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Feb 17, 2014

Let's Get Real: To the Mom Who Thinks She's Not Doing Enough

Some people look at my blog and think, "How does she do all that?" But ladies, let me assure you, I do not do all that.

You may think, "She homeschools, and works from home, and cans, and gardens, and does her own housework, and does fun projects with her kids, and cooks from scratch, and reads her Bible every day, and has a great prayer life, and, and, and, and..."

But the truth is: 

I struggle to keep my prayer life strong; it's hard for me to have deep conversations with God when I have noisy children running around me.

I do read my Bible almost every day, but some days, I'm so tired, I can't concentrate long enough to really understand it - and sometimes all I can read in between calls for "mama" is a single paragraph.

I do mostly cook from scratch - but not always. And we don't eat a lot of foods (like crackers or yogurt) because I simply don't have the energy or time to make them.

I do sometimes do fun projects with my kids - but my Pinterest boards are packed with projects we will never get around to, and my kids always wish we did more fun projects than I find time for.

I don't have a maid, to be sure, and my husband doesn't do housework. My kids do help some (though probably not enough), but mostly my house is not guest-worthy. My kitchen floor is often more brown than it's original cream color, my fridge isn't spotless, my counters are usually a mess, and the carpet always seems to need vacuuming - even if I did just vacuum it a few hours earlier.

I do garden, but it's something I often have to force myself to do. I love that gardening saves us money and gives us healthy food...and that's what keeps me gardening every year. But my garden doesn't look like something from a magazine, and I never, ever do everything I wish I could do in the garden.

I do can food, but it's often a sacrifice - especially in the summer, when I'm canning large amounts of produce. I wish I could home can everything, but I just don't have the energy or time.

I do work from home, and while I'm thankful I don't have to send my children off to daycare, it's very, very, very difficult to work with young children underfoot. What should take an hour to complete takes several hours instead. It's exhausting and frustrating. And then I'm mad at myself for feeling frustrated that my kids want their mama.

I do homeschool, but it's definitely not all sunshine and roses. My five year old fights me at every turn, and my eight year old struggles to concentrate on anything during the winter months.

Often I'm less patient than I wish I was, often the days seem so very long, often I feel depressed, and have trouble keeping the big picture in mind, and cry out to God but don't hear his voice, and sob on my knees to Him each evening, and wish it was all a whole lot easier.

But being a mom isn't easy - especially in the 21st century. Modern women have set themselves up to fail. We expect ourselves to raise children, work for money, maintain a home, get just a handful of hours of sleep each night, and still be happy, cheerful wives and neighbors.

That is a fairy tale. No woman can "do it all." No mom completely has her act together. And the more stuff we do outside of raising children and home keeping, the more we have to let some things slide. We can't work from home AND have a spotless house. We can't read the Bible for hours each day AND give our children and husband all the attention they need. We can't sleep a handful of hours AND be healthy, cheerful Proverbs 31 Women.

It's time we started admitting to ourselves - and to each other - that that's okay! Real life mommyhood is tiring, difficult, and messy. It's time we started saying to our friends and acquaintances who are moms: "How are you doing? No, how are you REALLY doing?" It's time we started admitting to each other that we are struggling. And uncertain. And sometimes - even often - think we are failing.

It's time we started supporting and validating each other. It's time we got real.

I will start: I am Kristina, an imperfect wife and mom whose floor needs mopping and who struggles to keep her priorities (God, husband, children, others) straight.

Who are you?

Sep 9, 2016

How Moms Can Make Money at Home

It's a question I frequently hear - on playgrounds, on social media, among friends meeting for coffee.
It's a question I also ask myself: How can I make money to help out my husband or family? A reader also recently asked this question of me:

"Hi Kristina,
My name is Jamie. I'm a 34 year old Christian wife and homeschooling mama of 4 little ones (only 2 of them are school aged)...I have a simple question to ask you that may be difficult to answer but I'd love any advice you have! I often think about what it means to be a Proverbs 31 wife, and something has been tugging at my heart for several years now. I long to help my husband out in the financial area, (i.e. work from home) but there's one major problem...I don't know what my talents are! Sounds funny I know, but I honestly don't know what I could do to make a little extra money to help us out. We are not necessarily in dire straits with finances but my husband is self employed and is often stressed about money since all the weight is on him and I wish I could do more to help...I feel stuck. And I know we are total strangers but do you have any advice? Right now the only answer I can come up with is 'Pray.'
Thank you for any help!
In Christ,
Jamie"

Jamie, you're not alone! I think most stay at home moms ask themselves this question on a regular basis. Many stay at home moms even feel guilty for not helping their family financially. In fact, it seems that in our society, it's expected that both the husband and wife should bring in some income. Even in my own household, I often feel there's an expectation that I must bring in some sort of income, or earn extra money when it is needed.

But I'd like you to question this whole idea.



Until quite recently, in all but the very poorest American families, wives were not expected to make money. Not because they weren't capable of doing so, and not even because our society expected husbands should be able to support their wives and children all by themselves. Wives generally didn't work because...they were already working.

They were working in the home. Caring for the children, keeping the house tidy, cooking...All important things, and all things that would cost an arm and a leg to hire someone to do.

So, if you think about it, they were helping their husbands financially by not going out and getting a job. 

Even today, if you add up what the average working mom earns, then subtract all the expenses of her working away from home (including fuel, work clothes, lunches, convenience or restaurant dinner food, and childcare), you'll usually find she's not adding much at all to the family income. (Here's a good example.)

Maybe that's why so many modern moms strive to work at home.

But here's another little secret that didn't use to be a secret at all: Back in the day, housewives contributed to the family income in another important way. They were excellent house managers.

That's not a term we hear anymore. What exactly is a house manager? It's someone who keeps the household running smoothly. It's someone who saves her husband time and frustration. It's someone who makes it easier for her husband to go off to work every morning. And it's someone who sees to it he has to work less hard, rather than more hard.

That's a far cry from many wives I see today, who go on shopping sprees with the attitude that "he'll just have to figure out a way to pay for it."

And so one very important way you can contribute to the family income is by spending the family income wisely.

How much can you save by being a good household manager? Potentially thousands every year.

Now, maybe you already are a good household manager and all you (and your husband) need to do is appreciate just how much you contribute to the family. If that's the case, another thing to consider is your lifestyle. Do you live like the average American, expecting expensive vacations, the latest gadgets and grown up toys, lots of stuff, lots of "going out," and lots of debt?

If so, learning to love a life living within your means is an important goal. Start recognizing that debt is slavery. (Really think on that!) Start realizing that stuff is also a sort of slavery. And start recognizing that if your husband is stressed out trying to pay for things you don't really need it's not worth it. At. All.

I don't know you, Jamie. So I don't know what your lifestyle is like or whether I'm "preaching to the choir." You may still be thinking, "We still need some extra cash." I get it. I seriously do! So here are some thoughts on how you can save or earn money, making your family more comfortable:

* Keep praying. Prayer is so powerful, and if you allow God to, he will either change your heart so you don't feel the need to work, or he will provide the perfect job for you.

* Remember Proverbs 31. I don't believe for a second that she did her trading and clothes selling while she had young children at home. Because young children require pretty much everything a woman has! That section of the Bible shows us the entire life of one "noble woman." Keep that in mind.

* Build skills. Build one of your interests until you're an expert at a marketable skill. For example, in the full version of the email you sent me, you said you like to write; so consider developing that skill by blogging and contributing to small local publications, and eventually you may become professional enough to grow your blog or write for national publications. Or choose one of your other interests to develop.

* Use Swagbucks to earn gift certificates for places like Amazon, where you can buy discounted food and other necessities. Or use those gift cards for school supplies and gifts throughout the year.

* Consider doing more shopping online. Some people find they can get better prices on diapers, toilet paper, and so on by shopping at Amazon, especially if they use Subscribe and Save.

* Keep a price book for groceries, toiletries, and other commonly used household items.

* Stock up when you can. When items you use go on sale, buy a bunch. In the long run, that saves money.

* If you're not already, get organized about serving food. Meal plan (here's my super easy method) and always have easy peasy meals on hand (in the pantry or freezer) for those "I'm too tired to cook nights." Eating out is not only unhealthy, but it burns through money fast.

* Pack your husband's lunch, if possible. If he loves eating out for lunch, see if he'll agree to doing it only once or twice a month.

* Shop used. Children's clothes, for example, are so much cheaper used. Also, depending upon where you live, you may find thrift stores, Craigslist, etc., can provide quality household goods for a fraction of the cost.

* Dump the dish or cable. TV is outrageously expensive. Learn to live with Netflix (saving thousands per year). Consider DVDs from the library, too (as long as you can get them returned in a timely way).

* Cook from scratch as much as possible. Your family will not only be more healthy, but you'll save a lot of money. I also think you'll find that cooking from scratch often really isn't that much more time consuming.

Readers: What are your suggestions for how Jamie - or anyone - can save or earn money?



Feb 9, 2016

Lazy Girl's Guide to Spring Cleaning (or getting a house ready to sell)

If you were to knock on my door these days, you'd find me covered in paint head to toe. Because when I paint, that's just what happens. Yes, friends, I am working my patootie off painting and cleaning these days. And I got to thinking, it is spring cleaning time(ish), and really all I'm doing is really intensive spring cleaning. So I think some of my little tricks for making the work easier and faster will translate to your house, too - whether or not you're putting your house up for sale.


Don't Use a Sponge or Cloth...Use a Mop!
Do you still wash walls and ceilings with a wet cloth or sponge? Then you're working too hard. Instead, use a mop. Better yet, use a Magic Eraser mop. Not only will you scrub less with one of these things, but you will almost never need to use chemicals - not even the natural kind. A little hot water and a Magic Eraser mop will clean almost anything - even a greasy kitchen ceiling.

And, oh yeah, they work great on floors, too. (Nothing gets my vinyl floor cleaner!)


Get Yourself Some Magic...Erasers, That Is

Got grubby baseboards? Dirty window trim? Icky crown molding? Or stubborn dirt on nearly any hard surface? Don't use elbow grease - use a Magic Eraser sponge. It does a better job - and it shortens cleaning time.

You can buy large boxes of generic "erasers" off eBay, or you can get Walmart's brand (they even sell a container of 12, which will probably last your entire spring cleaning and then some), or there are these, which are only 14 cents each. I always cut each eraser in half because I think they last longer that way. Also, remember that you don't have to press hard with these things - and not doing so will also make them last longer. (Of course, it's always smart to test a surface in an inconspicuous spot first, just to make sure the sponge doesn't remove the finish.)

Don't Sweep and Dust...Vacuum!
The next fantabulous tool you should use is a good vacuum. (I love my Dyson.) Years ago, I posted tips on how to use your vacuum to make housework easier; check it out, if you haven't already. (P.S., when I have a sticky, dusty mess, or just an area with a lot of debris that might clog up my vacuum, I borrow my hubby's shop vac.)



Have Some Popcorn
Speaking of vacuums, they are a real necessity if you have ceilings with bold texture, like acoustical (i.e. popcorn) ceilings. Sure, some people recommend scraping down those popcorn ceilings - but it's quite a project (and requires re-texturing the ceiling, unless you want every little flaw in said ceiling to show). From everything I've read, all but the newest (1990s - forward) popcorn ceilings contain asbestos, and therefore should only be removed by a pro, anyway. (Don't worry; the asbestos is only dangerous when it floats in the air and gets breathed in - i.e., during removal; if you leave the texturing in place, it's not a health hazard. Also bear in mind that popcorn ceilings were invented to help sound proof homes and prevent them from sounding echo-y, and as so don't remove them if you don't like an empty-sounding house.) 

To clean deeply textured ceilings, you can only use a vacuum; see full instructions here. (Be sure to wear safety goggles, since bits of the texturing may fall down.) But nothing spruces up any ceiling better than slapping on a couple coats of paint.  I've been doing that with ours, and I'm amazed by the difference! I really didn't realize how much our ceilings (which haven't been painted in 15 years) were making the rooms look drab. 

The photo doesn't do my ceilings justice. In real life, the freshly painted ceiling is bright and the bumpy texture much less noticeable.

Now, I've painted popcorn ceilings with a thick nap roller before, and it does work - but it's terribly messy - and it doesn't work nearly as well as a slitted foam roller designed for acoustical ceilings. So grab yourself one of those before you begin, then apply paint in both directions; for example, paint left to right, then run the roller front to back, too. I recommend two coats. You'll also want a small paintbrush to cut in the areas near the wall; you can also use it to touch up any little spots that still didn't quite get enough paint. Layers of paint minimize the texturing, too. (Admittedly, though, in order to really get the edges of the ceiling well covered with paint, you're probably going to end up with paint on the wall, too. So it may be a job best left for a time when you want a fresh coat of paint there, too.)

Don't Do It All At Once
Nothing wears down a busy, tired mama more than trying to do all the spring cleaning at once. The good news is - there's no reason for that! Instead, go through your house now and making a list of all the cleaning and repairs that need doing. (I have a free printable for this purpose, here.) This is often recommended before you sell your house, but it's a really handy tool even if you're not planning on moving. Once your list is written, you can just work your way down it as time allows.

Plus, there are few things more satisfying than checking off things on a to-do list. Right? Right!

Dec 3, 2009

Give Yourself Permission Not to Go Crazy

For some reason, this December I'm feeling a little overwhelmed. Putting up decorations was - for the first time in my life - something I didn't feel at all like doing. Wrapping gifts, normally something I really enjoy, seemed like a chore I wasn't look forward to. And all that Christmas baking? Blegh.

This is not how I want to feel about the season marking Christ's birth. So I'm not going to allow myself to feel this way.

I've given myself permission not to drive myself crazy this December. For example, I'm only gradually putting up Christmas decorations, and I'm not going to put up as much as I usually do. It's tempting for me to think, "But I want my kids to remember putting up this particular wreath every year" or "I want my kids to look forward to making a gingerbread house each December." But let's get real. Will missing one year of doing a Christmas tradition really be remembered - especially when they are so young? I think not, especially since there are plenty of other traditions to fill up our time.

If your kids are old enough to complain about a "missing" garland or wreath, why not let them do at least some of the decorating themselves this year? Sure, the house may not look as perfect as you think it should, but your child will feel the pride of knowing he or she can accomplish the task at hand. Give them basic instructions, as needed, but avoid going beyond that. Let it be your child's project.

And if you're feeling like me and wondering which Christmas traditions you might leave off this year, ask yourself: Does it point directly to Christ? If not, don't feel guilty about omitting the tradition this year - or even every year.


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Sep 14, 2015

3 Ways to Pray Without Ceasing

Not surprisingly, as my dad-in-law lays in the hospital, I've been thinking a lot about praying without ceasing. (1 Thes. 5:17) Clearly, God doesn't want us to talk to him about nothing; Jesus said, "When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." (Matt. 6:7-8) So if we aren't supposed to "keep on babbling," what does God mean by "praying without ceasing?" And how can we effectively do so throughout our day?

1. Don't Give Up

First, I believe "without ceasing" means, in part, not giving up. In Luke 18, Jesus told the story of a widow who went before a judge over and over and over again, seeking justice. Though at first the judge was inclined not to bother himself with the window's problem, finally he relented so she'd leave him alone. Jesus encourages believers to come before God as the widow came before the judge, for "will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?" God wants us to always persist in our prayers, never giving up on Him, even when much time has passed - even when things seem hopeless.


2. His Will Be Done

When my water broke at 20 weeks into my first pregnancy*, my OB/GYN told me: "Most doctors won't tell you this, but scientific studies show prayer works. And the prayer that seems most effective is 'your will be done.'" I haven't tried to dig up these studies. (I have both faith and personal knowledge that prayer works; I don't need science to affirm it for me.) However, I've always kept my doctor's words in mind as I pray, and as I read about how Jesus prayed. "Your will be done" is a powerful thought, a powerful belief - and a powerful prayer I don't believe you can pray often enough. When at a loss for what to pray, "your will be done" is the perfect choice. It's also the perfect choice when you have plenty to say to God.



3. Don't Allow Self-Focused Thought

While we shouldn't babble to God about unimportant things, I've found that if I focus my thoughts, I can pray consistently throughout my day. Instead of just thinking to myself, I pray. (In fact, when I start having lots of thoughts directed to myself, I find I'm walking around way too self-focused.) 

For example, instead of worrying over a problem, I pray to God about it. ("Lord, you tell us that if we ask for wisdom, you will give it to us. (James 1:5) Please give me wisdom to resolve this problem.") When I encounter people throughout my day, instead of thinking about them in a positive or negative way, I pray for them. ("God, this person isn't treating me well. I pray that you will lift her spirits and enter her heart. Please soften it so she may know Christ as her Savior.") When I am doing something, I often pray about that, too. ("Father, doing dishes isn't my favorite thing. But thank you that I have a working dishwasher, and thank you that I have plenty of food to feed my family.")


How do you pray without ceasing?


* Despite what the terribly pessimistic doctors insisted, my daughter not only survived, but now thrives.

Dec 10, 2014

Why Winter Squash is the Perfect Homestead Food Crop

This year, I've made a concerted effort to try as many different varieties of winter squash as possible - because I believe winter squash is the perfect food to grow on the homestead. I'll tell you why in a moment, but first I want to encourage you to try as many varieties as you can, too. I don't think I've ever met anyone who loved all varieties of winter squash - and many of the more common varieties are not among my favorites. Therefore, I recommend going to local farmer's markets and farm stands to buy and taste new-to-you winter squash. Who knows which ones will be your favorites and a great new addition to your garden? (Most grocery stores don't even begin to cover the very wide array of winter squashes that are available. This guide gives you an idea of the many types of winter squash, but even it is incomplete.)


Now, on to my list of why winter squash is the perfect homestead food crop:

Carnival squash.
1. Winter Squash is Prolific. Most winter squash has pretty high yields. For example, one butternut plant should produce 10 - 20 large squash, depending upon soil and sun conditions. And squash are one of  the easiest plants to grow. Just direct sow the seeds, add water, and watch the plant go wild! Oh, and did I mention that squash leaves shade the soil so you have to water less often? And weeds are naturally suppressed?

2. Winter Squash Is Super Easy to Preserve. While you can dehydrate, freeze, and can winter squash, you don't need to! It will easily last until spring if you keep it in a cool, dry location. Traditionally, that was a root cellar, but if you're not fortunate enough to have one of those, the garage or even just a cool cupboard works just fine.

3. Winter Squash is Nutrient Dense. The exact nutrients and calories in winter squash depends upon the
All winter squashes can be pureed into soup.
variety, but all winter squash are high in nutrients - and very filling. All winter squash are high in antioxidants, vitamins A, B6, and C, and fiber.

4. Winter Squash is Versatile. Winter squash kept the pilgrims alive, inspiring the 17th century poem "We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,/If it were not for pumpkins we should be undoon." But while the pilgrims may have grown tired of eating pumpkins and other winter squash, you should not. There are a great many ways to cook it. Our favorite method is to cut it open*, scrape out the stringy part and the seeds, add a dab of butter, and roast at 350 - 400 degrees F. until fork tender. If desired, you can sprinkle a dab of brown sugar over the finished squash. But other methods of cooking abound; try broiling, microwaving, adding to soups and stews, stuffed, or mashing like potatoes. For recipes, check out my Vegetable for Every Season Cookbook.

Roasted winter squash seeds.
5. Winter Squash Seeds Are Edible and Nutritious. Never, ever throw out winter squash seeds! They are rich in Omega 3s, zinc, maganeze, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, and fiber. Click here for instructions on how to roast pumpkin and other squash seeds. (You can also sprout winter squash seeds.) We've found the flavor of the seeds mirrors the flavor of the squash, so butternut squash seeds taste different from pumpkin seeds which taste different from sweet meat seeds.

6. Winter Squash Seeds Are Easy to Save. Just remove the seeds, let them dry fully, then store them. It will take only a few seeds for the average family to have plants enough to feed them for another year. Of course, if you save seed from a hybrid winter squash, it's a crapshoot as to whether or not they will sprout and produce decent food. So when you can, choose heirloom varieties for seed saving. (Do remember that if you grow other varieties of squash, or any plants in the cucurbit family, they may cross-pollinate, leaving you with seeds that may not be true to the parent plant. For more on this, click here.)

Roasted winter squash.
7. Winter Squash is Great for Homestead Animals. Many farmers and homesteaders feed their livestock excess winter squash. It saves money on feed costs and is good nutrition for many animals. Traditionally, pumpkin and winter squash seeds were fed to chickens, ducks, sheep, and goats as a de-wormer. (Chickens will eat the seeds whole; for other animals, grind them and mix into feed.) I haven't found scientific proof this works, but it's certainly easy enough to toss the critters some winter squash once or twice a year. In fact, I never compost winter squash; I give any leftovers, the stringy inner stuff, and the seeds to our chickens. They love it!

8. Other Parts of Winter Squash Are Edible. You can eat winter squash flowers, just like you would slightly more traditional zucchini flowers. Wait until you're certain the flower has been fertilized and is starting to grow a squash, then snip it off and cook it. Squash flowers are yummy! The Indians also used to eat winter squash leaves. I confess I haven't tried this - because where I live, squash leaves always end up at least somewhat affected by powdery mildew. (Click here and here for my natural treatments for powdery mildew.) But here is more information on eating the leaves.


* One complaint about winter squash is that some varieties are difficult to cut open. While the tough skin of winter squash is what makes it easy to store for long periods of time, it's true that a kitchen knife is no match against some varieties, like hubbard or sweet meat. The solution is to use a hatchet or sawzall to cut up these varieties. Not interested in doing that? Select winter squash with more tender skins, like butternut and delicata.



Jan 18, 2017

7 Gardening Hacks that DON'T Work

Winter on the homestead is a pretty quiet time. Other than caring for animals, doing a little winter canning, and the usual household stuff everyone does, there's not a lot of "homesteady" things going on. Except in my mind.

Because January is the perfect month to finalize garden plans, deciding exactly what I'm going to plant and where. So if I seem a little garden-centric lately, that's why.

As usual, I fuel my passion for gardening by browsing Pinterest gardening boards. I love looking at gorgeous gardens - especially food gardens - but this browsing also exposes me to some of Pinterest's...oddities. Namely, bad gardening advice. So you don't waste your time, money, and heart on bad gardening advice, here are the top gardening tips I see that really don't work.


1. Use eggshells (or egg cartons) for seed starting. These tiny containers don't allow seedlings to grow big, strong roots...And if you transplant your seedlings into bigger containers (or directly into the garden) before they have strong roots, your chances of success plummet. That said, starting containers don't have to cost a fortune. I'm partial to the plastic, lidded containers some greens and salads come in. You can also use the similar plastic containers that bakery goods come in, or tubs from store bought potato salad and the like. (More about using such containers here.) You can even make small pots from toilet paper tubes.

2. Plant your tomatoes with eggshells, Epsom salts, etc. It's true we need to feed the soil in order to feed our plants, but by the time all these organic materials have totally broken down and are available to give the plant nutrition, the plant may already be spent. It's far better to prepare the soil with lots of good, finished compost, shortly before planting. (Or, put uncomposted organic matter in the soil at least a season before planting.)



3. Plant everything in pots. Plant everything close together. This is not to say you should never do these things; they just not always the best route to take. A common myth among gardeners is that wide-spaced vegetable garden rows were first used when fuel powered tractors took hold of farming. Um...no. They were used long, long before that because plants that aren't very close to each other require less watering! Wide spacing allows their roots to spread, which gives them more access to water in the ground. So plant close together if you wish, but give plants room to grow and breathe (to avoid disease), and know that you'll have to water closely spaced plants more frequently. And if you plant in pots, understand that your plants will also need more watering than if they are planted in the ground (because the soil in pots dries out quickly). By the way, you know what the worst containers are? Those trendy metal ones. Put those in full sun and the soil in them will dry out very, very quickly. (P.S. One type of plant I do recommend growing in pots are herbs that tend to spread and take over the garden.)


4. Grow tomatoes in upside down containers. Here's the thing: Healthy tomato plants have big, long roots. Those upside down containers don't give them nearly enough root room - which means your plant will not give you a good harvest. Plus, tomatoes are heavy drinkers (so to speak), and as I already mentioned, things grown in pots require additional watering.

5. Use a planting guide. Often these are apparently supposed to be universal. That is to say, they are designed for someone in California, or Montana, or New York, or Missouri to use. But all those places have different climates. (In fact, all those places have multiple gardening climates.) So such planting guides are pretty useless. If you need help knowing when to plant what, your best bet is to look at your local extension garden website. (And if the website doesn't help, call your local extension office. Click here to find your local extension office.)

6. Worry about companion planting. Okay, so some people really do believe that some plants grow better next to certain other plants, or that some plants don't grow well together at all. But in my experience, as long as you pay attention to the plant's soil and light requirements, this is definitely not the case. For example, common companion planting advice is that peas and beans
(Courtesy of
don't grow well next to onions. Well, I've grown them together many times and had a great harvest. So my advice is to not get caught up in this type of advice.


7. Grow potatoes in towers. There is one persistent myth I see all over the internet: Grow 100 lbs. of potatoes in a 4 square foot potato tower. Long story short: It's not true. Read why - and learn better ways to grow potatoes - here.

Related Posts:
* Newbie Vegetable Gardening Mistakes - and How to Avoid Them 
* The Pros and Cons of Raised Bed and In-the-Ground Vegetable Gardens
* Starting a Vegetable Garden on a Budget 
* 10 Tips for Brand New Vegetable Gardeners
* Getting More From This Year's Garden

Oct 22, 2010

Interview with Mindy Starns Clark: Dealing with Messie Kids and Husbands

This is Part III of my interview with Mindy Starns Clark, author of the revolutionary home keeping book The House That Cleans Itself. Be sure to check out Part I and Part II of my interview, too

Kristina: I see on your blog that you and your publisher are considering follow up books for The House That Cleans Itself. One of the ideas is a book focusing on implementing your method in a household with kids. Could you share one or two ideas for moms with small children? For example, do you have advice on getting small kids to pick up after themselves without causing World War III?

Mindy: When it comes to picking up mess with kids, here are some ideas I have found success with in the past:

- Make cleaning a game. For example, let the kids pick a peppy song that becomes the “cleaning song”. When it’s time to pick up toys, put on that song and they have to pick up as fast as they can, seeing if they can finish before the song is over. Keep it fun, every time, and they’ll actually begin to think of it as an adventure rather than a chore.

- If you have several children, assign each one a different color and tell them they have exactly three minutes of picking up but that they are only allowed to pick up an item if it has their color somewhere on it. They get so engrossed in the “game” that they forget that game is also getting the room clean.

- Do whatever you can to make cleaning easy and convenient. Make sure that all bins and containers are easy to reach, clearly labeled, and present no challenges to tiny fingers. If they can’t read yet, use pictures as labels. Most of all, don’t create a situation that requires excessive sorting. (For example, you don’t need to separate Legos by size and color, just get them in the dang bin!)

- Ask for your child’s input on how he thinks his stuff should be organized and listen to his suggestions. By bringing him in on the decision-making process, you are giving him “ownership” over the success of his ideas.

For slightly older kids, here’s one of my favorites: Go to a hardware store and buy a carpenter’s apron, then stock it with child-safe cleaning supplies. My daughter hated cleaning until I did this for her. But the moment she strapped on that tool belt loaded with Magic Erasers, wet wipes, a mini feather duster, and more, she transformed into a lean, mean cleaning machine. It was wonderful!

I’ll have many more suggestions in the book about cleaning with kids, but these are off the top of my head for now.

Kristina: Do you have advice for women whose husbands are messies and not on board with The House That Cleans Itself system? For example, my dear hubby is terrible about sticking stuff on my kitchen counter and never moving it. We also have a problem with his mail; I have a special container I put it in, and when it's full, he's supposed to go through everything and toss out what he doesn't need. But instead, the container just overflows. One Proverbs 31 Woman reader also says her husband leaves his medicines on the counter, even though she's made a special spot for them in a cupboard. What advice might you give for situations like these?

Mindy: Most men are born problem-solvers, and it always helps to take advantage of that fact. In a peaceful moment, sit down and talk with your husband about the issue, focusing on the items, not on his character or behavior. Tell him something like, “We have a cleaning problem, but the solution I came up with obviously isn’t working. Do you have any better ideas about how we could handle these pill bottles?” If you present things correctly, he’ll see that this is a challenge to be solved rather than a condemnation of his habits, and there’s a good chance he’ll come up with something that will eliminate the issue entirely.

The hard part may be in helping him to understand why this is actually a problem and not just a matter of preference. For example, though I suspect your reader doesn’t want medicines left on the counter primarily because that makes the room look messy, there are plenty of other reasons why this shouldn’t happen:

- the kids might accidentally get into them

- the medicines are far more likely to get stolen if they’re out where just anyone can see them

- it’s too hard to wipe the countertops if items have to be moved out of the way first

- the medicines can roll away, get hidden under piles, or even accidentally spilled on or thrown out

- and so on.

Once he is convinced that this is an actual problem and not just a matter of two different housekeeping styles, he’ll probably understand the need for a solution and may even come up with alternatives so that the problem will be solved.

In a situation where it really is just a matter of preference, it’s best to admit that. Ask yourself if you’re being too picky, or if this is something you could let go of and just ignore. If not, then try to appeal to that side of him that wants to love and protect and cherish you. Ask him to bend a little for your sake, just because it will make you happy.

That’s how I would handle the issue of your husband’s stuff and how he leaves it on your kitchen counter. First, of course, see if together you can come up with some specific solutions for the various things he tends to deposit there. But beyond that I think you should just be honest with him and explain that each item - no matter what it is, no matter that this wasn’t his intention - feels to you like a little slap on the face. It’s disrespectful and hurtful and makes you very sad and frustrated. (If the rest of the house is a real mess, chances are he just can’t see what difference it makes whether the counter is clear or not. But even so, your feelings don’t need to make sense, they just are.) We all have areas in our messy homes that we need to keep under control simply for the sake of our sanity, thanks to our brain and how it works. Tell him this is one of your mental health zones and that you desperately need him to try harder just so that you will stay sane.

Sometimes, that’s enough to get him to change. Sometimes, however, a husband will agree to change somewhat as long as you’re willing to give a little in return. For example, we had a mess-by-the-door problem that seemed almost insurmountable. You see, my hubby likes to take his shoes off when he comes in the door and leave them there until he’s ready to put them on again the next day. To make matters worse, sometimes he’ll wear different shoes to work, causing the pairs to pile up and make a big mess. As that is the first thing you see when you come inside my house, it makes me crazy, but he really feels that there’s nothing wrong with it.

None of my solutions fixed this problem - not conveniently-placed baskets or clearing a spot in a nearby closet - so finally I sat down and had a talk with him. I said, “I know you don’t think of this as an issue, but it is for me. Seeing your shoes there makes me feel irritated and frustrated every single day. For that reason alone, I need you to work with me to find a solution.” His response was equally honest, saying that while he heard what I was saying and he wasn’t intentionally trying to hurt me, the fact was that he needed his shoes to be right there by the door or he would lose a lot of time and focus in the mornings if forced to retrieve them from somewhere else.

In the end, we decided that he did have the right to leave his shoes near the door, but within specific limits: He could only leave out one pair at a time - never more than that - and the shoes couldn’t just be plopped messily on the floor but instead had to be set neatly side by side, right next to the wall. It was a good solution. And though I’d rather not have to see his shoes there at all, I appreciate how he has stuck to this system, most of the time at least. As for me, I have done as I promised and stopped complaining or nagging him about the shoes he leaves at the door.

In the end, the most important key is to find a solution that works for your husband and the way he thinks. For example, maybe the guy who leaves his pill bottles on the counter is an out-of-sight-out-of-mind person. In your statement, “she's made a special spot for them in a cupboard,” perhaps the key phrase there is in the cupboard. Maybe when the pills are kept put away like that, he doesn’t see them and he forgets to take them. Instead, perhaps her compromise needs to be that the pills can stay out in the open on the counter (so he won’t forget) but that he has to put them into a little basket rather than just leaving them scattered willy nilly all over the table (so that they aren’t quite as much in her way, creating clutter). To me, that seems reasonable for both sides.

For your husband’s paper issue, maybe the container you chose is too big and he finds himself overwhelmed by the amount of papers it holds. In that case, get a smaller one. On the other hand, maybe the container you chose is simply too small, and the reason the papers are overflowing from it is because he only wants to deal with these things once a month but your container only holds two weeks’ worth. If that’s the case, get a bigger one!

Maybe he’s simply rotten at sorting and sifting, in which case the two of you should try and figure out some kind of simple pre-sort that you or he could do that would make the task feel less burdensome overall.

A final thought here: Ask him to specify a type of time or situation when he will be most likely to deal with the bin of papers. For example, maybe he doesn’t like doing them at night because then he’ll lie awake for hours obsessing about the bills, but he doesn’t mind sitting down on Saturday afternoons and going through them then, while you’re nearby cooking supper. The key here is that once he specifies the best case scenario for doing his papers, you’re allowed to remind him at those times without being thought of as a nag. Conversely, if you remind him at those times but he still doesn’t do the papers, you need to remember that he is a grown man and has the right to put this task off - though not to the point where your credit rating, electricity, etc., is in danger of being affected - as long as you can remind him with impunity the next time the situation again presents itself.

As you can see, getting to the root of these issues requires discussion, problem-solving skills, and a willingness to demonstrate love through action on both sides.

One final note on this: I’m a firm believer that negotiation, whenever possible, is always better than compromise, especially when partnered with some sort of penalty/reward system. With compromise each of you only gets part of what you want, but with negotiation, each of you gets all of something you want. In the end, those who learn to negotiate are usually much happier. For example, my husband and I negotiated the shoes-by-the-door issue so that in the end, he gets to keep his shoes exactly where he wants them, beside the door, albeit neatly and only one pair at a time. But because I had to “give” in this matter (I really wanted no shoes by the door at all, ever), he “gave” me something in return through an attached penalty/reward system: Now, whenever he breaks the rule we established, for example by exceeding the one pair of shoes only rule, then I get a 10-minute back rub for each extra pair of shoes that he leaves there. Trust me when I say that nowadays when I see extra shoes by the door I’m actually kind of excited, especially if my muscles are feeling sore. This also helps to keep him in the habit of following the rule, because he has to pay the price of a back rub whenever he breaks it. As you can imagine, we are both far happier with this solution than if we had compromised and come up with some other place for his shoes that wasn’t really satisfactory to either of us.

Kristina: A lot of magazines and books discussing home organization provide costly examples of how to change our homes. Does it have to be expensive to set up an organized home? What are some examples of inexpensive ways to organize problem areas?

Mindy: Over the years, I’ve spent a personal fortune on organizational items that proved useless in the end. Somehow, I think I feel better about a problem if I throw money at it!

It is true that sometimes, yes, money needs to be spent, even in a House That Cleans Itself. The broken window blinds that hang crooked and give a messy feel to the whole room need to go. The moldy grout that has resisted every product you’ve thrown at it needs to be replaced.

But more often than not, achieving a House That Cleans Itself costs nothing at all. For example, consider the Sight Zone principle. In the book, I explain that every room in your home has at least one “Sight Zone” - that area you see first when you stand in the doorway and look inside. (A room with multiple doorways will have multiple Sight Zones.) I suggest that you evaluate the Sight Zone for every room in your house. Next, for each of those rooms, decide which elements tend to stay neater and cleaner and which tend to get messier. (For example, you might be pretty good about making the bed but pretty bad about letting your dresser top get cluttered.)

Then - here’s the key - rearrange the furniture in each room so that the part that tends to stay neater is the part that sits in the Sight Zone, while the part that tends to get messy sits in that area of the room you may not see at first.

Using the above example, you would arrange your bedroom so that the bed sits across from the doorway in plain sight, but the dresser rests against the wall beside the door, maybe even with a plant or a curtain on the near side that blocks it from full view of the door. How on earth does this give you a cleaner house? It’s a mental thing, which has physical repercussions. Allow me to explain.

Before implementing this principal, every time you walked into that room, your eyes landed on the messy dresser and your first thought was “This room is a mess.” Even if you came further into the room and saw that the bed was made, your brain said, “Look at that, I tried to do something neat to this messy room.”

Now consider the impact after implementing the Sight Zone principle. If every time you walk into that room you spot the neatly-made bed, your first thought is, “This room is neat and clean.” Then when your eyes finally catch sight of the messier part you think, “Oh look, there’s a messy spot in this clean room.”

Do you see the difference? In the first example, not only does the house feel messier, but if this happens in room after room, the mess can seem so overwhelming and hopeless that you don’t even try to clean. In the second example, not only does the house feel cleaner, but by allowing you to see the mess as an isolated issue you are more likely to jump in and clean it up as well.

Household experts and those who are naturally gifted at housekeeping would probably call this concept crazy. They would instead lecture you about that messy dresser, sell you a bunch of containers, and tell you to try harder.

Not me! I already know the cold, hard truth: If you are housekeeping impaired, lectures won’t change your behavior, containers create a whole new kind of clutter, and no matter how hard you try, you’re never going to change simply through sheer force of will.

That’s what makes the House That Cleans Itself system so different. That’s why it works, even when nothing else has ever worked before.






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Jun 30, 2014

How to Buy Half a Beef (or a Quarter, or a Whole!)

Once you realize grass fed beef is better for you, it's not long before you understand you need to find a more affordable source for it than the grocery store. I think it's fantastic our two local grocery stores carry grass fed beef - but it's pricey! (An example: Our Walmart sells wee packs of grass fed ground beef - enough for maybe two tiny hamburgers - for $9.)

In the past, we'd often thought about saving money by buying beef from a local farmer. Now that we've made the commitment to eat grass fed for our health, we knew we needed to stop thinking about it and just do it. But if you've never bought a quarter, a half, or a whole beef before, it can be a little intimidating. So let me walk you through the process. (Incidentally, the process is the same for grass fed bison, which is becoming more and more common for farmer's to raise.)

How Much Do I Need?

First things first; you need to consider just how much meat you want to buy. This really depends upon your family's eating habits. Some people eat very little meat - and some eat meat every day. Also, if you can buy meat in bulk and save money doing so, consider that you might eat more beef than you currently do.

For an idea of how much beef you eat in a year, approximate how much meat you consume each week, then multiply the number of pounds by 52 (the approximate number of weeks in a year).


Finding the Beef

Now to find beef! Sometimes a local, old fashioned butcher shop (not attached to a grocery store) can help you with this. Either the butcher can connect you directly with a farmer, or he can act as a go-between. I recommend dealing directly with the farmer, as the cost is likely to be lower. (Although the butcher will come into play later, as I'll detail in a moment.)

Other places to connect with farmers selling beef include:

* Craigslist
* A local farmer's market (Ask around!)
* The county fair (Again, you'll have to ask around.)
* The Local Harvest website
* Or, if you have a friend who raises cows, ask them to raise a cow just for you

Questions to Ask Before Buying
Butcher paper wrapped (left) vs. plastic wrapped (right)


If you're fortunate, you'll have more than one farmer to contact. Give him or her a call and ask:

* Is the beef entirely grass fed, or has it been given grains at any time? (Some cattle are entirely grain fed, which you should avoid; others are fed grain most of their life, then allowed to graze on grass before being butchered; again - avoid that. What you want is cattle that's grazed on grass all its life.)

* Is the beef hormone and anti-biotic free?

* What breed does the beef come from? (It should be from a meat breed or a dual purpose breed, like a Holstein.)

* How is the beef available? (Usually you can buy a quarter, a half, or a whole cow. Don't panic if only whole cows are available; you may be able to find a few other families who are willing to buy the cow with you.)

* Approximately how many pounds is each quarter, half, or whole? (The number varies a lot, so this is a vital question! Be sure to find out the hanging weight, not the live weight of the animal.)

* Exactly what are all the costs? (Typically, there is a kill fee, which varies according to how much of the cow you a buying. There is also a price per pound of hanging weight, which should pay both the farmer and the butcher - or there may be a price per pound of hanging weight, plus a butcher's fee per pound.)

* When will you butcher? (Often butchering happens in late summer or early fall.)

* How will the meat be packaged? (Usually the choice is between butcher paper - which does, indeed, prevent freezer burn - and shrink wrapped in plastic, like a FoodSaver does.)

* At pick up, is the meat frozen or fresh?

* How does payment work? Will I have to pay in full up front? Part up front? Or can you pay in full upon pick up?

Grass fed eye fillets.
Storing the Beef

Before you commit to buying beef in bulk, you need to consider how you're going to store it. Most people freeze their beef. But how much freezer space will you need? 1 cubit feet of freezer space hold approximately 35-40 lbs. of wrapped beef.

Of course, the amount of space needed also varies according to what types of cuts you decide to buy. (More on that in a moment.) For example, ground beef takes up less space than, say, roasts. Remember, too, that you won't want to keep the beef frozen for more than about a year, or there will be some quality loss.

Another option is to can some or all of the beef - but you will still need freezer or refrigerator space to store the beef while you're working on the canning.

Comitting to Buy

Once you've figured out how much beef you want and who to buy it from, call the farmer and commit to buy. It's best not to wait too long to do this, because farmers usually only raise as many cows as they feel sure they have customer's for. So if you wait too long there might not be enough beef to go around.

Deciding What to Buy

Once you've comitted, you can expect to hear from the farmer's butcher shortly before butchering day. He will want to know how you want your beef packaged and what type of cuts you want.

This last part can seem pretty intimidating; most of us have no idea how many cuts we can get from a steer. To help, look at a cut chart, like this one. Bare in mind, too, that you can make your own ground beef with an inexpensive meat grinder. (If you have a KitchenAid mixer, you can also buy a meat grinder attachment for it.) That said, the butcher will probably recommend grinding the tougher cuts into ground beef.

Other Considerations

* If you're ordering steaks, be sure to specify the thickness you desire.

* Consider how much meat you want per package. For example, do you want ground beef in 1 lb. or 5 lb. packs? What about stew meat?

* On average, butchers usually age the cow for 7 to 14 days. You can request a longer aging, although it might not be available. Experts often recommend 10 - 20 days. (Aging gives the beef more tenderness and flavor.)

* Be sure to ask for the bones! It's very easy to make your own beef stock for freezing or canning. If you have dogs, you might want the bones for them, too.

* Think about any organs you'd like to have, also. If you're not buying a whole cow, not all organs may be available (if the person buying another part of the cow wants them). Some organs to consider: shanks and oxtail (for stews and soups), liver, tongue, heart, and cheek. You can even ask for the suet (fat) for rendering tallow (lard) or making soap; the butcher might even grate it for soapmaking, if you ask.

Bringing it Home

When your beef is cut and packaged by the butcher, you will receive a call to come pick it up. Be sure you have your freezer all ready to go! You may also want to bring a few coolers for transporting the beef.

And How Much Does it All Cost?

I have yet to find a farmer who is selling bulk beef for more than the grocery store - especially if we're talking grass fed beef. To give you an idea of the savings, below I've detailed the costs of the half beef we are purchasing this year. These prices are VERY competitive because we're buying from a family who raises beef for themselves, plus a few extras to pay for the cost of raising their own meat. Expect to pay at least a dollar more if your purchase from a professional farmer.

Weight for half beef (Holstein): about 270 lbs.

Kill fee: $27

Price per pound: $1.90, hanging weight

Butcher's fee: $.50/lb., hanging weight

Total cost of half beef: $675

Total price per pound: $2.50

And this is for grass fed beef! What a deal!