The Best Time to Clean

I don’t really know what has happened to me in the last 5 years, but I have changed from loathing getting out of bed to being a morning person.

This week, my husband and I have started to figure out our new routine.  This is his third week at his new job, and our first week without a houseguest.   We’ve started going to be early (like 9pm) and both waking up early (5am for him, 5:30 for me).  Some mornings I’ve worked out and other mornings, I’ve cleaned.  I came to the realization this week that I am a morning person, as I found myself thinking “I love this!” while washing dishes after I had folded and hung up laundry – all before going to work.

Taking 30 or so extra minutes in the morning to straighten up a little or wash last night’s dishes makes coming home so much nicer.  There’s no dread over knowing what’s waiting to be done inside; it’s already done.

This completely baffles me, as up until a few years ago, I was the type of person to sleep as long as possible, hitting the snooze button at least 4 times.  Heck, up until this month, it was hard for me to get out of bed at 6.30, knowing the husband got to sleep in for another hour-and-a-half.  But now I really do love it.  This might have something to do with our new addiction to coffee and the awesome new 10 cup programmable coffee maker we just bought ourselves last week, but it really is nice to have time to do some of those necessary-but-unlikable tasks when I’m fresh (and caffeinated) rather than at the end of the day when I just want to relax.

Thank you, coffee maker, for fueling my coffee addiction AND cleaning obsession. (Image from Google)

Thank you, coffee maker, for fueling my coffee addiction AND cleaning obsession. (Image from Google)

Lettuce Wraps – too good not to share

Sunday night, I made Lettuce Wraps for dinner, following Kristin’s recipe at IowaGirlEats.  She created this recipe to recreate PF Chang’s Lettuce Wraps, and it has gone viral on Pinterst, which is how I found it.  The husband and I only go to PF Chang’s when one of our friends wants to have a birthday dinner there, so that is rarely.  In fact, we’ve never even had their Lettuce Wraps, but some of our friends rave about them, so I thought I’d try the recipe.

PF Chang's Lettuce Wrap copy from Kristen at IowaGirlEats.

PF Chang’s Lettuce Wrap copy from Kristen at IowaGirlEats.

 

The only things I did differently were use ground beef in place of the ground chicken and leave out the water chestnuts (which I despise).  I also made fried rice, only I used quinoa instead of rice, to go with the wraps.   When the husband walked in the kitchen, after I had already plated our portions, he made a comment that the plate didn’t look as appetizing as Kristin’s photo; it all looked brown and ground, pre-digested.  I was worried it would be bad.

 

But then we started eating.  AMAZING!  The wraps were wonderful (and the fried quinoa turned out great too).  I got the official “You can make this again anytime” approval from the husband.

 

Here’s a link to the recipe; it’s definitely worth trying.  I had all the ingredients to make the sauce in the pantry already, so this cost about $8 to make.  We got dinner out of it along with lunch yesterday also.  $8 (plus the cost of the fried quinoa) for 4 meals – not bad.

HOW TO FOLD A FITTED SHEET

This post is thanks to Laundry Day on Saturday, in which I washed, folded, and put away 1 load of dog blankets, 2 large loads of towels (weighing 46.5 pounds wet), and 3 sets of sheets.  Had to wash the dog blankets because I washed the dog (and then had to deep clean the bathroom too – pet peeve:  wet hair, dog or human – GROSS); had to weigh the towels because I had to dry them at the nearby laundromat (the fuse box our dryer runs on is currently out of commission) and 30 pounds is the limit to one dryer.

As a disclaimer, I learned this technique ten years ago working for a woman who ran estate sells.  Though I’ve used this technique since then, it’s still not easy.  And though I’m no master, I am usually pleased with the end result.

Step 1:  Hold the sheet with the outside facing you.  Locate the 4 corners.

Step 2:  Place one corner on one of your hands, and the adjacent corner on the other hand.  Make sure that the sheet is not twisted.

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Step 3:  With a corner still on each hand, place the corner hanging below each hand on that hand (so that there are two corners on each hand and the sheet is folded in half).  You must make sure the sheet is not twisted.  To me, this is the hardest part of the process; it often involves setting down one hand’s corners at a time.

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Step 4: Place all corners on one hand by putting touching the tips of your fingers together and rolling the corners from the top hand onto the other hand.

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Step 5:  Lay the sheet down on a flat surface and pull your hand out.   The tips of the corners should become one corner of rectangle that the sheet is now shaped.  All elastic edges of the sheet should be towards the center of the rectangle and all edges of the rectangle should be smooth.

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Step 6:  Fold the short side of the rectangle into thirds, hiding the elastic edges.

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Step 7:  Fold the remainder in half, then half again.

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As a bonus, I stack the folded flat sheet, fitted sheet, and one of the pillowcases, then place the stack into the other pillowcase, fold to close and store.

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As I’ve struggled to perfect this technique, I found this video from Martha Stewart, which shows this process.  I do the corners a little differently (my way is easier in my opinion than sliding your hand down and finding one corner at a time; when I tried it this way, the sheet always ended up twisted like the poor lady in the video).  You can see that it’s still a battle, even when you know the technique.

Current Thoughts on Menu Planning

Menu planning is one of those things that I have a love/hate relationship with right now.  The organization junkie inside of me loves making a list of meals for the week ahead, developing a grocery list from that, and knowing what I’m going to cook when I come home from work every day.  It helps keeps us on budget – our goal being to spend no more than $100 a week on groceries. Having a plan for the week and for grocery shopping is a necessity to stay within that; you can’t just walk around the store, randomly tossing items into the cart.

 

In the 5 ½ months that we’ve been married (plus probably a year before when I started trying this), I feel like I’ve developed a knack for menu planning.  No more nights of staring down the pantry, wondering what I could make from what’s inside, ultimately deciding to order Chinese food.

 

But like I said, it’s a love/hate relationship – and the hate comes from the fact that it has gotten complex.  The planning was relatively easy until last December; I would just pick things that I knew how to make, ask the husband for requests, maybe add a new recipe in once and a while, and make sure there was enough variety so that we didn’t eat the same meals week after week.  Then, at the start of December, we decided to try The Zone Diet (which you can read about that on the blog I started to keep up with that, though since we derailed, I haven’t kept up with it).   We keep it up for three weeks, were derailed by the holidays and life, but we are planning to get back on track Saturday (and I plan to keep up with that on the other blog again – two blogs? This could get crazy!).

 

So today, I started planning for next week.  Planning has become like another job.  If I didn’t work, I think I’d spend all day researching recipes and planning…but I do work, and I don’t have time for that.  It’s complex because you have to learn to speak the Zone’s “block” language (blocks are how to measure food); either convert current recipes you use to blocks and find balance or look for new recipes that are already block friendly; and then you have to make sure the proportions are correct – for two people who get very different portions.  I rant more about that here, so I’ll spare you and say the moral of the story:  I can understand why people don’t stick with diets – they’re too complex!

 

I’ll be glad when Zone menu planning is as easy as menu planning was before, but until then, it’s staying in that love/hate category.

PARTY ALL WEEK

Just a quick post for accountability:

Friday, our house guest went home for the weekend, and we had some friends over for a cookout.  I love that the house was already in order and that I could spend Friday afternoon making barbeque sauce rather than running around the house like crazy having to clean.

Most of the couples we had over have small children (there were 10 adults and 5 children under the age of 4).  I learned that “clean” is not the same as “child-proof” – as those babies will find everything that I had overlooked and put it in their mouth.  It didn’t help that we have a lot of art and breakable things that looked like toys to the kids.  Luckily, there was no damage done – to the house nor to the kids.

The rest of the weekend was relaxing, as I caught up on laundry, studied for my exam, and vegged on the couch with the husband.

My cousin should be back up tonight to stay this week with us again, so one more week of hosting house guest.  I have a few things I need to catch up on tonight – putting up yesterday’s washed laundry and clean dishes – though I’m sure we’ll be going out to dinner.  It was easy to keep the house in good shape while our guest is there, but it hasn’t been good for our routine – which is still being established since the husband just started a new job last week.  We love having guests…but I’m ready to fall into a routine.  How old does that make me sound?

Advice for Newlyweds when moving in together

This post did not start out this way, but as I was writing about hosting a cookout tonight and being thankful I had stayed on top of my cleaning schedule, I took random tangent.  But then I thought, “This is actually something that someone may need to know” – and it does deal with organization and cleaning, so I’ll go with it.  Plus, I think the advice is applicable to anyone.

 

At the time of our wedding last summer, my husband was 28, and I was 27.  We waited until just before the wedding to start moving in together, so he had lived in an apartment, and I had owned my house for several years.  This means we each had everything we really needed for our current living arrangements.  And that means we had two households worth of stuff to consolidate.

 

HIS STUFF + MY STUFF

 

Not to mention, I had lived in the house for several years AND accumulated a lot of junk.   When you’ve got 1,750 square feet of space to yourself and you like to hold on to random junk, you can accumulate quite a bit.  I’m talking stacks of old bills I thought I needed to hang on to for who knows what reason, magazines I never read but thought I might someday, several random bins of who-knows-what that I had attached some sort of emotional meaning to and couldn’t throw away.  That kind of stuff – you know, junk.

 

HIS STUFF + MY STUFF + MY JUNK

 

Then we’ve got shower and wedding gifts.  We are both blessed with large families and many friends and while we had dreams of a small, intimate weddings, that was quickly out of the question.  And not to sound gift-grabby, but a large wedding means a large amount of gifts – and that means you need a lot of space.  I had been displaying the gifts from our showers in the living room, thinking I did not want to start using them until we were settled in together – but that got a little out of control.

 

HIS STUFF + MY STUFF + MY JUNK + WEDDING GIFTS

 

Then, if you’re a DIY bride like I was, you’ve got wedding stuff.  I won’t really get into the massive amount of stuff that I had to make our invitations and programs as well as decorate the church and reception venue, but I will say that because I am creative and like things my way, plus we didn’t want to spend an excessive amount of money, I wanted to do just about everything myself – and that meant there was A LOT of stuff.  Trying to keep it organized so everything could easily be taken where it needed to be the day before the wedding was not easy.  And that stuff doesn’t just disappear after the wedding.  I had already lined up several other brides who wanted to buy some of the things I had, but some of the stuff was still around for a while (some of it still is…).

 

HIS STUFF + MY STUFF + MY JUNK + WEDDING GIFTS + WEDDING STUFF

 

We started the merging process a little at a time.  A few weeks before the wedding, while the wedding gifts were starting to pile up in the living room and wedding stuff was starting to pile up in the den, we slowly started bringing over boxes of his stuff and going through my stuff.  He would bring over things from one room at a time, and we would work on deciding which items we would keep and which needed to be donated.  The things to be donated were piled into the guest bedroom.

 

HIS STUFF + MY STUFF + MY JUNK + WEDDING GIFTS + WEDDING STUFF  + THINGS TO BE DONATED

 

Somewhere in the middle of this whole process, we decided it was time to finally finish the living room renovation by having carpet installed, and we got such a good deal on carpet, we though we’d have the bedrooms redone.

 

HIS STUFF + MY STUFF + MY JUNK + WEDDING GIFTS + WEDDING STUFF  + THINGS TO BE DONATED + FURNITURE AND EVERYTHING ELSE MOVED INTO THE KITCHEN AND DEN = CHAOS

 

So here’s my point and advice:  the merging of two households creates a lot of stuff.

 

It’s going to take time to organize. Don’t be surprised if it takes a little while to set up the house.  It’s not going to happen overnight.

 

Purge before trying to consolidate.  BOTH OF YOU – not just the one moving.

 

Create a plan.  Talk about space constraints, ideas for the spaces, and maybe even a sentimental objects limit.

 

Don’t attach emotions to inanimate objects.  Placing sentimental value on things leads to hoarding.  Okay – maybe that’s a little extreme, but it does make it unnecessarily hard to get rid of things (which is why it’s a good idea to talk about that before you start!).

 

Compromise and be respectful of one another.  Work together – you’re on the same team now.

 

Go ahead and start using the gifts.  They take up too much space to store.

 

And do not, I repeat, do NOT think it’s a good time to renovate something amidst all the stuff.

 

I will say that even though the house was a disaster at times, the whole move in process went really well for us, other than just taking so long to get organized.

The Perfect Day for Chili

Nasty weather + cold office = the perfect evening to make something warm.

I stumbled across a great chili recipe in December when the husband and I were trying the Zone Diet (which I will probably talk more about later), and then I modified it to make it even better.   Last night, we added sour cream and corn chips and had Frito pie.  Probably not the best thing to eat while you’re trying to lose weight, but it was DELICIOUS.

The Best Chili Recipe
Makes 9 servings; 1 serving = 2 cups

1 onion, chopped
3 green peppers, chopped,
3 cloves garlic, minced
31 oz ground beef (or turkey, venison, whatever your prefer)
1 large can tomato sauce
1 small can tomato paste, mixed w/ about 8 oz of water
2 cans canned tomatoes (can use flavored)
cumin (start with 2 tsp)
chili powder (start with 2 Tbsp)
crushed red peppers (start with 2 tsp)
1 can black beans
1 can kidney beans
50 black olives, chopped
Add fresh cilantro to taste
Serve each helping with 1 oz cheese, grated

In a large pot, saute onion, peppers, and garlic; at the same time, in a separate skillet, brown ground meat.
Cook veggies until onions are transparent.
When meat is cooked thoroughly, add it to the veggies, along with the tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste mixed with water, and spices.
Bring mixture to a simmer, and add beans and olives.
Reduce heat, cover, and cook for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally; taste test to see if more spices are needed after 15 minutes; wash dishes while chili is simmering 🙂

Garnish with cilantro and top with 1 oz cheese (if preferred) – or add Frito’s and sour cream for Frito pie!

Project List

If you’re reading my blog and you haven’t figured out by now, I like lists.

In addition to my yearly resolutions, I have a few “projects” that need tackling.  Amidst my organization efforts, I think it will be good to keep track of them.   I hope to be updating this list regularly, so I’m going to create a “Page” for it.

 

1.  Create a filing system

Right now, we have a very disorganized system for filing in a couple of small plastic bins.  It’s a mess, and what needs to be filed usually ends up in a big pile on top of one of the bins…or lost somewhere else in the house.  It’s not working.

Planned Completion Date:  January 31

2.  Renovate the home office/gym.

We recently renovated our living room and after recuperating for a few months, have started on the home office/gym.  We lost all momentum over the holidays, but hope to get back on it soon.

Planned Completion Date:  February 28

3.  Organize the shed.

The shed is built into the hillside like a storm shelter.  It’s a dark and scary place to me.   It needs help.

Planned Completion Date:  March 15

4.  Lose 10 pounds

I don’t want weight loss to be one of my new years resolutions because I think there’s so much more to being healthy than the number on the scale, but I do want to lose some.  My first small goal will be 10 pounds.  This task list is to keep me accountable, so why not include it?

Planned Completion Date:  Not setting one.  Wanting to lose weight by a certain date usually leads to disappointment.  Progress not perfection.

How Often Do You Clean Your Fridge?

As I mentioned in my previous post, our refrigerator has been out of commission for the last 13 days.  But not any more!  I met the repairman at the house and within 30 minutes, he had replaced the motor; the fridge was cooling again; and I had spent $300.  OUCH!  I have to keep reminding myself that it is cheaper than buying a new one.

 

After the repairman left, I emptied the fridge of a few things that I didn’t put in the coolers and wiped the shelves and baskets down again.  Then I noticed the shelves on the door.  GROSS.   As much as it pains me to admit, I don’t think they have been wiped out since I first bought the fridge…almost 4 years ago.  Nothing was spilled on them, but they had collected some trash.  I took the fronts of the shelves off, washed them, and wiped down the shelves before replacing the fronts.  After wiping down the top, which had collected quite a bit of dust, it’s as good as new again.

 

Clean fridge...time to grocery shop...

Clean fridge…time to grocery shop…

 

But that got me to thinking, how often should I deep clean the fridge?  I never thought the refrigerator was dirty, since we’re really good about getting rid of old items weekly and wiping up as needed.  I put “deep clean the fridge” on my cleaning schedule to be done once a month, but I was thinking more of quickly wiping down the inside and out and going through the contents to throw out anything that had expired.  I wasn’t really thinking about taking out all the bins and shelf fronts to wash…or pulling the fridge away from the wall and vacuuming up dust bunnies.  That’s another task I hadn’t done in 4 years until last week when the husband pulled the fridge out to see if he could repair it; another thing I don’t want to readily admit, the back of the fridge was fuzzy with dust.

 

While I know both of those tasks need to be done more than once every 4 years, I don’t think it is necessary to go to that extent monthly.  My hope is that the monthly semi-deep clean will keep it in good condition, and I’ll do the overhaul twice a year.

 

So how often do you clean your fridge – deep clean or otherwise?

2013 Resolution #3: Cooking

Resolution #2 is off to a great start, as the house is clean and ready for another test – a houseguest! My cousin arrives tonight and will be staying with us for two weeks to take a certification class.

Time to start in on Resolution #3: Cooking. I haven’t quite decided exactly what I want to include in this resolution as I already cook most nights, though we ate away from home A LOT in December. That is probably what inspired this one – a month of being on-the-go and having so many events and get togethers that I missed cooking regularly. I do get a secret pleasure from making a great meal for someone I love, and I like it even more when my husband and I cook together.

Along with getting back into the routine of cooking nightly, I also want to try new recipes – expand my repertoire, so to say. I have tons of cookbooks, but I rarely make anything out of them. If I want to try something new, I usually find something online or try a recipe a friend suggested. I’d like to start using the cookbooks as well. And I have dreams of compiling all my recipes in some sort of organized fashion to include how much the dish costs to make and what to do with left-over ingredients or food.

This resolution has not been at the top of my priority list so far because we currently do not have a refrigerator. Christmas Day, we had a huge ice storm, and lost power for a few days. When the power came back on, something happened to our fridge; the freezer still works, and the light comes on inside the fridge, but it does not get cold. A repairman is coming tomorrow (fingers crossed that he really does come…it’s been a week since we called) so hopefully we will be back in full swing Wednesday. In the meantime, since the contents of the refrigerator is in coolers, I was able to deep clean the inside of the fridge.

But we have managed to eat a home cooked meal every night since New Years, and I did try one new recipe last week: Japanese Restaurant-Style Salad Dressing.

 

Japanese Restaurant inspired dressing; a little darker than what I expected...

Japanese Restaurant inspired dressing; a little darker than what I expected…

 

Here’s my review: Since I had all the ingredients on hand (except fresh ginger for which I substituted ground ginger), it was easy to whip up. All ingredients just go into the blender. My husband sautéed some chicken, and we completed our salads with rice noodles, mandarin oranges, and cashews. The dressing was really good on the salad, but I have to say, it is NOT the Japanese Steakhouse dressing that I expected. To me, it was exactly like one of the dipping sauces given at the hibachi to dip steak and veggies. The recipe makes quite a bit – we had more than 1 cup left – so what to do with the leftover? Saturday, I added a little Worcestershire Sauce to the dressing and used it to marinade two ribeye steaks. The husband grilled these after they had soaked for a few hours, and they may have been the best steaks we’ve ever cooked at home. Decent salad dressing; Great dipping sauce; WONDERFUL marinade.