Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday Stew Special #2 - Columbian Beef & Sweet Potato Stew

To get myself out of the regular, old, Slow Cooker Beef Stew rut, I'll be trying out a new stew every Sunday.  I'll post the recipe and also the results from the Brownlee Test Kitchen.  This week I had a sweet potato in the fridge that needed using up, so here is what a google search came up with from the Betty Crocker website.

Columbian Beef & Sweet Potato Stew

1 lb boneless beef chuck
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 ½ teaspoons olive or vegetable oil
3 cups 1-inch pieces peeled sweet potatoes
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
2 whole cloves
1 dried bay leaf
1 stick cinnamon
1 large onion, cut into eighths
1 can (28 oz) whole tomatoes, undrained
8 dried apricots, cut in half
Chopped fresh parsley, if desired
  1. Remove excess fat from beef. Cut beef into 1-inch pieces. Sprinkle beef with salt and pepper. In 10-inch skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Cook beef in oil about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until brown.
  2. In 4- to 5-quart slow cooker, mix beef and remaining ingredients except apricots and parsley. Cover; cook on Low heat setting 6 to 8 hours or until beef is tender.
  3. Stir in apricots. Cover; cook on Low heat setting about 15 minutes or until apricots are softened. Discard cloves, bay leaf and cinnamon stick. Sprinkle stew with parsley.
Serve over rice or couscous.

Reviews from the Brownlee Test Kitchen:
4 yr old:  "I wanted soup.  Are these carrots?"   Daddy:  "They are carrot-ish."
10 yr old:  "I'm sure it would be good if you liked sweet potatoes.  But you know that I don't like sweet potatoes."
12 yr old:  "Oh, it's great.  Except for the apricots.  Here, do you want mine that I found?"  (Should be noted that she only ate half her bowl.)
Husband:  "I like it.  It has an interesting taste.  It would also be good with chicken." (It should also be noted that my husband is the least picky person I have know.  He likes everything.)
The Cook:  "It's too heavy on the sweet potatoes.  And I like sweet potatoes!  I think I would half it next time with regular potatoes.  But I do like the cinnamon flavour."

The Verdict:  No thumbs up, 3 sideways thumbs to try it again with some changes, one four year old ignoring us to go play with her playdough.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Daily Declutter Challenge #9 - Keep On Keeping On!

Before I start in with Declutter talk, I want to thank a sweet friend, Andrea R. who nominated this blog for a  Best Health Canadian Blog Award.  Apparently, you have a chance to win one of 17 prizes valued over $1,000 for nominating someone.  I have no idea what they are, but Andrea - I hope you win something!

I won't be doing a specific Daily Declutter Challenge today, since I'll be focusing on doing laundry & packing for a big family trip we're leaving for on Monday.  Mom Starting From Scratch won't be posting next week, but my challenge to you is just to keep on keeping on with any decluttering projects you have.  Let me know your successes!

Having trouble getting started with decluttering?  Here are some tips from one of the old school master's of home organizing - The Fly Lady (Fly = Finally Loving Yourself).

  1. When to Declutter: Decide how often you are going to declutter a zone. Do a little every day - use a timer. But be warned - this can become compulsive! Once you get started you will want to clean like a banshee! Don't burn yourself out! Only do small amount at a time. The house did not get dirty overnight and it will not get clean overnight. When you set the timer you can only do two sessions at a time. This goal may seem unattainable right now, but you can do it in little pieces. In a couple of months, the whole house will be decluttered.

  2. Decluttering Equipment: You will need garbage bags, boxes, magic markers, and a dust rag. Label the boxes "Give Away", "Throw Away", and "Put Away". Line the "Throw Away" box with a plastic garbage bag.

  3. Set your timer: for 1 hour (or 30, 15, or 10 minutes - it does't matter how long). Just do the job as fast as you can and do not pull out more stuff than you can put away in that length of time. This means just one drawer, one closet (or even one shelf in one closet), one magazine rack, or digging under just the furniture in the zone. Not all of them at once!

  4. Start at the entrance to the room: Then, work your way around the room clockwise. Do not skip a spot. Whatever happens to be next, just do it.

  5. Declutter Away! With boxes at your feet and dust rag in your waistband, start off by cleaning out and getting rid of the things that do not belong in this room. Put garbage in the "Throw Away" box, donations in the "Give Away" box, and stuff that goes somewhere else in the "Put Away" box. Don't worry that you do not have a place for everything right now. By the time you finish you will. That's a promise from FlyLady!

  6. What to declutter? Things to ask yourself as you get rid of your clutter:
    • Do I love this item?
    • Have I used it in the past year?
    • Is it really garbage?
    • Do I have another one that is better?
    • Should I really keep two?
    • Does it have sentimental value that causes me to love it?
    • Or does it give me guilt and make me sad when I see the item?

    Cleanse this room of everything that does not make you SMILE.

  7. Sing this song: "Please release me, let me go" as sung from the stuff's point of view. It needs to be loved by someone and if you don't love it - GET RID OF IT!

  8. Get rid of the garbage! When the "Throw Away" box gets full, pull out the garbage bag, close it, and put it in the trash can, the pickup truck, or wherever you keep your garbage. Put a new garbage bag in the "Throw Away" box and keep on Flying until the timer goes off.

  9. Donations: When the "Give Away" box gets full, seal it off, and put it in your car. The next time you are out, you can donate to the area thrift shop. Do not save your clutter for a yard or garage sale, you will be blessed by giving it away. The value can be deducted on your income tax. Remember you are trying to get rid of clutter - not relocate it somewhere else in your home. Now, grab another box, label it "Give Away", and get back to work.

  10. "Put Away" Stuff: When the "Put Away" box gets full, take the box in your arms and run around the house (good thing you have shoes on - right?) and put the items in the room where they belong. If they have a place, put them there, if not put them in the room where they logically belong. By the time you have finished you will have a place for everything and everything will be in it's place.

  11. Timer Goes Off: When the timer goes off, you have to put away all the boxes, but first you have to empty them all. Go as fast as you can !

Friday, January 21, 2011

Daily Declutter Challenge #8 - A Special Kind of Chaos

For the last  4 & 1/2 years my life has been filled with a special kind of chaos.  We were so blessed and thrilled to have our third daughter Elianna Rose enter our family, but along with all the love and joy, she also came with her own unique set of differences.  She was born with a rare genetic syndrome called "Fraser Syndrome".  Instead of having you go to "The Google" to find a bunch of info that will seem scary and intimidating, I'll just tell you the basics.  She was born with only one, itty bitty functioning kidney, really narrow airways, webbed fingers (oh her little froggy hands - so tiny & sweet!), narrow ear canals resulting in moderate hearing loss, slow growth, low appetite, a high palate, dental issues, fused eyelid, kidney reflux, strabisimus, far-sightedness, malformed tear ducts, ummmmm....there may be more that I'm forgetting right now.

But she was born with oh, so much more than that!  Joie de vivre!  Love of singing & music!  Sense of humour & show offy spirit!  Sweet yet stubborn temper!  Daredevil attitude and willingness to try new things!  And the love - how much love she has carried with her into our world!  She is, without any doubt or bias, the best thing that has ever happened to our family.

But of course, having Fraser Sydrome means Drs, therapists, surgeries, appointments, appointments, appointments....did I mention appointments?  And paperwork that is generated by all of the above.  Ellie's pediatrician recommended that I get a binder to hold all of her medical paperwork.  Since I was a little preoccupied at the time, it took me a while to get one.  Like, about a year.  Then another two years to buy a three ring whole punch.  By then the paperwork was so overwhelming and all encompassing that I would feel anxiety symptoms any time I had to fill out some sort of forms for Ellie, requesting this, that, or any other thing.  My heart would start to race, my mouth would get dry, and I'd feel overwhelmingly.... overwhelmed.
This is only the stuff that was ON my desk - the other half was in a folder in the filing cabinet.
But I was determined to lessen the chaos in this area of my life.  So while Ellie sat on the floor with me and sang songs from her preschool, I went through all the papers - reread, sorted, piled, and tossed.  It was no small Declutter Challenge, let me tell you.

I got rid of this much paperwork.

And this was the end result!  Goodbye paperwork induced anxiety!
The red one is the medical reports binder.

I cannot begin to tell you what bliss this triumph has brought me.

But I know you can experience the same bliss!  We all have some certain paperwork clutter that has gotten the best of us. It's gotten out of hand, and it needs to be conquered.  I know you can do it.  It took me four and a half years to conquer mine, but I'm hoping that you can do it in less!  Buy some binders, buy a whole punch (very important!), go to that pile on your desk & start sorting.  Make sure to only keep what is absolutely necessary.

And let me know what you take on!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pillow Talk

After all my decluttering and making my home a fresher, happier place to be, I decided to reward myself with new pillows for our bed.  The pillows we were using were Ralph Lauren feather pillows that we had gotten for a wedding gift almost 15 years ago.  That's a pretty good life span for anything nowadays, isn't it?  But they were getting rather flat and not quite as comfy so it was high time for some new ones.

As I was in the pillow aisle, I decided to do something that I normally don't do.  I  bought the most expensive pair, instead of the $1.97 ones on the aisle cap.  (Which ones do you think will last longer?)

It felt so great coming home, placing those nice, fluffy, wonderful pillows on my bed.  Till I had to decide what to do with the old ones!  Do I just stuff these in the trash?  They’d take up half my garbage can!  I can’t in good conscience donate them to the Sally Anne – that’s just….ick.  I have to admit, I’m a terrible drooler when I sleep, and well….you can picture the result!  But I’m trying to become more mindful of what I put in the landfill, so wanted to see if I could figure something out.

I went to the “The Google” to see if I could recycle flattened pillows in some way that would be useful.  One of the sites recommended cutting them open, pulling out the inside, refluffing it, and using it to stuff new pillows or refill stuffed animals.  I got my scissors (oh my – they were so easy to find in my new Drawer of Fabulousness!) and cut them open.  Wow – who'd a thunk?   Feather pillows are really stuffed with feathers!  And those 15 year old feathers actually looked clean, fresh & feathery!

I took a plain white pillowcase from the linen closet, took the feathers out of the two old pillows, and stuffed them in the new one.  This was a very entertaining project for my four year old  and I to do together.  Feathers stick to everything!

Then I simply hand stitched the open end of the pillowcase together.  Voila!  A new, full, fluffy pillow to present to my 10 year old when she got home from school.

This project took me no more than 30 minutes from start to finish, which by the way, is shorter than the time it took me to go to Wal-Mart & back. 

Daily Declutter Challenge #7 - The Front Door Pile

There always seems to be a spot, close to the front door, where gravity pulls "stuff" to itself.  Some people have a desk or bench by the door, or maybe it's the nearest counter.  The oddest things can wind up in there!

Ours was a basket, on a table at the top of the stairs.  An it wasn't even a nice basket.  It was something someones else was getting rid of and passed along to us.  Seemed like a great idea to have a handy basket at the top of the stairs to store your keys.

See any keys in there?

Actually, there are some buried deep in the bottom.  The only problem is I don't know what they're for!  Bike lock?  Suitcase?  Old house?  And all the other stuff?  Things that we didn't really need, but just found a comfortable resting spot in that basket, never to be moved again.

Till now.

It's so great to declutter the actual thing that is collecting the clutter!  You get so used to a basket of junk sitting on your table, that it just becomes part of the furniture of your mind.  Almost everything in that basket got tossed.  The few things that were useful actually got put away where they belonged!

No more cozy nest for clutter to accumulate.

Miss Minimalist wrote, "My advice to anyone who feels they need to get organized: declutter first. If you have to, declutter for a year before you start buying fancy boxes and squirreling things away.  Then think long and hard before you put something into a container (especially if it’s not something you use regularly). Because once you give something a warm, cozy abode, it can be hard to get it to leave."  Check out her full post called, "Don't Organize Your Clutter."

Why don't you take on this challenge?  Find a place close to your entrance where "stuff" is accumulating.  And if you have a cozy nest for clutter to gather, maybe you can get rid of the nest too!  If you really need a place for your keys, try a few little hooks, or a small, pretty dish. Let me know if you have some other great ideas!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Daily Declutter #6 - One Pen Challenge

The other morning I was filling out a form for my daughter that she needed to hand in to school that day.  I grabbed a pen, started writing....and it didn't work.  Tossed it out, grabbed another....argh!  Didn't work!  Grabbed another.  Arrrrgh!  Another dead pen!  By then I was really scrambling around to try to find another pen.  How come it's always so hard to find a pen that works in this house?  I finally found one that worked, filled out the form and dashed my daughter out the door.

I decided to find a solution to the mystery of the disappearing pens & pencils in our household.  I hunted in all the usual crooks and crannies they hide in, all the desks, the kitchen drawer, the bedside table, etc.etc.  I scrounged up 66 pens & pencils!!!!  Why was it so hard to find one when I really needed it?

There were 35 pencils and 26 of them were busted or dull.  That means whenever my kids break the tip of a pencil, they don't bother sharpening it, they just get another one.  There were 31 pens, and 12 of them didn't even work.  All these pens and pencils helped me realize that because we had an excess of writing instruments, they had no value.  Pencil broke?  Toss it back in the drawer & grab another.  Who cares what you do with a pen after you use it - just drop it and forget about it, 'cause there's lots more in the house.  It's a great example of our materialistic, careless, throw-away society.

You may be thinking, "Whoa - materialistic, careless, & throw-away?  Those are harsh words when you're just talking about a handful of pens, Lynn."

But let's think about it.  If you only have one of something, and you need it - then it has a lot of value, right?  It doesn't matter if it's "only a pen".  I was reminded of a story from the "Little House on the Prairie" book series.  There's a chapter where Mary and Laura go to school for the first time.  Their parents give them some money (of which they had very little!) to go to the General Store and buy a slate, so they could learn to write.  They had to share the slate, because they couldn't afford one each.  The store owner reminded them that they would need to buy a slate pencil as well, and that it would cost one penny.  Here's what happened next.

"Pa had already spent so much for the slate that they hated to tell him that they needed another penny.  They walked along soberly till suddenly Laura remembered their Christmas pennies.  They still had those pennies that they had found in their stockings on Christmas morning in Indian Territory.  Mary had a penny and Laura had a penny, but they needed only one slate pencil.  So they decided that Mary would spend her penny for the pencil and after that she would own half of Laura's penny.  Next morning they bought the pencil at Mr. Beadle's store."

Can you imagine how careful those two sisters were with their slate pencil?  I'm sure they had a special spot to keep it, and made sure that they didn't break it.  Who knows how long that one pencil lasted?   Without it, Mary and Laura Ingalls couldn't do their school work; therefore it had great value.

So, I decided to create a One Pen Challenge for myself.  I sharpened all those dull, broken pencils, put two in my daughters' desk drawer for after school homework, along with a good eraser and PENCIL SHARPENER!  Then I tested out all the pens, tossed the ones that didn't work and picked out two of my favourite pens.  I put one pen in my husband's box on his dresser, and the other pen (for me) I tied to a string and attached to a magnet on the fridge.  One pen or pencil for each of us.  My four year old still got to keep her box of crayons and markers.  Then I bundled up all the extras with a rubber band and hid them far, far away in a place I will not tell my family.  The good news is, I shouldn't have to buy back to school pens or pencils for YEARS!

Now, does my pen have value?  Yep!  Will I be more careful with it?  Yep!  Will I always know where it is?  Yep!  Will I replace it when it runs out?  Yep!

I might sound a little weird, (okay a LOT weird), for doing this and you may be thinking to yourself, "Baaaaack awaaaay slowly from the crazy woman who's obsessing about pens....".  But if this one change helps me avoid the chaos of scrambling around looking for a pen that works, and helps me and my children to become more mindful, careful people, then this one change is worth it.

Let me know if you decide to go for just one pen!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Daily Declutter #5 - Bookshelf

For this Daily Declutter Challenge I happened to choose my 4 yr old's bookshelf, because it was in a BIG mess.

We are a family of bookworms - we've read to our children since they were newborns and it's definitely a big value to us.  I read pretty much every night before going to sleep, even if I don't get to bed till quite late.  So decluttering books is not easy for me, because I LOVE BOOKS!

However, I took a good, hard look at this bookshelf, and it was not inspiring my four year old to go get a book to look at by herself.  And her bedtime stories always ended up being the same ones practically every night.
There's books all over the floor because that's where they'd end up after they were taken off.  The shelf was so crowded and messy it was hard gor little hands to put them away properly.  Guess who would get to put them all back?

I decided to think about decluttering books this way - they had to fit two categories:
1.  My four year old wanted me to read them to her.
2.  I wanted to read them to her.

You see, there were LOTS of books on those shelves.  Shelves that my adorable preschooler was drawn to.  But heaven help me, after three children, if I have to read Franklin Goes to School ONE MORE TIME I think I'm going to snap.  And Clifford.....he's a big, red, dog....but we had 15 books about CLIFFORD!  I don't think he nor Emily Elizabeth have that much to offer either me or my daughter.  And by the way.  I really can't stand Winnie the Pooh.  Say goodbye all you narcissitic, stuffed characters.

Also gone...all those little First Reader/Early Reader books...I figure by the time Ellie is reading on her own, there will be a ton of those in her classroom and of course there's always the library.  She NEVER picks those for Mike or I to read at bedtime.  You know why?  Because they're lame.

My other caveat was bible stories and little books of prayers and devotions.  I had a lovely lady from our church give me an entire bag of old school children's bibles, bible stories, and devotional books, and it seemed like a good idea to keep them.  But have you seen some of the pictures in those books? 

Can you picture any child feeling inspired to give it a read?  We read the bible to our daughter every night, and we've never had a problem finding great, age appropriate, beautifully illustrated ones to read.  So out went all the old bible stuff and I haven't been struck with any guilt or lightening, yet.

Here's the after photo:
With so much open shelf space, my four year old wanted to build "rooms" for her favourite stuffies to live in.  It's like apartments for stuffies!

I kept so many wonderful books, ones that everyone looks forward to enjoying together.  And isn't that what reading should be all about? Here's just a sampling.

So once again, my tip for decluttering your child's bookshelf...only keep the ones that you BOTH love!

It's Sweater Day

Did you know that today is "National Sweater Day" , an idea dreamed up by the World Wildlife Federation?  They are encouraging people to "put on a sweater and keep the planet cool".  My first thought was, "Duuuuuhhhh -isn't it just common sense to put on a sweater when I feel cold instead of cranking up the heat?"  But then I read a little further and it actually suggests turning down the thermostat by a full three degrees on that day.  So if you normally have it set at 20 degrees, have it set to 17.

Brrrrr...sounds a little chilly.

But I'm giving it a go today, wearing my coziest gray sweater and a pair of (hand made by my mother in law) slippers.

Just a simple action that maybe I could get used to.  Maybe I'll actually see a difference in my energy bill.  Maybe it will actually reduce my reduce my carbon footprint.  Or at the very least, maybe it'll actually keep my children from kicking off their socks and leaving them laying all around the house.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Daily Declutter #4 - I'm Here to Support You

Y'all knew it had to be coming - we did the underwear drawer, sock drawer, now it's time to take on declutter your "Supportive Undergarments".
And if they're looking anything like the ones above, we've really got to sit down and talk.  This Declutter Challenge could take you all of 3 minutes if you don't hesitate.  Do it now!

Dump out your drawer, toss out any regularly worn "items" that are older than three years.  Stop crying and just do it.  I'm actually being merciful here, because their shelf life is more like two years.  Toss out ones that are broken and you have held together with safety pins.

Now for the "items" that you only wear from time to time, think about if you really NEED them.  If you realize that the days of the strapless dress are long past you and your childbearing/nursing body just doesn't need the reminder then toss that specialty item.  Or the one that you thought was cute on the rack and is just itchy & unbearable?  Or one that shows unsightly seams through a shirt but you hold onto it thinking, "Well, if I wear six layers and a bulky sweater I could use it..."  Toss, toss, toss!

Now go out and buy a new one, because I can guarantee, you probably could use a little pick me up.

Sunday Stew Special #1 - MoROCKcan Butternut Squash Stew

Sunday is Stew Day around here.  We don't get home from church till usually around 1:30 PM and by then we are all starving.  To avoid the trap of, "We'll just stop at McRaunchy's" on the way home, I make a stew in the slow cooker on Saturday evening, and then plug it in Sunday morning before we head out the door.  It becomes our main meal of the day and keeps me from having to prepare another meal a few hours later.  We usually have popcorn for supper Sunday nights.  Mom's should get a day of rest from the kitchen too, right?

But I've been making pretty much the same version of a beef stew every week, and as much as my family appreciates it, the time has come to branch out.  So to give me a little nudge out of my stew rut, I decided I'll be trying out a different recipe every week and posting the new Sunday Stew recipe here, along with the my family's reactions. 

Of course, I didn't think this all through ahead of time, so at 9:30 PM Saturday night when I thought, "Oh, I need to make the stew!"; I looked in the fridge and saw that I had a Butternut Squash.  A quick google search bought up this one from Epicurious.  I had to make a few changes, especially since I used dried chick peas instead of canned, so here's what I ended up with.

 MoROCKcan Slow Cooker Butternut Squash and Carrot Stew

1 spray(s) cooking spray
half a small onion, chopped
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 medium butternut squash peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch cubes*
1 cup sliced carrot coins
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup chickpeas, soaked in 4 cups water overnight, drained & rinsed.


Coat a small skillet with cooking spray.
Add onion and garlic; sauté for 5 minutes.
Place squash in a 3-quart or larger slow cooker (crockpot).
Add sauteed onion and garlic, carrots, broth, cinnamon, cumin and red pepper flakes.
Cover and turn on low heat 6-8 hours.
Serve with cooked Couscous

Scroll down for the family's reviews!

Not my MoROCKcan Stew, but isn't that a lovely plate?
 Brownlee Test Kitchen Reviews:
4 yr old daughter - I don't like the crust on the bread.  (She never gave any opinion on the stew - the bread was her main concern.)
10 yr old daughter - It's too spicy.
12 yr old daughter - It's too plain.
Husband - It MoROCKS!
Homestay Student - It could use more veggies, like peppers or something.
The Cook - The chick peas aren't quite as tender as I'd like.  I've got to learn how to cook with dried beans.

Overall, we gave it 3 thumbs up (from the adults) and 2 thumbs down (from the big kids - the four yr old just ate more bread.)  Let me know if you tried it and how you like it.  Or if you've got some great recipes to suggest for the Sunday Stew Special, please pass them along to the Brownlee Test Kitchen!

P.S.  Turned the leftovers into a soup for Monday's lunch:  Added some onion soup mix, water, pureed with a hand blender, heated, and served with pepper & parmesan cheese on top.  Thumbs up!

Daily Declutter - Day of Rest!

Put down the chore chart and to do lists - it's a day of rest!  Take some time to declutter your spirit - go to a house of Worship, take a walk, read a book, snuggle your loved ones, play a game, listen to some great music....and breathe!
"Rest at Harvest" ~ Bougureau

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Green Eggs & Sausage?

It's hard to know what to do about meat.  We're a regular,carnivorous, suburban family, but it doesn't take rocket science to know that we've got some serious problems with how our meat gets from animal to table.  Ecoli anyone?  Some Listeria on the side?  If you've never had a chance to watch the documentary,  "Food Inc", I highly recommend it.

But in light of all the negative press the meat industry has been getting, it's nice to hear some good news.  Frebeye is a Langley based gourmet meat & sausage company, which the family began 165 years ago in Germany.  I know I've mightily enjoyed their Cranberry Sausages that they serve every year at the Fort Langley Cranberry Festival.  And every year I make a special Christmas Morning Sausage Recipe that was a classic of my mother in law's and I use the Freybe Turkey Sausage to help cut down on the fat.

So what's the good news about Freybe's Gourmet Meats?  According to an article in our local paper, the company has been taking huge leaps and bounds to sustainability.  They're reusing and conserving energy in creative ways, and reducing and recycling waste.  They're even recycling their own smoke!   You can check out the whole article here.

So if you're not a vegan, and you enjoy some smoked sausage from time to time, isn't it good to know that there's some "Green Sausage" to be had out there?

Daily Declutter #3 - The Drawer of Fabulousness

Since it's Saturday, we're going to take on a bigger challenge.  Hopefully you've had a less hectic morning (unless of course your kids wake up at 5:00 AM, and you've already put in a good 4 hour day!) and you've got some energy and maybe even some help to take on a little bigger project.

It's time to take on a junk drawer.  Whichever room it is in the house (mine's in the kitchen!) it's time to get ruthless.  Dump out all the contents onto your kitchen table so you are forced to deal with it.  Or if you have too many little hands that want to get in and help, lock yourself in the bathroom with the drawer.  Bet you've never done that before!

1.  Toss out the trash - old flyers, expired coupons, pens that don't work - your pile of junk will already be dramatically reduced!
2.   Take out what doesn't belong - toys, CDs, makeup, screws - you know they have a better home somewhere.  Put them away - don't just put them in another basket.
3.  Sort the rest into 2 piles - useful or not useful - if you haven't found the need to use something in the last year, it's not likely you ever will!  Get rid of it!  Throw it away, or put in a donation box.  Be merciless!!!  Don't hold it in your hand and think, "Maybe one day I could really use this thing that I never even knew was in here..."
4.  Then find a drawer organizer, or simply use a couple different shaped tupperware bins like I did, and put your useful items away.
5.  Lastly, vow to never again call it a Junk Drawer.  Now it's an Odds & Ends Drawer, or Drawer of Essential Items, or Drawer of Fabulousness!

So what ended up staying in my Drawer of Fabulousness? 

Light bulbs, pair of scissors, a box cutter, packing tape, masking tape, string,  pack of under leg chair protectors, notepad, & an airfreshner.  All useful!  My drawer isn't doesn't have a cute 'lil container or a row of gleaming cubes, it's just a couple tupperware bins.  But everything is useful & within sight & reach!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Tired of the Junk Mail?

Do you ever stop to think about how much time we spend sorting through junk mail?  We take it out of the mailbox, put it down somewhere, go through it and open it up when you have time, maybe take the time to read it, put it down again, and hopefully it eventually finds it's way into the recycling bin.  It's just one more thing for you to deal with, isn't it?  I started saving myself the step of bringing into the house, and instead, any unsolicited mail without my name or address on it I just put back into the postal slot!  I figured Canada Post makes the money off of it, they can deal with it.  But that's not really addressing the following fact that huge amounts of resources are used in the production of paper advertising and yet the industry standard is a 2% response rate! That means 98% of it is a waste!

I don't think those are birthday cards....

All along, I had no idea that there was a really simple way to take your name off the majority of junk mail lists.  Check out The Red Dot Campaign!  This simple, informative website tells you how Canadians can stop receiving ad mail. 

 You can print off one of their No Junk Mail signs, stick it to the inside or outside of your mailbox, and Canada Post will honour it!  You can even order a cute, 'lil, water resistant sticker if you want to shell out a few bucks.  Then, if for some reason, you continue to get unsolicited junk mail, they even give you a copy of a letter to Canada Post that you can simply put right in your mailbox.  No stamp or envelope required!

Lastly, you can click on this link to get your name on the Canadian Marketing Association's "Do Not Contact" list.  Kinda like the "Do Not Call" list.  I went to the link and it took me about 30 seconds to fill out.

I've never eaten at Ocean Park Pizza in spite of the umpteen ads I've received from them over them over the years, so I don't think I'm going to miss their glossy flyer one bit!

I'm looking forward to seeing if this actually works....and looking forward to moving papers from point A to B to C to D....

Daily Declutter #2 - The Sock Box

Today's daily declutter is another fast and simple one. Dump out your sock drawer AND your sock box - c'mon, I know you all have one.  It's the box or drawer with all the lonely, single, socks, that have long ago lost their mate to the dryer zone.

Toss out those socks with holes.  Or if you are in need of some rags, my sister cuts old socks open and uses them for cleaning cloths.  I happen to have a ton of old rags, so I just tossed mine.  Then toss out those socks whose mates have been missing for over a month.  Admit it - their partner is never coming back.

Then divide your socks into 3 piles:
Sport Socks - socks you use for working out, running etc.
Winter Socks - fuzzy!  fuzzy!  fuzzy!
Dress Socks - thin socks you can wear under a dress boot

Now start thinning out some more!  If you work out 5 times a week, then 7-9 workout socks should be plenty. Do you live in a cold climate & wear warm, fuzzy, or wool socks in the winter?  Then one for every day of the week should be fine, plus a couple extra.  How may times per week do you honestly wear your high heeled dress boots?  Then keep a that many pairs plus a couple extra.

My big feat (ha!) was tossing out all those toe socks that were popular some years back.  I received quite a few as gifts, but I never got the hang of wearing them - my toes just didn't want to stay corralled, I guess.  I got rid of 5 pairs and no, I don't feel an ounce of guilt about it.
Yep, had a pair just like these.  Buh-bye.

I love my stripey, fuzzy, non-toed socks and gladly wear them all winter long.  If you're into a more basic, pared down wardrobe, a minimalist tip is to buy the same style and colour all the time - you never have to waste time sorting and matching!  I actually do this for my husband for the most part, since he loves grey, wool socks.

Whew - that's a lot of sock talk, but you'll be glad to declutter that drawer and be able to close it once again.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

If It's White - It Ain't Right

Tonight, we had the most amazing dinner.  Baked Garlic & Lemon Basa Fish, Steamed Broccoli with a little butter, and Brown Rice with Cranberries and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds.  I'm sure it helped that the girls had just gotten home from swimming lessons, but this was a dinner that was gobbled down quickly by all.  I kept saying, "I'm sorry, this sounds really self serving, but I just made the BEST supper!"

Brown rice is something that our family switched over to about a year ago.  We've been eating whole wheat bread for our entire marriage, so our kids are used to that.  Then, thanks to my friend Andrea Lewis who is an amazing and health conscious cook, I started buying whole wheat flour to do all my baking.  Then, I finally made the switch to brown rice, and I'll never go back.  As the saying goes, "If it's white, it ain't right."  It didn't take our family long to get used to the new taste.

Who says our rice has to be so heavily polished till it turns white?  Brown is beautiful!

Brown rice is the same as white rice, but  it hasn't had it's outer bran layers polished off. It is higher in fiber, has a sweet, nutty flavor, and offers more overall health benefits. The only downside is that it takes longer to cook, so you just have to plan your meal ahead with it.  The extra cost isn't much of a downside, because as with all things "brown vs. white" you don't need to eat as much to feel satisfied, and you stay fuller longer.

Next time rice is on your shopping list, if you haven't already, why not try grabbing a bag of brown?  Sometimes it's just our shopping habits that need a change.

I didn't use a recipe for anything I made tonight, but here's my best shot at the rice dish.

Brown Rice With Cranberries & Pumpkin Seeds
Place 1 cup brown rice & two cups water in saucepan to boil.
Stir when reached boil, cover with tight lid, turn heat to low, and simmer about one hour.
When desired tenderness is reached, stir in half a cup of cranberries.
Serve with a handful of toasted pumpkin seeds.


Daily Declutter #1 - Starting at the Bottom

For the last two weeks I have been on a decluttering, thinning out, rampage.  Too much "stuff" in general stresses me out, and I get a weary feeling just looking at a junk drawer!
There's a bunch of really crazy, yet inspiring minimalist blogs out there that I took a peek through to help motivate me in my mission. Check 'em out, but remember, it's just a link, not an endorsement.
100 Thing Challenge
Rowdy Kittens - Social Change Through Simple Living
Be More With Less

OK - now back to the suburban life.  I'm going to daily post a declutter challenge - some may take 15 minutes, some may take an hour - but if you tackle one a day it you will make progress, I promise!

DAILY DECLUTTER #1 - Starting at the Bottom
Let's start with first things first - what's the first thing you put on when you get dressed.?  Yep, you guessed it...underwear.  If this doesn't apply to you, then you are probably not a suburban mom, and would be more at home reading a (cough) "natural living" blog.

Anyway, the Daily Declutter Mission is simple.  Go to your underwear drawer & dump it out onto your bed. Toss out all those ripped & awful unmentionables.  Toss the ones that don't fit.  Toss the ones that aren't comfy and you never wear.  Then think to yourself, "How many pairs do I really need?"  If you're like me, and you wash them at least once a week, then I would say 10-12 is a reasonable amount.  Just make sure you have enough for every day plus a few extras.  You probably have your faves that you always wear anyway and you won't miss the ones that you tossed, one bit.  Then stand back and marvel at your uncluttered, lovely drawer.

If you have socks in this drawer as well, don't worry - we'll do those tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Have You Squashed Your Spaghetti Lately?

Spaghetti is one of a mom's best friends.  It ranks right up there with the banana as one of the easiest, most like-able foods by the pickiest of kids.  And you can hide stuff in it.  Very sneakily.  Stuff like veggies.  (Shhhhhhh!)  For a long time I have added all sorts of things to my basic tomato sauce like finely grated carrots, zucchini, peppers, and even purred pumpkin.  Throw in a lot of garlic, and they'll never know.  My kids have gotten so used to my amped up sauce that I don't need to grate the veggies so fine.

But here's a way to kick up the veggie quotient a notch.  Spaghetti squash!

Nothing "Ewwwww...squash!" looking about that, now, is there?

I won't post my recipe, (since I don't follow one!), but the lovely Simple Daily Recipes will show how to cook the squash.  It's as easy as boiling a pot of noodles.  I promise.  So next time you have spaghetti noodles on your grocery list, why not pass on the pasta & head for the produce section!  Let me know what your family thinks.

P.S.  We enjoyed the seeds roasted with a bit of olive oil & sea salt for a snack later in the evening.
Don't waste those awesome seeds!  I didn't follow a recipe, but you can look at this one here if you like.

Home Made Protein/Energy Bars

Last night I made a super, easy "from scratch" recipe.  A friend recommended Tone It Up's Homemade Protein Bars to me, so I thought in my quest for "box-less" shopping I'd give it a go!
Chewy & delicious - but not low-cal!

I had my 4 yr old & 10 yr old help me and it was quick and simple.  You do have to use a saucepan on the stove, so make sure little fingers don't get too close!  Everyone in the family likes them, but I do find them a little heavy on the honey.  I don't have the same sweet tooth that my kids do though!  I doubled the recipe and I also substituted protein powder (didn't have any on hand) with just some powdered milk.

Here's the recipe I ended up with my changes!

High Protein Peanut Butter Apricot Energy Bars
2 cups Creamy Peanut Butter
2 cups Honey (next time I'd try 1 & 1/4)
2 cups Old Fashioned Oatmeal
2 cups Diced Apricots
2 cups Sliced Almonds
1 & 1/2 cups Powdered Milk

1) In medium size pot, heat Honey & Peanut Butter on stove on medium heat until texture is runny.
2) Mix in Apricots, Nuts, Oatmeal, & Protein Powder
3) Stir until all ingredients are well coated
4) Grease a 9×13 pan with fat free non-stick spray.
5) Press in ingredients evenly
6) Cool in fridge for at least 45 minutes
7) Slice & wrap individual bars in plastic wrap.
8) Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

One Small Change or "Switch" at a Time!

I was raised to turn off the lights.  My dad would get downright irate if we left the lights on when we left a room.
But I'm sad to say, through my adult life and in my own home I am a terrible light-leaver-on-er.  I like a bright house, and with our rainy days of winter on the west coast, I'll often turn all of them on in the morning and leave it that way all day!

Today I'm breaking that habit.  I'm turning the lights off.  Only turning them on if I'm going to be in that room for a while.  And you know what?  Since I spend most of my daytime hours in the kitchen, I haven't noticed that the other rooms are dimmer.  With the stark reality that 11% of our monthly energy bill comes from lighting your home I'm hoping that the simple "flick of a switch" will make a difference!

Just making a small change, or "switch" at a time!

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Hundred Pounds Lighter!

Nope, it's not me.  It's my house that's 100 pounds lighter.  If it was me I'd be like Nicole Ritchie in her scary skinny days.  But you know what?  I DO feel lighter.  I was so happy to pick clothes out this morning and it was a simple act, not rummaging and rummaging for the item I was looking for.

I won't go into endless detail over every item I have decluttered from my home like some minimalist blogs do, but I will say that I took drawers, emptied their entire contents on the bed (you HAVE to deal with them that way!), and got rid of stuff that:
1.  I never used.
2.  Didn't fit.
3.  Didn't love or find useful (not might think one day might be useful.)

As my wise sister once said, "I'm almost 40.  If I don't think I look fabulous in it, why would I wear it?"

I also went through many other drawers in the house, but of course, I still have a ways to go.  One minimalist blog tip said that it can take up to a year or two to get to where you want to had a lifetime to collect all your stuff, so understand that it may take some time.

Of course I have to make sure not to ignore my beautiful daughters in my decluttering drive.  I  even included them as we went through toys, and I LOVED hearing my four year old say, "No, I don't want it.  Get rid of it." Music to this momma's ears!

Only nice stuff was donated.  If it was YUCK, it was TRASHED.

So, four big garbage bags and a trip to the Sally Anne later, we're a hundred pounds of "stuff" lighter!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

New Year Urge

Does anyone else get that urge?  You get sick of looking at the Christmas ornaments cluttering up your space and you want things clean and clear?

 I do.  I've been thinning out my Christmas decor quite a bit the last few years and this year I did even more.  I only kept pieces that I found beautiful or meaningful.  How many Christmas mugs do I need?  A more pure minimalist would say none and I have to agree.  I don't NEED any.

Is Christmas really better when you can drink hot cocoa out of a tacky mug?

But I kept three.  One for each of my daughter's to drink their hot chocolate out of.  They really like the scarf mug!  But I'm sending four to the second hand store....that's a minimalist start, right?

I do find it interesting that Christmas becomes a time of crazy stress for most families, when it's supposed to be a time of celebration.  Is part of the stress all the expectations we put on ourselves?  Get those lights up!  Make the house look like Martha Stewart's!  Buy those gifts!

The post new year's urge to purge will continue in my house.  I've got a list of rooms/cupboards to tackle and I'll be happily crossing them off this month.  Next on the list, the tea/coffee cupboard if you can believe it!

We didn't Christmas Shop at Wal-Mart this Year!

One small change that I was happy about this year is that we did not step foot into Wal-Mart or Target (our usual M.O.) for any of our Christmas shopping.  We took one evening at home, and went on a website with our kids called The Hunger Site

We were able to pick out cool, unique, fair trade, meaningful gifts, and a portion of the cost went to feeding programs around the world.  Some of the items we bought for friends and family were a little storage box (perfect for the desk) made out of recycled motherboard, a journal made by women learning a paper making business to escape the sex trade, hand-crafted tree ornaments made from recycled oil drums in Haiti, and the list goes on!

"In Haiti, where recycled steel oil drums are a valuable source of metal, the artisans of Croix des Bouquets fashion amazing works of metal art that leave no carbon footprint. 55-gallon drums dumped there have been turned into art supplies by the residents since in the 1950s. They're cut and purified with straw fires that burn out the residue. Once cleaned, the artisans use hammer and chisel to work them by hand, as the lack of electricity during the day makes power tools impossible." ~ The Hunger Site

Plus, we didn't have to brave the pre-Christmas, crazy, crowds!