from zebras to aardvarks

It would be hard to even have a tiny little presence on the blogosphere and not be aware of the plethora of themed blog posting programmes around.  The most common seems to be the A to Z.  The idea is that you blog each day about a subject (about which presumably you know a little) beginning with A and then B and then C and so on.

For the most part I’m not a great fan of these because they have a terrible tendency to generate blogs about obscure and relatively uninteresting topics in which neither the writer nor the reader have a great interest.

However, it occurred to me that our decluttering journey has plateaued a little.  We have been through every room and every outbuilding.  To be honest, I think we need to go through them all again, and no doubt we will in a couple of months.  But we need a challenge to keep us on board.

Having said that we have gone from this,

 

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to this.

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And that doesn’t even include the now empty and immaculate outbuildings 🙂

 

I hate to follow a trend, I like to be contrary.  So I thought I would take the A to Z challenge and turn it on it’s head.  I aim to declutter at least one item a day (and hopefully considerably more) starting with an item beginning with Z and 26 days later an item beginning with A.  I don’t know if I even own anything that begins with Z, but I will have to find it and let it go.

Fear not, gentle reader.  I will not post every day for the next 26 days on my progress.  I will give you an update every now and then, and FB friends will be subjected to a daily post.  In the meantime I have just packed up a van in the pouring rain to take stuff to the auctioneer.  By the time the van was full the rain stopped and my lunch was yet another burnt offering to the Aga god.  Only we about one more van load to go and then we are really down to the small fry.

Now to find something beginning with Z.

 

food wrap and parrots

EDIT!!!!

I have been advised that due to the low flash point of beeswax (ie. the fumes produced become exceptionally flammable and could cause a fire) it should always be melted in a bain marie (ie. in a bowl over boiling water).   As beeswax also has a very low melting point (approx 62 degrees) this should  not take long.

I suspect that dipping the cloth in the liquid wax would result in a cloth with far thicker wax covering than required or even useful.  So I am going to experiment with melting the wax and brushing it on. Will feedback later.

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Forgive me if this post is full of typos but this

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has been on my right shoulder for much of this afternoon.  And whilst we now get on quite well and she no longer tries to give me multiple ear piercings, she does still have rather sharp claws and I am wearing a sleeveless top and my right shoulder is rather sore.  Also she is moulting and so is intent on removing her loose bits of feathers.  She does not seem to have appreciated that I am not a bird, I do not have feathers and I do not need the feathers I don’t have to be removed…..

Today has been a busy kitchen day.  I think  a month away has given me aga homesickness.  So today I made, yoghurt, granola, kimchi (for the first time), granola bars, yoghurt cake and bread.  But the most exciting aga experiment did not involve food, but this.

P1000525Beeswax.

At the Artisan Fair at Byron Bay on Friday evening last week I came across a lady selling waxed cotton food wraps.  This appealed to me on several fronts.  First, no plastic, second the food can breath and third it is a lot prettier than cling and fling 😉  What appealed to me less was the price.  So I had a go at making my own.

First cut your cotton.  Taking the modern connotation of the word organic out of the equation for the moment, cotton is an organic substance, polyester is not.   Linen or hemp would probably work just as well, but I happen to have a lot of cotton oddments lying around so I used cotton.

Place on a baking tray.  Use an old one, you are not going to be cooking with it again.

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Sprinkle granules (or grated) beeswax over the cotton and place in the oven.  I used the aga on Bake but about 180 would be about right.  Do keep an eye on it.  The wax melts fast and you don’t want it to burn.  It’s not as if you are making a souffle, opening the door is not going to cause a culinary disaster.

Once melted brush the wax evenly over the fabric (again using a brush that isn’t going to be used to spread beaten egg over your prized apple pie).

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Hang up to dry.  I put ours outside.  It is a windy day.  They were dry in seconds.

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Wrap up your food.

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You will have noticed that the baking tray is quite small.  I wanted some bigger clothes.  So this time I just sprinkled the wax, folded and sprinkled again (a bit like making puff pastry!).  The wax melts through all the layers.

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It worked just fine.  So now I have sizes for cheese, for small bowl and for large bowls.

I had intended to read the paper now, but the parrot seems to have eaten it

on the final leg

Back inside again today.  Which shows piss poor planning as it is a lovely day and perfect for clearing out the outbuildings; which we opted to do in the cold and rain.

Having taken another carload of books to Amina we had a look at the heaving bookcases in the Gin Gan and started all over again.  While I sorted through hundreds of books the Boss started packing up the lots for auction.  It was a relief when Mel from the British Heart Foundation rang to arrange to come and pick up his second load.  For that means that by Tuesday evening this pile will have gone.

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And so will this one.

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My father is a bibliophile with a particular interest in wine and racing.  Consquently I have a huge collection of books going back to the early fifties, many first editions.  My job this weekend is to go through the book pile and decide which are worth going to auction and which are probably not.  This was one job I didn’t know how I would cope with.  But it was easier than I thought.  He gave them to me when he moved permanently to the States, he knows I will not read the full set of the Compleat Imbiber for example.  But somebody else will enjoy it as much as he did and it is worth quite a lot of money.  The real eye opener was a cookery book “Lady Maclean’s Cook Book”  Mine is a pristine first edition.  It has been put carefully to one side.

I think we are coming towards the end of the tunnel.  It has taken six months to get where we are now and there is still a lot more we can do.  But right now I am enjoying the space, the feeling of freedom and the great sense of relief to see so much clutter go out of our doors.

Will I ever go back to my old ways?  I think not.  I have noticed that as I move around the house I am instinctively picking things and putting them in the charity pile.  Thus went a pair of glass candlesticks, some towels, a selection of scarves and a pair of boots without even thinking.  Shopping holds little appeal unless it is something I really need or really want.  The former is now discussed and depending on severity of need bought now or put on the rolling shopping list.  The latter is put on my birthday list.  Come my birthday I am fairly sure that I won’t want half the things on there.

Finally, when you remove the clutter from your house and spend hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month packing it up and sending it away you get a pretty good sense of where you went wrong.  Things that you bought because you “thought they might be useful”, but never were.  Books you bought because they were beautiful but weren’t interesting enough for you to read or use.  Clothes that you bought because they were fantastic quality, a bargain, but you never really loved.  Knick Knacks collected from junk shops over the years.  Oh, and those infernal storage boxes that you kept having to buy to store all of the above 🙂

Now doesn’t that look good?

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Nice and simple.

if you have a storage box…

… you will fill it.

Today we have started on the outbuildings.  While the Boss emptied plastic storage containers of stuff we didn’t need I filled them with books to take to Borderline Books.  I have no intention of taking them home again but I think Amira can actually put them to good use.

While the boxes were at our house we used them.  We put things in them and then put them away out of sight.  Quite, out of sight and never used or seen again.  I am not suggesting that you empty your house of every storage unit.  Most people need a wardrobe, a bookcase, somewhere to keep their knitting/fishing tackle/whatever rocks your boat.  Nobody needs boxes of books or clothes or toys that live in the attic or cellar or outbuilding.

clutterphoto courtesy of NY Times

Decluttering is not the same as organising.  I know.  I am a champion organiser.  Before I started this journey I would have a regular declutter.  I took everything out of a cupboard put some of them into the charity bag and then tidied up everything that was left.  Sometimes I got really enthusiastic and devised a new storage system.  This was often combined with a trip to IKEA for some funky cool storage boxes.  As you can see, what I was doing was reorganising the stuff I already had.  The boxes in the outbuildings and the kists full of books were testament to that.

One way to force yourself to declutter is to go around your house (inside and out, outbuildings and attics) and remove 50% of your “storage boxes”.  If you haven’t got anywhere to hide the clutter it has to go 🙂

upcycle from cardigan to cat bed

Time for a break.  It’s the weekend, it’s cold and wet (well here anyway).  I’m feeling not so much, “let’s get up and go” as “let’s stay by the fire and so something crafty, or read a book or just sleep, nodding off to the gentle rhythm of the snore of the newfie”.

Since the snore of the newfie would wake the undead let alone the dead, I went for one of the other options.  I have a bit of a thing for cashmere.  Once you have been enveloped in the delicious waftyness and snugglyness that is pure cashmere, pure 100% new wool is like wearing barbed wire.

Unfortunately I do not have the wallet that can run to cashmere on a daily basis so I stalk sales, and ebay, jumble sales and markets, charity shops and my mother’s wardrobe….  Once in my possession said cashmere is loved and cherished right up until the day it finally dies.  Whereupon I  bung it in a boil wash with some jeans and felt it.

I have made felted cashmere cushion covers, cuddly toys, wrist warmers, ear warmers, slippers, bags, Christmas decorations.  But until today I had never made a bed.  Well a cat bed.

Take one elderly, moth eaten cashmere cardigan.  Boil it.  Add one tapestry needle and some knitting wool.

  • Lie the cardigan flat out on a table button side down (obviously if you are using a jumper you can lie it any way up you like).
  • Sew the sleeve edge to the body edge to about half way down the sleeve.  I used blanket stitch.
  • Repeat on the other side.

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  • Fold up the bottom of the cardigan and lay the loose ends of the cardigan arms over the folded portion.  Make sure the cuff edges overlap.

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  • Sew the top edge of the sleeve to the top edge of the folded up cardigan edge (again I used blanket stitch).

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  • Lay the cardigan out flat again and sew (I used running stitch but you could use backstitch if you wanted it to be firmer) an arc from armpit to armpit.  You have now created a channel all around the edge of your bed.

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  • Close the neck opening.
  • Stuff the channel.  I used the contents of a number of horrible cushions, but you could use cut up rags, old clothes and dusters.   You will have to wriggle the stuffing around a bit to get the right balance.
  • Ta da!  One cat bed.

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If you have a small enough dog you could use it for a dog bed, but I think the newfie would require a jumper from the Jolly Green Giant 🙂

how to save your sanity with a small box

We all  have to have one get out a gaol free card, one perfectly allowable excuse.  Unless you are so minimalist as to be able to pack your entire life into a shoebox then the same is true for your house.  It has to have it’s own get out of gaol card.

We tend to spend most of our time in one of three rooms, the kitchen, the morning room or the sitting room.  As sure as night follows day our detritus follows us.  Thus these rooms tend to have more than their fair share of clutter.  Not things that need to be got rid off, but things that belong somewhere else.  And we all know what clutter attracts … more clutter.    Leave that bottle of suncream on the coffee table and it will soon be joined by a phone, a shopping list, yesterday’s post and an empty mug.
On the other hand, even control freaks like me cannot spend all their time running up and downstairs putting things away, and what about the things that aren’t yours and you don’t know where they belong (other than not on the coffee table)?  Enter the box.The box has two criteria:

  1. it must be small enough to fit on a shelf, somewhere easily accessible, it is not a giant storage box;
  2. it must be reasonably attractive, it is on view, personally I don’t want a horrid electric pink plastic box in my kitchen.

I have a small (9″x6″x12″) rectangular wicker box that fits on top of a freestanding cupboard in the kitchen next to the radio and the spare change jar.  It is easily accessible, but not in the way.

You can put two things in the box:

  1. Those useful things that you need but don’t deserve a drawer of their own.  In our case that is my hearing aid batteries and replacement tubes, tiny screwdrivers for tightening glasses, two torches, matches/lighter, the village newsletter, a couple of penknives, letter opener, lip salve, hand cream, a small jar of Euros for when we go to Europe.
  2. Things that need to go somewhere else but I don’t have time to rehome them right now.  Recently this has included a bottle of perfume, several pairs of earrings, a pocket hairbrush, a toothbrush, a newly filled prescription and the cat worming tablets.

Once a week (and this is CRUCIAL) you must upend the box completely and sort it out, returning only the items in section one.  All items falling into section two  must now be put back in one fell swoop.  Here is my box in all it’s glory after the Friday sort out.

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And here are the two piles ready to be rehomed, one to the study

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and one to the bedroooms.

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This box is our lifesaver.

  • If somebody has lost something there is a 99% chance somebody else has put it in the box.
  • Little things do not get left on surfaces and lost.
  • I don’t lose my temper half as much with my appallingly untidy family 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

house walk and oomph

Hair brushed?  Shoes on?  Teeth sparkly?  Excellent let’s get going.

We are going for a walk, a walk around your house.  We can start wherever you like but I am an organised type and like Maria I prefer to start at the very beginning: the front door.  So go outside (see I told you you would need shoes).

Open the door and have a good look around.  What do you see?  Compare this with what you would like to see.  What do you need to do to make it look how you would like?  No, we are not talking paint or new furniture or the absence of the enormous teenager blocking the hallway.  Get out your noteboook (you did bring a notebook?  No?  Go back and get one and a pen or pencil please too).  Jot down the problem areas.  Shoes and coats are the most likely ones here, but you might have a hallstand that has become the dump zone, perhaps there are some old and dusty dried flowers on the windowsill that once you thought might brighten the place up but now look like Miss Haversham’s bridal bouquet.  You get the gist.

Move around the house and do the same in all the rooms, including bathroom, kitchen, understairs cupboards etc.  Leave out any garages, outbuildings, attics or cellars.  You don’t have to be specific, “videos” or “dressing table” will do.  Now go and make a cup of tea or whatever rocks your boat and sit down with your notebook.

Which room upset you most?  Which one would make you feel really good if you got it ship shape?  For me it wasn’t a room but cupboards.  I am a naturally neat and organised person so my cupboards were neat and organised and FULL to bursting and I hated it.  So I started with linen and clothes.  It was wonderful.  I spent ages just staring at the linen cupboard and the Women’s Refuge seemed quite pleased with the sheets and towels and duvets that I no longer needed.  It gave me the oomph I needed to keep going.

That’s what you are looking for – you OOMPH.  The room or cupboard that will make your heart sing when you have decluttered it.  Because once you have got that feeling,  you will want it again and will be fired up to move on to the next one.  Believe  me, it is quite an addictive process.  Also it feels absolutely wonderful crossing off everything in your notebook 🙂

So what are you waiting for?  Off you go.

why you can’t declutter without a hairbrush

The decorations are down.  You have finished almost all of the leftovers.  The alarm clock is your new best friend.  And the house is a tip.  There is the little pile of presents you don’t really know where to put.  A pile of chocolates and other “interesting” delicacies that nobody wants to eat.  Worst of all there is all that stuff you hid in cupboards and under beds before Christmas because you hadn’t got the time to sort it out then and you didn’t want it cluttering up the house over the holidays.

So what do you do?  You start decluttering.  You hit IKEA or the Pound Shop for interesting storage ideas that will help you be more organised.  You spend hours on FlyLady (which is excellent btw) and realise that the reason you are in such a mess is that you don’t have the right cleaning tools.  You invest a small fortune on house planners and organisers.  And by the end of the week you are (a) poor (b) knackered (c) the owner of clutter in boxes as opposed to clutter on the floor.

So I introduce you to the essentials for a good house declutter and start to the new year.

Hairbrush

hairbrush

 

Do not attempt to declutter in your pyjamas.  I am right there with Flylady on this.  This is a job.  Would you go to work in your onsie?  Get up, get dressed, brush your hair (and tie it up if it is long like mine, it will just keep getting in the way), clean your teeth and address your clutter from a position of organised superiority.  If you feel clean and organised you have already won half the battle.  If you feel grubby and unkempt you are not going to be in the right mindset.  Get the mindset and the body will follow.

Shoes

shoes

 

You will be taking stuff out to the rubbish, to the compost, to the car.  It is winter (well for half of us anyway) it is wet, cold and even snowy.  You do not want to be wearing slippers.  Also see above (1) above.

Once you are up, dressed, shiney and ready to go you can assemble the following.  I’ll take you through  each item day by day over the next week.  I am not going to go over the sorting process (keep, bin, donate) you are all grown up.  You know how to actually do the decluttering, you do not need a book or a blog to tell you what to do.  This is about how to keep you on the ball, how to change little things in your daily life that can help all that stuff getting through the door in the first place

  • A house walk
  • The fridge and larder
  • 12 dividers and a simple ring binder
  • A blackboard
  • A small box
  • An apron

See you later 🙂

 

 

 

celebration

Today is a perfectly ordinary day other than the fact it is the day when I celebrate my first half century on this planet.  I hope for many more years to come but I am grateful for those that I have already had.  I am a very fortunate and happy lady.  Some of the wonderful things I have experienced:

  • seeing something I have planted and nutured grow and bloom
  • meeting my three daughters for the first time
  • crying in despair and wiping my eyes and realising I can still laugh and smile
  • the smell of a warm, slightly damp dog
  • a family, oddly shaped, but a family nonetheless
  • opening my stocking and knowing that Father Christmas had been in my room whilst I slept
  • the gentle touch of my husband
  • a wonderful roof over my head
  • the chance to live in another culture
  • the burning passion to set things right
  • an education
  • friendships of all shapes and sizes
  • glamour when I was just old enough to understand and young enough not to care
  • freedom of expression
  • Caithness and Sutherland
  • belief in tomorrow
  • big blowsey garden parties that go on forever and where children sleep where they fall
  • seeing dreams, both large and small, come to fruition
  • being a stay at home mummy
  • writing a book
  • summers in North Dakota

I could go on and on, but you get my drift.  My life is not necessarily what I expected but it is all the richer for that.  In the 1920s, Ernest Hemingway bet ten dollars that he could write a complete story in just six words. He wrote: “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.”  He won the bet.  An American online magazine asked its readers to write their lifestory in six words.  You will find mine at the bottom of the page here. 

So to celebrate those fifty wonderful years I have invited 14 friends to dinner on Saturday.  As it is my birthday I shall not be cooking, the food will be provided by the supremely talented Andy at Papaya.  However, I do need to decorate the table and so forth and fully intend to do so without buying a single thing.

The before, I have started to put a few of the glass jars out but most of them are soaking to get them all nice and sparkly!

table

I can’t show you the after as I haven’t done it yet!  However I am thinking garden flowers and greenery in the various sized glass jars.

bottles

 

We have lots of 2 and 3 candles silver candlelabras but I am prefering  glass jars and bottles with candles and tea lights.  The lavendar is still doing beautifully so that is going to feature heavily and I have decided to starch the damask napkins so that I can be creative with the folding (more flowers there I think too).   I have plenty of empty tin cans of various sizes from small to vast and ribbon and flowers will be going on there as well.  Chair covers are in the wash but I am not hugely fond of them, they are too dark.  Not sure I can rustle up 16 made to measure covers in  2 days so am going to have to think a bit there.

We have plenty of crockery and cutlery.  However,  a recent rash of slippery fingers has reduced our large glassware somewhat so that i have had to buy.  Ebay has been a godsend.  Crystal glasses go for very little.  I have stuck to a shape and mixed and matched.  Wonderful bargains and beautiful glasses that will give pleasure for years to come (so long as the slippery fingers don’t get them).

 

glass

 

On of our new glasses, full of course, next to my favourite Inuit bear.

After photograph on Saturday.  This is my dry run for Christmas.  No buy parties.

 

 

something a little alternative

traditional-washing-up-brush-with-long-handle-large_1

It all started when I lost my lovely wooden washing up brush.  No I don’t know how you lose a washing up brush either, but the fact is that I did.  As it happens I was not quite as in love with it as when I first bought it as the head had a tendency to come out just as I was giving it welly.  So I needed an alternative.  It needed to be:

  • effective
  • biodegradeable

Ta Da!!!

I bought a cheap loofah, cut it up into hand sized chunks and now I have an effective, biodegradeable and dead cheap pan scrubber.  And best of all, not one member of my family, including the very teenage Dancer and Singers have batted an eyelid.  Which, for them is pretty impressive.

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So it got me thinking, I do like a good think, it beats a good workout anytime.  What else do I “misuse”?  There is a whole other post waiting to happen on things like vinegar, bicarb, cornflour, toothpaste and banana skins (yup banana skins).  I’m thinking more about long lasting stuff you have already …

graphite pencil

The scientifically minded among you will know that graphite is a crystalline allotrope of carbon (hey Dr Carpenter and Mr England – bet you thought I would never remember any of my Chemistry A-level!).  Consequently it is much used as a lubricant in industry.  You do not have to manage a factory to use graphite.  How often have you found yourself with a stuck zip?  Run a pencil up and down the zip and 9 times out of 10 your zip will magically unstick leaving you free, at last, to go to the loo.  If you have more time than sense you can also use graphite to unstick sticky drawers, but it would take an inordinate amount of pencils and it would be several hours of your life you will never have again – try a candle instead 🙂

tights

This is one of the few occasions where I think our American cousins have a better word.  Don’t you think “pantyhose” sounds so much better than “tights”?  As I prefer stockings the point is moot, but nonetheless ….

I have been known to use a NEW pair of stockings as an alternative to muslin when making jelly and had run out of muslin.  It was not a good look.  The kitchen looked like an abattoir (bramble and red and blackcurrant juice everywhere) and in addition to three traditional jelly strainers I had four stockings hanging from hooks from the beams.  Unlike muslin,  stockings and tights … stretch … a lot.  As a last minute, desperate option they just about pass muster.  Personally I would recommend you keep a good supply of muslin to hand.

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On the other hand.  Do you use soapnuts?  Do you regularly lose the little bag to put them in?  Pop socks/ stockings / tights are perfect.  They even help you remember how many times you have used the soapnuts.  I tie a knot each time I have used them.  When I  have a row of four knots I know it’s time for a new set.

newspaper/paper bags

Yes you can use newspaper to clean windows.  But I have some far less messy uses.

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Green tomatoes.  I have a very strong memory of the pervasive tomato smell in my grandparents conservatory.  There were tomato plants everywhere.  But even in the south of England there can be a shortage of the essential light and warmth required to turn them a rich red.  Green tomato chutney is indeed wonderful, but if you , like me have as many apple and plum trees as I do there is a limit to how much chutney even our greedy family can eat.

My grandmother and my great aunt would carefully wrap the tomatoes in newspaper or paper bags and store them at the top of every wardrobe in the house.  By late October …. ripe tomatoes.  Newspaper is also essential in the storage of apples.  Wrap them up and make sure they are kept in a secure (from mice and/or rats) cool dark place.

Apparently they make a good deodouriser though I’ve never tried that.  Although they are the only way to dry out wet wellies and shoes.  Scrunch up and stuff boots loosely.  Leave overnight.  Hey presto.  Dry wellies.

There are more, but the Singers need to be picked up from the station and dinner will not cook itself ……