Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Painting is one of the world's most boring occupations. When I was painting walls and ceilings during an earlier part of the renovations, my daily thankful prayer was, 'I am so grateful I don't have to paint for a living.' Some people tell me they find painting relaxing and meditative. Well, they are clearly more evolved than I am. I find painting repetitive and irritating. So some kind patron saint of Easily Irritated DIY Practitioners must have led me to the audiobook section at the library last week, where I picked up Cheryl Strayed's Wild. Thirteen wonderful hours of beautifully distracting prose, a memoir woven seamlessly through the story of an arduous summer-long hike along the Pacific Crest Trail in California and Oregon.

Now you must know that hiking, carrying a heavy back pack, getting sweaty, nature as it involves bugs and most other wildlife, putting up tents and other by-products of camping are all anathema to me, but listening to someone else's experience of being exhausted and sweaty and terrified of mountain lions was wonderfully therapeutic over my weekend of painting; it made wielding a paintbrush and getting a slightly sore painting arm seem quite relaxing in comparison.

I first came across Cheryl Strayed's writing via her Dear Sugar columns several months ago. Dear Sugar was an agony aunt column, with no holds barred. Strayed is that unusual person who does not hide or avoid or cover up pain. She heads straight into it, straight to the heart of the person she is writing to every time. She has come through oceans of her own pain, swum through it, almost drowned in it, but come through to landfall, and her Dear Sugar letters are extraordinary love letters to many sad and broken hearts.

Which made me pick up Wild, eager to read about the life of this big hearted person. And there it all is in its painful honesty, a life and the walk of a lifetime, all woven into each other to create what becomes almost an epic tale, one of the old hero tales, or a pilgrimage. The author walks the trail for a hundred days. overwhelmed by the task she has set herself, but also overwhelmed by the pain of her past. She writes so simply, but direct to the heart. Rosy came in to the study over the week end to find me sobbing with my head in my arms, while holding the paint brush at arm's length so I wouldn't get paint in my hair.

'Mum, what's wrong?' she asked in alarm.

'The h-h-horse DIED,' I wailed. Rosy gave me that special look she saves just for me and my endless peculiarities, patted my shoulder and went to get me a cup of tea. She is a good girl, and should live long in the land (by the way, I haven't spoiled the plot for you. The horse was always going to die, but I defy you not to cry about it anyway).

There is much pain and loss and fear and anger in this memoir.  But it is a very hopeful book. My favourite sentence is the last, as the author compares her life to the fish in the river at the end of her trek, fish slipping away just under the surface of the river, impossible to catch or grasp or possess. Her life is:

Like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me. How wild it was to let it be.

I just love this line. In a world of self-improvement, I will hug this thought to me. How wild it is to just let my life be what it is and will be. And I will admit it, as a tiny bit of a perfectionist and being rather fond of being in control, I am both challenged and comforted by that thought. I have no idea where that will take me, but believe me, you will read about it here:)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

In Which I Am Pointlessly Indignant

I am such a colossal ninny.

When The Man and I separated we were at the end of a twelve year renovation. Within a whisker of everything being completely finished. All that needed to be done was to install an efficient heating system, and build some shelves in the tiny ground-floor study. The Man had been meaning to build those shelves for, oh, maybe a year. But his stressful job and our stressful relationship kind of got in the way. Eventually, as everything irrevocably fell apart, we realised that The Man was never going to build those shelves, so I had a joinery firm we had used before come and measure up to do the job.

The nice young man came and asked me what I wanted, and I told him. Then I forgot all about it and he went away for three months because they 'had a lot of jobs on' as these firms inexplicably always seem to do when you want them. Then the shelves turned up in a van the other morning, and another nice young man started putting them up.

I popped downstairs after about half an hour to see how things were going. Now this is the point where I should have looked at the monstrosity he had put up on my wall, when it was held in by a mere half dozen screws, and shrieked, 'Good God, that is hideous. Take it down right now and put up the simple shelves I thought I asked for.'

Instead of which I squeaked, 'Oh yes, that looks so good,' and went back upstairs and kicked the wall. Truth is, I suffer from Over-the-Top Politeness Syndrome. Think Hugh Grant, but female, and less charming, and more like a prim librarian. I do not make fusses. I hate to hurt peoples' feelings.  I am crippled by a sense of social awkwardness where I am afraid I might offend a stranger. I am the person who says, 'Sorry,' when someone else steps on my toes.

I was incapable of sending that poor young man back to his workshop with an unwanted, hideous set of shelves because he must have worked SO hard to make them. So I just let him put them up, and I will hate them forever and grin and bear it, because that is also what I do. Because clearly it was my fault. I must have said 'yes' when the nice young man proposed this monstrosity because I often say 'yes' to tradies, just to make them go away. In fact, I said 'yes' to the vision in my head where there were more shelves, narrower and closer together, but we only ever talked about it, and I never saw a visual representation. I am a very visual person. I should NEVER say 'yes' to something I have only heard about, with measurements I somehow agreed to without seeing what they would look like..

Aargh, I am so very spineless, with not a determined, predatory bone in my body. By the time the nice young man had spent some hours hammering fillers into the side of the shelves to jam them between the walls, and nicely puttied up the screw holes and filled all the cracks around the edge, it was Too Late to stop being a jellyfish. I waved off the nice young man and glumly started under-coating the hateful shelves, absolutely furious at myself for not being able to make a decent A-grade fuss about things I am not happy about.

I have stared down the beastly things for two days now as I paint them. If this were a novel or a movie, this would be the moment that I would take a sledge hammer to them, crash them down and build the shelves I want with my own two bare hands. This is not a novel or a movie. I have reluctantly conceded that the shelves look marginally better now they are white rather than dreadful MDF brown. I cannot stand the thought of the mess, the cost and the fuss of ripping them down and getting something else put in its place. The tiny traitorous thought has occurred to me that being so incredibly large and over-engineered, I can store every single homeless item in the house on those shelves. Practicality has won over indignation. But the indignation is still there. Every time I look at those shelves a tiny flame of indignation is fanned. I will not always be a jellyfish. I will find out what I really want. I will ask for it very clearly. And if I don't get it, I will absolutely, positively almost certainly say, 'Excuse me, um, there seems to be a, um problem with this thingy that, but, well yes, it seems it is not quite what I um.... want. After all. Sorry.'

I will be like Arthur Dent after he has worked up a real head of steam. I will be Unstoppable!!

The hideous bank of shelves which look like they belong in an accountant's office. Actually, they do look marginally better now they are painted white. 

The simple plank shelves on the other side of the room which I like. I thought I had asked for more of the same on the other wall, only longer and thinner, but clearly not... I also took the opportunity to paint some baskets white while I had the paint out.

The best thing about my study is the view. It is the only room in the house which looks out at the garden from ground level.

Artichokes and bottlebrush and the pink flowers my mother calls kiss-me-quick. Their official name is centrathus ruber, but that is boring.

All the cups of tea, lined up in prim librarian style. The girls keep bringing them down to me. I think they are worried about the constant, slightly mad muttering coming from inside the study..

Monday, October 20, 2014

Declutter Week Four: Living Room and Dining Room

You may have noticed that there was no decluttering going on at Chez Blueday last week. This is because I worked for four days and was exhausted. I must admit, put like that, it doesn't look terribly exhausting, but I don't think I have ever worked four days in a row outside the house ever, and I got halfway through a post on Monday night and fell asleep! And I certainly did nothing around the house other than basic tidying, laundry and dinner. I am very impressed at the work all you full time working mums do, especially those who sometimes have the energy to write to us all at night as well.

I have been watching old episodes of Kirstie's Vintage Home recently while doing the ironing. And something I have noticed is that while all the decorative touches she adds and creates are lovely, really, the significant difference happens when those rooms are decluttered. It is not just a matter of moving things around and storing them more efficiently, it is the fact that a good three quarters of the stuff in those rooms is gone by the end of the make-over, that creates an end result  which is so peaceful and inviting. Not only more peaceful and inviting though, also more adult. A living room that is very cluttered really has the look of a teenager's bedroom. It is as if the things in the room are more powerful than the person who owns them. This is a feeling I have often had, especially in the years when my house was dreadfully cluttered. I was completely overwhelmed by my 'stuff', which meant I had effectively handed over my power to a bunch of inanimate objects. A clear, calm, deliberately arranged room sends a powerful signal - I am in charge here, and my things are here because I have chosen them, not because they have just cluttered themselves all over the place.

In one of the episodes I watched, a couple had a very cluttered house, but a very clear idea of the aesthetic they were after - 60s retro. It turned out that they had quite a lot of lovely pieces of 60s furniture, and that they were also very knowledgeable and competent at buying good pieces secondhand. At the beginning of the show though, in their living room cluttered with baby gear and daily detritus, they looked terribly helpless, and you couldn't see that they had any aesthetic at all. It was literally hidden under the clutter. What decluttering revealed was a confident and knowledgeable young couple with an adult room which showcased their talent for design.

Two or so years ago we had our whole living room and dining room gutted and rebuilt to add double glazed windows, insulation, new floors and less walls. We lived for a whole winter with the master bedroom as our only living space. It was quite... cosy. When the day came that we could finally move into our 'new' spaces, I only moved about a third of the 'stuff' back into the rooms that had originally been there. It was about then that I started my 'war on stuff' as well, so very little now lives in either room. They are not large rooms, so having very little in them except furniture makes them quite calm spaces to be in (well, let's be honest, a lot of daily nagging needs to go on to achieve this outcome. I have hopes that it will be only, oh, five more years or so before the nagging becomes internalised, and the shoes, hairbrushes, craft-work, tea cups and toast plates all magically find their own way back out of these spaces).

Now, I would really like to add some more Kirstie-style decorative touches these rooms - especially one large bare wall in the living room, but the fact that it is a lovely clear and calm space after I have whipped around and tidied every morning, and plumped the cushions, well, that makes me happy. The only things that are stored in this room are invisible. Magazines, DVDs, CDs, all tucked away in the coffee table and the cupboard. My sister-in-law taught me the value of lamp-light for a living room, so every evening I close the curtains and light two lamps. The soft light is very calming. I noticed when the children were small that soft lighting after dinner, and no TV, helped them settle ready for bed. That is not what always happened in our household - but when it did, bedtime was much pleasanter! Even now, the ten year old is much calmer when we have soft lights and music and a story instead of the overhead light and television. It is also an excellent way for adults to relax and wind down. Soft lights and no visual stimulation tell our brains that it is time for sleeping. Maybe this is why I am usually in bed by 9.30pm. Or maybe that is my inner nana!

So, jobs for the living room this week:

Sweep the ashes out of the fire place for summer.
Take all the covers off the couch to wash them. I have never done this. I hope I don't shrink them! I had all the cushions made with zips when the couch was re-upholstered, but I have never been brave enough to unzip them. I was going to have the couch cleaned, but maybe I can do it myself...
Um, I think that is it. Oh, there is a pile of magazines on the ottoman that I keep meaning to give to a friend. Must do that.

Jobs for dining room:

I have some lovely old wooden file drawers from The Man's work next to our dining table. They are our craft drawers, filled with all the children's art supplies. We always do art at the table, which means it has to be cleared away before the next meal. This is vital. Once we had an art area in another room. We used to be able to close the door on art mess. That was a big mistake. Only having craft where we must confront its messiness three times a day is a lifesaver! We put away a lot more consistently now. However, these drawers are becoming over-stuffed, and a lot of them don't even shut properly any more. It is time to reorganise them. I will get Posy to help me. She loves rearranging things. Then maybe we can have fun making Christmas craft. Ha ha. I wrote the words 'fun' and 'craft' in the same sentence. Don't worry, fun crafts will likely never feature on this blog again:)

Another job that confronts me in the dining room is the surface of the dining table. A few weeks ago Posy had a hissy fit about an art project, and threw it across the table in a rage, spattering acrylic paint everywhere. Now the surface of the table is covered in a fine splatter of paint that won't come off. There are also numerous scratches, paint stains from previous art projects, dents and various mysterious stains that could be anything, up to and including blood. I am not quite sure how to tackle this problem. I could refinish both the table and the coffee table, which has similar issues. I actually can do this, but would have to take them outside, and it would take days. Maybe when The Girl finishes exams it could be a mother-daughter bonding project. I expect she will be thrilled about that. Meanwhile I think I may have to reframe the table as 'rustic' and 'well-loved'. Unless anyone has a magic acrylic paint removal recipe?

Who would like to join me in making the living room and dining room presentable for the holiday season (or in Australia, just in time for the children to come home for the summer holidays and mess it all up again for six weeks..).

Oh, and here is my very best tip for making the dining room look organised. Push the dining room chairs in neatly. Or nag someone else to. Makes all the difference. Ditto plumping cushions in the living room, and folding the blankets neatly. My floors are a disgusting sight right this minute, but I'm hoping anyone who visits will only notice the splendidly plumped cushions!!

Monday: Did any of you ever read What Katy Did when you were a child? Do you remember the part where Katy finds her little brother's diary and reads it out as entertainment on their picnic? Most of his entries read - Forgit what did. Describes my week exactly. So, Monday - Forgit what did.

Tuesday: Forgit what did.

Wednesday: Even though my dementia is increasing by the day, you will be happy to know I can remember what I did today. I cleaned out the fire place for summer. Hurrah! This morning I visited a giant wholesale supermarket for the first time. I believe it must be the place that supplies a lot of the local cafes and restaurants. Enormous catering packs of all sorts of unlikely products such as giant tins of pineapple slices and the most enormous bucket of Vegiemite you have ever seen. Well, in between stocking up on giant packs of choc bits I found one of those old fashioned wooden banister brushes with the black bristles. They used to be made of horse tail hair or something, but this one was coconut fibres. It is absolutely marvellous, and I used it to brush out the fire place, feeling exactly like a Victorian house maid. I have so much fun some days, it just kills me.

Anyway, after I did my chimney sweep impression I pulled all the covers off the couch and put them through a delicate wash cycle with eucalyptus oil in the fabric softener compartment. I had my heart in my mouth, and all fingers and toes crossed, because who knew if I would shrink the covers and never be able to get them on the cushions again? They dried beautifully in the sunshine, and I brought them in just in time for Posy to get home from school to help me with the zips. It looked like a close thing there several times, but we finally got the covers on, and now I have ABSOLUTELY banned anyone from eating anything on the couch ever. That lasted for half an hour until I found Posy eating toast on it and watching telly. Which she will not be doing again in a hurry, I assure you.

Thursday: Washed all the cushion covers today. As I was hanging them on the line I noticed that one of my nice linen ones had a label which said 'Dry Clean Only'. Eeek! However it all ended well, without shrinkage or other disaster, so don't believe everything you read. I have a bit of a collection of duck feather cushions - SO wonderfully fat and heavy and satisfying to plump! A couple were a lucky op shop find, the other two quite expensive. I took them outside and gave them a good bashing, to release a winter's worth of dust into the backyard. They really needed that. I also washed the couch throws and vacuumed under all the couches. Oh my goodness, it has been some weeks months since I did that. On the bright side I found Posy's favourite missing sock (only Posy would have favourite socks. There has been much drama about its missingness. Now that it's found, I bet it won't be the favourite any more..).

Friday: Have completely ignored all spring cleaning duties. Yesterday had some shelves put in the study, and am determined to finish painting them this weekend. Not helped by a student-free day at school today, Posy and her Gang of Three who can cause more mess and havoc than any children I have ever met, with a sleepover thrown in. Aargh! A pox on the Department of Education!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Juggling With Fire

It is quite early on a Saturday morning. I haven't had much sleep. During the night I dreamed that I found a lump in my breast. When I woke up at an ungodly hour, of course I found a lump in my breast. I sent a text to The Man, who is currently in China, so he could prepare himself for single parenthood. Because clearly I was about to die. After some hours of mentally rehearsing touching deathbed scenes, I realised that what I had was more of a ridge than a lump. And actually, there was a similar one on the other side. Aargh! Two lumps. Then it occurred to me that maybe what I was feeling was possibly a muscle. I have, after all, been lifting (quite small) weights in the gym for months. I sent a further text to The Man: Possible alternative diagnosis - an actual muscle. Middle aged woman goes to doctor to be told she has a muscle. Surprise all round.

Of course I will go to the doctor. Of course she will tell me I am fine, but sensible to have checked. Of course..

Today is The Boy's 21st birthday party. That dear little baby, who was always happy, but saw no reason to go to sleep. Ever. And now he's all grown up. Still always happy. Sleeps more now. Still as crazy as he ever was. On his list of things to do this morning is Buy Kerosene. There are going to be friends juggling fire sticks at the party. What could go wrong? Some time ago The Boy decided to juggle with steak knives. He sent me a photo of the blood. Silly boy, I could have sworn I told him not to juggle with steak knives. Didn't I? Or did I skip that instruction?

I have been nagging him for months to do his tax. I told him yesterday now he is a grown-up there are No Excuses. Several weeks ago he asked me to write a book for teenagers leaving home. He said there were so many things he had no idea about. Like the first time he paid his electricity bill, he stood there holding the bill, with no idea what to do with it. Should he recycle it? Or keep it? Why would he keep it? Was it important?

Well, of course I was up for that. I knew exactly how it should start. 'Do not juggle with steak knives' would be my first piece of sage advice to the young and confused, followed by 'Do your tax'. But then, before my magnum opus was even properly begun, I found the exact book he was after. It has already been written, by a pert and charming young redheaded snippet of a journalist. Curses. There goes my writing career before it even started. Still, it is a wonderful book. Any of you with young adult children, order it right away for them for Christmas.

It is called Adulting (How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps) by Kelly Williams Brown. Kelly Williams Brown is an annoyingly accomplished and engaging writer. Her book covers cooking, cleaning, and filing bills. She also gives useful advice on appropriate behaviour and dress codes at work as well as important tips on how not to kill houseplants. The chapters on friendships and relationships though, are absolute gold, and the real reason we all need to go and buy this book immediately for every young person we know. With this book in hand I feel I could have navigated the treacherous shoals of my rocky teenage social life, university years, and young adulthood much more gracefully and with more confidence and integrity than I did at the time. I loved this book. There is also a blog which includes some of the material from the book, and more useful life advice. Yes, you may thank me now for sorting Christmas presents for all your nieces and nephews/god children/grandchildren, and every 18th and 21st you ever go to from now on. You're very welcome.

I will now be popping out to the gym to work on that muscle.

Updated to add fire juggling photos. None of which, I am pleased to say, feature The Boy:)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Green and Thrifty

My green and thrifty adventures this week have been all about the garden and the kitchen. Which is not a surprise. The necessity of eating every day makes garden-and-kitchen the most obvious place for making huge savings. It's all a matter of planting a little of something, often, then eating what you grow, wasting nothing, then putting all the non-edible bits back into the garden. This sounds simple, but is actually fairly complex and demanding, as many seemingly simple things are. But probably quite definitely worth it:)

Popped up to the pool with the kettle - as you do. No, I wasn't planning an afternoon tea pool party, although that idea certainly has its merits. I was actually planning an all out assault on certain persistent weeds in the retaining wall there. I plugged in the kettle at the pool deck, repeatedly filled and boiled it, then poured it on the dock and dandelion weeds whose roots go down between the bricks in the retaining wall, and refuse to die. Ha. That learned 'em. They won't try that trick again in a hurry. When I wasn't waging war on weeds I fed the orange trees up by the pool with two bags of delicious straw chicken bedding that my lovely gym buddy gave me. Best. Gift. Ever. Will make my hungry oranges happy, and biodegrade in no time. Brilliant present, requires no dusting! Am hoping for many more similar gifts:) Also added sheep poo for extra goodness.  Sheep poo was the only thing I bought at the recent school fair. It actually doesn't provide much extra nutrition to plants, but is the most marvellous soil conditioner, especially for my clay soil.

It has been cool and rainy this week, which is excellent weather for transplanting, as the poor plants and seedlings get a good start with the rain, and no heat-induced transplant shock. Who has seen the gardening hint regarding planting the bunches of spring onions that you buy at the shops? Well, this week I had a go - used the tops of the onions, planted out the bottoms. Let's see how that works out. Has anyone else tried this?

Baby peas, baby parsley, wonky spring onions

Although I have tried many home made and natural cleaning products, I have always had to resort to nasty chemicals for the oven, because I wait for about a year between cleanings, despite my best intentions. Well, this weekend, I finally found a way to clean my oven successfully using lemons and baking soda. And lots of elbow grease.

When I started getting email reminders for this year's school fair, it occurred to me that I still had unidentified chunks of frozen lamb from last year's school fair, when I bought a side of lamb all at once to be thrifty. I am pretty sure that year-old frozen lamb won't kill us. At least it hasn't yet, but I did make a resolution to cook the remaining lamb chunks ASAP. So I thought I would share my fail-proof recipe for Mystery Freezer Meat. I made up this recipe because my family didn't really like any of the slow cooker recipes I tried. Not enough flavour, and vegies that taste blah at the end of all that cooking, so my solution was to invent a slow cooker base recipe, which I cook up with a big chunk of any cheap meat, then freeze and reheat with fresh vegies and spices at dinner time:

Best Ever Slow Cooker Base

Throw into the slow cooker:

1kg (2 lbs) of any cheap stewing meat. Fatty is fine, and makes it lovely and tender, just pop it straight in. A whole chicken also works well.
2 chopped onions
2 to 4 minced or chopped garlic cloves
2 heaped tsps dried oregano
2 bay leaves
2 bottles tomato passata (680gm or 24oz each)

Cook on low for 8 hrs (I always start it on high until it boils, then turn down to low).

Once the meat falls apart when poked with a fork, turn it off and cool it down. When it is cool I pull apart the meat and fish out any bones, cartilage and fat. The I pop it into the fridge overnight. The next day I skim off any fat, and freeze in dinner-size portions. This amount makes about four dinners for our family of four.

When I want to serve I add salt, spices and vegies.

For Chili con Carne I add chili, coriander and cumin plus kidney beans, and serve with corn, salsa and sour cream.

For a classic stew, sauteed mushrooms and steamed or roasted pumpkin and carrot served with mashed potato.

Chunks of roasted zucchini, tomato and red pepper for a vaguely Italian inspired dish served over pasta or cous cous.

Whatever else your imagination suggests..

What fun thrifty projects have you undertaken this week? Any kitchen and garden adventures?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Declutter Week Three: Kitchen

Last week in my bedroom I had a lot of decluttering to do, but very little cleaning. This week is the opposite. LOTS of cleaning, very little to declutter. Two years ago when we renovated I moved from a large kitchen with walk-in pantry (which is now my bedroom with walk-in dressing room) to a small kitchen with standard corner pantry cupboard. Quite a big loss you might think. But what did I gain? Sunshine! A wonderful view! A kitchen integrated with the rest of the living area. Company while I cook. All worth it. I also discovered that I didn't need lots of the kitchen stuff I had been hanging on to, and can't remember what I got rid of, though it was quite a lot.

I think we all have a lot of 'stuff' in our kitchens that we don't need. Our grandmothers all cooked every meal from scratch and preserved food from their gardens with a fraction of the gadgets and storage space that we all have now. Think of the cupboard space in an average 1950s or even 1970s home compared to our kitchens today. What are we hanging onto that perhaps we don't really need?

Having said that, I am not volunteering to going back to beating up cakes with a wooden spoon. On the other hand, I have a small, cheap  hand-held electric beater, not a giant, expensive Kitchen-Aid, gorgeous though they are. For each of us there may be a different set of gadgets that we love and use every day, and others that maybe we keep 'just in case'. Maybe it's a bread machine or a juicer or fifty extra tupperware containers or a cup cake stand that is getting in between chaos and a sane, calm, ordered space. A very dear friend of mine hates to throw away plastic take away containers, because that would be such a waste. When I helped her clean out her kitchen last year they were taking up a whole cupboard! In my case I have said 'No' to the Thermomix and the Kitchen-Aid and the bread machine, and 'Yes' to the blender and food processor I already own, and making bread by hand, which I find very therapeutic. It all comes down to our individual kitchens and habits. How much space do we have (this is a reality we generally can't change) and what are our habits and needs (these can change if we want it enough)?

Anyway, I have accepted the reality that I cannot fit anything else into my kitchen without removing something already there, and I am quite happy with that, because I can't think of anything I need to cook or store that I can't currently manage, so all good:) Actually, having said that, I could stand to remove a couple of things from my baking and cookware drawers, because the key to a calm kitchen, or any kind of storage, is a margin of space for inefficient packing. A couple of my deep drawers are so full that they require very dedicated stacking, which means they don't shut when the children unpack the dish washer. This is clearly unacceptable:) So well, yes, a little decluttering is in order.

But principally this week - cleaning. Theoretically I clean one wall of the kitchen each week. But practically, these last few months I have been skipping the deep clean and just wiping surfaces before returning to howling in a dark corner. Now I have mostly quit howling, I am noticing the months of ground-in grime. And much as procrastinating is one of my best talents, the satisfaction of a sparkly clean kitchen is profound, as is the wonderful seratonin hit of vigorous exercise in a sunny kitchen to the accompaniment of rather loud music. Well, I am hoping for all of that anyway:)

So tasks for this week:
Cleaning the fronts of all the cabinets, including the high ones I always skip (we had cupboards built up to the ceiling to get extra storage and no dust traps).
Cleaning the rangehood, including the filters.
Cleaning the microwave and oven (aargh!).
Cleaning out the fridge and freezer.
Oh dear, the bin cupboard.
Clean the dishwasher.
Make sure there isn't any unused food in the pantry (rhetorical - I know there is!) Come up with a plan to use it.
Anything else? Clean the appliances on the bench.
Vacuum and wipe out the drawers.

Will I get through all of this? Possibly not, but anything that I manage will be an improvement:)

Monday: Did all my Monday jobs, then had a nana nap and faffed about, feeling broody and miserable with my cold. Am not a fun person to be around with a cold. Finally at 10pm was about to drag my sorry self to bed, but couldn't bear to not be able to report a tiny bit of progress to you all - so cleaned the microwave. Teeny tiny baby steps:)

Tuesday: Similar to Monday. I cleaned the bathroom, napped, then started in on my cleaning jobs at the relatively early hour of 8.30pm. Climbed up on my step ladder and washed the fronts of all the high cabinets. I am really going to have to get a wriggle on over the next few days! I might even have to contemplate starting to clean before dinner.

Wednesday: Medical appointments, visitors, children.

Thursday: Feeling blah about unrelenting march of iron levels towards bottom of chart. More medical tests imminent. Visit friends for mental health boost. Bath.

Friday: Ok, we CAN clean the kitchen, can't we? I climbed up on the step ladder to clean the stainless steel range hood with my excellent home made bathroom paste, only to be met with the message 'Posy was here' inscribed in the greasy, dusty film that covered it. Thank you Posy, my housekeeping conscience. Why, you may ask, was 10 year old Posy high enough to be able to leave a message above my line of sight? My guess would be she was standing on a high stool raiding the chocolate I keep out of her reach. Until now..

And here, my friends, is my tip of the day. Which you are probably already doing anyway. A couple of months ago a friend was visiting after I had spent a good half hour cleaning the range hood filters laboriously in the kitchen sink. 'You know you can put them in the dishwasher?' she said nonchalantly. Ha. Well, today I can confirm that, yes, it is indeed possible to wash filters in the dishwasher. Hooray! Happy days! I may be the last person to discover this, but just in case I am only the second-last person to find out, I offer this tip to you, my lovelies, to use as you will.

Saturday and Sunday: Aargh, the state of the oven has been haunting me. Usually (read 'once a year') I clean the oven using the most toxic chemicals in spray can known to man, because nothing else will shift the baked-on gunk. But this weekend would be different. Armed with several oven cleaning recipes using no more than lemons and baking soda, I would be green and clean. First I liberally wiped the inside of the oven with my bathroom paste (see above). Then I heated the oven. When it was good and hot (200C, 390F) I poured boiling water into a pan of cut-up lemons, popped the pan in the oven, and left it all to cook for 20 mins. Turned off the oven without opening the door and let it all cool down to merely warm. When I took the pan out it looked like this:

All that brown gunge had dripped into the pan from the roof of the oven. Mmm. Now imagine steel wool and 20 mins or so of hard scrubbing, using extra baking soda on the baked-on lava-like formations on the oven door. It was a great workout. It did not bear much resemblance to the instructions in my old housekeeping manual which blithely advised me that I would be able to wipe out the oven with a soft cloth. Ha. Still, perhaps previous generations cleaned their ovens more than once a year.

Ok, so now my oven is quite reasonably clean, though not exactly ex-factory pristine, I am wondering if it is possible to wipe it out when I have used it? Possible yes, but probable? Hmmm...

Thank you, as always for your company and comments. They keep me cleaning and decluttering with verve if not 100% efficiency. You will have realised by now that I have not accomplished everything on my list - but you know what, the kitchen is WAY cleaner than it was last week, so I am counting this week as a win:)

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Green and Thrifty

There are two types of cooking: the first is when you find a nice recipe and go out and procure the ingredients for it. The second is when you pull a whole bunch of nearly dead ingredients out of the fridge, stack them on the kitchen bench, and wildly cast around for something to do with them all as they are going off before your very eyes...

Today's cooking session was of the latter variety. What I had to work with was: some limp celery and an elderly cauliflower. That became cauliflower soup. A chicken carcass became chicken noodle soup. Some left-over rice became fried rice, which is a miracle food in my book, because it is the one food Posy will always eat. Sure enough, she turned up with a buddy just as I had finished cooking it, and they ate it for lunch. I made naan bread to go with the soup, and The Girl whipped up a chocolate self-saucing pudding, so we are all set for weekend food, and the fridge is much tidier.

I have ad awful cold id the head. I have been dripping copiously into one of The Man's large hankies, and popping out to pick sage leaves from the garden every few hours. Here is my pretty green sage tea. It tastes... sage. But I think it is making my throat better.

If I were to implicitly believe my herb book, in addition to its antiseptic, antifungal and antibacterial properties, my sage tea would be curing my: tonsillitis, bronchitis, TB, arthritis, gout and 'women's problems' (that would be all of my problems, I guess). It will also calm my heart and delay the ageing process due to its antioxidant properties. Go sage. Edited to add: Forgot to note - sage tea is a big no-no if you are pregnant, but excellent after giving birth (helps contract the uterus) and excellent for menopause, as highly estrogenic. If you are pregnant, do not drink any herbal teas unless you know they are safe for pregnancy:)

While I was out picking sage, I noticed the oregano was at peak lushness, so I picked a whole bunch of that to dry. Most herbs are better fresh, or made into herb butter and frozen, but I really like dried oregano. And I find if I pick it now, it isn't covered in white fly as it will be in a few weeks. I know, extra protein, but I am happy with today's vegan option.

You want more green and thrifty? Well, here's one The Girl prepared earlier. One of her dear friends has a birthday, and The Girl made her a hamper of mug, book, and special teas, because she is that kind of kindred spirit friend. The Girl packaged up the teas in lovely bags with home made labels, painted a beautiful card:

And gift-wrapped it in a shoe box with knotted-string-and-button detail. Mmm, perfect.

It is school holidays and very low key at the moment. Rosy has spent days lying in the hammock and reading in her pyjamas after spending the first part of the week with her friends at the beach. I am thrilled that Posy has discovered some local buddies who live on the same block, so that they can visit each other without having to cross the road. They spend so much time with each other, whizzing up and down the streets on their scooters, in and out of each others' houses. It is very relaxing for all the parents, because none of us have a bored ten year old girl under our feet. Mostly I only know they are here because I look out the back door and see legs dangling down out of the pear tree. And there is the shrieking of course. But generally it is muffled. Anyway, mostly it is all very calm and cruisy, and they are painting, playing board games, scooting and constructing complicated pulley arrangements with rope and baskets in the tree.

Happy Spring Days! Tell me about your thrifty projects this week..