or a visit with a consignment shop. Or, if you are up to the challenge, a trip to a fabric store.

Exploring different music, books, and various media is a simple visit to the local library – which is usually free.

Speaking of free, check out the local museums in your area. You might be surprised at the treasures they hold.

Curious about craft projects? Visit your local hobby shop and see if they hold classes.

Ditto regarding home do it yourself projects. Many local hardware stores either hold classes or will know where to direct you.

The point is simply to take baby steps. Dip your toe in the water to see if it is something you want to explore or not. It doesn’t have to be expensive or drastic.

What it does have to be is something that allows you to be come more comfortable living your life.

One step at a time.

A Touch of Organization

Getting Your Life On Track

It seems that January is all about losing the weight gained during the previous few months (holiday time) and February is recovery from January’s efforts. March, however, seems to be a reminder of those pesky resolutions to Get Organized.

Since we seem to be halfway to March, it feels somewhat appropriate to at least address the organization issue. A bit. Think of it as a headstart with the ambition of tackling the problem.

I’m not the most organized person on the planet. I’m better than I once was and, at the same time, seem to have new issues with the same old problems. Confusing? Yep.

I used to be able to keep my shopping list in my head. Now, if I depend on that method I find myself missing items I Really Need while stocking up on things that aren’t used that much. Fine if you have an extra roll of bath tissue when you need it. Not so fine if you don’t.

One of my Pet Peeves is food waste. So, for me, having a disorganized fridge that allows the fresh veg to go bad because I (a) forgot I had it on hand or (b) couldn’t find it when I wanted it without cleaning the fridge is not a viable option. The equivalent of setting fire to my ATM card. After burning down the bank.

For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.

Benjamin Franklin

Like many people, the idea of “Organization” is a touch repellent. It somehow seems to take the spontaneity out of pretty much anything. I get it, I also get the reality that without a touch of, shall we call them guard rails, nothing gets done that needs to get done. (Putting off doing the laundry because it is a bore tends to lead to some other issues…)

So, in the effort to get yourself on track and reduce the potential problems of not doing stuff, how do you go about getting organized?

The K*I*S*S* Method

Keep. It. Simple. Silly.

We live in a world that bombards us with the idea that Everything Should Be Done Immediately if not sooner. The reality is that things take time. Not always as much time as we think they will, but occasionally more than we thought they would.

If you are one of those folks who look at the <cough> Huge List Of Stuff To Do and find yourself a bit overwhelmed, might I suggest that you stop. Take a breath. Take a second breath. Pick up a pencil and a piece of paper and write down what you need to accomplish and put it in some sort of priority order.

Notice I didn’t say pick up your phone or your computer to do this. Why? Because it is very easy to get distracted using the tech. Let’s go a bit Old School on this project, okay? Trust me.

Here are some items you might add to your list:

  • Make your bed
  • Laundry
  • Clean the bathroom
  • Sweep / vacuum the floors
  • Dust
  • Take out the trash
  • Wash the dishes
  • Clean the kitchen

Before you groan and slide back into the “That’s Too Much Work!” mode. Let’s think a bit, shall we?

You will never be completely ready. Start from wherever you are.

C.J. Hayden, MCC

Start somewhere, anywhere. If you feel overwhelmed, set a timer for 15 minutes and start on a task with the goal of getting as much of the task completed before the timer goes off. Once that happens, stop and look around. You might be surprised at how much has been accomplished.

There are things you can do to help yourself to avoid being crushed under the weight of So Much To Do. Make your bed every day. Set aside a specific day (or night) to do a load of laundry. Spend one day a month preparing foods for the month’s meals.

Okay, that one may be a bit much for now, but file it away in the back of your mind for “Later”.

I remember when I was a youngster there was a set of kitchen towels that had the day of the week with a specific task assigned. Monday was laundry day. Tuesday was ironing day. Wednesday was for vacuuming and dusting. Thursday was mending day. Friday was baking day. I forget what Saturday was for, perhaps shopping? Sunday was designated a Day of Rest.

We can follow a similar plan, if we choose. If our homes are small enough, several things can be accomplished on the same day. Put in the laundry, dust, do the floors, take out the trash, clean the bathroom. Laundry pretty much does itself, so the rest of the time can be put to good use. Dishes can be put in the dishwasher every day. Handwashing can be done either every day or every other day, depending on the amount. I like to do mine every other day, putting them in to soak when I’m done with the meal. Less water and soap used and reduced time to spend doing the chore.

If our homes are larger, we have the option of spreading tasks out over the week. Or weeks.

You can take that original paper list and build on it, or you can move to a white board, calendar, bullet journal to help you keep track of what needs to be done – and when it is done.

The idea is to break down that Huge List Of Things To Be Done into smaller, more manageable steps that can easily be accomplished in the time you have.

One may walk over the highest mountain one step at a time.

John Wanamaker

In a Nutshell

  • Make a list of what needs to be done
  • Assign a priority to each task
  • Set aside at least 15 minutes per day to complete at least one task.
  • Repeat

Give yourself one month with this process and see what you have accomplished.

Leave me a comment about your progress. πŸ™‚

Set Yourself Up For Success Part 4 The Little Things

This process we’ve been working through usually includes some questions along the line of “How?”. How do I organize? How do I set up?

I’d love to be able to say “Do this and this and this. Print this. Label that. Plug in this and you are all set!” but I can’t. Well, actually I suppose I could but that would be doing both of us a a disservice.

Why? Because One Size Does Not Fit All.

What works for me, might not work for you and what you need may not be in my tool kit to offer.

What I can do, however, is offer a few suggestions.

My goal for Meal Planning is to be able to create a variety of meals without a lot of fuss or preparation or cost. I don’t have a lot of mouths to feed and I don’t always need to have a lot of things ready to go at the last minute. But that’s me; you might need to be a lot more organized.

What I found for myself was that creating a system that would keep the recipes I needed on a regular basis handy saved a lot of time. I could add recipes as I input them into my regular meal rotation or remove them when they were no longer something I wanted to make.

This could be a 3 ring binder that was broken down into meal type (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner) or by main ingredient (chicken, beef or vegan) or by process (roast, slow cook, quick). This is a flexible system that could evolve into multiple binders depending upon your need (Main dishes in one, sides in another, desserts in a third, etc.)

You could use a journal format. I’ve seen some astoundingly useful bullet journals. You could invest in some recipe management software. The options are as varied as the number of potential users.

The thing to remember is that you don’t need to make it more complicated than it needs to be. If you don’t need to plan for certain meals, don’t. If you need to be more detailed, add that into your process. The idea is to be a help to your daily life, not a time consuming hurdle that keeps you from actually living your life.

I like the idea of an app for my phone or tablet, but reality for me is that I dislike the need to refresh the screen, or keep it clean while cooking. I do, however, keep my pantry list on my iPod. The app I use allows me to use bar code scanners to add items to my list, which makes keeping track of specific brand items a breeze, while also being able to manually input items where I just need a reminder (popcorn rather than Brand Name Popcorn, for example).

A few years back I discovered that Julia Child kept a notebook in her kitchen with reminders for various tasks and recipes. The Julia Child who created wonderful collections of recipes had a notebook?! (Note: “Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom” is still available. Check it out.)

Turns out, it is a wonderful idea.

There are some things we don’t do often enough to encourage our brains to recall without prompting. How often do you create a white sauce? Would a reminder of the timing of boiling eggs be handy? Where’s that recipes for… ?

When I bought my new stove a few years ago, there were enough differences between what was on the new one from on the old, that I found keeping the Owner’s Manual handy important. That could be added to a 3 ring binder kept nearby in the kitchen. Same could be said for any appliance that isn’t in daily use.

Last year we talked about creating a family recipe collection or cookbook. By organizing your kitchen and your recipes, you are well on the way to doing just that.

Yeah, it is a bit of a surprise to think about, isn’t it? πŸ™‚

You now have the bare bones of how to set up a system to keep track of your pantry, collect recipes and plan for meals.

Try it out for a few weeks and see how it impacts your time, your budget and your meals. Don’t be afraid to tweak it to make it work better for you – you are the one in control, after all.

Food For Thought

I recently discovered “Farmhouse Vernacular” on YouTube and have become a devoted follower.

The description of the channel reads: “An adventure in to renovating and recreating historic interiors in a thoughtful, respectful, and budget friendly manner.”

Paige and her husband bought a 1905 farmhouse and have been renovating it themselves. As both are trained engineers, their process is interesting and exciting.

Theirs is a thoughtful approach to what they deem to be the lifetime home. They are incorporating thought not only to the historical aspect of renovation, but looking forward to how they can live in the house as they age and have potential physical limitations.

The channel is well presented, provides great information, not to mention humor, and is a different approach to home DIY.

Their most recent project in the house is the kitchen. Personally, I’m loving the approach they are taking and am looking forward to the results.


Setting Up For Success Part Three

I’ve been craving something I haven’t had in a while. What comes to mind is a luscious cheesy pasta combination with wonderful flavor and Comfort Food embedded into the title.

I found myself browsing recipes and searching grocery ads and fretting and fussing until it hit me. I already have what I’ve been craving and it is in my freezer.

Insert Head Slap moment here. πŸ™‚

If you have been following along on this series, and I sincerely hope you have, you will have inventoried your pantry, reviewed your food list or if you have no food list, you’ve prepared one.

Why a “Food List”?

Many of us tend to operate on a simple basis of routine. Monday is Slow Cooker Meal, Tuesday is tacos, Wednesday might be pasta, Thursday is left overs and Friday is eating out…or in depending. You get my drift.

We all get terribly bored with what we are eating, but few ever really stop to consider (a) what we are eating and (b) what we like to eat. Toss in a diet (ugh) food list and you get a better idea of the upheaval of the zen like rhythm of our eating life.

By preparing a Food List, you not only see what you like, but you also get an opportunity to build multiple meals out of the foods you like.

Like chicken? Have you baked, roasted, oven fried, boiled, poached, or sauteed it? Do you use it in casseroles, soups, as taco filling, for fajitas, or as an addition to other foods just because? Have you batch cooked chicken and stored in in the freezer for when you need it?

I hear a few “Ah ha!”s out there.

I try to keep broccoli in my freezer. I love it, it is easy to prepare and very versatile. I also have a fondness (okay, love) for cheese tortellini that can become an obsession depending upon mood. Put the two together and … enjoy. Also, if you get down to basics, cheese tortellini is just a different version of mac and cheese. Think about it.

I also try to keep several types of dried pasta on hand along with cheese (I’m sensing a pattern here…) and a sauce or two. Tomato sauce and I have begun to have issues and I have found myself not reaching for it as much. In years past, however, it was a favorite – and inexpensive – menu item. Spaghetti and garlic bread, anyone?

I love getting large amounts of meats, cooking it up or splitting it off and freezing for later use. I put flats of boneless chicken into the slow cooker or the oven and let it cook until done, moist, tender and useful for lots of things. Ground meats can be separated into patties, browned some with various seasonings, packaged and frozen for further use. I’ve heard some folks buy turkeys in off season, cook and debone the meat for freezing. Not sure I’m up to that, but the frugal in me likes the idea.

I rarely buy fresh fruit or veg because I’m notorious for not eating it fast enough. However, give me frozen and I’m a happy camper. It is inexpensive, processed at peak of flavor and takes up little space.

By having these items in my pantry, I can put together quick and easy meals with little hassle. If I choose, I can go further and put together dump meals that can be packaged, frozen and put into the slow cooker when I want rather than have to run around gathering ingredients at the last minute.

This all begins with knowing what you like to eat, what you will, or will not, give up, and how much effort and space you have to put into the process.

My suggestion for you this week it to collect all the recipes your family likes and put them in one place. Note the ingredients you need for them – this will be put on a pantry need list. You don’t need to make a huge project of this; it can be done as you put together your weekly menu or shopping list.

In fact, this could be a project that might go for a while because food changes over the seasons. You might be thinking apple crisp today, totally forgetting strawberries or peach pie or salad greens that won’t be available for a few months yet.

As you collect your recipes, if you aren’t already doing so, create a menu that will incorporate these items and save it.

As you repeat the process every week, biweekly, monthly, whatever, you will be creating a Meal Plan that will be usable all year round. You will have a collection of recipes that your family loves that will be easy to maintain.

Queue Head Slap Moment. πŸ™‚

Have a great week – let me know how this process is working for you.