Oh No, Mommy’s Experimenting Again!

Yup, that’s the actual cry my children were making before lunch today.  Not the most encouraging thing to hear!

Today’s lunch was supposed to be salmon cheese melts.  Except the toddler grabbed the crescent roll tube from the fridge, managed to pop the metal top off (how?!), and got the top half of the dough dirty! And then one of the three cans of salmon tasted like cat food!  Grr.  So the salmon got experimented with, to see if I could salvage the flavor (green curry, mustard, chopped onions and garlic and cilantro, and an avocado.  It was passible, but barely), and I experimented with the dough.  I made crescent roll triangles, spread with salmon paste (I was using the food processor to save time), sprinkled with frozen grated cheese, and covered it with another dough triangle.  I sealed the edges as best as I could and baked.  It was pretty good, if I do say so myself!  Of course, after each child scarfed one down, I heard no recanting.  And they’ll complain just as loudly the next time I experiment. 😉

They loved dessert though.  And it turned out well enough I might even put it up here.  Super simple.  Almond agar-agar in small dessert cups, topped with prepared lemon pie filling.  Very pretty, and tasty!  Just the right blend of sweet and sour.

Tonight Nathan took my prepared chicken broth with sauteed veggies and added pork meatballs, made with eggs and a gluten-free (GF) breadcrumb mix.  It was awesome!  We served it over basmati rice and almost every child wanted seconds.  Except one.  Of course.  There’s always one.  LOL.

meatball soup

Meatball soup

In other news, I couldn’t resist buying more plants.  So I’m going to have to dig up the sickly azalea from the garden to make room for the carrots and parsnips.  I’m going to have to use containers for the cucumbers, butternut squash and pie pumpkins (saved from last year’s garden! Win!).  I also couldn’t resist some carnations.  Carnations have got to be the most misleading florist flower EVER.  They smell NOTHING like their garden counterpart!  A real carnation smells like a little bit of heaven, sweet and spicy and delicious.  The store bought flowers smell like a fridge!  I have to believe nobody else knows about this travesty or there would be carnations growing in every yard!

We were forced into some more spring cleaning today.  Allegedly our kitchen countertops are getting replaced by the rental agreement tomorrow.  There’s not much wrong with them but apparently they charged the last tenant for damaging them so we get new ones.  The current ones are purple!  To match the purple floor.  Not joking.  :)  So we had to find room for all of our kitchen appliances.  We have a ridiculous number of them according to my mom.  But hey, two cooks, 3 meals a day for 8 people…they’re labor-saving devices. 😉

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How my garden grows

small container garden plot
It’s done, I’ve planted all that I can fit into my garden.  And added some pretty flowers.  :)  Silver bells may not be there but we’ve got shells and pretty maids a plenty!  And toddler boy (aka Mr. Destruction) and a diggin’ dog so that’s why the fencing and containers.  I’ve done large, feed-your-family gardening and small in a box gardening.  This is where I’m at right now.  See, this area tends towards dry summer conditions, which they call a drought (ha, go to California and see what that really means!  I mean, really, in a place where it rains 9 months of the year you can’t call 3 dry-ish months a drought!).  And our interesting landlords made us sign a special provision that we wouldn’t try to use their irrigation….ya.  So every single thing in the yard must be watered by hand.  So in the fall I “rescued” the dying out of the rest of the yard (everything in this pic that is not a sprout) and planted it by the back door here.

Now I’ve filled it as much as possible with food plants.  Spinach, kale, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, sugar peas, onions, leeks, romaine lettuce, strawberries, pumpkins, and a few herbs: mint, rosemary, dill and lemon balm.  Plus some flowers to brighten it up – I wintered a few flowers in my kitchen bay but only two survived.  I hope to have lots of bushy plants to update with in a few months.

I like the idea of companion planting but don’t follow it too much beyond spreading my onions around.  What I do for weeds is plant things as close as possible to each other so they will hopefully overgrow the weeds soon.  I’m happy to report that the “mulch” on top is actually my composted chicken bedding that we carefully brought here from our last move (another rental provision was giving up our chickens, so sad, I can’t stand store bought eggs anymore!).

I love living on Vancouver Island and enjoying my spring planting a month before the rest of Canada. 😉


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Variations on a theme (Rice, that is)

I am, like everyone I suppose, a cyclical creature.  I go in surges.  Lately, I’ve been on a massive rice pudding surge.  I am just loving it!  I’ve put up my general Rich Rice Pudding recipe here but have been playing around with it too.  I’ve discovered adding in some cooked pudding mix works well, my latest attempt with that was for “Turtle” flavored rice pudding – butterscotch mix, plus homemade simple caramel and chopped pecans.  Mnnn.

Caramel Pecan Rice Pudding

This is like “Turtles” – Caramel and Pecan!

I’ve also found adding black Thai rice makes for purple rice!  This is a 1:3:1 mix of black Thai, Basmati and quinoa:

Purple Rice with Thai black rice, white basmati and quinoa

Purple Rice!

But my mainstay, that is my go-to dessert most nights, is regular rice pudding with a handful of chocolate chips thrown in when warm.  I really like mint chocolate, and find even a small handful of mint chocolate chips takes my rice pudding into decadent (dark chocolate chips work too):

Rice pudding with chocolate chips

Chocolate Chips Make a great flavor addition!

I’m just going to assume that a bowl full of rice with an egg heavy cooked custard and a few chocolate chips is better for my waistline than the equivalent of ice cream.  And it tastes just as great!

My original flavor was Rum Raisin, achieved with rum or rum flavor and raisins, with a splash of cinnamon.  Super good.  But I’m a chocolate lover primarily so most nights that’s my topping. :)

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Tropical home-sickness

While I don’t mind living in the further reaches of the Northern hemisphere, I’m a tropical girl at heart.  So when it gets bad and I long for the tropics, I find myself buying tropical fruit.  Never a cheap option, but this time of the year it’s “cheaper” than normal – these mangoes were only $1 each instead of $3 each.  I found some guavas on sale too, that smelled just lovely and reminded me so much of Maui, so I bought them and decided to make jam.  See, with our family, fruit just doesn’t last.  If I want to enjoy a flavor for more than a day, I have to can it.

That’s why my jam recipes on here are so tropical; take my Stawberry Guava jam or my Golden Banana Kiwi jam.  This time, I decided to make (regular) Guava, Mango and Banana jam although I used some juice that had golden kiwis and mangosteen in it too, and of course there’s always the apple juice. :)

Tropical guava, mango, banana jam on toast

I love mangoes, always have, always will.  It was heartening to see that I’ve passed that on to my kids at least.  As I was peeling the mangoes to put into the jam I had all the kids surrounding me waiting to suck the last goodness off the mango seeds or skins.  Mmmn.

Now I can wait a bit longer before giving in to the tropical fruit aisle at the store. :)


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House Cleaning Part 6

So we’re on Part 6, and we’re finally getting to house cleaning systems!  In Part 1 of this series on house cleaning we talked about what factors are needed for a clean house. In Part 2 we discussed how Expectations enter into the mess. In Part 3 we began to talk about what your expectations should be, dealing with bugs. Part 4 covered expectations and dirt, mess and stuff. Part 5 dealt with expectations and Ability.

It may seem silly to not get to this section until Part 6 but I think that there is so much more involved in house cleaning problems than the “how-to” of the actual cleaning process.  Most people don’t struggle overmuch in how to actually clean – a bottle of detergent soap, a rag and time usually does a good job on most issues.  But really, how “clean” your house feels has so much to do with the level of clutter and mess, how long it stays clean when you’ve cleaned, and how much effort it takes to get it clean.

There are a lot of different cleaning systems out there. As I mentioned in my previous posts, I don’t believe it really matters overmuch in which you choose.  Just stick to it.  I will be covering a few here, but if anyone is curious about what system we actually use, I decided to describe it.

First, our cleaning is both helped and hindered by the fact of six kids 11 and under in the house all day every day.  Many of the routine household tasks like loading and unloading the dishwasher are completely in the older kids’ “bailiwicks” now (I will cover kids and house cleaning chores in the next section).  Yet with so many people using the same space, even if just one of them leaves something out in each room, we rapidly have a messy house.  About four years ago, when we chose to bring the kids home for schooling, we spent the entire summer getting our house cleaning chores all sorted out.  I knew that once we actually started school, we wouldn’t have time to also train them all in a brand new system of chores.  I posted our system at the time on this blog post.

Over time we have modified the original chore charts but the basic ideas has remained the same.  When the children were very young, I used their chore chart to help me get myself scheduled.  Here is a version of that:

mommy's weekly chore chart

As you can see by the chart, I felt that I needed help remembering/scheduling the bigger chores like floors, clothes, kids’ rooms, trash and baths.  At the time I had 4 children 6 and under.

Now, with six kids we are officially a LARGE family (plus one dog).  With several still using diapers, it simply wouldn’t work to do laundry only twice a week.  I do laundry, 1-3 loads worth, every day.  The same goes for everything.  Dishes must be loaded into the dishwasher, run, unloaded, and loaded again.  Floors simply would be filthy if we didn’t sweep or vacuum every day.  And, we homeschool every day, not just a few times a week (this was our preschool schedule).

So what we do is sort all the chores into our master chore chart and begin with them right after breakfast.  When the basics are done, we begin class for the morning.  A break for lunch, some more chores, afternoon class and then done until dinner.  We reserve some chores for Saturdays, like scrubbing bathrooms.  And some chores look simple on the chart but are harder – the person on vacuuming also has to pick up everything off the floor before they can vacuum, with sibling help.  With laundry every day we have the laundry person sort into piles as it comes out of the dryer (it rains here half the year, a clothes line isn’t an option), and then everyone puts their stuff away at some point in the day.  The kids are responsible for keeping their rooms “usable” – ie, I can walk into them when needed – and they do their pickup as needed (this has been a long and hard slog).  This is an older version of our current master chore chart that stays on the fridge:

weekly chore chart for large family

Only the oldest 4 have chores on this chart

We have the bathroom chore split up by Saturdays here, so 1st Saturday of the month “J” would clean the bathroom by this schedule.

That’s about it for our current system. Also, something that isn’t obvious looking at this schedule is this: we stay home most of the time.  If we were bouncing around the place taking children to a whole bunch of activities all the time we simply wouldn’t have the time to clean.  For our sanity we limit activities to one night a week, currently.  I feel like our house never really has a chance to descend into utter chaos as long as we are basically on our game.  Of course, if the stomach flu hit or we moved again, that’s a whole new story…

As for other systems….

  • Most cleaning schedules and systems vary by one thing: whether you tackle cleaning in small chunks, or devote regular large chunks of time to it.  You must decide which system will work for you.
  • I know people who highly recommend the regular, day by day, cleaning method popularized by Fly Lady.
  • While not a cleaning system, I read Jen Hatmaker‘s book Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. I suspect Hatmaker’s book is more helpful for people who live a typical American life. I didn’t find it terribly life changing because I was already a convert to down-sizing. But it’s a good read!  And it might help get rid of some clutter that will in turn make keeping a clean house easier.
  • I have heard good things about Marie Kondo‘s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Basically, get rid of whatever doesn’t bring you joy. I am guessing she doesn’t often deal with large families full of little children. Just sayin’ – my kids would have nothing in the small-toy-that-hurts-when-you-step-on-it category if I did a Kondo clean! Ha!
  • Here is a challenge that I know has inspired at least one friend’s down-sizing: 40 Bags in 40 Days
  • And of course, the internet has 1 million and one different pages out there with house cleaning advice, schedules and help.  If you feel helpless and like your current system isn’t working, try another!

Again, I think my advice remains the same.  Figure out what you need to do, figure out how it will best work for your family to split it up, and stick to it.  And if you have kids, start training them at about age 3 to help.

More on what chores kids can and should do coming up next….

Some of the things I’ve mentioned at Amazon:

Jen Hatmaker’s: 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess

Marie Kondo’s: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

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House Cleaning Part 5

In Part 1 of this series on house cleaning we talked about what factors are needed for a clean house. In Part 2 we discussed how Expectations enter into the mess. In Part 3 we began to talk about what your expectations should be, dealing with bugs. Part 4 covered expectations and dirt, mess and stuff.  This section is dealing with expectations and Ability.

Expectations and Ability.

I’ve described in detail the kinds of cleanliness levels that should be applied throughout the house, why, and some of how to get there. But all of this assumes that the people living in the house are ABLE to do what is required. However, as a woman who has given birth to six living children, who homeschools, I know how debilitating physical health issues can be. Pregnancy utterly drains me of the will to act some times. Exhaustion can kick in for all kinds of reasons. Not to mention that chronic pain, disability (physical or mental), illness, depression and mental confusion due to stress can all affect the caregiver(s) of a house. Take this stress test (inventory) to see where you are right now. If the caregivers of a house are physically or mentally unable to keep the house going at the baseline level, something needs to change. Either some things need to be allowed to slide (without guilt!) for a time, or some external help is required. Thankfully, my husband has been either a full time student or unemployed for large parts of my last two pregnancies. This has meant that I was able to get a nap almost daily. That nap meant the difference between functioning like a slightly disabled adult or being absolutely unable to cope. Literally. I know there are mamas out there suffering through utter exhaustion, and the idea of a daily nap is enough to make you weep. Go ahead. Cry. Cry for your inability to rest. Sleep deprivation is torture! Growing a baby is not just amazing – It is hard!! And get help if your spouse can’t provide it! Even just swapping in-house babysitting with another mom is often do-able. We had a mother’s helper come after the birth of our 5th, when my husband was extremely busy and I was physically unable to keep everything going. Best $20 a week I ever spent! If there are other issues in your life that are leaving you, or your spouse, simply incapable of doing what needs to get done then cope in a healthy way by getting help. As a house cleaner, I can get an entire house clean in a few hours. The same amount of work would take a pregnant woman (me, at least, when pregnant) several days. Just get the cleaner to come! Most cleaners where we have lived have cost between $15-40/hour. But if you look at it this way – let’s say an average sized house – $80 for what would take you two to three days? It’s worth it!

Of course, in a family with children, the first place to look for help is within the family. Mothers and fathers, any child 3 and up can and should be helping. YES – it always takes longer to train them, but it is by far worth it in the long run. I’ll get into the details of that later.

Next up – systems of house cleaning!  The nitty-gritty!  Part 6!


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House Cleaning Part 4

So far in this house cleaning series, we’ve talked about what a clean house requires (Part 1), how expectations get involved (Part 2), what to expect regarding bugs and cleaning (Part 3) and now we are going to cover Dirt, Stuff and Mess.

Now let’s talk about actual Dirt.

In my opinion, dirt is fairly sterile usually, and not much more than a cosmetic concern. I vacuum or sweep my floors to keep the dirt level down, but not to “clean” it of its bugs. If I want to do that, on a hard floor, I get out my steam cleaning machine and kill everything in sight with 180F steam. Bahahahah!!! Ha. …eh. Yes, there is joy in house cleaning some times.😉

Dirt in general is not a huge concern of mine. I have nothing against dust. I’d rather be spending the extra 20 min a week bleaching down my food preparation surfaces than dusting. This obviously also depends on how dusty the air is where you live. In Southern California, in the middle of a dry, windy desert area, we could dust and three days later draw a line through it again. Even better, the house was infested with spiders (usually the harmless kind… we went on the warpath against the black widows when we moved in) so within days of cleaning the ceiling, there would be dusty strings of broken cobwebs. In a situation like this, trying to “win” would drive anyone crazy. You would literally be dusting everything in sight every day. So if you life in a windy, dusty climate then learn to “lose” gracefully – expect that there will always be some dust, somewhere, and limit your activity to times or places where it’s important to you. Don’t, for example, dust the tops of doors. We generally left the cobwebs for big clean days, or when someone might be coming over. That kind of thing.

Here in the rainforest the dust generally seems to get caught in the high humidity and settles elsewhere…the floor maybe? Not my picture frames anyways. To my mind, dusting is something that should be done in commonly used areas regularly, and around the house on a environment-dependent schedule. Once a month, once every few months, once a year – it should be flexible.

Dirt really only is noticeable on light areas. So decide within your family which areas you really care about (walls? floors? counters? cabinets?) and focus on those. If you have dirty little fingered children, you likely have a dirt line going down your walls from about 3′ on down. Same for cabinets. When our house was being shown for sale, for about two years, all I remember is _constantly_ wiping down the walls. No matter what, they would have smudges within hours of being cleaned. So if you are showing your house to prospective buyers, maybe worry about the walls. If not, let it go! I mean, not totally – I cleaned one house once where they obviously hadn’t wiped walls for several years, with lots of kids and dogs, and it was nasty – but do it on a relaxed schedule. Bathroom counters should get wiped more regularly because of their proximity to human…excretions…as should kitchen counters because of food prep, but other surfaces really only need to be wiped when they actually look dirty. Now, if someone spills juice on the wood cabinet, by all means, clean it up right away! I’m not talking about that – that’s creating a microcosm for molds to grow not to mention possibly damaging the furniture – I’m talking about regular ol’ life dirt.

So we’ve dealt with Bugs, and we’ve dealt with Dirt. What’s left? Ah yes….Stuff!

I’ve written a whole post on purging your stuff during a Spring Clean. And let’s face it, it’s far easier to keep the stuff cleaned up when there’s less of it! So if you need to purge, do that first, last and regularly!

Most of the time, and let’s admit it, almost all of the time, stuff is not a problem by itself. It generally stays where you put it. And if you have room for it, and you like it, or it’s useful, there is no reason why it shouldn’t have a place to stay put in. The real problem is people. People and Stuff.

I could probably write a book about the aggravations of people and stuff. But I don’t need to because it’d likely sound the same as your book. There are a lot of good systems out there to get people to get their stuff together. Hooks, baskets, bags, boxes, garages….several large industries would suddenly collapse if we all stopped trying to organize our stuff! Really, in my opinion, it doesn’t matter what system you use. Almost every system will work as long as the people involved in it actually USE the system. So most likely, if you have a stuff and people problem, what will solve your problem is better people training….or better self-control! Also, this is an area where we need to remember to extend grace to each other. Cuz we have ALL left something where it wasn’t supposed to be.:)

As a parent, the best thing you can do for your children is in this area is to come up with a system, train them in it from the very young years, be consistent while training them, do not allow it to become a point of intense emotion (c’mon, y’all, there’s plenty more things to give the kids as topics for their future shrink than which shelf the milk goes on in the fridge), and just assume it will be years before they are actually trained. My children KNOW, like, they KNOW, that they are supposed to take their shoes off at the front door. It is INgrained in their little heads. And yet. And yet. I still find shoes all over the house. The oldest is the worst right now! But we all persevere, and in general, shoes remain near the door…-ish.

Now, when the person and the stuff that is aggravating you is not a child of yours, you really have a limited amount of influence. If, for some random example, the person is your husband and the stuff is his socks…well. Let me just say that I have actually heard, from real lips, the reason for a divorce being “He wouldn’t pick up his socks!” I am not joking. Now, my husband and his socks are a personal issue for me. He takes them off, balls them up, and throws them at the dog. They both enjoy this little game. Maybe the dog sees it as affection? Who knows? But, generally, it ends up as socks all over the house. That he doesn’t always remember to pick up……

So, first there is talking. And when that doesn’t work, most people move to nagging. And when that doesn’t work, some move to divorce. Here’s another idea. I heard it as one of those inspiring stories as a young married. Decide that, for the sake of your marriage, you will overlook 10 absolutely irritating habits. When a sock-like issue comes up, choose it as one of the 10. The trick to a life-long happy marriage, of course the story goes, is losing track of which 10! And say to yourself, “Oh, that must be one of them” as you pick up the 100th sock.😉 Seriously, talk first. Many people honestly don’t know how irritating their sock-like habits can be to others. And we all do something that is irritating to someone. So talk first.

Lastly, let’s talk about Expectations and Mess.

To me, mess is a slightly different topic than stuff and people. No matter how minimalist you get, there will inevitably be times when your stuff is not where it is supposed to be. I’ll talk more about practical tips to get it there, but for now let’s talk about expectations.

To live together, stuff must be used. And it must be put back. How messy should your house get before it is too much? Here’s my simple metric, which thanks to this article I had to articulate to myself. Because usually it’s just a picture in my mind.:) So life is “Normal” if the level of mess is something that an energetic, able adult could clean up in 15 minutes. My living room floor was covered in toys 10 minutes ago. Then I got two minions to do a quick pick up, and voila! Clean floor. So that would qualify as “messy but not too messy” – just life being lived. If it would take an adult over about 15 minutes to clean up an area, it is too messy. Again, I’m sure I’ll be getting all kinds of people disagreeing with me on either side of this but hey! We need a baseline here!

If there are certain areas of your house that consistently get past the baseline, you need to either change your system or renew efforts to keeping it, potentially re-training other people involved.

The aim for public areas of the house to remain within our “baseline” is so the 1) the space is useful and usable, 2) the people in the home can practice hospitality by inviting others over, 3) the people in the house can enjoy their living space without feeling overwhelmed and suffocated, and 4) things are where they can easily be found.

This has just been considering what I would call “public” areas of the house. Now, bedrooms are a different story. If you are an adult, and you like your bedroom the way it is, and so does any other adult who shares it with you – fine! There has to be some areas in life we can just be ourselves! If, however, you or someone else finds your bedroom state unusable (ie, you literally cannot walk to the bed), then put some effort into doing some re-organization. The goal is making your living space useful. As for children’s rooms, there are two aspects to this. First is the need to train children to learn to value and take care of their stuff. Second is the need to allow your children a certain amount of autonomy. As they get older, parents should respect their children’s space as their own. This comes after the point where you are sure that your children have been completely trained. Parenting is such a balancing act. Here’s where we have come down on it. I must be able to walk into a room. If the floor is unusable, it’s too messy and it must get picked up. On the other hand, I don’t require my son (for example) to organize his Legos on his desk in any way that suits me – I leave it up to him. He will suffer if he can’t find something anyways, and learn certain life lessons on his own without it needing to come from me. Parents in this generation tend to refuse to allow their children to experience the natural consequences of their actions. Mothers of 16 year old boys will pick up the clothing off their floor and clean them instead of requiring them to perform the simple act of putting them into the laundry themselves. In my opinion, this harms the child more than helps them. They must learn that there are consequences to actions; never putting the dirty laundry into the hamper means no clean clothes; never keeping school books straight means losing important school work and getting a bad grade, etc. Again, this autonomy kicks in when a parent can safely say, “Yes, my child knows that dirty laundry gets put into the hamper.”

In the next section, Part 5, we are covering expectations and Ability.

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