Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday 5: Breakfast

Just for fun, I'm joining in the Friday 5 this week. Check out other participants at

1. Oh my goodness! You have to run out the door right now and you haven’t eaten! Before dashing out, what do you grab to wolf down on your way?

I grab a piece of fruit, generally an apple or banana.

2. What’s a popular breakfast you dislike?

Coffee and Danish are wasted on me. I don't like coffee and I can think of lots of things I'd rather eat than a Danish. They always taste too sweet and too dry to me.

3. You’re going out for breakfast anywhere you want, and someone else is treating! Where do you go and what do you order?

I don't know where it would be, but my order would be multi-grain waffles with fried apples and whipped cream with turkey bacon on the side. It would be accompanied by some hot spiced cranberry juice or hot fruit tea with lemon and honey.

4. What do you have when you need a simple, healthy (or healthy-ish, for those of you who just don’t do healthy!) breakfast?

The quick, healthy breakfast would definitely be fruit and oatmeal.

5. You’ve been invited to a breakfast potluck. What are you most likely to bring?

I would probably take a green chile quiche or maybe a large batch of biscuits

Decluttering with Michelangelo

Here it is Friday again. Another week has whizzed by and I find myself looking back to see what, if anything, significant was accomplished or learned. This week I have something to share that I hope will help someone else.

I'm engaged in an ongoing battle with clutter. The combination of lots of people in a not-overly-large house requires certain decisions about what goes and what stays and how to store it all. I was in the process of lightening my load when my mother passed away last year and much of her abundance was added to mine. It's been overwhelming. As a result, I've ended up with a couple of rooms, so stacked with boxes and bags they are nearly unusable.

Now there are many methods out there to process stuff like this. Some examples are the ever-popular four box method, the "box-up-everything-to-clear-the-space-and-go-through-the-boxes" method, and the hard-core minimalist approach where you basically get rid of anything you're not currently using. These methods haven't helped me. There are too many decisions to make, and I don't see myself every being a minimalist. But this week I stumbled onto something that did and was a perfect fit for my visually-oriented, right-brained self.

Earlier this week, I saw a quote I've seen many times before and always liked:

"I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free."

But then I saw this quote:

“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”

Something stirred inside me and I caught a vision. My problem when I start to work on one of the stacked up rooms, is I focus on the stacks and get overwhelmed. Michelangelo didn't focus on the enormity of the block of marble before him. He focused on the object he was going to create out of it. I suddenly began to look at my house with fresh eyes.

What if I went to each room, determined the purposes it needed to serve, determined what things were needed for that purpose and what things would make it a thing of beauty, and ditched everything else? What if I started with the end in mind? What if I caught a vision for what the room could be rather than its current state? Hmm. I was off and running.

So, I set to work. My bedroom is frequently the dumping ground for anything that doesn't have a place it goes. So I end up with the weirdest assortment of stuff in there, plus the room is more multipurpose than I would like. In addition to the usual stuff that goes with bedrooms, my husband's desk and computer and related stuff are in there because there's no other place to put it. So we need his desk and chair, plus the bedroom furniture. I'm always going to have a certain amount of books and magazines in there, so I need a shelf for those. Needed stuff would include the books, the computer, the bedding and clothes, accessories and personal items. Some pretty items finish the list.

When I started to clean out the room, I threw away obvious trash and put some items I knew I didn't want into a bag for charity, but for most things, I didn't want to go through an extensive decision-making process. All I had to decide was whether or not it fit in the stated vision for that room. If not, I didn't worry about whether I should be keeping it or not, I just added it to the pile going out of the room. This may take a bit longer overall, but the decision-making process is so much easier for me.

A little hint. If you start writing down the room's purpose and what furniture and stuff are needed, be sure to leave a couple of extra lines after each section, because your vision may evolve as you go along. For instance, you may get all your living areas planned, but when you start to go through them, you realize you didn't designate an area for board games and your family loves board games. Do you play them at the dining table or in the living room? Wherever it is, add it to your purpose for that room and add board games to the list of the stuff of that room.

What if you get to the end and have stuff left over that has no designated place? Look carefully at that stuff and ask yourself if it can be fit into the vision of any of your rooms. Can it be part of the work of art you are creating or does it need to be chipped away?

You might make some discoveries along the way. I can't count the number of times, while I was doing my bedroom, that I found myself saying "I just need to get a container for these and they could go in ___________" I found many things that had been put in my room, not because they really needed to go there or because they fulfilled the room's vision and purpose, but so someone would know where they are. Several of those things are now in containers on a shelf somewhere else, but are easy to locate and use without cluttering up my room.

Anyway, it's a different way to go about it, but it seems to really be working for me. I've already made progress on several areas that I was having trouble making any headway on. I'm also rethinking and re-purposing rooms as I go along. I never thought Michelangelo would be an inspiration for de-cluttering (and I'm pretty sure he didn't either), but one never knows where inspiration may come from. Where do you draw inspiration from?

I hope everyone has had a good, productive week. Enjoy the weekend and plan on a spectacular week to come.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Stories from an Unconventional Childhood, Week Three

Over at Mommy's Piggy Tales there's a cool project going on about family history. There is a challenge to blog for 15 weeks about our growing up years, with a different time period covered each week. Spitfire talked me into joining in because she's hoping for some wild stories from my childhood.

When I started first grade, it was a bit of a shock for me. I already knew we were different, but when I started school, I was suddenly surrounded by kids that were my age physically, but seemed another age altogether in other ways. Imagine being in college one day and in first grade the next. They had never seen drug use or people drunk or nude. They didn't even know where babies came from! I quickly learned to keep what I knew to myself and talk and act like any other kid my age. I put what I had seen or heard or done in the past. But some things didn't disappear easily. I still had an advanced vocabulary and the top reading group was too easy for me. Still, I managed to make a few friends and learned how to fit in.

My house bridged the gap in my life. The outside looked like every other house in the neighborhood, with it's established lawn, sprawling oaks and white clapboard. The inside, on the other hand, reflected the other part of my life. From the moment you opened the door, it was like stepping into another realm and I learned as much there as I did in school.

The living room was painted matte black. Wild, abstract print black-and-white curtains, sewn by my mother, graced the windows. One wall was covered with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, made from black, painted boards and black fabric-covered cinder blocks, artfully arranged. The shelves held hardcover art books, an assortment of art magazines, a few paperback novels and some textbooks. In between, a variety of pottery and sculpture was on display. The floor was covered in an amazing rug, assembled by my mom and dad, from salvaged carpet scraps and several rolls of carpet tape. Several of my dad's large paintings decorated the walls. Comfortable floor cushions and a black-light completed the look. All their college friends that visited pronounced the room "groovy". From this room, I learned about creativity and making something out of nothing.

The next room was the dining room. It had the same curtains as the living room and paintings on the wall, but the centerpiece of the room was the table my dad made out of part of a chrome sofa base topped with a stained and varnished uncut door, both purchased for next-to-nothing. The table was just tall enough for an adult to fit his or her knees under it while sitting cross-legged on the floor. I have happy memories of this room filled with people, as it frequently was. Mom and Dad loved inviting people over and feeding them. At the end of each semester, they held a stone-soup style pizza party. Crust, sauce and three cheeses were provided and everyone who came brought their favorite pizza toppings. Super deluxe pizzas were made and consumed with gusto. The group could be a bunch of rowdy art majors or a mix of education majors, musicians and guys from the local motorcycle shop. In this room I learned about hospitality and how good food can bring diverse groups together.

As much as I loved those rooms, my favorite room of the house was my room. It was actually one of the more "normal" rooms in the house, but special in its own way. It was a bright sunny room at the back corner of the house. Two walls were covered with windows. The rug, another one made from carpet scraps, looked like a giant patchwork quilt. A toy box held my Tinkertoys and blocks, stuffed animals and dolls. My favorite part was the quilt on my bed. It was a quilt made by my grandmother and my mother. The blocks were pictures my mom, as a little girl, had colored. The pictures were then ironed onto muslin and assembled with blue gingham for the backing, binding and sashing. From this room, I learned about heritage and family. I also learned the importance of having a quiet place to think and dream and grow. I also found a love of quilts that continues to this day.

As a homeschooler, my home is, by design, both a place to live and a place to learn. But the truth is that every home is a place to learn something, whether good or bad. What did you learn in your home growing up?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Top Ten {Tuesday}: Ten Cool Thoughts to Beat the Heat

The weatherman says it's going to be 98 degrees today with a heat index of 102. Temperatures like that can make even the normally heat-resistant thecoolmom start to melt. I need some chilly thoughts to counter the heat.  Here are some of the things I'm pondering to keep my cool.

1. Barton Springs

It's always cool in Barton Springs in Austin, TX. The water is a chilly 68 degrees year round. Way cool! I wish I was there.

2. Popsicles

Yeah. I know. Sugar, artificial colors and artificial flavors. But oh, so cold and refreshing. If you are too virtuous for popsicles, go get some fruit bars.

3. Snow cones

While they have all the same faults as the above item, they are a great way to cool you down from the inside out. Actually, I get the clear coconut ones so I eliminate the artificial coloring. There. I'm feeling more virtuous already.

4. Snow (without the cones)

Ok. You have the North and South poles, some really high mountains, and it is winter in the southern hemisphere. There's bound to be snow somewhere.

5. Estes Park. Colorado

We went to Estes Park several years ago when we were setting a new record for the number of 100 degree days here. When we left Texas, it was 105. When we got to Estes, the natives were all fanning themselves because it was a balmy 85. Someone flipped out when I told them of the 20 degree differential. By the way, the forecast says a high of 73 there tomorrow.

6. Lemonade

It's a classic for staying cool. That's because it works. To take it up another notch, add a sprig of mint.

7. Lemonade Pie

It's cold and lemony and creamy. Mmm. Click the picture for a recipe.

8. Sprinklers

You may feel like a child running through the sprinklers, but desperate times call for desperate measures. If it gets any hotter, we may all be sitting in a plastic kiddie pool in the shade

9. Watermelon

This must be eaten ice-cold. I like to send the kids outside with a wedge of watermelon so the drips are out there instead of my kitchen floor. For best results, eat watermelon and then run through the sprinklers.

10. Eat Spicy Foods

There's a good reason why the hottest foods on the planet are native to the tropical areas of the world. Hot, spicy foods make you sweat. Think back to science class. How does the body cool itself? That's right class. The body sweats and evaporation cools the body. So, if you eat foods that make you sweat more...

I hope you've enjoyed my list and are staying cool. What are some of your favorite ways to beat the heat?

For more fun top ten lists, visit Oh Amanda