Taking the House by Storm

The trials and tribulations of the average gal trying to navigate through life, love and the pursuit of domestic bliss.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Misery Loves Company

My friend, Sarah, sent me an email the other day, chronicling one of her own TTHBS (Taking the House by Storm) moments. She recently had gall bladder surgery. I am posting her story here since it's always nice to know one's not alone in the disaster zone. If you have a story you'd like to share, please do. Lord knows I've got a million of 'em.

"Meaux, I wanted you to know I had my own TTHBS moment today. I am finally allowed to eat whatever after my surgery and I have been jonesin' for a treat of some kind. I am of course too lazy to bundle up Lily [Sarah's adorable little baby] and go to the store today, so I searched the cabinets.

"I had some yellow cake mix, so made the cake and looked up an icing recipie in 'The Joy of Cooking.' Well, the cake is kind of soggy and the icing is more like fudge than like icing and it's not very good at all. *sigh*.... I just wanted a treat. I guess I will have to go out and get some Chips Ahoy or something."

Take heart, Sarah. It happens to the best of us.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Small Victories

I thought it would be "fun" to do a weekly wrap-up, focusing on my accomplishments since generally, I’m focused on the disasters. Here it is Sunday night, and of course, I didn’t get nearly as much done as I’d hoped. So I thought about scrapping the idea, then remembered it’s called ‘small victories,’ so I’m going with the notion of every little bit counts:

• Finally set up the humidifier in our bedroom after weeks of waking up with a bleeding nose and hands

• Sent out thank you notes in a timely manner for a baby gift we received

• Ironed a ton of clothes that were on the spare bed and started packing up the stuff I can’t wear right now

• Went through another batch of boxes full of stuff we’re donating to Good Will so I could document it for tax purposes and make sure I didn’t get rid of anything I still want

Hopefully, next week I can add:

• Finished wrapping and mailing gifts (Christmas, baby and 50th anniversary that happened a year and a half ago – sheesh!)

• Found receipts and info for our Flexible Spending Account so we don’t lose all that money

• And etc.

Stay tuned and feel free to share your own small victories.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Just Like Old Times

Today, I started a drawing class at a local art school as part of their continuing education program. It really took me back to the last time I took a real class, over 16 years ago when I was in college. This morning, I was running late, I lost control of my supplies while crossing the street (i.e. dropped them all over the road), and I was the last one in the door. So everyone gave me the stare-down and the teacher greeted me with a, “ You must be Maureen.” Nice.

I didn’t pick up my supplies until 2 days ago. The place I went to didn’t have exactly what I needed, so I had to settle. I didn’t go down to the basement to dust off my drawing board (from college) until last night, and didn’t realize I was missing a crucial element – the rubber band that holds everything on it. Thus the street dump.

Just goes to prove my disorganization has been with me a long time. Back in college, I was generally ill prepared. I never got to any classes on time, exam day or not. And I generally never had everything I needed. Comforting to know some things never change.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

One of the Best Cookbooks Ever

Pam Anderson’s How to Cook Without a Book is one of my favorite cookbooks of all time. I have plenty – some that I’ve never even made the first recipe out of yet. And not because they’re not good – they’re just not practical.

There are certain ingredients one may or may not have on hand that one needs for a recipe that you might find in, say, Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And I want to master it, believe me I do. I just don’t always have the time – or the foie gras – at 7 o’clock on a weeknight.

What I do have the time and ingredients for are the techniques and anti-recipes found in Ms. Anderson’s book. It’s divided into sections like:

• One Easy Formula, Many Supper Soups
• The Big and Bigger Frittata
• Weeknight Ravioli and Lasagna
• If You’ve Made One Sauté, You’ve Made Them All
• If You Can Sauté, You Can Sear
• Simple Ways with Simple Sides
• Spur-of-the-Moment Appetizers

The basic premise is: keep it simple. Ms. Anderson even goes so far as to create mnemonic rhymes so that, eventually, you won’t even need the book anymore. You’ll just recite these little ditties to remember the techniques and create accordingly.

Sadly, I haven’t used it with enough regularity to go that far, but it still comes in extremely handy and is as easy as could be to use.

In a pinch, all I have to do is take out a piece of fish or meat I’ve defrosted, sauté it in a pan and create some sort of pan sauce based on ingredients I already happen to have in either the kitchen or the pantry. How freakin’ awesome is that?

Then all I have to do is whip up a side of either couscous or rice pilaf (something I never, ever made before getting this book. hard to believe, considering how unbelievably easy and tasty it is to make) and open a can or nuke a box of some sort of vegetable. And voilá – a pretty decent meal in the neighborhood of 30 minutes. Take that, Rachel.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Confessions of a Procrastinating Clutter Bug

For Christmas, I bought my husband, Rick, a valet for his dresser to house his keys, cell phone, loose change, etc. Actually, I bought two. After my friend, Cara, told me they had some inexpensive ones at TJ Maxx (one of my favorite haunts), I headed over there and picked up a lone cherry one in a sea of black valets.

Once I got home, I realized black would actually look better. But instead of exchanging it like a normal person, I just picked up a new one because Rick was with me and I didn’t want him to get wise.

Today rolls around and it’s pretty much my last chance to return it because of the 30-day policy. I actually took a lunch and headed to the TJ’s near my office. After waiting in line, I found out I had the receipt for the black one, so I couldn’t return it. Story of my life.

Where is this going, you ask? Well, I had to find the other receipt which meant digging through the drawers of the dresser in our spare bedroom. They are packed with papers. So during the course of my search, I found a few items that I had neglected and thought were good examples of how I take the house by storm. They are:

• A softball newsletter back from my Atlanta days. There’s a picture in it I’ve been meaning to scan so I can email it to one of my former teammates who asked about it probably 3 years ago.

• Paperwork from the OB-GYN I got at my first visit in October that I was supposed to fill out within a week. Oops.

• Cards and envelopes from Christmas 2005 that I’ve been meaning to use to update my address book as well as to send replies*.

• A copy of the 2005 Christmas card we sent – still haven’t created, no less mailed out, the 2006 version*. But I did buy over 100 stamps back in September to send them out with, so I’ve got that going for me.

• An extremely cool invitation to a Red Egg & Ginger Luncheon for my friend’s newborn (at the time) that was to take place on September 10th. I was to RSVP by August 25th. *sigh* To make matters worse, the baby gift is still unwrapped, in our bedroom.

• Lottery tickets from August ’06 whose numbers I have still yet to check. I could’ve been a millionaire by now!

• Scratch off lottery tickets we received as wedding gifts back in June of 2004. We actually won a few dollars, and I still haven’t turned them back in for new ones.*

• Two coupons for free ice cream cones from UDF that I had for a full year and a half before they expired on 12/31/06. In 18 months, I couldn’t manage to get a free cone. Hard to believe.

• And the list goes on.

If you have a similar story, I’d love to hear it. I think it would make me feel a little better to know I’m in good company. And if you're interested, I did find the receipt in all this and successfully returned the extra valet.

* Items I don’t technically think are solely my responsibility, so I’m attempting to relinquish at least some of the guilt.

Monday, January 22, 2007

No Place Is Sacred

If there’s one thing you can say about me, I’m thorough. That’s why my problems staying organized – at least in the traditional sense – transcend the home front and make it all to way to the workplace.

In fairness to myself, a lot of my current desktop situation is due to the fact that I’m so busy, I haven’t had time to file. When you work through lunch, later in the evening and sometimes even at home, the last thing you want to do is hang around even longer for a non-necessity like that.

Basically, it doesn’t have a deadline – the driving force of the ad biz – so it gets pushed to the end of one of my myriad lists of things to do. Right behind doing my timesheets and filling out expense reports.

Believe you me, all this mess stresses me out and makes me feel bad about myself. It’s that whole fear of failure, fear of success thing (a recurring theme you may have noticed).

At the same time, though, all this clutter is a sort of badge of honor for me. I take pride in the fact that I can generally always find what I’m looking for in a fairly short period of time – both at home and at work. Sick, I know, but true.

While my goal is to eventually gain a sense of pride from living and working in an organized space, I know that Rome was not built in a day, nor will my new, neat Utopia be. So in the meantime, I embrace my messiness as a unique part of my identity. And I take solace in articles like this one from the New York Times: “Saying Yes to Mess.” Can I get an “Amen?”


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Tie One On

I wouldn’t say I collect aprons, but I did manage to accumulate a few over the years. I got my first one probably about 9 years ago from my sister, Sharon, when I lived in Atlanta. Not sure what possessed her to get me one – I almost think it must have been the purchase of my beloved KitchenAid. And it was also around the same time my family realized my friends and coworkers called me “Meaux.”

Believe it or not, I really never had a nickname growing up outside of ‘jerk,’ ‘moron’ and stuff like that.

Suffice it to say, Sharon not only got me my first apron, but my first personalized apron with the traditional spelling of “Mo.” Since then, she’s given me a black striped one and my other sister, Kathy, gave me a Mickey Mouse version. Rick and I got a green one from Williams-Sonoma just for registering for our wedding there. Then we got a pink one off the afore mentioned registry and somewhere along the way, I picked up an adorable Halloween half-apron and a full-length Santa apron.

My latest apron was purchased from my sister-in-law’s online shop, onelittlemonkey.com. You should check it out – she makes the most adorable baby items and kids clothes, like burp cloths, changing mats, tote bags, outfits and most recently, these cool aprons. Which she is also happy to make in adult sizes.

Though I’ve had it for several months, I’ve never actually worn this apron because I’m afraid to get anything on it, even though that’s the point. When you get right down to it, it’s rare for me to put any apron on simply because it never crosses my mind, even tho they hang in plain view right there in the kitchen.

I want to wear them, truly I do. That’s why I got them. When you’re a person who takes the house by storm, you’re pretty much the Tasmanian Devil in the kitchen. It’s just impossible to splatter stuff all over the counters, in the open drawers, on the floor and occasionally on an unsuspecting cat without hitting yourself.

So I’m going to make a conscious effort to tie one on before I pull the first ingredient out of the cabinet. Afterall, that's what they're there for.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Dog food, anyone?

Both my husband, Rick, and I work full time. And even though we don’t have any kids yet, it’s still a challenge to figure out what’s for dinner. Generally, that seems to be mostly my responsiblity. Big surprise, right? And tonight was no different.

Rick called me around 4 p.m. asking me the usual – what’s for dinner? I like to respond with a flip, ‘I don’t know; what are you planning on?’ But the fact is, if we want to eat, I’m pretty much our best bet.

Now, before Rick gets all upset, I want to clarify that he does plan and cook occasionally. Over the weekend, he prepared one of our favorite chili recipes from allrecipes.com (one of my favorite places to troll for ideas) called Award Winning Chili. (Until I figure out how to create a live link on a Mac, please copy and paste this URL if you’d like to try it:

Energized by his success, he decided he also wanted to make a pot roast this week. Unfortunately, we never did get around to going to the grocery store to pick up the meat. Long story long, we had limited items to work with in the homestead for this evening’s meal.

In an effort to cut down on wasted food (as my mom would say, it’s a sin what we throw away in this house), I decided to get creative and make something out of the leftover browned meat Rick didn’t use in his chili.

I combined it with a can of refried beans, a can of semi-drained black beans and a can of semi-drained diced tomatoes. The result? Something that looked like a cross between dog food and a newborn’s diaper. But that didn’t stop me from warming a tortilla in a fry pan and making a quesadilla out of it, smothered in some shredded cheddar.

In an ideal world, I would have whipped up a side of Spanish rice, but I didn’t get home from work until about 6:30 and I had to leave by 7:30 in order to make it to my volleyball match. So I just plopped it on a paper plate, put some of the ‘loose’ concoction on top with a sprinkling of cheese and some salsa. And I threw a few jalapeno slices on mine.

The verdict? Not bad. But next time I’d probably drain the canned stuff a little better; it was a little watery, which made the flipping of the quesadillas somewhat messy. All in all, though, not too shabby for just throwing a bunch of odds and ends together. And it feels good to experiment once in a while.

30 Minute Meals, My Ass!

It’s easy to look at yourself like a failure when you try to measure up to the likes of Rachel Ray. “And remember: a delicious, healthy meal is never more than 30 minutes away.” Bullshit. Unless you’re referring to the neighborhood Chinese take out joint located a convenient 3 blocks from home. And we all know that’s neither really delicious, healthy, nor is it actually chicken.

Whenever I attempt to make one of Rachel’s purported 30 minute meals, I’m in for a good 50 minutes to an hour and twenty, I shit you not. Granted, she appears to be doing it all herself in real time, without benefit of the combined labors of a team of 12 behind the scenes. But that’s just not reality.

She carries everything over in one, mile-high pile of ingredients from one convenient location. Yeah, like that happens. I don’t know about you, but everything I need for any given meal is scattered to the four corners of our little kitchen. I make 10 trips if I make one from the pantry; from the fridge; from the cabinets; from my basement stash of canned goods and excess cooking utensils. I’m just not that organized.

And I consider myself lucky if I don’t break a glass dish. I’ve lost two floating candle bowls that happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time – innocently sitting on the counter. They came to their untimely demise when I knocked several spice bottles out of the cabinet above while attempting to find the one I needed that had been shoved to the back over time. Believe me, a glass clean up adds a lot of extra minutes to one’s 30 minute meals.

Plus, Rachel’s always rushing. How relaxing is that? Not to mention the quality control issues it creates. Whenever she’s cutting up her veggies, she throws in even the butt-ends of tomatoes, zucchini, whatever she’s chopping because she’s under a time crunch.

That’s not what goes on in the McFerguson kitchen. I would be mortified if someone bit into the tail end of an eggplant under my watch. Forget the fact that everyone who eats at Chez Meaux is probably ingesting untold amounts of cat hair – I have to have standards somewhere.

Rachel also uses several time-conserving tactics that just aren’t feasible for me. For instance, she likes to promote positioning your cutting board right next to the stove as if we all have that luxury. I think the counter space between my range and my sink is about 7” wide.

And then there's the garbage bowl she swears by; I’m not exactly sold on it. In theory, it’s convenient, but I like to recycle. I think of it as my little contribution to preserving the earth’s limited resources, even if the garbage man – excuse me, waste manager – hauls it all off to the same landfill. My conscious is clear. But when I’m throwing everything into the same bowl – carrot peels and empty plastic containers with broken eggshells – the chances of separating the compost from the recyclables are fairly slim.

Rachel also has one thing the rest of us don’t – an endless supply of kitchen towels at her disposal so she doesn’t even bat an eye if she has to squeeze the water out of her defrosted spinach. I don’t know about you, but I can’t just throw away one of my beloved, pink-striped Williams-Sonoma towels after staining it for all time pulling that foolish stunt.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the idea of Rachel Ray and her 30 Minute Meals and I watch her show from 6-7 whenever I can. Unlike my husband, who claims she doesn’t actually cook anything, I don’t mind that fact that she’s not making everything from scratch. Who the hell has time? I don’t and all I do is work; I don’t even have kids to contend with. So it doesn’t bother me. But what does bother me is the fact that her recipes are anything but 30 minutes long. At least not for a culinary-challenged person like myself.

One of my first attempts at preparing a whole episode’s worth of Rachel’s recipes was the night she featured Rosemary Chicken Breasts, Brown Butter and Balsamic Ravioli, Warm Spinach Salad with Pancetta and Sweet Vinaigrette. It was delicious and I recommend you check it out if you have an hour and a half to spare.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Help! I’m a list addict!

Part of my clutter problem can be attributed to lists. To do lists, to be exact. Lists full of things to do at work and things to do at home. And most items on those lists go largely undone. But I can’t throw away those lists until I reconsolidate them down with the hopes of actually getting some of it done on the new and improved list.

The problem is they start out manageable enough, just a few items anyone could be expected to get done in a 24-hour period. But as the day wears on, more and more things come to mind that need doing. So the list gets longer and more unreasonable, and the more unlikely things are to get done.

Here’s a case in point. I’ve been married for 2.5 years now. Not long after the blessed day, I requested all the proper forms to update my new name and new address on my various accounts. All that was left for me to do was to get the luckiest man alive, my husband, to sign them along with my new bank. Guess what? Still haven’t done that. But it's still on my list.

The list I created yesterday still hasn’t been touched despite the fact that I crossed out yesterday’s date and put today’s on it, giving myself more time.

It’s not like I’m a total slug who never does anything. Oftentimes, I just get distracted and wind up doing something that wasn’t on my list in the first place. I think it’s part of my ‘fear of success’ complex. I’ll have to work on that. I’ll add it to the list.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Old Habits Die Hard

One of my favorite ‘cleaning’ pastimes is to put everything laying around junking up the place on a made bed, organize it into piles and then put where it belongs. In theory, this seems like a good idea. The problem is, it never happens.

Usually, I get the inspiration sometime before noon, figuring that I have plenty of time to take care of business. Generally what happens is, come midnight/1 a.m. when my husband and I are dragging ass to bed, we walk in and say, ‘Oh, crap!’ because I forgot I did it and he had no idea in the first place.

Within 30 seconds, it all winds up back on the floor in a heap, all the painstaking organizing and pile making undone. That’s where we’re headed tonight because, as usual, I strayed wildly off track.

Despite my complete and total lack of success with this process, I continue to try it. I’ve been doing it for as long as I’ve been a clutterbug, which has pretty much been since exiting the womb.

Back before I was married, I used to just move stuff over enough so I could sleep. It was really pretty amazing what a small area I could confine myself to, for weeks at a time. Now that I’m married, I’m forced to throw it all back on the floor. But I do have a whole entire spare bed I can cover and hope no one wants to spend the night.

One thing I can say is that I come by it honestly: I inherited this little trick from my mom. I remember way back when I lived in Atlanta and I brought my boyfriend at the time over to my parents’ new house. I was showing him around when we got to their guest bedroom where the bed was completely covered. The ex in question even went so far as to say, ‘Now I know where you get it from.’

In retrospect, I don’t remember my mom having much luck with this particular M.O. either, but I guess old habits die hard for her, too.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Eureka! I'm finally starting.

Wow. If there's one unequivocal thing you can say about me, it's that I'm a procrastinator. I've been talking about this Taking the House by Storm idea for a couple of years now. If my memory weren't crap, I could pinpoint the time frame more accurately. But one thing I can pinpoint is that I started Phase I – writing for this blog – way back on February 7, 2006. I know this because of the handy little date stamp my beloved PowerBook puts on everything I start. Which is a lot. Anyway, that's almost a full freakin' year ago. Pathetic.

And probably not really worth mentioning, but it may give you some insight into why I have such difficulties every time I attempt any project around the house. But let's start where I left off almost a year ago.

I'm not a super hero, but I do like to think of myself as a fairly decent representation of the average woman trying to find a little domestic satisfaction. Hell, I don't even mind representing the common domestic man, if he's out there. And if so, do you have a brother? Just kidding, Honey. Anyway, I've had the idea of Taking the House by Storm in my head for a while now. Because ever since I can remember, anything I touch turns to shit. Whether it's a crafting project, a recipe or even something as simple as cleaning up a room.

If I had to take a stab at why this is, I could probably trace it back to the fact that I have a problem staying on task.

But I digress - see, it's that whole easily distracted thing. The real point of this site is to help other women in the same boat as me stop feeling inadequate because we're not Martha Stewart. I can't tell you how many times I've tried to emulate something I've seen on any number of self-help shows on any number of networks (you know the type: DIY, Food Network, TLC), only to have a full-fledged disaster - and subsequent feelings of failure - on my hands.

To me, these shows represent the domestic equivalent of the same impossible standards a Vogue or a Glamour sets for looks - there's no way you could ever compare to those beauty queens for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is a little something called PhotoShop. It's the same with these shows. You don't have a staff of 20 behind the scenes helping you chop vegetables, building intricate organizational systems or attending to your year-round garden.

You're one person trying to do it all yourself, giving it your all and then feeling like a loser when it takes you an hour to prepare a recipe that should have taken 15 minutes. When you can spend a whole day cleaning your house and it looks worse than when you started. Or your carefully tended garden doesn't produce one stinking tomato.

So take heart, ladies. And you, too men, if you're out there - tho you generally don't seem to suffer from the same kinds of insecurities and low self-esteem us gals are so often plagued by. It's time to realize you're not alone. I'm here, fucking up everything I touch.