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If you ever want to read an inspiring story of an everyday mom who went from pregnant to published, then you should definitely catch up with Tsh Oxenreider. To many of us she’s affectionately known as Simple Mom and is the creative mind behind Simple Living Media, of which Simple Bites is a part.
In addition to being a blogger extraordinaire, mother to three children under five and a continent hopper, Tsh can now add “published author” to her ever-growing list of accomplishments. Her book, Organized Simplicity, is now out and it couldn’t come at a better time for all of us, especially me (eep!). November is that month in between the rush of harvest and holidays when you have to face the neglected home and admit you need help. I know I do!
Organized Simplicity clearly redefines what simple living is in 2010 (and what is it not), inspires us to lead simpler, more intentional lives, and challenges us to create a haven within our home. Fortunately, Tsh doesn’t leave us hanging, wondering how to practically apply all that has inspired us, but like a kind older sister, she takes us by the hand, and we work together, room by room, until peace and serenity reign.
Tsh’s book truly embodies its tagline, ‘The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living’, and it well-worth the real estate on your nightstand.
I caught up with Tsh recently to chat about entertaining, a passion we both embrace. Don’t miss her honest and poignant answers below, plus an opportunity to win one of three copies of Organized Simplicity!
Tsh on Simple Entertaining
This is the time of year when entertaining is first and foremost on everyone’s minds. In a recent study I read, however, 83% of hosts said their least favorite part of entertaining was getting the house presentable. Here’s what Tsh had to say about that.
Simple Bites: How do you entertain with your busy schedule and three kids? Do you try to do it all?
Tsh: I agree with those 83% — getting the house presentable is my least favorite part of entertaining as well. But honestly, that’s a great way to get your house clean — invite company, and watch your motivation (but hopefully not your stress) soar.
First off, our current house is easy to clean because it’s only 1,200 square feet. We severely limit what we have in our home, which means clutter is minimal. Yes, it “feels” messier faster because there are no places to hide things — but devote an hour to clean, and our place is almost done.
My kids also love to have company over, so I get them involved in the cleaning process. My 5-year-old actually helps by dusting, cleaning the bathroom mirror, emptying the dishwasher, and setting the table. She also often creates a centerpiece for the table, which is usually humorous. My 2-year-old pretends to help because he wants to do everything big sister does. I give him a spray bottle of water and a rag, and let him go to town on doors, the bathtub, and lower cabinets. This keeps him a bit more out of my way.
We play loud music while we get the house ready, and this speeds up our work flow. The kids share our taste in music, so we blare anything from Jack Johnson to Arcade Fire to Andrew Bird to Tony Bennett to get us going.
When the weather is nice, we serve company on the back deck because we have more room there. Right now is one of the best times of year in Austin to be outside, so our family currently eats outside at least once per day.
And finally — I embrace imperfection. If I waited until our home was magazine-worthy to serve guests, we’d never do it. We often invite friends who also have small children, so they “get” the chaos and the pile of blocks in the living room floor. I don’t apologize for this, which could make a guest feel awkward. I just make some sort of joke about the craziness and move on. The kids run around and scream while the adults finish getting everything ready.
Simple Bites: What is so important to you about connecting with friends in you home? Is it worth the potential stress?
Tsh: Nine times out of ten, I feel a little sense of dread before our friends come over. I wonder if it’s worth it — cleaning the house, prepping the food, making sure kids are wearing more than a diaper… But as soon as they pull in to the driveway, that dread goes away. I love welcoming them from our back door (where everyone enters our home). And suddenly, those few hours when they’re over become the highlight of my week.
There’s something sacred about breaking bread with people. It’s sharing the most ritual of tasks — eating — but in such a way that slows us down and enlightens our senses. We savor the food more over good conversation. We’re telling these people at the table across from us that we value them, that they’re welcome in our family space. Friendships are deepened over a home-cooked meal in a family dining room, more than in a restaurant, I think.
As a mama to little ones, it’s easy to get tunnel vision, when the only people you see throughout the day are three feet tall or less and in constant need of you. Inviting others into your home brings you a sense of community and gives you a chance to think about something else other than your family and how much they need you. I relish the break from day-to-day life that entertaining brings.
Simple Bites: I love that in your book, cooking from scratch is listed as a reward of simple living. What might you serve us if we dropped by for dinner in December?
Tsh: I like buying slabs of meat and whole poultry when I find them on sale. At least weekly I roast a whole chicken in a dutch oven with simple salt, pepper, and garlic — so I might do two of those, with a simple side of glazed carrots, roasted potatoes, and salad. Pot roast is also unbelievably easy, and everybody likes it — plus, you cook the carrots and potatoes in the same pot, making this nearly a one-pot meal.
I also like serving fajitas because they’re a year-round staple here in Texas. Friends enjoy a buffet of toppings, Kyle’s homemade guacamole (he’s a great cook), and a side of Spanish rice and beans. We also cook a pot of pinto beans weekly, so we often have these on hand anyway. I pick up some delicious homemade flour tortillas, which you can find everywhere here in Austin, but perhaps when my kids are older, I’ll go back to making my own in advance. No time for that in my current season, though.
A few weeks ago, we had a make-your-own-pizza night with some friends who also have three kiddos. I simply divided up our usual pizza dough to make individual-sized pizzas, and set up our dining table with bowls of mozzarella cheese, peppers, olives, sausage, pineapple, and pepperoni from the deli. The kids have a ball making their own dinner, and this means they’ll eat it all up, too!
Of course, this being the South, we always have freshly-made iced tea for company, along with a seasonal brew — Shiner Bock is our favorite around here, but we also like the variety of beer from Fat Tire.
Ultimately, I don’t try a new recipe on guests — I let my own family be the guinea pigs. I rely on tried-and-true recipes, ones I can do in my sleep and that most everybody loves.
Simple Bites: On cold winter evenings, I like to warm the dinner plates in the oven before serving supper. Is there a simple gesture that you include in your evening to make your guests feel special?
Tsh: Honestly, we mostly think about what each guest needs, and do our best to accommodate them. If they have babies or small children, we bring out extra seating for little kids. If there are going to be lots of kids, we provide a “kids’ table” (who doesn’t have memories of sitting there?) and serve the food a bit earlier for them so that they can run off and play.
Which actually speaks to something important to me — we don’t shy away from serving friends in the season of life with little kids. We’re right there with them! I think people often think these families are too challenging to serve, or that they might not want to make the time to get out of the house with their brood, but to me, this is all the more reason to serve them. They don’t get to eat out often, especially in an environment where the kids can be their loud selves. I like to make things a smidge more special than a normal, everyday dinner with little ones — we light the candles and play dinner music. Our back porch has Christmas lights woven through the wood slats in the ceiling, and this adds to the festive feeling, even when it’s just an everyday weekday dinner.
I believe in making the everyday special, guests or not. So when company comes, they simply get to be a part of our daily life.
Simple Bites: Tsh, thank you so much for taking time to chat with us! Honestly, readers, it’s been so amazing to be a small part of the behind-the-scenes book story. Throughout the process, Tsh shared many of her struggles and triumphs with the other SLM editors and me, and when a photo of her holding the first copy of her book popped up on Facebook, I got a little misty eyed!
Don’t miss this personal post on Simple Mom that shares the journey that Tsh took to write Organized Simplicity. It’s inspiring, exciting and ends with a touching ‘thank you’ to readers.
Tsh has generously offer to giveaway three copies of Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living to Simple Bites readers!
Here’s how to enter:
Everyone has three chances to win. Choose one or all three.
1. Leave a comment and ‘fess up about an area of your home that could use a little ‘organized simplicity’.
Giveaway ends Sunday, November 21, at 11:59 EST. Winner will be announced on this post. Good luck to all!