A lot of people ask me all kinds of questions about what we do around here on the Schell Urban Homestead. The question I get asked the most though is, hands down, “With three kids, how in the world do you do it all?” The answer is pretty simple… I have a strong partner:
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Last summer, during my 20 Weeks of Organizing project, I organized two of my three junk drawers, with the promise to organize the third one the following week. But the next week I had my hands full with this:
And it’s taken me a while to get the last few items crossed off of that original list. But last weekend, I tackled the last and worst of the junk drawers in my house. The one in the kitchen. It’s a big drawer, 26.25″ x 16.5″. Too big really. It collected all kinds of things. Things we needed, things we didn’t, useful stuff and… junk.
Something had to be done. But it was overwhelming and one of the projects I put off the longest. There was way too much in there. The bottom of the drawer kept slipping out of its slots. It nearly broke one day, so I finally took care of the problem.
First I took the drawer out and emptied and sorted its contents.
There were FOUR broken watches in there. Four, people. A dead cell phone. Two empty calling cards. A recorder flute and a bird whistle. I’m not kidding.
And YES that little blue thing really is a bird whistle. You put water inside of it and blow through the little spout and it makes a sound like a bird singing. I know what it looks like, but it’s not that. My mom always kept it in the junk drawer of our house when I was growing up and I loved it, so she passed it on to me (and my junk drawer). Unfortunately it’s gotten a little chipped in the years of getting tossed around with all the junk in the drawer. But it still works and I still love it.
There was a lot of stuff in the drawer that didn’t belong in there. And I wasn’t sure what to do with it either. I emptied the drawer, and I grabbed some wood glue and started fixing the drawer. I enlisted Rick’s help to reinforce its huge bottom, which he did with a scrap of wood from the garage.
And then I bought a drawer organizer – the biggest one that I could find that would fit inside. It was $20 bucks. And totally worth every penny. I also used three little wooden baskets from the kids’ wooden play food set.
And I put the stuff we use back into the drawer.
The empty space is for Rick’s things, like his wallet. Since the garage door-opener is in this drawer, it’s the last stop before leaving the house and the first stop when coming home.
Yes, I know there are still things in there that some people would not hang onto. The flute is in the way back and the whistle is still in there. And you never know when you’ll need a puzzle ball. But it is mostly organized, and I’m really happy with it. What I really need now is some of that non-slip stuff to keep the organizer thing from sliding around.
I still don’t know what the heck to do with the watches. Do I just throw them out (not the guitar one)? Can they be repaired?
There are only two items left on my 20 Weeks list. I’m loving that this challenge is almost over, no matter how long it took me. Are you organizing anything in your life/home?
Yesterday I mentioned keeping a reasonably well stocked pantry in order to allow for some flexibility in my meal planning. I got to thinking about what a well stocked pantry looks like. It will probably different for every household, and it varies for us as well, depending on season, tastes, moods, how well we stocked up last year, etc.
In general, this is what I came up with for our version of a well stocked pantry (in no particular order).
- Oats – I keep a half gallon to gallon size container of oats on hand at all times. Sometimes I switch between steel cut oats and rolled oats, but I have found that rolled oats are more versatile. These whole grains make oatmeal, of course, but they can be added to desserts (cookies, crisps), muffins, breads, and are the base for home made granola. They are insanely less expensive than boxed cereals, and better for you too.
- Rice – I use both white and brown rice, and at times I’ve kept quinoa on hand instead. Rice is a great belly filler, another whole grain, and it keeps. Good with stir-fries, in soups and stews, as a side dish, the star of risotto, and Rick even eats it for breakfast with butter and cinnamon.
- Canned beans – the hero of emergency meals. Dried beans are far cheaper, and we keep them on hand too, but canned beans can be used instantly with no soaking or hours of cooking. We add them to up the protein on pasta dishes and soups, sprinkle them over salads, as easy finger-food lunches for the kids, we let them star in vegetarian meals. Keeping beans on hand saves the day if I forget to defrost meat for dinner.
- Olive oil & balsamic vinegar – Together, they make an easy, delicious and cheap salad dressing. Separately, olive oil can be used for nearly everything we cook. I do keep other oils on hand too, but if I had to keep only one, olive oil would be it. The balsamic can be used in other ways too. A friend brought over a dessert once of mascarpone cheese spread on sugar cookies, topped with sliced strawberries and drizzled with balsamic reduction (heaven). I use balsamic as a secret ingredient in certain soups and other dishes.
- Broth – you can’t really make risotto without it and it makes soups super fast. It’s a decent substitute for white wine in a pinch. It’s a fast way to up your flavor without much effort.
- Canned tomatoes – if I’m crunched for time or feeling lazy, you can bet I’m reaching for a jar or can of tomatoes. They can become anything. I use them for enchilada sauce, pasta sauce, pizza sauce, soup, stew, chilli, roasted with other veggies, you name it. This is a true staple for us.
- Onions and/or garlic – the other day I told Rick, “We’re out of onions. I can’t make anything without an onion!” I know, strictly speaking, onions and garlic are perishable, probably not really “pantry” food, but stored well, they last a long time and I really feel like I can make anything taste good if I have an onion or garlic. This makes my mom laugh. When I was a kid, I “hated” onions, I even gave my mom a homemade citation for using too many – her punishment was to not be allowed to use them for a whole week. She was a good sport and went along. I pray my children don’t ever punish me this way. You can make rice and beans delicious with a little onion and garlic. If times are tough, and your cupboard is nearly bare, you better have an onion.
- Dried herbs/spices – I love me some spices. I can’t understand how people cook with nothing but salt and pepper. An average spice rack should at least include thyme, rosemary, oregano, parsley, dill, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, savory, and cumin powder. Mine better have extra red pepper flakes and Chimayo chili powder too. You don’t have broth? Make some with your meat, an onion, a bay leaf and some thyme, parsley, and savory. Chili? You need that cumin and those ground chilies. Rosemary will make your plain ol’ rice and chicken amazing. A bit of dried herbs go a long way, and they can make the most basic of meals delicious.
- Pasta – Another go-to for us. It’s versatile, cheap, it keeps forever and I can buy it in bulk. Sometimes I feel like the number of pasta dishes is limitless.
- Soy Sauce & rice vinegar – If you get tired of tomato based dishes, the cure is soy sauce and white vinegar. The combo makes the best fried rice, and you can use them to make many Asian sauces. Soup, Thai, stir fry, peanut sauce, marinade, jerky, the list goes on. Practice using the pair and you can impress anyone.
Obviously this list doesn’t cover baking basics like flour, which I almost added to the list. But I’m curious how your pantry matches up to mine. Is it similar? Very different? Did I miss something or surprise you? Does your region or culture affect your list? Tell me what is on your list of pantry staples.
So, back on the wagon, I promised to get that list of twenty problem areas in my home taken care of. This week, I cleaned out the kitchen cabinets under my counters.
Here are the before pictures:
YIKES!! These cabinets are particularly troublesome. They always start nice and neat and then, after a few loads through the dishwasher, they end up a jumbled mess again.
To tackle them, first I took everything out. Yep.
Things got sorted. The thermos made it all the way to the top shelf cupboard next to the water bottles. The potato ricer went into the roasting pan in another cabinet, since I usually only take the time to rice potatoes when I’m making a big fancy roast or turkey. The ice cream attachment for my mixer got put away with the stuff in the basement that only gets used occasionally. A few things got donated. The rest I tried to put away in some way that would make it simple to keep nice.
The mixer attachments are inside the bowl under its cover. The pitchers and flower vases have been removed from this cabinet as well. I got a nice drink container for Christmas that I’m storing in the buffet, so I could get rid of the lame old plastic pitchers I was hanging on to.
And speaking of plastic…
Besides that pitcher back there, one large Tupperware container and the popsicle molds, I finally chucked the rest. Well donated. But, I finally feel like I have enough glass containers and have slowly over the last two years weeded through most of our plastic to the point where I feel like I can be plastic free. That should make things a lot simpler!
Looking at the before pictures on this project, it looked huge and daunting. But really it took me less than half an hour to get the job done. Looking forward to finishing this last few items of the list!
Be sure to check out the other projects I’ve completed: 20 Things.
The other morning I stumbled into the bathroom well before the kids were awake. “Yay!” I thought, “I’ll get to take a shower today!” But then I remembered. I was all out of shampoo. And I forgot to get more last time I went to the store.
My spirit, unwilling to be dampened, I decided I’d try that whole baking soda for shampoo/apple cider vinegar for conditioner, thing I’ve heard about. I mean, really. I use all natural soap, natural toothpaste, natural household cleaners, homemade laundry detergent. I can do homemade shampoo! Yay for less chemicals! Yay for clean hair!
Except baking soda in your hair is gross. Really, really gross. I almost titled this post “The ‘Poo’ in Shampoo.”
I mean, I know it was the first time I tried it, and maybe I did it wrong. Maybe I just need some guidance? If you do the baking soda thing, let me know. I did a quick Google search, and I mixed up baking soda and water according to the recipes I found. Basically 1 Tablespoon soda and 1 cup water. I also mixed up the apple cider vinegar and some water.
First, I tried what they all said to do. I wet my hair and poured the baking soda mix into my hair at the roots. I massaged it all around and rinsed. I have really thick hair and by this time it felt all tangled and I was having doubts about the vinegar thing, but that part was actually uh.maze.ing! I had put the vinegar mix in a squirt bottle and it completely detangled and smoothed my hair, pretty much instantly. “Yay! This will make such a great blog post!” I thought.
I got out of the shower, and went to dry my hair and it was all smooth and sleek and shiny! WOW! I blew it dry. Gorgeous. Well. Almost. It looked all greasy at the roots. It felt all greasy at the roots too. Super greasy. Not oily, greasy. Worse than before I got in. Maybe I got carried away with the vinegar? Hmm. The kids were still asleep, so I decided I’d give it another go.
I decided to sprinkle in baking soda dry at the roots. I worked it all around and it looked like the grease was all absorbed. But also like I had grayed out my hair, since my hair is quite dark and there was now a fine white dust on it. So I hopped back in the shower to give it a rinse. And I could feel the greasiness about ten times worse than what it felt like before. It was not the vinegar that caused this. It was totally the baking soda. I gave up. I scrounged around the bathroom until I found some tiny, little bit of shampoo in a travel bottle. I used it.
I will totally keep that apple-cinder vinegar thing. It is awesome. But the baking soda for cleaning your hair – a total sham.
Since I’ve been talking about goals lately, I thought I better address something that I left as a loose end last year. Remember, back when I was half-way through my pregnancy with Cora, my goal of organizing a list of 20 things in 20 weeks?
Well, I got all behind, and then I had my baby, and cleaning with a newborn, a toddler and a preschooler during the harvest season… forget it!
So the day before Christmas eve, I went on a frenzy in the bathroom. And I redid the storage in there. And then I remembered it was on the list of 20 things I wanted to get organized! Woohoo!
So here’s the before…
Ok, this cool shelf thing that hangs on the wall holds our towels and a bunch of other stuff. Q-tips, nail clippers, Rick’s beard trimmer. Extra soap is up there in a brown box, a ton of random things are in that basket, some bubble bath and a low-flow shower head that’s not going to be installed in the shower anytime soon is up there too.
Then, lastly, in front of the toilet we have a little storage bench full of our extra towels and wash cloths, and on top; my many, many magazine subscriptions (yes, I’m a magazine junkie). Hey, everyone reads in the bathroom, I need variety. And it’s my only place without the kids. It’s peaceful. Just like every mom.
And here’s the after…
Then I emptied and reorganized the extra towels (got rid of a couple oldies that were worn out) and recycled or filed old magazines. Now just the most current ones are out… and stacked nicely. Went through the bath toys and tossed any that were too icky. Cleaned any that needed cleaning and washed the basket liner. The potty chair is used for emergency trips in the boys room – been saving E’s sheets this way. Thinking of skipping the potty chair all together for C if we can, by the way.
And the biggie – the shelf. Cleaned out that basket, tossing anything expired or irrelevant (yes, irrelevant). That basket in the bedroom closet caught the extra soap and the shower head until we are ready to use them. We used the bubble bath up and the bottle is now a soap dispenser in the kitchen. Hair ties were corralled in the blue jar, and lotion is up high so it doesn’t end up in the two-year old’s hair again. After all that, there was room for my apothecary jar of bath salts that used to live on the tank of the toilet. Not like I ever have time for a bath, let alone many baths to necessitate an apothecary jar full of salts – HA! But it’s pretty and the kids enjoy them, I guess.
Anyway. It looks much nicer in there and I’m really loving it. We desperately need a remodel in there, but I’m holding off until C is potty trained. Hopefully by then, the boys won’t be missing the toilet any more either. ;) In the mean time, this is working great so far and it feels a lot more relaxing in there.
What about that list of 20 (which I later cut to only 18)? I’m gonna finish it this year if it kills me. Click this link to see what I’ve already done, and below is what’s left:
- Bathroom cabinet
- Boys closet shelf and clothing
- Boys toys and bedding storage
- Desktop/drawers and move desk out of office
- Office corners
- Office closet upper shelf
- Junk drawers
- Our bedroom closet
- Seed Storage
- Make a place for table linens
- Canned goods/canning and food storage supplies
- Find a place for Rick’s work clothes and my business supplies
- Kitchen glasses cupboard
- Bathroom linens/storage
- Scrapbooking table
- My sewing items
- Lower kitchen appliance cabinet
Not too bad, eh? So what if it’s late. It’s still getting done! Yippee! This whole thing was inspired by Organizing Junkie’s 52 Weeks project. Check it out to be inspired.
Is reorganizing anything on your list of resolutions this year?
I’ve realized from about October to February, is our season of family. Hunting alone facilitates a great portion of this, and then the holidays manage to cement the rest. We just don’t have time to spend with many friends, as much as we’d like to. Family really takes priority.
During the harvest season, I think it is easy to start feeling like you are drowning in the work of a homestead. I generally feel like I tread water pretty steadily around here, but after a spastic comment on the Apron Stringz blog, when both CJ and Erica of NWEdible reached out to me to make sure that I was alright, I realized my Shiny-Happy exterior was cracking a bit. While I’m afraid that the comment I left came across way crazier than I intended, the truth is, I have been somewhat overwhelmed.
In April, Rick’s dad was diagnosed with ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease). I’ve sort of kept this under my hat, since Rick wasn’t keen on talking about it with anyone, even in person. He got pretty tetchy when I mentioned it to our neighbor (who is getting to be like family) and to our midwives while I was still pregnant with C. So I’ve kept it off the blog all this time. But I started bracing myself. I’ve seen diseases before.
I’ve had the unfortunate experience of watching my own father pass away. He was diagnosed with lung cancer when I was fifteen. Lung cancer has a 15% survival rate and a lot of people treat you as if you deserve to get it. But my dad hadn’t smoked in over 20 years before he was diagnosed. The cause of it was more likely asbestos from being a mechanic or possibly having the polio vaccine tested on him while he served in the Air Force. Or seeing as he had lost a sister to lung cancer, had a brother that got (and beat!) prostate cancer and a father that died of multiple myeloma at 58, maybe cancer was just in his genes.
But my dad was determined to live. He had surgery, most of one of his lungs removed, chemo and radiation. He beat the cancer. He was cancer free for 8 years before his body, racked by the treatments he received, gave up on him. I was so grateful that my dad lived to walk me down the aisle, to know Rick. It was hard to watch my dad, superman in my eyes, go from 6 foot tall to 5′-1″. To see him lose weight. For me to never sleep in peace, afraid that his oxygen machine would sound an alarm in the next room if my dad quit breathing, even for a moment. To see his big, strong mechanic’s hands turn soft and thin. He died at home in 2004, the day before my 23rd birthday.
ALS makes cancer look like the freakin’ flu.
With cancer, there are treatments, even cures for some. Hope. With ALS, there is nothing. Just waiting, watching, making your loved one feel comfortable as they lose the ability to make their muscles work. The prognosis for ALS is more than bleak. Stats vary, but we’ve been told that up to 70% of people diagnosed with it die within 18 months. It is always fatal. Less than 10% live longer than five years.
Rick’s dad was beginning to show symptoms last October, though we didn’t recognize them. He’d been feeling weaker for a while longer before that, but just chalked it up to being tired. He just turned 51 last month. Because of my experiences with my own dad, I keep expecting to see things plateau with him, but the disease has not slowed at all. In April, his words were slurred, by May he was hard to understand. By June or July, he would only answer yes or no questions out loud. Now it’s even hard to tell the yeses apart from the nos. His hands and arms are atrophied pretty severely, so he can’t write. This past weekend, they gave him a feeding tube.
Through this, my, uh… “greenisim” is wavering. I’m feeling the urge more an more to take the easy way out. To throw the proverbial grey water down the drain instead of out the window. (Here’s where the crazy comment on the Apron Stringz blog comes in). Part of me doesn’t want to care anymore where my food comes from. I want to turn the heat up to 69° from 67° and not feel any guilt. Bag the whole Riot for Austerity. Throwing in the towel looks appealing. Part of me is wondering why I should care about organically grown green beans when my father-in-law is struggling to swallow. I’m wondering if we can sustain our sustainable life style? And is it worth it?
The truth is, I know in my heart that it is worth it. But I need to find a way to be ok with what I can do right now. Maybe the Riot is beyond my reach at this point in our family’s journey. Maybe CJ’s Quiet Riot, or even just tracking our energy use is good enough for right now. Maybe I need to be ok with the things we are doing and hold the space while our family gets ready to walk through the coming grief.
I’ve known somewhat more loss than anyone in Rick’s family (all his grandparents are still living), and I know my strengths can be quite helpful in hard times like these. The loss of his dad is going to be a devastating blow. And I’m grateful to have this time with family right now.
So here I am, holding the space. And turning up my thermostat to 68°.
We’re playing catch up here as the harvest season comes to a close. This is my favorite time of year, but it is one that works us the hardest. As the weather cools off we find ourselves wanting to move inside. We want to settle down with a cuppa and a warm blanket or cozy up to a nice bowl of hot soup. Unfortunately, all that coziness will have to wait just a few more weeks. Winter is the true sleepy season. Fall is the season of work.
We have most of the harvest put away finally. Sunflowers and corn are hanging to dry, onions and potatoes are stored, canning is finished, summer produce is put up in its various forms. We have garlic to plant this week. I am actually doing a little garden redesign as we are pulling plants when the freezes hit and kills them off one by one. The tomatoes are still, unbelievably, hanging on.
I am hoping to get some of our kohlrabi to over-winter so I can get seed from it next fall. The plants are from seed from Slovakia that was smuggled through the mail to my in-laws. The variety is very large – 8 pounds or more without any woodiness. Our plants are bulbing up nicely, and they might just be one of the few big successes this season, but the seed is hard to come by.
An Independence Days update is in order, I think. I last did one in August.
Plant something – Planted a few hardy mums. Garlic will hit the dirt this week – nothing else is on the docket though.
Harvest something – eggs, tomatoes, peppers, kale, chard, kohlrabi, over 60 gallons (maybe even 80) of compost.
Preserve something – tomatoes and corn frozen, a couple of ducks in the freezer (thanks to Rick!!), the above mentioned canning, drying, dehydrating and such.
Waste Not – compost and recycling, scraps to chickens, etc. Reused old t-shirts for a Halloween costume. Working on other sewing projects from the scrap box – including some napkins and even two quilts! Been mending things, not throwing them out.
Want Not – My friend Annie gave us some cloth diapers, and I used an old flannel baby blanket to make some extra wipes. Got some great hand-me-downs from some friends for the baby girl.
Build Community Food Systems – Participated in both the Denver Botanic Gardens and the Denver Urban Homesteading chicken coop tours. Baby sat for some friends in exchange for a couple of pullets (we got the great end of that deal)!
Eat the Food – yes.
Although my summer garden was a huge flop this year, I am happy that I put down some bok choy seeds and some late season peas this summer. I might get one more harvest before we put the garden to bed completely. I actually planted some other things too, but the second round of kale, spinach and beets never came up and I didn’t get any replacements in the ground in time. I feared for the bok choy after the chicken coop tour – it got somewhat trampled since a few people didn’t seem to realize they were standing in my garden on my baby brassicas. But it has survived, and even if it doesn’t get huge, I might get some baby heads out of it yet.
Still, I find myself drawn indoors. Completing sewing projects (mostly mending) that I’ve put off for months. Starting other projects. Getting my craft on. A few moments of inspiration have led to some things getting done in the handiwork department. Halloween is coming and costumes need making.
We had a family dinner last week. I’ve been spending more time with my sister lately and I am enjoying this time with her. We decorated sugar skulls for the Mexican Day of the Dead. The holiday begins on November 1st, which is Henry’s birthday, and we are big Halloween fans around here, so we did our Dia de los Muertos early this year. (More on this later, I promise).
Life these days is transitioning from the mad rush of summer to the slower pace of fall. Rick’s big-game hunting will mark the last of the harvest here, and that is coming in the next few weeks. In the mean time, we are quieting down. The canning pot is back in it’s spot in the basement. H is focusing more on indoor play and learning. It’s funny how we naturally move in these rhythms. From outside in the sun and mud to inside quiet games at the table.
I am in love. My clothesline is actually making me happy. I find the few quiet minutes it takes to hang the clothes up both meditative and satisfying. Wait. Did I just say laundry makes me happy?
This isn’t my first clothesline, but so far, it is the best. Granted, it’s new, so I don’t know how it will stand the test of time. But I really love the design. Which is funny. I actually wanted a traditional, two post with lines stretched between set up. I envisioned my kiddos running between the sheets as they hung on the lines. But we’re short on space, so we went for the umbrella style. And I love it. Here’s why…
It holds a lot. A LOT a lot. Like four or five loads. Maybe more. More clothes than I have clothespins for. All the cloth diapers, inserts and wipes, all the kids’ bedding, all of my clothes and towels, tons and tons.
It spins. This means that I can hang the whites on one side and the darks on the other. Then I can rotate it so the whites get bleached by the sun, and the darks stay in the shade. Awesome. Also, I can stand in one place, with the sun behind me, to hang and turn the line as I fill each side instead of moving around or staring into the sun.
What are you hanging under there? In the past, I would hang lots of items, but not everything. I never hung our unders up, for example. I didn’t want the whole neighborhood ogling my ultra sexy nursing bras. ;) But with the new line, that’s just not a concern.
The trick to hanging the tightie-whities is pretending you’re wearing them – they go under all your other clothes. That’s right, if you don’t want the neighborhood to know if the husband wears boxers or briefs, keep them on the inside. Those t-shirts and dish towels are totally concealing the undies from prying neighborhood eyes.
Clothesline? What Clothesline? I can take it down and put it away if we’re having a garden party or something. Not that this has happened, but it’s a nice option. Also I think taking it down in the winter to protect it from the weather will probably make it last longer.
It is pretty and it smells good. Ok, that is true of drying clothes outdoors, no matter what kind of line you are using. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still love it. Nothing smells so nice as sun-dried sheets. And I really love how laundry looks on the line. I feel like I’ve accomplished something when I see a full line fluttering in the breeze.
Do you hang your laundry out? What do you love about it?