Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How To Keep a (Sort of) Clean Home

I recently saw this Design Sponge post through a Pinterest pin and I started thinking about the cleanliness of my house (moderate and sometimes dirtier) and what I do daily, weekly, and monthly.  I'm not going to talk hypothetically or about goals, but rather what I actually did in the time just before the baby was born; now, we're still finding our way in Life With Phoebe, so I don't have a normal to talk about yet.  But I find this kind of housekeeping detail interesting and useful, so please add your thoughts and/or routines to the comments.

1. laundry - whether it's folding, washing/hanging up, or ironing (kids fold/put away their own)
2. tidy the house at the end of the day
3. dishes all washed by the end of the day (very rarely put away before bedtime)
4. kitchen counters wiped
5. my bed made (uh, my version is pulling the covers up in a tidy way - not the classic way my mother taught me doing each layer separately and smoothly)

1. household trash out to the trashcan
2. dust and vacuum first floor rooms (by kids)
3. bathroom cleaned (by kids), although I have to do the shower, so this happens maybe monthly and I know that sounds gross - just being frank
4. day of reckoning, usually Friday, where most accumulated piles and debris are sorted and disposed of

The rest of the cleaning is by chance, my mood, and time permitting.  My windows are filthy due to the city air, but I don't see them being cleaned any time soon.  I often take swipes at the microwave, stove, toaster oven, and refrigerator if I'm hanging out in the kitchen listening to a kid story or waiting for a cooking task.  I dust the wood blinds when they look really dusty.  I send the kids up to clean their room when I have energy to keep them on the task (so, not every week).  I probably vacuum the sofas once a year.  I get a kid to wipe down the dining room chairs maybe once every few months.

I think my house is reasonably clean and tidy.  The porch, sidewalks, and yard are not.  I find that distressing, but I have yet to give up any hobbies and pleasant pursuits to whip them into shape and maintain them.

How do you keep a clean house?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Apple Pie Biscuits

This is a lovely autumn breakfast when the mornings are cool and you crave doughy apple-y things.  I followed Joy the Baker's method, but I used angel biscuit dough that I had in the fridge already and I didn't bother with the eggwash/sugar/cinnamon on top.  The apple pie filling took literally 5 minutes to make because there's only one apple to peel and dice. 

I didn't cut the biscuits as small as she did, and then, later when the house was quiet, I poured some butterscotch sauce over the last one and that was amazing.  

I do adore that butterscotch .  We poured some over wacky cake last evening with raspberries from our friends' garden.  A delicious way to say good-bye to the raspberries now that the apples are here.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Nancy Drew's Little Sister

That is her only wish right now:  to be Nancy Drew's little sister.  Never mind that Nancy is a fictional character and likes being an only child.  Genevieve knows that little sisters are wonderful and she wants to live in Nancy Drew's world.

I got major mom points by finding a length of Nancy Drew fabric online and sewing two panels onto tee-shirts for my girl.

What I really wanted to do was make a tee shirt that said "Nancy Drew a picture" with a magnifying glass underneath but my brain sort of stopped at the options for lettering and I didn't push on.

And we are both pleased with how the tee shirts turned out.

There are still some panels of N.D. fabric left; maybe I will make a tote that Genevieve can't physically grow out of. Because I know that she will grow out of this Nancy Drew enthrallment, but oh it is charming while it lasts.  Genevieve is going to start wearing penny loafers as soon as her (secondhand on eBay) pair comes in the mail.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Peeling Tomatoes and Steeping Tea

I typically look forward to the new season, but this solstice caught me still loving my summer and eating summer food.  So, yes, I was peeling tomatoes this week in my kitchen.

Someone's gotta fill Ben's shoes in the kitchen when he's away at school.
Actually, what happened was that the farmer offered me a bushel of tomatoes instead of the half-bushel I had ordered.  When I waffled, he laconically mentioned that he'd just throw them away otherwise because they were truly seconds tomatoes and wouldn't last much longer.  That, my friends, is my favorite reason for preserving food:  so it is not wasted in the horribly common way that we Westerners take our food for granted.  So yes, I took the entire bushel.  I had to buy more jars, push other things off my to-do list, and stick some tomatoes in the freezer.

There's the tip:  freeze whole tomatoes and then when you defrost them, you can pull the peels off with your fingers in the same manner as if you had blanched them. I set aside 5 pounds to make smoked tomato chutney once I had dealt with the really-almost-rotten tomatoes. 

And then I looked over at the stove and realized I had another tip to share.  I occasionally buy bunches of mint at market to make iced mint tea.  I keep the mint tied in a bunch, upside down in the hot water.  When it's done steeping, I pull out the bunch, squeezing the liquid out.  

Saturday, September 19, 2015

I Rescue the Bags and Set Them on a New Path

A little happy thing that I do is take an ugly, reusable shopping bag and sew some scraps of fabric over its logos to make it look better.

And sometimes to fix holes.
Only a few minutes of time on my part, a helpful reduction in my scrap bag, and a much nicer bag to carry around.

I guess I don't like logos and graphics on my bags for the same reason I don't put bumper stickers on my car:  I like to fly under the radar.  I'm pretty talkative about my pet issues, sure, but I don't announce them on my bags, tees, or car.

Then, one of the beach girls admired this bag when we traveled in August, and I realized that I could rescue some of the poor sad tote bags at the creative reuse store.  There they were, all neglected and ugly, advertising things that no one wanted to claim.

So I rescued them! I covered up their logos and graphics with great pleasure.  I had fun picking colors and buttons and perle cotton.

There are four bags in the shop and I have a missionary feeling about them:  the need to convert ugly bags into nice ones, to give them a new sense of purpose as they get into daily carrying, to bring them into crafty heaven as their reward.

Go look!  There are four of them in the shop!

Monday, September 14, 2015

What I Preserved This Summer

I decided that any preserving I did this summer when Phoebe was a newborn was a bonus.  I am quite surprised and pleased at how much I accomplished, with the help of the big kids and some strategic planning. The big kids could care for Phoebe if I needed to pull jars out of the canner or some other time-sensitive thing.  Thanks to the methods in Bringing Up Bébé, Phoebe can be patient with some delays if I had miscalculated my time or her needs.  She is also a pretty predictable napper by now, so I coordinated my projects with those naptimes.

Some of the totals below actually represent several days of split-up work, especially the corn, which I froze by just processing a few extra ears every time we had corn for a meal.   I didn't manage to take photos or blog it along the way, but here's the roundup.

16 pints strawberry freezer jam
3 pints strawberry rhubarb jam
8 pints sour cherries, frozen
7 half-pints maraschino cherries

7 pints dilly beans
7 quarts kosher dills
8 pints pizza sauce
10 pints blueberries, frozen
4 quarts green beans, frozen
17 pints pickled red beets
6 quarts red beet brine

10 quarts canned peaches
6 pints sweet pickle relish
6 pints peaches, frozen
5 pints peach salsa
7 half-pints salted brown butter peach jam (from Preserving by the Pint)
4 quarts pears
21 pints corn, frozen

20 quarts whole tomatoes
9 pints salsa
6 half-pints tomato jam (from Food in Jars)
8 quarts pizza sauce
2 half-pints chocolate pear jam (from Preserving by the Pint)

I ordered some more seconds tomatoes for tomorrow to make tomato soup.  I also will watch for cheap red bell peppers for pimentos, and also seconds apples for sauce.  And then I'll be done!

When I look at this list, I realize how experienced I've become as a canner.  Sometimes I wonder why I do this to myself (I mean, yes, there are all the right reasons - local food, thrift, straight-up skills, etc.) but it's just so much work.

I know some of my mom friends have time for other things because they are not canning.  I'm not locking myself into canning (see the first sentence of this post), but right now in my life, my satisfaction with the results is worth the time and work.

Are you a happy canner, a wishful canner, a former canner, a what? I'd love to hear about it.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Feeding Phoebe

At 4 months, she's on the young side of the recommended age, but boy, she is ready. She still grimaces at the first bite each time (we try to quell our laughter), but a few bites later, she is trying to grab the spoon to get it in her mouth faster.  I love feeding babies!

I was going to start with mashed avocado because that's what I did with the first two, but my husband whimsically suggested that we start with something local.  Okay, applesauce! And, charmingly, applesauce that I made last fall when I was pregnant with this very baby.

Then I cooked and pureed a sweet potato.  I freeze the extra in ice cube trays set aside for that purpose, and then I have cubes of baby food in the freezer.  This morning, I cooked and pureed two plums and froze the puree as well.

The book that I used as a guide for feeding my first two babies, Super Baby Food, is rather outdated Just a skim of recent research showed me that things have shifted.  I don't need to wait 4 days between each new food?  I should add a bit of salt to the baby's food?  I don't need to postpone possible allergenic food until 12 months or older? Help me out here, readers.  I want to feed Phoebe real food in a reasonable way that meets her body's needs. We have no food allergies on either side of the family.  Do you have a book or a resource to recommend?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Inspiration for Saving Old Jeans

I could not stop admiring this quilt - the wash of blue from all the kinds of denims with the powerful sprinkle of red - and see the pockets and saturated seams left from jeans?  So clever.  I love how modern the design is, how lively. One of the beach girls' mothers, Elaine Good, just made up this design for the love of quilts and creativity and materials on hand.  The quilt is about 15 years old and wearing like iron.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Bringing Up Bébé: Book Review

So my husband purchased a Harper’s magazine for his beach reading a few weeks ago.  And there was the author of Bringing Up Bébé, Pamela Druckerman, reflecting on her book.  I had forgotten about her book – I had never read it, although I read the other Frenchy books: French Kids Eat Everything and French Women Don’t Get Fat.  I found value in both those books, although it’s extremely tempting to lump the trio together for scorn and jokes and pro-American sentiment.

Then, two of the beach girls mentioned how much they wished they had read Bringing Up Bebe when they had their own small babies.  I looked at my small baby and read the book.  

The immediate effect on me was liberation.  I loved the idea of a patient, happy baby and a sane life not dictated by boring baby needs (note: this is not exactly what Druckerman claims, but rather the conclusion that I drew).  A fellow blogger pointed out a few weeks ago that days with an infant can be long and boring; I instantly felt relief and recognition when she described that feeling I was trying not to feel.  I am a homebody homemaker and I love being a mother, but yes, heaven help me, I need some stimulation besides baby life all day!

But, back to Bringing Up Bébé: I reviewed my nighttimes with Phoebe – we weren’t doing too badly and I had assumed in the American way that I had gotten a “good sleeper.”  She had slept from 9pm to 6am a few times since she was 3 months old, thus proving to me that she could go without milk at night.  So since then, if she fussed in the middle of the night, I would comfort her without offering to nurse her.  Younger babies usually do need milk around the clock, but by 3 months, Druckerman says, babies can sustain their sleep at night without milk, even if they feel a little hungry, just like kids and adults. In fact, parents should first watch the baby (La Pause, Druckerman jokes) when she starts fussing to see if she’s trying to go back to sleep or what; apparently, kids and adults wake up between sleep cycles and put themselves right back to sleep without even remembering it; that’s the goal for the babies, to learn that automatic self-soothing right back to sleep.

I found this perspective incredibly helpful.  It also rings true with my previous babies.  And further chapters had more sensible advice on manners, sensory exploration, eating, vacationing, and adult life.

Towards the end of the book, I began to try to read between the lines to see what the downfalls of French parenting might be.  Breastfeeding is actively discouraged (mothers can return to “normal” faster). Children seem to spend almost as much time away from their parents as with their parents.  From a young age, sometimes less than a year old, they go to nursery schools and childcare; the care is excellent and personal, but the pattern continues of French children essentially outsourced to other caregivers, taking week-long field trips in kindergarten and so on.  I’m guessing this makes for rather distant, formal relationships between parents and children.  The French government also pays for much of the schooling, medical care, maternal care, and extras; there are very few stay-at-home parents in France because the childcare is so easily available.

I’m still ruminating on this book, so we’ll see what stays with me long-term.  For now, here are my take-aways:

1. Give Phoebe some time when she starts fussing so she and I can figure out what’s needed.  Develops patience in her.  La Pause.
2. Encourage her to amuse herself with very little, to let her explore her world on her own terms.  This is the opposite of Baby Einstein and constant stimulation to speed up development.
3. Tell Phoebe what is going on and my reasons for what I’m doing with her (the French really believe that babies can understand such talk on an intuitive level – it sure makes me feel better about driving the last 10 minutes when she’s screaming if I’ve first explained to her that I will nurse her when we get home).
4. Give serious attention to my marriage as the primary relationship in our family.  Feel and feed my status as a beloved wife and lover.  My parents were an excellent example of this and their love made for a secure family life.  I’ve been guilty of attending to the urgent, noisy needs of the kids and feeling grateful if my husband doesn’t appear to need me so I can creep away for silence.  Can I be a good mother, partner, and introvert?  We’ll see!