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.

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Getting organized for homework and music practice

This is a project I should have tackled a month ago, but better late than never, right? Mr. Nine and Miss Seven, in fourth and second grades, have daily homework this year. Miss Seven and Little Four take piano lessons, and Mr. Nine is starting the clarinet in band. Now that the dust has settled on the first few weeks of school and lessons, we need to get organized.

I’ve been keeping the kitchen desk fairly clear, but today things seem to have piled up. I cleared off the desk–sorting, recycling, filing–and then moved on to the file boxes I have for each child. They were overflowing with papers from last year, most of it obsolete now. I kept the nicest artwork and a couple writing samples to keep in their files in the basement, and recycled all the old spelling lists, classroom newsletters and old book order forms. I even organized my own file box with labeled folders.

  

My last step was to clear the memo board and reorganize the important information so that we can see it and reach it. The kids each have a clip with their current week’s homework and any logs they need to fill out (reading log, math facts log, karate practice log). Finally, I found a basket to contain their math fact practice workbooks and flash cards. We use them every day, so they need to be accessible.

I added one last touch: a jar of candy kisses. I just read The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills, by Daniel Coyle. I’ve used several of the tips this week to help with piano practice, and the difference has been amazing. Tip #41 advises, “End on a positive note.” That is, give a small reward at the end of a successful practice. For Miss Seven, one candy kiss to put in her lunch box at the end of her morning practice has transformed her attitude. Instead of racing through her assigned songs, oblivious to the quality of her performance, she has willingly repeated sticky passages and improved her technique. (By the way, other tips have been equally effective and easy to implement. I highly recommend the book to anyone who needs some help learning or coaching a skill. Thanks to the folks at Dinner: A Love Story for recommending it!)

Musical chairs and hidden treasure

We had a recliner in our family room that we bought just after we got married and moved into our first house. Twelve years and three kids later, the springs had detached from the frame and the padding was worn down to the wood on the arms. Everyone avoided sitting in it; the only protest when I gave it away was from Mr. Nine, who asked what he would climb on to reach his fishbowl on the mantel each morning.

We moved the chair from the living room into the family room so there is enough seating for family movie nights. But that left no chairs in the living room, and that’s the spot where we most often entertain. So we moved the chair from our bedroom into the living room.

We liked the chair in the living room, and have been thinking about getting a second one to make it a pair. In the meantime, we’ve been searching for something else to put in the now chairless bedroom. The Hub likes to lounge in the bedroom, away from the Legos, Tinker Toys, trains and Wii remotes that litter the family room. He wants a place to stretch out and read or watch tv. He suggested that if we moved my dresser from the corner of the bedroom, we’d have more room for comfy seating. He offered to move his things to the closet and empty his dresser for me to use. My dresser can be passed on to Miss Seven.

And so we did. I whittled my stuff from five drawers down to two (with a few things stored under the bed–painting clothes and out of season stuff), gave one drawer back to my husband, and kept one last drawer to store my jewelry box and a few accessories. But before I moved the jewelry box, I decided it was finally time to clean it out.

What treasures did I find in the jewelry box that my husband gave me on our very first Christmas? Thirteen plastic sandwich bags, each containing a single baby tooth. A large handful of loose change (helpfully corralled in a coffee filter, usually dipped into by the Tooth Fairy). Countless buttons, pins, nails, screws, and hair elastics. Two pairs of old sunglasses. Several luggage locks and keys. One pacifier. Four positive pregnancy tests. A stack of blank thank you notes. A tiny screwdriver. Oh, and some jewelry.

The story of my life in one wooden box.

I took everything out of the box and lifted the dust from the velvet lining with a piece of masking tape. I tightened the loose screws in the hinges. And then I returned only jewelry to the box. I put away or tossed everything else. Nobody’s using a pacifier anymore, and the excitement of finding out I was pregnant has been eclipsed by the real personalities those children have become. The Tooth Fairy still has a lot of teeth to collect at our house, so I found another convenient receptacle for the change.

We’re still looking for a chair, and haven’t rearranged Miss Seven’s room yet to accommodate the empty dresser. Time marches on, and every project begets another.

Empty drawers…so much possibility…

Dust-free drapes

The summer is still barreling along at a frantic pace, and I’m only just hanging on. Thursday arrived and I could no longer put off cleaning the house. No time for special projects–just clean the house. Wipe down the bathrooms, vacuum up the cobwebs. It took me all day. I had hoped to break it down throughout the week, but I just wasn’t home.

I spent a lot of time in the family room, that ground zero of kid-created disaster. I eradicated the broken crayons, the tiny bits of shredded paper, the Legos, the crumbled half-eaten cereal bars and discarded wrappers and yogurt cups from under the sofa. (And that was just the mess of the past few days.) Then I rearranged the furniture and dragged the old recliner out to the garage (a victim of one too many sessions as a trampoline) to be picked up by a Craigslist reader.

After all that, I couldn’t ignore the thick layer of dust on the drapes any longer. I noticed it a couple of months ago, but couldn’t decide what to do. They are the most expensive drapes I’ve ever bought–lined and double-width made to fit our sliding doors. Dry clean? Wash on the delicate cycle and hang to dry? I consulted my mother. She warned me that she has had poor results from both options, and suggested instead tumbling them in the dryer on a cool setting with a couple of dryer sheets. I added a clean, damp towel as well, and used the “extra delicate” temperature setting (one step above “air fluff”).

It worked perfectly. Thirty minutes in the dryer for each panel (because they are so big and I wanted to give them enough room to tumble), and I was able to hang them right up without even touching them up with the iron.

Thanks, Mom. (And Happy Birthday!)

The week in review

How is it Friday already? This week flew by in a whirlwind of gardening, doctor’s appointments, buying school supplies, and watching the Olympics. And playdates. Lots of playdates. So here it is Friday (I swear I thought it was Thursday when I woke up this morning), and the blog posts in my head are as yet unwritten, unpublished.

So here’s a quick summer-is-winding-down summary of my week for you:

Garden:

As a result of the drought this summer (and our neglect while away on vacation), we are now performing triage on our ragged lawn and garden. Our efforts to water the front lawn seem to be making a difference (let’s just agree not to talk about the weeds or the layer of pine needles). I have been hacking away at the wilted brown daylilies and miles of weeds that have overtaken the flower beds. My doctor told me I need to do more cardio, but I think my daily hour (or three) swinging a hoe is going to count this week. I planted some mums, spread some mulch, and have created many piles of yard waste to bag for pickup next week. And in a feat of superhuman strength, my husband single-handedly chopped down two-thirds of our overgrown hedge. Next week: more weeding, more mulch.

 

Do you have any great hints for maintaining your lawn and garden in the worst of the summer heat?

Cooking:

In the kitchen, I’ve been keeping things simple. Sunday night we were so wiped out, we ate popcorn for dinner. I jazzed up the popped kernels with a generous handful of grated cheese, leftover bacon, melted butter and salt. Mix it up and bake on a rimmed cookie sheet at 250 degrees for 5-10 minutes, until the cheese melts. Serve with Chocolate Banana Milk Shakes (from Mollie Katzen’s kid’s cookbook Pretend Soup).

Cheddar Bacon Popcorn

I also tried one new recipe from Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain. With the illicit stash of cheap quinoa flour that I brought from Ecuador in my suitcase, I made the Banana-Walnut cake. My kids often say they don’t like nuts, but they sure liked the cake. It was lovely with a tall glass of iced coffee while catching up with a good friend. (It’s a super moist cake and keeps really well for a few days–two, at least!) I’ve got some amaranth flour to try next. Next week I’ll share a recipe for a cool Avocado Shrimp Roll–wonderful for a summer lunch or light supper. I need to make it one more time to get it just right…

Cleaning:

HAHAHA!!! By that I mean that things are getting pretty dusty–possibly even sticky–around here. The daily laundry routine has helped me keep on top of the dirty clothes, and I’ve managed to make the bed and do the dishes every day. I even broke out the vacuum and attacked the family room rug (and then issued one of my frequent bans of food in the family room–frequently broken by everyone, including me). But any serious cleaning is going to wait until next week. We’re expecting houseguests again next weekend, so I’ve divvied up my cleaning tasks throughout the week on my list at TeuxDeux.com. I love TeuxDeux because I can’t misplace my list! It automatically moves any items you haven’t crossed off onto the next day’s list–so easy.

How do you prepare for houseguests? Mints on the pillow?

Cleaning the basement…AGAIN

These photos are embarrassing. I’m warning my husband right now: DON’T LOOK! If he has a mantra, it is “Mess is Stress,” and this mess would make his head explode.

Playroom or crime scene?

What is that stuff, you ask? It was one of Little Four’s Christmas presents, the Moon Dough Mega Food Club Pack. It will give your little darlings hours of fun molding little hamburgers and pizza toppings, but rest assured, the aftermath will make YOUR head explode. Then you have two messes to clean up. You should also know that they will drop the Moon Dough all over the floor, step on the crumbs, and track it all through the house. You will have to put those sneakers in the wash yet again.

I am not telling you not to buy Moon Dough. I just want you to make an informed decision. There has been a string of pleasant playdates (read: kids in the basement hacking this dough to pieces while parents are upstairs in relative peace) at my house in the past few months. However, all good things must come to an end, and I couldn’t face the basement disaster any longer.

Looks like someone was practicing his knife skills.

I salvaged a small portion of the dough and packed it and the accessories up and stowed them on a very high shelf. And then I vacuumed. And vacuumed some more.

Can we play a nice game of restaurant? Do a little coloring?

I would still like to make our mostly unfinished basement more hospitable for rainy day playing (or as an escape from the heat)–without actually finishing it. So I’m pondering the lighting (very poor) and I may survey the kids to find out what kinds of things they would play down there. Now that we’re past the toddler stage, there are all sorts of possibilities. Maybe a permanent art workspace. We have a very long shelf that could work for Legos. They could set up marble runs and leave them up. As Little Four might say, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a SWING?”

Unclogging the sink

Nobody tells you just how much of adulthood revolves around plumbing. Is there some sort of plumbers’ lobby that has conspired to keep us all in the dark? Honestly, Plumbing 101 ought to be a required high school course, or maybe one of those 8th grade electives. The course would include such topics as how to plunge a toilet and unclog the drain in a sink or shower, the difference between a septic system and the city sewer, and what not to put down the garbage disposal. Without this knowledge, you buy your first house, and shortly thereafter, the shower drain stops up, leaving you standing in three inches of water with shampoo in your eyes and no clue how to fix it.

In case this has ever happened to you, I’ll share the few tricks I have learned (from You Tube, the guy at my local hardware store and Heloise) for remedying that slow drain.

Here’s the handy little tool that the hardware store man recommended:

It’s cheap and it works, assuming your drain is just clogged with hair, soap scum, and other mysterious gunk. Oh, and it’s green! No need to pour Drano or other harsh chemicals down the drain.

So here’s what you do. Get some paper towels or rags, a bottle of white vinegar, a box of baking soda, and put the kettle on to boil. If you have rubber gloves, this is a good time to wear them. Slide the Zip-It down the drain as far as you can (don’t let go of the little handle, of course) and jiggle it around. Slowly pull it out and wipe the nasty hairballs and black stuff on the paper towels. Repeat from every angle, until you aren’t pulling anything out of the drain anymore. Shudder dramatically, wad up the disgusting paper towels and throw them away.

Next, shake some baking soda down the drain (maybe 1/2 cup) and chase it with a cup of white vinegar. Finally, pour the kettle of boiling water down the drain. Chances are, your drain will be clear at this point and you will feel like a home improvement hero.

If not, I guess you’d better call a real plumber.

Empty the basket!

Home decor articles are forever recommending baskets to contain the inevitable clutter of life. The trouble with baskets, however, is that eventually they fill up, the clutter escapes, and you’re pretty much right back where you started. Sure, clutter in a basket looks better than clutter drifting over tabletops and skittering off into corners.

But when I can’t stand the overflow for another second, I empty the basket.

Lip balm, sewing supplies, cough drops. Earphones, charging cords, hair accessories. Coupons, pens, Post-Its. Legos, checkers, bouncy balls. Not pictured: candy wrappers, junk mail, assorted trash.

Oh, and that’s where all the Christmas cards went!

I put everything away. I recycled the junk mail and tossed the garbage. I shelved the books and returned the Nerf gun to its rightful owner, repeating for the 73rd time that weapons don’t belong on the hall table.

It’s not much of a tablescape (who invented that word, anyway?), but at least it’s clean.

Cleaning carseats

We bought a new car recently (new to us, anyway), and for a moment–the blink of an eye, no more–the interior was beautifully clean. After a couple of days of the school carpool and other errands, there was enough dirt tracked in to give my shiny new ride that lived-in look. But the polished dashboard and unstained upholstery also made me notice that the kids’ carseats and boosters were awfully dirty. Icky is really the only word for it.

Once school got out and I didn’t need to shuttle around the neighborhood kids, I began cleaning one seat at a time. The boosters are easy: remove the cover, spray heavily with your stain remover of choice, wash on cold and hang to dry. I also wiped off the plastic frame and all the stickiness lodged in the convenient pop-out cupholders. Repeat on all other boosters.

Clean seats!

Little Four has graduated from his toddler carseat to a high-backed booster seat, and I promised to hand down his seat to a cousin’s toddler. I couldn’t in good conscience pass on the seat without cleaning it first. It has a black cover that is extraordinary at hiding stains (there’s a tip for new parents: skip all those pretty light-colored prints). I had not washed it once in the four years Little Four has used it, and I’m pretty sure he’s not extraordinarily neat and tidy.

I’ve removed and washed many a carseat cover, but this one was on the tricky side. You’ve got to detach the straps and wriggle all the buckles and clips through slits in the cover that are just a little too narrow. Then I worked on the frame, which had collected all sorts of debris. The crevice tool on the vacuum worked well for this job, sucking up all the crumbs from every nook and cranny. Another wipe down with a damp cloth (and some Mrs. Meyer’s All Purpose Cleaner), and it was time to reassemble. Truthfully, it took me longer than it should have, because I kept forgetting to slide all the attachments onto the shoulder straps in the correct order. But the seat looks (and functions) like new, and I’m happy that this expensive piece of baby equipment will get some more use.

Packed and ready to deliver to its new occupant.

Moving the dishes to kid-height

 

It seems like just the other day that I cleaned out the drawer of plastic kids’ cups and dishes, eliminating the sippy cups and mismatched lids that nobody uses anymore. Turns out I just didn’t go far enough.

Our everyday dishes and glasses live in the upper cabinets over the sink and dishwasher, convenient when I’m unloading the dishwasher. But it’s not so convenient if I want the kids to help set the table or put away some dishes, or even serve themselves a bowl of cereal. It’s time for a little rearranging so they can become more self-sufficient.

  

I emptied the drawer, wiped it down, and washed the baskets (seriously, where do all those crumbs come from?). Then I sorted. We still use the water bottles regularly, as well as a few plastic snack bowls. I moved the plastic cups to the new water cooler spot on the porch, and the plastic plates to the bin of picnic supplies in the basement. Hiding behind the baskets are thermoses for school lunches, Snack Traps (Little Four uses them on outings), and reusable kid cups from Sweet Tomatoes (bring your cup back and the drink is free).

Then I relocated our smaller Corelle plates (inherited from my grandmother), cereal bowls and glasses to the other basket. All of these are sturdy, kid-sized, and nothing is precious or irreplaceable if it breaks.

I think my next project had better be creating some self-serve snack stations. They’re going to need something to put on those plates.