cleaning tip: make your own glass spray bottle

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For those of you who have asked about my glass spray bottles, a quick tutorial. (It's hardly a tutorial.)

I happened upon this by accident one evening when Ryan made drinks and I used the last of a bottle of cleaning spray on Ralph's high chair. What do you know, the two fit together! Bada bing, bada boom.

These particular recyclables happen to be a bottle of Canada Dry tonic water and Honest Company's Multi Surface spray, though if you do a bit of digging in your bin you might find other bottles that fit with other spray tops. You know.

Just give them a wash, scrub off any labels and remove any plastic bits, cut the spray tube to size, and fill 'er up with whatever you like! Water and lavender oil make a nice room spray, if you want to start there.

I do have one slightly larger glass bottle that I bought off Amazon, but why bother when you can use what you already have, and enjoy yourself a gin and tonic?


Keeping Clean: The Cleaning Routine

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Keeping Clean Tip No. 3: Come up with a cleaning routine that works for you. Ignore the rest.

Alternate title: Let's all take a chill pill.

The problem with the cleaning routines I've seen in books and floating around on Pinterest is this: they're rigid and strict and have the power to send people into a panic-- or at the very least, make folks feel guilty about the way they clean. Monday is for bathrooms, Tuesday is for vacuuming, Wednesday is for wiping down the walls (what?) Thursday is for laundry, and so on. It all feels overbearing and stressful, and frankly, a little unrealistic. And it's not the way I like to clean.

That said, I do have my own little daily routine. It's mine, and it's good, and it's less about getting the entire house clean from top to bottom throughout the week, and much, much more about accomplishing a few choice things in order to sit down at the end of the day and say ahhhh

You see, a cleaning routine is a very personal thing.

I like to think back to the time when Ralph was a fresh newborn. I had all sorts of anxieties pulsing through my mushy mom brain, but one of the things I remember worrying about most was how on earth I was ever going to get the dishes done. I wasn't concerned with the laundry, and the groceries could always wait one more day, but, so help me, someone had to do those dishes. Ryan and I learned pretty quickly that the sight of a dirty kitchen at the end of the day stressed me out big time. We started to work harder at cleaning it up right away, so we could spend the rest of the evening taking turns shushing and bouncing a sad baby around the house.

Later on, Ralph became familiar with crunchy Cheerios and playground sand and suddenly I realized that walking on a dirty floor at the end of the day made me feel just as panicky as a dirty sink. We added sweeping and vacuuming to the list of daily chores.

I'm afraid I'm starting to sound like a nitpicky drag who can't relax with her family unless things are in exact order. And to some degree...I won't deny it. But I'm mostly trying to tell you that as I settled into my new role as stay-at-home-mom and chief keeper of the house, I began to realize just how much work needed to be done to keep a home clean-- and just how impossible that was if one wanted to accomplish anything else that day, let alone have a little fun. So, I cheated. I decided to only tackle the things that drove me nuts. And I got pretty good at turning a blind eye to whatever was left.

If, throughout the course of the day, I can manage to make the beds, keep the dishes under control, sweep up a days' worth of dust and dirt and crumbs, and give a once over to the clutter that collects on any flat surface of the house, I can enjoy myself a whole lot more. Because those are the things that, if left alone for too long, tend to make my skin prickle. 

I can also avoid scrubbing the tile in my shower for an embarrassingly long time, because, eh. Unless company is coming, I'm cool with letting it go a while.

That's why I want to laugh when I'm asked how I keep my house looking so clean, because more often than not, it's really not that clean at all. Like most people, I'd rather spend my days watching my little boy splash around in his kiddie pool, and my evenings poking around in the garden or looking for fireflies on the back step with my husband-- not tackling the "chore of the day" on my cleaning schedule printable. 

Now, if you're reading this and thinking that I didn't really provide you with any substantial cleaning tips at all, stay tuned. The way I keep my house clean has a lot to do with a really spectacular deep clean once every few weeks. It might have even more to do with getting rid of junk and trying to live with less (also known as the very trendy "minimalism" or not hoarding.) But both of those things are posts for another day.

Until then, let's all just relax a bit, shall we? Let's take care of the things that help us sleep better at night, and leave the rest for another day. There are cheeks to kiss and fireflies to catch.


Keeping Clean: The right tools

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We're going to start with the basics here, folks. My first bit of cleaning advice? Get yourself the right tools. Pretty tools. Hardworking tools. Tools that will stand the test of time and clean till they can't clean no more.

I know what you're thinking. I know. Another blogger writing about the joys of cleaning, all because of a beautiful scrub brush. And ah, there they are. The photos of the rumply stack of linen towels, and the perfectly staged wooden-handled brushes, placed next to glass bottles of natural, homemade cleaning potions. The internet is a tricky place-- one pretty picture is fully capable of making you think that when some people clean, it's a luxurious and whimsical experience full of sweet, old-fashioned charm. We all know it's not. At least, not for me.

But, go with me here. Sometimes having beautiful, well-made cleaning supplies really can make all the difference, and the secret is this: if it's lovely, you might actually use it. Especially if you can leave it out in the open.

For example, I used to be the owner of a very basic yellow and black plastic broom. It was fine. It worked great. But it was just ugly enough that I didn't want it hanging out in my kitchen full-time. And because there isn't a closet nearby to hide it in, I kept it in the basement. Sometimes just going downstairs to fetch it felt like a chore. I didn't sweep nearly as much as I should have, and my kitchen floor would get really filthy. A few years ago I moved that broom to the garage and replaced it with a well-working, good-looking broom. And I love it. It's pretty enough to leave hanging on a hook in my kitchen, and close enough to grab whenever I need it-- sometimes twice a day, thank you Ralph.

So, am I really telling you that you'll improve as a housekeeper if your broom is pretty? Well, um, yes. Kind of. You know how long road trips are made better by some good chocolate and a thick magazine? Or how the first day of school is easier to stomach if you've got a special new dress to wear? Cleaning can be a whole lot more tolerable if your tools feel fancy.

But, fancy doesn't always = expensive. My soulmate of a broom that I mentioned above? I found it on clearance at Homegoods for less than $10. And I'm not saying that your cleaning tools have to be works of art to qualify for the job, either. My beloved steam mop isn't exactly eye-pleasing, but it has saved me from having to wash my floors on my hands and knees, Cinderella-style, with a rag and a bucket of soapy water like I used to. Now I zip around the house while that thing scrubs and disinfects my floors better than I ever could. I actually get excited to use it.

And that's the whole idea.

. . .

Some of my other best-loved cleaning stuffs: glass spray bottles for cleaning concoctions, and old jars for things like baking soda or laundry soap. Wooden-handled scrubby brushes for the sink and the shower. Wicker laundry baskets to take the place of  plastic ones (because if all those clothes are going to sit on the table for a few days, at least they'll be sitting pretty.)

my favorite kind of dish cloths, that slip slide over all my pots and pans and make the piles of plates in the sink disappear so much faster (if you have to do all your dishes by hand like I do, you'll love these.)
my steam mop (if you have a house full of hardwoods or tile, this will be your dream come true.)
a pretty broom (not exactly like mine, but looks similar.)


Keeping clean

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I've had high hopes in writing a post about Spring cleaning for weeks now. And while, technically, we're still in the season of Spring...I'd say that things are starting to lean more towards summertime. People are ditching their brooms and cobweb dusters and reaching for their beach blankets by now. A post about cleaning for Spring doesn't seem all that timely anymore.

That said, I've been getting a lot of comments and questions lately about how I keep my house looking so clean. My first response is always to chuckle and shrug, because hello-- I have a two year old ragamuffin who enjoys eating crumbly crackers anywhere but at the table. And I have a husband who spills coffee and scatters his dirty socks. And I'm not much better myself, when I consider the long brown hairs found all over the bathroom, and my tendency to let the laundry pile up (and up and up.) Our cupboard doors get grimy, our dressers get dusty, and our bathtub gets gross, just like yours.

Yet, thanks to the rearing of my tidy mother, I do run a pretty tight ship around the house. Perhaps more than others. Cleaning is a big part of my daily routine, and I really, truly love to do it. Some people run marathons, some people cook gourmet meals, and I-- I delight in a spotless kitchen and the challenge of folding a fitted sheet. What I'm trying to say is, if I were to write a book on any subject, housekeeping would probably be the one. I mean, I'm no Martha Stewart, but I know what I'm doing. I suppose I could drum up a few tips to share with you here. And thus, Keeping Clean, a new blog series, has been born.

Now, before I begin, let me say that I realize there are lots of blog posts and articles and books about cleaning. And I am well aware that everyone likes to clean their house differently. These will not be another set of posts on how to use vinegar and essential oils for everything (though I do use them both and think they work wonders.) ((But I also use bleach in the bathroom.)) Nor will these be strict guidelines on the perfect home-keeping schedule that will keep your cleaning to a minimum and your house looking spotless on the daily (and your conscience guilty if you don't manage to accomplish specific tasks each day.) They'll be more of a hodgepodge of prompts-- a bundle of things I've learned along the way that make cleaning my house easier and more enjoyable. I hope they are of some use to you.

Part one is scheduled to come at you tomorrow. See you then!


baby on the way

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It's hard to say exactly when the thought of another baby in the house excited me more than it overwhelmed me, but I think it was sometime last summer. And then one day around Thanksgiving of last year, I called Ryan while he was at work and greeted him with a breathless Guess what? After we hung up I scooped up my Ralphie and held him close on the couch for a bit, because in those dizzying moments after news of a big change, and your brain finally catches up with the pace of your heart, you just need to hold someone tight for a while. Especially your first baby.

Most of the winter was spent surviving on apples, trying to keep up with a toddler, and saying "I can't eat this," after preparing a full meal. That pregnancy nausea is no joke. Thankfully, my appetite has returned, and I've spent the remainder of the pregnancy feeling really good. I'm craving fruit of all kinds, ice cream by the gallon, and potluck food. I can't explain it, but if it can be found at any sort of church basement gathering, I would like to eat it. Jello salads, shredded pork sandwiches, potato casseroles. Cheese platters! I could go on, and in my head I do. All the time.

We're getting close to meeting this baby soon, which means I've been nesting and fussing with the nursery, cleaning out all the cupboards and closets, and not really sleeping much anymore (and crying at the drop of a hat because of that.) The changing table drawers are stuffed full with small pastel things that my sisters' babies wore. The day my sister Liz dropped off three garbage bags full of little girl clothes was a fun one, that's for sure. I spent an entire Saturday sorting and washing it all, realizing suddenly that we didn't really need to buy a single thing for the first year of this child's life, unless we wanted to. Which we did. The little gal will be dressed mostly in hand-me-downs, with a few new goodies from friends and family and her own dear old mom and dad mixed in, and that feels pretty special. (I've gathered the links for anyone curious-- all of my favorite baby things, new and old, down below!)

I'm just a few weeks away from full-term now, so the waiting game will begin soon. Things like Braxton Hicks contractions and swollen feet are popular topics of conversation around the house. Nightly foot rub negotiations are in full swing. I'll dish up the ice cream if you turn on a show and rub my feet. There are just a few items to check off the to do list, like packing the hospital bag and settling on a name. I have yet to crack open any of my books about labor, but I'm sure that'll come soon. Until then, I'm having more fun dreaming about what this baby might look like, sound like, sleep like...Six weeks and counting!

. . .

And now for the baby goods. Some of the very special baby things we've collected so far, both gifts, courtesy of sweet family and friends, and late-night-computer-glow splurges (you know the kind) courtesy of mom:

berry baby gown from the kind and lovely folks of Winter Water Factory
baby's first gift from momma, a little garden cap from Red Creek Handmade
the softest baby blanket from Fog Linen
dotty bloomers and a sweet teething blanket from Willaby
floral bloomers from Darling Clementine
a wooden rattle from Schoolhouse Naturals
tiny terry romper from Gap
fancy bottled belly rubs for mom, from Storq

and some hand me down favorites from the first time around:

my favorite swaddle blankets
our trusty Moses basket (ours was a gift from my sisters and this one looks very similar)
wooden hairbrush
soft, washable breastpads


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Every now and then I pull out my black notebook to jot down bits and pieces of life with Ralph. I've never been good at keeping up with his baby book-- for some reason it overwhelms me. But I grab my black notebook almost nightly. It's full of lists, and ideas for things, and quickly scrawled recipes, and it's easier for me to jot down a thing or two about my boy there. I've come up with a small collection of things I want to remember-- one-liners and funny moments and sweet memories, but the things I seem to want to write down the most are the messes.

I want to remember the dry stickiness of all my doorknobs, as though someone with a spitty fist had just shoved a handful of graham cracker into his mouth, and then shut the door tight.

I want to remember the moment when he picked up a throw pillow, wiped his nose all the way across it, set it back down, and ran off to play.

I want to remember the way he follows his dad around outside, trampling plants and shoveling dirt where he shouldn't and driving Ryan crazy.

And the way he pulls a chair up to the counter when I'm working in the kitchen, rumpling the rug in front of the sink every.single.time. 

And how every day he insists on doing the dishes, guaranteeing a soaked outfit, and maybe a broken dish.

I want to remember the way sand and dirt falls out of the pockets and cuffs of his pants every time I take them off.

I want to remember the mess, because if there's one thing that drives me crazy, it's a dirty house. I cringe at the sight of all the crumbs on the floor, and sigh at the stains on my rug, and want to pull my hair out when I see even more paint chipped off the floor trim by a chubby hand and a toy hammer. Every day I clean it all up, only to watch the messes flutter back down to the floor like fuzzy, sticky pieces of confetti.

And yes, I want to remember the messes because I know they mean a wild, happy, thriving little boy lives here. But I also want to remember them for my sake. Because, every day, even on the hardest days, I love it. It's a weird thing, to spend your day doing things that drive you up the wall, that you also love. And yet, every day I am reminded: this is what I'm good at. This is what I was meant to do.

I know that Ralph is not much different than any other two year old. He's learning his colors and ABCs and how to spit when he brushes his teeth, just like the rest of them. I know that, besides a few quirks, he's nothing special-- except that he's mine. Mine! My little boy, with his dad's sense of humor and his grandpa's bright eyes and a really fantastic head of hair. Dropped into my lap from the heavens above one morning in October, quiet and sleepy and ready to mess up my life. All for the better.

. . .

PS: When it comes to neat freaks living with a bonkers toddler in the house, I think Erin said it best in this sweet interview: "A crazed monkey has snuck into my sterile little lab, and I am learning to like it."

PPS: Ralph's new favorite car shirt was so generously provided by the kind and friendly folks at Winter Water Factory. It's soft and cute, and we both love it. Thanks guys!


saturday pancakes

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Saturday morning breakfast is, hands down, my favorite meal of the week to make.

It's the slowness of it all, the ease of waking up with not much to do right away, except maybe make something delicious to eat. Ralph crows at the same time every day whether it's Saturday or not, but we're not much for sleeping in too late in this house anyway. We pull him up into our bed and let him rearrange the pillows till we're good and awake. Ryan has successfully taught the child how to fetch him his slippers. Truly.

We all tumble down the stairs after a few minutes and Ryan puts the coffee on the stove. We park it on the couch and Ralph hops from lap to lap to floor to stairs to kitchen to lap again. We watch our shows (Edible Feast and This Old House) and sip our coffee (milk and sugar) and then it's time to eat.

My big kitchen window faces east and the sun shines through my curtains just right. I always try to get the kitchen extra clean on Friday nights, just for that moment-- when I walk in, and everything is so bright it practically sparkles.

I turn on some music. I set the table with cloth napkins and juice glasses and small bowls for fruit because who cares, it's Saturday. I don't have a dishwasher, but I do have all day to ignore the mess of extra dishes if I want to. I pull out bowls from the cupboards and spoons from the drawers and by that time Ralph has come in and "helped" by measuring out a bowl-ful of useless flour that I'll dump back into the jar when he's not looking. I crack some eggs-- sometimes for fried egg sandwiches, sometimes for french toast (if I've happened to grab a loaf of challah at the store the day before) but most of the time, for our favorite pancakes.

Buttery, with a slight tang from the buttermilk. Not too dense and cakey, but not too light and fluffy either. Juuuuust right. Perfect for a long, sunny weekend, I'd say.

Buttermilk Pancakes | adapted from The Comfort Table by Katie Lee Joel

3/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 large egg

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In another medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, melted butter, and egg. Add the dry ingredients to the buttermilk mixture. Mix until just combined. The batter should be a bit lumpy.

Grease a nonstick skillet or griddle and heat to medium high. Pour about 1/3 cup batter per pancake onto the griddle. When small bubbles begin to form on the tops of the pancakes, they are ready to be flipped, 2-3 minutes on each side.

Makes enough pancakes for about 2 1/2 people (heh) but the recipe can easily be doubled.