Saturday, April 28, 2012

Music makes me happy

A couple weeks ago, I was so fed up with the playlist I'd been using in my car that I switched to a different one. And promptly skipped through every single track until iTunes told me I didn't have anything else in that playlist. I almost threw my phone out the window.

Then I went to switch out my music to something else and I couldn't find anything that wasn't so overplayed in my head that I could even listen to it. Sounds like it's time for some new music.

So I posted to Facebook, asking for some non-American artists to try out. I enjoy listening to super-poppy music in the car and while I'm cleaning because it gives me energy, so I was looking for something similar from other countries. Unsurprisingly, I got a lot of British artists in the responses. I also spent some time looking for Australian top 40 hits to find some of their artists.

I love Pandora for this reason. I may have only gotten a few responses, some of them even similar artists, but I could plug them into Pandora and immediately start getting a feel for their music as well as finding other new artists.

What did I find?
If you like Adele, Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry and Jewel... try Cat Power, Carly Rae Jepsen, Delta Goodrem, Chantal Kreviazuk, and Kate Nash.

If you like Jason Mraz, John Mayer, and The Fray... try Ed Sheeran, Ron Pope, Eric Hutchinson, and One Direction.

If you like Bob Dylan and Ryan Adams and the Beatles... try Paolo Nutini, Amos Lee, and Ray Lamontagne.

If you like Trance/Dance/Techno/Electronica/Industrial... Nothing new has come out in years, or Pandora only knows the same 10 songs. But you should check out Access Zero out of Arizona because they are FREAKING FANTASTIC.

And that's just the English-speaking seeds! I do enjoy me some non-English-speaking music, but as a result I don't really know the artist names because I just kind of zone out and enjoy the beat, totally forgetting to check for artist names so I can put them in as seeds and get new stuff.

What music are you enjoying lately? Anything you think people should be trying but haven't found yet?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Menu Planning: A weekly endeavor

Sure, maybe you've read elsewhere about how menu planning works, how helpful it is, how it can save you so much money because you're sticking to a list... But I can't tell you how many blog entries I've read where people basically say "This is how you do it! Just do it." Or where they skip steps in the process because they assume you know already. This is crap I had to learn myself, the hard way, and I figure if it helps one person figure out how to put together a meal plan then it's worth the time I spent telling you all about it.

In our house, we've started a habit of menu planning on Sunday afternoons/evenings. I'd like to say it takes 10 minutes, but let's be real here: It takes longer than that once you add in all the extra steps.

First I clean out the fridge. I try to make a habit of touching everything in the fridge except the stuff in the door, because the stuff in the door is either condiments that rarely go bad or beverages that get used up too quickly. So I check everything in there, see if anything has gone bad*, see what needs to be used ASAP, and just get a basic inventory.

* I'm proud of myself for growing as a person. I've stopped judging myself for having wasted food. Some of it is due to poor planning, some to impulse buying or buying out of season, and some to sudden changes in plans that are inherent with living a life of chronic illness. I do still ask myself, why did this go bad? I take it as an opportunity to reduce overspending and utilize better planning, but when it was out of my control I just be gentle with myself and let it go. See? Growing.

Then I check the ad papers. When we didn't have a newspaper coming in, I didn't bother with this. But I've since realized two things: a) most ad papers are online; and b) sometimes they give me good ideas; the same good ideas I get when I'm looking at these good deals IN the store, AFTER I've already made my meal plan, and therefore it helps to avoid impulse-buying. This also goes back to my defunct price book idea. I couldn't be bothered, apparently, to keep up with the records-keeping, but at least I can use my Good Head for Numbers and check what's available where for how much.

Make the schedule. I know that on Friday and Saturday, Mr. Moon gets off work stupid-late. Thursday isn't MUCH better, but an hour makes a difference. So, I try to make Friday or Saturday a crockpot meal (which in my case means soup) and the other one a casserole of some kind. I means it's easier to feed Mum & Pops dinner at a reasonable hour, and still have dinner together when he gets home. (Although given our eating schedule, M&P's dinner time is like my lunch time, so I end up eating with them and snacking on seconds or something else at "dinner" but that's all fine too.) Mondays and Tuesdays being his days off and Wednesday being off at a reasonable hour, one of those will be date night and the other two will be meals that are slightly more extravagant, or at least ambitious. Stuff on the grill, more cook-and-eat-right-away stuff, or things that require lots of extra prep when I have him as an extra set of hands or to carry heavy things.

But the rest of us have schedules too, and knowing when anyone is eating away from home or when Mum isn't there to help makes it easier to know what to cook and when it needs to be ready. The schedule also helps me know if there are days we should be expecting guests for dinner! Nothing like making a casserole only big enough for four and then finding out that one of Mr. Moon's brothers will be here for dinner tonight!

Make the meal plans! Now that I know What I have to cook with already, When I have to cook it, and Where I need to go to get additional specific ingredients that are a good price, I can start putting them together. That's the easy part! But it can be so overwhelming with a clean slate, so I make sure to write "Leftovers" on a day (usually Saturday or Sunday) and what days anyone will be Out for dinner. Suddenly it's not so spacious and it helps to break that writer's block. It also helps to have everyone involved. Pops doesn't care to be, and that's fine because he hasn't yet complained about our food choices. I make a point of asking him for requests, and making a point of fulfilling them since he actually has an opinion on the topic so rarely.

Mum and Mr. Moon and I sit down and make a plan, trying to keep our efforts somewhat spread out between us so that no one gets the majority of the work. It also means that if Mum or I simply can't do whatever we intended to make that day, we can either jump in to pick up each other's slack or just switch days and make something else (or a combination of the two, picking slack by switching days). This seems to be the majority of the cause of food that goes bad before we get to it.

Right now our goal has been to use up stuff that's in the freezers, as we have already thrown away so much that was freezer burned to the point of being inedible. It also makes room for things such as batches of chili and spaghetti sauce that can be labor intensive and easier to make larger batches than small. So one of the first things we try to do is use up what's in the fridge that's going bad, and get through some of the stockpiled meats and frozen dinners.

Figure out what's missing. Anything that we don't have already that is necessary to make the menu gets put on the list. I admit freely that this step occasionally takes us back to meal planning if we discover that a key ingredient that needs to be purchased is going to be out of our budget that week or that the list has just gotten long. Fortunately, we have lots of frozen meals to fall back on right now, so when that happens we try to pick from the freezer and back stock a bit more. I assume that if the list has gotten fairly long, it's either because there are a lot of staples on sale for stocking up, or because we're not focusing on using up our back stock enough. I've also been trying to make sure that any staples that go on the list get checked for back stock. Just because we emptied a bottle of olive oil this week doesn't mean we need to buy more!

Pick your store[s]. When we had Grocery Outlet available to us, we would shop there first. They generally had good deals except for produce, and remarkably had a lot of high-quality foods! Lots of organic processed foods, a bunch of grass-fed free-range beef, and at least the kitchenwares aisle was fun. Down here it's Winco, since G.O. is so far away. Winco doesn't even have an ad paper, so in order to see what deals they have today you just have to go in. They have some organic processed foods, but the big draw is their bulk section. I can buy organic whole wheat pasta for 78 cents per pound as opposed to the $2/lb regular price or $1.25 on sale at Safeway. Score! And since we're trying to limit our processed convenience foods, it doesn't matter that their selection of the organic stuff is smaller. It just makes me cook from scratch more.

By now I have a master list with what's on sale where, and I can buy similar items for the same or better pricing than the other stores on the list if I find it at Winco (or somewhere else we stop). It means that even if we still HAVE to stop at that other store, it's a lot faster of a trip there. Last time we had to go to 4 stores, we were done in 90 minutes. Mum was impressed, and I was happy not to have to go shopping again for a week! But this week we only had to stop at the produce store, because the list was all produce that was on sale there. No additional stops needed. Even if there was one thing we needed from somewhere else, we could look at that list and ask whether that was worth an extra stop. When it comes down to just being a half gallon of milk that's on sale for only 25 cents cheaper than where you are now, well, not worth it just because it's on sale.

Do you plan your meals in advance? Want to do a guest entry about monthly cooking, and how you plan meals for that? Or are you more a member of the "Dinner is in an hour, what should we make today?" camp?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Allergies are NOT the bee's knees

Do you have allergies? I've been blessed with not just obscure food allergies (asparagus? grapes? really?) but seasonal ones. Pine trees and cottonwoods seem to be my arch nemeses, but there are some other villains in there too.

An important thing to know, that I only discovered within the last year: The technical definition of an allergy is an immune response to the protein strands. When it comes to food, a reaction anything else is an intolerance.

It totally explains why I don't have problems with aged balsamic vinegar that has had time to denature the proteins, but wine gives me hives (and trouble breathing). It also explains why some people have reactions to raw foods that are fine once cooked. Honestly though, this post wasn't supposed to be about food allergies.

I don't know if there just weren't enough of the offensive plants in Seattle to trigger my allergies, or if they didn't even grow there at all. I know there were pine trees, but I'm not sure I saw cottonwoods. In any event, the last two springs have been great for me in the allergies department! No wracking cough, no risk of pneumonia, no costochondritis, no swollen eyes. The Great Exile seems to have changed all that, and I once again sound like a patient in a tuberculosis ward.

I read in a few hippy-dippy blogs and magazines that honey helps allergies. Not just any honey, but raw, local honey that will be full of the pollens in your area that are triggering the reactions. The idea seems to be similar to vaccines, in that it introduces these substances to your body in small doses so your immune system knows how to deal with them. I'm pretty hippy-dippy myself and didn't have any proof that it DOESN'T work, so I figured it can't hurt, right? That's how I found myself down at the farmer's market last Sunday, on the search for the most localized raw honey I could find.
I picked up some honey from a bee farm about 30 miles away, and that seemed pretty cool. Then I found another source that is packaged about 30 miles away in the opposite direction, with bees all over northern Oregon and southern Washington. I was trying to decide if I should get some more when the salesperson asked if I had allergies. I just kind of had to laugh! I told him that was why I was in the market today, and he talked me through the process of using honey as a daily vaccine-type thing, telling me how much to use and how often (about 1 tablespoon per day UNCOOKED for allergy relief). Then he shows me this bag of bee pollen! They look like little yellowy-orange sprinkles, and he said to work my way up over a few days from a tiny pinch to a full teaspoon per day, sprinkled onto my breakfast or spun into a smoothie. As he put it, "An entire day's worth of anti-oxidants and vitamins, plus a big morning energy boost that will rival a cup of coffee."

I don't know about all that, but he did say it would work just as well if not possibly better at inoculating me against these damn pollen allergies. So I plunked down $5 for a small bag and figured I'd give it a shot. These sprinkles taste like grassy honey, though less sweet, but definitely delicious! I've put them into a smoothie, on top of peanut butter toast, and on top of pancakes. Big winner. I think the peanut butter toast & bee pollen was my favorite combination.

Three days in, I don't know if it's working. I forgot my Zyrtec last night anyway, and I actually felt pretty good today! At least the attempt is delicious.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Homesteading: Life organization

All my life, I have struggled with planners, calendars, hand-held organization devices, computers, smartphones... All in the name of Getting Organized. It usually lasts about 3 months.

Part of the struggle of course is that I will start a system and then circumstances will change. When I was scheduled so tightly that I needed to remind myself when to eat and sleep, a planner with multiple lines for every 15 minutes of the day was essential, but sharing it in that kind of detail with others wasn't as critical. When organizing a household of computer-users who had smartphone access, Google Calendar worked wonders.

The hardest thing for me to learn is that no system will ever do everything I want it to. I have to pick what's most important to me. Is it having everyone on the same page instantly? Is it having information synced to multiple locations without me re-writing things? Does it need to be color-coded? How far out do I need to be able to see? How much do I care about scribbling over stuff while making changes? Or is it perhaps more important that it is highly visible, if stationary? Are timed reminders necessary?

For us, right now, the most important things seemed to be: Highly visible, easily accessible to everyone in the household, color coded, and someplace where the schedule and the dinner plan are in the same place. While I need to be able to keep track of my own schedule farther out, the main purpose was communicating between everyone in the household what our week looks like, so we weren't being asked to do big urgent tasks when we're about to talk out the door for something or had a different project in mind. Also it was important to have someplace to record our project list, where Mum and Pops could write things down as they thought of them.

Enter: The white board.

Features include:
* Color coding: Each person has their own color, and Mr. Moon and I have a color that is both of us together since we have so much joint effort going on. The color coding legend can be found at the top of the Schedule section.

* Wet Vs. Dry Erase: All the lines, labels, days of the week are in wet erase marker. Still removable, but they stay in place without having to be super careful about erasing each week. I just wipe over it with a dry cloth, and my template is once again clear for entering this week's data.

* Shopping list: This is mostly for groceries, but some additional items (like eye bolts for the garden or better storage for cooking utensils) have made it on there. This is NOT a wish list! This is a list of things we need within the next week or so.

* Projects: This is our running list of projects that need to be scheduled. So far we have used up all the space in the section with a list, accomplished and erased about 3/4 of the things, filled it up again, and gotten it half cleared again. This is NOT the pace to be looking at a lot of things crossed and checked off to feel accomplished! Only forward-thinking allowed.

* Routine: In trying to get ourselves into a daily cleaning routine, we put a small list in the corner in wet erase marker for longevity, broken down into three times of the day (Morning, At Some Point, Evening). The key here was SMALL. Nothing is a huge project, and all of them together is only about half an hour of the day--including the ten-minute tidy! Yeah, we haven't stuck to it, but it's a good reminder of the goal we're working toward, and it has definitely helped us remember to do each of these things at least every couple days.

* Schedule: This was important for the aforementioned necessity of not getting gang-pressed into doing things when there are other plans (like being asked to make dinner as we are LITERALLY walking out the door for a 3 hour drive). It felt a little passive-aggressive at first, but when I really sat down to think about it I realized that indeed, the only reason these requests were unreasonable was because we had other things to do, and the only reason they were being made was because we had not communicated those other things. They are so used to being able to decide they want to do something and go do it RIGHTNOW that they had to adjust to our system of planning things ahead of time because we don't have the option of just doing anything whenever we want. Rather than getting huffy and "discussing a problem," we simply addressed the underlying issue--lack of communication--and the symptom resolved itself. The 'Rents have a way of letting us know as soon as they think of them what projects they need us to do, and we can negotiate the timing of them from there.

* Dinner plans: Here, in such a small place, we can communicate who is eating what and who is cooking it. We sit down every Sunday evening to discuss the week's plans, go over what is in the fridge that needs to be used, and make a general plan. The important thing for me is that we have what I call "Oh Shit" dinners in the freezer. Oh Shit I forgot to make the crockpot soup and it's already 11pm. Oh Shit I felt like crap today and the intense meal I'd planned is NOT going to happen. Oh Shit the main ingredient of this meal rotted and is now unusable. Mostly this involves storing pieces of meat in reasonable serving sizes, and having frozen veggies around.

* To-Do List: This is a general outline of our plans. I didn't really have a "system" for how to decide what to do, but what I've found us doing is this: We pick one bigger project that we want to accomplish this week. In this picture it's our bedroom, and specifically that meant putting away the giant box of clothes. Anything that needs to get done on a certain day (like mowing the lawn due to weather forecast) gets written there, then the rest of the time gets filled with working on the pet project. Mostly, it's so that if we end up with spare time in a day we can look at this to know what to work on instead of just wasting time surfing the 'Net; and so that we can schedule our week"ends." The best part? It's really difficult to over-schedule the to-do list this way! If I write small enough, I can only fit about 6 things on there. But really it's closer to 4. So, nothing overwhelming.

We've been doing this for about 3 weeks now and it has been fantastic! No more surprise!Urgent tasks, and the grocery budget has dropped a bit because we can make a dinner plan BEFORE we go shopping and not just buy what looks good.

I still have my own paper planner for long-term scheduling, and this system is actually reminding me to check it more often because I have to check it when we make the white board for the week. Somehow, the computer systems just never appealed to me as much as writing things down by hand.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Manly Man is Manly: Mr. Moon's treacherous war with nature

Mum planted butterfly bushes along one side of the house, but they haven't been properly maintained and pruned for about 4 years. Having joint surgery will do that to you. Well, these bushes got a little... out of control. One was so weighed down that it's pointing completely away from the house, and needs to be removed. All of them were overhanging the fence and at least 2-3 feet into the neighbors' yard. As kind and understanding as they have been, I know the president of the housing association would have liked for her neighbors to be taking care of their yard a bit better. They've very politely expressed how excited they are that we have moved in to help out, and how they don't envy us this job of cutting back the bushes. Hint received.

As you can imagine, with a gate that won't even open due to tree roots pushing up the path stones, we have some work cut out for us.

Well, after much stalling and tending to more urgent matters, it became evident how urgent the pruning was. We realized that the rose bushes along the back wall had grown INTO the eves of the house, and the butterfly bushes were growing into the siding. Time to devote a nice sunny, if cool, day to some heavy lifting.

What we found was another rose bush that Mum had forgotten was even there, which had grown into the siding as well. 3 hours of clipping later, Mr. Moon wrecked havoc on those branches and created a path of devastation in his wake.

Of course it wasn't until after this was all down that we considered how we expected to dispose of these branches, as there is too much to go into the compost pile. Still not sure how we're going to take care of that, but it looks like another day with some pruning shears and a few yard waste bags. I am SO glad that is not my job!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Garden Report: Edibles finally got planted!

For before pictures, click Here (beds) and Here (pots).

The pot with garlic, oregano and leeks that got dismantled and everything transplanted. See also, Mr. Moon's hand! He's been so kind in reminding me to get "before" pictures when we get started on projects.

Look at those roots! That's the root system for the SMALLER of the two huge oregano bushes that we pulled out after I harvested as much as I could off them.

It took 6 hours of work for each of us including lunch and clean-up, but we got the veggie garden about 80% done in one day. Two raised beds and 8 pots later, let's see what we've got:

Bed 1, back to front: Leeks, Garlic*, cauliflower.
Bed 2, Sugar snap peas in the back corners, with a row of Nasturtium seeds between; mustard green seeds down the middle; broccoli along the front with a lonely soy bean plant in the corner.
Pots, left to right: 1) three kinds of oregano; golden, italian, and greek; 2) cilantro and dill; 3) rosemary; 4) Sage seeds in the two rows marked with yarn, pineapple sage, parsley; 5) lemon thyme, english thyme, marjoram; 6) chives; 7) french lavender, barely pictured; 8) between the beds, a lonely onion.

*Garlic is in experimentation stage! One big bunch in the middle is what was planted 4-6 years ago and has been let to run rampant. Along the left of it is the giant clump of indeterminate age from the container above, broken up into three smaller clumps. From these we will see if we can harvest any usable garlic heads, but are considering them only useful for their scapes this year. Then along to the right of that huge clump are the two plant starts we bought this year, which should be a more reliable harvest. Although I'll have to do some research on when & how to harvest, and how to save something for growing next year.

Then a few days ago we attacked the back yard again, and while Mr. Moon pruned bushes (for a different post), I started in on the hanging veggies.

From left to right: 1) [unpictured] strawberries, hanging on the corner of the house; 2) Big Boy tomatoes; 3) Slicing tomatoes; 4) cherry tomatoes; 5) bell peppers, in red, orange and green varieties**; this is also where the purple tomatoes will go when they grow big enough from their seeds to be transplanted.

** When putting the orange bell pepper plant through its hole, the top half with the leaves broke clean off! It still had a couple leaves off the bottom left, so I kept it, and planted the top stalk into another of the holes. It was a little wilty, and still is, but wilty in a "I'm working on living" sort of way, like the leaves themselves felt strong even yesterday! So I have hope. I probably should have tried rooting it in water before putting it in dirt though... mostly I'm curious.

I also built a lattice with a dowel and a butterfly bush branch and some twine, for the nasturtiums to climb. I'm hoping I didn't make a huge mistake and end up just making shade over my veggies! Live and learn, right?

How are your gardens growing? Any great leaps in productivity yet? Anything you're afraid isn't going to turn out?

Fairy Door!

In our neighborhood, there is a little fairy door I drive past every day (usually a few times). It's right at the base of someone's driveway, and the flowers have filled in and bloomed over the last few days so I finally got down there to take a picture of it. My Dad built my mom a fairy door, and he is just tickled by them, so every time I see this one it makes me think of him.

We got down there and realized that beyond just a fairy door and a few flowers, there are also these two ADORABLE tree gnomes! You can only see one here, but it looks like he is supposed to be climbing down a rope held by the top gnome, so they can abscond with a few fairy mushrooms. Problem is, the rope itself has frayed and broken in the wind, so now it looks like the rope broke in the middle of his buddy rescuing him from the fairies and he's falling back down! Too funny.

Little things like this make me smile. Oh, did I tell you we named our garden gnome? His name is Mr. Mustard. Because he's guarding the mustard greens in his mustard-colored shirt. Now I just need a little fairy door for MY garden!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

To-Do list

On Facebook, someone asked me what we're working on, since I was saying my to-do list has gotten so big but we've made a huge dent in it. I'll try to go back and include/scratch off what we've finished so far.
I recommend enlarging the font on this page, otherwise the strike-through makes it impossible to read what's been done. To do this, hold CTRL or CMD and tap the + sign until it's readable.

This is what's been done since the beginning of June! I also moved all the pending projects to the bottoms of their sections, for easier visibility.

* Dig out veggie beds/containers and prep for planting.
* Plant veggies and herbs in beds and containers, including hanging planters.
* Install lattice for nasturtiums.
* Plant fuchsias.* Dig out/replant geraniums from front container bed.
* Replant front container bed.
* Buy/Plant Heather & some sort of bush (we picked azaleas) for garage yard.
* Plant lilac bush.
* Prune butterfly bushes.
* Prune rose bushes at back of house.
* Remove 6 rose bushes under fir tree.
* Remove butterfly bush.
* Remove neighbor's overgrowth of bush and tree sprout.
* Remove blackberries.
* Plant Clematises, install new latices.

* Hang eye bolts on hanging planter rail for veggies and fuchsia plants.
* Remove/Transplant crap-apple trees.
* Remove volunteer fir tree along back fence.
* Remove Big-Ass Bush.
* Transplant rhododendron.
* Plant Fuji apple tree (WHERE??)
* Replace dead Heather plant.
* Make new rose bed by front bushes.
* Split/Transplant lilies, irises, and Those Weird Blue Things.
* Plant a Fall Harvest Garden.
* Build double compost bin from reclaimed wood. Paint?
* Build 4-8 more raised beds for edibles gardening.

Outside of house:
* Install new shed doors.
* Buy new patio umbrella. Drill hole for it in green table.
* Organize shed.
* Replace roofing (yeah, we're hiring someone for that).

* Power wash: Siding, windows, concrete.
* Repaint wheelchair ramp and container bed by front door.
* Clean out gutters.

* Sort through OUR belongings to unpack, go to storage for long-term, or stay put/go to storage until setting up the rec room.
* Finish unpacking short-term storage and get long-term storage stuff moved into a smaller unit.

* Sort through entire garage of tools and household belongings, matching like-items with like-items.
* Sort through boxes to determine what gets tossed, donated, or stored.
* Put garage back together.
* Set up Garage as Lounge area.
* Move to a yet-smaller storage unit, or possibly even eliminate off-site storage entirely.

Inside the house:
* Set-up and install white-board system for menu planning and project tracking.
* Sort through Mum & Pops' pantry, disposing of expired food and reorganize.
* Unpack & organize our pantry goods.
* Re-arrange kitchen, donate some supplies, and unpack kitchen stuff.
* Install hanging baskets (for potatoes, onions, etc.) (Half done, but one broke and needs repair.)* Clear off and remove kitchen table.
* Build and move in new kitchen rolling island. Buy cutting board for island.
* Buy more hanger-extenders and put Mr. Moon's t-shirts on them.
* Move old glass shower doors from master bathroom, and firebomb the thing.
* Install shelves & towel bars in hallway bathroom; unpack belongings (just first aid supplies left).
* Unpack & set up music system in bedroom.
* Unpack office/desk & arrange.
* Steam clean carpets.
* Install mail/key rack by front door.
* Install robe hooks in bedroom.
* Unpack clothing.
* Reorganize linen closets.
* Get washtub empty and usable again.
* Install closet rod in hall closet.
* Re-arrange kitchen/living room so Mom's yarn is next to her chair. 

Living Room:
* Dye/Replace curtains.

Dining Room/Hallway:
* Clean & reorganize buffet cabinet.
* Clean & reorganize china cabinet.
* Scrub hardwood floor & re-seal.

* Build and install pot rack.
* Reorganize pots & pans drawers.
* Remove chandelier from kitchen nook and replace with ceiling dome.
* Sort through Mum & Pops' food to filter out some of the stuff that just Needs To Go Away Because It's Not Real Food (like "blueberry" muffin mix with blue corn syrup sprinkles, and things of that sort).

* Put in some sort of shelving in bedroom closet to hang over laundry sorter.
* Set up TV.
* Pick up Mr. Moon's computer from Seattle, when it's done.
* Unpack books.
* Buy a freaking DVR. 

Laundry Room:  
* Sort cleaning supplies & store properly.
* Move toilet paper and paper towels in from garage.

* Scrub down and re-organize.
* Set up Mom's computer.

Homesteading/Life stuff:
* Sew some more cleaning cloths from old sheets/clothes.
* Sell/donate/put on consignment some old clothes.
* Get Mr. Moon's bike repaired, so we can save on gas driving him to/from work.

Long-term future projects/The Five Year Plan:
* Make a greenhouse for outdoor winter gardening.
* Install grow-light system for "indoor" winter herb garden in garage.
* Repair and re-paint walls in entire house.
* Possibly build up back fence bed into a raised bed.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Dude, Get On That Already! Bathroom Edition

One of my favorite blogs is Young House Love. Recently, Sherri & John from YHL instituted a project they call, "Dude, Get On That Already!" It's a feature of those projects that you keep meaning to get to, but just never quite do...

For us, since moving in, it was the bathroom. I got it started, and little pieces were coming together here or there but... let's just say, Musical Boxes was a regular game in that room for the last month or so. I wasn't partial to the Americana decor Mum had in there, but I would have been alright if it had stayed. However, in order to help us feel more at home and welcomed, Mum insisted I make it my own. So I did!

Once upon a time I had a Celestial themed bathroom and loved it, but I never really completed it. Still, when I needed a new shower curtain last year and found a Celestial one at Value Village, I couldn't pass it up! Same with this Sun basket. I had no idea how we would use it, but I knew it would look great. And hey, do you see that small shelf unit? A CD rack from Mum's office that we inherited upon moving in.

Doesn't that look so much more organized? Everything has a home, the frequently-used items are within reach but contained, and there's clear counter space available, easy to clean up regularly. Mum made me a Sun & Moon mat to go in the corner of the vanity, to replace the one she had there that was going in her room. That white basket holds his shavers, so that they can be plugged in and charging without being strewn across the countertop and tangled into things.

The left cupboard still had a box of first aid supplies in it that needed to be re-organized when I took this picture. So, 90% completed project, but done enough for the day. This side has a little wire shelf that appeared at our apartment one day, probably from a trash pile, knowing me. I kept trying to find a home for it here, and when the thing I wanted in this cupboard didn't quite fit, I had a stroke of genius that this would be perfect and it was. I organized my and Mr. Moon's stuff into baskets, with some less-often-used things tucked away in the back.

A preview of the other half of the bathroom so you can see the layout, but we will get to details shortly. I love how we were able to take this big wall on the right and make it useful, without getting anything into the walkway. The shower caddy is hanging over an existing shelf in the shower, so it doesn't jut into the actual tub-shower space at all. We had to put a hook into the wall, and Mum was a little scandalized and a little proud that I had no hesitation about using the power drill without Mr. Moon's help. This picture also shows my least favorite part of this set-up: The laundry basket that has to be moved every time we take a shower. However, I'll take that over a pile of laundry on the floor for sore legs to trip over, and I know I won't win the fight of getting the laundry back into our room right away for the laundry sorter, so this is my compromise. What you DON'T see here is a nasty, plastic white shower curtain liner. My friend Grace tested the idea of just using a fabric curtain without a liner, and discovered that the surface tension works just fine, plus the fabric dries much easier. This curtain may be nylon, but it dries much faster than my old plastic one did, and I can take it down to wash it in the machine. Plus, it lets a LOT more light into the shower, so I can see what I'm doing in there!

The shelves are 15-inches deep, so we placed them high enough over the back of the toilet that even the tallest of Mr. Moon's brothers shouldn't have a problem sitting underneath, and the best part about them? Practically free. The wood for the shelves was a Freecycle score of old cabinet doors. I put the "pretty" side underneath where you will see it, and the back is mostly flat which works much better as a shelf than the front would have. We did pick up the shelf brackets, but at $1.50 each it wasn't really breaking the bank. Mum had this basket full of fancy soaps and lotions for guests tucked away under the sink. I decided to set it out, but I didn't want it taking up precious counter space so I put it on that bottom shelf. One day I might even arrange the stuff inside the basket a little more nicely.

* Tip: When buying shelf brackets, check that the surface on which you will be screwing the bracket doesn't have a FREAKING RIVET! These ones are GREAT in that they have the wall-holes offset in the spot where it is difficult to get in a screw-driver, but then they had to put the rivet in backwards so that the bump makes the bracket bow on the shelf. You really want that to be flush with the surface.

Now, you may notice something about these shelves... they are technically upside down. The sturdiest way to hang this system is with the bracket underneath, so that the weight of the contents will push the screws further into the wood and wall. I have to be honest: We did it this way because I screwed up. I had put the shelves together upside down and didn't realize it until we went to hang them on the wall. We decided that we would just hang them as you see pictured, and if it appeared to be a problem then we could re-make them. That bottom shelf there felt very precariously hung, while we were scribbling for holes we must have shifted the shelf so my first hole was drilled a little off--too far off to use, but close enough that we just ended up with a bigger hole (solution: I put in a drywall anchor to fill in the gap). At least it's into a stud. We put the shelf on top a little further down than originally intended to discourage putting too much weight on the lower shelf, and it ended up being perfect because I can reach the top basket with no problem. But even putting some jiggle attempts on it didn't move it and everything on them is light so we think we're OK for now. Still, if they fall down on someone while they're on the pot, I accept responsibility. I just hope it will hold my Shower Beer!

That basket on the back of the toilet is perfect for our stacks of washcloths. Since we got rid of the plastic "loofahs" and weren't enjoying the real-loofah options, we switched to washcloths that get used once and then put in the wash. My face and body stopped breaking out almost immediately! Best placement since if we get into the shower and realize we forgot fresh ones, they're within reach.

My favorite part is this towel bar wall. The towel bar was behind the toilet, and it made hanging up bath towels a pain. We wanted it on this other wall, and there was a spare (shorter) towel bar sitting around so we put that in too. When checking for placement, I decided we could put something on the hook on which the picture had been hanging and make a centered, tiered effect. I love the effect, and the wall hanging Mum made me to go there that coordinates with my theme and the other cross-stitch mat on the counter.

All in all, I'm super pleased with how it all came out. There's really no wasted space, everything seems to have a home, but it doesn't feel crowded while you're in there.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Flower gardening

I am not a flower person. I used to have a flower bed as a kid that I shared with my brother, and then we split that as well as the long bed that spanned the front of our house. My brother had a tendency to just pick things and put them in sort of haphazardly, but I would very carefully check to see how far apart each flower needed to be planted, how far it would spread, how much sunlight it needed and how tall it would grow. When I had two squares diagonal from each other to do, each of my squares would be completely covered in plant-life that was colorful with contrast, balance, symmetry, and cascaded down from the tallest plant in the middle to shortest in the corners. Why no one realized with this project that I had OCD, I'm not sure. But not knowing anything was wrong with it, the resulting order brought me peace. Even if I did occasionally throw dirt at my brother because his half of our shared garden was messy.

As an adult with chronic fatigue and anxiety (which is an exhausting issue in itself), I find that I have to be very selective about which things I let myself to worry. As a result, I've chosen to garden with edibles rather than things that are just pretty. However, Mr. Moon appreciates my eye for detail and aesthetic, which is how I found myself helping to plant flowers out front yesterday despite my insistence that I would have nothing to do with the flower gardens.

As you can see, the flower box by the front door was kinda hit. The dirt was desert dry, and we needed to get the flowers into the pots right away because they were just as dry. The geraniums needed pruning, and the pots were half empty.

Then suddenly, flowers! Pretty flowers, with geraniums in the back, dark pink in the end pots with something pretty and purple in the front; lighter pink in the inside pots with one medium-shade marigold on the outside corners, and we're going to pick up some sweet william plants for the other corners; then a white geranium with two dark red marigolds in the front. Mr. Moon was getting really bothered by the fact that the front purple flowers were right next to each other, and I had the brilliant idea of *gasp* moving the pot! Now everything is balanced and aesthetically pleasing, and in one day we've already gotten three compliments about how nice it looks!

I may not be terribly EXCITED about playing with flowers, but I seem to be less resistant to the idea.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

"Where does this live?" ... For now

If there are two phrases I've heard most over the last month, it's these two. One of them is a disaster in the making, the other is the number one way to organization in our home.

"Where does this live?" -- If it's in your hand, or on the counter, or on the floor, ask yourself this question. But baby steps! Pick one! I started organizing The Bachelor Pad of Mr. Moon's when I moved in by simply asking this every time I had something in my hand. Eventually, I had to pick something up off the counter or the floor, and then it would be in my hand! And then I would ask, and it would go there. If I hadn't picked it up to move it yet, then it obviously wasn't a priority yet.
* Tip: If you have something that doesn't have a home, make one that's logical for it. Some blogs will tell you to designate a basket for these things, and then find homes for them when the basket is full. Problem is, I never found a home for that basket! I seemed to do much better by simply forcing everything to find a home, and fast.

"... For now." -- This is the disaster in the making. It took me years to adopt the habit above, but this is the arch-nemesis to putting everything in its home. Mr. Moon and now the 'Rents have a bad habit of answering the above question with, "put it _____ for now." It took a few months, but Mr. Moon started to understand my approach from above and adopted it.

That sounds so civilized, but I promise you, there were a number instances of me growling in frustration and insisting that NO, I don't want to put the hammer on the bookshelf FOR NOW, I want it to live with the other tools! But after I got twice as much stuff in half the amount of space and it never took three days of cleaning in order for the house to be presentable for guests, he decided maybe he would try this "put everything in its home" as a lifestyle rather than a compromise to stop me from grumbling.

Since moving in, with the chaos of everything, I find myself occasionally uttering this phrase. When I catch myself, I try to consciously stop and talk myself through it. Why am I saying this? Where does this live? What is the barrier to putting this in its home? I'm trying very hard to remember to "put our toys away when we're finished," as it were.

Don't get me wrong though, I have struggled for a long time to be able to say "this is a project for a different day." As long as the scrubbies and cleaning supplies get back under the sink, organizing it can be a project for a different day. As long as the cleaning supplies don't have to live in the hallway until then just because the cupboard needs arranging!

Sunday, April 8, 2012


Nony over at "A Slob Comes Clean" posted about Traction, and it really struck a chord with me today.

A few months ago, I purchased her e-book, 28 days to Hope for Your Home. If you have ever looked around your home more than once and said "how did it get this way??" you need to read it, it's awesome.

With moving, we didn't have time to implement any new habits in our old place. But upon moving in, we started Day 1 right away. Here's a little hint for the contents of day 1: Do the dishes. That's it.

I didn't follow her advice to the letter, I didn't end up following it day by day, but I did reference back to the book a couple times. The biggest message I took away from her book is that to get control of a household that has imploded, you don't have to start with a clean slate and THEN make new habits. You can just "new habits" your way to a better home. LIGHTBULB!

The dishes get done every night before bed. We may have skipped a day here or there, but it hasn't been TWO days. Mr. Moon and I are assuming, for sanity's sake, that we are the only ones doing dishes. But Mum has helped tremendously to keep up with them, and if she hadn't then we would have failed. That's OK though! Everyone can pitch in!

Mr. Moon implemented a rule that he scoops the litter box every morning. He's actually been really good about it, and I'm proud of him.

But those are the only two daily habits we had to start, and they've been a fantastic start. Carpets have been vacuumed as needed and not sat too long. Bathroom has been scrubbed regularly and not gotten too cluttered for more than a day, even as we had to move a box around every time we went in there. (That box ended up back in the garage after a week of frustration.)

I think the breaking point was last week when we finally got the kitchen totally under control for the first time. It felt AMAZING to look at the great expanse of counter and know it was clean. It's also STAYED remarkably clean!

Hi, I'm Heather Jean and I'm a slob. Nony helped me start to turn that around, and I think of her often when I'm marveling over a clean countertop or a toilet bowl that hasn't been visibly dirty in at least two weeks. Sometimes it makes me want to give her a hug. Instead, I will recommend her site to you in hopes that if you need her help, her journey will change your world. One sink of dirty dishes at a time.

Gardening prep day 2: Pots

We got the beds prepped yesterday. Today was Easter dinner, and one of our friends came over to eat Lamb with us, so since he was headed near where Mr. Moon works anyway he offered to drive. I was feeling a little cooped up and wanting to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air, so I was going to take a book outside, but they're all still packed away! Then I decided I could go prep some of the dirt in the pots out there until I just didn't feel like it anymore.

This is what I had to start with! Weeds, moss, dead plants, and broken tools. Some of the pots are full of decent dirt, but a couple of them are about 50% those white rocks that get put into potting soil for drainage. It's no wonder nothing would grow in them besides moss!

I set those pots aside to mix into the dirt in Bed #2, mixed some of the pots together if they were very low on dirt, and just got all of the moss, root clumps, and old plants out. Nothing too backbreaking, just some digging around with a trowel and tapping root clumps to save the dirt before they go into the compost pile. It was pretty outside, Mum came out to help and get some sunshine, it was a nice afternoon!

This giant pile is everything we pulled from the pots. Mr. Moon will have to shovel it all into the compost pile tomorrow, because it was a bit too much for me to handle. Still, I'm rather proud of the work Mum and I accomplished today. We couldn't have been out there more than an hour, and we finished up what we thought was the last pot just as the sun went behind a big cloud and the wind took a turn for the chilly. There is actually one more pot to do, but that's just a matter of dumping the dirt into the bed to get it aerated and mixed in.

Lots of good black dirt, and I'm ready to get the plants mapped out and into place. We have an early day tomorrow, but even just committing an hour in the afternoon to mapping things out means we can start going to ground as early as Tuesday. One can only hope!


Not bad for a lazy Sunday afternoon!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Garden beds prepped!

Prepping the garden beds today took a lot less time and effort than I expected. We only had two hours to begin with. I was having an OCD attack and CRANKY!tired, so I supervised and was busy getting a Vitamin D supplement. Mr. Moon decided half an hour in that I needed to eat and he was cooking for me, so hewashed his hands and we both got some breakfast. Then back to it, digging out dead plants and weeds, aerating soil, and evaluating the dirt.

I didn't get any before pictures, and I'm sad for it because it's a very VISIBLE change! These pictures were all taken at about 11:30am, and the rear of the house faces west-ish. Here you can see the bed on the right, that used to have a couple tomato plants and some garlic, as well as a tiny bush of oregano. Everything got sacrificed to the compost pile, since there wasn't any good compost for using this year anyway. Not pictured, behind it is the shepherd's hooks with upside-down planters.

The left bed got to keep the garlic and oregano and chives it's growing for now, though we may transplant them. It had what we are presuming to be the stems of a long-dead basil plant entangled with the oregano and garlic scapes, all swirled into a nest-like pattern and taking over most of the bed. Some of the dead stems are still inside the plants, but it will have to do for now.

We got both beds aerated and a layer (well, technically two layers) of newspaper down, with a thin layer of new soil on top. The dirt underneath is DARK, rich, and promises many delightful treasures.

The mint bed in the corner is probably staying put for this year, though we may end up transplanting all or most of it to be under the rose bushes. We read somewhere that it helps keep aphids away from the roses, and it will utilize some extra space since the rose bushes don't grow so dense as to make it impossible to grow other things under them. I'm not so sure I want to fight with a rose bush every time I want a mojito though, so I'm hoping to keep a mint patch somewhere accessible, even if it's a container. Whatever happens this summer, Mr. Moon wants to make me a greenhouse of sorts in this corner, putting in a couple shelves and some sort of material that we can keep an area warm enough to keep some herbs alive without bringing them inside, and for seed starts in the spring.

Immediately to the right of the mint patch is this skinny bed along the fence. Pictured here is one half of it, up to a trellis (unpictured, sadly) that is attached a few inches from the fence. These are rose bushes that have gone wild and refuse to flower, so Mum wants them removed along with the rhododendron at the right of the picture. As you can imagine, this bed is just COVERED in pine needles. I'm sure it's been a great mulch, but I need to do some research to find out what that does to the soil, and what will be best to grow here, as she's given me permission to do what I want with it (including move the mint bed over and/or make a bigger greenhouse than the 4x4 the corner would afford us).

This is to the right of the unpictured trellis, a couple rose bushes that still flower and some bush thing that I don't know about but I presume is staying. This is a flower bed, and as I'm just not very interested in flowers I can't seem to bring myself to care much about what happens to it. Mr. Moon is, pardon the phrase, over the MOON! about growing flowers again though, so I have to make sure that I don't monopolize his efforts in the garden for my edibles.

Unpictured across the path from this last one is a bed against the house, with a couple rose bushes that need to be either removed or pruned WAY back, as they are overgrowing the path. Also two blackberry bushes that Mum wants removed, as they take over the entire patch there. I'm thinking about moving at least one of them over next to the mint patch, since it will visually balance the rose bushes a bit. Assuming it can survive the pine tree, that is. As she wants rid of it, I think I'm just going to DO it and see what becomes of it.

Isn't our gnome cute?? He's going to be our garden overseer. Believe it or not, prepping those two beds and cleaning up only took an hour and a half--we were done in 2 hours, right on target, and had breakfast in there too. I was eventually able to get in and help spread the newspaper and dirt around, and it felt nice to be a part of it rather than dictating from the sidelines.

The average last frost date here seems to be up for debate, it's between April 1 or May 14 depending on which gardener or website you ask. We're still planting things into the bed this week though, since we need to do something with the plants we bought, and if we need to throw a sheet on them every night then we will.

Sunday is a break for Easter dinner (luncheon, really), we're having ham and lamb roast with braised leeks, but I'm not sure what else to go with it. Monday and Tuesday we have a bunch of plans for Mr. Moon's days off, and hopefully between all of that we can get these plants mapped out and in the ground!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Sub-Urban Gardening

Mum and I picked up the plants for the vegetable & herb garden in the backyard today. We got a few seeds, but mostly starter plants. This year with the moving and everything we got a late start, and don't have the space or time to be dealing with seeds right now.

For the basis of this entry, let's just assume that everything is neglected and overgrown, shall we?
As it stands, we have an old mint garden in the back corner (away from everything else) that may or may not crop back up. Possible volunteers will be spearmint, chocolate mint, peppermint, and pineapple mint. But Mum hasn't tended to it for years, really since it got planted 9 years ago, so we may need to go back out to pick up some mint plants, as we would like to keep that as a mint corner. The catnip we just picked up will be going back there.

We have two raised bed planters about 3x4 feet each which are currently housing a HUGE, delicious looking oregano bush (well, three of them actually). I mean, one of these is easily twice as big as my head and the second one is half again as big. The other is only about as big of a curve as I can make with two hands, still big but relatively small. In the center of one raised bed we have garlic, with lots of scapes getting ready for harvest. Surrounding it is the two big oregano bushes, plus a HUGE dead mess of sticks that looks like it was some sort of vine at some point. And I just realized it's probably old garlic scapes from 7 years of not being harvested. Hmmm... now I wonder what that garlic is going to look like. In one corner of that bed is a small bunch of chives struggling to hold on, but Mum assures me they will fill in fairly soon. I think I'm going to transplant them into a planter, actually.

The other raised bed has the tiny oregano bush and two dead tomato plants. Next to its long side there are two shepherd's hooks with an old broom handle hung between them as a place for those hanging tomato planters that go upside down, but it's so low to the ground that it defeats the purpose. The sugar snap peas we got say they don't NEED support, but I may give them support anyway because my old sugar snap peas did much better when they had something to climb.

We have one BIG 18 inch square planter that is also full of garlic, four 12 inch squares, and eight 12 inch round hanging baskets, not all of which have hangers and two of which are those egg-carton-type material that will probably have the bottom fall out as soon as we pick them up because they've been sitting on the edge of the concrete deck for, Mum says, at least 5 years (and did I mention the Pacific Northwest is a little damp?). Still, looks like compost material to me! Other than that big one, none of these little planters have any viable plants in them, though one looks like it might be trying to grow some white border-plant flowers which we may or may not decide to keep. Also worth noting is that I have three more upside-down planters, and the long wall of the house has a 2x2 board hung at the edge of the overhang specifically for screwing in hooks for hanging planters.

That's all we have in the way of space for the vegetable garden, the rest of the current garden-space is reserved for flowers and bushes that already exist. We have permission to build more raised beds, but for this year we're going to stick with what we have, and make plans for next year over the winter.

So what are we planting in all this space?
Herbs: Greek oregano (because I didn't realize how much we had!--but I don't think we had Greek anyway), dill, three kinds of sage (pineapple, green, and striped), marjoram, two kinds of thyme (lemon and english), french lavender, rosemary, cilantro, basil, parsley, more garlic (again, didn't realize how much we had), catnip, and probably more I have forgotten.
Fruits: Strawberries and Blueberries!
Veggies: Soybeans, cucumbers (from seeds), snap peas, tomatoes (cherokee purple starting from seeds, nasturtiums (which I count as food as I'm growing for salads, also from seeds), and we need to pick up tomato plants and pepper plants.
Gnome: Somewhere, we are putting a gnome who is lying down reading a book. He was just too cute to pass up!

The Cost:
Mum bought the blueberry plants and the gnome (and a bunch of flowers for her garden out front), but the rest only cost $50! I would have spent that much on buying the same quantity of all these herbs fresh from the produce department, and they would have already been cut and one-time-use. I figure, even if I only use the equivalent of one package of fresh herbs out of these plants, I've at least broken even. Anything else is a fruit of my labor.

The Plan:
Tomorrow is sunny all day, but then it rains for at least the next 9 days. Even though that rain is usually little more than a mist, still not FUN to work in. Mr. Moon and I are going to have to get up bright and early to dig out the dead plants from the raised beds, till in some garden dirt Pops bought over the winter, cover it with a few layers of newspaper to help with weeds (I hope?), then a thin layer of dirt and a squirt down with the hose. As one of the raised beds has only one tiny oregano plant in it and we have plenty, since it is also the one with a low level of dirt in it I plan to dump the dirt from ALL the small planters and till in some fresh soil, using that bed as a giant bucket.

If we prep beds tomorrow and plant on Monday (as Sunday is busy with Easter lunch & guests), then after I take Mr. Moon to work Saturday or Sunday I can come home and spend some time with my tiny starter plants, placing them on top of their new spots and moving them around until I like their placements. I'm afraid if I try to get stuff planted tomorrow, I'll end up rushing it and not thinking things through.

I'm pretty excited for an herb and veggie garden! Definitely heavier on the herbs this year, as we expect it to be a busy year catching up on long-term household maintenance and herbs are a lot more low-maintenance. If I don't get to basil before it gets dried up, I won't feel as bad as forgetting a zucchini until it splits!

Do you have any advice for this garden you'd like to share? Advice on harvesting scapes and evaluating the viability of the garlic?

How is YOUR garden looking for this year? Tell us in the comments!
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