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Archive for November, 2008

organization

It’s possible that I’m a little too collage-happy as of late. Anyway, let’s get organized! I’m in quite the organizing mood after cleaning my garage and straightening up the basement today. My husband and I snagged a Diego DVD from Redbox this afternoon, buying us 120 minutes of time to get the garage ready for winter. We now have a neat, swept garage with two vehicles actually parked in it. Ten hours ago we had a storage area with a mess of beach equipment, trash, boxes, gardening supplies, and three double strollers.

Sometimes cleaning and organizing takes this form…a day where it takes two people to go through a mountain of misplaced stuff, sorting and putting away and throwing away and giving away. Hopefully, most of our organizing can fit a little better into our everyday routines. Although I have read many books on the subject and most recommend some sort of system involving a purchase of storage containers or closet organizers,etc., I have found that we become more and more organized over the course of time. A basket here, a bin there, a cool vintage metal milk crate to hold some books.

Perhaps because I’m more creative and artistic than I am organized and methodical, I am not as good at systems as I am at finding beautiful and functional ways to store things. Don’t get me wrong, I do crave order and I absolutely love all those organization magazines in the checkout line with the closet makeovers and the children’s playrooms with shelves and baskets neatly labeled. Yet in my own home I seem to be more focused on the pretty than the practical.

Because of this, most of my storage solutions involve baskets. Baskets to hold linens, diapers and wipes, books, toys, bathroom toiletries, laundry, food, art supplies, stationery…if I can hide it in a pretty basket and it can double as a decoration, you’ll find it somewhere in my house! Most of these baskets are wicker, some are “longaberger style” (most are knockoffs, though!), and some are seagrass. In my sons’ room, I use “boyish” galvanized metal tubs to store books, trains, and legos. Many of the trash baskets throughout the house are baskets that are actually quite pretty. I have a small antique picnic basket that is the perfect size to hold a box of tissues (I take them out of the box first). Not only does using baskets help to create storage throughout the house rather than overloading closets and cabinets, but since I absolutely love the look of baskets, I am decorating my house at the same time! Most of my baskets are tag sale finds or were part of a gift.

Many of my baskets are stored on shelves throughout the house, either in or on a bookshelf, a wall-mounted shelf, or the bottom of my kitchen hutch. We have six bookshelves in our house and are in need of more. I also use the upper sections of shelves to display pretty things that are out of the reach of my children. One such “top shelf” holds a lovely collection of tea things, and the top shelf of my kitchen hutch shows off some of my pretty serving baskets, bowls, and a vintage cake tin. Many of the items out on shelves or counters in my kitchen are things that I actually use, once again working in with my philosophy of beauty and practicality.

I do, of course, have cardboard boxes and rubbermaid bins. They are simply behind closed doors, in the attic, and in the basement. Some of my favorite yet less ornamental storage items include a three drawer rubbermaid cart on rollers that I use in my sons’ closet as my younger son’s dresser. We love our over-the-door plastic hanging shoe organizer…we go through about one a year, but it’s well worth the $7 to keep all the little ones’ shoes in one central location. I use a large rubbermaid bin in the basement by the walk-out door to store outside toys. We have quite an assortment of metal and plastic shelving in our basement, all hand-me-downs from family, but we put them to good use as extra pantry storage and a place for all of our tools, as well as all of our board games.

As far as organizing mail and calendars and the like, we make sure we open mail immediately and either throw it away or put it on the desk to be dealt with promptly, or it goes on our fantastic marker/cork board “control center.” A few years ago I found a combination marker board/cork board at an outlet store for just a few dollars. I bought four of them, and mounted them in a square in our hallway, putting all four marker boards in toward each other. This gave us a large surface area for tacking up coupons, pictures, and important papers and for writing down phone numbers, messages, grocery lists and to-do lists, yet it’s broken up into neat, small sections. Grocery store flyers and catalouges go into a rustic box that hangs on the opposite wall.

We use a lot of hooks for hanging coats, and I plan to put up more very soon, both in the hall (a second set under what we already have so the little ones can hang up their own coats) and along the wall of the hall closet. This way, even though we have a very small closet for a moderately large family, we can have room for all of our coats. For now, I am stuffing hats and mittens inside the arms of the kids’ coats so that they don’t get lost and for lack of a better solution.

Obviously, you will find much better advice on organizing your home in a book or magazine, but what I can tell you is that 1) I spend very little on it. 2) What’s out in plain sight is both useful and pleasing to the eye. 3) What’s behind a closet door or in the basement may not be attractive but it’s inexpensive and efficient.

Happy organizing! I may follow up in the next few days with a couple random hints and tips, but I am anxious to move on to the cooking aspect of entertaining!!

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snapshots-from-my-home

Welcome back! As promised, I’d like to delve into the nitty-gritty subject of cleaning. After all, we can plan a menu, invite those friends, and pull out those pretty dishes and cloth napkins, but in order to open our home to others and make them feel truly welcome and blessed by our hospitality, we have to clean at least a little bit! And that’s my big secret for you: I only clean a little bit!

Now, my friends would tell you I’m lying, they would vow to you that I spend all my time scrubbing and washing and dusting and straightening, but I just don’t. The reason people have this idea, though, is because I have a cleaning routine that I go through when I expect company, however short the notice and however hum-drum the occasion.

Let me back up a little, though, and reiterate my philosophy concerning all things home-related: Simplify!!!!

I use just a few simple, inexpensive yet effective cleaning products and tools. Some are old favorites, some are new discoveries, and some are just what I’m using until I find something that works better for me, yet they all help me to simplify my cleaning routine.

You may not be a list person, but I sure am (I love lists!!!), so bear with me while I give you a rundown of what I use and how I use it:

  • Laundry: Charlie’s Soap. That’s it. Oh, and Shout on occasion to pretreat tough stains. No fabric softener, no searching ads for detergent on sale. I doubt you could beat the price of a 5 gallon drum of Charlie’s Soap powder, especially since most of my loads will come clean with half a scoop. A one tablespoon scoop! It gets my laundry cleaner and smelling fresher than anything I’ve ever used, it can be used on cloth diapers (which I once humored myself I could faithfully use), and it is h.e. compatible.
  • Mirrors, Windows, Glass and Chrome: I use Swift microfiber cloths. They are machine washable (up to 250 times), and get glass and other surfaces sparkling clean by just wetting the cloth, wringing out, and wiping down. Done. They supposedly disinfect as well, but I’m not that trusting so there are Certain Areas that I don’t use them. I do use them for windows, bathroom mirrors, faucets, countertops, chrome (such as my tea kettle), appliance exteriors, and woodwork. I try to avoid using paper towels as much as possible, so when I need to wipe down a countertop or table I grab one of these or a washcloth and just use water. Simple and economical!
  • Magic Eraser: For my glass cooktop (the best thing ever for it, even for really bad baked on spots when pots spill over), crayon on walls, “oops, I colored on the counter with a sharpie,” and sometimes even fabric if I’m careful.
  • Floors: Swift microfiber pads and mop. Again, machine washable, uses just water, rinse and wring out as often as needed, and go to town. For bathroom floors I will sometimes give a spray of disinfectant on the mop pad or directly on to the floor, just to make certain germs are being killed.
  • Toilet: This is the only place I use a more expensive product instead of something by far more economical than standard cleaning products. I use Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day toilet cleaner, usually the lavender scent, because it’s strong, safe for both my family’s chemical sensitivities and the environment, and it just smells so nice that it takes a little of the sting out of a most unpleasant chore.
  • Disinfectant: Shaklee Basic-G. I know the price has gone up on this, but I’m still working with a bottle purchased over two years ago for $12. I mix up a minimal amount in a spray bottle, and I have an extremely strong and effective disinfectant, which I use for bathrooms (mostly just the toilet exterior) and for cleanup after meat or egg messes in the kitchen. Also effective to spray on mattresses after a child has a bed-wetting incident or anything related to stomach-flu. I use with paper towels to clean light switches and door handles during cold and flu season. Safe to spray on carpets and shouldn’t affect the chemically sensitive.
  • Dusting: I use a feather duster for light dusting and a slightly damp microfiber cloth for areas like the piano or light fixtures where dust is “stuck on.” I use the extension tool on my vacuum for ceilings.
  • Tub/shower: This has been an issue in the past, I just couldn’t find anything that really worked that was quick and easy, especially during my pregnancies when getting off the couch seemed like Mission Impossible, let alone cleaning a grungy, scummy shower. I have just recently discovered that SOS pads, the orange oil kind that are sold in an 18-pack for $3 or less, do a fantastic job. They cut right through soap scum, yet they are gentle enough to use on the chrome. I recently switched out my shower head for a handheld water saving unit, and so rinsing is a breeze.
  • Scrubbing the bathroom and kitchen sinks: Bar Keeper’s Friend, or Bon Ami if you can find it (not available in my area). Safe and very effective. I don’t bleach my sink, in fact I only use bleach as an emergency rescue for stained whites, and we have never been sick from any foodborne related illness or bacteria that could be traced back to such a source.
  • Handsoap: Not really part of a cleaning routine, but a way that I simplify and provide for the needs of my son, as well, seeing as how it’s a bit hard to find a reasonably priced handsoap without artificial fragrance or dyes. I order a gallon of castille soap from my food co-op for $13 and add tea trea oil to make it antibacterial, as well as a scented oil such as lavender or lemongrass to provide that nice smell we all like in our handsoap. I have collected some pretty dispensers from tag sales or clearance racks and I estimate each “batch” of soap to cost about 35 cents.

I have already mentioned my heavy reliance on my dishwasher, in which I use Trader Joe’s powdered Dishwasher Detergent (again due to my son’s chemical issues). Don’t forget that you can cut back to half of the recommended amount of detergent! I scrape my dishes but do not rinse them. Using the pot-scrubber setting has not increased my utility bill, especially since I turn the heat dry setting off and let the dishes air dry…the steam from the hot water dries almost everything anyway.

Also, I have already extolled the virtues of my washer and dryer. Having laundry issues simplified frees me up to complete other housekeeping tasks in less time.

My children do most of the picking up around the house. They take care of all of their toys, books, and art supplies. They put away their laundry, and my oldest daughter can straighten the couch cushions to my liking, as well as straighten dining chairs and clean the windows with the microfiber cloths. They are also responsible for their rooms, although I do make up the girls’ bunk beds if we are having guests. When company is expected, I don’t do anything that the kids can do instead.

My husband is also a wonderful help to me at such times. If your spouse has asked how he or she can help you, find one or two ways and allow them to consistently provide that help. My husband takes out the trash most of the time, unloads the dishwasher when he is able to, and divides up the clean laundry into separate baskets so the kids can put it away. It doesn’t take him much time at all, but it’s a tremendous help to me. If we are under a lot of time pressure before entertaining, I make a list on our marker board and he knows to look there for the next task.

Other than that, I have a daily routine of trying to stay on top of the dishes, sweeping the floor, and straightening up. I vacuum once or twice a week, dust and mop about every two weeks. Anytime a mess needs my attention (a spill, marks on walls, dust I hadn’t noticed before) I will take care of it quickly and leave deeper cleaning for it’s appropriated time. I have my weak areas, such as cleaning and organizing the refrigerator and freezer, closets, and at times my bedroom, but for the most part we have a streamlined routine for cleaning house.

If you find that the cleaning element of entertaining overwhelms you and keeps you from extending hospitality, examine your methods and see where you might be able to simplify. If you have too much dust, consider eliminating knick knacks that collect dust. Do you have twenty different cleaning products and sorting through them is confusing and time-consuming? Try to streamline. Could you save up for a purchase that might make cleaning easier for you, like the microfiber products? Cleaning might be unpleasant at times, but it’s a necessary part of home life, even without entertaining in mind! So take some time to think about how you can make improvements in this area. I will, too!

I apologize for the lengthy post, I just didn’t know how to break it up. Next time we’ll talk about getting organized!

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Come On In!

couch

Well, it has taken me some time to get around to my first post on Simple Hospitality…because I’ve been entertaining! We have had a busy few days, with quite a bit of cooking, cleaning, setting tables, and sharing food with friends. Things have slowed down a little, so come right on in, settle in on the couch, and let’s chat about decorating, dishes, and dirty laundry!

1. I chose a style that worked for our family.

I wasn’t always drawn to cottage style decor and furnishings. When we were first married, my husband and I had a lot of black, cream, and brown throughout our apartment, and I was drawn to more modern accesories. I have always liked greens and reds, but I didn’t use white much, and had yet to discover pink. Then my mother gave me an old quilt of my grandmother’s, a flower garden style with a white background and lots of pastel prints. I stuffed it out of the way for awhile, then it eventually wound up getting draped over the back of our couch. Our brown couch. Every time I looked at that quilt I smiled and something of spring flowers and sunshine would pop into my head. I really, really liked it.

Very gradually, over the years, I have collected a full range of white, pink, red, and green furniture and accessories around me. I am also drawn to honey-toned woods, and a little distressing is a plus. There was no feasible way for me to have polished, fine furniture with my tumbly children about, so “shabby” works really well for us! Tag sales, flea markets, and thrift stores provide a wealth of vintage and antique finds that fit right in with my farmhouse/cottage/beach house style.

When friends come in to my home and express admiration for my decor, at times I will wink and smile and point out that all my decorations are at a height of four feet or above…just out of reach of little hands! So I have had to adjust and realize that for now, I can’t have bowls of potpurri on lamp tables…or candles, glass, picture frames, plants…all those things are present in my house, they’re just up on a shelf or on the wall.

2. We plan carefully for major purchases that simplify our life.

My best example of this, although I could give several, is my front-loading washer and dryer. They are super capacity, set up on pedestal drawers, a top name brand, and were by no means inexpensive. With four small children, I was already finding myself drowning under a mountain of dirty laundry. What happens when tiny little jeans become big jeans, and itsy bitsy sweatshirts are not so itsy bitsy? Those of you with teens could tell me, I’m sure! Also, I was having some back trouble and contemplating regular intervention that would mean a co-pay at least twice a week. We seriously thought it over, and I did a lot of research. Given the savings in water and electricity that we could expect from such a purchase, and waiting for an opportunity when we would not have to go in to debt to do it, we altered our laundry closet by nailing up some beadboard and installed a shelf for baskets. The new machines hide behind a pretty floral curtain that hangs from the shelf when they are not being used. Not only do I love the new look, I also have not had any back trouble since making the switch, I do laundry just one day a week now, and based on our new utility bills we will be saving $320 per year in water and electricity, and that does not include whatever heating oil costs we are saving on due to the lowered hot water usage. Sometimes, a large purchase can save money in the long run and greatly simplify your life, which can free you up to extend hospitality more often. I don’t know about you, but lots of dirty laundry lying around, or having to do wash almost every day, can interfere with my desire to have anyone over!

3. I use my dishwasher. Almost exclusively. If I can fit it in there, in it goes. Most days I just do one load of dishes, but if I have been doing a good deal of cooking it’s easily two, and after having friends over for dinner last night I did three loads of dishes today and still have more waiting in the sink. It is simply easier and faster for me to run a machine than to spend an hour at the sink washing dishes, and with little ones running around it’s hard for me to spend a solid ten minutes doing anything, let alone a longer stretch of time. I long ago stopped feeling guilty about this, especially since it doesn’t have much of an impact on our utility bills.

Also regarding dishes, I have streamlined and simplified what I store in my kitchen. We don’t have a huge collection of mugs, just a set that matches our plates and a few extra, in sets of two. If I have something I use all the time and it’s pretty or interesting to look at, it goes out on an open shelf or counter, so that it may double as a decoration. I have a few favorite kitchen gadgets, but if the one drawer that I store them in is too full to open, something has to go.

What I do have is a collection of vintage and antique glass plates, mostly dessert plates, and a growing collection of fine bone china teacups. I also collect vintage glass serving plates. Pulling these out for a tea party or for snack time after small group adds sparkle and shine and dresses the kitchen up instantly. It’s little touches like these–real plates, cloth napkins, a candle, background music, a pitcher of lemon water…simple but beautiful things that brighten and cheer and make people feel like you took time to do something special for them.

So, until next time, happy entertaining! Perhaps you could take a moment to sit down, plan a simple menu, call up a friend and extend an invitation to your home. In my next post, I will address cleaning and organizing, and then I hope to spend some time on cooking after that and I’ll share a couple of my favorite “gourmet” recipes that are simple and easy to prepare.

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“How do you do it all?”

allposters.com "Young Mother Sewing"

allposters.com

I received an email from a friend with regards to my last post about entertaining, and she asked me this question. She also wanted some tips as to how she might successfully entertain given her own set of limitations. I thought I would give my answer here in case it might prove helpful to others…or at least be good for a hearty laugh.

Well, the first and obvious answer is “I don’t”…nobody can do it all, of course. Now, I know, you have somewhere amongst your Friends and Relations an example of Her. The woman that you are certain keeps every nook and cranny of her fabulous home spotless and organized, who never has a hair out of place, makes delicious cookies for her children every afternoon, participates in 27 different community events each year and serves on 13 committees, throws the best parties, homeschools her 7 children, and spends two hours in prayer and bible study every day. I actually have a friend who comes shockingly close to this description myself.

However, I say again, nobody can do it all. God has created us with both strengths and weaknesses. Seeing marked improvement in our areas of weakness over time is part of our sanctification and growth as a person as we mature in both age and reason. I believe that recognizing our strengths and utilizing our gifts within our home is a vital part of creating a pleasant environment for our families.

For instance, I love to cook. I love to decorate and make things pretty. I am an extrovert who thrives in a group setting. I also adore planning and lists. Naturally, I enjoy entertaining, from the planning stages right up through cleaning up saying goodbye and escorting my friends to the door.

I am a book person. I love culture and art and thought and discussion. I love words and poetry and music and the thrill of being caught up in a good story. I like puzzles and projects and watching the lights come on in a child’s eye when they finally “get it.” I have a strong desire to nurture and disciple my children. So I do happen to enjoy homeschooling my children, and feel grateful that God has equipped me to the extent where I can direct their learning and have them home with me as they grow and explore and create.

But there are so, so many areas in which I am weak. I am a perfectionist, which may sound harmless at first, but it means I will often not even attempt something unless I can do it perfectly. For those who are wise and realize success is often preceeded by many failures, you can see how this is a debilitating flaw. I also work very, very slowly and once involved in something I am so completely absorbed that I become unaware of what is going on around me. Not the best idea with small children!

Over the years, I have learned a few tricks that work well for me given these strengths and weaknesses. I hope to share some of these ideas over the course of my next few posts, but I will start out with the overarching theme of simplicity. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Even my most extravagant entertaining (don’t get the wrong idea, that simply means we use real plates and no boxes of mac ‘n cheese) is a combination of a lot of simple things.

The more stuff we have, the more time it takes to maintain it. If you feel constantly stretched for time and resources, it’s likely that you have overcommitted in one or more areas (or you are a homeschooling mom! Sorry, had to slip that one in there). It’s also very important to consider what season of life you are in and what is inherently essential to that season…you may find you are trying to maintain the lifestyle of a young single or an empty nester when what you are is a mother with small children!

In my next post I will begin to share some examples of what we do here in our home to keep things running relatively smoothly, and I will also share what falls between the cracks. Your comments on both would be most welcome!

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42-16943134(pro.corbis.com/images/42-16943134)

…but a picture of a pile of dishes seemed appropriate tonight as I think about the last couple days, given that this is actually my first opportunity to sit and think!

It seems to me that no matter how far out on the calendar an event is planned (take getting together with friends you haven’t seen in a few years as a convenient example), that event can come up on you suddenly. I found myself pressured for time over the last few days to plan a menu, start cleaning, and squeeze in as much homeschooling as I could as Saturday quickly approached.

Part of the time crunch is due to the fact that we host small groups in our home on Friday nights and this week was my week for snack. I “cheated” a little and served ice cream sundaes in plastic cups so that I had more time to prepare for Saturday, but the cups were a cheery red and I had all kinds of fun toppings put out in mismatched vintage glass bowls.

So this morning found me once again pondering whether “all this is worth it”…a few days of planning, grocery shopping, cooking and baking, cleaning and organizing, and the constant reminders to the children to keep picked up after themselves. As I baked an apple tart, assembled a gourmet salad, and stirred some loaded baked potato soup on the stove, I thought about how much more enjoyable fellowship with friends seems to be when it’s over good food. A familiar ritual of lighting candles, making beds, opening blinds to let light stream in through clean windows, disinfecting bathrooms, picking up those last few stray toys, and straightening throw pillows on the couch reminded me how much I enjoy stepping into someone else’s home when it’s evident that an effort has been made to create a pleasant and welcoming environment.

I could have passed yet another Saturday in lazing about or running an endless stream of errands. I could have had some extra time to myself or watched a movie. I even feel a little guilty about all the raking of leaves and pruning of bushes that went undone today. But there’s something about those few minutes before company comes over when every room in the house is clean…when a favorite CD plays in the background and something yummy simmers on the stove…when little noses are pressed against the (momentarily clean) window, watching for a car to pull up to the house. Candlelight, pretty dishes, little girls with hair carefully arranged, wicker bread baskets lined with colorful cloth napkins, flowers in a glass jar, a pile of grapes served in a white colander. We don’t see these things every day, or at least not all at once. Add to that good conversation, lots of laughter, and the antics of a houseful of small children, and you have the makings of a pretty good day.

Worth the planning, worth the preparing, worth the sore feet and aching neck. Good friends and good food. It works every time!

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Sabbath Reflections

The picture above is from the front of a card that was given to me today by a friend, accompanied by a lovely little white “shabby” tiered serving tray. Not only have I always wanted a little white “shabby” tiered serving tray, I was so taken aback by the very simple offering of this gift given to me out of the blue. “I saw this and I thought of you”…how very sweet! I wonder, have I ever done that for anyone else? I’d like to become more aware of and intentional about such opportunities. It doesn’t have to be anything expensive or even a tangible object at all. An unexpected gift could come in the form of an invitation to coffee or tea, a note of encouragement, a plate of cookies, an offer to provide a couple hours of childcare for a weary young mother. It often does not take much to lift the spirits of another. Sometimes even a hug or a smile can bring delight and cheer. We are often so absorbed in ourselves, so wrapped up in our thoughts or jumping ahead in our minds to “what’s next,” that we can become oblivious to the opportunities around us, both great and small.

Continuing on in our passage in Phillipians, we saw this morning that “at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow.” What a joy for the believer to humbly and joyfully bow in this life as we serve our Lord, ever mindful of his condesceding grace towards us! We will each one of us bow that knee one day, but will we bow in reverence to our beautiful Savior, or in fear and dread before our eternal Judge?

In Christ we see a picture of humilty, of service, of condescending love, and of perfect obedience. May we take hold of this truth and, as we are conformed more and more to His image, may we be inspired to selfless actions that make much of our great and glorious God.

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