Monday, October 7, 2013

Are you a BOP? I'm not!

I grew up in one the most organized and cleanest homes I have ever seen. I can really appreciate orderliness and the effort it takes to keep such a nice home. (Thank you, mom)! But, unfortunately, I am definitely not a BOP (born-organized person).

Since getting married, I have really strived to keep up a nice home. It’s been a struggle for sure. Even though I really like to organize things, clutter is always taking over. I have given every excuse there is… working too many long hours, too tired, morning sickness that was too debilitating, too many moves (8 in the last 4 years), babies that make too much of a mess, etc etc.

Living in Liberia has given me a whole new set of excuses. I’m not complaining now, but these are the realities of living here. I’ll share them with you and then tell you some fun ways that I overcome the clutter.

Everything is a process and EVERYTHING takes longer in Liberia. One missionary friend named their cat NEIL – Nothing’s Easy In Liberia. Here are a few examples that make cleaning harder here:

-       Even though our well water is probably safe to drink, to play it safe we filter. So, that means filling pitchers from the slow-running faucet and pouring it through a filter each day just to have drinking water.

-       We need to wash and soak all of our fresh produce in bleach water.

-       Our toilet doesn’t flush on its own. We fill buckets of water from the slow-running faucet to flush. Usually we collect the water for washing hands into a basin for this. (Wishing we had better water pressure…)

-       There is no running hot water and the shower faucet doesn’t work. So, to heat water to wash the dishes or to take a bucket bath, we have to strike a match (sometimes it takes a few tries) to turn on the gas stove, wait for it to heat, and carry water the water to the bathroom. We also need to carry and dump out Audrey’s bath bucket each night since it obviously doesn’t have a plug and drain. All these little things add up throughout the day.

-       We don’t have glass windows, only screens, so dust from the dirt road easily finds its way in. After dark, tiny insects come through the screens to play by the light, die in the night, and require a sweep up each morning.
-       We are still waiting for our washing machine that is on the container, so everything needs to wait to be done by hand. In the rainy season it can take 2-3 days for our laundry to dry. (My neighbors help me with washing the clothes, so don’t feel sorry for me)!

My mother-in-law (check out her daily blog HERE) has a really helpful book called Sink Reflections. In it are some great tools. Some of ideas listed before are things that I do that come from the book and some are my own ways of keeping clutter to a minimum. Maybe you’ll find them helpful too.

1)   Hot Spot Fire Drill: I have a few areas in my home, such as the nightstand and small table in the dining room, that attract clutter. I spend 5 minutes each day on each hot spot putting away the clutter.  The kitchen timer is my very best friend and makes cleaning and organizing so much fun. It’s like a race!

2)   27 Fling Boogie: Go through the house and as quickly as possible throw away 27 things into the trash. Or, put 27 things in their proper place.

3)   Incorporate Cleaning into Already Established Routines: After my bucket bath each night, I do a quick wipe down of the shower tiles and tub. After brushing my teeth each evening I do a quick wipe down of the bathroom sink and swish the toilet. It only takes three extra minutes.

4)   Pick out my clothes the night before and make the bed immediately after getting dressed in the morning.

5)   Always and I mean ALWAYS use hampers. Sort your clothes in to lights and darks as you take them off. It removes one of the steps of laundry – your clothes will already to sorted!

6)   Have a solid kitchen clean-up routine each night. For us: Clear table, put away leftovers, wash dishes wipe down stop top and fridge, wipe down table, counters and high chair, fill water filter, shine the sink, put cleaning cloths in laundry basket, and sweep kitchen and under dining room table. Ideally, the dishes should be dried and put away that evening, but I choose to wait until morning. I keep a check list right by the sink.

7)   During Audrey’s naps and after she goes to sleep for the night, I spend 5 minutes setting up her toys in a way that will look appealing and fun to her when she wakes up.

8)   Invite company to come eat once a week. This is a huge motivator to do some serious cleaning.

9)   Have a designated spot for everything.

10)                   When I get something new, I try to give away the old. For example, during a recent bale party that my mother-in-law had, I got something like 50 ‘new’ shirts! (This may seem excessive but after going over a washboard a few times, clothes wear out and stretch out extremely fast). I went through my drawers and came up with a huge bag of clothes to give away.

11)                   Zoning: Each week of the month, focus on deep-cleaning a different zone of the house, spending just 15 minutes a day. (Cleaning cobwebs, dusting windowsills, furniture, baseboards, straightening closets, mop, clean curtains, organizing cupboards, clean scale, flip mattresses, clean windows and mirrors, etc. One key is to clean it even if it doesn’t look dirty).

Week 1: Entrance, Dining Room, Porch
Week 2: Kitchen
Week 3: Bathrooms, Children’s rooms and Extra room of your choice (office, laundry room, guest room)
Week 4: Master Bedroom
Week 5: Living Room

12)                   Don’t have a martyr attitude and work cheerfully. I try to not do it to get recognition or appreciation. I try to do it for the sake of having a beautiful home that will bless, my family, and my guests, and me too.

I’ll stop here for now. But, if you like these ideas, I highly recommend that you go get a kitchen timer and the easy-to-read book Sink Reflections by Marla Cilley.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Six weeks at a time

When I lived in the States, I was guilty of waiting until the last minute to decide what to make for supper. After working long hours and having nearly an hour commute to and from work, I was hardly in any condition to come with a solid healthy meal idea and then cook it. I found myself stopping by the grocery store several times a week on the way home to pick up ingredients for “whatever sounded good.” Or worse, we’d needlessly going out to eat. We ended up spending too much money this way and were not eating as healthy as we could be. 

Since moving to Voinjama, a good nine hour drive from a grocery store, I’ve had to adjust. I now plan meals and buy groceries for at least 6 weeks at a time. This has takes some serious planning, but I’ve found the challenge to be fun.

We are on a careful budget ($500/month for food, toiletries, diapers, cleaning supplies, medicines, and other misc items + $100/month for things from the local market). Most of the food we like to buy at the grocery store is imported, making the cost at least 30% higher here than in a typical grocery store in the States. Unfortunately, I can’t cut costs the same way I did before. Buying in bulk is the same price as regular quantities. There are no weekly specials, coupons or discount grocery stores. Instead, I keep track of which items are less expensive at each grocery store. Meat, cheese, and butter, for instance, I get at the ERA store. Dry goods I buy at Harbel or Stop and Shop. Harbel and Stop and Shop give us a 10% discount. We also cut costs by eating all of our leftovers and eating a Liberian dish for lunch, which uses only inexpensive local ingredients. Finally, I make a lot of our bread from scratch, including roti and tortillas.

I also have to think about conserving stove gas. A replacement tank here is $45, and we can only get them in Monrovia. They can last us up to two months, depending on how much we use the stove and oven. For things like beans and potatoes that require a lot of boiling, I like to use the coal pot. Charcoal is cheap here and easily available.

As I was saying, buying for so many weeks takes a lot of planning. We don’t have a freezer, which makes things even more challenging. I have to be strategic. I start by coming up with 6 weeks worth of meal ideas, accounting for leftovers. I then make a complete ingredients list for each meal. This becomes my grocery list. I then make a special note if the meal requires meat, cheese, or produce that I can’t get in Voinjama. Next, I prioritize meals according to which ingredients will spoil first.  And ta da! I’m set for the next six weeks.

So, meals may go something like this…

Week one: Quick! Eat this before it spoils!

            Chicken parmesan, tacos, Mediterranean chicken with couscous, samosas, Pakistani kima, spaghetti with meat sauce, and turkey cheddar melts.

Week two: I found that pepperoni and bacon lasts quite a while in the refrigerator. So, this week I alternate between bean dishes and these meats.

            Homemade pizza, BLTs (We have lettuce in our garden), loaded baked potatoes (use bacon), Middle Eastern lentil soup, black bean and rice burritos, pita bread pizzas, farfalle pasta with homemade white sauce, peas, and bacon.

Weeks three and four: Besides, a bit of pepperoni, we’re pretty much out of meat at this time. I alternate now between canned meat (not the best, I know…) and more vegetarian dishes.

            Pizza casserole, spaghetti with tomato sauce (substitute kidney beans for ground beef) and serve with bruschetta, chili, ham and cheese pie, ham salad sandwiches, Indian garden vegetable curry, chana masala, curried lentils, vegetarian quesadillas, and Mexican casserole.

Week five: At this point, we are obviously completely out of meat and probably out of cheese too. We finish up the leftovers from the last week. But, before you think we’re suffering too much, check out this meal that I can make every week, very inexpensively and using mostly only local ingredients:
            Filet mignon (from local butcher), marinated in balsamic vinegar, olive oil, worchesister sauce, soy sauce and garlic. Grilled over a coal pot.
            Garlic mashed potatoes
            Lettuce salad with cherry, tomatoes, cucumber, avocado, and carrots
            Crusty loaf of bread made in a Dutch oven over a coal pot with EVOO and black pepper for dipping.

Week six: Now I get to be creative and make dishes using mostly local ingredients. So far, we haven’t had to have peanut butter sandwiches or macaroni and cheese for supper. J

            Eggplant parmesan, pasta with sautéed potato greens, tomatoes, and cucumber, drizzled with olive oil and parmesan cheese, more chili, chickpea dish with feta, tomatoes, and couscous, and various beans and rice dishes from around the world.

Whew! At this point, our pantry is literally empty apart from some honey, oatmeal, and a bit of coffee. I’m definitely ready for a trip to Monrovia!