Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Don't work harder!

This little project was great fun, and it proved to be the perfect solution too!

I have a tiny kitchen. Really tiny. So tiny that there is literally nowhere you can put a rubbish bin in there, not even one of those that go under the sink. As a result the kitchen bin is actually in the hallway, just outside the kitchen. This isn't the problem that you might expect it to be, it is actually closer to the sink and chopping board than it would be in most bigger kitchens! But it does create a bit of a psychological barrier and sometimes it seems a bit silly to have to carry rubbish all the way out of the kitchen to put it in the bin.

This happened a lot with teabags. Silly little things, and dripping boiling tea as well, who wants to carry them into the hallway? So they would be put on the edge of the sink. Where they would stay, piling up and causing stains. I hated it but it seemed like no matter what I did they would just continue to gather. I felt that they shouldn't be there, that they should be in the bin, that it should be easy to put them in a bin only a meter away from the kettle, that I should try that bit harder to enforce the rule.

Here's the thing, it's almost never about trying harder. If something bothers you, trying harder probably isn't the answer. You are probably trying to do the impossible. People (yourself or someone else) do things for a reason, a good reason usually, and just thinking you can change it wont really work. You have to work with what you have, acknowledge that reason and find a way to make it work for you.

So I went to a ceramic painting studio. I found a little pot (even though it looks like a flower pot it doesn't have a hole in the base!) and I painted it. I had a really nice afternoon relaxing with a cup of tea and some paints, and when I was done I had this. A tea bag pot. It sits next to the kettle and collects used teabags. Everybody remembers to use it, they don't pile up on the side of the sink, I don't feel bad for not trying harder and everybody is happy. Sometimes you just have to work with what you have!

Monday, 18 April 2016

Cleaning Checklist

I've decided to try a new approach to cleaning. The general idea of doing things when they need to be done, a little every day, isn't working for me. I'm sure it works brilliantly for a lot of people but it just isn't working for me. I always feel like I'm behind or like I've missed something. And while I'm on maternity leave I am actually at home quite a lot, so I have more blocks of time than I did when I was working 12 hour days elsewhere.

This morning I sat down and wrote out a cleaning checklist.

I imagined I was hiring a cleaner. The cleaner of my dreams, who was happy to do a few of the extras like the inside of the fridge and watering plants. I don't expect a cleaner to declutter or even tidy, this is just about cleaning.

First the things that need doing everywhere, like dusting and hoovering. They don't need to be done one room at a time if it's easier to go through the whole house in one go. Then I listed the extra tasks in each room. I just imagined walking through the house, visiting every room and pointing out to a new cleaner what needed to be done. Finally, a weekly deep clean of one room. I put down a different room each week to get a bit of attention, under the furniture and inside cupboards, that sort of thing. To start with I might not get round to the deep clean but I hope that with practice I'll get more efficient at whipping round and find the best order to do everything in.

Wish me luck, I'll let you know how it goes!

Monday, 22 February 2016

Keeping Laundry "Up to Date"

When I ask people what they think defines a domestic goddess, one of the things that comes up again and again is "up to date laundry." I can definitely relate to that one, nothing seems to suck the life out of you like a whole mountain of dirty clothes and nothing left to wear!

Laundry can seem never ending. In fact, it is never ending. If your definition of being up to date is an empty laundry basket then I hate to tell you this but you are doomed to failure. Even if you have done every scrap of laundry your family are still wearing clothes. Those clothes are not clean and at the end of the day at least some of them will go in the laundry basket. That is just inescapable, unless you become full time nudists. And even then there will be bedsheets and towels.

When I finally realised that fact I changed my definition of "up to date." Now I fully expect there to be some dirty laundry in the house. That's absolutely fine, it's meant to be there. The question is how much there should be, and that depends on the system that works for you. Some people like to have a laundry day once a week. They get it all done and then forget about it for six days. I suspect that works best if you are at home during the week and have a separate tumble drier. That way you can spend a day transferring loads from one machine to the other every few hours and get a lot done. After that you are up to date, no matter how full the basket is, it gets done on laundry day.

That system doesn't work for me. I don't have room for a separate tumble drier for a start and I really can't picture a whole week's worth of laundry draped over clothes horses! For a long time I tried to do a load a day, or whenever I thought it needed doing, and hang it up to dry. That tended to go astray since I would come home after a long day at work and forget to hang things up. So, in an attempt to save electricity by not tumble drying I would actually end up washing the same load three times! Not very effective.

My next system was to do a load each day and set it to automatically wash and tumble, since I have a machine that does both. I would put the laundry in before I went to work and set it on a delay so that it would finish in the evening. That way if there was a leak or other problem it wouldn't be running all day in an empty house, but I also wouldn't forget to turn it on. All I had to do was put the clean clothes away. This system worked! Clearly I need the laziest option.

The final puzzle piece is my new laundry basket. I'm so pleased with it, which is a little ridiculous since it is only a laundry basket after all! The problem I found was that I often couldn't really see how much dirty laundry there was, or I didn't have time to sort it out in the morning. My pet hate was those times I thought there wasn't much only to discover that someone had put things straight into the machine, or even worse on the floor in front of it. Suddenly when I thought I had one load to do it turned out there were three! I tried different baskets but they never really got used the way I had intended. This one, on the other hand, is perfect.

See the three baskets, each marked by a different colour? I needed three. One for lights, one for darks and one for things needing special care. If it's woollen or can't be tumble dried it goes in the third basket. Luckily we don't usually have too many of those! Each section holds one load of laundry, so you don't have to judge if their is enough or not, if it's getting full it's ready to go. Then you just lift that section out and take it straight to the machine. No sorting or transferring between baskets needed. First thing in the morning, when I'm in the bathroom anyway, I just glance at the baskets and grab whichever one is looking full, tip it straight into the machine and come back later to find it all clean and dry. Couldn't be easier. If none of them are very full, which happens more and more often now that I'm keeping up, I might grab the towels or dressing gowns instead.

So, right now I'd say that I am up to date with the laundry even if it isn't all clean. I have:
  • Clean clothes for everyone to wear
  • No toppling piles anywhere
  • Less than a load in each basket
  • One load done today
That, for me, is a win!

Friday, 19 February 2016

The Everlasting Cardi

I've been waiting to post this one until I had a suitable model to show it off. So, I would like to introduce you to the newest member of the family!

I started knitting this cardigan a long time ago. I wanted a project that would take quite a while to do, something that would be a real achievement and a bit special rather than just another baby jumper. I didn't know how long it would be before I had a little person to wear it so I didn't want it finished too quickly!

Looking around for a pattern was difficult, I needed something special and a bit intricate but usable everyday. Not too lacy for a boy, not too old fashioned, but not a modern geometric pattern either. Everything seemed very much aimed at either boys or girls. Eventually I came across this pattern which seemed to fit the bill. The picture I saw was knitted up in a nice gender neutral green, which is probably what caught my eye! Having found the pattern I went in search of yarn, and since it only uses one ball of lace weight, I could splash out on something extra special. In the end I found a lovely silk and alpaca blend. So soft! I was thinking green but then I saw a lovely soft denimy blue, which would make the lace pattern a bit more suitable for a boy while looking lovely over a pink babygrow for a girl.

It did take a long time to knit, which is how it ended up being known as the "everlasting" cardi. I just managed to finish it with a few weeks to go. Admittedly I could have finished a bit sooner if I had worked on it constantly, but sometimes life gets in the way! After a while I started to get bored of it as well, coming across new patterns that I wanted to start and feeling like this little blue scrap of lace would never be finished. But it was something special, I wanted it to be my baby's first outfit and I wanted to finish it myself. So of course I persevered and I'm so pleased that I did.

Since this was a special item I really wanted to use some special buttons. I have my Granny's old button box, and some of the contents came from my Great-granny, so it seemed like the perfect thing would be to find some old buttons in there. The challenge was finding enough that matched, or at least went together. Rummaging around in the little drawers I could smell the familiar scent of Granny's house. I will never work out what that was, it wasn't her cleaning products or a favourite perfume, more like old books if anything. But then maybe I think that because a lot of my old books came from her! Whatever it was, it was a nice comforting smell and always reminds me of happy times whenever I do catch it caught in some old thing of hers. Choosing the buttons from that box made me feel like she will be with William. And they are old buttons, so I'm reasonably sure they came from my Great-granny as well.

There is a lot of love knitted into that little cardigan. Love everlasting.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Getting rid of the clutter!

Have you ever tackled a major decluttering project? I know some people never have to, they just get rid of the odd thing here and there and it never builds up. I am not one of those people, and neither is my husband. In our house things tend to collect until some tipping point is reached and serious action is needed.

In the last few months that has happened a lot. We have a two bedroom house and for the last five years the second bedroom has been part office, part model railway and part guest room. Now it's a nursery. Which is much more fun than an office, but did require quite a lot of rearranging! The model railway has had to go, and will be replaced by a movable version rather than having a fixed home, the desk is now in the diningroom/library/sewing room, which has meant moving things around in there. Various bookcases and yarn storage has had to be moved as well. The upshot is that we have quite a lot of new furniture to make better use of the space!

That has meant piles of things that we didn't need anymore, everything from furniture to clothes. All perfectly usable but it was difficult to know what to do with it all. Really we just needed it to go as quickly as possible. I considered selling some things but by the time I had listed them on ebay, wrapped them, taken them all into the post office etc it didn't really seem worth the odd pound or two profit I would make. There was just too much to deal with. A charity shop seemed like a good option, except most of the shops don't have nearby parking and at 9 months pregnant I couldn't carry furniture and big boxes around to drop it all off!

Then I discovered a very useful thing. Collections! I don't know about other charities but certainly the British Heart Foundation will send round a van to collect all your clutter from your home. Fantastic plan! I went straight to the website and filled in the form to book a collection. Someone phoned that afternoon to confirm the details, we went over what I had to donate and arranged a date. Apparently they only collect in my area on a Wednesday morning, which could be rather inconvienient if you were out at work but suits me at the moment. Two weeks later I had everything piled up in the living room and was looking forward to seeing it all go.

The men who arrived were quite friendly and looked over all the furniture to make sure it was usable before they loaded it onto the van. They took everything even though some was a bit old or battered so there was no problem with that. Unfortunately it turned out that they could only take furniture and electricals, all the clothes, books and other random bits and bobs were handled by a different branch. I was quite annoyed by that since I had confirmed on the phone that I had those sorts of things and nobody had said anything then. Plus nobody seemed to be able to give me a phone number, just "you have to call the other shop" which wasn't really very helpful. Still, I found the number on the website and arranged another collection. I just had to wait another two weeks.

Those boxes have been stuck in my livingroom for four weeks now, and believe me I cant wait to see them go! But, I am also very grateful that I don't have to take them anywhere myself. If I was to try to drop them off I know they would only make it as far as the boot of the car and then hang around there for at least as long, and with a baby bump, or a tiny newborn, I would really struggle to get them out of the car and into the shop.

All in all, if you have a fairly flexible schedule so you can be around when they want to come, don't mind waiting and have a lot of things to donate then this is a great service. And all your clutter can go and do good for other people as well as being enjoyed by it's new owners.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Your first project

Your first project needs to be something that has a big impact, something that will make you smile everyday. It also needs to be something that you can finish quickly, so you can see what a difference it makes. Save the long term projects for later on, first aim for something that you can finish in a day or a weekend. Try to make it something for a room you use often, the living room perhaps, or the kitchen. You want to see it as often as you can so don't hide it away in the spare bedroom!

What should you do? Well, as this is your home I can't really tell you! I can't give you a step by step guide to the perfect project because it has to come from your heart. To find your project consider what makes you unique, what are the things that instantly make people think of you? The things you love to do? What makes you smile? Chances are you can turn one of those things into a project. It doesn't have to be arty or too involved, it just has to be something unique to you. Something nobody else would do in quite the same way.

Here are some ideas to get you started:
  • Make a special display of teacups, or some other collection
  • Paint an abstract canvas with a special word that means something to you
  • Dye lots of cheap cushion covers your favourite colour
  • Set up an alter or meditation corner
  • Create a reading nook
  • Frame your "signature" recipe and hang it in the kitchen
  • Stencil your favourite foods and  other kitchen words (like "whisk" and "simmer") onto a plain blind to hang in the kitchen (or relaxing words for the bathroom).
  • Group some candles together into a display, including something scented
  • Create a miniature garden in a bowl using miniature cacti, or perhaps a fairy garden with alpine plants and moss
For a very quick boost don't forget the power of flowers. These daffodils were given to me a couple of days ago and they certainly brighten my day! Almost instant impact.

I would never have said that daffs were my favourite flower, but do you know, I think they are. They are the only flower I always buy when I see them for sale, the only one that never fails to make me smile when I see them growing. So now I'm looking for ways to use that in a project, I'm sure I'll plant some bulbs in the garden but I'll probably do something for inside the house as well, perhaps a table runner or a wall hanging. Watch this space and see what I come up with!

Monday, 8 February 2016

8 Easy Steps to Freezer Meal Kits

Do you ever find yourself wondering what to make for dinner? Just not having the time or energy to cook? Or perhaps you just want to make the most of a great deal in the supermarket? Then the answer might be meal kits, my favourite version of freezer "cooking."  This method lets you make a lot of meals very quickly, without slaving over a hot stove. Infact these 14 meals weren't even made in my kitchen, I used the dining table since it's bigger! They are all things that will go in the slow cooker so all I need to do is tip one in first thing and I'll have a freshly cooked meal to put on the table in the evening. Perfect!

Step one - The Plan

The first step is to make a plan. I had lots of meat delivered at a discount price from Muscle foods so my plan was made around that. If you find a good offer on chicken it would make sense to include lots of chicken meals. I planned about two of each recipe, not so many that we would get bored of the same thing. Of course you will want to consider your family's likes and dislikes, special diets and so on. No two families will want the same things! Be sure to note down which recipe books or websites you got your ideas from, it saves a lot of time later.

Next I find it helps to put everything in one place, to save flicking backwards and forwards through all those different books. I just put the name of each recipe and a list of the ingredients. Having all my recipes on one or two pages really does make life easier. And from there you can write your shopping list. As well as the ingredients you will want to stock up on freezer bags to put all your meals in. I find that it's worth buying slightly more expensive bags with zip type tops, but whatever you choose you definitely want freezer, rather than sandwich, bags.

Step Two - Ready to Go

I have a really tiny kitchen so I actually do these meal kits at the dining room table instead, it just gives me a bit more space. It also means you can sit down while you work! If you plan to do the same you will need to gather everything together before you start, from ingredients to utensils. Don't forget a bin bag for peelings and some kitchen roll or a cloth to wipe any spills up quickly, especially if you have a carpet.

Step Three - Meat

I like to deal with all the meat first. Once that is done I can wash my hands and utensils really well then not worry too much about cross contamination. After all, a bit of carrot juice on the outside of a bag is very different to raw chicken. First I label all the bags with the name of the dish, the fact that it needs slow cooking, anything to be added later and the date. Then I get chopping. I do aim to keep one hand "clean", for holding the knife, opening bags etc, and use the other for actually touching raw meat.

You may find that meat goes a bit further as you chop it up. The chicken breasts I had were quite big so I allowed 3/4 per person instead of one each. Just chop away and divide between the bags. After the chicken I moved onto the other meat, which was already cut up. I had enough beef to do an extra meal which was a nice surprise! Then wash up, I swapped to a different chopping board as well.

Step Four - Veg

I tend to do onion next since nearly every dish has onion in some form, then I move on through the other veg. You'll probably find you waste very little since you can always squeeze those little bits and bobs in somewhere rather than putting them back in the fridge and forgetting about them. I do try not to put exactly the same mix in every meal though, just so we don't get bored. This bit is quite fun as the meals start to look really colourful and it feels like you are making progress.

Step Five - Sauce

Some of your meals are probably complete now, or nearly so. They might just need a splash of wine, a tin of tomatoes or a tin of soup to finish them off. Go ahead and complete them, seal the bags and set them aside. Add those ingredients to your other meals as well, nearly done!

Step Six - Spices

The last things to add are the stock cubes, spices and dried herbs. Double check your list to make sure everything has been ticked off for every recipe. If you forgot to put the garlic in the creamy garlic chicken then now is the time to go back and add it.

Step Seven - Freeze

As you finish each meal zip the bag almost shut, leaving about an inch open. Then squeeze out as much air as you can before closing it completely. The food will keep much better that way and it takes up less space in the freezer. Pop all your meal kits in the freezer lying flat, so they freeze into a nice neat shape. If you want to you can stand them all up once they are solid, so you can flick through like you would a box of books and easily find the one you want.

Step Eight - Eat!

When you are ready to use one of your meals just take it out of the freezer and leave in the fridge overnight to defrost. In the morning pour it into the slowcooker and turn on, your meal will be ready and waiting for you that evening with no effort at all. You could even use a liner so you don't have to wash the pot!