homemaking


I’ve mentioned it here many times before, and I’ll mention it again now: clutter is my nemesis. It has pursued me no matter where I have gone, what I’ve been doing, no matter how hard I have tried to beat it back. It is a constant presence in my life and a constant struggle. This blog post about clutter actually blew my mind a little because — how did she get inside my head?

(Seriously, why is it so hard to keep a clean house? Clean house makes me happy. Messy house makes me stressed. This should be so much easier. But that is a topic for another day.)

ANYWAY. I said in my last post that these days, I’m having to use my time much more wisely and efficiently, not just in regards to clutter but in every area. I’ve redoubled my efforts in this area this week and you know what? I’m seeing progress. I’m seeing results.

  • After too many days in a row of sleeping until the kids get up and then feeling rushed as we start our day, I got up early this morning so I could shower and feel ahead of things before the day started. It made a huge difference, even just mentally. Getting up early is not easy for me, but it is absolutely worth the effort.
  • After walking past the same pile of clutter on the dining room table and thinking I need to put that away for the eight hundredth time, I actually put some stuff away.
  • After spending too much time digging through baskets of clean laundry to find the black leggings I wear almost every day, I did three loads of laundry and folded and put them away that very same day.
  • After months and months of cookies, ice cream, Dove chocolates and cake-just-because-it’s-Tuesday, I am eating less sugar. I actually think this is having a bigger impact overall than I expected. I am eating way less sugar and a lot more protein and I’m feeling a big difference physically. Much more energy, and (get this) I’ve lost a few pounds too! I guess it’s worth passing up those extra handfuls of Dove chocolates.

These are pretty simple, obvious things but it’s so nice to actually feel the benefits of making positive changes. Gretchen Rubin’s new book, Better Than Before, is on my reading list, so the topic of habits has been on my mind. I know I don’t need to read a book about habits in order to change my own, though (although that is my instinct), and just thinking about habits has me analyzing my own. Maybe it’s the warm weather, maybe it’s another symptom of coming out of hibernation and getting more used to our new normal. Whatever it is, I’m enjoying reaping the benefits of putting good habits back into place. Whew.

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New bookcase from Ikea. Ten months later we unpacked some books!

Also, full disclosure: I spent the last half hour writing this blog post while Anna naps and Will has Daniel Tiger Hour instead of, you know, being productive. But this is productivity of another kind!

We moved in nine months ago this week. Someday I will write out the story of the week in June that Will and I moved into the house (it was a few weeks after we closed and we stayed with my dad while Steve painted). The week we moved in began with a stomach virus, culminated in admitting Will to the hospital for 2 nights, and finished with the loss of my beloved cat, Teaker. It was pretty insane and not a week I ever want to relive, but that is not today’s story. Anyway: we moved into somewhat more of a fixer-upper than we intended to, really. It’s a 1964 ranch and I love every inch of it, but this is what the kitchen looked like at closing:

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The glorious coil stove, 1980s microwave, and miniature oven are now fixtures of my day and I actually kind of love them for their ugliness. Our bathrooms are in a similar state — usable, but not very pretty. The basement has a cold tile floor and wood paneled walls, and at move-in, the trim in every room was painted the same dingy beige as the walls, and the light fixtures and light switch covers are all in need of replacing.

(Except this one:

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YES that is a sputnik lamp and it’s staying forever. Sorry for the poor picture quality — it was taken while we were house-hunting.)

Since we’ve had a ton of work to do on the house (and still have a long way to go), furnishing it in any sort of nice-looking decorative manner has gone by the wayside. Just a few weeks ago we finally hung something on the walls — my jewelry holder — and the only rooms with curtains are the kids’ because we needed blackout shades for them. Our windows let in gorgeous morning light, but they’re still bare.

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I’ve also hesitated to decorate much at first because we didn’t really know how we were going to live in the house. I wanted to wait and see how things felt and what made sense for us before doing much. Now that it’s been close to a year and spring is peeking around the corner, I’m excited to make not just more needed updates and changes to the house (I’m coming for you, bathroom facelift), but ones that will make our home look more like a home. We have a trip to Ikea planned and I need to get my shopping list finalized.

So today I brought a little springtime indoors:

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It’s just a potted rose from Trader Joe’s, but it’s a start.

I’ve realized that I spend a lot of time and mental energy focused on what’s not working. Things I want to change, updates I’m planning, what I need to improve. (I think it’s the INFJ in me; I am pretty much the model for that portrait.) Just look at the last month or so of this blog: all kinds of things I need to do differently. I need to get up earlier, I need to dry my hair, I need to create a better rhythm. And yeah, I think I need to do all of those things, but I also think I need to take a minute to focus on what is working. So:

Meal planning. I’ve been meal planning for a while now (since the summer?) and it makes life so much easier. Grocery shopping, dinners and cooking are all much more streamlined. I plan the week’s meals on Sundays and do my shopping that night (alone!) after the kids are in bed. I make a soup or crock pot meal every Monday and eggs every Thursday, so I have some structure to work around. I am planning meals that are easy but also enjoyable to prepare, since I love to cook. It’s been great. (Tonight? pasta with chicken, pesto and roasted tomatoes. Done.)

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A favorite: tomato soup and tuna melts. We keep it simple these days.

Preschool. I wavered a lot on whether or not to feel guilty or weird about enrolling Will in preschool at 2. He goes two mornings a week and after the first week I was so, so glad we did it. For him, because he has a speech delay (had? he might be caught up) and because he loves to play with other kids. For me, because I was having a new baby and felt overwhelmed already. And now because it gives me one or two quiet mornings a week to take a shower, do some writing, and in general just take it easy with said new baby. I will sing the praises of two-year-old preschool from the hilltops for time immemorial.

Daniel Tiger Hour. Will stopped napping literally two weeks after Anna was born. This didn’t come as a surprise because he started dropping naps more and more frequently over the summer, but the last time he took an afternoon nap was the first day I was at home on my own with both kids. About two weeks after that, after trying and failing multiple times to enforce an afternoon “quiet time”, he and I were both frustrated and upset, and most afternoons had us both in tears. Steve and I made the executive decision: no more quiet times, no more naps. It was the best thing we could have done. However, Will does still need some down time during the day, so after lunch he lays down on the couch for an hour and watches Daniel Tiger or another PBS kids show. I have mixed feelings about using screen time in general at his age (I honestly regret letting him watch so much TV when he was young), but I’ve been thinking about media in a different way lately: if he’s watching TV, what is he not doing? Running, jumping, playing, reading, learning, everything. And he’s laying down because he needs a break from that. So I have made peace with an hour of Daniel Tiger every afternoon. It’s working right now, and that’s what counts.

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Afternoon coffee. Almost every day this winter I have brewed a second pot of coffee after lunch to enjoy during Daniel Tiger Hour. It’s restorative. (Today I brewed mine early; it’s late-morning coffee instead. I’ll try to resist also having afternoon coffee too.)

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Relaxing. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned since becoming a mom is a pretty obvious one. Life is different now and that’s okay. Maybe someday I’ll have the energy to pick up all the Duplos off the floor at the end of the day. Maybe someday I’ll manage to get all the laundry folded on the same day it’s washed. Right now, though, I don’t do those things, and I’m learning to accept that and be okay with it. I do what I can, when I can, and I know that right now is a unique time in my life, so I’m learning to savor it more and more, while letting the little things go. I’ll catch up with them later.

There. That felt weird but good. That’s what’s working. Now back to my regularly programmed quest for constant self-improvement.

I’ve been reading up on Waldorf philosophy this winter. I started with Simplicity Parenting back in December, and I thought it was excellent. I’m not someone who reads a lot of parenting books, and I actually didn’t realize this was a Waldorf book when I picked it up, but it resonated with me and got me thinking a lot about our home life, the culture we’re creating, and the childhood we want to provide for our children. This is another book I’d like a paper copy of — I read it on my kindle originally and wanted to underline the entire thing.

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Anyway, after Simplicity Parenting I eventually moved on to You Are Your Child’s First Teacher, which I finished recently. Now, one of the reasons I loved this book was because it is, in a word, kind of wacky. There’s lots of straightforward talk about things like life force and vital energy. I appreciate a lot of spirituality in my yoga practice (the more out-there, the better, honestly) but this was a bit much even for me. I found it endearing. But at any rate, it too prompted some reflections on our home life.

Rhythm is big in Waldorf, and I’m drawn to the concept. It’s looser than a routine, but it provides structure to the days and weeks. There are natural rhythms to everyone’s days (morning, noon, and night), rhythms to our weeks, rhythm in the natural world and in our seasons. You might say that in our family, our weekly rhythm is three mornings out of the home (preschool and Bible study) punctuated by two quiet days at home. But you might also say that our daily rhythm is a bit more chaotic, and that is where I’m focusing my attentions right now.

It’s actually kind of a challenge for me to create — and stick to — a daily rhythm, but our days flow so much better when we’re in a groove. When we sit down for breakfast and lunch instead of grazing all morning. When we set limits on how much time we can spend watching Curious George. For me, when I do the breakfast dishes as soon as I can, when I fold the laundry the same day I wash it, when I set aside an hour or two each evening to work. Creating habits around these things helps to automate doing them, meaning I don’t have to think about them as much and try to find the time to cram them in while I’m trying to do something else. And most importantly, rhythm is so helpful for Will.

According to Rudolf Steiner (the creator of the Waldorf movement) rhythm takes some of the pressure off for kids. When they know what to expect each day, it frees them up to engage in creative play and focus on their own learning and development. That makes sense to me because it makes sense for me. Truthfully, living in and sticking to a routine doesn’t really come naturally to me, but one thing I’ve learned since becoming a mom is that just because it doesn’t come naturally to me, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it. So I am trying.

Rhythm isn’t going to magically happen without my involvement, it turns out, and right now while it’s not ingrained I need to be constantly aware of it. It feels a bit like deep cleaning, where the process is hard but oddly satisfying, and the end result is absolutely worth it.

I’ve talked about this before, but while I’ve always enjoyed and valued cooking from scratch, this past year I’ve discovered that I also really enjoy some more extreme kitchen-and-home DIY. I waxed rhapsodic about home-brewed kombucha, I plotted homemade yogurt, and I experimented with oil cleansing. A huge — hugepressure canner took up residence in my kitchen. It has been a lot of fun, BUT it must be said. It has not all been successful fun. Here are the ways I have totally failed at my extreme DIY domesticity.

1. The kombucha.

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So beautiful, right? —  but where I struggled with homemade kombucha was both in execution and need. First, I have not been able to make a good batch of kombucha. I can’t seem to get it fizzy enough! However, I think a large part of my lack of success is because I just don’t have a lot of experience with it; you get better at most things by doing them, so I suppose if I were to keep at it, my kombucha skills would improve. The bottom line is, though, that I just don’t drink enough kombucha to make brewing it myself worth my time. I know, I know — there goes my merit badge. And I know, I know: ferments are so good for you! I do still have my collection of SCOBYs, though, so I may give it another go this summer just for fun when I start getting a lot of fruits and berries in my CSA. I do like peering at what’s growing in the jar as it ferments.

2. Oil cleansing. Now, the oil cleansing method sounds so intriguing, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it sound … too good to be true, maybe? THAT’S BECAUSE IT IS. I don’t know why I’m such a fool, but I experimented with oil cleansing for way too long and my skin is still trying to recover. I freely admit that I am jealous of the thousands and thousands of people who wrote glowing reviews of the OCM claiming that it was life-changing. I wanted this to work. It’s so natural! So cheap! So easy and promising and nourishing! I was (and still am) tired of feeling like my skin was dry and then slathering on a thick layer of moisturizer. But I finally had to throw in the towel, because my skin, instead of being dewy and younger-looking and fresh and glowing, was constantly irritated and inflamed. And there goes another merit badge!

However — I have found another cheap, natural and very hydrating and nourishing cleanser that is conveniently oil-free that my skin happens to love. Raw honey! Raw honey doesn’t remove makeup, so I usually only use it in the morning. Smear it on a dry face, leave it for a minute or two, and rinse off. Done! At night, I’m using a more traditional face wash that’s paraben- and sulfate-free, and things are getting back to normal. Lesson learned: if you have a good skin-care routine, don’t mess with it.

3. Homemade yogurt.

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This pains me to write, because it’s not like I found making my own yogurt to be too inconvenient or time-consuming or messy or annoying. I didn’t. I actually really like making yogurt. No, it’s far worse than that. You see, the reason homemade yogurt and I are on a break right now is this:

I like store-bought yogurt better.

I know: it’s almost too horrible to comprehend, isn’t it? And yet, there it is. I like store-bought yogurt better. It’s the pectin. Homemade yogurt is too runny for my taste! I guess I was just raised with the thickened stuff and it’s what I’m used to and prefer. The other issue with the way I was making yogurt was that the yogurt maker I have has you culture it in seven small glass jars, which makes just over one quart of yogurt total. I could then strain the yogurt to thicken it, which I did several times — the only thing then is that you wind up with about a pint of Greek yogurt, and we can go through two quarts in a week.

Now, I will say that I haven’t yet tried making yogurt in my crock pot, but I have a friend who does that to great success; she strains two quarts of Greek yogurt every week. I am definitely interested in giving that a try if I can come up with a way to keep the milk culturing well enough. My friend uses a crock pot insulator, so maybe I’ll try that out. I know you can also use coolers filled with hot water, heating pads, towels … what I really want is a warming drawer under my oven, but that’s not a part of my life right now. Heh. But seriously, if I could make yogurt in larger quantities successfully, I’d definitely do it. So this hasn’t been totally taken off the table. Like Ross and Rachel, we are just on a break.

But take heart, my friends: my merit badges have not all been torn off my happy-hippie-homemade-scouting vest. For one thing, canning is going well — I processed twenty-seven jars of strawberry jam a few weeks ago, and I’ve also tried out chicken and beans to great success. A few more weeks and canning season will be going strong, with tomatoes, peaches, and pickling cucumbers getting ready to ripen. My goal is to can a ton of tomatoes to use throughout the next year, and I am looking forward to making my own bread-and-butter pickles, hopefully with cucumbers from my garden! I am also hooked on home-canned chicken (excellent for salad toppings and casseroles) and beans are super easy if I can remember to soak them the night before.

I’ve also had a lot of success with homemade deodorant. (Stick with me here.) Mine is a mix of coconut oil, cornstarch and baking soda, with a few drops of jasmine essential oil; it works every bit as well as Dove ever did and there’s no potentially harmful ingredients in it! Plus it costs a fraction of what conventional deodorant does. I am also using a shampoo bar. I have never had much of an interest in doing the whole baking-soda-as-shampoo thing (it’s too utilitarian for my tastes), but I love my shampoo bar! It works every bit as well as conventional shampoo, with all natural ingredients and much less waste. I was following it with an apple cider vinegar rinse, but I ran into a few issues with that: the same utilitarian feel (I like luxury bath products, ok?), plus it kind of smelled like vomit and I found the actual rinse kind of awkward and would often wind up spilling it on the floor of the tub behind me. These are terrible problems, I realize, and I appreciate your sympathy here.

Overall, though, I think I’m finding a happy medium when it comes to an all-natural lifestyle. When I’m trying new things I like to jump all in and then assess to see what I want to keep and what I can let go of. I did the same thing when I started running; I’ve spent enough time out on the road (and the treadmill) by now to know that I love running — but I have absolutely zero interest in a marathon. I’m coming to similar conclusions here. I love and highly value a natural lifestyle, but I am not going to forgo Western medicine in favor of herbs and essential oils, and I’m okay with buying my yogurt at the store simply because I like it better than the stuff I make myself. It’s all a work in process, though. I’m sure I have many more merit badges to earn still!

I finished Laura Vanderkam’s 168 Hours last week feeling pretty settled in the fact that I don’t think she’d like me very much.

Don’t get me wrong — I gleaned some good wisdom from her, especially stuff that I can take with me when I eventually resume working outside the home again. Learning more about how to be more efficient and mindful with one’s time is something I am always interested in.

But I would love to hear her thoughts on my lifestyle in general. Cloth diapering? Homemade yogurt? Cooking from scratch? Cleaning your own house?? — Based on an entire chapter in which she chronicles women’s triumphant liberation from the tyranny of homemaking, she clearly doesn’t think very highly of it in general, which is a sad thing to me. I’m not morally opposed to some of her suggestions, but her basic advice in the “home” section of the book seems to boil down to if you don’t want to do it, pay someone to do it for you, which I think is overly simplistic, not realistic for a lot of people, and frankly short-sighted. I think eschewing a lot of these humble, everyday, unglamorous errands and chores is, in a way, eschewing a lot of life in general.

Yeah, it gets old and tiresome and tedious, but there’s something inherently satisfying in homemaking to me that I think I would miss — a lot — if I were to allow someone else to maintain my home for me, do my cooking, wash my clothes, and do my gardening. And I read a blog post* today that elucidated that feeling pretty well:

A few weeks ago, as I was turning on the dishwasher before we left my place, she said something like, “Dishwashers are what’s wrong with the world.” Something about that sounded right. I asked her to explain.

“Life is composed of primarily mundane moments,” she says. “If we don’t learn to love these moments, we live a life of frustration and avoidance, always seeking ways to escape the mundane. Washing the dishes with patience and attention is a perfect opportunity to develop a love affair with simply existing. You might say it is the perfect mindfulness practice. To me, the dishwasher is the embodiment of our insatiable need, as a culture, to keep on running, running, running, trying to find something that was inside of us all along.”

We used to have to spend a lot more time and attention maintaining our basic possessions. Dishes had to be washed by hand, stoves had to be stoked, clothes had to be mended, and meals had to be prepared from scratch.

Little was automated or outsourced. All of these routine labors demanded our time, and also our presence and attention. It was normal to have to zoom in and slow down for much of our waking day. We had no choice but to respect that certain daily tasks could not be done without a willing, real-time investment of attention.

“It helps to cultivate patience,” says Lily, “and the enjoyment of a task which we usually discard as ‘not worth it’, too boring, too mundane, blase. It gives us the chance to take a little peek into the tiny but enormous world of simply noticing what is around you, and engaging fully with it. If you are someone who is naturally averse to washing dishes, you abhor it, you avoid it at all costs, you grudgingly go through it as quickly as possible… Well then, this is the perfect opportunity to engage fully with those feelings, and to gently scrub them away, until what you are left with is the realization that life is an amazing, and beautiful, and precious gift, no matter what kind of activity you are engaged in. You are surrounded by great textures, and images, and formations of light, and sounds, and smells, and everything, all the time.”

I think there is a lot of wisdom here. This time of year, you hear a lot of people talking about how much they’re looking forward to summer vacations or bemoaning that they just need a break from the mundane. One of my goals in life, generally speaking, is to have a life I don’t feel the need to escape from. As I’ve said to Steve many times, doing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen and vacuuming the floors and doing the laundry and all that goes into homemaking is, in essence, Sisyphean (Laura Vanderkam even uses the same word!)It makes no sense to me to spend so much of my time fighting against it when these “primarily mundane moments” are all around me. If I want a life I don’t feel the need to escape from, I need to be at peace with everything in it, not just the pretty parts that I like.

So this is why I can’t fully get on board with Laura Vanderkam, though I think her advice probably works really well for people who have a very different life than I do or who are truly more pressed for time than I am. As a stay at home mom I need to use my time wisely, but I have a lot more flexibility with that time than a working mom does. But even if my time were more divided and I did find myself feeling more frazzled and rushed every day, I still think I might stop and do the dishes (or fold the laundry, or pack my own lunch, or plant my own flowers). I want to be fully engaged with all of my life. Not just some of it.

Anyway. In other news, I did this to my hair:

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I think the lighting here makes me look kind of sickly … but you get the idea. Now I just need to find a mountain to climb so I can start singing about how the hills are alive. I love it.

* Raptitude.com: one of my favorite blogs these days. Go check it out.

Hello! I’m just stopping by briefly on my way to make popcorn and watch last night’s Top Chef finale to share a few things I’ve been up to on my little blog break.

First:

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The maiden voyage! Leah came over last weekend with some homemade turkey stock and we got to work. The pressure canner was VERY easy to use thanks to some blog tutorials I had pinned. When I get a little more well-versed in pressure canning, I’ll share some more. Next I want to try canning beans, and then hopefully I can move on to soup bases and chili. (I want to see if I can can my own butternut squash soup and chili recipes, but I don’t know enough about the process yet.)

I haven’t popped open either of these jars yet but I think (and hope!) that we were successful. And no explosions.

Next:

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I feel like I have been working on this handwarmer for an eternity. I am a slow knitter again, but I have a bunch of Downton Abbey to watch so hopefully the second one will be done in time for, you know, June.

Also:

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We mastered the side carry and I am babywearing again! It’s so convenient. I carried Will like this the other day when we braved our first consignment sale. (BTW, ignore the clutter in the background. The bedroom is always the last room to get organized …)

Lastly: I ran THIRTEEN miles last Saturday. I can tell that I spend a lot of time with other distance runners because that did not sound all that noteworthy of an achievement to me until after I finished and was basically useless for the rest of the day. I can also tell my body is not at all accustomed to running such long distances. I am still undecided about a half marathon in April, but am leaning toward it, as long as I can keep my mileage up after the ten-miler in two weeks. However, I feel like diving back into a serious yoga practice again (which I REALLY want to d0) would necessitate cutting back on my mileage, just due to how much time I have to devote to exercise these days. I don’t think I can do both. Decisions, decisions. I’m going to see after the race whether I can wait six more weeks to start practicing yoga 3-5 days a week again, or whether I feel like I need to head back in that direction. We’ll see.

Now it’s time for popcorn and Top Chef. Is my blog break over? Another thing that we’ll just have to see!

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