Sunday, July 6, 2014

Five

And so it was five years ago today that Jenn and I started Project Elegance. It's hard to believe that five years can go by so quickly. It seems more like five days. And while, in some ways, time feels a bit like it has stood still, when I reflect on all that has happened and all that has changed between that July 6th and this...maybe it's more like five months.

It was two years ago June 6th that we said goodbye to our beautiful girl. Perhaps it's between that June 6th and this July 6th that the most change has occurred. We had no choice but to change, because everything was different. Change is required to live a full life. We can't stay static, no matter how much we might want to hold on.

Jenn's dearest undertook turning her blog, FourSeed.com, into a book. Dennis turned over his old career for a new endeavor, Cooper's Public Market. And Lil J is not so little anymore. And he looks just like his mother.

For me, the changes have been slow but steady. But I hold on to Project Elegance and what it meant in the beginning to Jenn and me. Then, how much it meant when she started Four Seeds. It's the thread that keeps us connected. It's a thread that has woven friendships near and far. It's created a fabric of warmth that I deeply appreciate.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In eighteen days, I'll be heading up to Sugartown, staying across the street from Jenn's. Debbie and Ted kindly give me a second home there. That's where the laughter will start. I can't wait to see just how many inches Lil J grew from last year. I look forward to visiting Cooper's Public Market and sampling their wares. I just look forward to being back.

Then, more and more people will trickle in and on that Friday evening, we will gather on the field centering the track to set up camp, fight with our tents -- because some never go up quite as easily as they should -- and we'll laugh and hug and chat. Saturday will start early; a full day of walking and talking with more laughter helping to abate our tears. Sleep that night will be short but deep. Then a few more miles on Sunday morning before the closing ceremony, and the disassembly of Camp Sugartown.

Sunday is really spent in a sleep deprived haze. Somewhere around dinnertime, and after a nap, I start to get it together. Then, it's time to get back. But, before I'll know it, another year will go by and then...

If you feel inclined to contribute to the Relay for Life, here is our team page. Select a member and give as you please. Thank you.

Today, I will watch TO CATCH A THIEF, the film that inspired PE. And, yes, I even have some fried chicken to go with it. xo


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Maya

There are many better words written today about Dr. Maya Angelou -- our poet, teacher, writer, wished-for aunt and mentor -- than any I could cobble together here.

But, still, I feel the need to write.

To me, Maya Angelou exemplified the core of womanhood. She had a voice. She had command. She had courage and strength and grace and vulnerability. But never weakness. She had my utter admiration and respect. Her gifts to us were many and her passing is our great loss.

She said that when you learn, you must teach. And there are two great lessons from her I've learned and live by:



The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.

and

Man's rejection is God's protection.

Thank you, Maya. Rest peacefully.

{CNN obituary.}

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How to Fall in Love With Housework

It is unavoidable. Like death or taxes, housecleaning must be faced...unless, of course, your goal is to end up on an episode of "Hoarders".

Even though The Mint Tin is smaller than a shoebox, and it barely takes 30 minutes to clean the whole thing, that doesn't mean that I look forward to housecleaning. At all. While I don't mind doing dishes, laundry, ironing or grocery shopping (I actually like those tasks), cleaning house has always been a burdensome chore. When I think of dusting, hauling out the vacuum and scrubbing my shower, I start fantasizing about hiring a housekeeper (which, if your budget allows, is a worthwhile investment).

Sadly, my housekeeper days are not in the foreseeable, so it's down to me to keep The Mint Tin sparkling. I've found that the secret to making that burdensome chore more enjoyable is working with things you like, and not thinking of it as a burdensome chore.

STEP 1 - SETTING THE MOOD: While wine and candlelight might be a bit over the top, the right mood is essential. I don't have a set day or time to do housework, like I do for laundry (bright and early Sunday morning), but I do try to get it done every 7-10 days. I try to strike when the mood hits, and sometimes that is after laundry is done or -- like most of us -- when company is due. When I find myself simply not in the mood and have to force that frame of mind, I find that music helps. Perhaps you need to find your Zen with something classical or operatic. I prefer something danceable, with a beat. Never underestimate the power of disco. Turn it up and get down.

Give yourself the freedom to get done what needs to be done. Not all rooms have to be tackled on the same day/at the same time. So, if I am in the kitchen with a blaze of energy, I'll tidy the whole thing. Sometimes that leads to doing the rest. Other times, I'll get to the loo the following day and the living/bedroom/office (now conveniently located in the same 13 x 11 space) the next. Still, there's nothing like the feeling of the whole house being clean, so I do like to spend the extra time to get it all done at once.

STEP 2 - DUSTING: This is the place to start, from top to bottom, room by room. I'm trying to make the move over to microfiber and more reusable products. Right now, though, it's Swiffer Extender dusters, which I use much more than once (I find there are 4 sides to the 360 version). I don't bother with any sprays. If I need to get a bit more serious, I use a damp Handiwipe to further collect the dust. Ceiling moldings, fan blades, shelves, working my way down to the floor boards, everything gets tickled, and the place starts looking better already.

STEP 3 - SCOURING: The kitchen and bath get attention next, and the gloves go on (separate gloves for each). To make this more palatable, select a pleasantly scented cleanser. My favorite for the kitchen is Method's All Purpose Cleaner in Ginger Yuzu. I actually look forward to using it. Dishes are either done or put away. Sink and dishrack are cleaned, and the stove burner grates are soaked while the stove is attended to. Countertops and kitchen cart are wiped down, and the Ginger Yuzu fills the air. Since I only use my toaster oven to bake, and clean that after each use, I get to skip the chore of cleaning the range's oven. That simply houses the cast iron and baking pans.

The toaster is wiped down and decrumbed, and the walls are despotted. I'm always surprised with what little I cook, how I can always find a speck here or there in need of removing. Something I seem to always miss is the range's hood. I try to start with that now.

In the bathroom, the toilet, sink and mirrors are easy enough to clean. I save the shower for after my shower, when I walls are wet and ready. I use Method's Bathroom Cleaner, especially for the shower. Who wants to breathe in toxins or have them near your skin? To keep the sink's drain running clear and smelling less drainy, I use Ecover non-chlorine bleach at least once a month. Vinegar will also do the trick. I usually let it set overnight. Walls are wiped down, ceiling, too, and then there's only one last step.

STEP 4 - FLOORING: Because my place is so tiny, I've foregone a broom. Instead, I vacuum, even the tile. To make that more of a treat than torture, I splurged on a Shark Rocket stick vacuum -- my budget version of the Dyson. The price point and payment options made it a much easier investment. The carpet is first, then the tile, then any addition options, including upholstery or blinds, with the nifty attachments. (Pro-tip: Because the Shark is so powerful, be careful the first time you use it and empty the canister. What is pulls up is potent stuff. Be sure to wear a mask when emptying it at least the first time or two. I got a terrible allergy attack the first time I used mine. What it pulled up was absolutely weaponized.)

Next, the tile floors are mopped. I use the Swiffer wet cloths to take care of the kitchen and bath once a month, and paper towels with spray cleaner or water every few days as needed. Yes, I'm trying to move to microfiber cloths here, too. It just comes down to laundry space and time. Not a very good excuse, I admit. I'm getting there, though.

Finally, the best way to help keep floors clean is to tidy up the outside entryway. I sweep my steps with my handy hand broom, and use the backside of the Swiffer wet cloth to give it a mopping with a rubbergloved hand. If I'm going to use something not-so-reusable, I use it in every way possible before giving it a toss.

The next task I intend to tackle is making my own carpet deodorizer. All one needs is baking soda, an essential oil and a shaker. I just keep forgetting to buy a shaker. It's not that I find my carpet in need of deodorizing (a good vacuuming keeps them fresh), but it does help keep the room scented in a more natural way.

STEP 5 - CELEBRATE: Once the house is clean, a reward is in order. Mani, pedi, massage, mimosa, a bit of chocolate cake. Or simply sit back in your fresh-smelling home and revel in your accomplishment. After all, when we were kids, we got our allowance for doing our chores. Why not give yourself a treat now? If you focus on how good it feels once the job is done, housework will feel less like a burdensome chore.

If you come across a task in cleaning that you just dread, see if there's something you can get to take the drudgery out of it. I enjoy the easy of the Swiffer products (there are similar microfiber options, too -- I am getting there), and how fast, easy and powerful my vacuum is. Find what works for you so it feels like less work. Then maybe, just maybe, you'll finally fall in love with housework. Or maybe have that mimosa first.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Focal Points

It's all about the little joys. The things that make you smile when you walk in the door, or look up from your work.

For me, it's flowers in the Tiffany vase I was fortunate enough to be gifted. Usually, I fill it with white mums, because they are lovely, inexpensive and last about a week. Lately, I've been treating myself to roses I've found on sale. Beauty on a budget.

Watching them unfurl as the days pass is a special treat. It's a focal point, not so much for the décor, but for me. It's a call to remember the little joys. The things that make me smile.

It's easy to overlook those things, though, or downplay their value. The busier we get, or the tighter our budgets become, we may skip them altogether. I say don't. Even a single stem in a bud vase on your desk or nightstand can be sufficient to bring a bit of joy.

If you don't see the point of spending money on something that fades in about five days, maybe a potted plant, like a peace lily, or an arrangement of bamboo would be a more favorable investment. A container of lavender placed at your entryway. Rosemary planted near your gate. Or a piece of art hung on a wall that says, "This is my space, and I love being here."

Of course, this is something that every blog or professional will say about interior design. That's because it is so important. These little things make all the difference. I may not have the perfect sofa, I may have to deal with carpeting I abhor, I may be desperate to remodel my kitchen and bathroom but, when I look at those flowers, when I see the art I've chosen for my little home, when I see my favorite apron hanging in my kitchen, my focus is shifted from the flaws to the joys I've assembled here. And that is priceless.

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Little Dessert

A perfect treat for one. From PBS's Kitchen Explorer's by Alice Currah. {Please click the link to find even more offerings in the original post. And follow them on Facebook. They are a great source for yum.}

While I know there are many recipes for single-serving/quickie desserts, what I appreciate most about this is that it does not require a microwave {because I gave up mine years ago}. Indulge and enjoy. xo

Via PBS

Molten Lava Cake Recipe for One
Prep Time: 5 min(s) Cook Time: 10 min(s) Total Time: 15 min(s) Servings: 1-2
Single serving molten lava cake recipe - Easy recipe that makes one molten lava cake with a warm chocolate lava center. Perfect as a single chocolate dessert or to share with one other person.

Ingredients

¼ cup semi chocolate chips
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg (room temperature), beaten
1 tablespoon flour
Optional Garnishes: ½ teaspoon confectioners’ sugar for dusting, fresh fruit, and a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400°F.
  • Fill a small pot with 1-inch of water.  Fit a larger stainless steel or glass bowl on top of the pot to make a double broiler.
  • Heat the pot of water on medium-high heat.
  • Add the chocolate chips and butter to the stainless bowl.  The chocolate will quickly begin to soften and melt.
  • Quickly whisk the chips until nearly completely smooth.  Turn off the heat and add the sugar and vanilla.  Continue to whisk the chocolate until completely smooth.
  • Carefully remove the bowl from the hot pot to the counter.  Allow the chocolate to cool for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Whisking continuously, slowly add the egg into the chocolate mixture a teaspoon at a time, incorporating the teaspoon of egg completely before adding more.  You don’t want to add the egg too quickly because the warm chocolate will cook the egg.  Continue to do this until the chocolate looks is smooth and looks like batter.
  • Stir in the flour until mixed in.
  • Generously spray the bottom and sides of one 4-ounce ramekin or coffee mug.  This will help the cake to release from the ramekin after baking.
  • Add the batter to the ramekin.  It will be about ¾ cup full.
  • Bake for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes, the cake will appear to be baked but when touched in the center will feel very soft.
  • Remove the cake from the oven and allow it rest on the counter for a minute.
  • You can serve the cake in the ramekin or turn it over onto a plate.
  • If you gently touch the sides of the cake with your finger, it should pull away from the sides.
  • After one minute, cover the ramekin with a serving plate and flip the plate to right side up.  Slowly and carefully begin to lift the ramekin off the plate.  If it appears the cake is not releasing, lower the ramekin back down to the plate and gently shake the ramekin back and forth and try again.  If it still does not release, invert the cake back to the ramekin and use a thin paring knife to release the cake from its side and flip again.
  • Dust the lava cake with powdered sugar and dollop with a small spoonful of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.  A small berry and fresh mint leaf also make nice garnishes.