The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

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One of my friends recently turned me on to The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing and I can’t stop thinking about it. In moving as many times as I have, I feel like I’ve purged most of my belongings at least thirty-two times, yet I always seem to have too much stuff.  Everywhere.  I keep making it my mission to go through and declutter it, but I never manage to succeed.  Does anyone else have that problem?  You decide to tackle the office on a weekend, and five hours later all you’ve done is shred a bunch of papers and feel drained from examining each one of them so you pat yourself on the back for a job well done and give yourself the rest of the weekend off for working so hard?  Just me?

I was skeptical when I first heard the title of the book.  To me, “tidying up” implies just putting things away where they belong.  To a certain extent, that is what the author suggests, but she first requires going through every item you own to discard what you no longer want or need.  As cheesy as it sounds, I feel empowered and capable of the monumental task having listened to her process.

sunny day

I took this picture yesterday while walking Murphy around our neighborhood.  At work, I’m stuck in a classroom without any windows, but I spent the whole day thinking about this gorgeous view.  For most of our walk, I thought about this summer and all that I want to accomplish.  Last summer, I was taking three classes, working, and planning a wedding.  This year, I am taking my very last class before my internship and not working at all, so I will have more free time on my hands than I am used to.  I definitely plan to explore DFW and have some fun, but I want to declutter and get my life organized once and for all.  I’m putting this out into the world so ya’ll can hold me accountable.  Ask me about it.  (You know, 28 school days from now when I’m ready to begin.)  Make me tell you my plan.  Bring me food or come take my puppy to the park so I can declutter without distraction.

Okay, that last part may be asking too much, but I’m serious about the rest of it.  Let me know if you want to join the tidying movement with me!  Another friend of mine has been seriously decluttering, and I am so inspired and motivated by her.  Comment below if you’ve accomplished this in your own life or want to drink the kool-aid with me!

The Great Gardening Catastrophe of 2016 – Transplanting

A few weeks ago, I documented the installation of my first ever vegetable garden.  It’s time for an update!  After a few days of checking my milk jug seed starting planters, I discovered that this was not going to be the type of instant gratification project I love most.  The green beans finally (read: after four or five days) started to sprout, and some adorable little leaves shot up.  It was thrilling!  Progress!  But, after several more days, and then several more days after that, still nothing in the other milk jugs.  I determined that I needed a new tactic.

Thankfully, I had thought ahead and decided preemptively not to put all of my eggs in one basket (or use up all the seeds in one attempt).  I put a few more seeds from each vegetable into a plastic bag with a damp paper towel and hung them in the window to try and sprout them before sowing them into the soil.  seed sprouting

 

This strategy was far more fruitful.  The basil started sprouting within a day!  seed sprouting

 

I waited about five days until each of the bags had some sprouting, and got ready to transplant.  At this point I actually started researching how to go about doing this and learned that you should put the sprouts in soil as soon as they start to shoot roots.  Oops.  Oh well.  I should also add that this rash of productivity hit me so suddenly that I found myself sitting on the front patio, in the dress I wore to work, on an evening when a cool front hit, so I was shivering in the 50 degree wind.  (Northern relatives, no judgment here.)

I collected all of the milk jugs from the raised bed, grabbed a few extra pots the previous owners of my house had left behind, and my super cute gardening gloves, just because.

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gardening glove

 

After filling each of the pots, I started to peel open the milk jugs.  My poor bean sprouts had suffered some neglect, and this was all that was left of them.  bean sprouts

 

Eek!  That one looks pretty solid, though, right?  I thought so.  Holy moly had its roots grown deep too!  Without getting too terribly nerdy here, I’m amazed by plants.  It’s incredible what livings things will do to survive.

I very carefully pulled each individual seed sprout from the paper towel where they were all burrowing by this point, and I pressed them gently into the tops of their respective pot of soil.

seed sprouting

 

I moved the pots back into the raised beds, where they should be able to get loads of sunlight, at least if our current Noah’s Ark worthy weather forecast allows the sun to peek through at all.

In the meantime, I also picked up some autumn sage to plant in our front pots.  Planting already established plants is definitely more instant-gratification.  This pop of color is helping me hold out hope for the vegetable garden a few yards away.

autumn sage

Stay tuned for catastrophic updates!

Crock Pot, You’re My Friend

Do you ever find yourself with a line from a movie or a song stuck in your head but have no idea what it’s from?  I kept repeating the line “you’re my friend” to myself the other morning while prepping my crock pot dinner, and it was driving me crazy.  Finally, I remembered it’s from “Red Solo Cup.”  Toby Keith, proclaiming his affection for his beloved drink vessel, sings:

Red solo cup, you’re not just a cup

You’re my… you’re my friend

That.  That is how I feel about my crock pot.  Right now, I have a class Tuesday night, so I rush home with just enough time after work to grab my stuff for class, feed the puppy, and well, cram in the assignment that’s probably due that night.  (Procrastination is a problem for me.)  I hate eating fast food, though, so when I don’t have time to make dinner after work, I love tossing stuff in a slow cooker in the morning and letting it do all the work all day.  Getting to walk in the door and being knocked down by the uh-mazing smell of dinner wafting my way is pretty fantastic, too.

I usually try to be as environmentally friendly as I can, but every once in a while, when I just can’t with any more cleaning, I’ll use those ingenious slow cooker liners to eliminate ALL dish-doing.  Is there anything more winning than that?

crock pot

This particular meal was a taco ranch chicken I found on Pinterest somewhere.  Chicken, chicken broth, taco seasoning, and ranch seasoning.  Yes, please!  I started mixing my own taco seasoning about a year ago, and I finally got around to trying my own ranch mix.  About three ingredients into the recipe, I realized I needed to just go ahead and double it.

 homemade ranch dressing mixhomemade ranch dressing mix

It totally reminded me of those sand art things that were so popular when I was a kid!  This particular recipe was a little too dill-heavy for me, but I’ll definitely be using it up and trying again.  I have to share a warning from personal experience.  When I finished adding all the ingredients, I screwed on the lid and shook violently to mix all of the seasonings.  But I couldn’t resist taking a whiff to see how delicious it smelled.  Friends, RESIST the urge!  At least wait until the next morning to let everything settle.  All of the really fine garlic powder and onion powder particles were still floating around, and those guys are strong.  I may have singed off all of my nose hairs.  By the next morning, though, it smelled just dreamy.

Do you use a slow cooker?  I’ve been feeling a little uninspired with the recipes I have found because most of them seem filled with cream-of-something or very sugary sauces that I try to avoid.  I would love to add to my recipe repertoire if you have any to share!

30 Things That Make Me Ridiculously Happy

Full disclosure: I stole this idea from Helene in Between, whose #7in7Challenge is responsible for the weird pictures I’ve posted on Instagram all week.  Plus…

  1.  Lists.  I love lists!  Nothing motivates me quite like a solid, well-organized, possibly categorized list.
  2. Spreadsheets.  Clearly I am the nerdiest human alive.  I own that.  When I moved back home two years ago, I knew I was going to be living with my parents for an undetermined period of time while I was house hunting.  I had to be mega strategic in packing to make sure I had what I needed and created the ultimate moving spreadsheet.  It was a work of art.  I should be a professional moving adviser.  My former pastor once uttered the claim that he could “make (Microsoft) excel dance.”  He probably doesn’t remember saying it, but I’m still envious.
  3. A strong cup of coffee.
  4. Hearing this kiddo sing.  Jamming out in the car and worshiping in church, it’s the best.IMG_4198
  5. Google classroom.  I won’t bore you with teacher stuff, but it’s making my life tremendously easier.
  6. Forrest Gump.
  7. Going to sleep without setting an alarm for the next day.
  8. Friday Night Lights – the show, not the movie.  My former roommate and I watched the entire series in the summer of 2011, and we do it again every single summer.
  9. White cheddar popcorn.  Yum.
  10. The $8 maroon sweatpants I bought at a tent sale my freshman year of college.  They’re about to be retired, and I don’t know if I’ll ever find a suitable replacement.
  11. Playing cards – hand and foot with my girlfriends, kings in the corner all summer, and golf with my family on Sunday nights.  I love it all.IMG_4067
  12. Taco Tuesdays.  One fewer day to meal plan for, and a guaranteed crowd pleaser every week.
  13. This guy, who loves my mom so much more than he loves me, but who still greets me with an excitedly wagging tail every time I come home. IMG_2779 IMG_3051
  14. Chips.  with salsa, with queso, with dip.  Plain Julio’s chips which might as well be outlawed for being so addicting.
  15. Flowers for no reason.  This may very well be the girliest thing about me.  I LOVE surprise flowers! I’m blessed with a husband who speaks to me in this love language.IMG_6202
  16. Really good customer service. I will fill out every survey, ask to see your manager, or email your immediate supervisor just to brag about someone who goes above and beyond.
  17. Baseball season.  Little league, minor league, pros, the movie Major League… I love it.IMG_4260
  18. Nolan Ryan.  Even though the Rangers ran him off, this man is still at the top of my list of people I’d like to share a meal with at some point in my life.
  19. Staying in my pajamas all day.  Especially when they’re super soft Soma pajama shorts (with pockets!).
  20. Pockets.
  21. Sunday dinner at my parents’ house.  This was the catalyst that determined my move back home.
  22. Round Rock, Texas.  A piece of my heart will always stay there.
  23. Bad jokes.  Like, extremely corny jokes.  The ones that make everyone else groan.  They slay me.  I especially love when my sister-in-law tries to guess the punchline.
  24. Tiff’s Treats snickerdoodle cookies.  Unrivaled in excellence.
  25. MMBop.  COME AT ME with your judgment.  I could not care less.  I’ll enjoy it til the day I die.
  26. Knowing that my favorite student ever is now an official member of the Aggie family.  I found an old text from her after A&M beat Alabama their first year in the SEC that said “I’m totally going to A&M now.”  She was kidding at the time, but she’s now crushing it as a freshman at the best university in the country.
  27. Rocky III.  So much better than Rocky IV.  My husband agrees, and it’s one of the things about him that made me know we were meant for each other.
  28. Getting rid of things.
  29. Press Here.  It’s the most adorable, creative children’s book, and I love it.
  30. Countdowns.  Especially the countdown to summer.  38 more school days!

The Great Gardening Catastrophe of 2016 – Installation

I’ve always wanted to be a successful gardener.  Well, always as an adult at least.  One year when I lived in Austin, my roommate and I tried to grow our own Halloween pumpkins because we thought it’d be adorable.  No pumpkins grew, but we did get a really killer vine.

At that same house, I managed to take the life of two plants that were deemed “unkillable.”  Since then, I’ve attempted a few other times unsuccessfully, all the while continuing to pin things to my “Green Thumb” board on pinterest with great aspiration.

Here’s the thing.  Gorgeous plants would be fantastic.  But at my innermost crunchiness, I mostly want to grow my own food.  I long to be able to walk just steps from my door and collect produce to serve up for dinner.  I want to pop open a mason jar with pasta sauce that I made from tomatoes, basil, and garlic that I picked from my own garden.  Imagine being able to impress the fam at Sunday dinner with a salad I made from harvesting mixed greens and herbs in my own yard?  I mean, right?

I’ve tried a few very small scale herb gardens that were short-lived.  My one attempt at growing Brussels sprouts was cut short when my dog ate the plants approximately 37 seconds after I covered the roots with soil.  But now, this is the year.  I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions, but I do often have one or two things I want to try.  For 2016, I am determined to grow something that I can eat.

I attended a vegetable gardening class put on by our local extension agents in January.  The certified master gardeners may very well have been speaking Mandarin, but I did pick up a few things.  For instance, dirt is very important.  Also, soil gets better over time in raised beds.  In other words, start with low expectations for your first year.

My husband graciously agreed to help me, and we made the trip to Home Depot for loads of supplies I’d never heard of prior to pinterest.  We decided on a raised bed made of cinder blocks, rather than assembling one out of wood, since it can be easily adjusted as needed, or torn down if/when it fails miserably.  Plus, cheap.  Here is the constructed bed, complete with freshly mixed soil.

IMG_5972

What are those milk jugs?  I’m glad you asked.  I also read about winter sowing.  It seems somewhat ridiculous, given the unusually warm spring we’ve had, but it still sounded practical as a starting point.  Essentially, you cut open the milk jugs, fill the bottom with soil, and scatter seeds.  Then, you moisten the soil, close the jugs back up, and wait for them to sprout.  Easy enough, right?

Here are the newly-drilled drainage holes.

IMG_5966

 

Next step?  Moisten the soil.  Ohhhhhhh.  Uh oh.  The instructions called for using the sprinkler attachment on a hose.  I didn’t have one of those.  But since the drill was still out, and was feeling especially MacGyver-y, I made my own.  My husband had been using this pitcher to water our potted flowers out front.  It was a gift from some friends and came with plastic cups designated for several of the Rangers pitchers.  (A pitcher pitcher!  Get it?) IMG_5969

IMG_5967

For this purpose, I chose Joe Nathan, former Rangers closer, mostly because he no longer plays for the team.  It seemed like the most appropriate sacrifice.  I filled up the pitcher and poured water through the cup to get the full sprinkler-attachment effect.

Then, I waited.  and waited.  and waited some more.  I checked on my milk jug garden daily because that’s what the master gardeners said to do, and I do what I’m told.  Let me tell you, this is not a hobby that provides instant gratification.  Finally, a full five days later, I saw progress.  The green beans were sprouting!

 

It’s been three weeks now, and the green beans are still showing little sproutlings.  The other vegetables, notsomuch.  I’m going to try to get some tomatoes and herbs to sprout inside and then transplant them outside after a few days.  That’s the plan for now.  Stay tuned for updates!

Plan B

I have high aspirations of being one of those insanely organized people.  The people who always have a plan and who never realize, halfway through making a meal, for instance, that they are lacking a key ingredient.  You know the type.

One thing I do in pursuit of this organizational nirvana is meal plan for the week.  Usually on Sundays, I will come up with a plan for what to make for dinner each night and grocery shop for the week.  (Okay, “the week” is generous.  By Friday morning, the fridge is empty and we’re grasping at straws for a few days.  But Monday – Thursday, I channel my inner Martha Stewart hard core.)  When coming up with our meal plan, I try to take into consideration any plans we may have for the week.  For example, I have class on Tuesday nights.  Dinner is leftovers or something I can throw in the crock pot.  Taco Tuesdays have been moved to Taco Thursdays for the duration of this class.  For the other nights, I’ll pick a favorite stand-by or try a new recipe.  It should be noted here that the factor I don’t always consider is the weather.

This week, I decided to try a new recipe on Wednesday.  I had no plans for the evening, and the spring weather would make grilling outside a nice alternative.  I clearly forgot that I live in Texas.  As I drove home, I was alerted to the tornado and thunderstorm warnings on the other side of the metroplex.  I was undeterred.

Game plan for tonight: tandoori chicken.  A completely new recipe, and one calling for chicken thighs, which I’m less comfortable cooking than chicken breast or a whole chicken.  There was a simple marinade that I threw together, and added the chicken to sit in for a few hours.  When it was close to time to grill it, I began making the paleo naan – an Indian bread for my husband, the word’s greatest lover of bread.  Then he came home and enlisted my help in a little musical chairs with our cars, in preparation for the oncoming storms.  So again, it was the perfect night to fire up the grill.

The recipe called for grilling the chicken for 6 minutes per side.  I also remembered, upon opening the fridge, that I had picked up some eggplant because “that sounds like something that might be tasty grilled.”  This is where my hope of an easy, low mess meal began to go awry.  While the grill heated up, I sliced the eggplant and washed the mushrooms that I had also apparently bought to include with dinner.  I decided to throw them all on one of the grill pans we got as a wedding gift.

The grill was set a few minutes later, so I set out the chicken and went to toss veggies on the pan.  When 6 minutes was up, I turned the chicken over and added the veggie pan to the grill.  Now is when I make clear that I’ve never grilled vegetables and have no idea how to do so.  A few minutes later, this resulted in me using my misto to spray olive oil on them while they were grilling.  That’s completely normal, right?  Obviously, every time I opened the grill, some of the heat would escape.  I began to notice that the thermometer on the outside wasn’t heating back up when I closed it, though.  After some very calculated inspecting (read: me poking around looking at stuff with no clue), I realized that the flame had gone out.  Shoot.  The propane was out.

This was clearly throwing a wrench in my plan for an easy dinner with little cleanup.  I had a backup propane tank in the garage and swapped it out with the old one.  The grill did relight, but it never heated all the way back up again.  This completely threw the “6 minutes per side” for a loop, and I had no idea how much longer things needed to cook.  At this point, I’d been dealing with dinner for about 45 minutes.  Rather than figure out what was wrong with the grill, I called an audible and decided to finish cooking the chicken inside.  Since the whole ordeal took so long, the naan was now cold.  I tossed it in the microwave, which brought out a sticky consistency that was less than pleasing.  (My husband said it wasn’t so much his favorite, but he did consume all of his, so who knows?)

Eventually we sat down to eat, my plate assembled with delicious chicken (the recipe was a definite keeper) and flavorless, dry, grilled eggplant and mushrooms.  My grilled produce game needs work.  I did take a few pictures, but Photos on my computer is currently dysfunctional, so you’ll have to use your imagination.  What’s your latest moment of throwing-in-the-towel, scrapping-a-plan-altogether give up?  Share below, so we can commiserate.

New Adventures in Blogging

Why, again? This will be, to date, my third blog. While I feel wholly ridiculous for doing this, I have my reasons.

For starters, I’ve never been able to enjoy keeping a journal. Something about writing out my thoughts on paper just makes me feel weird, but for whatever reason, putting them out there for anyone on the internet to discover is somehow less strange?? I know, it makes no sense. But neither do I, most of the time.

It’s also fun to be able to look back and see what I was up to a few years ago. Earlier this month, I dragged my husband and stepson to Austin to meet some dear friends of mine and show them the town I loved so much in a former life. Just driving them past the dump I rented in my second year there was a little anticlimactic, but being able to pull up old posts and show them all the fun I had in that house brought life to the aforementioned dump.

I’m continually seeking challenge. I get bored easily, and seem to always be trying to learn something new. I realize how trite that sounds, but it’s true. I’m not good at just sitting and being, so I need something to keep myself busy during netflix marathons. Usually this results in me trying my hand (and often failing) at my various geriatric arts + crafts: knitting, crocheting, and lately quilting and calligraphy. This time, I’m hitting the opposite end of the spectrum with learning about web hosting and all the associated nuts and bolts. I’ve never felt dumber, but hey, you learn nothing if you’re the smartest person in the room, right?

Lastly, I like the accountability. I don’t expect a gigantic (or even minuscule) readership to result from this, but just the idea of someone reading this makes me more likely to stick to my word. Needing material to write about in 2010 made me get up, get out, and get going. I experienced so many things that year that I never would have, had I been content to just sit at home. My goals are different now, but the overarching theme is the same. If I put in writing what I plan to do, and there is even the potential that someone will ask me about the progress, I’m more likely to stick to it. So here we are.

This time, I’m sharing my trek toward a cleaner life. I’ve moved more than 10 times in the past 12 years and continue to drag around the same literal baggage from home to home. I have boxes that have moved, unopened, with me for years. I’m determined to get rid of it. Even if it’s a single item a day, I want to eliminate the clutter and focus on things that really matter. In the same general vein of living a cleaner life, I’m growing more aware of the impact of food and habits on my quality of life. Let’s just say that there’s work to be done there. Lastly, the idea of “coming clean” means honesty. There’s too much pressure nowadays on people to be everything, and to be excellent at it. Thirty seconds scrolling through instagram posts of filtered and airbrushed pictures can make me believe all sorts of lies about myself. I don’t want to share only the best days and personal triumphs. I’m going to be forthcoming about the failures and disasters along the way, too. Like Kid President says, “Being a person is hard sometimes; you should give people high-fives just for getting out of bed.”

Here we go!