Monday, October 16, 2017

The Trailer


I am sorry I have disappeared off the face of the Earth like that.

Like most trailers that have been parked (as this one is in a trailer park) there's an addition built on to the side of the trailer proper. This one has three rooms, shotgun style. This is the first one, the entry.

I have been so busy I can barely breathe.

This is the second. We call this the bonus room. It is wired for a television cable. The junction box identifies it as the den. I have since painted the ceiling.

It started in mid-July with my Mom getting pneumonia--for the third time in the last twelve months. When she was released from hospital she was highly motivated to declutter and clear out her house. The doctors had also prescribed quite a high dose of prednisone to keep her lungs clear--and she used the energy and clear headedness it gave her to make the million and one decisions necessary. She asked me to help.

This is the third room, the "back bedroom." My sister's three year old son had this room. There was a lot of marker on the walls, the door and trim. I've painted the room, and door since this photo was taken.

I jumped.

Back at the entry, looking into the kitchen. 


We made excellent progress. It was all quite exciting and wonderful (we decluttered the living room and threw out masses of dvds and cds and I painted the room. We turned to the upstairs bathroom and tossed mountains of bath products and towels and I painted the room and the vanity and we reorganized closets (and I painted them, of course) and put up cupboards and shelves and painted some more....when suddenly, we had to stop.

The kitchen and the living room/dining room are essentially one big room. That's not"wallpaper" in the kitchen. Those are pre-printed wall panels. 


As the prednisone dose was being lowered to wean my Mom's body off of it--my sister broke up with her husband and left the house trailer she'd been living in with her two small children. They had been three months behind in rent to my Mom. They left a lot behind. I didn't understand the extent of it and welcomed a few weeks to myself as I let Mom sort things out.

Living/Dining from the kitchen

Living/Dining from the Living room window. It is not your imagination.The walls are different. 


But I was alarmed at the amount of things coming from the trailer into my mother's house every single day. And then as the leaves on the trees were turning, I realised Mom could not handle it herself. Breathing became more and more difficult. She started moving more slowly. She needed naps.

The hallway to the rest of the trailer. The walls are different, here too. 

So, I jumped.

This is the "first" bedroom. I have since repainted it. The door leads to the bathroom.


I have spent every single spare moment I have over there packing things up, sorting things into piles of garbage, recyclables, and donations. On my journey home (it's a half hour each way) I've been delivering an entire jeep stuffed full of things to Value Village. Today, I realized we've been cleaning up after my sister (and her family) for six solid weeks. I've painted two rooms and a door. Tomorrow, I paint a ceiling. We've replaced light fixtures, we've had to purchase curtain rods and blinds (my sister took those) and I still need to install them.

The bathroom has been updated by previous owners: but the layout is odd. The tub is opposite the toilet. The entry from the hallway is opposite the vanity at the foot of the tub.


We skipped Thanksgiving this year, too, so we could clean out the shed.

The laundry room is in the hallway outside the bathroom (the tub is right behind the machines) and main bedroom. Yes, they left a small load laundry in the hamper.

These pictures were taken when we had it almost ready for the cleaners at the beginning of October. Our plan is to rent it out for a while, at least a year, and then use those funds to spiff it up and sell it. Meanwhile, I have a lot to learn about how house trailers are constructed and how we can install an Ikea kitchen.

The main bedroom. It was renovated, (The ceiling is drywall and not the usual drop panel affair. There is no door.) The bed was left behind with no way to take it down. We're hoping the good folks at Ikea can advise us and give us the appropriate allen keys. 


Looking back down the hallway to the kitchen/dining room. The door on the right goes outside to a nice little deck.


Friday, August 25, 2017

UnCluttered: Another Round Begins



Twelve weeks is a long time.

When I started the spring session of the course, we were working on the downstairs bathroom. My house was in utter chaos.


I didn't consider this cluttered, however. It was messy, yes, but everything out was either because of projects related to the bathroom or because it was just part of the ebb and flow of everyday life.

Oddly enough, when I decluttered, I chiefly ignored the main rooms of my house (except when told to do otherwise) and concentrated my efforts elsewhere right up until the final week when I finally woke up, had a look around and decided that everyday mess was clutter and needed to be addressed.

I'm happy to say it only took me a couple of hardworking days to get things in order. That felt like a kind of vindication. My goal is to keep the house "10 minutes to company ready." I'm not quite there, yet!


DECLUTTERING

When I started the course, I questioned whether or not I "needed" to get rid of any more stuff. But I kept finding stuff I could let go of!

The way the course is structured, there are six weeks of decluttering. I vowed to have something for each of those weeks. I almost made it.

Donations from the first run through the basement:


 Bedroom week:




The homeschool stuff:


Consider these four boxes for just a second. These four unassuming boxes held more than well loved homeschooling curriculuum. They held hopes. Dreams. A few realised, a few not. They were cherished. But they were no good to anyone sitting in my basement.

One of the things that makes this course so great--and different from other decluttering programs, is the shift in perspective from "me and my stuff" to "could this be useful to someone else?" It's subtle but profound and it happened to me when I considered the homeschooling stuff. I'd thought I'd sell it. But then someone suggested finding someone who may need it. So I did that. I found someone--and I was thrilled my stuff --still valuable--still meaningful-- could truly go and bless someone else.


Wardrobe Week:



Kitchen Week:



Declutter "a common area" week.


I started losing a bit of steam, here. We shifted our attention away from decluttering and towards establishing clutter-free habits. So, for decluttering, I turned my attention to some dead easy stuff outside.

The garage: These boxes had been here for probably two years or more. Ridiculous. Nothing more than forgetfulness and lack of intention.



The playhouse. My youngest will be 17 in a few weeks! We have not needed any of this stuff in a long, long time.





I am extraordinarily proud of all I accomplished in the basement. Especially this little area:




Decluttering gives me a sense of control over my surroundings. I am hoping to transfer that over into housekeeping.

I also cleared out areas not specifically "assigned" like the freezer:




and my inbox.




As a result of doing my inbox, I decided to pursue replacing some Canada Savings Bonds I had purchased before I was married. I'd lost my copies of the bonds, so I put the wheels in motion to replace and redeem them (since they matured about a year ago). I'd tried handling it a few years ago but got bogged down in the process. (At that time, I was able to call and have them re-invested.) So, there should be a tidy sum coming my way in a few weeks.


HABITS

Joshua assigns the first habit: clean up the kitchen before bed! I did well the first week and then it all fell apart. I jumped into Uber Frugal Month which required a lot of planning and food prep right at the start of the month. Doesn't matter. I shifted my focus. I lost my intention--and the kitchen turned into a disaster area again very quickly.

It's taken me a while, as I mentioned above, but my second habit is to pick up the house for 10 minutes every day. Set the timer and go. It's the only way to stay clutter free!


EXPERIMENTS

Again, Joshua assigns the first one: try out Courtney Carver's 333 wardrobe experiment for three weeks (not 3 months as Courtney advocates.)

I had a really difficult time wrapping my head around this one--not because I have too many clothes, but the opposite. I may have less than 33 items--depending on how you count them.  And I discovered, I am profoundly uninterested in counting my clothes.

A pair of capris I bought during the course. 


We were to experiment with simplifying other aspects of our lives. I chose to cut our grocery bill in half for the month of July. That wasn't exactly a challenge which simplified my life....but it did help me pay down some of our debt!

A few meals made "ahead." Life savers.


YOUR TURN!

The whole twelve weeks was an extraordinarily positive adventure. At one point, I actually wondered why I signed up--surely I was "decluttered." Turns out--not quite!

And it's not about decluttering anyway. Decluttering is simply a means to the end. What end? Whatever you decide. You get to choose. Your stuff, your life, your adventure.

My adventure includes mason jar Chicken Cesar salads! 


I'd love to have you join me and all my (Uncluttered) facebook friends. Registration is open only until September 3rd.

 Follow this link: Uncluttered: The Course and use the coupon code FF25 for 25% off. (Not an affiliate link.)

I'd be thrilled to see you there.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Basement, Oh The Basement!



The Uncluttered course is now complete. I've a few posts left to write to wrap up my experience. In short, it was a wonderful experience and I am thankful I did it. The next round is Sept 5th. I'll have a discount code for you around the end of August! I plan to take it again, (hopefully, with my mom).

But first --my crowning achievement-- the basement!

As the weeks went by, the basement just got better and better. No matter what area upstairs we were focusing on in the course, I would come down here and work. Things which had survived many past purges got taken upstairs and taken away. I am absolutely thrilled.

I started my decluttering for the course down here. And that means pictures! Before and afters! My favourite.

The view from the bottom of the stairs looking at the back wall:


From left to right: The white shelf unit held home decor items and the last of the homeschooling books. I donated them to a lovely woman who had lost a lifetime of homeschooling books and supplies in a devastating house fire last year.

With some space freed up, I put a few dishes down here from the kitchen clear out to see if we can live without them.

Those blankets are protecting our new windows for the bedrooms upstairs. We will save some money by staining, varnishing and installing them ourselves.

The pine dresser and the black shelving unit hold various scrapbooking supplies.

There's my exercise ball and underneath it, my 12"/1" miniature townhouse. I am not sure whether I will ever finish it.

To the right, out of frame is my husband's workshop. I don't touch it--or photograph it. That's totally his domain! But I am happy to say it is in relatively good shape.

To the left is the Wall o' Shelves.

Some cubbies I decluttered, others I left alone. I went through the bins of fabric and home decor. I didn't touch the memorabilia. I also left the photos alone: but I have a project in mind that once I'm done will see more than half --and dare I hope? 75%-- of those photo boxes gone.

I would like to pare down our luggage, too, but I doubt my husband would agree.

(No, the table is not longer. I turned it lengthwise to make more room for our bags of recycling (blue) and bottles and cans (clear).)

Turn left again and you're in the "game room." I did ask the boy whether we could get rid of this TV (and some of the Lego pieces) but he said, "no," even though the Xbox is now upstairs (and very infrequently played. Still, he and his father still enjoy a game from time to time.)


I made room for this piano. It's well-traveled! It belongs to my Mom. We borrowed it for years and it had pride of place in the living room while the kids took lessons. When the lessons were finished, we returned it to my Mom. A few months ago, we took it back when Emma said she wanted it in her room. No sooner did we haul it over and all the way upstairs when she declared it "too big" (it was) and she wanted it out. I doubt anyone will ever play it again but Mom is not ready to let it go (and be useful to someone else) so I'll store it here for a while.



Isn't that cozy? The picture over the piano used to be in the living room. It is one of the first things Chris and I ever bought together. I'm glad it is on disply again. That's the flooring leftover from the bathroom. We had to buy an an ginormous piece of it. 

Going through some art I had stored on top of the wall o' shelves, I came across a few pieces Ben had done when he was around four or five. I'd gone to the trouble to frame them way back when, so I decided to hang them in here with a few other pieces I found. After all, if we were going to keep it, we may as well enjoy it!

I am still struggling to put into words the uniqueness--or the difference, if you will--between this decluttering program and others I've participated in. As I went through my buckets and bins and shelves the interior monologue was something like this: "Am I using this stuff? No? Why hang on to it then? Could someone else get value from it?" And I think the difference I am seeking is right there in that last sentence. There was a whole lot of awareness for me of other people and how they may be blessed with my things. Decluttering became this huge act of giving. And so it was easy --and fun!

And then there's the laundry room:

and look at that: stuff in the donation station! I'll take that out Tuesday. I wonder if I can scrounge some more to go with it? I bet I can!


Aaaaaand, last but not least, the area beside the stairs: the painting supplies.

aaah, that's so much better!


Of course, I am under no delusion that this is it, that for once and for all, the basement is done! No. Things change. And when they do, stuff comes down here to die. So, it will get cluttered up again, I suspect. But you bet I will enjoy all this space as long as I can!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Make Ahead Meals: Bye bye Pizza Night



The Set Up

A long, long time ago, I used to plan all of our suppers for the month. This was so I could shop for all of the meat and pantry items we needed during Safeway's Customer Appreciation Day. We would get 10% off the entire grocery bill. Now it's 15% and I'm even more interested in saving money than I was then, so I sat down earlier this week and planned two weeks plus everything we needed for the Make Ahead Meals. (All of our other shopping trips will be at other grocery stores so I can compare prices.)

The Rationale

It's summer. And while I normally love to cook, I am not a fan of spending any more time than absolutely necessary near hot things--like a stove--when it's summertime.

Eating out--or, more likely in our case, ordering out is expensive. And it doesn't help my waistline, either! So, the only way to beat the heat, save time (and money) and stay mean and lean--is--you guessed it--to make meals I can re-heat quickly or throw in the crockpot.

Because I am an excessive planner, I sat down with my work schedule and figured out how many of these meals I'd actually need--and then I doubled it (sort of).

The Recipes




Lentil Butternut Squash Curry x2
Cilantro Lime Chicken x2
Slow Cooker Turkey and Black Bean Chili x2
Mediterranean Eggplant x1
Spicy Peanut Chicken x2
8 hamburger patties

We've eaten all but the Spicy Peanut Chicken before. That one is from a recipe I found in a book from the library. Any Peanut Chicken recipe would do, really, as it is essentially cooking the meal and the freezing it, just as you would left-overs. The rest of the MAMs are all assembled, frozen, and then thawed and dumped into a slow cooker. Easy peasy.

The Assembly

"I made thirty meals in four hours--and then I didn't dread dinner-time any more."
Most blogs are full of cheerful statements like this one.
Not this one.

I may never set foot in my kitchen again.

I set everything up (well, what I thought was everything) and began. I honestly expected I would be able to chop and assemble everything the same day. I had only one small problem--I needed black beans-- but I hadn't cooked them yet. And then I realised I didn't have enough spices for everything. I had to make a late night run to Walmart for paprika, chili powder, and parsley flakes. Of all the stupid things.



This shows them after they'd soaked for a couple of hours. I put them on the boil while I chopped the squash.

The squash nearly killed me. It seemed I chopped forever. And of course, I had to make dinner, too.
At the end of Day 1, I'd made only two of my recipes. Just before bed, I realised I needed to cook even more black beans.



On Day 2, I was pretty anxious to get the meat based meals out of the fridge and into the freezer. I took the beans I'd soaked overnight and started cooking them. As I had to leave for work at 5pm, I'd also planned a crock pot meal for supper with some really old chicken backs I'd found while doing my freezer inventory. Thawing and deboning those took a solid hour. So, after about three hours in the kitchen...with temperatures rising by the hour.... I'd managed to make only one of my Make Ahead Meals, the slow cooker Turkey and Black Bean Chili (which is awesome, by the way).


The third Day I was desperate to get the remaining chicken breasts and ground beef into the freezer. The Spicy peanut stir fry was time consuming, but very simple.



The burgers were messy--but also simple. Apparently, the key to homemade burgers is not to man handle the ground meat too much--and to dimple the center of each patty. My husband was quite disappointed we weren't having any for dinner that night.




Finally, finally, late today I made the Mediterranean Eggplant.



So, now I am all set for those night's when I am not home to cook--and the morning's are too rushed to make anything.

Bye bye, pizza night.


More MAM's:

New Leaf Wellness has several recipes and free batch cooking/assembly instructions.

5 Dinners 1 Hour is a batch cooking meal plan site. There are some recipes for free.

Thirty Handmade Days has quite a few original recipes. Looking forward to trying them.

Once a Month Meals is another meal plan site. All the meals are freezable, though. I tried a few of their free plans but didn't really like it. I also found the way they constructed the prep lists confusing.

Happy Money Saver Mom has many different kinds of Make Ahead Freezer meals, including some that can go into the crock pot.

Self Magazine has some really delish looking MAMs for the crockpot.

eta from the comments: Living Well Spending Less has an 11 part series, each one with five recipes made twice for freezer to crockpot cooking. I'm linking to Part 11 as it has all the previous parts linked on the page. (Thanks Marie!)


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Musical Fruit: Saving on the Grocery Bill.




Our single largest expense, by far, each month is our grocery bill. It eats up about 15% of our income--net income. That is more than we should be spending--even given the higher price of food in Canada. (source)

So, one of the first pieces of advice you get when you ask "how can I save money on my grocery bill?" is "Buy dried beans. Not canned!" But how much do you save, soaking, cooking and freezing your own?

And so, needing kidney beans and chick peas (alias garbanzo beans), I bought a two pound bag of each.

I was so excited about cooking my chick peas, I forgot to get a picture!


I asked Google how to cook them, and ever helpful, it offered me several methods. I portioned out a pound. Then, I chose to rinse them, boil them for 10 minutes on medium, change the water and then bring them back to a low simmer until they were done. (I tasted them.) I was anxious to get this done.

Then, I carefully measured them out into a pint mason jar (in the past, I figured out that a pint holds the same amount as the cans I usually buy.)



I would have preferred to freeze them in the jars, but I don't have enough.



I got 3 "cans" from one pound.

So. The bag of chickpeas cost me $3.39 at Safeway.

Assuming I'll get the equivalent of 6 "cans" of beans this way, each "can" costs $0.56 1/2

I made sure to price check the can of chickpeas I usually buy. They were $1.79 at Safeway. That seems like lot.  (I rarely, if ever, buy them at regular price, though. I usually get them on sale and stock up.)

So, my "homemade" beans are 1/3 the price.

An instant 66% savings on our grocery bill!

I wish all of it could be that simple.
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