Why I Don’t Do Seasonal Cleaning

Did you know that the purpose of spring cleaning was to undo a winter’s worth of heating with coal, wood, and of lighting with kerosene? Apparently, houses would be covered in soot and ash, and when heating was over, it was time to clean. But somehow the tradition has stayed alive.

Now we are made to feel guilty every spring because we do not pull out the fridge and vacuum the coils, or remove the window screens and power wash them.

Yes, deep cleaning is horrible. We all know this. Even people who like keeping a tidy home and perhaps even like laundry, hate to deep clean. So why do we make lists of things like “quarterly tasks” and save them up for some terrible day in March? Or worse, that day never comes…and the list haunts us.

Because there will never be a convenient day, or week, to deep clean the entire house. You have dinner to make, and laundry, and maybe kids, or a full time job, and it is just not realistic. That is something a team of house cleaners comes to do. It takes multiple people and costs hundreds and hundreds of dollars. It’s a ton of work, not fun, and makes you feel like a servant. Yes, that spring cleaning printable checklist is cute but not really helping.

There is a better way.

Stop saving up your list, and do it bit by bit.

So. We all know there are daily tasks like sweeping, counters, whatever. Then there is dusting and vacuuming, which I do once a week. Not talking about that here.

Then there are bathrooms, which need regular cleaning of tubs, floors, and such. The medium clean, because things shouldn’t really be that dirty.

Kitchens, same. The medium clean. Cleaning sinks, trash cans, organizing cabinets.

Then there is everything else. Living rooms, bedrooms. Not as dirty, doesn’t need as much attention, but can get neglected.

Here is what I do:

Every day, do one deep or medium clean item from each category.

One kitchen, one bathroom, one everything else.

For example…

I am brushing my teeth and notice the mirror should be cleaned. I do it.

In the kitchen, I see that the vent hood could use a scrub. Run the baffles through the dishwasher and wipe down the outside.

In the everything else category, sometimes nothing jumps out at me. So I wipe down the hardwood floors in the dining room.

And that’s it. Done for the day. Every day, if you keep it up, there will be no deep cleaning that you have fallen behind on. The house will always be clean enough. Not always neat, but always clean.

Sometimes you will be reacting to a messy cabinet. Sometimes everything will look great and you will proactively do something like clean out the freezer. Sometimes you will be busy and won’t do anything.

No lists, no guilt, no overthinking.

Speaking of lists, guilt and overthinking, here are some ideas for each category:

Bathrooms:

-clean the tub

-clean the shower (do it while you are already in there showering!)

-clean the counters and faucets

-clean the windows and windowsills

-wipe down the floor and baseboards

-organize under bathroom cabinet and wipe it down

Kitchen:

-scrub the sink and soak with water and a splash of bleach

-take out one shelf on the fridge and wash it,

-quickly rearrange the whole fridge

-polish stainless steel appliances

-wipe down floors and baseboards

-clean windows

-wipe outside of kitchen cabinets

-organize pantry, or just a shelf if it is bad

-clean glass door

Everything Else:

-dust and organize one bookshelf, one single shelf if it is bad

-clean windows in one room

-clean out under one bed

-organize a dresser drawer

-clean out a closet shelf or hanging rod

-organize china cabinet

-organize one nightstand

Just one per day from each category and the house will be lovely in a few weeks time.

And what about vacuuming the fridge coils? I think that is the husband’s job.


At Home, July 2018

Garden

Ah the garden. So far we’ve had 30 ears of American Dream corn, ready on July 6th. It is done and we are waiting for silver queen, which should be ready when we get back from vacation. It was used up in corn chowder, corn salad, and plenty of salted and buttered corn on and off the cob. This variety germinated well, was ready in 67 days, and after harvesting the big ears, each stalk sent out one or two smaller ears that were short but still filled out. I was so happy with this variety.

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If you have ever tried to grow corn, you know what it feels like to pull back the husk and see this!  Pure joy.

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Tomatoes are going nuts, and cherry tomatoes have been demoted to chicken feed. We pick and toss them to them daily. There are maybe 50 a day coming in and that is just not okay. I need maybe 20 a week.  Next year, two plants, max.

I tried a new variety of jalapeño: Primo Jalapeño from Gurney’s, and I am very happy with it. They are the biggest ones I’ve ever gotten. I’ve made poppers twice and canned pickled jalapeño rings.  I am also pleased with Gurney’s Giant Belll, after many disappointing years of growing California Wonder.  Cherry peppers are doing very well too.

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(Caperino Cherry Peppers from Johnny’s)

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(Primo Jalapeño from Gurney’s)

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(Cosmos Bush Bean from Johnny’s.)

Flowers for every room, every hallway, every bathroom counter. Not a problem.

My dahlias have been a literal flop.  I put them in with the rest of the garden where the soil is rich and gets irrigated, and they are doing awful.  Huge, green, bending over, very few flowers.  Last year I planted them in unamended clay and I was bringing in buckets every evening.  Now I know.  More room in the actual garden for something else next year.

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House

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Oh dear I really need to iron that.

Dining room is painted and my tablecloth arrived. My next project will be painting the porch and getting porch furniture, probably four Adirondack chairs. I will not be personally painting the porch. No I will not. I think this will be put off until October, when it is cool and soccer is over.

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Family

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We’ve been on a serious ice cream making kick, having made it now four weeks in a row.  I’ll share the recipes once we try it with a few more flavor variations.  So far we’ve done chocolate, cookies and cream, strawberry, and vanilla.  I want to try something with a caramel swirl, and blackberry or peach.

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We leave soon to visit Matt’s parents in California. They live on a beautiful ranch with a huge garden, horses to ride, and no humidity. Sounds like heaven.  And his mother is a genius who does not plant any cherry tomatoes.

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Back to school and activities soon. ☹️


Why I Stopped Extreme Couponing

I used to be an extreme couponer. I was good at it. I had envelopes of CVS receipts showing totals of $0.00 for people who didn’t believe me. I stopped in 2014 and I just opened my last package of Venus razors that I got for free. (December of 2012 the good times were really rolling on the Venus razor deals.)

I regularly took home free toiletries, medicine, snacks, cereal, and candy. I would only get toothpaste if it was a moneymaker because I had so much. (That means your coupon is more than you are paying, and you end up getting store credit for purchasing it.).

But after about six years of it, I stopped.

I didn’t have any ethical issues with it, which a lot of people bring up. You are just combining sales, store coupons, and manufacturers coupons. The store gets reimbursed from the manufacturer. People are getting compensated.

I also didn’t have the problem that there are no coupons for real foods. I stuck to drugstores and mostly came home with toiletries, and the occasional packaged snack.

But extreme couponing is very aptly named. It is extreme.

There is no way to get stuff for free by casually couponing. It involves researching, keeping a binder, rolling over deals, and always, always, planning. There is writing to companies asking for coupons, and even buying coupons when you were planning a huge buy of something. Checking ads and websites constantly. I would be up late at night, reading forums. Topics like “when will the March finish dish tabs coupon date be announced?”, and “CVS Trip Report, $18 Moneymaker!”. I posted too. (My favorite sub forum was Kmart. They doubled coupons up to and including one full dollar and ran very good promotions on top of that.)

There is also no way to do it without keeping a stockpile. The way it works, especially with drugstores, is you are rolling over your store credit (“extra bucks” and similarly named things) to get more things that also generate credit. They expire. You have to keep doing it. Even if there is nothing you want that week.

The best deals were cleared out unless you went to the drugstores on Sunday mornings. As it turns out, going to CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens at 7 on a Sunday morning to buy a bunch of junk does not exactly align with my vision for our family.

After the Sunday buying-fest early in the morning, you get to look at store ads and coupons in the Sunday paper for the next week. I remember Maddie, as a baby, being so interested in those shiny little rectangles I had put in piles, and me pushing her away so I could plan my shopping trip. It makes me quite seriously want to cry.

Now I am not opposed to working a bit to save money, but this was weird. I got really obsessed with it. I lived for the reaction of the cashiers, who I’m sure hated me. I talked about it. A lot. I loved showing off my stockpile and my receipts. Also it, was not like cooking or gardening, things that you can do with the kids and teach them about. It was just shopping.

As someone who loves to spend money, it was a way to indulge my consumerism without paying the dollars and cents price. But I was still paying the price. I was obsessed with getting things, arranging my things, talking about my things. I had so much excess I would throw out unfinished body wash bottles because I wanted to move on to a new scent. Hey why not, I would think. It was free. It was like quitting smoking and constantly chewing nicotine gum for the rest of your life.

I did not make a conscious decision to quit, I just stopped little by little. My reasons were practical, not moral. I had my second baby and it was harder to get out of the house. Our Kmart closed. I got pickier about products I wanted to buy, only liking certain brands. We moved to a very small house without rooms to store cubic yards of free shampoo. It is only now, looking back, that I see how silly and sad it was.

I still enjoy a good deal at the store, and will stock up within reason when there is a sale. But thinking about couponing feels gross to me now. An obsession with acquiring a bunch of stuff. Things stored in weird places, like cereal under the bed. The time that my children were babies that I will never get back. The huge binder. The rush of walking out of a store, laden with bags. Like a never ending Black Friday sale. Did I really need all this that badly?

I don’t know what deals are out there any more. I just buy the Kirkland brand of everything at Costco. There is a lot of new body wash I will never smell, and weird, new candy I will never taste, and I’m okay with that.

My husband is running low on shampoo, so while I was at the grocery store I spent $5.99 on a full priced bottle of Head and Shoulders. I would regularly get this for pennies back in the day. I just put it in my cart and moved on with my life.  And that part didn’t seem like such a bad deal.

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Corn Chowder with Fresh Corn

Does the idea of corn chowder in July seem gross?  Not to me.  It was rainy and cool this weekend, even though the humidity was disgusting.  And on Saturday things continued to go awry, and I needed a comforting meal

First, a tomato jar cracked in the canner.

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Then I read the world’s most disturbing book and had to donate it to the library because I could not be in its presence.

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(Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places.  Do not recommend.  Should have burned it.)

And my cranberry cosmos are PINK.  See the small one in the middle.  Fuchsia!

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So here is my recipe for a very tasty corn chowder.  It uses plenty of things that are in season now through frost.  It would be probably be better in October.  I served it with stuffed cherry peppers using this recipe.  The children were not interested in either, so I rounded out the meal with bread and some watermelon from the garden, which is coming in at last.

 Corn Chowder with Fresh Corn:

(Loosely adapted from Cook’s Country)

You will need:

8 ears fresh corn, raw and cut off the cob

1 15 oz can creamed corn

5 cups chicken broth or stock

4 slices bacon, finely chopped

1 medium onion, finely choped

1 small green pepper, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 lb. red potatoes, scrubbed and diced

1 cup heavy cream

  1.  Cook  the bacon in a large pot or Dutch oven until crisp.  Remove to a paper towel to drain, leaving the bacon fat in the pot.
  2. Add the corn kernels, diced onion, diced pepper, and salt and black pepper to the bacon fat.  Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, about 8 minutes, until onions and peppers are soft.
  3. Add the diced potatoes and chicken broth.  Bring pot to a boil over high heat.  Cover, reduce to simmer, and allow potatoes to cook, about 10-15 minutes.  Poke with a fork to make sure they are tender.  Add the cream and the cooked bacon.
  4. Serve with freshly ground pepper on top.  (I know most recipes say this, but it really improves the flavor here!)

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Have a good week!


The Problem with Fake Pumpkins

(All pictures are of my own fake, cheap fall decor.)

There is something about fall that brings out the country look everywhere. Probably some deep evolutionary response to the harvest season. Or maybe just decades of marketing. It usually starts in August, peaks in late September, and by October, Christmas has taken over.

But during those glorious days of fall advertising-season, it is all scarecrows and hay bales. And of course, pumpkins.

Sometimes it is so fun to go to a local pumpkin patch, pick out a pumpkin from their fields and get a gallon of apple cider. Sometimes it is a pain because it’s still in the 80s every afternoon, yellow jackets are everywhere, and those pumpkins are really heavy. And the farmers market ones are expensive, especially if you want different colored ones.

So one day at Target you see a really cute display. They are fake, of course, but look pretty all together, especially with some fake gourds mixed in. And that little weathered sign that says “welcome fall.”. So you add to the cart. Or maybe you are a little more upscale and you go for the expensive Funkins, which can be carved. I used to save up for one a year, to eventually amass a grouping of them carved in the shape of fall leaves.

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Now you don’t have to worry about them rotting on the porch in the September heat. When Christmas advertising season rolls around, you can just stick them in the basement. What’s not to like?

I’ve written before about James Howard Kunstler, and his theory that the countryside is disappearing in part because Americans love the countryside.  They each want a piece, so they divide it up and swallow it.  This feels a little like that.  We love the idea of the fall harvest look, so we copy it.  But we do it in a way that destroys any actual fall harvesting in our communities.

Every fake pumpkin that is bought is a real pumpkin that didn’t get bought. It is a local farm that wasn’t visited, a farmer’s market stand passed over. It is choosing convenience and cheapness over an easy chance to enrich your local economy. It is a choice to instead enrich a factory far away churning out fake squash. I am now imagining a factory in Cambodia, the workers laughing at us, thinking what is this and why are people paying for it?

And really, it is hilarious. We pave over farms to build suburbs that we decorate to look like farms. But do we at least support the remaining local farms as we decorate? No. We do not.  Our decorations are the most superficial thing possible, because they are the very opposite of what we value. At least there won’t be any crows on the front porch.

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The problem with fake pumpkins is that they are another piece of junk that chips away at a local economy. They are more styrofoam adding to the mountain of trash in our country. They are one more emblem of a world we destroyed and now so poorly try to imitate.

There are a lot of problems with no solution. But this one is easy.

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