Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Love Note

Dear God,

I know that strawberries aren't a new invention or anything, but I have to say that after eating fresh berries for a week and then making ice cream with them, I've decided you're a genius. You know, I think the way to this woman's heart might just be through my stomach. So what else am I missing, huh? Are you holding out on me? Are fresh peaches this palatable? Because I always thought they were kinda gross. Like strawberries.


Ms. Lilly

Ice Cream

I hate that I'm posting so sporadically. I'm beset by a pretty harsh apathy lately; I think it's the result of coming home to This Mundane Life after the week of vacation. I've resisted laundry, wanted only to nap in the afternoons and sleep in every morning, and I hope against hope that my love of the kitchen will snap me out of it.

Tonight I marshaled my resources for a second attempt at strawberry ice cream.  Last night's attempts ended in failure when I didn't read the directions carefully enough. I ended up with an expensive, lumpy mess that noone would eat. I fed it to the dog.

Tonight I started over. I had to supplement the cream with some from Kroger; I knew my cream was richer, yellower, and generally better, but it was like looking at the difference between an egg white and an egg yolk.

That's how I feel lately about all the foodstuff in the grocery store. It feels like our Science and Sanitation culture has taken over, and everything should be Properly Sanitized, Whitened, Homogenized. All the eggs in a carton must be brown or white. None of the beautiful blue-green ones I get from my coworker. The cream - heavy cream - was thin, white, and tasteless. I'm bummed that I had to use it in my ice cream.

I won't go off on that rant though. We've been doing pretty well with our home eating. We're still working on the chicken that I roasted Sunday morning with carrots and potatoes and served with the leeks, kale, and mustards. Monday we had black bean burritos, and for lunch, Burgundy and I had the leftover kale/mustard concoction. Last night, I made leek and potato soup, and tonight we had salad (Mark bartered some of his garden herbs for two lettuces on Saturday) and black bean burritos. Mark and I added chicken to ours.

I invited my family over for Easter, but I don't know whether they'll come over or not. Mom said something about going somewhere with Dad for the three-day weekend. I want to try boeuf bourgignon again, this time with the dog firmly locked in his kennel.

The timer's just gone off, telling me I should check in again on my ice cream. I still had 5 pounds of strawberries left, so I've been eating them with my granola. Last night I pureed and strained a couple of pints of them, and tonight I took my second stab at adapting the recipe for raspberry ice cream from Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Fruits. Lord, please let it be good.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Fruits of Our Labor

Tonight the arches of my feet ache so deeply I can nearly taste it. The ache leaves a tang in the back of my mouth. My calves burn, a deep, low smolder echoed in my lower back and shoulders. My neck muscles remain tight, ready for me to find one more thing to do, one more little task.

Mark crawled out of bed at 7:00. Yes, you read that right; my husband the night owl clambered out of bed as the sun himself protested with me to crawl back between the warm sheets. He spent the better part of the next three hours outside in his little garden trimming, clipping, and snipping his herbs into shape.

At 10 he took Burgundy to tutor her student, and I began to gather my wits for the day's to-do list. By 11, Mark had amassed a sorted pile of excess herbs and greens ranging from arugula to lemongrass, and he bagged them all and drove to the farmers' market. By then, I already had cash in hand and waited patiently to pick up my fresh milk and chicken. I have never bought chicken through this person before, and I'm eager to see whether this chicken lives up to Michael Pollan's hype on free-range, local, well-fed chicken.

Next I gathered Marie, who wanted to join Burgundy and me on our day's outing. Burgundy had loaded her typewriter into the car, and after relieving her student of Burgundy's company, we headed downtown to Dromgoole's, a tiny, mom-and-pop, pen and stationary store in Houston's Rice Village. So we began our foray with retail therapy. I bought a beautiful new fountain pen, deep navy and mostly metal with a bladder for ink instead of only a cartridge option. I also bought more notebooks, beautiful notebooks with heavy, thick smooth paper designed for fountain pens and writing. Burgundy left with a new red and black ink cartridge in her [likely] 40's vintage corona typewriter.

From there, we went to a tiny chocolaterie where we spent a really inexcusable amount on truffles. And not the French mushroom kind. No, we spent twelve dollars on four pieces of chocolate. We ate lunch at Star Pizza and proceeded from there to Froberg's Market in Alvin.

I'm so glad we went. We arrived to find scores of people in the fields with their families plucking red, juicy strawberries from row upon row of plants, so we picked up four little buckets and spent the next hour stooped over in the fields abandoning first dignity, then shoes and socks for as many of the berries as we could fit in our buckets. We found that the walking rows in one end of the field were waterlogged and muddy, and into these clearly uninhabitable reaches, less stalwart folk had failed to wander. Thus we plucked nearly 20 pounds of ripe berries without covering more than three planted rows.

We visited with my mother and friends of hers who had come into town to visit briefly for a few minutes before discovering we were late for my father-in-law's birthday dinner. We called to ask for a later start time, which was granted with good grace, and the girls and I left for home.

By the time we bought my FIL's gift (a copy each of The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, books he will love perhaps too much), wrapped it, met them at the restaurant, stopped by Half-Price Books (where I snagged What to Eat by Marion Nestle for $4, thank you very much), we were verging on 9:00 PM.

Back at the house, Burgundy began her studies, Mark showed his parents the latest in his garden, and Marie and I began washing and coring berries. We finished 10 pounds, and I froze 11 pints of sliced and quartered strawberries. By 11 PM, we had 5 remaining berries, so we poured ourselves a bowl each of my homemade vanilla granola, sliced in the strawberries, covered it all with milk, and enjoyed the most decadent midnight snack I could imagine. At that moment, I felt so grateful to the earth for her fruit, to God for his genius design, and to genetics for making sure Burgundy did not want any part of our strawberries.

Now it's half past midnight. Mark's catalogued his garden's contents for me, and he's perusing a large picture book on organic gardening. We each have a glass of Haak Winery's Syrah, and I feel alive, accomplished, and utterly spent.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Can We Live Locally?

Yesterday put hair on my chest.

I finished The Omnivore's Dilemma last night, and it has had a real impact on our eating. We started buying our milk and beef locally over a year ago, though finding a reliable dairy source has been spotty. About three months ago, we found a local woman who makes the three-hour trip to the best dairy I've found: Stryk's Dairy. We buy from her when we can't get out there ourselves.

For beef, we have used Law Ranch in the past, but they only produce beef. Georgia's Ranch meat is available to us, but they are very expensive, I think even more so than Law or Jolie Vue, the only other local meat source of which I know. Yesterday I signed us up for JV's every-other-month meat delivery program, and I'm excited to get our first shipment in April.

Reading TOD opened my eyes to just how spoiled and ignorant I am about food. I did not know meats were seasonal. I still don't know which fruits and vegetables are in season at what times, but I'm starting to educate myself.

And I'm getting really fired up to live only locally. That means living according to the seasons, learning to cook a lot of food that I previously wouldn't deign to cook, much less eat, and learning to be creative in the face of seasonal limits. We eat tomatoes year round; therefore, I will spend the better part of tomato season canning and putting away all forms of tomatoes for all the months that I can't buy them locally. This also means living locally in other ways, too: shopping family owned for office supplies, clothes, and other basics fits right into the same value system.

Yesterday I wanted to serve fish for dinner, so I found a local fish market and bought a pound of beheaded, deveined shrimp for dinner. I supported a local merchant and ate locally. Win!

Meanwhile, kale and leeks are in season, and I have wild mustards growing in the back yard. I wanted to saute these together in olive oil and finish them with white wine. Obviously, olive oil isn't local. However, just 20 or so miles from here, in Santa Fe, Texas, Haak Winery produces a very tasty, very palatable range of wines. I picked up a bottle of white table wine and a bottle of their Syrah. I think that's the first time I've ever volunteered for a second glass of white wine. I haven't tried the Syrah yet. Again, I supported a local merchant (family-owned, Houston-based liquour store Spec's) and a local grower (the winery), and I ate delicious local food.

So I came home with my bounty; Mark picked the mustards, and I washed them and the kale together. I used my new pasta machine to make fettucine (new lesson: if you think it's thin enough, think again), and I chopped the leeks and sauteed them in olive oil, then deglazed the pot with a splash of wine. With the water still clinging to their leaves, I tore in the kale and mustards, poured in the remainder of a cup of wine, then left them to simmer for a few minutes. Simplest, most delicious greens routine EVER.

During a few down moments, I'd chopped a bell pepper with some onion and garlic, and I sauteed these together with the half-pound of shrimp Mark had just finished peeling. I added a couple of cups of chopped tomatoes and a handful of fresh basil and oregano from Mark's garden.

I threw the pasta into a pot full of boiling water, and I let everything meld together for five or six minutes. Finally, I mixed the cooked pasta with the tomato-shrimp saute and served it next to the brilliant, sweet, sharp kale and mustards for the most local meal I've ever made. We washed it down with Haak's excellent white, sweet table wine, and Burgundy pronounced it one of the best meals I've ever made.

Can you tell I'm just beaming with pride?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

This Week, I Want to be a Chef When I Grow Up

Holy cow, how did I make it to Wednesday without posting? Clearly, this isn't my day job.

We made good time on the trip home from Hill Country. We stopped outside of Schulenberg at Stryk's Dairy for more raw milk. I found cream and buttermilk, too, so I'm delighted about that. I have a little under a gallon and a half of raw milk, plus a half-gallon of buttermilk and a quart of cream. I have been waiting a while to pick up enough extra milk to process into cream cheese and yogurt. I'm not sure what to do with the buttermilk. I honestly picked it up mostly because it was $3 for a half-gallon, and I figured I could find something to do with it, even if I just used it for pies.

So if the world out there has any good buttermilk recipes, let me know!

While on vacation, I also picked up a small pasta machine and a frittata pan set. I made a frittata Sunday night using onions and red and green peppers we had in the refrigerator along with parsley, basil, chives, and marjoram from Mark's garden, and I augmented the eggs with a bit of the abundance of raw milk in our refrigerator.

I made another frittata last night, this time attempting to use up some of the kale that my friend Hannah picked up for us at the farmer's market. It's in season right now along with mustards, leeks, brussels sprouts, and lots of other noms. Eighty cents for a HUGE bunch of kale. Anyway, I made the frittata with onions, garlic, marjoram, and some of Stryk's local cheddar cheese. I wanted to add another local, small dairy's goat cheese to it, but it's a spreading more than crumbling cheese, so I left it out.

Tonight I want to use the pasta machine. I figure I'll master the "art" of pasta making using the called-for unbleached all purpose flour first, and once I have it down, I'll begin the trial and error process of converting to my self-ground whole wheat flour. I'll get there, slowly but surely.

Anybody want to guess what book I'm reading right now?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Vacation Day 3 - Adventures of a Snot Junky

First, @($*TWERJGOIW#%)(T&Q#$%)(*#$%@#)(*%@RJGFSDFGJW#$!


There. I feel better having gotten that out of my system. Saturday night, I laid down for bed, and the roof of my mouth started itching. This is a warning sign of an impending allergy attack, so I leapt up, guzzled a glass of water and an allergy pill, and my sinuses promptly exploded in a shower of unwanted, stubborn snot.

Sunday Mark did most of the preparation and packing for our vacation while I moped around, occasionally throwing myself across the couch and moaning, "Oh woe! WOE! Why me? Why now? What have I done to deserve this?" and blowing my nose and wiping my runny eyes.

Mark drove to San Marcos while I knitted, bitched fairly consistently about everything, occasionally wept,  and pouted.

When we arrived in San Marcos at our neighbor's beautiful second home she graciously offered to us, we all unloaded the car while I continued to whine and the snot continued to flow. I collapsed into bed at the first opportunity and cried. Like a big baby. Because I'm on vacation and suffering one of the worst, most painful allergy attacks I've had in years.

In what I'm certain is completely unrelated news, we celebrated Pi day on our arrival by splitting a bottle of Shiner Bock and eating Moon Pies. Burgundy had an orange Fanta.

Monday I managed to drag myself into consciousness long enough to note that I could not stand without dizziness from the congestion, and my ears and throat hurt horrifically. I told Burgundy that it felt like someone was stabbing a needle into my ear. Burgundy and I drove into town, where I called Christi for help. She recommended Zyrtec D. I dropped $23 without hesitation and took one in the parking lot.

We drove to the Prime Outlet Malls for girl shopping time, where I slavered and swore and tried not to drown in my own snot while finding a parking spot.

We shopped. Not as much as Burgundy would have liked and a little too much for my liking, but we both picked up some nice and needed stuff.

Once home, Mark announced that he'd found free venues in Austin. I almost stayed home, but Mark really wanted me to go. We saw a band called Trey Brown at the Mohawk on Red River, and Mark and Burgundy saw a documentary about chip music at Alamo Draft House. By the time it started at 10, I felt fairly certain that my own death by cranial implosion was imminent, so I parked the car, kicked the seat back, and slept until they called to say they were done. I took another Zyrtec on the way home and fell into bed in a heap upon arrival.

I woke several times throughout the night to blow rivers of snot out of my sinuses. Rivers. I'm pretty sure I blew the Amazon out of my nose last night.

This morning I woke at around 9 AM and took another Zyrtec. I made a heavenly quiche this morning chock full of leeks and kale. I downed it with potentially lethal coffee and some revoltingly sweet orange juice. I really wish I had thought to bring my Vitamin C tablets.

Now I'm sitting in the garage, borrowing a neighbor's unlocked wireless and telling you about the amazing adventures of a Snot Mommy.

I'm desperate enough to try my last resort remedy, one that works pretty well but is beyond the pale in terms of its Nasty Factor: 1 table spoon of apple cider vinegar, a bit of water, and some honey. I will drink it, and it will clear my systems - all of them - out. For a little while, anyway.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

I Love Saturday Morning

To begin with, I have nowhere to run. I can make a leisurely breakfast, or I can reheat soup and make cupcakes. I can sit and type, or I can do several loads of dishes. The coffee tastes better. The counters look cleaner. Whatever I do, my progress is of my own choosing, and I feel happy, like Mark's plant, reaching joyfully for the sun.

This morning I made the cupcakes for Burgundy's party tonight, and Burgundy spent a few minutes putting away her books, bags, and props for yesterday's science fair. We really did have soup for breakfast, too.

Last night I made white bean and kale soup with kale I'd bought at the Houston Farmers' Market last Tuesday with Hannah. The recipe, from the absolute must-have book Greens Glorious Greens, is incredibly simple and wonderfully tasty. I omitted the three cups of butternut squash and added extra kale and an extra can of beans. I love butternut squash as much as the next gal, I promise, but I didn't have any on hand and didn't want to leave the house in pursuit of it; not to mention that I'd then have to use the rest of the squash on something. It called for about half a squash. Regardless, it was delicious and fairly intuitive.

Basically, saute onions in olive oil until they're translucent. Add garlic, curry, and cumin and saute for a minute or two longer. Add the beans, reserved bean "stock" plus vegetable stock, fresh marjoram or basil (I used marjoram because it has taken over Mark's garden, choking out everything else he wants to grow including the basil), butternut squash (I think you could also use potatoes or sweet potatoes), and cook it for about 10 minutes. Add the kale and cook an additional 10 minutes.

Honestly, it's a little too late in the year for such a hearty soup, but it tasted so good. Ironically, it felt a little sinful because it was so rich. I suspect my experience has more to do with my body's absolute craving for the nutrients in kale than with the actual taste of the soup. I found myself daydreaming about fish tacos with lightly steamed kale yesterday. I'm sure the family is glad I went for soup instead.

And another recipe. This one is all mine, so I can give you the exact amounts and tell you just how I make it. Except that as with any "all mine" recipe, it's a little bit of whatever I have on hand at the time.

Lentil soup is our go-to meal. Very seriously, this is one of the most important staples of our diet. I rather suspect that kale or mustards would make a really good addition as a throw-in ingredient, so if they're in season where you are, give it a shot and let me know what you think.

Lentil Soup

  • 1 onion
  • Olive oil (I just pour until it looks right. Don't skimp though! I was stunned at the difference it made the first time I used all the oil a recipe called for.)
  • Garlic (1-2 cloves depending on mood, body odor concerns, and general household health)
  • Cumin
  • Parsley
  • Marjoram
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Curry (I've never added this before, but it was amazing in the soup last night, so I'm definitely trying it next time)
  • 5 - 7 Carrots, peeled and roughly sliced. 
  • About a pound of lentils - I buy 25 pounds of lentils at a time, and I don't measure a pound every time I need one. Instead, I have one of those 16 oz plastic Dixie cups that holds just shy of 1 pound of lentils. So I pour one full Dixie cup of lentils into the pot.
  • Chicken or vegetable stock - maybe 6 - 8 cups depending; I eyeball it. I measure 8 cups of water, pour it in until the lentils and veggies are swimming, and figure out how much I added based on how much is left. Then I add the appropriate amount of powdered bouillon.

Saute the onion in the olive oil until it's translucent. Add the garlic and whatever other herbs/spices you want to use and saute another minute or so. Whatever you do, don't go buy a bunch of those spices if you weren't going to use them anyway. I almost never use everything I listed up there. Sometimes it doesn't even get garlic. Just throw in whatever you have. That's just how this soup rolls. A hint: if you're using fresh herbs, don't saute them now. Throw them in with the lentils, water and carrots.

Pour in a bit of the water/stock and use it to deglaze the bottom of the pan. Add the carrots and lentils and pour in the rest of the water/stock (add the bouillon now if you're doing that instead of true stock). Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer until the lentils are tender. Serve over brown rice or over boiled potatoes. Honestly, the brown rice probably is better, and I haven't had it over boiled potatoes. It's just an idea I've had floating around.

This also could be good with leeks (I'd saute them with or instead of the onions and according to my dad, I should omit the garlic), with various dark leafy greens, and it might be good to try the squash or sweet potatoes instead of the carrots. I also occasionally throw in diced tomatoes with the lentils and water if I happen to have a can in the pantry or if I have a couple in the fridge that are about to go bad.

Lentils are incredibly forgiving, so use this as a base recipe and try anything. Let me know what you try and whether it works!
Finally, Mark attacked the back yard this morning and it looks so good. 

As a bonus, we found wild mustard greens growing out there! How exciting is that! Can't wait to serve 'em up with some sauteed leeks and white wine. Yum!

Friday, March 12, 2010

If 2 Days Slip Away, are the Days Slipping?

Or am I avoiding? I rather strongly suspect I'm avoiding. On the other hand, Burgundy didn't get home until nearly 8:00 PM last night what with set up for her science fair. I had my hands tied up in cake batter and Portuguese custard tarts when she came home. By the time she finished her tuba, shower, and getting ready for bed, I had finished the custards, cupcakes, and Swiss buttercream frosting (oh my God, die of rich, buttery, silken heaven right. now). Of course, when we finally sat down to evaluate whether she had all the information she needed to study for her 9-weeks exams that start two days after her return from spring break, it was 9:45 PM. Already 15 minutes late for lights out.

All day today, Burgundy will be at the Houston Science Fair; thus, I made cupcakes. I only made custard tarts because the Swiss buttercream frosting (oh my God, die of rich, buttery, silken heaven) required a cup of egg whites, and I didn't want the yolks to go to waste; the custard requires 6 yolks; the frosting took 7 whites. Match made in heaven. Oh, and wild kudos to Our Best Bites for the frosting and cupcake recipes.

Tonight I was supposed to meet up with some friends at another friend's new place to watch dumb movies, but the host begged off last night. Now I'm trying to decide whether to host it myself or just call the whole thing off. Love the idea of getting together, but I kinda want to be a homebody in advance of our trip to Hill Country.

And in ultimately crappy timing, my employer messed up my paycheck. It was an honest mistake; when they changed my status to be hourly instead of salaried, they calculated my pay based on half my annual part-time salary instead of half my annual full-time salary. The result was half a paycheck two days before we leave for Hill Country. Happily, we have no worries because we work it a la Dave, so we have an emergency fund that can handle the trouble. Meanwhile, the employer is plugging away at fixing the problem, and I should have my paycheck this time next week.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Oh No! The day that slipped away

Well, last night we did not get to work on the room at all. A surprising irony, because Burgundy had nowhere to be and a lot of free time. On the other hand, I had plans to meet up with some friends, and by the time I helped her finish her critical issues (homework, study time, preparing for science fair), Mark had come home. He and I spent a little time together catching up on our day, and my ride arrived before I had a chance to work further with Burgundy.

Meanwhile, I stayed home from work Monday, and we’re traveling next week, so I’ve been working longer hours than usual this week in order to stay caught up. The result is that I’ve only barely stayed on top of my core daily housework: making the bed; doing a load of laundry daily; the dishes, etc. This week I haven’t swept at all. I did vacuum Monday, but I think I need to do that twice a week at minimum. That dog is so nasty.

Our spring break plans are starting to get me fired up (in a good way). We won’t leave until Sunday because Burgundy has Houston-area Science Fair Friday with the awards ceremony Saturday afternoon. I also have a baby shower to attend. I’m making the gifts for her; I can’t wait to see what she thinks. Sunday morning, we’ll load up and head over to San Marcos.
Hill Country always offers a lot of options for us:
  • Shopping in San Marcos (woo outlet mall)
  • Pick your own fruit and vegetable farms
  • Visiting a dairy farm
  • Bike riding
  • South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin
  • Visiting with little brother and his wife in San Antonio
  • Shopping at a couple of “famous” are yarn shops (especially the Tinsmith’s Wife)

I also plan to take my spinning wheel and sewing supplies with me. They’ll take up a lot of space, but I am really excited about early-morning spinning on the front porch. I never get to spin anymore, and I have several batts I can’t wait to spin.

As for the sewing machine and supplies, I have five “vintage” style patterns that I’ve wanted to glom together for a while. I have several different bodice options and only one real skirt option. I don’t like skirt and blouse combinations because skirt bands pinch and blouses ride up; I want to make a dress.

I plan to modify a blouse pattern to use the neckline and collar from a reproduction mid-20th century apron pattern. I then plan to modify that blouse pattern with the bodice pattern I like from a reproduction 60s dress pattern and to integrate the resulting bodice with the skirt pattern from a second reproduction 60s dress pattern for a final result dress that actually fits me. The bodice will take the longest because I’m short-shouldered with a large bust and a long waist. I’ll have significant modifications.

Happily, I have a plethora of fabric that I will never, ever wear. It is cotton, country (in the worst possible way), and screams, “Look at me! I’m homemade!” So I’ll use that fabric to tweak everything to perfection, and once I love the dress and the way it fits, I’ll go to fabric stores until I find the perfect fabric to make exactly what I want.

Tonight I have to make cupcakes and find time to work with Burgundy on her room. And I really need to vacuum and sweep. Happily, I will be able to leave work at 2:00 or so; that should give me plenty of time to get everything done.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

On the Second Day of Clutter . . .

Today we began boxing stuff up. The most difficult part is staying on task. Our job right now is not to sort, judge value, or purge her collections. We simply are putting like items into a box and labeling it. Easier said than done.

We started with scrapbooking supplies, which filled two boxes and her rolling case from Michael's. These include paper, stickers, markers, photos, notes from middle school, movie stubs, you name it. She did a very good job of handing things over and simply filing them in the appropriate box. With one stack she said, "Mom, this is very expensive stuff. Set it aside until I find a protective sleeve." Pardon me while I chuckle with a mix of pride and pretention. Would that be a chortle?

The bookshelves proved much easier even though we're not done with them yet. She identified four books she wants in the guest room, so we brought those in. The remaining have filled two boxes already with a fair remainder littering her bed.

In the final three minutes of last night's 30 minutes, we cleared most of her dresser simply by heaping her jewelry and assorted small boxes into one shoebox. We felt we'd run a marathon, but looking around the room, it appears we barely made a dent. That's okay, though. Slow and steady does the trick.

I think one of the most difficult aspects of this project is figuring out how to fit it into the rest of our busy schedule. For example, look at what yesterday was supposed to be:

All the stuff in red is Burgundy's commitments. In blue are mine and Mark's. Burgundy can't drive yet. Ugh.

Fortunately, her sectionals (uppermost red section) were cancelled, allowing her much more time to do homework and catch up on studying. Everything else stayed the same, but it felt a little less crazed.

Finally, I want her to start now with establishing routines. I see three major "conversion times" in her day where routines should be implemented: morning, afternoon upon returning from school, and evening before bed.

Morning:  This routine is pretty well in place, but not intentionally, and the bed usually doesn't get made.
  • Make bed
  • Get dressed to the shoes/hair/makeup
  • Eat breakfast/make lunch
Afternoon:  Right now she leaves a trail of dropped belongings throughout the house and does whatever homework she remembers once she's had a snack (trailing crumbs through the house).
  • Put away books and purse in bedroom on shelf
  • 15 minutes free time
  • Calendar review/organize task list
  • Homework 
  • 15 minutes straightening room, putting away clothes, preparing school stuff for tomorrow
  • Personal hygiene
  • Lay out clothes for tomorrow
  • If there's time, spend a few minutes journaling or reading; this is time to wind down and relax
Today we'll go back into the room and continue our excavation. Here are photos of the room after last night's efforts. I'm going to try to post daily room photos so we can watch it progress in retrospect.
View of the doorway from the bed.

Proceeding to the right.

And the closet

The book-laden bed

The window

The scrapbooking corner

And the desk with a better view of the scrapbooking corner

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

And on the First Day . . .

We spent the full hour trying to get her settled into the guest room. Not counting the time I spent before she came home rearranging the furniture nor the time I spent after our time together finishing her bed or putting up the robe hook on the door.

The makeup, jewelry, and hair supplies alone took up 15 minutes. I admit that I allowed us to get sidetracked detangling necklaces from the Jewelry Box of Doom. We spent the bulk of the time on clothes. I really wanted her to carefully think about how she set up the room. For example, she likes her clothes to hang, but she doesn't have time to hang them. I fold them fresh out of the dryer, so why not keep them in a drawer instead? For those that do hang, how much do you really need? How do you address crowding in the closet?

Then there are the shoes. Holy heavens, the shoes. I don't understand why anyone needs the vast cornucopia of shoes this child enjoys. She's no Imelda Marcos, but it's still kind of ridiculous. Four pairs of tennies? Three of them Converse-style fold-tops?

All the same, we worked our way through it, and Burgundy now is installed in the guest bedroom comfortably and with a view to routine. Unfortunately, between studying for a major test today, finishing homework, and her tuba lesson, she didn't get in bed until almost 10. On the upside, for the first time in ages, she was able to sleep almost immediately.

I got up with her this morning and walked through her routine with her. She seems to have a pretty solid routine, but she needs to work on efficiency. Hopefully later today I can post before pictures and an after panoramic of the guest room she's living in. I didn't re-hang the curtains, but they don't match the horrible pink walls anyway. I briefly considered repainting the room, but I reminded myself in safe time that it's Burgundy's room, not the guest room, that we're trying to perfect.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Before the Storm: Plotting and Planning

Today I will do two things: First, I will show you Burgundy's current bedroom state. Warning: This is not pretty. For starters, remarkable though she is, Burgundy is a teenager, and the state of her room reflects that. There is a crap-ton of stuff in her room, most of it where it should not be. Second, I will lay out our plan to reset her room to something usable.

First, the view from the doorway. I'm not going to give you individual commentary on every photo. Instead, just note the general lack of organization, the liquor-box-based storage system, the haphazard attempts at creating a cohesive look universally marred by half-finished projects and too much hobby paraphernalia. The pictures begin at the doorway and proceed from that view moving to the right all the way around the room.

I honestly have no idea why I expect her to be able to function well in this room. I get  a little panicky and out of control feeling just taking the pictures. And she has to live in this to manage her schoolwork, band plans, Girl Scout projects, and drama/choir endeavors at the church. Poor kid.

We're only going to work on this for 30 minutes to 1 hour per day. We're doing it slowly for a variety of reasons. First, I don't want either one of us to burn out. Second, she has a heavy school workload, and I want her to have breathing time in the evenings between or after the school and bedroom work. Third,  I've identified inadequate sleep as a major part of Burgundy's attention and organization issues. I want her in bed by 9:00 with lights out by 9:30. That means we have to wrap up our day - dinner, dishes, housework, homework, and self-care - by 8:30. That's a lot of work to pack into afternoon and evening.

So this is how the plan will shake out day by day:

Perform a bare-necessities assessment of what she needs to function day to day. Things like makeup, pajamas, her few favorite bottoms and tops will be moved into the guest room for the next couple of weeks. That room also has been gutted of distractions and extras to make way for Burgundy to simply function while we work on her room. It currently has a bed, a desk, a bookshelf (mostly empty), a dresser with mirror, and an antique chest of drawers. I will rehang the curtains that Julia took down, and I might spend a few minutes with Burgundy rearranging the room to meet her needs.

Bring in and set up multiple small U-Haul boxes. Very carefully begin sorting her stuff into these. Wall hangings in one box, books in another box, stuff she needs to give back to other people in another box, clothes she wears in another, and clothes she doesn't wear in another, etc. Each box will be clearly labeled and stored in the hall linen closet with the label facing out. I don't know how long this step will take, but I am committed to removing everything from the room in an organized, controlled way. I don't want precious photos to get thrown out with unwanted scrapbooking supplies, so the real goal of this is to organize the clutter in a way that will allow us to carefully sort through it later. Because this step could take two days and could take ten, I'm calling it Tuesday - Thursday, but it could be over sooner or take longer.

Friday (or whenever the room is reduced to furniture only):
Perform an assessment of existing room setup, including furniture. Make any reasonable repairs (e.g., the gap between drawers in Burgundy's long dresser seen in photo above), assess what furniture needs to be replaced including the expected cost and practicality of replacement. For example, Burgundy wants a Murphy bed and has for some time. I have plans for one and think I could make it without too much trouble; however, I expect it to cost a couple hundred dollars. While $200 isn't much, I'm not sure we want to spend that money right now.  The assessment also should evaluate what works and does not work for Burgundy. We'll do this using the guidelines laid out in Julie Morgenstern's Organizing from the Inside Out. I think I'll write a full review of the book later. It's a very good book.

At this point, we'll implement the findings from OftIO where it's practical in Burgundy's guest room. Does she need better lighting? More bookshelf space? A file drawer at hand?

With assessment in hand, I will sit with Mark and look at whether and how we can replace or upgrade any of Burgundy's furniture. The assessment also should include a map of Burgundy's room, to scale, with to-scale furniture cut-outs. She and I will work together to decide how best to place the furniture in the room to optimize space and promote organization. This might involve buying smaller furniture, though I doubt it.

Saturday (or after completion of furniture assessment):
Do whatever shopping needs done. Likely a trip to Ikea at minimum. This almost always takes two hours, so if I only go shopping and call it a day, I'll consider this task a success. If it does fall on a Saturday and I'm not too pooped at the end of the trip, I'll come home and engage the furniture assembly/disassembly process.

This is my goal for the first week of work, and this is where I see potential for it all to go to hell in a hand basket. At the end of next week, we leave for a spring break Hill Country trip, so I will simply describe the rest of this in steps.

Step 5: Complete furniture assembly. Place in room using the completed room map as a guide. Ensure Burgundy is pleased with the final layout. Make any necessary adjustments.

Step 6: Move Burgundy and her bare essentials back into her room. Have her live in the room with only these essentials for two - four weeks. Take note of any needed adjustments in the written assessment we completed earlier. Of course, we'll make the adjustments in real life, too, but I suspect the plan will be very useful to Burgundy later in life. I intend for her to keep it.

Step 7: Once we've gone at least a week, maybe longer, without making any adjustments, we'll begin going through the boxes. We'll evaluate each item that comes out of each box. Love it? Hate it? Hate it but need it? How to deal with these items will be driven by the plan. When we open the wall decorations box and put them back on the wall, we'll take a week to evaluate. Are they distracting her from school work? Do they soothe her at night? Did she decide to keep something that, once on the wall, makes her cringe?

Each thing will be an intentional decision. The whole process will happen slowly and step 7 could take months. But I think it's a very important step to teaching Burgundy to honor herself exactly as God has created her by taking care of her mind and body through her environment.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I'm back. And Moving on.

Oh, Internet. You make me crazy, you know that? Who would have thought I could feel an obligation to essentially imaginary personalities on the internet?

I'm sorry I haven't posted. I've wanted to but have been unable to figure out how to communicate things. I've decided on a bulleted update format. I would love to discuss each major happening in detail, but it's not really practical. After all, this is the Internet.

  1. Julia moved out last Sunday. She still lives in the community with another family. We don't know them. Ultimately, I think we made the right decision, but it was heart-wrenching. 
  2. We're still having some pretty significant family issues, but we're working through them.
  3. Mark just celebrated his 35th birthday. Happy birthday, Mark!
  4. The house is coming along nicely. It's stayed more or less the same, although I did finish rearranging the living room. Given the level of chaos in our lives lately, staying the same is quite a feat.
  5. Tonight is the final performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at our church. 
After tonight's performance, we're putting Burgundy into the spare bedroom for the next couple of weeks while we gut Burgundy's room of stuff and get her a fresh start. Her room is a pained amalgamation of 14 years of sentimentality. Enough is enough. I don't even want her living in there while we do it. This effort will be the focus of my blog for the next couple of weeks.