Homemaking

Bullet Journal Tour

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In my last post I described the Bullet Journal system, which I use to keep myself organized and productive. In this post I’m going to explain how I use my BuJo, and I’ll give you a little tour of my notebook.

After reading blog articles and watching several YouTube videos, I knew I wanted to give Bullet Journalling a try. I started out with a cheap notebook from Staples and stole borrowed some of my daughter’s artist pens, then I began playing around with different layouts to figure out what was most useful for me. When I was feeling more confident about what I wanted to include in my BuJo, I treated myself to a lovely bright orange Leuchtterm1917 A5 notebook along with a set of Faber-Castell PITT artist pens (shown in this photo).

In setting up my BuJo, I knew right away that I didn’t need a Future Log, which is a 6-to-12 month view of appointments and events. I use a Google calendar to book all appointments, and it’s rare that I need to view my schedule more than a month in advance. My calendar is on every device I own, so it’s easily accessible, and I didn’t see the point of essentially writing out by hand what is already well documented.

The original BuJo system does not include weekly spreads, but many people do them. I can understand this might be helpful if your weeks are full of details, and especially if you have to-do items that have deadlines on a weekly time scale. Sometimes my weeks are pretty empty from a scheduled appointment perspective, and my to-do lists don’t often fit within weekly deadlines, so I don’t use a weekly spread.

Instead, I use a monthly spread with a simple, vertical layout.

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Here I record appointments or events that require me to do something ahead of time, such as my board meeting on the 21st (for which I need to prepare) or the fact that my Dad and stepmum are heading off on a long holiday (I should call them before they go). In my online calendar, such things can get lost among all the family appointments. By placing it here, it stands out more, and I can refer to it easily when I plan my days (more on that below).

I also use my monthly spread to keep track of things that I tend to forget. For example, we only get garbage pickup every other week, and sometimes I forget when the last pickup was. I also often forget to do the weekly reporting for my kids’ homelearning program (probably because it falls on a weekend), so I’ve noted it here.

But the part where the planning magic really happens is the Daily Spread. Each day I sit down to plan out the next day ahead. This includes scheduled appointments and events, daily tasks, and my to-do list.

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I’ve played around a lot with the layout of my daily spreads, not just for the fun of trying out new fonts and pen colours, but also to organize it in a way that is most helpful for me. At first, I had a pretty basic layout. Scheduled events were noted with an open circle and mixed in with to-dos which were noted by a bullet (then crossed with an X when completed, or with > if migrated).

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I soon decided it would be helpful to have the appointments in a separate list, so they stood out more.

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This worked better, but something was still missing for me. I realized that what I needed was a way to visualize the breakdown of time over the day, where the scheduled appointments fit into that, so I could plan to use the time in-between more effectively. Kara at Boho Berry uses a time bar to plan the layout of her day (she describes it in this YouTube video):

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…and so I used this idea to create something similar that was better suited to me.

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I love having a visual representation of the day. I colour code the segments so that I can see where the unscheduled time lies. For example, orange is the colour for anything kid-related (Mama Duty). Green is “me time”, and pink is for housework.

Based on this layout, I can see that I’ll need to be up around 7 am to get my daughter ready for school (for more on our adventures with transitioning to high school, see here, here, and here). After dropping my son off at his program (which is run by a wonderful guy named Bruce), I’ll go for a run. That leaves a block of time in between my run and picking up my daughter from school, and I knew I’d end up spending about an hour of that block eating breakfast and indulging in a large pot of tea, so I planned to do my housework after picking up my daughter. The bar takes me to 5 o’clock, which is when I typically start working on dinner prep. If I had an evening appointment, such as a meeting or dinner date, that would be written underneath the bar.

Items in red are meant for my attention. In the example above, I need to remember to pack my son’s workout bag and bring it to Bruce’s program in the morning, because on Friday afternoons he gets dropped off with his fitness coach.

Items in grey are my task list. I’m really liking this colour, as I find it stands out and doesn’t get lost among all the other black ink. If I know when I’d like to do the task, I place it by the time bar, but I can also add a list to the right if I have more tasks that day. I can look at the bar, see when I have free spaces of time, and “divide and conquer” the tasks in that way.

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I’ve recently started adding a meal plan to my daily lists.

Each day, often towards the evening, I sit down and plan out the next day. I check my online calendar and my monthly spread, and anything else I need (like my daughter’s ever-changing school schedule). I really enjoy this process; there is something very therapeutic about the act of writing things down, decorating with colours and fonts, and just making a pretty page!

Some people really geek out over this process: there are “plan with me” videos, where you watch someone laying out a daily or monthly spread in their journal. I enjoy watching them while I’m doing my own planning. Again, I have to put in a plug for Kara at Boho Berry…she’s just so cute and friendly, and I love her style. She does a “Plan With Me” video every month, but this month (February 2017) she is doing a video every day showing her daily planning routine.

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As I go through the day, I take great satisfaction in ticking those items off my list!

Since the idea is to plan one day at a time (the night before), I use a separate to-do list to track things that I don’t have time for right now (or they may not be due for some time) so that I don’t forget.

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Aside from daily planning, I also use my BuJo to house various “collections”. A collection is just a group of ideas, notes, or anything else you want to record and/or keep track of. For example, I have my house cleaning routines all laid out in my journal for easy reference (You can read more about my cleaning routine in this post).

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I also have a Pen Samples page (this is pretty common, actually, which you would understand if you love pen collections!): it’s useful to refer to this when I’m going back and wanting to use the same pen colour for something, or when I’m just deciding what colour to use next.

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Being a fan of books, I couldn’t resist starting some book lists:

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Trackers are a very popular collection item. People use them to track their moods, their habits, the weather…you name it. I created one to track my headaches. I’m pretty sure they are related to dehydration (running days where I don’t drink enough water), but I thought it might be helpful to see how frequent they really are.

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Other collections include a “Brain Dump” page, where I put random ideas and such, my daughter’s school schedule (she attends part time, and it changes about every month or so), and anything else I want to keep track of.

So that’s the tour of my Bullet Journal. It has definitely helped me get things done, and I find the fact that I have it all written down somewhere leaves a lot more room in my head for other things.

Note: lest you overestimate my artistic abilities, I want to point out that the fonts and designs you see here are virtually all copied from someone else – I have a large Pinterest board devoted to different layouts, headers, and doodles from which I take inspiration).

Categories: family life, Homemaking, parenting, Personal Growth | 1 Comment

Staying Organized with a Bullet Journal

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When people ask me what I do, I always pause because it’s not a simple answer. I am a stay-at-home-mum to two teenagers, and I run our household (including handling all the finances). I also do consulting work, and I sit on the board of directors for a couple of non-profit societies. In other words, I have lots to keep track of!

I use Google Calendar for all my appointments, and I share a calendar with my husband, which helps us coordinate the use of our one vehicle. But I really only ever use the month-at-a-glance view, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for detail. Try as I might, I could never get in the habit of flipping around between weekly and daily views, probably because I found them ugly and not an easy way to visualize the layout of my day or week. There was also no easy way to make a list of to-dos that weren’t date or time sensitive.

I’ve tried using planners in the past, but the page layouts didn’t seem to fit my life very well. I don’t have a regular routine – each day is a bit different. I found I either ran out of room on the paper or I had entire pages wasted because there was nothing scheduled for those days. In the end, I’d always ditch the planner and go back to my default method: a TON of to-do lists, written down on various pieces of scrap paper and scattered all over my desk…needless to say it was a bit chaotic.

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The other problem I wanted to solve, aside from keeping track of appointments and to-dos, was how to better organize my time. I often have large blocks of time at home, and making the best use of that was a challenge. I’d start working on one thing (or more often, get sucked into Pinterest or Facebook) and next thing I knew half the day would be gone. I also had trouble tackling my long to-do lists – I knew it would be helpful if I could divide them up and schedule them for specific days, otherwise the giant list just sat there feeling too big to tackle. Anything with a due date ended up getting put off until the last possible minute, which would throw off the next couple of days while I frantically tried to catch up. And then there was my housecleaning routine (or lack thereof), which I talked about in my last post.

So, with all of this in the back of my mind, one day while browsing Pinterest I stumbled across a reference to something called a Bullet Journal. Intrigued, I Googled the term and saw that, whatever it was, it was trending big time! I was soon directed to this website belonging to Ryder Carroll, who is accredited with creating the Bullet Journal system (or BuJo as it’s known by its fans). It’s basically a fully customizable planner system that uses a few simple techniques to help people stay organized, track their time, and improve their productivity.

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The concept is pretty simple, but the potential for indulging one’s creative side has not been lost on the Internet. It wasn’t long before various online communities (and by communities I mean people united by a particular obsession) began creating fabulous BuJo page spreads and sharing them all over Pinterest and Instagram. There are blogs and entire YouTube channels devoted to all things BuJo. It has brought together planner/organizer geeks, OCD list-maker types, and art supply nerds (who doesn’t love a set of coloured artist pencils or markers?)…and I would say I feel right at home in the last two camps! The BuJo trend has created a renewed interest in calligraphy and handwriting, doodling and sketching, and all sorts of stationary supplies, much to the benefit of companies such as Leuchtterm (makers of one of the most popular BuJo notebooks), Goulet (makers of fine fountain pens), and Tombow (makers of coloured artist pens).

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So what exactly is a bullet journal?

Basically, a BuJo is a blank notebook that you fill with schedules and to-do lists to suit your needs. The basic elements are:

  1. an index;
  2.  yearly, monthly, or weekly views;
  3. bulleted lists using specific symbols;
  4. task migration; and
  5. collections.

The index is placed at the beginning of your notebook and is basically a table of contents that you create as you go along. This allows you to put anything anywhere in the notebook and be able to easily find it.

The views, or spreads as they are often called, are pages showing appointments and scheduled events. Some people do a “future log” which shows several calendar months. It can be as simple as this:

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Or as complex as this:

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There are also monthly spreads:

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And weekly spreads:

 

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People use different combinations of these spreads depending on their needs.

Finally, there is the daily task list. Here is where to-dos are written down in bullet format:

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The bullets have symbols, often described in a Key, as follows:

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An important element of using the bulleted lists is the concept of “migration”. If a task does not get completed, you “migrate” it to the next day (or week, depending on your layout). This allows you to make a big list of tasks, perhaps even knowing that you won’t get to all of them that day, but at least it is written down. It sounds simple, but I have found migrating to be a really useful element for staying organized.

Finally, there are “collections”. A collection can be anything really: notes from a meeting, ideas for a new project, lists of birthdays to remember. People have come up with all kinds of idea for collections, which of course are shared all over the Internet: habit trackers, gratitude logs, meal planning, and book lists just to name a few.

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The nice thing about the Bullet Journal system is you can put a collection anywhere because you have an Index. Once you create a collection – for example, a packing list for an upcoming vacation – you simply note it in your Index with the page number. Now you can easily find that list any time you want, and it really doesn’t matter if it was squeezed in somewhere between your weekly schedule and your list of tasks for a particular day.

Bullet journalling can be used by anyone. In fact it turns out my husband has been using his own version of bulleted lists in a little notebook for years. But if you are the kind of person who benefits from the act of writing something down, and perhaps taking time to make it pretty and colourful, or if you find drawing and colouring meditative, then a BuJo is particularly appealing. In my next post, I’ll show you my own Bullet Journal and how I use it to stay organized.

Meanwhile, below are some videos about Bullet Journalling. The first is by Ryder Carroll, the creator of the Bullet Journal system. It shows the original concept, which is very simple. Fans refer to this as a “minimalist” BuJo.

The second video is by my favourite BuJo guru, Kara Benz of Boho Berry. Not only is she an inspiring young lady who turned her artistic talents into a successful business, but her videos are well produced and enjoyable to watch. Her video is the first in her “Bullet Journal 101” series.

 

 

 

Categories: career, family life, Homemaking, lifestyle, Personal Growth | 1 Comment

New House, New Cleaning Routine

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I have to confess that I was not a very good housekeeper during the last year or so in our mobile home. It’s really hard to get motivated to clean a place that is ugly, cluttered, and falling apart. I tried to do the very basics necessary for hygiene purposes, but I got no satisfaction out of doing it and in fact it usually just made me depressed.

Now that we are living in our beautiful new home, I want to take great care of it. So I enthusiastically dove into the process of keeping it clean. I began watching YouTube videos and soon locked on to Melissa at Clean My Space. Her videos were fun, friendly, and full of good tips and ideas. I especially love her DIY cleaning product recipes.

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However, as the weeks went by I started to feel overwhelmed. There always seemed to be something to do, and I would often get sidetracked. Whatever task I was doing drew my attention to something else that needed doing, and there seemed to be no end to it all. If I took a couple of days off, I spent hours making up for it. So I decided what I needed was a good cleaning routine.

I started at MarthaStewart.com where I found comprehensive task lists for daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal cleaning. I went through them and eliminated anything that didn’t apply to my situation. Then over the next couple of weeks I added anything I could think of that was unique to my situation. When my lists were complete it was time to divide and conquer!

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By this time I already had a daily routine established where I make the bed and empty the dishwasher in the morning, then in the evenings I clean the cooktop, the kitchen countertops, the sink, and I run the dishwasher. For the weekly tasks, I divided them over six days, taking care to ensure that things naturally followed. For example, I do dusting the day before vacuuming, because dusting can send dust down onto the floors (as @MelissaMaker says, work from the top down!).

I’ve been doing this for three weeks now and I couldn’t be happier. Every day I just check my list and do what is on it for that day. I don’t worry about what else needs doing because I know it is accounted for in the schedule. My home is constantly in a state of cleanliness, but I devote only an hour a day at most to keeping it that way. I am not afraid of people stopping by unexpectedly, of someone needing to use the guest bathroom (I lived in fear of that in our old place), of giving people tours of the new house…because it is always at an acceptable level of cleanliness.

But it’s not just about keeping the house clean and attractive for visitors (and myself of course – I honestly don’t think my kids or my husband really pay attention to such things), it’s about maintaining everything we have in good working condition. All the appliances are brand new, including my Dyson cordless, and I want to take really good care of them. So cleaning filters and wiping down surfaces inside and out is important.

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Another shameless plug for the Clean My Space channel. I follow Melissa’s advice and wipe my front-loader washing machine every evening, getting into the gasket folds and leaving it open overnight to dry thoroughly.

The best part about this method is that I no longer get sidetracked. For example, Thursday is dusting day. When I notice that tiny fur balls are beginning to form on the floor (we have two cats and a dog, so fur is an issue here), I don’t let it distract me because I know that Friday is vacuuming day, and they’ll be taken care of before they grow to epic proportions.

If I miss something on the day’s list, or even the whole list for that day, I just do it the next day. And if I’m really busy and simply cannot add it on to the next day, I leave it. Because there are few things that really, absolutely have to be done each week, and I know that if I just don’t get it done, it will get done next week. It is just so wonderful to have the place clean all the time, and I no longer spend 5 hours in one day trying to get everything done at once.

For the monthly tasks, some are small and can easily be tacked on to any day, such as giving the pets their flea treatments, or wiping down items that sit on the kitchen countertop. Otherwise Saturdays are for choosing a larger monthly task, such as mopping floors in the rooms that aren’t used heavily, or taking apart my beloved Dyson cordless vacuum to clean the parts and filters.

I also have some tasks that are tackled quarterly (every 3 months), such as replacing the baking soda in the fridge, running the washing machine through a self-clean cycle, or wiping down the kitchen ceilings (thank you, Martha Stewart, for making me realize that was even a thing). There are ten of these, and my plan is to add one to each week with a couple of weeks off if I’m really busy, so that they get done every 12 weeks (3 months).

I even have a list for spring and fall cleaning, which includes tasks such as putting up (or taking down) fly screens on the windows, vacuuming the refrigerator coils, and cleaning out the deep freezer. I’ll set aside one week twice a year to add these to my daily and weekly tasks.

So there you have it. If you are curious about my routine, below is a photo from my planner, which I use to keep track of it all. On the left are my weekly tasks, broken down over six days (you can’t see it, but at the very bottom on Saturdays I have “do one monthly task”).

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On the right side I use a “tracker” system to keep track of what gets done. You’ll see that I did not complete all my monthly tasks in January. For February, I have started to note the day that I did the task, so I know how long it has been since I last did that task. For the quarterly tasks, I note the month in which it was done. For example, deworming the pets was done in January (and btw, I must step up the pace on these!).

So that’s my new cleaning routine. I’m loving it, and loving the fact that I’m able to take such great care of my beautiful new home without exhausting myself in the process!

PS: if you are curious about my planner pages, I use the Bullet Journal system, which is a method for organizing your life. I’m mildly obsessed with it right now, and I plan to write a post on that topic soon. 

Categories: Homemaking | 2 Comments

What I learned from FlyLady

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This is only the third post in my FlyLady series, but it will probably be my last. I feel I have hit an equilibrium with my housework and have maintained it long enough to say “I’m done”. At least for now.

I should start by saying that I consider my FlyLady program to have been a success. The morning routine I developed is still practised virtually every day and the result is that for months now I’ve enjoyed having clean bathrooms without having to spend hours scrubbing and getting soaking wet. I no longer worry when guests or babysitters come over that they will have to use the bathroom and I’ll die of shame. I no longer spend half the day cleaning said bathrooms when I know someone is coming to visit. Thanks to FlyLady’s “Swish and Swipe” system, I spend a couple minutes each morning wiping down surfaces and that’s pretty much it. I’ve also adapted this to the shower – I keep an extra towel in there and after I’m done I use the towel to wipe down the shower stall and fixtures. It takes a couple extra minutes but it’s so worth it as cleaning the shower was my second least favourite job, after cleaning the toilets.

Thanks to my morning routine I also enjoy walking into a neat and tidy master bedroom throughout the day. And I’m on top of my laundry since I get a load going pretty much every day, too. No more running out of clean sheets, towels, or underwear. I’ve learned that wearing “lace up shoes” helps me get through the day comfortably, and with a bounce in my step.And

Finally, most of the time I wake up to a clean kitchen and I’m willing to go to more effort than I used to to make that happen.

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These are the things I have changed and I’ve stuck with. But what I haven’t done has also taught me something about priorities and choices. For example, I don’t do Zone Cleaning or Daily Missions. I’ve discovered that a tidy house is what really matters to me; deep cleaning? not so much. Oh sure, I’d love it if there weren’t so many dust bunnies floating around on the floor, or if the surfaces were always dust-free. But the truth is I only have so much time in my life right now and I’ve come to a place of peace with how much of that I spend cleaning. One day when my kids are grown and out of the house I’ll have more time to do deep cleaning. But as the saying goes, when I’m lying on my deathbed I am quite sure I’ll be grateful for all the time I’ve spent with my kids and doing hobbies I love like riding or quilting, and will not feel grateful for having exchanged that for a shining home. When I walk around my house these days I get pleasure from tidiness and neatness. Clean surfaces, things in their place (and the clean bathrooms mentioned above!), these give me a sense of peace. If I don’t feel the need to take that further than I don’t see any reason to do so.

I no longer visit the FlyLady website, nor receive her emails. I would recommend this program to anybody looking to get a grip on their time management and wanting to find a better balance between housework and other stuff. But I think it’s also important to know how far you need to go, and not feel like a failure if you don’t do the whole program. I definitely feel I got a lot out of doing this, and may even revisit it again when we move to a new home. Perhaps when I’m in a nicer home I will feel motivated to “kick it up a notch”. At least I’ll know exactly where to go to accomplish that.

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The FlyBaby Diaries: my Morning Routine

 

 

It has been about three weeks since I started with FlyLady. Today was Day 22 of the BabySteps for me. I confess haven’t been following them very closely lately, but that is because I jumped ahead a bit in the program a while back. For example, I completed my morning routine after the first few days of BabySteps because I was enjoying it so much and I recognized that this is when I have the most energy to get things done. It has become my favourite part of the day and gets my day off to a great start where I feel organized and that I’ve accomplished something. Here is my morning routine:

 

Get up between 7 and 7:30 and go out to do farm chores. This is when I am grateful for FlyLady’s rule of laying out the clothes you are going to wear the night before. I’m still pretty sleepy-headed at this point and it’s nice to not have to dig around in a dark bedroom for sweats and t-shirts.

Walk the dog and feed/water the chickens, add straw bedding to the coop if needed. 

Back in the house I head to my bathroom and strip down and start the morning’s dirty laundry pile. I weigh myself then wash my face and do a quick body swipe (if it’s a shower day I use the other bathroom to shower and return to my bathroom for the rest).

I fix my hair then use the facecloth I just washed my face with to wipe down the sink, followed by the toilet. If I showered I just use a dry cleaning cloth; I have a stack of old diaper wipes in a basket in each bathroom for this purpose. It literally takes about 10 seconds. It is amazing how little time it takes when the thing is done every day! Then I give the toilet bowl a swish with the toilet brush (if I showered, I also wipe and swish the toilet in that bathroom while the hot water is getting hot). The facecloth and/or wipe go in the dirty laundry pile.

I get dressed to my Lace Up Shoes (I love how they give me a spring in my step as I go about my day) then I make the bed. If it’s a day to change sheets or for fresh pajamas I put the dirty laundry in the growing pile (fresh sheets are put on during my afternoon routine).

I’m now done in the bedroom and ensuite bathroom, and when I leave there with my handful of dirty laundry, I leave behind a bathroom that gives me a lift every time I walk into it throughout the day. This was definitely one of the worst places before I started Flying – our water has a lot of sulphur in it and it stained yellow rings in the toilet bowl and sink that took time and elbow grease to get rid of, so I always put it off. And it took lots of cleaning cloths. By doing the Swish and Swipe each morning it takes only seconds, one cloth to wipe, and it always looks great. I also leave a bedroom that brings me a feeling of peace whenever I walk in. I know that part of the house is Done for the day, and it feels good!

 

Next, I go to the kitchen and put the kettle on, then put the dirty laundry in the washer and run a load (other family members have filled it up during the previous day: it’s another benefit of having an empty washer during the day – dirty clothes and linens can be tossed right into the washer, no piles of dirty laundry building up!). It is great to always have clean clothes and linens – before laundry would pile up until I needed it and then I would spend all day doing several loads in a row.

Back to the kitchen where I unload the dishwasher while the tea is steeping. I’ve gotten really good (not perfect, but much improved) at cleaning the kitchen in the evening. I confess I don’t always shine my sink, but I leave it clean and the counters clean, too. It’s very nice to wake up to a clean kitchen!

I take my tea and then check my email and the schedule for the day. This is a nice time to take a rest. I also eat my breakfast during this time. With an empty dishwasher, it’s easy to put the breakfast dishes directly into the washer rather than having them pile up on the counter. It also encourages the kids put theirs away after breakfast too (they don’t like to eat right away in the morning so I make their breakfast after I’m done mine), rather than dumping them in the sink. I also wipe my sink when I’m done with a dry cloth I keep there for that purpose. This is another Flylady tip and it really keeps the sink looking great and easy to clean with just a swipe!

So that is my morning routine so far. Where I’ve slipped up is that I haven’t been doing my 2-minute Hot Spot cleanup, the 5-minute Room Rescue, and the 15-minute Decluttering for the current Zone on a regular basis. It has been pretty sporadic, actually. I’m having a hard time with these and I think it’s because some of our days require us to be out of the house relatively early and there isn’t time (getting up earlier is just not an option – it’s a freakin’ miracle that I naturally get up at 7 these days because for years I used to sleep in until around 9 or 10). It may also be because I already have a long routine and by the time I am done with breakfast and cleanup I’ve been up and doing my thing for almost 2 hours I’m ready to move on. Whatever the problem is I’m going to try to identify it this week and address it.

One thing that might help is our chickens are meat birds and are due to be processed this month, so I only have a couple of weeks left of caring for them in the morning and that will shave off about 30 minutes from my morning routine. It is also getting dark earlier, and at some point I will have to switch things around a bit so that I do inside stuff (like unload the dishwasher) before going out with the dog (we walk through the forest and I’m a bit chicken to do that in the dark, even with a flashlight).

Next time I will talk about my afternoon and evening routines, as well as the challenges I am facing with my Weekly Schedules. I’m also really prone to distraction and these days we are fervently working on house plans (we are building a new home on our property) and it is all too tempting to sit down and start sketching – next thing I know an hour has passed! Overall, however, I’m pleased with the changes I have made and appear (so far) to be sticking with. Onward and upward!

 

 

Categories: FlyLady, Homemaking | Leave a comment

Getting Organized, Flylady Style

I have always struggled with self-imposed routines. In the past I have tried (and failed) to establish them and basically ended up deciding I was better off without them. However, my forays into the world of autism this last year have taught me that routines can be life-altering for families dealing with kids on the spectrum. Coincidentally (or not) I have also noticed over these last few weeks that I am living in a constant state of mild stress because I have so many things to do and feel like I’m never catching up and never getting it all done. I wait until something is in crisis mode then jump in and ignore everything else to fix it.

It really hit home this past month when the homelearning year began. I was determined to set more of a routine and, importantly, sit down and do homeschool work with the kids. One month into it and I hadn’t done so at all. I kept telling myself that I’d catch up this week and start the next, but that never happened. I knew I had to get this under control if I was to have any hope of getting my kids and myself into a routine.

My cousin recently posted on Facebook that she had discovered Flylady [warning: her website is very cluttered and not very well organized, the irony of which is not lost on her followers: read this post for a quicker explanation of the system]. I learned about her ten years ago when I joined an online parenting forum, but I’d never really believed I needed that kind of help and I’d sort of forgotten all about her until I saw the post. It made me realize that I do, in fact, need help. If I can’t keep this little home clean and tidy and find time to homeschool my kids, how am I going to cope when we have our new (much bigger) home? I felt I owed it to my family – and especially my husband, who has worked so hard to get us here – to get things under control.

I read through her site and realized that this was more than just how to have a tidy house. Flylady is all about establishing routines. And that is what I needed: for my home, for work, for homeschooling, and for the kids.

Her system works by introducing one task at a time and allowing time for them to get established as habits. This part of the program is called “Babysteps” and there are 31 days of them (I’ll discuss what happens after completing the Babysteps when I get there). I’m currently on Day 3 and I’d like to discuss the two steps that have been introduced so far.

The foundation of this method is the Shiny Sink. Each night before I go to bed my task is to shine my sink. It starts with a big clean on the first day, and the last step is to use Window Cleaner to shine the sink. I’ve never heard of that nor thought about it (I tend to avoid cleansers other than baking soda and vinegar, but I did have some Earth Friendly window cleaner around) but it really works. The sink shines! After that first big clean all you need to do is wipe it dry after using and give it a shine at night (later in the program there will be times set aside each month to do a big clean again). And I’ll tell you, that is a really nice thing to wake up to. When all the rest of your home screams “piles of work need to be done!” you can take comfort in that one little shining beacon of cleanliness.

But I’ve discovered another benefit to the Shiny Sink – it forces me to do the dishes at night. I am currently about 50/50 on whether they get done. Often I’m so exhausted at the end of the day I simply don’t have the energy. But I have come to appreciate how much better my day goes when I wake up to a clean kitchen, so I try. But now that I am shining my sink, I can’t stand to have dirty dishes around it so I have been good about doing them each night. Bonus!

The second Baby Step I’ve begun is Getting Dressed to Lace Up Shoes. When I first read this I thought okay, I understand the mental benefits of getting dressed at the start of the day. I think all stay-home mums know what it’s like to discover it is after noon and you’re still in your jammies. Or the FedEx guy arrives unexpectedly and you have to answer the door in a bathrobe (with our old trailer home and crowded run-down porch, it all just adds to the overall fashion theme we have going here….). But I balked at the shoes. I thought to myself how much I like wearing my lovely, cozy Padraig slippers. How wearing shoes in the house was a Bad Thing (according to my mother and most people I know). How uncomfortable I would be wearing shoes all day. I thought “I can skip that part”.

But then I read her reasons behind wearing the shoes and two of them really hit home to me. First, if you have shoes on you are more likely to go outside to, say, take out the garbage, or take the grocery bins to the car, etc. And I know from experience this is true. Sometimes I just don’t feel like taking off my slippers and so the thing gets dumped somewhere. Now that I am always wearing shoes, it is no trouble to take a bag of garbage to the bin.

The second reason was one of those “A-ha” moments that make you wonder why you never put two-and-two together before. I often suffer from sore feet and sometimes felt that I hadn’t even really done enough work to merit them. But guess what? Flat slippers don’t provide much support. So I have been wearing my runners and there is a bounce in my step and no more sore feet!

I sorta skipped ahead with my reading to see where I’d end up when done. And I’ve already planned out all my routines, cleaning days, etc. But I’m still going to follow the Babysteps and only add one when I’m supposed to. I know if I try to make too many changes too fast I will fail. It’s a process, and I intend to enjoy it.

An added bonus of all this is while I am gradually introducing things to my own routine, I have covertly begun getting my kids into routines too. I am now getting dressed to shoes each morning: the Little Dude likes to be naked, which was okay when he was 2 but not so much now that he is 8. So we’ve started with him getting dressed before he begins any activity. The Big Girl’s task is to wash her face first and then get dressed before starting on any activity. I’d already gotten them used to bringing their plates and cups into the kitchen when done with a meal (in our house that means literally walking about four steps, but it was the principle!). Now their equivalent of the Shiny Sink is that instead of just putting the stuff on the counter, they put them in the dishwasher.

As I go along adding things to my own routines, I’ll add to theirs. I’m hoping for big things at the end of this 31 days! I will keep you all posted as to how it goes…

Categories: FlyLady, Homemaking, parenting | Leave a comment

Free Motion Quilting

A few years ago after I learned to knit and discovered that I was, in fact, somewhat creative I became interested in quilting. I loved the look of quilts and the creativity involved in putting them together. I grabbed a couple of books from the library and got rather excited looking at all the patterns. Then I read about how one actually quilts and decided that hour upon hour of hand-sewing was not something I was interested in doing.

More recently, when I began planning in earnest for our new home, I thought about how moving to a bigger house often means having to fill that extra space with Stuff, and I wrote a post about how I didn’t want to get sucked into buying things that had no meaning or would fall apart after a while. I imagined crafting the things that would fill my new home and that brought my thoughts back to quilting. The kids would have their own rooms and I thought how wonderful it would be to have a lovely hand-made quilt for each of them, not to mention one for the grownups’ bed. So I decided to look into it again.

At the library I found a book about something called machine quilting and I got very excited. You could do this on a sewing machine? Way cool. The book was brief but it got me Googling. I found the Missouri Star Quilt Company, which has great video tutorials on its site. And then I found my epiphany, my golden muse, the inspiration that moved me to action: The Free Motion Quilt Project. This blog was started by a young quilter named Leah Day, a petite soft-spoken gal from North Carolina with an adorable American accent. Frustrated by the lack of options out there for free motion quilting (FMQ) she set out to create one new pattern each day for a year. From there her website grew to include all sorts of wonderful articles and videos to guide one through machine quilting. I was hooked!

But I didn’t have a sewing machine.

Thanks to Leah’s website I had a good idea what to look for in a machine for FMQ. I’d been scouring Craigslist and UsedEverywhere but none of the machines offered had what I was looking for. Plus I knew I really needed to try these machines out before buying and that would be very difficult if I was trucking around all over town, dragging the kids with me, sitting in someone else’s home begging for fabric scraps!

I was getting impatient with just watching all Leah’s great videos: I was ready to get started! Luckily, over the last couple of months my consulting business suddenly got very busy and I was able to bring in a nice chunk of extra money for our family. I decided to treat myself and buy a new machine. I could certainly think of many uses for it besides quilting, like mending clothes, making cloth napkins and placemats and other things for the home. We don’t have a sewing machine store here in town so last week, when I had to head to the Big City for an appointment, I dropped by their main sewing store.

I “test drove” a few machines, using quilted samples the store had available. I didn’t tell the salesgirl that this was the first time I had ever FMQ’d before! I ended up falling in love with a model that was, of course, much more expensive than what I had planned to spend. But it was on sale and came with a quilter’s kit (FMQ foot, table extension, etc.) and had a nice large harp space for quilting. Not to mention a great work light (I had the sobering middle-aged lady experience of realizing that my eyes aren’t what they used to be). Mostly I just found sewing on this machine to be smooth and easy and it didn’t scare me! So I took the plunge and purchased my first sewing machine: a Pfaff Ambition 1.0.

I couldn’t wait to get started on it, and thankfully I had saved an old bed sheet that had a big hole in it, so I had plenty of fabric to play with. I also had a sewing kit I’d picked up from a friend’s yard sale years ago full of notions and scissors and thread. After reading the manual carefully and learning how to thread the machine and wind a bobbin, I was all set. I did a few runs of straight stitching before getting impatient and switching to the FMQ foot. I folded a swath of fabric four times over, sewed around the edges to form a rectangle, and then began to practice FMQ as per Leah’s instructions.

Not only was it as easy as she made it look (which confirms to me that I made a good choice in machines) but it was also just as fun as it looked, too! I am hooked. I had so much fun practising different designs. Here are a couple of my test swatches (I apologize for the photos being hard to see clearly: I only had this fabric and white thread, not a great combination for contrast):

My first attempt. Learning the basic motion of the Stippling design, the most common FMQ pattern.

Moving up to more varied Stippling shapes.

Then I tried some other beginner designs from Leah’s website.

My first attempts at Flowing Glass, Sea Oats, Rainforest Leaf, and Trailing Spirals. Too much fun!

After several samples I was itching to make something “real”. Next chance I got I headed to the local FabricLand store and got myself a membership (my mother has had her membership since I was a wee child so it felt good to join) and came home with some “fat quarters” and a “charm pack”. I decided to use the fat quarters to make placemats that I would just FMQ without any piecing. The truth is, I don’t even own an iron let alone a rotary cutter, cutting board, or quilter’s ruler. It was rather slapdash, but turns out you don’t need much perfection to make a simple placemat. I was really pleased with how they came out (the colours of the plaid are much bolder in reality; not sure if you can see the stippling well either).

Double sided placemat with Stipple quilting.

I’m planning on making some more placemats. Until I get an iron and some proper cutting tools that’s all I can do, but it will allow me to practice my FMQ while still producing something useful. There is an exception, however: I’m getting this quilting set from appleturnover‘s Etsy Store. The owner of the shop is a friend of mine from back in our mum-and-baby-group days. She asked me to be a tester for her quilting kit: the pieces are already cut and I will be quilting along with videos she shot on her lovely antique hand-crank machine. I’ll still need to get an iron, but the cutting tools can hold off for a while longer.

Stay tuned for more quilting projects!

Categories: Homemaking, learning | 1 Comment

Soup from the Pantry

During the cold months I love to make soups from scratch. While there are many wonderful recipes out there, some of the most useful are those you can make using goods from the pantry. You can ensure that you always have the ingredients in stock so that when the mood for soup hits you, you don’t need to worry about whether you have all the ingredients.

One of my favorites is Spicy Lentil soup. Made with coconut milk it is rich and creamy, and the warm spices of cinnamon and cardamom are perfect flavours for a winter’s day. It whips up in about 30 minutes, and is very simple to make. Here is the recipe, from the book Soup: superb ways with a classic dish.

Spicy Lentil Soup

Place into your soup pot: 2 chopped onions, 2-3 cloves garlic, 2 – 4 chopped tomatoes (if I don’t have fresh ones around I used diced ones from a can, drained of their juices; works just fine), 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 cinnamon stick, 6 cardamom pods, 1 1/3 cup red lentils, 3 3/4 cups water.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and cardamom pods.

Put in a blender (or use a hand blender right in the pot, as I do; less to wash up) to mix it up to a smooth consistency. The recipe says to strain it but I don’t know why and never do. Add a 14-oz can of coconut milk and 1 tbsp lime juice (I use RealLime, which stores in the fridge for ages). Salt and pepper to taste.

Serves well with homemade bread rolls, which is just what I’m having tonight after a day being snowed it. Perfect!

Categories: Homemaking | 1 Comment

Bread Success!

I posted recently about my frustrations with trying to provide home-baked bread for my family. I started with the 5 Minutes a Day technique, but quickly grew discouraged and disappointed. I mentioned that I was going to try Rhonda Jean’s recipe over at Down to Earth, and I’m happy to say that my problems have been solved.

Turns out I was using nowhere near enough water. And therein lies the problem for beginner breadmakers such as myself. I’m the kind of gal who needs a recipe. I have no feel for ingredients, how they contribute to the final product and what ratios to use, so a recipe is essential for me. What I guess I didn’t understand (or, more likely, chose to ignore) was that breadmaking is not really suitable to rigid recipes. Turns out that the consistency of your dough will vary based on the temperature in your home, humidity, flour composition, how the yeast happens to feel that day, etc. As Rhonda Jean continually emphasizes in her articles about breadmaking, to get the right dough you need to understand how it’s supposed to feel. Her detailed photos of dough during the kneading process clued me in to the fact that my dough was not right. At the end of her required 8 minutes of kneading (a good starting point for beginners, and far longer than I’d kneaded bread before) her dough looked smooth and stretchy. Mine lacked any stretch and after only a few minutes of kneading I was sweating buckets and my arms ached. Something wasn’t right.

So, as per her instructions, I kept adding water. I even added it while kneading, using my invented-on-the-spot technique of dipping my hands in warm water and rubbing them together; I did this several times during the kneading process. Assessing the dough while kneading made it easy to correct; if things got too sloppy I simply dusted more flour on the surface, which the dough picked up as I kneaded. I was thrilled to bits when I completed my kneading time and ended up with a stretchy, smooth-surfaced dough. It rose beautifully, far more than any other dough I’ve attempted thus far. It was soft and lovely as I punched it down for the second kneading (a relatively short 2 minutes). In the loaf pan it rose far above the rim of the pan – again a new experience for me. And the ultimate test was the final result: bread with a lovely crumb, a nice crust (not too crunchy, great for sandwiches), and best of all – it tasted like bread (not some yeasty, poor imitation of sourdough). My kids actually ate it and liked it!

After following Rhonda Jean’s instructions I finally understood her emphasis on needing to feel the dough, to use one’s senses rather than a rigid recipe as a guide. With each loaf I get better at figuring out how much water to use, and how to slightly adjust with water or flour during the kneading process when I don’t get it exactly right from the start. Best of all, it now makes using whole wheat far less intimidating. My previous wheat breads were all heavy – now I know that I just need to add more water to the dough when whole grains are used – forget the recipes and just go by feel. Right now I’m doing half-and-half with whole wheat and organic white flour, but am looking forward to trying other grains such as rye and spelt. I do add gluten flour to all my recipes (Rhonda Jean suggests it even for 100% white flour when starting out, until one gets a good feel for the dough and the process), and so far I’m thrilled with the results.

A big thank you to Rhonda Jean for her wonderful advice. Finally, I can provide my family with delicious, fresh, homemade bread and ditch the store-bought for good!

Categories: Homemaking, know your food, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In Search of Homemade Bread

For many years now I have been trying to provide my family with homemade bread. The stuff from the grocery store is full of preservatives and highly processed ingredients, and wholesome artisan bread is too expensive for the amount we go through each week. Years ago I purchased a breadmaking machine and enjoyed using that for some time. The down side was that it took 3.5 to 4 hours to make a small loaf of bread. Theoretically I’d set it up at night before going to bed, but that didn’t always work out as planned. I’d be too tired and forget. Or, I’d get woken up in the early morning hours by the grinding noise of the breadmaker (life in a small home). Several months ago my breadmaker finally broke when I attempted to make spelt bread. The recipe I was using was obviously faulty and the resulting dough was more like cement. It was so hard to churn that the metal spokes that turned the rotor of the bread machine actually tore off! I decided it was time to try my hand at making it myself.

My next venture was into the Five Minutes a Day breadmaking made popular by the authors’ two books. I tried a basic recipe of theirs from an article in Mother Earth News and decided this was the answer I needed, so I ordered the two books and went out to buy loaf pans. At first I was really happy with the technique: it was easy to mix up a big batch and it didn’t take too long to make bread. I assumed I’d get better with practice, and so tolerated the frequent mistakes. But it didn’t seem to get any easier and eventually the list of “cons” outweighed the “pros”. My kids complained that the bread “tasted funny” and refused to eat it. Even I grew tired of the yeasty smell and taste. The whole schtick behind these books is you get that “sourdough” type flavour with this technique. I like sourdough bread, but not in every loaf I make, and I found the flavour overwhelming in these recipes. I eventually found out that I could cut the yeast way down, which went a long way to getting rid of the taste, but then it also took a lot longer to make the initial batch of bread. Then there was the fact that I didn’t have enough room in my fridge to store the dough (which you make in large batches). I also could not get consistent loaves no matter how often I practiced. One day the loaf would have a good “crumb” (the texture of the inside of the loaf) and the next it would be gooey, hard, or unevenly cooked. The crusts were never soft, even in the soft-crust recipes, and the loaves cooked unevenly. This latter issue is definitely a problem with my ancient oven, but that’s what I’m stuck with right now. I got tired of the kids rejecting my loaves, and of wasting so much good organic flour (the pigs enjoyed it all very much, of course). I stopped trying and we went back to cheap, store-bought bread.

After taking a suitable break from my Five Minutes a Day failure, I felt ready to try my hand at real, old-fashioned breadmaking. The kind where you actually knead the dough. In all my years of making bread I’d never actually done this before, and felt it was time to give it a try. I surfed through YouTube to get some ideas and inspiration. It felt a lot like Googling “gardening” – way too much information and everybody seems to do it differently. I found it rather confusing and overwhelming. One person swore by using a yeast “sponge” rather than proofing yeast, others claim that yeast won’t work without sugar and yet they proof their yeast with just water. Rising times seemed to vary considerably, and when it came to whole grain breads some people didn’t use gluten, which I’ve been told is essential to get any rise from these heavier flours. There were those who knead by hand and those who knead with a mixer (I have a KitchenAid with Dough Hook, but have yet to try it on bread). I decided to start simple.

I found a beginner’s bread recipe in an old copy of Hobby Farm Home I had lying around. I followed the instructions and was very pleased to see things rising as they should, with the correct texture, etc. I was also rather surprised at how little time it took – the first rise was only 1 hour and the second 30 minutes. The bread baked for 30 minutes, so in just over 2 hours I had bread. That’s half the time of machine bread, and the same time as the Five Minutes a Day technique (when you pinch off some ready-made dough you still need to let it rest and rise for 90 minutes before shaping). For a first effort I was pretty pleased with the results. The loaves were on the small side, but the crumb was not bad (could still be fluffier, IMO). It had baked evenly and I had 2 loaves with relatively little effort. Even kneading the dough was not half as hard as I thought it would be.

However, to my surprise the bread still had a yeasty, sour sort of flavour to it and the kids rejected it. I’m not sure what the problem is, but I suspect water may be an issue – we have sulfur in our well water and though I thought I’d used spring water from the store there may have been some well water in the kettle I used to heat the water (I did this meticulously with the Five Minutes recipes but cutting down on the yeast had a much greater effect on taste). I’m going to try the recipe one more time, being careful about the water source and see if that’s the problem. And I may look for recipes that call for less yeast (I use Fleischmann’s, nothing unusual). Otherwise I’m not sure what to do except keep trying recipes until I find one, or a technique, that works for us. Rhonda Jean over at Down to Earth has some great articles about homemade bread so I think I’ll try her recipes next. I’m determined not to be dependent on store-bought bread, especially since my kids eat it by the ton and I want their food to be wholesome and healthy (plus I suspect that they eat so much of it because it contains ingredients that folks crave but that don’t provide much in the way of nutrition). I’ll keep you all posted on my progress.

Categories: Homemaking, know your food, learning, lifestyle, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

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