Sunday, July 18, 2010

When It's Time to Just Say No

Recently, I shared a housekeeping tip of saying yes when others say no. What I meant by this was that the tidiest housekeepers among us tend not to ignore what needs to be done; they do it right away. My tip today of saying no does not counteract the housekeeping attitude of saying yes; in fact, it goes right along with it. Let me explain.

My college professor and advisor once said that our character is proven more by what we say no to than what we say yes to. There are many great things out there that are easy to say yes to, but sometimes saying no is what is best.

Take ladies' Bible studies for example. I don't do them (although I am going to a Wednesday night summer study when it works out for my family for me to attend). I tried going for awhile, but it was way too stressful for me. We were always late, and I was grouchy and short-tempered with my kids. The rules are that kids have to stay in the nursery, and if they don't want to stay in the nursery, that is another stress altogether. Plus, I'm not organized enough to return home from being gone all morning and have a productive rest of the day. The stresses and the grumpiness of it all are quite taxing. So pretty much a whole day is shot trying to become a "more godly woman." In the process, my children are not seeing Mommy acting like a patient, godly woman.

I've come to the conclusion that it is better for me, and my husband and my children, at this season in my life to not put the women's Bible study morning on my already full plate. I can read and study my Bible just fine right here at home (and it is much more relaxing and my kids can actually be with me if they're up).

Laura at Heavenly Homemakers blogged about this earlier this week as well. Here's part of what she wrote:
"I remember struggling to get out of the door by 9:30 for a Ladies’ Bible Study each Thursday morning when my boys were tiny (nursing, in diapers, potty training…). I don’t remember a thing about what we studied during those years. What I do remember is feeling like I wanted to CRY every single Thursday by the time I finally got there (late) and fought my kids to get into the nursery. Don’t even get me started on how much it wrecked their nap schedule and threw the entire day off and created a lot of grouchiness (the kids were usually grouchy too).

Why did I keep doing it week after week? Because it was 'a good thing to do'."
Laura interviewed author and speaker Lisa Whelchel about raising little ones. Here's what Lisa said when asked, "What encouragement can you offer moms with little ones?”

“I’d say do as little as possible outside of being a mom. Don’t put your kids in a bunch of activities. Don’t be involved yourself in a lot of extra activities. You don’t need to try to lead a Bible study…don’t even go to a bunch of Bible studies if getting there takes too much out of you. There are so many good things to do, but you may need to give up even some of the good things you’re interested in doing so that you can do what you need to do for your family. Raising little ones takes a lot out of us and if we give a lot of our energy to outside things, we don’t have anything left for our family. This is a short season in life…later you can do more of the other things you feel are important, but right now raising your little ones is the most important."
What great encouragement and advice. You can read the rest of Laura's interview here. She also talked to her about marriage and raising teens.

Getting back to just saying no, I was quite convicted once, but also inspired, when I read these words by the 19th century preacher J.R. Miller in his beautiful book The Family:
"There certainly have been cases in which very tender love has lost its tenderness and when the cause lay in the disorder, the negligence and the mismanagement of the housewifery. There is not doubt that many a heart-estrangement begins at the table where meals are unpunctual and food is poorly cooked or repulsively served. Bad housekeeping will soon drive the last vestige of romance out of any home. The illusion which love weaves about an idolized bride will soon vanish if she proves incompetent in her domestic management. The wife who will keep the charm of early love unbroken through the years, and in whose home the dreams of the wedding-day will come true, must be a good housekeeper.

In one of his Epistles, St. Paul gives the counsel that young wives should be 'workers at home,'...signifying that home is the sphere of the wife's duties, and she is to find her chief work there. There is a glory in all the Christian charities which Christian women, especially in these recent days, are founding and conducting with so much enthusiasm and such marked success....There are many who are free to serve in public charities, in caring for the poor, for the sick in hospital wards, for the orphaned and the aged....

But it should be understood that for every wife the first duty is the making and keeping of her own home. Her first and best work should be done there, and till it is well done she has no right to go outside to take up other duties. She is to be a 'worker at home.' She must look upon her home as the one spot on earth for which she alone is responsible, and which she must cultivate well for God if she never does anything outside. For her the Father's business is not attending Dorcas societies and missionary meetings, and mothers' meetings, and temperance conventions, or even teaching a Sunday-school class, until she has made her own home all that her wisest thought and best skill can make it. There have been wives who in their zeal for Christ's work outside have neglected Christ's work inside there own doors...Let it be remembered that Christ's work in the home is the first that he gives to every wife, and that no amount of consecrated activities in other spheres will atone in this world or the next for neglect or failure there."
Ouch. But I believe he is right. He's not just talking about housework, but about all that happens at home: raising children, helping neighbors and trying to lead them to Christ through our words and deeds, being a great wife, mother and friend. Use discernment about going out and participating in activities. Saying "yes" to all that being a worker at home entails means saying no to a lot of other things.

Here are some of the items I'm choosing to say no to at this season in my life, so I can say yes to my roles as a wife, mom, and home manager (after all, with baking, cooking, laundry, cleaning, homeschooling, raising kids, and enjoying time as a family, there's little time left for much else!):
  • Ladies Bible study
  • Facebook (a huge time robber, not only for chores but quality family time)
  • Excessive playdates (one every few weeks is plenty for us)
  • Long phone conversations regularly
  • TV (we don't watch much anyway)
  • And yes, blogging. While I love writing and encouraging other moms, many days I don't even have a half-hour to spend on the computer. Actually I choose to spend what could be my computer time differently--taking a walk or a bike ride with my family, making breakfast, spending some one-on-one time with my oldest while his brothers are napping, putting away laundry, etc. If it works out to write, I will. If it doesn't, I won't.  
Unfortunately, the phase of being too busy doesn't end when little ones grow. Many of the older ladies at church whom I admire, whose children are grown and gone, have told me they're still too busy to get any cleaning done at home. At some point, we have to make intentional choices about what we say no to, in order to make room for what we really want to say yes to.

Is there anything you can say no to today?



Thursday, July 15, 2010

What Item Are You Most Likely to Hoard?

Coffee Talk Thursday

a supply or fund stored up and often hidden away

Many of us struggle with the tendency to keep more than what we need in certain areas. Even the most organized among us may still find a category where they are tempted to hang on to excess. For my mom, it’s plastic jars. Whether it’s margarine tubs, mayonnaise jars, or Cool-Whip containers, I don’t know if she’s met one yet she can part with. Her cupboards are stashed to the brim.

For me, it’s kids’ clothes. After all, I reason, we have three boys. Keeping most everything and passing it down seems like the most economical option—never mind that we simply have too much anyway. It’s probably my biggest cause of clutter stress, because it seems like I am always coming across yet another extra shirt or shorts or pair of pants that isn’t currently being worn but could be worn by the next child. Then I have to find the right box to store it in, or create a new box. Clothes, clothes everywhere. While I have donated much of our excess to friends or the thrift store, we still have more than we need.

When we identify the areas where we are most likely to hoard, we can start to work through why we’re doing it and how we can begin let go. I think I am tempted to keep the clothes because, let’s face it, it saves money. Why buy a t-shirt or a pair of pants when you have everything you need already stored away? But when I bottom-line it by realizing that, even if I had to start from scratch and buy everything my boys need each season, it would probably cost around $100 for all three of them. Target and Walmart sell shirts for about $3, and you can often find similar priced sale items at other retailers. Plus, I really don’t shop retail anyway. Much of what we buy we find at thrift stores for around $1 (good-quality shoes, shirts, pants, pajamas). So if I got really brave and let everything go, I could replace it. It is within our means. Realizing that helps us feel more comfortable letting go of the excess. Sure, I may have to buy a few things down the road, but the freedom from the clothes-clutter is worth it.

So, what item or category of items are you most tempted to hoard? How can you (or have you) take steps to let go?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Homemade Cleaners That Work

Organic Housekeeping: In Which the Non-Toxic Avenger Shows You How to Improve Your Health and That of Your Family, While You Save Time, Money, and, Perhaps, Your Sanity
After reviewing Life's Too Short to Fold Fitted Sheets, I came across Organic Housekeeping by Ellen Sandbeck. I am extremely impressed with this book. It covers a wide range of topics, including clearing clutter, cleaning kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms, laundry, lawns and more--all with natural products, which usually save you money and are safer for your home (and kids) than their chemical-laden counterparts. Regardless of where one falls on the "green" spectrum, this book is quite balanced. I appreciate all the ideas for how to use vinegar, baking soda, Borax, hydrogen peroxide, and more.

Here are a few of my favorite ideas for homemade cleaners:

Dishwasher Detergent: make your own using an equal amount of  Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda and 20 Mule Team Borax. (I used 1 c. of each and stored my mixture in an empty pickle jar). This works well, although my glass came out a little cloudy. Be sure to use vinegar or a rinse agent.

Showers: Remove soap scum with Borax (wet the surface, and scrub with a brush dipped in Borax), or use hot vinegar and scrub. Wiping the sides of a newly cleaned tub or shower with a cloth dampened with Murphy's Oil Soap will delay the recurrence of soap scum. Rinse well.

Remove mildew with full strength white vinegar. Wipe it on with a rag, or spray and let it sit for awhile. Another option is to apply hydrogen peroxide and allow it to dry. Repeat as needed.

Laundry detergent (not in the book): Grate one bar of Fels-Naptha Laundry Bar Soaplike a block of cheese. (You can put it in the blender once grated to break it up if desired). Add 1 c. 20 Mule Team Borax and 1c. Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda. Use 1 tablespoon for lightly soiled loads and up to 3 tablespoons for heavily soiled loads. My boys get their clothes really dirty, and this detergent mix works great. (I usually add a bit of OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover to each load).
(I buy my Fels-Naptha and washing soda at our local Ace Hardware and Borax is available just about anywhere--Target, Walmart, KMart, etc.)
This is much cheaper than commercial detergents, and I think it is better for my kids (one of my boys is eczema-prone).

Speaking of laundry, I better get to it!

Have a great Monday. Please feel free to share any homemade cleaners you use and what your experience with them has been.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Domestic Liberation Revisited

I promised I would read and report on Life's Too Short to Fold Fitted Sheetsby Lisa Quinn. While there are a few good tips in the book, I can’t in good conscience recommend it; it is unnecessarily crude. In an attempt at humor, the author comes off crass and even at times downright vulgar.

The book begins by explaining the struggle many women face in attempting to balance kids, work, home, husband, social lives, and even personal hygiene. While feminist and author Helen Gurley Brown taught that women could ‘have it all,” Ms. Quinn confesses, “Here’s the brutal truth, ladies: you can’t have it all.” She talks about all the pressure she felt in her own life while trying to “be the perfect picture of domestic bliss at work,” and she says that her dirty little secret was the she was living a lie, since she could never pull it off in her own home. “The daily grind left no time for forcing bulbs, alphabetizing my pantry, scrapbooking, origami napkin folding, or even keeping the house very clean, for that matter. I didn’t entertain as much as I liked because I dreaded the effort...I could barely get dinner on the table for my family three nights a week. I was no domestic diva. Instead, I was an overwhelmed working mother of two, and I felt like a complete fraud….Maybe I just didn’t have the time (or the desire) to keep up the facade anymore. I couldn’t help but suspect that other women out there felt as smothered as I did by the pressure to be perfect.”

Out of this newfound realization to enjoy life more and stress less about housekeeping and entertaining, Lisa Quinn developed some shortcuts. I found her last-minute cleaning checklist helpful. Here’s her list of “The Top 10 Things You Have to Clean—in Order—if Company is Coming in 30 Minutes”:

1. The toilet

2. Clutter (Stick it in a basket with a lid, a laundry hamper,the oven, etc. Just get it out when guests leave, and deal with it then).

3. Floors (spot clean)

4. Dust quickly (she says Kleenex with lotion work great in a pinch)

5. The fridge (check to make sure there are no nasty spills)

6. Mirrors

7. Cobwebs

8. Your Bed

9. You

10. Spray a non-toxic cleaner by the door so it smells like you cleaned, even if you didn’t really do all that much

She also shares some housekeeping shortcuts using everyday items, like salt. Did you k you can prevent ants from entering your home by sprinkling salt over doorways and windowsills? Apparently ants won’t walk over it. You can slip one of those mis-matched socks over your hand and use it as a dust rag. An ice cube tray in your dresser drawer doubles as an earring holder, and a silverware tray is a perfect place for necklaces. Good tips!

The book also delves into answering some decorating and entertaining dilemmas, offering very manageable tips. She shares several recipes using a rotisserie chicken, which I thought was helpful since working with raw chickens is messy, time-consuming, and requires quality cleanup to remove the bacteria.
While there are take-away tips, the language in this book is coarse and the humor borderlines on vulgar. If you still want to read it, please know that up front. It’s sad, because it ruins an otherwise good book.

I recently read a review of Organic Housekeeping in Parents magazine. I checked it out from the library. So far, I'm impressed. It seems to focus on getting back to the old-fashioned way of cleaning (using baking soda, vinegar, and other more frugal and environmentally-friendly products). I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Plan for All Those Pictures

Honestly, I probably have 1,000 or more pictures stored on my computer. We take about a hundred pictures a month. Seriously. We print pictures once in a blue moon. My oldest son's scrapbook stops at his first Easter, my middle son's goes to his first Thanksgiving, and my baby...well, let's just say at least I've bought the book!

My neighbor told me she finally finished her daughter's scrapbook once she retired. My dear mother-in-law made my husband a scrapbook a few years ago, also once she retired. This got me to thinking: does it really take until retirement to get those scrapbooks done?

Yes, and no.

Yes, if we keep waiting to "find the time." No, if we're intentional about making the time.

My husband's book isn't chalk full of hundreds of pictures from his childhood; it has a few really good ones. I, on the other hand, take zillions of pictures to capture those everyday moments I don't want to forget. But how many of those are actually going to make the grade to go in their books

Being more realistic about what I want to keep may help me take fewer pictures and will encourage me to print off more pictures. After all, a photo bill for 20 pictures is a lot more manageable than for 200.
Plus, it's easier to scrapbook with 20 than 200!

Pages don't have to be perfect, either. After all, it's the pictures that count. Sometimes I don't make a page because I feel like if I can't make the perfect page that day, I might as well not make one. My kids aren't going to care if the pictures are just on a white page or on a beautifully decorated page; they will just like to see some pictures of their childhood. I shouldn't let perfectionism stop me from getting their books done.

A side note, I have mentioned before about making a scrapbook on Shutterfly or another digital service. The pictures are already on the computer, so you just have to upload them. It's user-friendly, and they turn out great. However...I recently heard a caution about using these services since they can use your albums as examples for other users. In the interest of protecting our children, it's a good idea to be careful with books made, and shared, on the Internet.

We're off for the weekend. Have a great 4th of July for those in the States. (I'll discipline myself in regards to how many pictures I take!) Messy Monday will be a bit late due to our trip!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Once-a-Month Cooking Festival: Summer

Picture by rwkvisual

It's finally heating up out there! Since we don't have air conditioning, the last thing I want to do when it's nearly 100-degrees out is heat up my kitchen with the oven. So my crockpot is my trusty kitchen companion during these hot days. Sure, it still emits a little heat but not that much, and it uses less electricity than my oven. I've found this great cookbook (Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook: Feasting with Your Slow Cooker), and I'm using it--so much so that my husband asked nicely if we could please stop trying new recipes and return to some of our usual meals!

Hot summer days mean I'm also plugging in my bread machine rather than preheating my oven. I was ready to bake bread yesterday morning, but it was already 80-degrees at 5AM! I decided to pass. So, while I prefer bread baked in the oven over the bread machine, I'll take a bread machine loaf.

Speaking of baking bread, a friend came over and taught me how to do it right. Not only did we bake loaves of bread, we also made hamburger buns, dinner rolls and flour tortillas. You can see the pictures here.

On that note, one of the girls staying with us for the summer is allergic to corn and all its derivatives. Do you know how many items contain corn syrup? A ton! Even things that would surprise you--like raisin bran cereal, Total, and more (I could only find two cereals that do not contain any corn syrup or corn flour: Oatmeal Squares and Wheat Chex).

While I am not in the camp that considers corn syrup evil, I do agree its consumption should be limited for health reasons. Regardless of my personal preferences, right now cutting out the corn syrup (and other corn products) is a necessity in our house as I cook for my family and our guests. Removing it from one's diet requires a bit of work, since it is in so many things these days, but it's not that hard. The secret lies in making most things from scratch (or finding the purest form in the store of what one wants to eat).

Other cooking notes, I turned several pounds of ground round into freezer meals for the family. I prepped a meatloaf and froze it, made two pans of porcupine balls (a recipe in our church cookbook), and made a master meat sauce that I froze in one and two cup portions and used for sloppy joes and pasta fagioli and have yet to use for burritos, mini-pizzas, and/or spaghetti. A few extra minutes of work on the front end saves me time later (and helps me keep my kitchen clean, which is always a good thing)! :)

Finally, on that note, I just want to reiterate the tip that when meats hit a great price, if you can afford it, buy a bunch! I'm so impressed with the number of recipes in Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook: Feasting with Your Slow Cooker for various cuts of meat (ground beef, round steak, roasts, chicken breasts/drumsticks/thighs/wings, pork chops/roasts, etc. There are vegetarian dishes as well). It would be super easy to find a few recipes, prep them by adding the ingredients and the meat in a freezer bag, and then pull out dinner later to thaw and place in the slow cooker (or oven). Saves time and money!

If you have a kitchen tip you'd like to share, or a recipe you've made,or a bulk cooking experience you've had, please link to your post below. As a simple courtesy, please add a link somewhere in your post back to this post. Thanks!