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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spring Cleaning!

Well Easter is hippity hopping around the corner and that means the whole fam-damily will be at our humble abode so it's time to get some cleaning going so we don't have to waste any fun-time cleaning house. I have had a side biz cleaning houses for the past four years and worked for a nationally known maid service for several months prior to that. I learned a few tricks and tips along the way so I wanted to share my favorite products and hints to make housework a little less of a chore.

The first tip I learned that saves a TON of time and elbow grease is: let the cleaning products do the work. I don't know how many hours are wasting scrubbing away soap scum but it's not necessary if you clean regularly and if you use the right stuff. I am a huge fan of the Lysol kitchen, bathroom and toilet cleaners. They smell good and they really work PLUS there are coupons in the paper regularly. When you're cleaning counters or the tub, spray them down and then work on something else for a few minutes. Let the cleaner do its job before you start wiping. If the first wipe down didn't work, respray, walk away and wipe again. Seriously, what's cheaper: cleaning products or chiropractic care?

Use cleaning rags. Paper towels are good for a quick wipe up but they're not the best tool for cleaning an entire house. I buy micofiber cloths at the dollar store and wash them after each cleaning. I use the blue ones for window cleaner and the yellow one for funiture polish and the rest of them are free game. I've also used some white shop towels from the automotive department with good results only I've had a hard time finding them lately.

Floor cleaner is widely debated and people tend to feel a great loyalty to the one they like. I tend to mix it up. I use Murphy's Oil Soap, Fabulouso (seriously, that stuff smells GREAT!)  and the Lysol 4-in-1 pourable. I alternate with each cleaning. For those of you who have fallen in love with the Swiffer I'm probably not going to change your mind, but I love the shmop. This is a tool I used when I worked for Merry a nationally known cleaning company, and it really is a great way to take care of hardwoods, marble, or tile floors. You can buy several covers for it (that can be popped in the washer after you're done). I have the microfiber, a terry cloth one and the wooly one although I misplace the covers often. I love that the covers can be taken off to rinse as needed without bending or wringing. I fill my kitchen sink with mop water and drain it when I'm done. No buckets required.

For dusting I do like the Swiffer duster, although I hate shelling out for the refills. I've used various fuzzy things with varying degrees of success but I do like the satisfaction of seeing all the grunge on the dusting pad. As far as furniture polish goes Liquid Gold is the best. It costs more than the crummy kind and it should. Lemon oil is good if you use it right but it's a bit tricky. The same goes for window cleaner. I use that kind in a can, the light blue one. I know it's not the most environmentally friendly solution but it leaves the fewest streaks and one can goes a long way!

As far as tips and tricks go, here are my top ten:

1. Shampoo removes soap scum. Put it on a sponge or rag and lather up the shower walls and the tub then rinse. This is a great use for cheap-o shampoo you don't like or the little travel bottles from hotels.

2. Start from top to bottom and move from left to right around a room. Dust ceiling fans before you start on the rest of the room because if you don't you'll find you've redistributed dust in places you've already cleaned.

3. To avoid retracing your steps 6000 times, take all your cleaning products, rags and trashbags into a room with you. Make a cleaning caddy, it makes it easy to tell what you need and saves you from running laps around the house as you clean.

4. Floors should be done last. Get an extension cord for your vaccuum cleaner if you have to unplug it half a dozen times.

5. Cleaning time is cleaning time. There is a reason I can clean most houses in two hours and it takes me days to clean my own. When I start sorting mail or reorganizing closets, I've lost focus on my objective. Use cleaning time to clean.

6. When in doubt, throw it out. There is a danger zone we clutter bugs get into where everything we find has potential. There are clothes that wind up in my closet floor over and over again because I wash them and hang them but after putting them on I immediately decide that I don't like the fit or the color and I drop it in a pile. If I wear a pair of shoes that hurt my feet, I take them off and drop them directly in the trash. I do not donate them because I don't want to saddle anyone else with painful shoes. If I don't throw them away immediately I will convince myself they're not as bad as they are and I'll trick myself into another day in miserable shoes. It is important to make sure that you own your stuff rather than letting your stuff own you. When you can't find what you need because you've accumulated an unreasonable collection, it's time to let some things go.

7. Clean as you go. After I get out of the shower, I will spray down the walls and rinse it right then. It's an easy way to keep things neat. It takes no time to swab down the potty while I'm waiting on my hot rollers to heat. (This is especially easy if you keep some toilet cleaner under the sink.) The same goes with wiping down a mirror once a week in the morning. If you stay on top of things as you go, you limit the hours that need to be devoted to big cleaning projects.

8. Purge as you go. With a chef for a husband, we have more kitchen stuff than any two human beings can possibly need. I can justify three crockpots because I use them regularly but the 50 mismatched plates are a bit much by anyone's standards. Coffee cups tend to breed in our kitchen as well. I take an honest look at our inventory regularly and food that has been in the pantry for months on end gets donated. Items that are used rarely are stored on the high shelves while daily use items are put on lower shelves. When we got a convection/toaster oven as a wedding gift, the toaster left the kitchen promptly. We don't need two tools that serve the same purpose. The same goes with produce that's looking puny, I either find a use for it immediately or I throw it out before I have a science fair project in my fridge.

9. Play the commerical game! On lazy days when we're watching TV I will declare it a commercial game day. The rules are that when commercials come on Big Daddy and I both have to do one quick house cleaning task. During a commercial trash can go to the outside can, clothes can be transferred from the washer to the dryer, at least half the dishwasher can be unloaded, counters can get wiped down...well you get the idea. I also play this game when I'm reading a book, where at the end of each chapter I have to do one chore.

10. Soak instead of scrubbing. I am scrubbing adverse. When I have baked on stuff inside my crockpot, I fill it with water and a little dishwashing soap and turn it on low so the stuff can bake off just like it baked on. If you drop dishes in a soapy sink right after dinner there's really no scrubbing to do. Pots and pans work the same way too.

Bonus: Use air fresheners, candles and Fabreeze to keep things smelling nice even when there are dust bunnies hiding. I've found that if I buy fresh flowers I am more likely to clean because I want to have a pretty place to put them. Make the bed no matter what, it makes a room look more put together and encourgages you to hang clothes rather than draping them in your favorite lazy spots.

Happy Tuesday all, time to get shmoppin!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tuesday's Creation

These are some birthday cards I made. The colors are more vivid than it appears by my photo and there are also some sugary sparkles on the cupcakes that aren't very visible. I used my Cricut to cut the diecuts and then outlined them with a thin black marker to give it a more handmade look. The background of each card is a page from one of the books we use in my recovery program that I watercolored. (I'm making the cards to share with friends when they celebrate their recovery date anniversary.)

I love making cards and having some stockpiled because it's often challenging enough to get ourselves together without adding a run to buy cards, gift bags and tissue paper on celebration days. I also like to give handmade mostly because I can. It's a win/win, I get to enjoy my time making cute stuff and people really seem to appreciate the effort (and well, it's cheap too! The card blanks cost pennies and the rest of the stuff I already have!)

Today is Saint Patricks Day and as it is my first with this fine Irish sirname, I am going to boldly go where I've never gone before: I'm cooking corned beef and cabbage. My husband is delighted and I am not nearly so sure, but I'm using a recipe from Taste of Home. If you don't know about ToH and you like good food, you need to check it out. I fell in love with the magazine years ago because it had recipes from real people to make real food like the stuff at a church potluck. All the other magazines had recipes that required pans I didn't have, and spices I didn't have and ingredients I'd never used to make stuff that I wasn't sure I'd really like. So I'm off to fire up the crockpot and figure out what kind of yummy fun I can get into before Big Daddy gets home!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Make Stuff!

I made a deal with myself that I'd do one creative thing each day of Spring Break and yesterday I hung the pictures Big Daddy and I displayed at our wedding. It was a little tricky finding an arrangement I could live with since it wasn't symetrical but this one works for me. The letters are metal and I found them at Michaels for $1 each. This is the little nook right by our master bedroom and I like that the one color photograph is the picture we took right after we were pronounced husband and wife. The other pictures are pictures we took on various fieldtrips when we were dating. A family friend came to me during the wedding and wanted to know who our photographer was for these photos and I cracked up. All of the pictures were taken on my little pink camera and all but a couple were taken by us. Big Daddy and I have a system where one of us holds the camera at arms length and shoots the picture. It's become a signatue style and it amuses the heck out of my sister. People will see us taking our own picture and will offer to take photos for us and nine times out of ten I delete the pictures after they walk away. I like the head shots better, especially when we can tilt our heads and my double chin isn't the focal point of the picture. I edit our photos using the editing program associated with flickr most of the time although I now have a cheapy disc I got at walmart or office something that I use as well. I like to print my pictures in black and white or in sepia because it allows me to tie together photos from different times and places without worrying about color schemes.

Monday, March 15, 2010

My Creative Life and Girl Scout Cookies

One of the challenges of being me is that there are a dozen things I want to do at any given moment and none of them are the things I need to do or have to do. Lately I've been journaling and doing creative writing a lot and when I'm in the zone with that it's so good and I love it so much and I want to do it forever (like the first box of Samoas) and then one day several weeks in for some inexplicable reason I need to paint something (time to open the Thin Mints!) only actually I want to paint everything! so I head to Michaels for $60 in painting supplies and I'm going to paint forever, I am a painter, woo hooooo and then a book comes in the mail and nevermind the six books I have lined up waiting patiently, no I've got to read and read and read and read (mmmmm Tag-alongs!). I've always been like this and it's been the source of a lot of frustration and confusion for me because when my brain tells me this is it, this is your thing and you are going to do this thing forever and you are going to be great at it I believe my brain and I purchase things like I'm going to love it forever and I talk about it like I'm going to love it forever and frankly I know it makes me look like a big flake when someone asks me about the big fat forever thing before last and I have to say, "Yeah, I'm not doing that anymore." It took me years to realize that these things are cyclic and the good news is that I really don't get bored and the things I like to do come back time and time again. It's like having these wonderful wealthy friends that come to visit having just returned from someplace exotic. When they are visiting, we stay up late and play show and tell and I'm so glad they're back and just when we fall into a comfortable routine they're packing their bags to head off to Istambul and the phone rings and it's another friend who's at the airport and wonders if I can pick her up (Trefoils, where have you been!?!).

This week is Spring Break and I've been looking at crafty blogs for two day straight. I've found some amazing stuff I'd like to try my hand at. I've still got the mantle decorated for Valentines Day and it needs to be redone. I'm going to try my hand at a spinich stuffed pork loin tonight. I've got a new writing book that has my brain working on story ideas all the time and our garage is a complete disaster. The closet is over run and every piece of clothing in there needs to defend it's worth because Captain Pack Rat here is getting frustrated with trying to find something to wear to church. I bought a sewing machine at Christmas that I'd really like to learn to use better and the Book of the Month club just sent me an email telling me my book is on its way. The list just goes on and on and on and somewhere in this big casserole of things I love and things I love to do is a career.

Speaking of careers, you should check out this color test that tells you various careers that would be a good fit. Big Daddy and I both had creative as our strong suit but his second strength was in organization and mine was in persuasion. It's weirdly accurate and it only takes a minute to do. Hey, now that I think about it, perhaps I could persuade Big Daddy to organize our closet!

So I'm going to challenge myself to do one creative thing each day of Spring Break and I'll post it on the blog and posting the blog doesn't count as my one creative thing. Hopefull I will use this time to live a little more mindfully and a little more gratefully. My dad used to have a quote on his desk from Benjamin Franklin. It read, "Do not waste time, it is the essense of life." Amen!

Here are some of the ideas I fell in love with:
butterfly art
fake cupcakes
tea wreath
omg cute flipflops
collage on canvas

Monday, March 8, 2010

Orange Chicken, Leprechaun Green & Out of the Red!

Tonight I made another yummy crockpot dinner that was pretty easy. I made Orange Chicken, fried rice and asian slaw. To make fried rice you just cook some regular old white rice and let it cool. (I use the boil in bag stuff.) Heat olive oil in a non-stick skillet. Take one egg and whip it, whip it good and throw that on the oil cooking it quickly and breaking it up as it cooks. Then throw in the cooled rice, a handfull of frozen peas and carrots and quick fry it until it's all heated, then douse in soy sauce. Keep the rice moving until everything is hot and well mixed. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper to taste. My asain slaw is even easier. I take bagged slaw mix and throw it in a bowl. Then I take a handful of slivered almonds and throw those on a cookie sheet to toast. While the almonds are toasting I douse (apparently douse is the word of the day) the cabbage mix with asain vinegrette (mine is that salad spray stuff, only I didn't spray it, I dumped it.) Then top with toasted almonds. Done. Here's the recipe for the Orange Chicken:

1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken, cut in 1-inch chunks

1/2 cup flour

olive oil, for browning the chicken

1 teaspoon salt

6 ounces (1/2 can) frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
3 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons ketchup

1 pinch of red pepper flakes for a little heat (optional)

The Directions
Use a 4 quart slow cooker for best results. Dredge the chicken pieces with the flour, and shake off the excess. Go ahead and throw away any remaining flour, we won't need it. Heat olive oil in a large skillet on the stove and brown the chicken on all sides. There is no need to fully cook it, just sear it enough for the flour to stick and get a nice coating.

Plop the chicken pieces into your slow cooker. In a small mixing bowl, combine the orange juice concentrate, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, salt, and ketchup. Taste. If you'd like the chicken to be a bit sweeter, add a touch more sugar. Pour sauce mixture evenly over the chicken, and toss gingerly to coat.
Cover and cook on low for 6 hours, or on high for 3 to 4. Serve over rice.

Review: this actually tastes like the orange chicken I get from the local chinese place after it's been in the fridge overnight. Of course cooking something in the crockpot doesn't leave it crispy, but the flavor of the sauce is very true to take-out.
Last weekend Big Daddy and I went to the North Texas Irish Festival at Fair Park and it was really neat. We rode the DART rail and did some primo people watching. There's definately a sub-culture of people who go to fairs, festivals and other outdoorsy event things and the vibe at the Irish Festival was definately a new one for me. I'd really not experienced large numbers of men in kilts, and we're not just talking about people who were dancing or vending or playing the bag pipes, oh no my friend, we're talking about dudes just hanging out in their Ooops I Did it Again skirts. I have always been pro-kilt (no really, I think it's seriously sexy in an edgy nerdy classy kinda casserole) and when Big Daddy started looking at them, I was on it! We didn't buy, but I'm going to be shopping for one because if the man was just playing around, he pulled the wrong chain. Besides, Big Daddy has great legs!
I have paid off three nagging debts in the last week and I am feeling super good about my credit situation. I have never had an excess of credit so the negative things on my credit report are things that I have either decided to be a jerk about or things I've had trouble chasing down. The coolest part is that everything I paid out will be coming back to me over the next month or so, which is a really cool thing! I have been working on a better outlook and attitude about trusting God and doing what's right just because it's right and I have been very blessed by the changes that I thought would be far more uncomfortable than they proved to be.