Wednesday, December 28, 2011

This Year He Outdid Himself

Santa Claus has never let me down in this one thing...

Every year he manages to scour this planet and then lovingly present one of my children with some beautiful picture book that no mother would ever be able to read aloud the whole way through.

I think he knows I like crying.

But this year he pulled out all the stops and reached new levels of Mommy tears. Someone small had nestled in her bundle of cutie-pie gifts the following book:

Now this pearl of a book applies to any child and any parent, but if you know the story of the tears shed over the little recipient of this Santa gift and how only her loving Father God knows what her future holds, it takes on a special poignancy.  I will never read this book aloud to her.

I couldn't.

So if you know a Mommy (or Daddy) whose child's crown may be a little different, who's chromosomes have a little extra addition or whose path isn't typical, I could not recommend a more beautiful or fitting gift to give, not because it's Christmas, but because you're just thinking of them.

In the meantime...SANTA...WHY do you keep doing this to me??


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Friday, December 23, 2011

Don't Forget Him...Or Him.

A lot of years ago I worked with this lovely girl.  She was the only one of about eight of us who was married and the rest of us were always asking her to tell us her romantic stories, under the impression that after a number of years of marriage, one's knees would still be turning to jelly in the presence of him!  One day we were asking her about her wedding day.

"Oh it was the best day of my life!! I never saw Eamon from one end of the day to the other!!"

Now this lovely girl really loved her husband.  She meant the above as two separate sentences, one as a statement of how she loved her wedding day, the other, a by the way observation. Not it was the best day  because she didn't see her new husband all day.

Yesterday for some reason, something triggered off that memory, maybe because I've been thinking about how busy the Christmas season is, especially for married couples, and especially when there are children, small or big, in the picture.  I know it is politically incorrect to say this, but certainly amongst my millions of friends, there are only a handful where the husband does the majority of work in the home.  That is not to say that the husbands don't work equally hard elsewhere or are in any way less committed or loving.  I'm just saying that's my experience.  Anyway, my point is that over Christmas can be very very busy for wives in particular.

When there are guests around and special meals to prepare, houses to adorn and all the other stuff that goes along with Christmas, I know I can slip into the mode of ignoring the two persons in my life who are the two who are best able to actually help me through it all.

In an earlier blog I wrote about not hiding your wishes from your spouse simply as regards gifts.  Now I'm saying you shouldn't hide your wishes from him in any area.  Today though, I'm just thinking about Christmas.

One year we had a large number of extended family with us for Christmas dinner. Out of some sort of deluded pride, I refused all offers for help from the sitting room, cheerfully calling out how I was managing  just fine Thanks!!
Next thing, as I was struggling with the turkey, it flumped out of the oven, sloshing my precious gravy juices all over the floor!

I had no time to clean up the mess so I manhandled the damn turkey back into the oven and threw a bunch of newspapers onto the grease all over the floor.  

I was so stressed.

Poor John had the misfortune to appear at that moment offering some help...

...he got it in the neck!!

It has taken me about five or six years to realise that at that moment, instead of turning on my husband who had done nothing wrong, I should have told him I was coping badly, or at least started crying!  He was the best person who could have understood and helped and instead I cut the rope that could have saved me.

My point about all this is just this:

Your spouse is not the enemy, he is usually your friend and he may be just delighted to be asked specifically what he can do as believe it or not it is not always obvious to him.  It is hard to interpret a cutting comment as a request for a hug.

Even if nothing goes wrong and Christmas is just lovely, in a crowd I have often found that an event can speed by and I may not have spoken a single word to John, just like my friend on her wedding day.

So over Christmas, don't forget your spouse, catch his eye, smile.  That may be all it takes in busy or stressful moments to keep that bond special and intimate, even in the crowded room.

Oh, and the OTHER HIM...?

Don't forget Him.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It's The Final Countdown

OK...I am not going to have time to organise and clean your home for you before Christmas. Between important parcels being lost in the post and the mail returning packages to sender from under my nose I've had a bit of extra rushing around to do.

However, not to let you down when you were depending on me (ho ho ho) I'm just going to give you some of my top tips for a final surge of organising that shouldn't drain that crucial energy you will be needing in the next week or so. Take a few of them on board and see what works for you, you may have some better ideas yourself.

Here goes:
Tiny Time

Do you know what Tiny Time is?

Tiny Time is the tiny snippets of time we all have sprinkled throughout the day in which so much could be achieved but rarely is.  I bet you can name at least ten examples but first I want you to stop reading this and look at your watch if it has a second hand on it.  Watch that little arm ticking around for 30 seconds.  

Now...that took longer than you thought, didn't it?

That's roughly about the time it takes to warm up something small in the microwave.  Boiling a kettle takes even longer, as does waiting for someone to come downstairs when you call them (which, if it's your child, could be a pretty long time!).  Waiting for a computer to turn on or a page to print. During the advertisements on television...the list goes on.  

What do we usually do during these tiny moments?


That's what.

Now long does it take to load a washing machine? Less than one minute.
Sorting  laundry,  writing a shopping list, clearing off a table,  checking the post, planning dinner, changing a bin bag.  
Perhaps use those moments to evaluate your day so far, renew your resolutions or maybe even say a little prayer and start again. 
These are all things that can easily be fitted into tiny time with great effectiveness at no loss to you.  That time would otherwise have been wasted while you stared at the microwave or got frustrated with your child and the jobs would still have had to be done another time.  

This is a very good habit you can train in your children, especially during tv shows when you might be just as happy that they miss the ads anyway.

Try it next time:

" Quick...ADS...Everyone!! Out into the kitchen and do ten (or 20) things each!!! Quick!!"

Depending how many children you have, or even just yourself, that's a lot of things that wouldn't have been done otherwise. In my case, if  Dad and I join in, that's 70 THINGS!!! And nobody misses a single minute of their programme.

Let The Chemicals Do Their Job
(or Never Scrub Again)

Do you know that cleaning chemicals work by dissolving and softening various kinds of 'dirt'.  This is obvious when you hear it yet you often see people using cleaning products by spraying wherever they want to clean and then immediately scrubbing the surface.  In that case the surface gets clean but the chemical hasn't done it, it may as well have been plain water that was used.  It's your elbow grease that has done the work.  So why pay for something and then do it's job ?  

The chemicals need a little time to work so next time you're cleaning a cooker top or your bathroom sink, or anywhere actually...

(Hey I just made that up :-) )

Go back a few minutes later (during which you have put on a wash and emptied the bins)

Now...WIPE with plain water and watch the grease or soap build up or grime just flow away, saving your energy, which can be put to better and more fun use elsewhere.

Hands Up Who Has Wasted Their Hands

Look down and count your hands.  I'm guessing you have two.

Now Watch This:

Most of us use just one of these amazing tools while we're going about our day to day activities.  We clean off  with one hand, apply cleaner with the same hand, rinse it off with the same hand again and finally buff with...guess what? Yes, the same hand again.  All the while the other hand, this unique tool which no scientist has been able to replicate, is lying limply by our side.  

I don't need to go into a big dissertation on this, just use both your hands...wipe down with one hand, buff with the other...twice the work done in half the time.

You Don't Need To Clean It If It's Not THERE!

Have a look at this picture I just found on Google Images

I don't think it's unfair to say this is a typical teenager's room, or even the typical room of plenty of adults.
Put yourself into your child's mind when you banish them to their room until it's in order.  Look at this'd be a soul destroying task trying to put it in order.  There's too much stuff in it and it'd be hard to even know where to start even with the best of intentions.  What happens is the teen (or you) picks up something, it has no home so it can't be put away, it's put down again.  Another object...same story.  Before a  few minutes the teen (or you) is disheartened and abandons the task in favour of some form of procrastination.

The only way around this cycle is to get rid of the things that are clogging up your rooms and your life.

I'll blog another time about the clutter problem but nobody will ever convince me that they are happier with a load of stuff everywhere that they can't put away, tidy, or even use because they don't know what's actually there, than they would be with only the things they love, use or need. How can something you don't love, use, or even find make you happy.

I'm not talking about having a minimalist house with no adornment.  I have always loved the Brambly Hedge books.  Look at this illustration, I think Poppy knows what's in this room and where it is.

To make your life easier, your housework much, much faster, you are going to have to de-clutter. Leave it till after Christmas and take it as a New Year project but today just do this:

Take a black bag and put 27 things into it.  
(you can find 27 things...look in your rummage drawer, your undies drawer, children's room)
 DON'T say, "Such & Such might like this, or So & So might take that".
Now tie the top and THROW it in the bin.

That is 27 things gone out of your life FOREVER.
You will never need to think of them, clean them or tidy them ever again.

Now do the same thing tomorrow.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

I Packed My Portmanteau & In It I Put..

Do you remember the game we used to play in school-I Packed My Portmanteau?
There are lots of variations of this memory game but this was the one I played. Each player added an item to the list of 'stuff' packed in the portmanteau and the next player had to remember and name the items in the correct order. The random selection of zany items packed into those holiday portmanteaux was usually hilarious!
It was one of the many, many car games I regularly played with my siblings, as we travelled 14 miles to and fro (no not barefoot) to school each day with my father who was the Headmaster to a small country school. Lots of journeys to invent ways to pass the time. In the 1970s car heaters were for keeping the windscreen clear, not for the comfort of the children piled in the back, so arctic survival was a frequent theme during the winter with my father's big and comforting anorak and some tartan blankets that lived in the car as props. As well as no heat we had no seat-belts either, so we had blissful freedom of movement.

Unless, that is, you were going on holidays and you happened to be the eldest of the youngest half of the children.  Then you were squashed in the back with two sprawling, sleeping little ones, as well as with all the bed linen needed for eight people for the entire summer (the roof rack being already crammed to capacity) in Heaven By The Sea.

In that case, there was no movement of any sort-free or otherwise!!

Anyway, back to the portmanteau.

I was reminded of it today when I was practicing what I preached and doing a bit of decluttering. I decided to attack the cupboards in the laundry/utility/kitchen storage area.

This is what I found:

I 'unpacked' my portmanteau, and OUT I took;

Two lunchboxes with broken handles, one with a broken zip.

A Microwave Oven Chip Cook Pan (??)

A kettle that won't turn itself off (in case we ever have a crowd in).

A Waffle Pan which was used every day for about a week.

A bulky, bitsy steamer which I thought would be a great idea 
but is a pain in the neck to assemble, clean and store so it's never used.

A huge piece of wood to show you how to divide pizza into six pieces.

Some sort of gimmicky teapot I bought.

Two huge pitchers I have no idea why I bought 
(maybe the above mentioned crowd?).

A brand-named, and therefore overpriced, chocolate melter.

And I'm embarrassed to say..A Plate Warmer!
(Was I gone off my rocker?)

Not a single one of these items has made my life one bit easier, has made me happy, allowed me to have more time with my family or have been worth the money I paid for them.

What they did do, however, is take up valuable storage space in my home,  making my life actually more difficult as I struggled to tidy up, find suitable places for things that are really useful and used.  Many's the time I have been like the conductor on the proverbial Chinese train, pushing with force trying to cram things into unavailable space.  With six children in the house, often times the grocery shop has been left overflowing onto worktops while this rubbish languished pride of place in my cupboards. 

So enough is enough, this stuff is getting it's comeuppance!!

OK...Now here's your challenge...go and have a look and see what junk you are lovingly storing in your premium storage spots.  I'd be very interested.

Good Luck with that.

And I hope you enjoyed your date night :-)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Get Set...

I'm taking it that you now are dressed in something comfy and trendy, you have your make up on, your play list lined up and you're ready for action.  But first of all you will need to gather up a few more bits and pieces to enable you to do a good job with the greatest efficiency.

Now, before I start on my list of what (I think) you need, I just want to reiterate....I am not some sort of  a cleaning guru.  Neither am I Anthea Turner Perfect Housewife, I'm not Supermom, Superwoman or anything else like that.  If I spill red wine on my wisely bought pure wool white carpet in my living room, I look up the internet to remember whether I am supposed to throw a glass of white wine onto the stain or drink a glass of white wine and maybe another glass of the red while I'm at it!!

No, of course I don't have a white carpet ;-)

I'm just passing on the advice I have tried from real gurus which in my experience really work.  You can take it or leave it, but I think you should take it :-).  The beauty is in the simplicity.

Here's my list:

(1)  Caddy

As you can see, the caddy is much smaller than the cupboard underneath the kitchen sink.  This is because the majority of the stuff you store under there can be dumped into the nearest bin.  If you watch professional cleaners and janitors at work, they do not have a thousand bottles of cleaning products, each of which cleans only one specific type of stain.  They have maybe three different chemicals, and that is for industrial cleaning.

 Most homes are not so dirty as to need harsh chemicals and dozens of speciality cleaning products. In fact, a lot of the time ll you need is water!  

As well as that, have a look at the household cleaning aisle in your, in your mind visualise the price of the active cleaning ingredient...add on the expensive packaging, the million varieties of perfumes,  the sweet-shop colours, the amazing dispensing methods, the mop-heads that only fit that one specific product, the single use items, the latest marketed gimmicks that are on flashy stands at eye level.... I'm telling you...Ker-ching!!

(2)  Black Sacks

In my experience this is the most important thing in your kit.

(3)  Tuff Stuff

Now you might be surprised to see a car care product here.  It is a foam cleaner which you can get in motor factor shops.  I have tried many, many cleaning products and I have never come as close to a miracle cleaner as this.  A friend of my husband's, who is the Dad of a large family, gave us a half tin of it a number of years ago and told us to just try it.  The good salesman believes in the product, and the good product sells itself.  I'll go into more detail later but now you're just gathering up your equipment, but suffice to say, I have found this to be a very effective cleaner that has a very gentle smell and is not irritating to hands.  In fact one time in uttter desperation trying to remove what seemed like permanent false tan stains from my palms
(you know the picture, it won't wash off and you're already running late for a wedding!! ) I grabbed the Tuff Stuff and guess what--it worked!!

 I didn't say that!!!

 (4)  E-Cloth.

I sat on the fence for all of about three seconds as to whether to include e-cloths to your caddy and as you can see I came down on the side of yes.  My (very brief) hesitation was because these are quite expensive.  I had heard about them for a long time before I actually bought one as I thought they couldn't be worth the price.  However, a good product sells itself and this is a product that does exactly what it says it does.  Cleans smear-free with nothing but water. Perfect for homes where asthma, eczema or other allergies are a problem.
 There are countless other micro-fibre cloths on the market but none do what e-cloths do.  In fact I have given them as incidental gifts to friends as I have found them so good. You just need to take care of them but that is easy.

Although they are expensive in specialist shops, I see them regularly in TKMaxx for a fraction of the price.  Also try EBay you will surely find them cheaper there, or ask someone to get you a starter pack...or buy one for your children! They'll be overjoyed!!

(5) Toothbrush

Don't use a clapped-out old brush with splayed bristles...for goodness sake, buy a cheap new one in the pound shop! It's obvious what this is for, a great time saver.

(6)  Glass Scraper.

We had some work done in the house a year or two ago and the builder gave me his one of these to help me remove little clumps of plaster and paint from the floor tiles.  I haven't been without one since.  I literally use it every day.  A word of caution, these are stanley knife blades so maybe keep it in a safe place and put it in your caddy only when you are 'in action'.

(7)  My Two Favourite Dusters.

Sheepskin duster because it creates static which attracts the dust.

Feather duster because you (or the children) can swish away to your heart's content and not break anything .
And it makes you feel a bit like this:

Well that's your core equipment, you probably should add a general all-purpose cleaner ans some furniture polish but they're not worth blogging about.

Next post...after gathering all that stuff, you must be worn out!!

I think you need a Date Night.

We can finish cleaning another time.

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

On Your Marks...

December has arrived and we're now starting to count down the days till Christmas.  Each family has different things they find important as part of their preparations, some make numerous Christmas cakes to give away, others plan guest lists and menus, others clean.
Of course not everybody scrubs and cleans their house as part of their Christmas preparations, preferring a traditional Spring clean in, well...Spring.
If you are one of these people, I can promise you now  you will still be able to glean from what I put in the next few posts about housekeeping and apply it when next you are deep cleaning your home.

I'm probably quite unusual in that I actually enjoy reading and listening to podcasts about cleaning and efficiency technique, not because I get a huge kick out of cleaning, and not because I'm 'house-proud' (which I consider to be a vice rather than any virtue)  but rather because I really, really wanted to learn how  to minimise the time I spend in these tasks and still do a good job. Why?  Because the people who gain most are my husband, my children, the people I love and myself.  Years ago I was struggling to keep on top of everything though I had a fraction of the children I now have and would often be exhaustedly mopping the floor at 11pm before falling into bed, only to do the same thing next day.  It was completely untenable.

Now, I'm relieved to say I've streamlined my techniques over the years and copied/pasted ideas from a number of writers and speakers onto my own template and while it's still a work in progress (and always will be) I think I'm getting there.

So here's my promise:

I guarantee you now, if you follow even some of the advice I have picked up and am passing will definitely find that you are, in fact, able to do a lot more in a lot less time.


That elusive treasure that slips through our fingers, is always running out and which we just never seem to have enough of.  All the lovely things we would do if only we had more time.  If only housework wasn't hogging so much of our time.  Look, what do you have to lose?  Absolutely nothing.  What have you to gain? Well what you do with your extra time is up to you.

Me? Lets just say I have a lot more time...and  I keep a blog or two..

So First Things First

Quite clearly one blog post is not going to cover every aspect of housekeeping so today it's just setting the stage.  Some of these items might surprise you and seem silly, but believe me, they're most definitely not silly in the slightest.

Here we go:

In order to do a good job you will firstly need a pair of shoes that are not slippers or flip-flops!!!

The reason for wearing proper shoes as opposed to flip-flops or slippers is because you are dressing for efficiency.  Slippers are for winding down, slowing down and stopping.  Shoes that look good and feel good put a spring in your step and help you put your best foot forward, so to speak.

Secondly: You need to dress in an outfit that is comfortable, and VERY IMPORTANTLY  you know you look good in.  Ideally it should be a bit hip and trendy.


The reason for this is that as I have written in an earlier post 
about the way the general culture places such little value on work done by mostly women inside their own homes, you need to hold your head up when you catch a glimpse of yourself in one of your many mirrors and be able to say

 'I'm cool. I'm Hip, and I'm Damn good at my job,  Sister'.

Thirdly, for the same will need this:

OK..are you beginning to get the picture?

Next you will need :

Music Player.

A Phone with a built in timer application. (or else a timer).

And now you're ready to go.


You'll need proper equipment and stuff...

...And that'll be my next post! 

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Don't Forget To Include 'HIM'

The season of Advent begins today and so too the 'official' countdown to Christmas.  I don't think I have much time to post about all the lovely ideas I have found for Christmas gifts but I hope to maybe fit a few more in.  Today to mark the beginning of the preparations I have decided to remember just exactly why we even have Christmas.  We often throw about the phrase 'The True Meaning of Christmas' almost at the same time as we are elbowing our fellow shoppers out of the way, clocking up our credit card bill and planning how best to indulge our stomach's every whim.  But do we ever even stop for a minute to include Jesus in His own birthday party?

Quite clearly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating Christmas and celebrating it well.  Jesus Himself ate well and food features time and again in the gospels.  He said the bridegroom's friends should celebrate while he is with them and who could beat the super duper party at Cana thanks to the six pots, each containing between 16 and 24 gallons of top quality wine courtesy of Jesus? Nobody...that's who!
So it is right to celebrate but what a sad pity if we arrive at Christmas with our houses scrubbed and adorned, our cupboards full, presents wrapped and bank account cleaned out and we haven't even cast a passing thought or an iota of effort to prepare our hearts and souls for this Child.

So maybe this year we can change that and set a little bit of our preparations aside for Him.

Here are some really worthwhile things we could either give as gifts or invest in for ourselves that might help make Christmas more meaningful for us and our children or loved ones.

What Child Is This?

I have seen these beautiful statues of Baby Jesus venerated at Christmas in different places.  I think it is just a beautiful idea to have in any home, the baby can be placed in a special place on a cushion or straw crib prepared by children and the little ones (and not so little) can privately outpour all the love, thanks and kisses they naturally hold for this precious child over Christmas.  All sorts of family and national traditions can be incorporated using the statue.

I have not seen these statues in any actual shop outside of Rome, where they can be easily purchased in any shape, size or price you so choose.  However they are easily bought online and there are lots available to suit your home and pocket.  This year I also bought a tiny plastic (but pretty) baby Jesus figure for each of our children to place in their school pencil cases over Advent. I have told them that each time they open their pencil case and glimpse the baby to use it as a reminder to say a little prayer or work a little harder and offer that to Jesus as part of their Christmas preparation. Time will reveal whether it works.

Fontanini Nativity Scenes

Home Christmas Nativity scenes are an old and beautiful tradition in many countries.  Certainly there are very few Catholics who don't have fond childhood memories of placing pieces of straw, representing good deeds, along with little letters  into the crib. The crib has probably lost popularity in this last generation as it was packed away into the far corners of attics to make way for the sparkling lights and baubles of the 'Holiday' season.  Maybe it's not too late to revive this lovely devotional tradition.  One of the nicest collections I have come across are those made by the famous Italian company Fontanini.

The lovely thing about Fontanini cribs (or Crèches as our US friends say) is that they can be added to year after year.  They manufacture figures and accessories of everything that could possibly be found in that little town of Bethlehem around the time of the first Christmas. Over time an ever increasing scene can be reproduced. In fact there are competitions held every year for the best scene and there are people who dedicate huge areas of their homes, Church halls etc and lots of imagination to representing practically all of the Holy Land with the Fontanini pieces.  Obviously that is for enthusiasts but any home could build up a collection  which would be great fun and really add to the Spitit of Christmas.  I am so sorry I didn't start collecting Fontaninis when I got married.  They are inexpensive and made of resin and so don't need to be out of reach of little hands.

I think a starter set of these figures would be a great and inexpensive gift for a newly-wed couple, a godchild, or anyone in fact. 

The Miracle Maker

Finally for today, although this isn't necessarily related to Christmas as it begins somewhere during the public life of Jesus, this movie The Miracle Maker is a real treasure.  It is a stop-motion animated film using clay puppets made as a co-operative effort between UK, Russia and USA.  It has been described as the best depiction of the Gospel story ever made.  I have a VHS copy of the film and it really is very, very good.  You may think to look at it that it was made for children but in fact, though it has a U rating, it is equally suitable for adults, maybe even more so.  It is so beautifully made.  The lighting, the voices, the music...everything adds up.  I really recommend it.

I have just double-checked and it is now available on DVD in several languages. I promise you will watch it time and again.  There are clips of it on YouTube but as I'm not sure about the legality of that, I thought it better to let you find them for yourselves.  Here is the link to the trailer though:

Well I hope these ideas help you to insert a bit of the true meaning into this year's Christmas.  They are only intended as starting points to set you thinking.  I'm sure with a little imagination or with a little help from Google you will come up with lots of ideas or traditions you can revive or begin in your own home.

Next Up: Let The Scrubbing Begin

I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas on my blog, what you have enjoyed so far and anything you'd like me to include so please leave a comment :-)