Spring break

Spring break. We haven’t jetted off to warmer climes. We’ve enjoyed a visit from the grandparents, gone to the zoo, the library and the swimming pool at the Y. We’ve stayed in our jammies until noon (or later). I finished one book and started another, and slept until 8:30 a.m. two days in a row.

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In an attempt to be productive, I got so far as making a list of possible projects. It’s Friday, and I’ve only crossed two items off the list, one simply because the weather isn’t cooperating. (Can’t rake leaves when the yard is under several inches of water. April showers bring May flowers…) This morning I cleaned the kitchen, not because it was on the list, but because I couldn’t take the smudges on the new dishwasher anymore. One thing led to another, and pretty soon I was scrubbing the sticky coating of dust off the knife block.

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Miss Eight has busied herself all week with duct tape crafts. Mr. Eleven has clocked too many hours on his iPod, watching YouTube videos and texting his friends. Today he was finally able to ride his scooter over to a friend’s house. Little Six has polished his piano recital piece (I never saw a kid so fond of the metronome), played a lot of sword fighting on the Wii, and finally unearthed his marble run.

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Since I won’t be doing any laundry today (when the ejector pumps are working so hard to keep the rainwater out of our basement, I don’t like to overtax them), I should probably make good on my promise to Miss Eight to get the first coat of paint on her nightstand. I did finish one other project: cleaning out the hall closet.

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It’s probably tempting fate, but I put away the snow gear and got out the rain gear. (Tip of the day: You can shine your plastic rain boots with Armor All!) If I don’t accomplish anything else, that at least will make Monday morning’s return to school a little easier.

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You might think that these lazy days at home would lead to more exciting cooking. Though we did cook quite a lot while the in-laws were here (see the nice birthday cake the Hub baked for his mother?), the Hub is working a regular schedule this week and I am not very motivated. I’ve resorted to easy fall-back meals: pasta pesto, hamburgers and roasted potatoes, pizza (the dough was in the freezer), and leftovers.

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Recognizing that we’ll be back to the routine in a few short days, I did make next week’s menu and baked some extra pancake batter into these Pancake Mini-Muffins for school morning breakfasts. Now it’s time to roll out that pizza dough…

Closet clean sweep

In the spirit of Chinese New Year, I cleaned out my closet yesterday.

I tried to be ruthless–if I hadn’t worn something in the past year, into the donate bag it went. A few things went into the rag pile. I pulled all the summer clothes out and stashed them in a box under the bed so that I can actually open, close, and see what is inside my dresser drawers. Obviously, I should have done that in October, but since I won’t need them until May, better late than never. I refolded all my sweaters, and put my to-be-ironed clothes on hangers in the closet so that I don’t keep forgetting I own them. I even sorted through my shoes.

The donation truck is coming by next week, and I’m happy to have a few bags to contribute.

Today we have to trek out in the snow to sell band candy for a couple of hours. (We’ll be indoors, thankfully.) I’d rather be cleaning the house.

How often do you clean out your closet?

Cleaning out the refrigerator

Yeah, so I’ve been meaning to clean out the refrigerator for, like, MONTHS. Maybe a year. I really can’t remember. In my defense, there were no festering science experiments lurking in its depths (we are pretty good about rounding up the bits of food and lost containers every week or two). But we had company over the weekend, and the embarrassing state of the fridge finally sent me over the edge.

Then I saw this motivating video in my Facebook feed this week. How timely! A refrigerator makeover for under $100! I prefer free makeovers, so I didn’t buy any supplies–though I’m tempted to snag one more set of containers next time I’m at Ikea. I wouldn’t mind those dry erase labels that they talked about, either (Hey there, Santa!).

My fridge before looked pretty much like the one in the video: stuffed with stuff, in no particular order. I didn’t even snap a picture of it. I emptied the fridge of all its contents:

That’s where this story takes a wrong turn. You thought you were watching HGTV, but now you’re in a weird indie horror film, or maybe an episode of Dexter.
It took me nearly an hour of scrubbing to get rid of the evidence. I heated up the kettle and drizzled boiling water to loosen the sticky mystery spills–I really could have used some rubber gloves. Then I spent another hour reinstalling the shelves, sorting and repackaging food.
My big addition was a piece of shelf liner to help keep the wine bottles from rolling around. I even reorganized the condiments in the door.

From crime scene to clean, well-lighted place. A happy ending, don’t you think?

The Donation Pile

Remember Project Simplify? This week’s theme is “piles.”  (Last week’s theme was closets, but I didn’t manage to post anything about it. The Hub attacked the hall closet with extreme prejudice last week and now it’s looking–and functioning–much better. Winter gear purged and stored in the basement, and all the other bits that had accumulated were returned to their proper places.) Today I’ve got more than one pile of stuff that needs to be dealt with, including dishes in the sink, papers to be recycled, and more stuff lurking on and around my desk. I’m fairly certain I won’t get to much of it today.

But on Sunday I did tackle one pile that has been sitting in the basement for months: the donation pile. It was a combination of outgrown kids’ clothes, toys and games, as well as some adult clothing and housewares slated for donation.

Did I take a “before” picture? I did not. Let’s just all imagine that it was a big pile at the foot of the basement stairs: half a dozen overflowing boxes and bins, with more bags and bundles teetering precariously on top.

The St. Vincent de Paul truck was in our church parking lot on Sunday, so I dropped one large bag of clothing there. I sorted out a small bag of hand-me-downs to give to some friends with younger children, and set aside the box of clothes destined for a niece. Another pile of toys, games and tricycle is awaiting pick up for another friend’s toddler. I made an itemized list of everything else, and then posted the list to my local Freecycle group. By the end of the day Tuesday, all but one item had been claimed and picked up from my porch. All that remains is a trip to the post office to send the box to the niece before she outgrows everything in it, and arrange a time to deliver the toddler toys.

As always, clearing away one pile motivates me to tackle another one. Next: the family room. It’s all one big pile of toys, Wii games and accessories, newspapers and dirty socks, but I’m confident that it will only take 15 minutes to whip it back into shape.

Decluttering with Project Simplify

One of those tasks that never ends is decluttering, and the longer days of spring seem to illuminate the dirt and clutter that have accumulated throughout the winter. To motivate myself to tackle some of these problem areas, I’m linking up with Project Simplify 2013 at Simple Mom. Sure, I can see what areas in my home need work, but it’s awfully nice to have someone else map out a timetable and a plan of attack.

This week’s project is about decluttering flat surfaces. Shelves, drawers, tables…you know the ones. In our house, the usual suspects are the family room coffee table, the hall table, the mail center cupboard, and my desk in the kitchen. At the moment, my desk is the problem. It regularly gets so stacked with stuff–much of which is NOT MINE, that I just lift up my computer and go elsewhere to work.

This was mostly paper, so I sorted out everything that could be recycled, and then filed the rest appropriately. I put away all the bits of toys and hair accessories. I assessed the notes on the memo board and culled anything outdated. Then I dumped out the entire container of pencils and pens. Though I love the oatmeal tin, it’s just too tall to use as a pencil cup–things get lost in the bottom. I threw away all the dried up pens, sharpened all the pencils, and resurrected this cute flower pot that I bought in Spain to hold them all. After a good dusting, I can once again work at my desk!

If you’d like to join Project Simplify, click on the graphic at the top of this post to get all the details. It’s a great way to get a handle on Spring Cleaning!

Computer desk plans

Little Five lost his television and Wii privileges this week, and so there have been long afternoons when he has NOTHING to do and NO ONE to play with. Oh, and EVERYONE IS SO MEAN. On the plus side, he has spent some quality time with his matchbox cars and his Tag reader, and I haven’t listened to the Caillou theme song in four whole days.

So it’s been a tricky week for getting anything done. I suppose I should be embarrassed to admit that I can’t get anything done when my kid isn’t entertained by a screen of some kind, but there it is. Just Dance 4 has been my babysitter lately. He’s getting exercise, and I can attack a project or write an entire paragraph without interruption.

Did I accomplish anything this week, beyond emptying the dishwasher and folding clothes? I cleaned out the computer armoire, which is Step 1 toward the goal of replacing it with a simple desk. Step 2 is to measure and cut down one of our old closet doors into a desk top, then a trip to Ikea for some table legs (that’s on the calendar for next week). Just writing this post motivated me to find a home for the things I removed from the armoire (one bag of computer games to Freecycle, several reams of paper, a box of CDs and cords, and a stack of old photos).

Except for the photos, the contents of an entire cubby went straight into the recycling. This is why I want a desk without storage–fewer places for junk to hide. This is the computer the kids use, and the only desk accessory they really need is a waste basket. I envision an uncluttered desk with only a small tray containing a pencil cup, note pad, and a little box to store a few flash drives. We might keep a small memo board to post frequently used usernames and passwords, and maybe some hooks to hang their headphones.

With an open desk, I’m going to have to wrangle some cords and decide how to disguise the modem and router, but I’m not there yet. Baby steps, no?

Garage, girl’s room, and plenty of recycling

Clearing one area in the house makes me long for a magic wand to zap away all the other messes, visible and invisible. Very soon–maybe today!–I’m going to clean out the computer armoire in the living room. It’s full of old Christmas cards, empty printer ink cartridges and defunct computer games that won’t play on our computer.

Over the weekend, back when it was 47 degrees (and before the thermometer plummeted to 3–have I mentioned how climate change is beginning to feel so immediate and scary?), we did the garage cleaning we should have done in the fall. Hanging the bikes, collecting the outdoor toys, putting garden tools away in the shed, and sorting the pile of recycling that had accumulated since Christmas. Now the second car fits in the garage, making the Hub’s mornings slightly less chilly.

I also dealt with the large pile of Christmas boxes and gift wrap in the basement. All the boxes and packaging to recycle went on the curb, all the reusable wrapping got folded and put away in the proper place. Yesterday I even took a trunk full of plastic grocery bags to the recycling bin at the grocery store. For people who usually use reusable grocery bags, I don’t know why we had so many. Usually isn’t the same as always, apparently.

The Hub also dragged the 8′ x 10′ rag rug (possibly originally from Pottery Barn) I bought on Craigslist for Miss Seven’s room to the laundromat. He brought it home, clean but wet, and we hauled it to the basement and draped it over every spare chair and stool to dry. Three days later, I took it up two flights of stairs (dry, it was much lighter), rearranged all Miss Seven’s furniture, and installed the clean rug. Now I’m getting motivated to get the brown dresser down to the basement so I can begin the process of stripping and restaining it. (Hot pink! I mean, “Sangria.”)

What else? I got out my tube of epoxy and glued the casters back on the Hub’s reject Ikea office chair. It still doesn’t roll very well, but the casters don’t fall out and it works well at my kitchen desk where I have no need to roll, anyhow. It has lumbar support! My back approves.

It all felt so productive, so I looked at my New Year’s resolutions. Surely I could cross something off the list. January is nearly over! Alas. We did make progress on Miss Seven’s room, but that’s not going to be finished quickly. I have seven more days. Which project should I choose?

Cleaning out the pantry

Saturday morning, while the Hub got the oil changed in his car and the kids played Just Dance 4 in their pajamas, I cleaned out the pantry. The Hub did it about a year ago, and I know we cleaned it out at least a couple of times before that (when we renovated the kitchen we went from two pantries to one and did a major overhaul then). So honestly, this time it wasn’t that bad. I forgot to take a picture of the worst part, which was the floor. Ew. Crumbs, dust, lost craft supplies, onion skins….It had also become the catch-all for empty plastic containers and anything that didn’t have a place in the kitchen proper.

The rest of the pantry just needed a good maintenance clean. The general organizational system has been working well for us over the past year, but things had gotten messy.

I removed every bin, rinsed out the crumbs, and threw away expired or empty containers. Everything that didn’t belong (gift bags, grill accessories) got put away elsewhere. Then I used my label maker to label the bins. I’m thinking about labeling the shelves, too.

The biggest change was that I removed the kids’ craft cart from under the lowest shelf and moved it to the basement. They have two tables and plenty of space to make a big mess create down there. I sorted through all the aprons and the giant bag of lunch bags that hang from hooks on the left side (just outside the picture), narrowing down the selection to those we actually use daily. The rest went to the basement with the picnic supplies. Suddenly there was so much space, I was able to slide in the extra set of counter stools that we use in the kitchen. Convenient, but out of sight. (I’d love to paint those stools a fun color. Suggestions?)

With that chore completed, the kitchen is in pretty good shape. The cupboards and drawers are staying organized, and there is a place for everything. Of course, now I really notice how much everything needs a good scrubbing. And I really ought to finish painting the trim inside the door frame.

Another day.

Reorganizing board games

Yesterday I boxed up all the Christmas decorations and returned them to the basement. I stopped there, not returning any pictures or other decorative stuff to their previous places. I figured it would be a good time to rethink what I want to display, and besides, everything needs a good dusting. Since we concentrated most of our holiday decor in the family room (the fireplace and tree were there), it looks the most bare at this point. I can imagine all sorts of things if I could have a clean slate and start over with paint, new furniture, built-in bookcases and a fireplace renovation. But since that’s all just in the thinking phase, I decided to finally sort out the mess of board games in the corner cupboard that I don’t like.

We bought this cupboard from the previous owners because it fit the space, and we knew we needed storage. It’s designed as a media cabinet for a small television and components, but ours is too big for it, so we’ve always used it to store toys and games. Unfortunately, the triangular shape is less than ideal and the oak finish is dated. We paid too much for it at the time, and I regret it. We’ve lived with it for five years, but maybe in the next couple of years we can replace it.

Before Christmas, I cleaned out the toy shelves, but gave up before tackling the games. Despite the dusting I still haven’t done, the four half-built Lego sets and mess of stuff on the coffee table, the crumbs on the kitchen counter and floor, I feel incredibly productive now that I’ve sorted through that game cupboard.

 

I filled two boxes with games and puzzles that we don’t play with anymore. I set aside one stack of games for Miss Seven to decide their fate. I sorted all the scattered playing cards (miraculously, there are several complete decks) and returned stray pieces to their boxes. I culled the duplicates–how many versions of Memory do we need? I even branched out and sorted through the puzzle cupboard under the tv, where wooden toddler puzzles and bead stringing sets have gathered dust for many months.

 

Even though I am eager to demolish those dinky little concrete shelves above the fireplace, and fill the niches on either side with shelving, at least things are tidy for now. I want to take plenty of time and thought (and save some money) before making those big changes. And now I’m off to see if I have some volunteers to dust and sweep.

Organizing the freezer

Cleaning out the freezer has been on my mental list of things to do for months. No, years. It must have been on my husband’s list, too, because one morning he just started pulling everything out and stacking it on the counter. (You never know when he’s going to snap like that.) We said goodbye to unidentifiable leftovers and tiny containers of mysterious sauces. The lack of labeling was a serious problem. We tossed everything that had excessive freezer burn. To be fair, our freezer is not that big, and we didn’t have some kind of stockpile going to waste. Mostly, it housed bits of things we felt bad about throwing away, so we stashed them in the freezer for another day. Too bad another day never came.

Once the freezer was empty, I vacuumed up the crumbs and scrubbed all the sticky spilled somethings out of the drawer. I don’t have a before picture–just use your imagination. I grouped like items together, consolidating the packaging if possible, and labeled everything. I designated the upper basket as the lunch supply area, and corralled the smaller ice packs in a bowl. The coffee is up there, too, because when you need coffee, you shouldn’t have to dig for it.

As I put everything back into the freezer, my husband wrote each item down on a list. A few days later I googled “freezer inventory sheet” and was rewarded with a huge selection of choices to print. Some were broken into categories, some were not. I decided to go category-free (I’m a rebel like that) because the categories didn’t seem to fit our items, which mostly fall under “Other.” Sure, I could have made my own inventory, but why? Excel is not one of my strong points, and there wasn’t a good reason to reinvent the freezer inventory. I bookmarked the one I printed so that I can print another when this one is used up.

I have a few rules for maintaining this freezer nirvana.

  1. Always label everything. Always. Everything.
  2. Freeze leftovers in single-serve containers, easy to pull out for lunches.
  3. Cook and freeze extra meals more often.

Maybe next week we’ll inventory the pantry. But I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you. The pantry is a lot bigger than the freezer.