Monday, August 31, 2015

A Small Makeover for The Back Porch


I've been meaning to get all the work done on the front porch that was needed.  It's a slow process because it needs so much work and I mean that sincerely.  I think the last time the porch floor and the chairs were painted was when Katie was still at home about 6 or 7 years ago.  Add to the general chipping/peeling paint just good old fashioned dirt...Well it's gonna be a while yet before I get to show off  the work I'll have done out there.

So I noticed the back porch was awfully neglected.  I'd started to decorate it last Fall and not made much progress.  Partly this was due to the fact that while I had a vision, I couldn't find the items I thought I had.  I'm a make do gal, as you know by now.  Then this past May between our visits to family, vacation and my unexpected illness, well the back porch just sort of went by the wayside. Plants curled up and died and dust settled and there it stayed.

I bought the door mat last year and really used it as my jumping off point for color in this little makeover.

Back in the Spring, I did manage to buy a little white metal tray table for the front porch.  I liked it very much and as I watched the supply dwindle at Dollar General, this orange table remained.  I decided to bring it home simply because I liked the one I had so much.  I meant to use it on the front porch, or even save it as a back up table,  but I set it down here on the back porch.  I noted then that there was orange in the floor mat.  And my inspiration was born to do something with the back porch.

Honestly, I thought I was looking at a one day makeover, a little freshening and decorating and be done by end of day.  Ha!

That bright and shiny new table just sort of played up how badly the rocker had weathered without a proper outdoor finish to shield it.  I'd seen a rocker on the cover of Country Living a few months back that I just loved but I didn't see anything near that color range.  I found a shade I liked at Lowes.  It's a Sherwin Williams color called Landscape Palm.

It didn't look half so bright in the store on the card...I may add some stain to 'age' it a little.  Honestly with the orange table this corner is looking mighty bright at present.  We'll see if I can leave it bright or if I have to tone it down, lol.  It's a departure for me, honestly.

Then I moved to the entry wall...

I had a star already and the baby crib springs which used to be in my Mama's baby bed some 78 years ago. I'd had all sorts of ideas for those springs but in the end they juts hung on the wall.  I had a small enamel pan I found in Granny's yard that I was using as a scoop for potting soil and that was all I did for over a year.  I didn't much care for the oxblood color of the star.  The star is actually camouflaging a badly patched spot on the siding. 

decorated at Christmas

 I'd pictured the springs with all kinds of kitschy sorts of things.  .In the end I didn't like anything, and left it bare.  

I'd put some melamine plates I bought years ago out on the front porch, planning to incorporate them out there.  As I came up on the porch one day I pictured the plates here instead.  I knew just what I wanted to do with them, too.  I started with this and ended up with this:

I made the welcome sign from an old plaque I'd had on hand for the longest time.  It was an odd shade of brown and wasn't quite my personality.  Red enamel spray paint changed that and the star as well.   I ultimately decided to stencil in the lettering on the sign in black which I felt was more easily read from the yard. I had a gold paint pen however, and since I bought paint for the rocker and need floor paint for the front porch, I felt it was best to use what I had.   The back door is where most people come to right away, so I felt house numbers and a Welcome sign were appropriate here, more than on the front porch where only the very strangest of strangers ever come.

As an aside, I am so totally nuts over that blue on the "C"...I think I want to put that same color on my back door which is in need of paint and currently is plain old white...But that is another project for another day.

Of course, all that painting and fresh shiny surfaces only played up the dullness of the khaki paint on the table and chairs.  Naturally I painted those afresh as well.  I chose to use what I had: oil rubbed bronze. I like the way the darker color balances the bright ones out here.

I didn't care for the old mosaic of the table. It's not real mosaic and while it was serviceable, it had begun to show it's age.  The khaki/gray/white coloring wasn't really suited to what I wanted with all the color out here either. I tried contact paper but I didn't care for what I had on hand.  Finding anything wide enough for the table was also a problem.

In the end, I purchased another can of Oil Rubbed Bronze and painted the mosaic the same color as the rest of the table/chairs.  It's not half bad looking and it keeps the brights on the other side of the porch and the brights on the wall from looking garish I think.

 I wasn't sure I'd like the table as a 'solid' and looked hard at other paint colors to see if I thought any would work as a compliment but John urged me to do 'just do one color'.  It's not bad.  We'll see if it holds up.  I used a good quality Rustoleum paint that is all purpose for multiple surfaces.

I've shown you the new wreath for the back door.  I am still loving those crazy colors in the center of the old sunflowers.

 I've used the burlap wreath three seasons so far.  I've had the sunflower picks for two years or more.  I used them last year with a homespun fabric as the flower center.  As I dug through my fabric stash I came across this fun print.  It incorporates all the colors I'm using on the back porch and works well with the door mat.

The idea was to purchase fresh plants and complete the porch entirely, but in the end, I didn't get out of the house.

I won't tell you I'm done.  I really wanted to do more out here and I might yet, but it's been two or three weeks working on these two porches and I'm ready to be done for a bit with this one at least.  I have a wooden box where I keep a few gardening tools that I'd like to spruce up a bit and I'd like to make the grill area on the porch a little more user friendly and I want a bench for extra seating...But all of that can wait.  I will likely buy a few fresh plants soon, but in the meantime I did purchase one Celosia which freshens things up a little.

So we'll call it good enough for now.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

In My Home This Week: Having Fun

Hello!  It's the very last days of August and the very new start of a new month this week.  I won't say, "Hasn't the year just flown by?" or "My! Summer is nearly over!" which is overstating the obvious.  I will say I feel excited about September this year.  Truth told the summer has been stressful and difficult in many ways, but somehow I'm just convinced that this month ahead will bring all that to an end.

Why did I decide to use 'Having Fun' in the title?  Because, I truly do find it fun to be creative in my home, whether it's planning meals, figuring out ways to trim our budget, or to re-do an item so that it feels like new...It's FUN and I mean that sincerely.  Have you ever noticed that sometimes fun is hard work?  Well it is, unless you're the sort that just shows up and enjoys all the end results.  We've had that discussion before as well, about those of us who are more Martha and less Mary when it comes to seeing what needs to be done, but that's not to say we never enjoy ourselves. I believe if you don't enjoy the work you're doing then you're in the wrong place.

Maybe you'd be happier working outside the home and just enjoying the comforts of the place at day's end.  There's nothing wrong with that at all you know.  It takes all kinds, as my Granny used to say too often, and while I prefer to be 'at home', my own mother was happiest with her job.  She did plenty of work at home but it wasn't the life blood to her that homemaking is to me.  Granny preferred outdoor work, field work, gardening.  Housework was a necessary part of her day but she tried to keep things in control so it took the least of her time.  Grandmama on the other hand often worked outside her home but she hummed along in her house and could 'find' work in it.  I think I tend to be most like her in this matter.  I can 'find' more work to do and will happily do it, too!

All that to say, that this week, I'm meaning to enjoy my home and have fun in it. Let's get started with a plan for meals.  Oh and I realized after I'd sent out last week's post I'd totally forgotten suppers. one even mentioned missing them.

Breakfast:  Toast and Eggs x2 (John's work mornings)
                    Waffles and Sausages with sauteed apples and maple syrup
                    Breakfast sandwiches (we never had those this past week after all)
                    Oatmeal with Blueberries, Toast with Peanut Butter (I plan to make the custard sort of                          oatmeal as it has an egg and will reduce the brown sugar)
                    Bagels/Cream Cheese, Fruit
                    Biscuits with Sausage Gravy

Dinners:  Grilled Steaks,  Corn on Cob, Salad, Rolls (this is planned for Friday really when the                         kids should come in from Florida.)
                  Spaghetti with Bolognese Sauce, Three Bean Salad in Lettuce Cup
                  Lemon Chicken, Broccoli Casserole, Pear Salad
                  Zucchini Pizza Planks, Tossed Salad, Garlic Bread
                  twice on my own: Leftovers on menu for me
                  dinner with my girls (guys are going to a football game)
Suppers:   Homemade Sub Sandwich, Pickles
                  Soup x 2 for me
                  Hot Dogs, Oven Fries, Coleslaw
                  Peanut Butter Jelly Sandwich, Chocolate Milk
                  Pizza ordered out with kids
                  Chicken Salad Plates, Crackers

Jobs This Week

I did more than I thought I'd get to last week.  The porch railing is done except for a small section that still needs to be cleaned.  John moved the dog house for me so I can tend to that this week.  If weather permits, I'll also get it painted.

Finish the cafe set.  I've decided to just paint the mosaic the same color as the table and let it be a single color.

Finish the back porch decor.

If weather permits, paint the front porch floor.

Wash and hang to dry the guest room spread, if weather is you get the impression I'm unsure of this week's weather?

Pay bills, grocery shop

Lab work?  I don't know at the moment, will depend on results of last test
Dr. Appointment?  Ditto above

Start photos for Fall outfits series.

I promised myself in September I'd sort out the non-food kitchen items.  I've become aware there are many tools and pots and pans and such I've not touched in a long, long while.  I'm thinking it's time to clear those items out of the way.  Depending on weather and porch work I'll start this process this week.

Friday, August 28, 2015

This Week In My Home: Stretching to Save

              I'm not one of those people who can DIY just anything, but I can do little painting something with a fresh coat and making it look new once more.  There are always little things that can be done, if only to clean things really well.  I find the work lifts my spirits and changes my perspective from the 'I want its' to "Oh now isn't that nice?"

Saturday:  It's supposed to be a rest day and I had to restrain myself.  I was unsuccessful on two scores.  I went out to wash up a coffee and milk spill and watered the plants while I was out there.  I used stored water that needed to be refreshed.

I decided to try and clean paint off the mosaic portion of the cafe set.  It was working quite well but I stopped midway.  I used a green scrubbie and dishwasher detergent.

Went out to feed the pets and found myself scraping more paint off the porch floor, sigh.  So many projects!  I brought myself right indoors and settled in to Bible study.

Today's dinner was a mix up of leftovers that I simply reheated and fresh foods: a beautifully colorful green salad (with carrots, tomatoes and yellow bell pepper), and a dessert of molten lava cakes.  I've been craving brownies and I recalled this recipe.  I though it might be less caloric than brownies since it has less sugar, less butter and less flour...and the bonus is it makes just four individual servings.

Spent time entering information I'd collected into my genealogy notebook.

After a morning spent reading blogs, I decided to go to Pinterest where I read money saving hints, looked at recipes and such.  I found a couple of good salad ideas that appealed to me.  I may have found a money saving hint: ordering toilet paper from Amazon in bulk...It looks like the best price is available only if you have Amazon prime.  It did make me stop and do a check on something I'd never thought about before which is why I read money saving hints every week.

Living Well:  It's been some time since I've been so eager to work on a project as I am at present...and I've started TWO!  One is the sort that is all hard work and looks really horrid at the middle and one is just little things (though they keep adding up all those little things) that will result in something nice at the end.  I'll be most happy to share both projects with you once they are done, but in the meantime, I feel my fingers itching to be at work and it's a lovely thing, this desire, genuine real desire, to get to work.

Sunday:  Made John breakfast and packed the lunch I'd set up for him Friday evening.

I had my day planned...and it looked like it was all going to go off, just so.  I was working on the back porch planning to paint when it began to thunder.  The sky was clear...but it kept right on thundering and within a half hour we had dark skies and heavy rain and  great booming thunder.  No washing quilt and spread and hanging on the line, no painting.  I mopped floors instead.

I put on a pan of chicken parts to boil for broth.  These were carcasses, a leftover leg,  backs and necks I'd been saving.

I set out meats to thaw for my big weekly meal prep.

The storm brought in cooler air.  The AC stopped running non-stop and runs only intermittently now.  It's not anything I personally did to save money but I'm glad of the savings!

I  made enough food at lunch to carry me through supper, too.  Cook once, eat twice.  I can spend time doing something else besides thinking about what I need to make for my next meal.

Checked the fridge for leftovers and made sure I had a plan to use them all.  Glad I checked.  I'd forgotten some corn that I need to use.  I have a plan...

The skies cleared, the housework was done.  I thought I'd just go scan the skies and they were all clear of dark clouds.  It was hot and sunny outdoors, perfect weather for painting.  I got about half done with the rocker and heard the first rumble.  Are you kidding me?  No dark clouds anywhere but definitely thunder and soon enough the dark clouds moved in over the northwest horizon.  Sigh.  No more painting.  I only hope every thing got dry enough to stand a bit of rain on it.

Living Well:  I couldn't help but think today, as I tried to work outdoors and kept getting rained out, that these series of storms that came up out of seemingly nowhere at all, with no hint on the horizon that they were coming is a lot like life.   It happens to all of us.  I could still tell you all the plans I'd meant to have going on this summer and then Sam and Bess moved, and JD was stationed to California and my health has kept me home when I'd thought I'd spend a few summer Sundays with grandchildren.   

Plans.  They are just so many clouds in the sky aren't they?  They blow in and they blow away and we spend our time making new ones.

Monday:    John worked a little late this morning.  Long enough to allow me time to finish painting the rocker, then shower and start Bible study.

I worked on food prep for the week.  I browned 2 pounds of ground beef all at one time, with onions and garlic.  I used a portion for today's casserole and made chili from the rest.  The chili will make a tamale pie and chili for meals.  I hadn't planned to have chili this week, but John asked for it.

I picked over the chicken bones and got nearly 2 cups chicken from them.  I decided to make chicken noodle soup with a quart of the broth.

I put two quarts and 1 pint of broth in the freezer.

I used leftover creamed corn in the topping for the tamale pie.

I rinsed a can of pears to rid them of the syrup, then made our salad from them.

I put 1 quart of chili in the fridge, plus enough to make a tamale pie.  I had some leftover broth and put it in a pint jar to use as a 'taco soup' base later.

I put 1 pint and 1 quart of chicken soup base in the freezer.  I put 1 pint of chicken soup base in the refrigerator for supper one night this week.

I mixed leftover corn up into the corn pudding recipe that typically calls for corn muffin mix.  I used my regular corn bread recipe using cornmeal mix.  It's a small savings in cash and a savings in additives and preservatives.  I will use this to top my tamale pie later in the week.

Living Well:  I think of all the changes I've made this summer, I like this kitchen prep day the very best.  I'm always happy in the kitchen, playing about with my food but sometimes resented having to give up time I'd like to spend working on a project.  Well this extra hour or  two each week is well worth the sacrifice.  It's lovely to know I can spend all morning tomorrow working on the porch and not have to come in until just before dinnertime and set things to reheat or cook in a few minutes time.  I think I'm going to keep this habit!

Tuesday:    I thought perhaps we might have plans today, not mine, but John's.  He prefers to be spontaneous and I try to go with the flow.   I discovered that his spontaneity today was non-existent.  I started to paint the front porch railings.  I got two big sections done on the inside and most of the outside of the railings as well.  We had the white paint on hand.  I've done a fair job this month emptying out the paint cupboard of a lot of old paints.

I put a fresh coat of paint on the ironing board.  It took the full can to cover that ironing board.  I was glad I had a fresh coat over the ironing board.  I had just enough yellow left to touch up the center of the flowers on the iron chairs.

I stenciled a sign for the back porch.  I used a gold paint pen I had on hand, rather than wait to purchase a black paint pen.  I'm not unhappy with the look at all.  The back porch is really coming together.  I need only to decide upon a method to take care of the ugly faux mosaic on the furniture.

I worked myself silly...and needed a second shower when I came in.  John reheated the chili an put out fresh fruit, saltines and yogurt for a meal. It wasn't 'planned' but it was easy and handy and I was quite happy to have it.

I put a turkey breast roast in the crock pot for sandwiches tonight.

Living Well:   I wish I could transform all the areas of my life I don't like so much with a can of spray paint!  I was thinking that today as I worked on various items and recalled what they once looked like.  I'm not a big 'before' picture taker.  I tend to do pictures of the 'after' when an item is already transformed, but still...

If I could find a magic spray paint that could change my harsh thoughts into kinder ones, or change my sober moments into joyful ones then I should certainly do so.  If I might change my unhappy thoughts for a better attitude I'd spray paint that as well.  Oh the many things I'd change!

Wednesday:  Packed John's work lunch. Made him breakfast.

Made my own breakfast,   I opted for cereal this morning with yogurt and maple syrup topping.  I used yogurt to boost the protein of the meal and because I know it's getting mighty close to expiration and I don't want to waste it!  I used half a banana left from yesterday to go on the cereal, too.

Watered plants with stored water and then refilled the jug with fresh.

Refilled for water bottles and put in fridge.

Washed two loads of laundry.  Load one: the King sized quilt from our bed.  Load two: our sheets and towels for the week.  I hung all on the line or on the drying rack which I set outside on the back porch.

I put on a shirt this morning and found a hole in the side.  I've put it in the sewing room for mending.

Rather than use a second planned outfit from the closet I quickly put together another.

Went out with Mama today.  She wanted to go by her favorite women's dress shop.  I found three nice heavy knit cotton t-shirts on sale for about $11 each.  I paid for them with my allowance.  I bought three solid colors: white, cafe, and teal.  These are good basic colors and will work well with multiple items.  I think with the other two tees I bought at the end of July that I'll be good for tops for the rest of these hot months.  All are solids and all will work into the first part of Fall or until I 'un'-grow them.

I paid the tip and covered dessert/coffee today as my part of the meal out.

I came home this afternoon and put the one dollar bills from my change in my savings box and change in the charity box.

I made chicken noodle soup for my supper, with the pint of chicken soup base I put up in the fridge yesterday.   I ate a slightly wrinkled but very ripe and tasty plum as my dessert.

Living Well:  It was 58F on the back porch this morning when John was leaving for work.  It was lovely.  I went to sit on the front porch with the cozy blanket that normally hangs over a chair in the living room wrapped about me.  It was so nice I decided that I must plan to makeover some old throws to use on the soon to be 'new' porches for the cool mornings coming so soon.  Another project!  Oh how my mind does enjoy finding new projects to keep me well employed.

Thursday:  Where was the savings in today?  In the front porch where I was putting on the fresh coat of paint on the railings.  It looks so pristine and pretty (at least the railing does...the rest not so much). Among other things we'd planned this year, we'd also planned to re-do the front porch.  We can't, but it's no reason to let it continue to look so terribly bad.  I might not be able to reconfigure it as planned but I can sure make it look pretty once again.  I used a half gallon of paint from the paint cupboard.  I've just enough left I think to cover the last bit of railing when I get it cleaned up and that will be that.

I ordered a new pair of jeans. I'm not sure what size I am but I ordered two sizes smaller than I'd been wearing at the end of  Spring.  Fingers crossed.  I ordered through Swagbucks Shop and Earn.

Plain old cheese sandwiches...That's what we had for supper.  It doesn't sound fancy  but it was most certainly tasty.  Sometimes simple foods do taste the best.

I cooked eggs for John this morning and noted that we've managed to keep our usage thus far to about a dozen, which is less than we'd normally use.

I started dinner in the crock pot before I went out to paint.

I 'made' a steamer for the microwave.  I have two nesting glass bowls.  My broccoli was tall and I didn't see any point in wasting the stem.  I set it upright in one bowl and turned the smaller bowl over the top upside down.  Voila!  A glass steamer of sorts that worked perfectly to cook the broccoli.

Living Well:  Oh the peace of being outdoors in the country.  The breeze rustling the leaves, the braying of a donkey across the field, the gentle buzzing of a bee.  I worked for three hours but it never felt like work.  It was so relaxed and all I felt was a deep sense of well being.  Thank you Lord, for the country!

Friday:  I sat down last night and quickly planned out weekend meals.  I have food prepped for Shabat.

Made John's work sandwiches ahead.  The sturdiest sandwich to make is a peanut butter jelly, I think, for they do keep well.

 John and I had planned a trip to Walmart. I made out a quick list of items to pick up there.  Mine included decaf Gevalia coffee, a whole loaf of bread for Shabat and fruit for the last of this pay period.  I had a short household list of paint to finish off the cafe table and chairs and paint for the front porch floor.

Found a penny at Walmart.  Picked it up and added it to our charity box change.

Sick and tired of our poor internet service we stopped at at&t to see if we could get satellite service through them, now they are affiliated with DirecTv...Well we learned that certain areas are 'owned' as territories by certain providers.  Our area is 'owned' by the phone company that services our area.  The area where the at&t branch store is located is owned by another internet provider so even though at&t has their own service they can't use it in that area.  Isn't that ridiculous?  So the upshot of this learning process was that we came to our hometown and politely lodged a complaint against the sorry service we've had.  A technician came out and checked the line and said we had a good solid signal and suggested a few adjustments and left.  We had a good strong signal until 3 minutes before the business closed when it fell off once again.  I guess we've got what we've got and that's just the way it is, huh?  At least now we're not doing nothing and complaining.  Now we know we've done what we can and we're going to try and curb the complaining.

Cut grape bunches into portion sized bunches.  I do this all the time.  It does make a difference because if John reaches in and gets a bunch with about 50 grapes he'd eat the whole bunch.  If he reaches in and gets one with about 20 grapes, he eats those.  I've just doubled our grape quantity without purchasing more, lol.

Did my usual trick with bananas, which does extend the life.  I removed the two that appeared the most nearly ripe and put them on the fruit stand.  The rest of the bunch, which were mostly green went into a plastic bag.  I prefer to use a produce bag from the grocery but today I didn't have one.  The bag is tied up tight and I won't open it until those two bananas are gone.  Typically now we have bananas last a good week without all of them ripening up at once.  I don't know about you all, but I've plenty of ripe bananas in my freezer and really don't care to add anymore to the stash!

In fact, I added 1 1/2 bananas to the freezer this afternoon.  Once a banana is ripe (freckled) John won't touch it.   I plan to make some banana bran muffins this next week.  I'll use some of the frozen bananas.

Washed a very full load of dishes, adding in the coffee pot and filters this time to insure the load was truly full.

John treated us to lunch today.  He paid from his allowance.

We were pleased to get a 75% refund from the dental insurance provider for John's oral surgery we'd paid for a couple of weeks ago.  Since the fee came from our savings, we're returning the money to that account.

Living Well:  Some days are obviously filled with blessings.  Today we had such a day.  From the unexpected check to the kind phlebotomist who grieved over a difficult blood draw, to people who went above and beyond and were kind as could be everywhere we went today, even the tearful phone call from someone who just needed to vent (what a privilege to be a confidant!), the day was just blessed.  

It's  little harder on those day when the sun refuses to shine and the day is filled with breakdowns and repairs and quarrels to find the blessings, but I believe they are there all the same.  We just can't see them because all those other things have shielded our eyes and prevented us from seeing rightly.  

I pray God gives me the wisdom to remember to pray that the scales fall off my eyes on those days when I am blind to his blessings!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Keeping It Clean - 10 Steps to Keeping Your Home Neat.

Periodically it is asked of me how I keep my home neat and clean.  Granted I am a stay at home wife and I consider my home my 'job', but I have many calls upon my time and keeping it all in balance and keeping the house neat and clean is something I must stay on top of.

So what is the secret?  Habit and routines.

I will be the first to confess that I like a little routine and a lot of 'Oh what do I feel like doing today?' It's the routine part of what I do that keeps things running smoothly, looking nice and allows me that freedom.  What I do in my home works for us, but I believe these steps can work for every one.

When I was ill, John kept up the house on his own.  He didn't know just where to put certain dishes so he (very wisely in my opinion) put them on the baking counter, which is out of the direct line of vision if you're in the living room or the back entry area.  No one was the wiser of that little hot spot on that counter top.  He has seen enough of my routines that he kept up the house very well all on his own just using these 10 steps.

When I came home from hospital I spent perhaps ten minutes putting away those items he was unsure of, and  I didn't feel in the least overwhelmed by chores staring me in the face although I'd been gone 2  weeks.  That he was able to do this, while making daily treks to the hospital or working his 24 hour shifts,  convinced me that I was on to something really good that would work well for any one at all.

1.  Do laundry every day.

I used to think that I should have a laundry day, and I'd spend hours washing load after load of clothes and towels and sheets and spend my time doing nothing much besides laundry.  It was a chore!   I believed in separating clothes into white, dark, towels, etc.  It's not at all necessary.  That's the big secret.  Yes, occasionally I do want to soak a load of whites in bleach and at those times I might wash them separately, but honestly?  I haven't noticed a huge difference in our white clothes when they are washed with our other clothes, including dark.  We've just about figured out which new items are going to be prone to bleeding and will wash those separately the first couple of washings.

If you think this is not an economical way to do laundry, then I beg to differ.  When we had five children at home we were never without a full load and often two every single day.  Had I waited until 'laundry day' and we'd also stripped beds and washed towels on that day, I'd have done a total of 10 loads in a single day's time.  I would say we do laundry now about four times a week, with one of those being towels and sheets and possibly another of some sort of laundry from deep cleaning, such as a quilt or curtains from a room, etc.  John will occasionally wash a small load of clothes, what he refers to as a 'mutt load,' where he throws in anything at all just to make up a load.  We lower the water levels on the washer for small loads and we almost always use a short cycle since our clothing is seldom deeply dirty.

2.  Keep the dishes done.  I try to keep hand washing down to once a day.  However, I rinse and stack dishes in the dishwasher as much as I can and the rest are stacked neatly in the dishpan.  When the dishpan is obviously full, or I've come to the end of the day,  I will wash.  You'd be much surprised to discover how much nicer the kitchen looks with just that little bit of attention.  When I worked, breakfast dishes were stacked neatly and left to soak all day (there was no dishwasher in those early years) and those got cleaned up before we began our evening meal preparations.

Putting dishes away when they are washed and dried is a key part of that 'done' equation, as well.  Don't stack them on the counter; put them away.  I'll just bet you have a place in your cupboards or a hutch for dishes, so use that space and put things away.  I like to let my dishes air dry, but one of my last tasks each day is to empty the dish drainer and put away those dishes.  I've noticed when I fail to do that task my first vision of the kitchen is that it needs a lot of work...and often putting the dishes away does more for making it appear neat than any other.

3.  Keep things off the counters.  You've seen my kitchen counters in countless photos.  Honestly?  That's how they look 98% of the time.  I like to use decorative items, there are certain appliances that stay out at all times, but the bulk of my things are behind cabinet doors, whether it's appliances, dishes or foodstuffs.  Anything you can do to clear your line of vision will give the impression of  the kitchen being clean.

If you can't keep things in the cupboards then find a way to store that allows a cleaner line of sight.  I use a basket on top of my fridge to corral breads.  I keep the tin cake cover on top of the fridge because I think it looks pretty there, but as often it might store a cake or pie that might otherwise be on the counter top.  I have fruit in a pretty bowl or on a tiered plate stand.

I am often complimented on my baking center, seen in the photo above.  The canisters are pretty but necessary.  They look neat and free up cupboard space for me to store other items.    My mixer stays on the baking center counter for convenience, and I've made a cover from a vintage pillowcase... but what you don't know is that in the mixing bowl under that cover is where I store the paddles, and measuring cups!   I find stacking my crock pot on top of the microwave works for me because my upper cabinets are higher than the average.

If you can't fit things into your cupboards, I suggest that you cull things out.  I'm willing to bet there  are items you seldom use.  I'm forever reducing what I have in my kitchen.  I'm not a huge fan of appliances but I have a few.  I noted just this weekend that there are several items I seldom or never use anymore.  I'll be cleaning out my cabinets next month and putting those things in the shed or donating them.  Why should they take up valuable space if I only use them once a year, if at all?

And one more thing: wipe the counters down daily.  Crumbs and dust do nothing to enhance their appearance.  Take the dish cloth and wipe them down daily.  Do the top of the stove, too.  You'll likely spend a whole two minutes doing this but it makes a world of difference.

4.  Make your bed.  Seriously.  It does so much for making a room look well kept.  What's more you'll sleep better if your covers aren't tangled.  Just this morning, I took one set of sheets off the bed, put the other set on, before I ever left the room to put the first set in the wash.  It took me less than five minutes to strip and remake that bed.  It takes a little less time to simply make the bed up each morning.

5.  Vacuum and sweep frequently.  When all the kids were home, we vacuumed daily.  Now, with just the two of us, we typically vacuum two times a week and I sweep the kitchen and back entry every day.  I usually sweep the bathrooms twice a week.  We don't have pets in the house but you can bet we find plenty of dust and dirt every time we do these tasks.  I can vacuum the three most frequently used rooms (living room, dining area, and master bedroom) in about ten minutes.  Sweeping takes less than five minutes.

This is the second time I've mentioned 'time' for tasks. I used to put off things because I didn't have 'time' or didn't want to give up a more pleasurable activity (like reading or watching a favorite TV program) but one day I timed myself making my bed with a fresh set of sheets.  It took me four minutes. That made me aware that my thinking had been askew and I started timing myself at other tasks.  On days when I just don't feel well, I find the time  it takes during commercials on TV will get most tasks done.

6.  Empty trash cans.  I prefer to empty cans that are just half full if it's a public area such as your living room or guest bath.  An empty trash can seems to jut say the room is clean even if you've done little else.

7.  Swish/wipe down the bathroom daily.  I usually clean our bathroom three times a week and I check the guest bath twice a week.  I wipe off the counters, put away toiletries (we keep baskets on the counter for most used items), restock the paper and swish the toilet.  Done.  Time frame: 5 minutes.

8.  Clear tables and surfaces in the living/dining area.  John uses our dining table as his computer desk.  It's in one corner of the large living room and so he can see or hear TV while he's checking information and reading emails.  He keeps his area neat and nice, despite the stack of books,  so it's not a problem for me.  When we have dinner guests, he clears his things away in a matter of a minute, mostly because he only keeps what he uses daily there.  Ditto for the spot beside my chair in the living area.  I have a tin box where I keep nail file and lip balm, bookmarks, pens, etc. on one shelf of a small bookcase.  I keep my magazines in a basket that slides under a table.  We don't have a coffee table, but if I did, I'd keep decorative items on it and magazines in a basket underneath.  I am by no means a minimalist, as you know from seeing photos of my home, so don't think I simply don't keep anything out.  I just prefer that what people see is the pretty things and that they aren't distracted by the personal items I like to keep nearby.

9.  Get in the habit of putting things away right now.  A stack of laundry, mail, etc. can really detract from a room's appearance.  John uses the top of the chifforobe in the kitchen sitting area as his dumping station.  Tools, parts for machines, flashlights all get dropped there.  As well, it's where we keep our daily medications.  I bought three baskets and lined them up end to end across the back of the chiffarobe and all those items have their own spot.  I keep tools separate from his personal items, and medicines separate from those other things.  When we do laundry and it's folded, we put it away within a few minutes.

Ditto with items I use in the kitchen.  I tend to gather all the items needed to prepare a meal on the counter between sink and stove.  They don't stay on the counter, they get put back in the fridge or into cupboards right away.  I've made it my habit as I use an item to put it on the counter near the cabinet where I normally keep it, or I set items meant to go back into the fridge on the island.  It's a very efficient way to clear space and often John will come into the kitchen and begin putting those items away because he knows I'm done with them.

10.  Develop a morning and evening routine.  First thing each morning I load the dishwasher with the glasses or snack plates we put in the sink the night before.  I remove those items from the living room every night.

Mornings are the time I usually do a quick walk through of each room and I put things away, empty trash, make a bed, hang a towel neatly, put away clothes or books.  It takes me just a few minutes and is well worth not coming back home to a mess.

Evenings, I usually take a few minutes prior to 7pm and put dishes in the dishwasher, check counters are clean and fold any laundry we've hung to dry during the day.  I empty the dish drainer, put away the laundry, set up the coffee pot for the morning  and at 7pm I stop.  Just before we head to bed, we'll take any cups or glasses to the kitchen and put in the sink.  We both shut down our computers and leave our areas neat.   If we've an early morning appointment, I'll make sure my clothes are ready, which is easy these days since I set up a week's worth of outfits from shoes to accessories.

If John is working the next day, I pack his lunch bag with non-perishables and make sandwiches as I prepare our evening meal.  I keep those things together on a shelf in the fridge.  I'll set out the frying pan so I can cook his eggs.

These are my routines that work well for me.

The tasks listed above are not all I do, but they do constitute the bulk of what keeps my home looking neat and clean.  Anyone who has a home knows it takes some real work but just keeping up with these tasks will insure that the overall appearance is acceptable for guests.  I have daily and weekly and monthly routines that I cycle into my mix which incorporate deep or seasonal tasks as well.  But understand this: I do not spend all of my time doing housework.  I write, I read, I visit, I shop, I work on projects.  At most, I spend less than 2-3 hours on the house and often not much over an hour, so I think this is doable for any homemaker, even if she works full time outside the home.  I could, I think, easily manage my home by spending that 2-3 hours on Sundays (you might choose Saturday) on the deeper work and simply get by with these simple steps the rest of the week.

I hope you will try to incorporate these ten simple steps into your home routine and let me know how they work for you.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Coffee Chat: Here Is Where I Am

Do come in and join me.  I'd love to do coffee on the porch, but as you can see they are both in a state of upheaval at the moment.

 I didn't mean to have them both messed up at the same time.  The thought was that I was sick of cleaning porch rails on the front porch, so I ran around to the back porch and thought I'd do a mini makeover...well it's not a big makeover even yet, but it's taking far more time than I'd thought it might.  Every time I do one thing it snowballs into two more. I seriously thought I'd have it all prettied up and nice by afternoon that first day.  But then I decided I must paint the rocker and the cafe set, and make a sign and possibly do five or ten other things.   Want a sneak peek?
                   It's called Landscape Palm from Sherwin Williams...and it's perfect in my opinion.
Oil Rubbed bronze on the cafe set, but what to do with the old mosaic on the table and chairs?  It's not in the least pretty and isn't doing a thing to improve the looks of the set even with fresh paint.

 This morning I realized I'm going to do a little more.  But when I'm done both porches will look just lovely for the last days of Summer and all of Fall.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

This Week In My Home: Home Stretch

I was a bit shocked at my grocery spending this past week.  I spent a bit more than I'd normal. Then I took time at last to tot up my totals for the month and I was over budget for the month!  Not the direction I want to go in at all.  

When we shopped Thursday I tried to keep in mind what we needed for two or even three weeks.  Fresh produce, obviously and extra milk and bread.  I also did a bit of pantry buying.  This week I concentrated on beans: green, black, red kidney, cannelini, 3 bean salad.  I did not buy all I wanted but enough to at least plump that part of the pantry a bit. 

Friday I sat down before the fridge and cleared it out, one shelf at a time and discovered I'd enough leftovers to manage two full meals for Friday and Saturday and then a few leftover items for the first part of this new week, too.  Since I 'saved' two meals from the past menu by using up the leftovers, I'll share the leftovers menus this week.

Breakfasts:  Egg and Toast (x2 John's work days)
Apple Pancakes and Sausage
Mini Bagel Breakfast Sandwich
Cheese Toasts
Banana Bran Muffins with Peanut Butter
Bagels with Cream Cheese

Friday, August 21, 2015

This Week In My Home: Savings Never Stops

Just in time for a new season, a new wreath, fashioned from an old one, using floral picks I've used for three years running in various ways.  It's a wonderful creative challenge to make something new from what you already have on hand.

Saturday:  How I regretted my lack of food prep this morning.  No sitting about sipping coffee leisurely from my pretty cup for me.  Nope.  It was time to get down to the business of making a meal for midday and planning what supper would be.  I was tired yesterday afternoon but oh how I rue that I didn't push just a bit harder and at least PLAN.  John worked yesterday and when he asked what was for breakfast this morning and I said "Bagels", he replied 'Oh' in a flat, disappointed sort of way.  I might have made some plans for that meal as well...Oh well.  At least I thawed meat last night.

I trimmed away the fat from the steak, freezing that for Maddie a treat on one of these hot afternoons.
I used a tomato that just wouldn't quite redden up to make a Tomato au Gratin which is a favorite of mine and not so much of John's apparently...He doused it with steak sauce so I'm thinking maybe it's not his ideal.

I made a sugar free banana cream pie using up some of the ripe bananas on the counter.