A plethora of preparations

Very long day again, largely filled with home and family things.

We are fortunate enough to have a cleaning service come to clean our house every other week, which helps us fight back the chaos. We typically spend quite a bit of time before they come decluttering and organizing, basically trying to expose surfaces that potentially could be cleaned. To make things less stressful on both the people who come into the house and on the dog (who is very anxious), we get ourselves out of the way when they come. For the last couple years, at least since the pandemic, the tradition when the kids have been home has been to bundle us all into the car, and then go to the Starbucks drive-through in a nearby town. (Before the pandemic, Brodie would go to doggie daycare and John and I would typically go to work. But this stopped when quarantine shut everything down. The doggy daycare presumably reopened after not too much time, but we didn’t get back into that pattern. And now Brodie hasn’t been socializing enough with other dogs to manage that kind of thing. He didn’t really like it that much in the first place, but it was good to get him to socialize with other dogs. But I digress.)

Brodie in the morning, biting a poofy platypus.

Anyhow, the morning was spent cleaning and organizing, then we had the brief excursion, and then back to the house for more preparations. I’m still trying to find the dining room table, which I believe to be the surface under the months worth of accumulation of papers and other work and project-related items.

A freshly cleaned sink with an appealingly-arrayed assortment of glassware.

Phoebe then had a couple of friends coming over, so we all took Covid tests to make sure we were safe. (Of the friends has a medically vulnerable family member.) Then I walked Brodie again around 3:30. (Afternoon walks have to get earlier and earlier, as the sun sets a little after 4 now.)

Brodie looking majestic in the golden glow of the setting sun.

More cleaning and organizing followed. Then dinner (take-out, happily), and then food prep for tomorrow. Various vegetables were washed and cut, and I made my traditional pumpkin custard. (Effectively a crustless dairy-free pumpkin pie.) My mom and the kids helped with lots of the vegetable tasks. Tomorrow will involve more cooking and food preparation, and the final push to make the dining room presentable for guests. (Happily, the friends who are coming know us and our home well enough that they won’t be too alarmed the by a bit of clutter. Or more than a bit of clutter, as the case may be.)

Pumpkin custard, fresh from the oven.

The other big task that needs to happen this week (by the time the post office closes on Friday) is the writing of another 80 or so postcards to Georgia. As is my way, I committed to the sending of a lot of handwritten postcards. After the Georgia runoff was announced, a couple of my friends contacted me expressing interested in writing cards for the runoff. When I was in DC (actually, having a rest on a bench in the National Gallery), I got an email with details on a project with a mailing deadline of 11/25. I optimistically signed up for 500 addresses. I contacted the 2 friends who’d first expressed interest, and then reached out to more people. I got permission from the group organizing the postcards to get mailing addresses printed, and very quickly the 500 addresses were claimed. So I requested more addresses. And then I reached out to more people, and requested more addresses. I spent quite a bit of time over the last couple of weeks printing labels, assembling packets, contacting people, and doing a few deliveries. In the end, I requested a total of 1150 addresses, and distributed 1040 of them to friends and acquaintances. Which is a lot, and fantastic. But, if you do the math, that leaves a not insignificant number for me to get written. Happily, my mom is lending a hand with the hand-writing, and I plan to recruit others in the household as well. Maybe even after the feast tomorrow.

A postcard penned with an intermediate level of care. The writing isn’t my neatest, but I drew a peach. Not all 110 will get peaches. But I do enjoy drawing the peaches!

Off to bed for me now, as tomorrow will be a full day.

pie are square (and other pumpkin tidbits)

This year, our Thanksgiving will be a smaller affair. While we’ve never had a particularly big gathering, we have traditionally shared the day with at least one other household. For years, we would always go down to my in-laws’ house. More recently, we started having Thanksgiving at home, and my mother-in-law would join us. Then we started having over a friend of mine and her two sons. There have also been years when my mother has visited, and one year (4 years ago), when my sister and nephews also visited in addition to my mother. That was our biggest gathering, with a total of 12 people.

This year, our number will just be the 4 humans who live in our house, plus our doggo. The plan is still to have most of our usual feast items, but maybe in slightly smaller quantities. (Although it is possible that we will still have copious quantities of potatoes. You know how I hate the thought of being short on potatoes.) One standard we have is a pumpkin custard that I make, which is basically a dairy-free pumpkin pie without the crust. I can’t remember when or why I started making it without the shell, but it works for us. And I typically bake it in a square pan. Which reminds me of the old “pie are round, son” joke. (You can find a version of the joke here, which was possibly my first Pi Day post, from 2008.)

On other pumpkin related topics, here Theo and I put together a fall display on our breakfast nook table. I have a growing collection of glass pumpkins, plus we have a few other decorative pumpkins of other materials. Then the CSA I’ve been participating in this year provided me with some rather pretty squashes. And then we joked about all the varieties of pumpkin in our display, so decided we should add the canned pumpkin, too. And then the goofy jack-o-lantern bucket.

And just because, here’s one more pumpkin photo.

Brodie, our doggo, sniffing one of our Halloween pumpkins. (Before the pumpkins collapsed and had to be sent off into the woods.)

daily bloggin’, no foolin’

I have decided to post every day this month, and I am totally not making an April Fool’s Day joke. I considered writing some sort of funny post for today, but I didn’t. I did, however, enjoy playing a few jokes on the kids, who were very excited about the whole thing. This is the breakfast that I had ready for them when they came downstairs:

A wholesome bowl of wooden blocks, with a side of crunchy raw new potatoes, and a glass of fresh-squeezed rainbow loom bands.

This is going to be a busy month for work/school, getting ready for a couple of conferences coming up in May. I have also decided to try a month-long home organization project called The Subtraction Project. The decision to blog daily this month is because I just really want to. I still have a lot of stories I want to get out of my system, and pictures I just want to put out there. (You can expect to see some photos of ice from my extensive collection. And seeing as it looks like the spring weather has arrived, there will probably be flowers.)

Quick Home Organization Projects from American Hovel Magazine (with before and after photos!)

It’s been some time since I’ve posted content from American Hovel Magazine, the magazine dedicated to lowering neatness standards in the American home. The publishers have graciously granted me permission to reproduce one of the features from the upcoming June, 2013 edition.¹

Quick Home Organization Projects
Other popular home magazines are full of helpful hints on getting organized and staying clutter-free. The photos from these beautiful homes suggest lives of calm and beauty in which calm and beautiful people live and exude calm and beauty from their very pores.

People who live with Real Families and Real Clutter™, however, often find those home organization projects to be completely out of reach. After first sighing in envy at the neatly partitioned closets and gleaming clutter-free surfaces, real people will choke back sobs of despair when looking up at the disarray of their own home. They will then tear the pages out of the offending Magazine of Impossible Ideals, stomping them into a crumpled mess on the floor, and then drink vodka and/or eat chocolate until they pass out under their kitchen table.

We here at American Hovel know that feeling well. After recovering from our last magazine-shredding-chocolate-eating-vodka-drinking rampage, we solicited photos from our readers on their own home projects. You will agree that the scope of these projects is far more attainable. Share in the joy of being able to see a project from concept to completion in a matter of minutes, leaving you much more time to enjoy your vodka or chocolate with self-satisfaction instead of self-pity.

Project 1: Kitchen Counter
Competent cooks know the importance of clear work space for creating inspired and wholesome meals. This is why you so often have cereal for dinner.

Before: It’s covered with mismatched containers and lids, tools, toys, swag, and a basket full of lord knows what other crap. Problem: you can barely tell what’s what, let alone find room to make lunch.

After: Putting the dinosaur toy front and center focuses your attention on the dinosaur toy. Look at the dinosaur! Dinosaurs are cool. Raawr!

Project 2: End Table:
End tables can be beautiful accents to a living space, giving room for guests to set a drink. Assuming that you ever have guests, or that they could find room to set a drink.

Before: This end table is an elegant antique piece. The lovely wood surface is visible between sketch books and art supplies, various toys and craft projects (is that a paper Tardis?) and whatever the hell else is all over it. (Is that a jar of foot cream?) Problem: there is no real focal point. All you see is pile.

After: The robot Matrushka doll has been turned around and given a prominent place, using the lantern as a pedestal. The owl craft is now on top of the paper box. What once just said “pile” now says “pile with Matrushka robot doll and cheery owl.”

Project 3: Kids’ Toy Corner
You live in a reasonable sized house, without a dedicated play room for the kids. What you have is a living room which has a lot of toys in it. Often all over the entire floor. Sometimes the toys get “put away” into a corner like this one.

Before: The toys are vaguely sorted into bins and stacks. Some might find this level of chaos distracting,though, with all the clashing colors. Problem: There is no unifying theme.

After: Covering the pile with a throw quilt from a nearby couch turns the chaotic pile into a lump of pleasing simplicity. Further, it adds a feeling of warmth and comfort to the room. (Quilts are warm and comfortable, you know.)

Bonus idea: Put a stylish pony on top and it’s now Imperial Fantasy Mountain, a home suitable for the Princess of all the Ponies.

Project 4: Kids’ Craft Corner
Your kids love to do art, and you have amassed an enormous collection of craft supplies, not to mention a never-ending flood of projects and papers coming from their schools. You’ve started tackling this roughly 27 times over the past 3 months, using boxes to sort artwork, schoolwork, and other miscellany, but have been interrupted each time. The pile has seemed to explode and expand daily whenever you look away. (You look away as often as possible).

Before: A massive, heaving, seething pile of headache. Problem: the throw quilt from the couch is already in use in the living room, plus it’s not nearly big enough for this pile. Your king-sized comforter would do, but you’d have to go upstairs to get it, plus you’d be cold tonight.

After: Move a couple of things around and call it a day. Then stop looking at it. You have more important things to do. Go have some good quality chocolate or a strong drink.

Can you spot the difference?

We hope you have enjoyed this American Hovel Magazine feature. Please feel free to contribute your own organizing project ideas and tips.

¹Note: American Hovel Magazine is a completely fictitious magazine that exists only in my head on and on the pages of this blog. I was flattered to hear that a friend of a friend actually once hunted for the magazine at news stands a few years ago, after seeing my cover. Perhaps the magazine will come to life one of these days, but for now I will just have to live the dream of living in that dream world of clutter. For back issues of American Hovel Magazine, please visit the archives: