Clutter and Anxiety

Over the last few months, I’ve had this recurring dream where I’ve moved out of our home to get away from the “stuff”.  Sometimes, it’s a small apartment.  Other times, it’s a perfectly designed house with smart storage.  At the heart of it though is a desire to live a less cluttered life.

I know some folks, including a few family members, who don’t seem to be bothered by clutter and disorder.  If we’re being completely honest though, clutter and disorder impacts productivity, but more importantly, it can provoke anxiety that isn’t fun for anyone.

As most of my readers know, I’m legally blind.  This presents me with some interesting challenges in life, most of which I’ve worked around nicely, but mess is one of those things that really causes problems for me.  In navigating my home, I rely on muscle memory.  I know just how many steps it takes to get from one place to another.  I know just when to zig or zag for furniture placement or design elements in my home, and I usually do a pretty good job at making the whole process seem painless.  Add a new element to the mix though and things can go sideways fast!

A few years ago, I was tidying up my kitchen.  I started loading my dishwasher, and something called me away from my task.  When I came back into the kitchen, I had forgotten that the dishwasher was open, and I smacked my shin hard enough to require a trip to the ER.  I was the one who left the dishwasher open, but since I had been distracted, my muscle memory hadn’t accounted for the obstacle.

If I could cause that kind of drama for myself with a momentary lapse of concentration, imagine the chaos that can be caused by the rest of my crew.  It’s something that we’ve been working to improve around here, and my family are definitely making progress.  I’ve decided though that it’s something that has to be a priority not only for my physical well-being, but for the whole family’s mental health.

Tripping over things provokes anxiety for me.  Bumping into things frustrates me.  Not being able to find the things I need to finish a given task annoys me.  Other family members are starting to experience the same feelings, so I’ve decided that I’m going to facilitate some decluttering and healthy habits to help the entire family succeed.

I suspect that my feelings aren’t unique.  And with the start of a new year, I’d imagine that others are trying to declutter and establish healthier habits as well.  That’s why I thought I’d share a little of my perspective here.  I’ll tell you folks what I plan to do, and I’ll share my progress along the way with the hope that I can inspire others to get their own poop in a group and start living more effectively.

For me, the key to handling the clutter and managing the anxiety that’s caused by said clutter involves baby steps.  After Thanksgiving, we removed everything from the dining room that didn’t belong, and for the most part, we’ve maintained the space.  Yes, we just up and moved everything that didn’t belong there into a different room, but that’s one of the strategies that works really well for me.  By moving everything that didn’t belong out of my dining room, I could see some immediate progress.  Also, by getting everything out of there that didn’t belong, it made it easier to keep up with things like vacuuming and the other weekly chores that go along with keeping a house cleaner and neater.

Eventually, I’ll have to deal with everything that’s been moved to our family room, but my strategy for that will be quite simple.  I’ll deal with things one box, bag, or item at a time, and I’ll make certain that everything has a place whether it’s another part of the house, a donate/sell pile, or the trash.

By starting with rooms that I spend the most time in, I feel the effects immediately, and it encourages me to keep going, both with the decluttering and the maintenance of the spaces that I’ve considered “done”.  For that reason, my kitchen is next on the “high impact” list.  Because our family is focused on healthy eating, I’m spending a lot more time in my kitchen, and I need to be effective and productive there.

I’m actually very blessed in the kitchen department.  It’s laid out well with lots of cabinet and counter space.  I need to do a purge though so I can use the space efficiently instead of wastefully.  I’m not sure I’d know what to do if the majority of my countertops weren’t cluttered with one thing or another.  Obviously, there are certain things that stay on the counters all the time.  My stand mixer, coffee maker, coffee grinder, toaster, and electric kettle need homes on the countertops, but I can arrange those items in a more workable way, I think.

Because of everything that’s involved, the kitchen won’t be a quick or simple project.  I’m probably more excited about that room than any other room though, and I’ll be happy to share my progress with my readers.

If you take nothing else from my ramblings here, consider this.  Take baby steps, maintain what you’ve already accomplished, and before you know it, you’ll have your house and your life in order too.


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N.O.P.E. — No Off-Plan Eating

My keto journey went seriously sideways last fall after my housemate and dear friend was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer.  Our lives changed so much in the blink of an eye, and I felt like I was barely managing to keep it together as we tried to get used to life without Sue.  There were financial changes, emotional changes, and lifestyle changes that had to get woven into a new life plan, and getting my food back on track was the least of my worries as we navigated the grieving process.

If I’d gone into that challenging situation with my keto feet underneath me, things likely would have gone differently.  The fact is though that I decided to prioritize other aspects of my life above sticking to a keto meal plan, and I was completely willing to accept the consequences of that choice.  I knew there’d be weight gain.  I knew I’d struggle with meal planning and habitual meal prep.  And lastly, I knew there’d be some health struggles.

So here I am on January 7, 2019, and I’m ready to get my poop in a group! I’m in a place where I’m not setting myself up for failure, and I’m ready to take back the ground that I’ve lost.  There are a lot of strategies I can use to support that plan, but the biggest one is NOPE — no off-plan eating.

I coined the term NOPE sometime last year when I needed to remind myself every day to stay on track.  I posted it on social media, I wrote it in my diary, and I shared it with my friends who were supporting me.  It’s such a simple concept to grasp; it isn’t necessarily an easy concept to implement though, especially when NOPE isn’t yet a habit.  I’m up to the challenge though.  I’ve done it before and I can do it again.  I’m worth it.  My family is worth it.  What I do matters!

  • High weight: 290.2lb in May 2017
  • Current weight: 253.4lb on 1/7/19
  • First Goal: 233.6lb to get under my lowest weight since recommitting to keto in September of 2017

Of course, I’ll keep everyone posted!

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Side Hustle Thoughts for 2019

After our experience with homestead turkeys this fall, I’m more determined than ever to increase homestead productivity.  Before Christmas, I had a fantastic meeting with a CPA friend, and now that I’m no longer suffering from the plague that got us down, I’m ready!

Honey Caramel Popcorn

Just after Christmas, my husband happened across a 2.5-ounce popcorn machine at Aldi for $30.  Unlike the manual stove top version that sits unused in our kitchen, this contraption is so easy to use, and I can make popcorn in much less time.  I’m going to make a few batches to share with friends, and I’ll also put some on Facebook Marketplace.  If the machine doesn’t work out as a business investment, then I will have a nice little toy for home use, and if I end up breaking it because it couldn’t handle high use, then I figure I should have generated enough revenue from sales to buy a better machine.  Either way, the machine was a great score!

Homemade Bourbon Vanilla

When someone calls you up and tells you, “Sarah, your vanilla is so good that I’d love to pay you for it,”, and you don’t start selling it, I guess you hate money.  That’s what happened with me, and since I don’t hate money, I’m going to get my bourbon vanilla going within the next week so that I’ll have some young product within three or four months.  It’s so easy to make, and it’s so good.  It should be a no-brainer, but for some reason, it wasn’t for me.

Homemade Face Scrubs

These are low-hanging fruit really, and a lot of folks really enjoy them.  My daughter and I were supposed to make some for her friends for Christmas, but again, because of the plague, it just didn’t happen.  Once we do that though, I know they’ll be a hit!

Baked Goods

I’m a fantastic baker if I do say so myself, and baked goods are also low-hanging fruit that I didn’t pursue.  I kept worrying about what I was going to bake instead of just baking and seeing what sells.  I’d really like to do something with sourdough products, and I’ve come up with an idea to make the cinnamon rolls marketable in Indiana while playing nice with the cottage food laws.  I also got a book from Mom at Christmas that should help me come up with some really amazing keto recipes.  I feel like that’s a niche that needs something, but we’ll see.  I could be wrong in this market.

I have some other assorted plans too like homestead poultry and eggs as well as some other odds and ends, but right now, the key is to “get busy living” and the rest of it will take care of itself as long as I stay focused and determined.  Remember, what you do matters!

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Stay Motivated! Seize the Day!

With the start of the new year, folks tend to have no lack of motivation.  They also tend to over-promise and later, as the year marches on, they also under-deliver.  It is for precisely that reason that I don’t tend to make New Year’s resolutions.  That doesn’t mean, however, that I can’t contemplate ways that’ll keep my family moving in a positive direction.

The last four months of 2018 were incredibly challenging for my family.  We lost our housemate and beloved friend to pancreatic cancer.  Because we had been living as “chosen family” for the better part of four years, losing her really did a number on all of us.  It also taught us some important lessons that I plan to carry forward, and I thought these lessons were worth sharing.

Seize the Day

At Sue’s funeral, one of her childhood friends told me, “Carpe diem!”, and she couldn’t have been more spot-on.  I just turned 42 in December, and you’d think that means I have plenty of time to get my poop in a group, but the fact is, every day is precious.  Even though Sue knew she was terminally ill, she made every day count.  She stayed positive and motivated right up ’til the end, and she wasted no time.  Despite the fact that it was hard for her, she still gave her all every day that she was with us, and that lesson will stick with me for sure.

Focus on Something Productive

About a month after Sue’s diagnosis, she started to experience paralysis in her dominant arm.  Since she wasn’t terribly comfortable with technology, and since she was a person who loved her lists, she was determined to practice writing with her left hand.  In hindsight, I think her staying productive led to a better quality of life in those last days, and if she was able to do that while she was dying, why can’t we do that when we’re living?

Don’t get me wrong.  Downtime is important, but sometimes we let ourselves off the hook too easily.  It’s easy to waste time being unproductive and justifying it by saying, “I have plenty of time.” It’s like that quote from Shawshank Redemption though, “Get busy living or get busy dying.” Personally, I prefer the former.  Sometimes I just need to remind myself of that when it comes to productivity however.

Surround Yourself with Positivity

Folks who have positive attitudes are better equipped to get things done.  They also seem better equipped to push through the tough times.  While fake cheerleading can be annoying at best and counter-productive at worst, surrounding yourself with people whose attitudes won’t drag you down is a crucial life strategy for success.

Another important part of that strategy is gratitude.  Throughout Sue’s last months, we all did a lot of reminding each other about how grateful we were for everything from each other to the ability to brighten others’ days.  When you’re focused on gratitude, it becomes more challenging to focus on what you don’t have or didn’t get.  It also helps to keep you focused on the end game.

Sue taught me so many things about living life, and interestingly enough, I learned a good number of those things as we shared her last days on this earth.  It’s strange how a loved one’s death can be motivating, but it reminded me that life is precious, my family and friends are precious, and my life is what I make it.  I dedicate it all to her, and because we rejoiced in the sharing, I’m posting these sentiments here as well.

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Lessons Learned Raising Homestead Turkeys

2018 was the year of the turkey at the homestead, and it occurred to me that I never shared a “lessons learned” post on the blog.  In sharing, I hope to encourage others who’re thinking of taking the plunge.  I would also submit that the winter solstice is a perfect time to ponder homestead plans for next year, so here’s our story for what it’s worth.

From the moment we ventured into homestead poultry, I knew I wanted turkeys to be a part of the plan.  I had these glorified ideas of what it’d be like to raise “Thanksgiving” and “Christmas”, but I didn’t fully understand the scope of that dream until after we had 23 homestead turkeys in body bags in the back of our SUV.

I’m glad we raised turkeys.  We’ll likely do it again.  There were some important take-aways that’ll definitely make things easier (and more profitable) in the future though.

Order of Operations

I once heard a farmer in the regenerative agriculture space say something like, “Start with pastured chickens.  That way, when you offer turkeys, it’ll be easier to get a buy-in on a $100+ bird.” But since I’d also heard folks say things like, “If you’re going to raise one animal, you might as well raise ten and sell the extras,”, I didn’t think it was unreasonable to order 25 turkey poults from Hoover’s Hatchery.

I figured I’d gift some birds, I’d put some in my freezer, and I’d sell enough to pay for the costs involved in raising the birds.  It didn’t work out that way though for two reasons.  First, I didn’t have a clear marketing plan.  I just figured I’d “wing it” and it’d all work out OK in the end.  Second, about eleven weeks into the 22-week project, our lives were forever changed when an extended family member who lived with us was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer.  After her diagnosis, it was all we could do to manage the normal stuff let alone “extras” like trying to sell a bunch of turkeys that were going to be ready the week of Thanksgiving.

Our loved one passed the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and had we not been dealing with that hardship, I probably could have done a better job marketing our product, but in the end, I think it all boiled down to doing things backwards.  If I’d started with chickens, the turkeys may have sold themselves, and dramatic life changes shouldn’t have really impacted the turkey project.

Feed Management

I went into the turkey project knowing that feeding meat birds would take careful management.  In the end though, we spent a lot more money on feed then we probably should have, and we didn’t really see that investment flesh out in the final weights of the birds.  We bought almost 2000 pounds of feed over the 22 weeks that we had the turkeys.  Now, in the beginning, that feed was not only going toward 25 poults, but it was also feeding ten guineas and 10 chickens.  I don’t know how much feed those other birds ate, but it probably wasn’t more than 10% based on when we stopped feeding those birds together.

This means that 1800 or so pounds of feed yielded 372 pounds of turkey in the freezer.  We definitely used too much feed for that kind of yield, so we’ll have to plan more carefully the next time.  If that means more forage or changing the protein ratios, we can do that, but there’s definitely some work to be done there.

Stocking Density and Labor

I found a reference on small flock turkey raising that suggested a stocking density of 3 to 4 square feet of pasture pen per bird.  Since I had an 80-square-foot pen and I expected to have brooder losses, I ordered 25 birds.  As it turns out though, we’re really great at brooding birds with a new outside setup we designed, so we ended up with a tighter stocking density than I think was optimal.

Feeding and watering one pen of birds makes for less labor and equipment, but I think a balance can be found so that adding an extra pen doesn’t end up adding 100% more labor.

We also learned that hauling water is the biggest part of the labor involved in raising the turkeys, so if we can come up with a more efficient way to handle the water situation, things will be easier (and more profitable.)

Final Thoughts

Until I tasted that turkey that I roasted for Thanksgiving, I’d never had pasture-raised turkey before.  I immediately fell in love, and I wasn’t sad that I’d been “stuck” with over 300 pounds of turkey in the freezer.  We learned so much from the experience, but more than anything else, we learned that we can produce some amazing meat, the likes of which you can’t get at the store.  There’s something to be said for enjoying an animal that you raised humanely with care and respect, and in doing that, we learned that we can take even more responsibility for the food that our family enjoys.

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Trying for Turkey 20 Ways — Methods 3-5

When you have more than 15 homestead turkeys in your freezer, it’s relatively easy to explore all the possibilities for delicious turkey preparation.  The first post in this series covered two “recipes”; today, I’ll share three more.

Prep #3 — Bone Broth

You can’t roast a chicken or turkey without making bone broth.  There’s nothing more delicious, and honestly, bone broth was probably the thing that excited me most about the prep of our homestead turkeys.

I usually make bone broth in the slow cooker, but the carcass from my first roasted turkey was so large that there was no way it was fitting into my biggest one.  I actually struggled to fit it into my 4-gallon stock pot at first, but after about six hours of simmering, I was able to push the frame below the water line.  I simmered that first pot of stock for about two days, and it was amazing!

Prep #4 — Tamale Pie

Some of us were chatting on Zello one afternoon about homemade tamales.  I love tamales, but I’ve always had the impression that they’re very labor-intensive to make.  As we talked though, it occurred to me that tamale pie is a thing, and I wondered out loud about how it’d taste if I made it with turkey.

I found a recipe that looked pretty straight-forward.  Instead of ground beef, I used shredded turkey from my bone broth, and I added an entire can of chipotle chiles because we really enjoy spicy food.  I have to say, the concoction was pretty darned tasty, and I’ll definitely make it again.

Prep #5 — Broccoli, Rice, Cheese and Turkey Casserole

I’ve had cheesy broccoli and rice casseroles in the past, so I thought I’d try one with some of our roasted turkey.  While I couldn’t quite bring myself to use Velveeta, I did follow the gist of a recipe I found online.  My half steam table pan was almost overflowing with amazing casserole goodness, and that too is a dish that I will certainly prepare again!

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When Perfection is the Enemy of “Good Enough”

Over the last week, I’ve listened to several thought-provoking podcasts from some of my favorite podcasters.  As I considered what they’d said, I decided to weave some of their wisdom into my current life path, and I realized something.  I am guilty of allowing perfection to get in the way of “good enough”, and there’s absolutely no reason for it!

In Episode 2341 of The Survival Podcast, expert council member Nicole Sauce talked about finding your passion and making a living doing something you love.  She used her own journey to illustrate her point.  In short, she talked about a blog she’d done that she thought would be a great side hustle, but when she sat down and actually thought about it, she realized that doing the blog meant that she had to do some things she dreaded.

As she elaborated, I felt like she was talking to me directly.  She used an example from her past — a cooking blog — and she shared insights from that project.  In doing that, she helped me to realize something critical that I’d missed in my attempts to do something great with my blog.  I love writing.  I love teaching.  I love sharing.  I HATE worrying about images and visual appeal though, and that fact has been keeping me from publishing consistent content to get my “1000 true fans”.

If you stop and think about it, dreading the visual aspects of blog publishing makes sense.  I’m blind, so that stuff means nothing to me.  The thing was though, I spent entirely too much time worrying about the needs of sighted folks instead of just publishing content and building a fan base.  And after discussing it on Zello with my friends, I realized that I was just being silly.  Pictures of my recipes or photos of my homestead projects were holding me back from producing content, thus perfection was getting in the way of “good enough”.

So here’s what I’ve decided.  I’m going to keep writing and sharing.  If you all want to know what a given recipe looks like, make it and find out.  If you want to see pictures of what I’m doing here on the homestead, reach out and I’ll see what I can do although I make no promises.  I’m not worried about my images looking like they were taken by a professional, but if I don’t have help, I do worry about whether or not the intended subject actually appears in the image.  That’s a legitimate concern for a blind lady who just wants to write, right?

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Trying for Turkey 20 Ways — Days 1-3

This year, we’ve learned that there’s nothing more fantastic than pasture-raised, non-GMO-fed turkeys from your own homestead! Now that we have all this amazing meat though, what do we do with it? Well, it occurred to me today that I could try for a series of blog posts here about how we’re using this precious commodity.

roasted turkey in pan with meat thermometerPrep #1

Of course, we had to fix our first turkey in the traditional way.  I brined a turkey that weighed almost 19 pounds, and I roasted it in my favorite roasting pan.  It was delicious! In fact, it was so good that we had a repeat of day 1 with leftovers the next day.

Prep #2

Using a huge leg quarter from the day 1 turkey, I decided I was going to make turkey and noodles.  The end result didn’t turn out anywhere near the way I expected though.

I put the leg quarter in my enamel-coated cast iron pot, and I covered it with filtered water.  Then I simmered the leg quarter for about three hours.  I removed the leg quarter, pulled the meat off the bone, and I set the meat aside.  I placed the bones in a bag to save for later, and I brought the liquid in my pot to a boil.  I added a package of egg noodles, and I cooked them ’til they were just done.

After the noodles were cooked, I put the turkey back in the pot, and I added some green beans from “day 1” that I thought I’d ruined.  (On Saturday, I had cooked green beans in a crock pot with bacon, red onion, garlic paste, salt, and pepper, but there was something about the taste that I didn’t love.  Since I didn’t want to waste them, I put them in the fridge thinking I could salvage them.) I simmered the whole concoction for another ten or so minutes, and like magic, I had the most amazing turkey and noodles I’ve ever eaten! They were SO good!

I might not be able to do turkey twenty ways from just one of the homestead turkeys, but so far, the degree to which I’ve been able to stretch this first turkey is looking very promising.

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Going Keto: Update for 08/24/18 (Week 50)

My week of determination and focus has paid off so far.  I’m getting back into the keto swing of things, and the scale has moved in the right direction!

This morning, the scale was at 245.2 pounds.  That means I’m down 42.4 pounds in 50 weeks, and I can live with that.  I won’t get complacent again though.  Seeing the scale move so quickly has helped motivate me even though I have struggled this week.

It’s hard to get back to being a fat burner.  Cravings, blood sugar swings, and other physical symptoms are no fun.  This’ll all help remind me though that I’ll think long and hard about getting sidetracked.

I think I’m getting really close to a new pant size.  When I got back on track last September, I was wearing 26s that had probably been stretched out to 28s.  Now, my Civil Air Patrol uniform pants are getting too big, and they’re a 22 that I bought in June.  I guess it stands to reason since it looks like I’ve lost at least 8 inches off my hips and 5 inches off my waist.  Wow! I can’t believe that my hips were almost as big around as I am tall!

This week has been a good week, and I’m excited about what’s to come.  I can do this!

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Save with Sarah — Don’t Pay Fees

hand holding a money bagIt seems like common sense.  Don’t pay “fees” and you’ll keep more of your own money in your pocket.  What does this concept look like in the real world though? It’s not as simple as you might think.

Not too long ago, I was listening to my friend Nicole’s podcast over at Living Free in Tennessee.  She was talking about the things that she’d done to support her “independence fund”, and she had mentioned that things hadn’t worked out quite the way she’d planned because she was recovering from pneumonia.  Then, almost as an aside, she mentioned how she was going to have to pay a late fee on a bill, and it got me to thinking.  If I’m paying fees because of cash flow problems or utter forgetfulness, how could I change that to support my family’s independence?

Once I started thinking about it, I felt ashamed.  Sometimes cash flow problems can’t be avoided, but losing money to fees because you were forgetful or irresponsible with your money is a hard pill to swallow, especially when you think about how quickly that money adds up.

Here’s the thing though.  Feeling shame about things you’ve done in the past doesn’t really help you move forward, does it? Sometimes, that shame and frustration keeps you treading water, and as I’ve said before, if you’re not moving forward in life, you’re being left behind by life.

Learning from past mistakes, making a plan, and then working that plan seems like a much more productive way to move forward, doesn’t it? So here’s what that looks like in my case.

First, I came to grips with the fact that the amount of money we’ve spent in various fees is much higher than I wish it were.  Then I asked myself, “Self, why are we paying all these fees? Is there anything we can do to make it better?” And shockingly enough, “Self” had some really good ideas.

  • I must be more diligent about keeping the budget updated.  I use a spreadsheet to plan and track household expenses, but over the last couple months, for reasons that I still haven’t identified, I got lax about updating the spreadsheet with what we were spending.  This meant that I paid some overdraft fees, and that hasn’t happened in ages.  At $36 a pop, that hurts!
  • I set up auto pay on all my bills that weren’t already set up that way.  With the little bit of credit card debt we have in particular, this can go a long way toward preventing fees when you miss a payment date because often times, the late fee costs more than the minimum payment.  The “late” payments weren’t impacting credit because they weren’t more than 30 days past due, but they were accruing fees that add up over time.
  • I also examined my bills to see if there was a way to avoid service fees by changing the payment method I used to pay a particular bill.  For example, some of my kids’ fees related to school (like meals and activities) have service charges related to their payment if I use a credit or debit card.  If I use an electronic funds transfer from my checking account though, those charges are less or they’re waived altogether!

Of course, there are a myriad of other ways to increase my family’s financial freedom, but with this post, I wanted to share some “low-hanging fruit” in case there are folks out there hadn’t thought this way in their own journeys.  I didn’t want to make the mistake of assuming that everyone thinks the way I do; assuming gets us into trouble!

What we do matters!



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