Of Mice and Men ~ by Sam

You know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men, right?  For the record, they “gang aft agley.”  No, really.  That’s it.  Did you know that?  For years, I said this phrase without knowing how it ended, ‘though I did have a general sense of the meaning.  Don’t believe me?  Read this: 


See?  If that didn’t help much, try this:  


Anyway, my plans (i.e., “The Master Plan) gang aft agley, to be sure.  I had such grand plans, too!  SDespite my struggles, I stand by the idea of making plans, no matter how agley they are prone to gang (yes, I realize I have probably mangled the grammar here.  Sorry, I don’t speak fluent 1785).  Things, you might say, are not going exactly as planned.  Below, you will see the original outline of the “Master Plan” to get our home organized.  It’s going…well…it’s going, that’s for sure (or is it “gang?”  I am certain it is somewhat “agley,” to say the least.  I think.)

Here is the original plan, as I posted it, way back in January:

January:  paper, mail, household files, etc.
February: closets
March:  bathrooms
April: kitchen 
May: laundry room
June: bar
July: craft/school supplies
August: party room
September: sewing supplies/fabric
October: garage (maybe…if we feel like tackling this)
November: photographs/scrapbooks
December: we’ll be too busy partying 

(Ambitious, non?)

Now, let’s review what has actually happened:

* January:  paper, mail, household files, etc. – YES!  I actually did this…or…well, I did a LOT of if.  The kids and Shane did some, too, and, while it isn’t what I would call “finished” (is this job EVER finished), there have been vast improvements in both the volume of paper mess in our home, and how we manage it.  So that’s good.

*February: closets – Pretty much done.  Shane remodeled our bedroom closet and Justice’s.  I whipped the linen closet and game cupboard into shape, and helped Kaia and Hallie organize their closets and do a little more unpacking.  I am going to call this one a success.  (Yay!)

*March:  bathrooms – Ha.  That’s funny.  See, in March, I don’t know what happened.  That’s not entirely true.  I do know what happened.  Many, many things happened, in fact.  Hallie turned 14, and we went to a carnival one weekend.  Another weekend, we had out of town guests (MIL and FIL in town to celebrate MIL’s birthday), which was great fun.  Kaia was Girl Scout Cookie boothing and working super hard to try to get enough donations to send 100 boxes of cookies to troops overseas (she is currently up to 90, and has until the end of the month to get the rest!).  Justice was…um… Justice?  What were you doing in March?  Ah, yes. SATs, composing music, taking an online health course and an online driver’s ed course…oh, and this weekend, she goes on retreat with her orchestra.  Oh, and the church youth band that Hallie and Justice’ play with performed one weekend.  And Kaia won a scholarship for private music instruction.  

You know what?  March has been busy.  Then, on the heels of some torrential rain, the weather was PERFECT, so I did some work in the yard.  Then, one day, I organized the cupboards in the bar, because their lack of organization was driving me mad.  This week, I started painting the party room, and planning ways to rearrange it, so it will better suit our needs. It wasn’t on the list for March, but someone painted the entire interior of our house the world’s most depressing shade of flat beige before we moved in, and I simply cannot live that way.  Basically, I am a couple of steps ahead of the Plan (see, because Party Room is listed as our August project, and bar was supposed to happen in June)…I mean, except for that part where I didn’t even touch the bathrooms, so I am also behind.  (Another lie.  I TOUCHED them.  I do clean my bathrooms.  I just didn’t paint and organize, like I thought I would.)

Recently, I looked back at the plan, and thought, “Oh, crud.  Bathrooms.  Forgot about them.”  A glance at future months revealed that April is supposed to be my kitchen organization month.  Yeah, right!  We will be spending about 10 days in Maryland during April, right on the heels of Shane’s gig at NAB in Vegas.  In short, Shane and I will not be home at the same time for about half of April.  Now, because the kitchen organization is going to involve installation of shelves and hardware, I do not foresee this happening while we are not both here to do the work.  I think it’s more work than one person can do.  We’ll see.  

So, I was feeling rather defeated, until I realized several important facts:

1. None of this is set in stone
2. We are looking at a repipe for much of the house, so it would be silly to paint, hang shelves, etc., in bathrooms before that is done.  So, it really makes sense to push that project.  We can probably take care of our bathroom, since I don’t think it is part of the repipe.  We’ll see.
3. We have gotten a jump on some projects that were scheduled for later, and our yard is looking lovely.
4. It’s not just us ~ “the best-laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley.”  It’s been happening since 1785, at least.    

You know what?  Maybe I’ll organize the sewing area in April.  Maybe, I’ll remove the months, and just keep this as a list I can check off as we get things accomplished.  

Well, however we decide to handle it, at least I managed to do this:Image

And, one day, maybe, we’ll paint the rest of the room.  And put up shelves.  And finish unpacking.  

No matter what, the plan for December remains the same: 

December: we’ll be too busy partying.

So, there.  


Old Fashioned Peanut Butter Cookies

Old Fashioned Peanut Butter Cookies

Here’s a simple and delicious recipe for peanut butter cookies.  Use natural (non-sweetened, non hydrogenated) peanut butter.  When possible, we recommend organic brown sugar, organic peanut butter (if you can buy it without spending your life’s savings ~ Costco has their own brand, and the price is pretty good, but we already had this jar of conventional natural peanut butter open), and local eggs.  Try to find a friend who keeps chickens, and negotiate a trade of some sort ~ like, maybe, “If you give us eggs, we will make you peanut butter cookies.” 🙂

Pretty sure this recipe is gluten-free, but GF friends can correct us, if we’re wrong.  

Video by Hallie.

Our Little Oasis ~ by Sam

I wrote this whole long entry about our garden ~ explaining how we mostly do-it-ourselves, but call in the professionals for big stuff, like trimming the huge mulberry tree, addressing my hopes to have an edible garden, and how they have fallen by the wayside as I cannot seem to stop buying flowers, chronicling the evolution our garden, justifying my choices, giving advice and providing resources… Trust me, this was a brilliant post.  And then, Chrome quit, and it ate my entry on its way out.

I give you a brief synopsis:

a) all that stuff I said up there.

b) I like flowers.  They make me happy, they smell good, tending them is therapeutic, and I save money when I don’t have to buy cut flowers for myself and to give as gifts.

c) Talk to people at your local nurseries, talk to your neighbours who garden, do research online regarding what grows and how in your area.  Know your zone, your conditions, learn about light exposure, and pay attention to the specific needs of individual plants.  My in-laws gave me two great books (Sunset Western Garden Book, and Pat Welsh’s Southern California Gardening) that have been invaluable resources for me.  You can find similar books that are specific to your area.

d) Get stuff free.  Post wanted ads to freecycle, craigslist, community bulletin boards for things you need before resorting to buying it (lattice, seeds, plants, rocks, gravel, pots…)  Check alleyways and curbs for pots, trellis, garden furniture, etc.  Ask your friends (in person, or on facebook or other social networking sites.  Trade for stuff (I’ll give you a clipping of my plant in exchange for a clipping of yours).   Ask your favourite coffee shop to save used grounds for your garden.  Keep an eye out for offers for offers of free shade trees from your city or your local utility company.  Check for local classes and workshops offered by your city, county, and local nurseries.  Many are free to attend, and some raffle off supplies and/or give  out coupons for special discounts, just for attending.

e) We have a lot of plants.  I went kind of crazy and bought a bunch of stuff, now that I can use my hand again in an almost normal fashion.

f) Here are a bunch of pictures that tell the rest of the story:

Sometimes, you buy two jasmine plants on sale at your local Costco before you realize that you aren’t sure they will fit in your car.  It might take a little longer to get them in there than you suspected.  You should probably go back and buy a pizza for dinner.Image

Primroses are awesome.  15 for $13.99 at Costco, and the pots are from the 99-cents store, but they look like a million bucks up there on the wall.Image

Alyssum smells amazing.  Like warm honey.  I dare you to walk by it and not buy some.  Image

My husband is awesome.  He helped me create this flowerbed in the backyard, between the raspberry and blueberry plants.Image

Oh, yeah ~ we now have raspberry and blueberry plants.  They were on sale at the Home Depot for $7.98/each.  You know how I feel about sales.  Oh, and Big Lots has great deals on pots and other garden needs, if you do find yourself needing to buy.ImageImage

E.B. Stone’s Sure Start is awesome.  I always use it was transplanting, whether in to containers, or directly in to the ground.  Good stuff.  In fact, i recommend E.B. Stone’s stuff, in general.  Love their Tomato & Vegetable Food. (African daisies, alyssum and primroses are also pretty awesome.) Image

I have a floppy garden hat, and I work in my garden.  Oh, and we put in snapdragons, because Hallie has always wanted them.Image

Yesterday, thanks to freecycle, I picked up two free sheets of garden lattice.  I am hoping to score enough to go across the back wall, bring up the height, giving us a little more privacy (our wall is shorter than me, and that’s short!), and keeping our kids frisbees, balls and hula hoops out of the neighbours’ very lovely yard.  I have seen sheets of lattice this size retail for $20-25 apiece, so the more I can get free, the better!Image

This is how our backyard is shaping up:Image

I got St. Francis and his angel friend for 70% off at Rite Aid, btw.

Okay ~ well, I hope you enjoyed this post.  We plan to keep learning, keep trying, keep doing it ourselves, and will continue our quest for free and low-cost improvements to our little oasis.  We plan to spend a lot of time out there.


When I worked nights, that meant that my TV watching happened during the day…in the afternoons. And because we didn’t have cable, that meant that I was subjected to local LA commercials.  One of those was for a company called CLOSET WORLD.  It had a horrible, but catchy theme. Lucky for you all, I can’t find it on the web, otherwise I’d subject you to it.  Why am I talking about it? Well…because we remodeled our closets WITHOUT their help. We didn’t do anything fancy, we just have a standard sliding door closet. But the remodel that we did do is a VAST improvement. And it only cost us $100.

First…here was the state of our closet.  One shelf and one bar…and a LOT of empty space above:

IMG_1082 IMG_1081

I had already begun cleaning out the closet before I took these pics. So my clothes were removed, and the mass pile of stuff on the shelf is out too. It was a jumbled mess…believe me.  This was coming out. Although I kept the top board intact, so that it could be the top shelf. The kit we bought at Home Depot didn’t come with one.

We bought the ClosetMaid Selectives 16in. White organizer.  It has three bars for hanging clothes, which was perfect as Sam already had a rack doubler…a rack that hangs from the main one.

So I took out the old shelf and rod…keeping the braces and the shelf.  Then I set about assembling the unit.  Just like Ikea shelves, I needed to build this from scratch…they include all the wood and parts, and it is up to the buyer to put it all together.  Here’s the main shelf:


I had to build two of these, and then stack them.  As you can see it’s made of the inexpensive particle board. Yes, we could have built all of this ourselves, with real wood. But we aren’t that skilled, and lack the tools needed to do that. Someday, but now, we need to use kits. It’s a nice looking one anyway…albeit heavy.So I assembled everything, stacked the shelves, added the side braces for the shelf, then the posts…and I tried to add the top shelf but it wasn’t going in.  Apparently the wall was a bit uneven and narrower at the top slightly. So I had to go and sand the board down a few times to get it to finally slide into place.

Now, I had to show these little braces for the clothes posts. They look VERY happy.


When everything was assembled, we threw everything back into the closet at…ahh…much better:

IMG_1086 IMG_1089IMG_1088

Well Begun is Half Done! ~ by Sam

Maybe Mary Poppins wasn’t referring to my linen closet when she said that, but I like to think that she would be here, cheerfully spurring me to action, if she could.

It seems our monthly projects are each going to take about a month and a half.  Okay, actually, they only seem to take about a month, but we don’t seem to start on them until about halfway through the month, so we are just slightly off schedule.  I figure, as long as we keep working our way through our list, it will all get done…or, at least, we will manage to make a dent in every problem area, and that’s worth something, right?

Last month’s challenge was closets.  We got all of the kids’ closets and ours pretty much done, and, today, I reached a stopping point on the linen closet.  Yes, I reached a stopping point.  I know, Mary Poppins would want me to finish.  I would, but I am fighting what many who know me probably think is a losing battle.  Like Jane, after all, I am “rather inclined to giggle, doesn’t put things away.”  (For the record, like Michael, I am also “extremely stubborn and suspicious,” but that doesn’t really apply to this particular situation).  When I started working on the linen closet last week, I had grand plans, and every intention of realizing them.  I thought I would line it with contact paper, paint, and organize; but, after getting just one shelf lined, I decided it was more important to get the closet organized and get all of the linens out of the parlour, where they lay stacked in heaps for days while I struggled to figure out how to negotiate the closet.  I will revisit the decorating aspect of it later, but, for now, at least we have a workable system in place.  I think we need to install one more shelf for it to be perfect (you’ll see where I have the swim tote piled on top of the basket of bath toys), but it is definitely a vast improvement. Because…
well…I am really terribly embarrassed to share this picture, but…*sigh*…

THIS is what our closet looked like before I started working:Image

I know, I ought to be ashamed, and I am.  We just never got it under control, and it ended up being the place where everything we didn’t know where to put got stashed.  This made it nearly impossible to find matching sets of sheets, as well as small items like wash rags.  It was really awful.

The first thing I did was remove everything, and clean the inside of the closet.  Next, I made a plan.  We decided to keep our bed linens, which are a different size than the children’s, in the cedar chest in our bedroom, so that freed up some space.  I also decided to store curtains and draperies there, since it is a nice, big chest.

Then, I started folding.  A strategy that helped me tremendously with this task is something I saw online (here is a link that might be helpful).  It is so simple, and yet so brilliant, that it has forever changed the way I deal with my bed linens.  Here it is: when you fold your sheets, fold the flat sheet and fitted sheet together, so they are just the right size to fit inside one pillowcase (I fold mine so they are are wide and half as long as the pillowcase).  If your set has a second pillowcase, fold that in with the sheets.  Now, slide the folded sheets inside the first pillowcase.  Tuck any extra pillowcase that overhangs back in to itself (stuff it inside the pillowcase) or fold under.  Voila!  Your matched set of sheets is not only stored together, but it looks neater, and takes up less space on your shelf (or in your cedar chest).  AWESOME.

On one shelf, I used two of those little wire extra shelf things that just sit on your shelf.  It was a good solution for us, because I wanted a higher space on one side of my shelf, and then I wanted to break up the other side of the shelf in to two levels (it will make sense when you see it.  It think).  Also, I owned them, so it didn’t cost me a cent to add an extra shelf.  Next, I repurposed a little basket that was just collecting odds and ends in my bedroom to corral the wash rags, which tend to get lost in the great abyss of our linen closet.  I also lined one shelf, using leftover contact paper from Hallie’s locker (the inside was covered with inappropriate graffiti, so she lined it with pretty paper to make her school days a little more pleasant).

A priority for me was to keep like items ~ items that might be used in the same venue or context, like, say, towels, toilet paper, toothpaste, etc. ~ together, instead of storing towels, games, moon sand, and polyfill in the linen cabinet, toothpaste and toilet paper in the laundry room (WHAT???!!) and epsom salts and bath toys in a separate cupboard underneath the linen closet.  Truly, I have no idea what we were thinking when we moved in and started putting things in this closet.  I think it was something like, “AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!  MUST UNPACK!!!!  SO MUCH STUFF!!!  SO MUCH HOUSE!!!!!  AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!”

Well, anyway, I am done.  For now.  It is much better.  I took some after pictures, so you can witness the vast improvement.  Someday, when I pretty it up more, I will post pictures of the finished product, but I think it’s okay as it is.


As you can see, the top shelf still has some sort of odd, out-of-place stuff.  For now, that’s working, because, let’s face it, that stuff has to go somewhere; and it’s not like I want to keep anything I have to reach every day up there ~ I’m 5’1″ tall.  Speaking of which, that was also something I thought about while organizing.  Kaia and I are not tall.  I wanted to keep things we would need on a regular basis within easy reach.  So, towels, rags, etc., which we need everyday are on a mid-height self, with bed linens, which we need only once a week or so, are on the shelf above.  Beach towels, sunblock, swimsuits, cover-ups, my dive boots and gloves, and the tote in which we carry it is on the shelf below, because, let’s face it, we live in SoCal ~ we’re going to need that stuff.  I moved the games to the separate little cupboard underneath because it is easy to reach, and I just thought beach towels made more sense with the linens than board games did.

So, as you can see, it’s okay.  Not perfect, but much better, and I decided that, this time, for now, that’s good enough.  It wasn’t worth stressing out over, and, now that I am done, I have plenty of time to devote to getting the bathrooms in order.  However, someday, I will revisit this closet.  Here is the one shelf I lined, and it looks awfully cheery and cute.


I am thinking of painting the whole inside of the closet a nice blue, to pick up the blue in contact paper, then lining the rest of the shelves just like this, and making cute labels (like the one on the basket) to post on the inside of the door, listing what items belong on each shelf.  Wouldn’t that be cute?  Ah…someday…

A smidge of an update ~ by Sam

Just a quick check-in.  It’s been a bit crazy around here, but, hey, what’s new?  

We plugged away on the closets during the month of February, while I continued to try to keep the paper mess around the house in check.  Its…well…it’s going okay, I guess.  One kid’s room still needs MAJOR organizing help, and another kid’s closet is still very disorganized, but we got most of what we had hoped to accomplish done this month.  Shane will have to come back and post pics of our closet makeover ~ so much better!  I am working on the last couple of closets this week (we seem to be running consistently about a week behind schedule), so I decided to look back at my “Master Plan” to see what’s in store for us next.  



I am so not looking forward to organizing bathrooms.  I am looking forward to them being organized; and I am looking forward to decorating them, but actually taking the time to organize?  Did I say, “Ugh” yet?  Yeah, well… UGH!!!

At least, thanks to sales at our local Fresh & Easy, I was able to score about $69 worth of wine for $27.50 last night.  So, tonight, I can have a nice glass of wine with dinner to celebrate my accomplishments.  Because I WILL accomplish things today.  

Now, back to work on those closets, a quick evaluation of the bathrooms and what we need to get them in shape, and then to tackle more of the paper mess.  It just keeps growing!