Making Progress on the Pantry

Otherwise entitled :: It Might Get Worse Before It Gets Better…

OK, the pantry has been done for a few weeks now, but hey! Let’s pretend this is in real-time, shall we?

Some of my favorite people in the whole world came to visit for two quick days in January to help me out. It was such a short visit that I felt bad in possibly wasting our time cleaning out the pantry when we could be doing much more interesting things like watching Downton Abbey while sitting on the couch, but I gotta tell you, Ms. Heather is an organizing machine. Do you have a friend like that in your life, someone who thinks organizing is fun? If not, I suggest you find yourself one, because they are so much more than awesome!!

A few weeks (possibly months, but who is counting) I sent Heather a few images of the mess in the pantry and asked her for some advice. Here’s what she wrote back in ten minutes or less ::

Quick fix that will hopefully give you a “there’s hope” moment and tide you over till we can do more.
 
Read this suggestion and before doing anything consider two things:
 
1. Will the items in their new home be too high up? Will it make retrieving them a pain in the ass. I think you will be okay because you’re tall, but just in case…
2. Is there enough room (left to right) on the suggested shelf for all items to fit and not be squished so that it looks bad and is not actually practical. If this is the case let me know. I have a back up plan.
 
Suggestion:
 
1. Clear off the top shelf on the left side of the pantry where you have pencils and paper towels and cook books and baskets. 
2. Anything that has a cord (mixer, panini press, ice cream maker, coffee pot, slow cooker, cuisinart) should be lined up on this shelf left to right. Things that you use more often should be on the left closer to the door. And things that you use less should be further down. I’m not sure if you have chafing dishes, but if you do leave them out for now. Those are things that should go high high up. 
3. All the stuff that you took off from that shelf shove into the now empty spaces. 🙂 It’s a process. Sometimes you have to “shove” and “stick” stuff in temporary homes.
 
Take a pic if you do this and let me know what you think!
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So, ask me now, did I do anything she suggested? No. Not one doggone thing. The suggestions were brilliant, and the questions she asked totally helped frame some of the problems I was having, but somehow I couldn’t get started. I waited until she got here and this is what she did ::

Enter the Madness

Make a Plan

Who knew thinking up a plan could be so adorable and stylish? Maybe I should get out of my yoga pants and throw on some make-up when it’s time to clean up…

But seriously, where I was paralyzed with inactivity and feeling overwhelmed with all the decisions that would have to be made, she dove right in. We started moving things around, putting them in “temporary” locations, so we could start with a “fresh slate”.

Jump On In

And it’s here that I’ll mention two things : One, it’s embarrassing to have your dearly beloveds come to your house and dig you out of the messes you’ve gotten yourself into… while Heather worked on the pantry, Ashley worked in the playroom; and two, they were the very epitome of grace while doing it, and managed to put me and my neurosis at ease and make the process as fun as it could be. They are good peeps, those two.

Make a Bigger Mess

So here’s the thing; with this type of project, as with most on this scale, it all gets worse before it gets better. It reminds me of the mess the movers made a few years go when we first moved up to the Boston area. If the gals weren’t here, I would’ve probably stopped right here and started to cry. Then waited a month of two to get started again.

Any Shelter In a Storm

I wasn’t the only one feeling a titch overwhelmed. Some of the youngin’s felt they need protective gear to get through!

Wear Protective Gear

Try Not To Look

See Past It

Seriously, this is the moment that I realized how important it was to have someone helping me through the process that isn’t emotionally attached to the stuff. Heather is able to see the end goal; she envisioned where things were going to go and what needed to be moved around and in what order. I saw growing piles of unfulfilled dreams, an encapsulation of all the things I wanted to do but haven’t made time for. Piles and piles and piles of teeny tiny little failures. It’s no wonder I couldn’t jump in and organize it on my own.

Hallways Are Awesome

Heather doesn’t see the unmade gourmet meals I had planned to create to nourish my family. She doesn’t see unbaked cookies, an unconstructed lasagna, loaves of bread that were never kneaded into life, a fear of being without, of not having enough. She sees the clutter for what it is, and she has the personal distance from my symbolic mental contortions that it’s much easier for her to stay focused.

WHITE SPACE

And focus she did, with a laser-like clarity. Looky at this image above… actual WHITE SPACE! It was such an amazing thing to see only a few hours into this task. One shelf almost entirely organized, and glorious, beautiful, fabulous white space, space that has nothing but air and clarity and fulfillment and promise.

I didn’t think that organizing the pantry would be quite so cathartic, but I will tell you, it was one hell of a therapy session! And it only cost me dinner!!

Surviving a Blizzard It’s Two AM Style

First, pitch a tent, assuming (quite correctly I might add) that you’ll lose power in the 75 miles per hour gusts and the living room and its gas fireplace will be the only warm place in the house.

Pitch a Tent

The Tent

Make sure there are plenty of sleeping bags, flashlights, and extra blankets.

Tent and Sleeping Bags

Be thankful you didn’t take all those extra blankets to Goodwill as you wanted every single time you saw the box in the basement.

Blankets All Over

Blanket the Doorways

Find some puzzles.

Puzzles

And find your knitting. Hope the kids will actually give you some time to knit during the daylight hours. Hints for those who guessed incorrectly :: They didn’t.

LOTS of Knitting

Read books. Eat cookies.

Read Books

Wear warm slippers and stay in your house coats all day (and maybe even at night!).

Wear Slippers

Take a nap.

Take Naps

Take LOTS of naps.

Take LOTS of Naps

Eat some cake you pulled out of the oven one hour before the power went out.

Eat Cake

Get outside in all your wind and water proof gear.

Play Outside

Drag yourself out to get some pictures, since it’s the first real snow you’ve seen all year. Great White North my a$$.

Snow Blown

Drifted In

Front Porch

Side Porch

These hips don’t lie folks. That’s a drift that goes above my waist if I would’ve let myself sink all the way down.

Hips Don't Lie

Enjoy it while it’s there, because it won’t last long.

Backyard Trees

The Backyard

Enjoy taking off your boots and getting back into your warm cozy slippers sitting beside the fire.

Snowy Snow Boots

Really enjoy having a mud room that can handle all you can give it.

Mud Room Mess

Once the gales die down, watch the storm out at sea.

Stormed Out at Sea

Watch your poor sea-bound lighthouse get battered.

23 Surfside Neighbors

Poor lighthouse. Poor seaside neighbors…

Poor Lighthouse

Play the game :: Will He Get Stuck or Won’t He? (Answer :: Only stuck for a half hour in our driveway, three hours in our neighbor’s.)

Will He Make It

Enjoy your new perspective.

Inside Perspective

Outside Persepctive

Marvel at the fact that you managed to finish your hat, despite the kids’ best efforts.

Make A Hat

And then begin the arduous process of cleaning it all up, and hope like hell it’s done before the week is out. (Hint :: It isn’t)

Clean Up

The Pantry Project :: Truth Telling Time

A few weeks, erm, uh, months ago, I  wrote to one of my friends, Heather, to ask beg for help with a project that needed some attention :: My pantry. I am lucky enough to have a friend who loves to organize, even though I thought such a person only lived in rainbow-land with the unicorns.

These are the pictures I sent her, which I will present to you, without comment.

Pantry Right

Pantry Left

Under the Window

Under Left Side Shelves

Second Detail

Junk Drawer Stuff

Glass Jars

Far Left of Shelves

Details Of Shelves

Back Of Door

That’s my pantry in all its glorious, hideous, excess of mess. She took pity on me, and this week I’m going to tackle this disaster (which has only gotten worse since I wrote the email, I can no longer see the floor) with her help. I’m gathering up all my resources and motivation now because she’s coming at the end of the week for a visit, and I want to get the pantry looking as close to those photos as I can, so I have some work to do. I am so thankful that I will be able to corral this into something that works better and I’m not embarrassed to be seen in. This is my project for the week; I hope you’ll stick around and chide me when I fall behind and offer your brilliant ideas and laugh when I spill lentils all over the floor.

Please, tell me I’m not the only one with a pantry like this?

A Sideboard Journey

A few years ago, my mom and my step-dad decided to downsize their home significantly, which was lucky for me because there were quite a few pieces I was able to “inherit” because there wouldn’t be any space for them in their new digs.

One of them was this sideboard.

Brown Sideboard

I have this rather awkward spot in my kitchen—you can it a bit better in this post—where the countertop ends abruptly and leaves an empty space where cabinets would normally go. We could use those extra cabinets, or more specifically, we could really use the extra counter space. One of my main frustrations with this kitchen is the lack of space between the sink, the stove, and the end of the counter. The layout is just strange, and if I could figure out how to get more space between the stove and sink, make the sink a double-well, and somehow balance it all perfectly with that gorgeous window, then I would probably love my kitchen. Right now my kitchen and I have a mostly working relationship, but we don’t like hanging out after hours.

When we originally bought the house, the previous owners left us two desks that fit side-by-side in this space, but we decided to put those in the living room so the kids could use them for their homework, without being in the middle of the kitchen fray. As a temporary stop-gap measure, we decided to throw in my Mom’s sideboard. But that dark brown just wasn’t doing anything for me. So even though I promised myself I wouldn’t start another piece of furniture until that blasted hutch was finished, I ordered some Annie Sloan chalk paint in Provence and dove right on in.

Here it is after the first coat…
First Coat

First Coat Art Shot

And here’s What happened when I got to the second coat…
Second Coat Drawer Fronts

And here’s the beginnings of the third coat, that yellowish tinge…
Third Coat Top

Fourth Coat

And that brown-ish awfulness in this shot… that’s the beginning of the fourth coat… or what would’ve been the fourth coat if I wasn’t extremely unhappy with how it looked.Fourth Coat Begun

So this is what the fourth/fifth coat actually ended up being… (at this point I stopped counting individual layers)The Fifth Coat

Detail of Fifth Coat

And just in case you thought that I managed to finish all this in one sitting because my kids are busy sitting quietly in their playroom, building the next innovation in robotic technology while implementing their newly formed Middle East peace plan and eating their self-prepared PB&J sandwiches leaving me in my solitude to paint, wax, and clean-up the kitchen, this work happened over seven days, and caused all other work (excepting the laundry… there is always laundry…) to stop. Here’s the Keepin’ It Real shot.Keepin It Real

After seven more days, and several more coats of wax and paint, this is what I came up with…All Done

Another Angle of Done

Still All Done

The Top Is All Done Too

The cabinet has become the lunch box prep station with snacks on the top…
Snacks On Top

Painted drawers full of containers and sandwich sleeves…
Steel Container Drawer

A thermos cabinet that also hold the baby’s snack cups…
Thermos Cabinet

A drawer full of boxes and bags…
Lunch Bag Drawer

The other drawer contains loose change for lunch money on pizza day, and the other cabinet is full of snacks. I have to say, it’s been working very well for us!

Because I invested so much time refinishing this beast, I’m going to share a few more details of the paint and wax. You think you’re bored? Imagine how I felt after the ninth coat…
Surface Deet

Surface Corner

Left Face Deet

Scroll Cabinet Deet

Shes Got Legs

Paint Deet A

Knobs

Paint Deet B

Paint Deet C

Paint Deet D

Paint Deet E

So there she is… a modern colored wax and distressed Annie Sloan chalk paint furniture refinish. Hours and hours of work, building and buffing, painting and sanding…

And here’s the rub… I think I hate it.

Yeah. I’m going to live with it for quite a bit longer before I make a decision, but I’m thinking I might start pushing the hubster to invest in those base cabinets and new countertop.

I guess I should insert something here about destination vs. journey, but mostly I’m considering this a live and learn type of thing.

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:: Linking to These Fabulous Sites ::
Today’s Creative Blog, Miss Mustard SeedUnder the Table and Dreaming,

The Playroom Project

Raise your hand if your house is dustless, clutter-free, organized to a T, and scrubbed ’til it shines… anyone? any single one of you? If you have your hand raised and are waving it madly, you might want to look away from this post and come back in a few days.

I do not have a spotless, dustless, toy-and-clutter-free home. But I surely appreciate all those things and desperately try to wrangle our lives in a close approximation of all those untenable goals in a life filled with small children and big dreams. So I take small steps in between sips of coffee and tip-toe past the ever-present piles of laundry to tackle a few minutes here and there of larger projects that normally overwhelm me. I’m starting to learn how to break down those looming tasks into smaller steps that help me feel like I’m making progress. It’s not my forte, but we all need something to work on, yes?

In the parlance of our time, folks, I’m about to “keep it real.” Here is the state of the kids’ playroom when I realized it was way past time for an intervention.

Play Room 1

Play Room 2

Play Room 3

Play Room 4

Play Room 6

Play Room 5

Play Room 7

Here’s the thing I’ve noticed about my kids and their clutter in particular. When they are unable to keep things cleaned up by themselves in ten minutes or less, there is a steady and rapid slide into chaos. Everyone is unhappy. Two years ago I became so frustrated with the level of mess, that I attacked the toy piles (and piles and piles…) with a handful of trash bags. I was worried about the revolution I would face come the morning when sleepy eyes looked around and saw the Shock and Awe assault levied on their bits and bobs and plastic parts… But here’s the rub. Not only did they not notice, they were better able to focus on what they were playing with and suffered fewer distractions. It was as if a tiny cloud from heaven descended upon us and restored peace and sanity. They never mentioned the toys, I never missed them, and no one every noticed (or said anything if they did) that a few of their gifts had gone missing. I certainly appreciated a break from trying to keep all the tiny little toys together in their sets, the kids found awesome little substitues when needed, everyone was happy.

We have repeated this scenario enough times that I know it wasn’t just a fluke. I also know that the slash and burn is long past due, and it’s one of the projects I’ve been slowly chipping away at for the past three weeks. It’s almost done. I can’t wait. Can. Not. Wait.

And this post is the last little bit of incentive I’m offering up to get me past this last little push I’ll need to get. it. done. Another mark off my to-do list.

Why I Shouldn’t Bake

I, my dear folk, am not a baker.

I have been trying to convince friends and family members for many years that baking is something other people should do but not a skill to which I should invest any further energy. I can cook up a storm, and if it’s going to take a week for certain recipes (heck, I’ll even go a few months if I’m pickling!)… Sure! Sign me up. But I’ve been beaten so many times when attempting to bake, that I’ve finally realized it’s beyond me. I think it’s a good thing to know your limits.

Take for instance, an example of an early attempt to bake a boxed cake. It turns out that 2/3 cup of water does not mean “between two and three cups.” Or the time I added a floral scented trash can deodorizer to a batter instead of baking soda. And I wouldn’t want to overlook how many times I’ve forgotten ingredients: Butter is one that’s often left out, but I’ve also missed the blueberries in muffins, apples in an apple cake, or the baking soda, baking powder, and sometimes, both. It’s just not my thing folks.

But I have kids, and they like baked goods. And even though I much prefer pickles, I get a hankering for something sweet every now and then as well. And now that the kids and I are back to our daily afternoon tea, it’s nice to have a home baked bit of goodness instead of the cardboard cookies that come out of a box.

I decided to hunker down and hurdle my baking shortcomings, and ran to the pantry to grab a few ingredients to make a clafoutis, one of our all-time favorite desserts. It’s a cross between a cake, a custard, and a pancake with fruit. It is really super easy to thrown together, and the results are nearly always stunning.

Clafoutis Mise

So I set the oven to preheat, prepared my pan with melted butter, arranged my prune plums in a beautiful pattern, mixed the ingredients for the batter, poured it in slowly so as not to disturb the fruit, then placed it in the oven ever-so-gently. After I closed the door, I realized I was looking at a bowl full of melted butter that never made it to the batter. Here’s what a clafoutis looks like right as your begin mixing in the butter while letting all the heat out of the oven.

Forgotten Butter

Right. Fun times.

Of course, and hour later when I came down to take it out to set, I realized that when I mixed the butter in the batter, I also shut off the oven. So back it went with the oven turned back to the proper temperature, and off I went to grab the second grader at school while our lovely teenaged sitter watched the little ones. When I walked back into the smoke filled house (eek!), I ran into the kitchen and threw open the door, realizing through the thick smoke that poured out the the toddler has figured out how to turn the oven dials.

And I know you might not believe me, but I took that clafoutis out of the oven, put it on a rack to rest and chill, and that doggone thing was baked perfectly and tasted lovely. Sure wish I would’ve gotten a picture, but it didn’t last long…

I think I’ll stick to steak.

I’ve Been Painting

Painting Pretty

But it hasn’t been going well.

Play Well Together

I don’t often get my color choices wrong, but when I do, ugh, it takes a while to figure out and fix. There was too much yellow in that first green. Off to the store to try a few more, but this time in sample size instead of a gallon.

I had some pictures of how it looked on the wall, all those ugly big green splotches, and it all made me sad. I like to paint, I seem to be addicted to color, and I don’t like it when the colors aren’t working. But when I started to crop them down to see if I coud get better color correction and work out some white balance issues, they started looking a little bit like pieces of abstract art.

Third Try Frame

I like these much better.

First Third Try

Too bad they’ll all be gone soon.

Abstract 1

Or maybe, not so bad.

Abstract 3

I feel like some sort of project might be in line with these images… we’ll have to see.

Abstract 4

Yes, in fact, this is yet another disaster.

A Garden Dinner Disaster

A few short hours ago, the fam and I arrived back home safely from a quick trip back to Pennsylvania. Since I did all the driving, once we walked through the door and got the kids some cereal (they only get cereal for dinner when they’ve been really, really good!), Daddy was in charge while I got dinner together. And even though I considered grabbing us both a bowl and a spoon, after walking out back to check on the garden, I realized dinner was at my fingertips.

Garden Goods

Beets, cukes, chives, lemon balm, and thai basil, all ready for some dressing-up. I would like to take credit for the cherry tomatoes, but I can’t as those are from my father’s little backyard plot; my tomatoes aren’t quite ready yet. I am starting to wonder if I might have a case of late summer tomato blight, but I’m not sure that their current condition wasn’t brought about by an unfortunate lack of watering while we were gone. Oh dear.

Noodle Cukes

As I lovingly washed my veggies, then sliced into the cucumber, I thought I could whip up a Thai/Vietnamese summer noodle dish that would highlight the beet greens, herbs, and veg… it would also be quick and require little more stove time that boiling a pot of water. Done!

Nuoac Cham

So I grabbed the fish sauce, limes, garlic, sugar, and chili sauce (I’m plumb out of fresh chilies)…

Noodle Bowl

Soaked, rinsed, and distributed the noodles…

Noodle Finis

Juilenned, chiffonaded, and dressed the greens and herbs on top of the tomatoes and cukes, which were resting ever so gently above the rice noodles.

Doesn’t look so bad, right?

Soap for Dinner

It. Was. Terrible.

I mean awful. Ridiculously disgusting. Bitter, overpowering… soapy! Really… I swear it was like eating flakes of Ivory. So much time and energy and patience wasted while watching and tending to those little guys when I could have just plopped down a dollar at the pharmacy for a bar of soap. The sauce was delicious, but everything else was so over-the-top strong, that both my husband and I cut our losses and ran back to the kitchen for some noodles and cukes (after fishing out all of my dad’s tomatoes!).

Recovery Bowl

I have a feeling that tomorrow there will be a clean patch of dirt where I’ve stripped the earth of the offending romantic-garden-ideal-busting Ivory soap plant. Oh yes, Hell hath no fury like the woman frothing at the mouth from a sudsy leaf!

A Deep Breath

Vacation

Dear Friends
I am so sorry about my absence from this space. The month of June was filled with quite a number of time-consuming events—a birthday, unexpected emergencies, a few visits—and stays—at the hospital (no worries, we are all fine now), end-of-the-year school activities, visits (some planned, a few, um, urgently requested–thanks again Mom!) from beloved family members… there was barely any time to catch my breath let alone blog (or even do laundry).

We have managed to escape back home for an extended visit with my family for a few weeks. In the mad rush to get everything ready for our drive back home with four kids, one grandparent, one harried mother, and a dog, our family car broke down causing us to scrounge around for a rental just a few hours before we left town. I still managed to get everything packed for everyone—efficiently in one suitcase, even remembering my favorite flip-flops, my hat, and enough yarn to last me at least two months—only to discover once we arrived that I had not packed one stitch of clothing for myself. No PJs, no shorts, no tops, no bathing suit, nor underwear. Please tell me I’m not the only one to do such a thing! Luckily, I was able to locate my sense of humor, my emergency credit card, and the clearance rack at the local discount store, so the situation has been salvaged.

We are all being spoiled rotten and spending as much time as we can slowing down and relearning to breath deeply. I have a few things to show you, and now that I have some time, I’m looking forward to getting them posted.

Yours Truly,
-Cheryl

Seeking Comfort

This week… well… this week is one I’m hoping to put behind us as soon as possible. With an accidental head injury that caused an emergency trip to the hospital, it’s been a struggle—quite literally—to stay on our feet. Unfortunately the blog had to sit on the sideline for a bit while we figure out how to keep our little one still and calm. We need some time for rest to allow that little body to heal.

Today my mom came from out of town to stay with us for two weeks, and the timing could not have been any better. I am so grateful that she’s here. To show my appreciation, I made her an omelette with some butter braised radishes, pea shoots, and radish greens from the garden with a bit of ham and feta. Omelettes are one of our preferred comfort foods here, and making a few is one way I have tried to restore some sense of order and normalcy to help wrap up this week.

Home Grown Radishes

Butter Braise

Spring Greens

Stuffing the Omelette

Cutting Into It

Up Close and Personal

I guess if taking pictures while you make and eat your food is what you might consider normal, then we may have seen a tiny glimpse of it today.