Monday, October 5, 2015

Tackling my house... and my life.

This school year has been full of adjustments for my kids and for me.  We joined a homeschool co-op for the first time in five years and so we go one day a week to meet with other parents and students for classes.  I'm teaching a class to middle schoolers on writing.  On another day of the week, my kids and I head over to a friend's house for French lessons and then to another mom's house for flute lessons.

One of the things that has complicated our co-op day is getting home, getting food into stomachs, heading to Violin lessons, then back home to pick up more children, and then on to soccer practice.  But, this past week, my son asked to quit violin and just keep up with piano lessons.  My husband agreed and so I get to return his violin today to where we have been renting it from.

Amidst getting used to a new school schedule and roster of activities, I decided to clean my house.  When my kids were little, I used to do this every year and go room by room.  I haven't done the deep cleaning in my house for two to three years.  I felt it was time.  So, three weeks ago, I started cleaning, going room by room.  The smaller rooms were easier to tackle.  Many years ago, I had a friend tell me about how Larry Burkett advised paying off debt--to start with the smallest debts first so that you would feel as if you'd accomplished something.  This is the same way I start tackling my house--by starting with the smallest bathroom.

Last week it was time to clean my kitchen.  It took me a whole week.  I have open cupboards.  Many people comment about them when they come to visit and ask if I like them.  In truth, I do.  I love them.  But, there is a downside to having open cupboards.  They get very dusty over time and everything has to be taken out once a year, shelves have to be dusted and cleaned, and then everything is reorganized and put back in place.  Amidst tackling school and normal life, my kitchen took me a whole week to clean.  I wasn't finished until Saturday morning when I tackled my range hood and stove.  Every time I clean out my kitchen I ask myself what I need and don't need.  Then, I purge and pass things on.  It helps.  This time I finally moved the spice rack from one wall to the opposite long wall and swapped it with our wall clock.  My whole family is thrilled with the results.  After almost 4 years in this house, my kids can finally sit down at the kitchen table without knocking their heads on the rack.

Cleaning tips from my kitchen that have helped me...
+ I have organized my pantry with many shoebox sized plastic bins to help keep things in place.  When I need cake decorations or snacks or trail mix, I can go to the right box, instead of having things falling all over the shelves.  I like the shoebox sized bins because they're cheap at around a $1 each.
+ We have a stainless hood and stove.  I use baking soda and a damp rag (a regular dishrag) to clean the inside and outside of the hood.  Baking Soda is the only thing I've found that can easily cut through the grease.  Once all the grease is gone, I can use my Norwex green and purple cloths to clean and polish it.
+ Going through my pantry is helpful because it reminds me of what I really use and don't use.  I find each time I purge, I have to throw away a few food items that I thought I would use, but never did.  This time I was very thankful for the reminder and kept it on the forefront of my mind when I went to the grocery store the next day.

This week, my homeschool room and the basement remain.  A friend once told me about the Fly Lady.  The advice she took from the site was to start with her kitchen counters.  The Fly Lady advises to declutter for 15 minutes a day.  That's how I am with cleaning my hardest rooms.  Every day, I do something.  This morning, I swept the basement.  Later this morning, I'm going to begin tackling the clothes area and sorting the homeschool books I banished to the basement a month ago.

But, before I can tackle more of my basement, I need to head to the dreaded dentist and get some schooling done ;)  Little by little, I'll get there... the blessing is that my house feels more organized again and it feels a little lighter!

The List for the Day

One of my struggles with my family is getting them to put things away.  I'm one of those people who picks things up and then puts them away in their spot--most of the time.  I think I have to go through my kitchen corner and school desk every other week or so and regroup, sort, and take care of what's there.  But, I put my shoes away and hang up my coats.  

My family, though, often doesn't.  I do a lot of reminding and asking for children to come put their things away.  Every trip from the car to the house involves bringing something back.  I realize that somewhere along the way, I learned to do this.  I'm not sure exactly when.  As I stood near some moms during VBS this summer, one mom was talking with another about her son never remembers to put anything away.  So, I knew it wasn't just my kids with this struggle.  

In her new book, Taming the To-Do List: How to Choose Your Best Work Every Day, Glynnis Whitwer talks about this struggle to take 3 more steps to put something away.  She goes into detail about talking one thing at a time.  For her, it started with her bathrobe.  She goes on to explain how that applies to us and how to tackle the things we don't have the energy for.  I liked Ms. Whitwer's tone in her book.  It wasn't critical or harsh like one book I read about organization a few years ago.

There are many things that I agree with in this new book from Bethany House Publishing.  For example, on pg. 69, she says, "A wise and loving parent trains children to do things they don't feel like doing, such as get along with siblings, clean up after themselves, and do their homework.  Very few children are born with the motivation to act in selfless ways...By teaching them responsibility, we raise children to be mature adults.  We train them to do the right thing, and hopefully the benefits are positive enough to reinforce the behavior.  Perhaps we need to return to this model of training for ourselves in order to do what's right in spite of how we feel."  It's hard to choose to do what we don't want to do in a culture that constantly tells us that we should always be able to do what we want to do.  

This quote brings to mind the Life is Good shirts in my drawer.  I like the clothing of this company because of the optimistic and fun sayings on the shirts, but I've always twisted the company's slogan in my mind.  The slogan is: "Do what you love.  Love what you do."  Instead of focusing on the idea that we should all do what we love to do and then you'll love what you do, I've always taken this to remind me of Ecclesiastes 3:13: "also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man."   To enjoy our work and food is a gift from God.  I think it isn't so much about getting to do what we want to do--but enjoying what God gives us to do.  

Ms. Whitwer's book is for someone who really wants to dig in and focus in on getting their to do lists done, but is struggling to get them done.  Her book is very matter of fact, yet not condemning or critical.  She speaks from her own experience (which I think is always important in this type of book).  If you're looking for a book on this subject, this might be one that would encourage you.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Bethany House Publishers.

Saturday, October 3, 2015


That's all this post is about.  Celery.

We went away on vacation a few weeks ago and my mom stayed in our home and took care of our dog.  I asked her to eat the food in the fridge that we'd left so that it wouldn't go bad!  And she did--just as I'd hoped she would.

But, the celery was left.

I headed to the store the next day and of course picked up some celery expecting it to have gone bad. But, the next morning when I pulled out the celery--it was just fine.

My mom had taken a twist tie and twisted the end of the celery bag shut.  It worked and extended the life of my celery!  I had never thought of doing this, but I am very glad to learn this new trick.

The trick I've always known helps when celery goes limp.  Cut the celery into pieces and place in a tupperware.  Once all of the pieces are in the container, fill it with cold water, place the lid on top, and put it in the fridge.  Within a few hours, the celery won't be limp anymore.  It will stay good for at least another week this way.

So, that's all I know.  At least about celery.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Amazingly Fun Stuffed Animal Vet Doctor Book/Set

Teddy Bear Doctor:  A Let's Make and Play Book

Today this book arrived in the mail and my girls were so excited to get started playing.  In my middle daughter's words, "MOM, this book is Amazing!"  She absolutely loves it.  It's a ready made vet/stuffed animal doctor set up in a book.  There were stickers and punchouts in the book.  Paper animal x-rays, directions on how to assemble and make things, ideas for play, sticker bandaids, and other stickers to use.

My girls set to work making their bedroom and the bathroom into a vet hospital and examining room.  The results can be seen in these pictures...

Please sign in!

The kit works for American Girl dolls as well as stuffed animals.

My oldest daughter made the second sign and the first sign is from the book.

The pet vet kit sticker is from the book and there are xrays (hidden from view) in the box.

I would highly recommend this kit for girls 6-10 years old who love to play with their stuffed animals and/or American Girl Dolls.  We've purchased several AG doll books and kits (which are all very well made and constructed), but this book was so much simpler for my girls to go right to work on playing with.  This book by Deanna Cook is a gem!  My girls both give it a huge thumbs up!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Storey Publishing.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Attempt at Baked Beans

This morning I decided to make baked beans for our church picnic.  After perusing the internet and looking at several recipes, I came up with my own.  It turned out well and my family and friends seemed to like it!

Baked Beans
8 oz. chopped ham or bacon, cooked
        I had put a ham in the crock pot yesterday for our dinner and used some of this.
3/4-1 medium onion, diced
3 large cans baked beans (I used a brown sugar/bacon flavor baked beans from Aldi)
1/2 cup barbecue sauce (I used Trader Joe's BBQ sauce)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 Tbsp spicy brown mustard/deli mustard
1 Tbsp ketchup

1.  Saute onion in 1 Tbsp of canola oil.
2.  Place baked beans in crock pot.
3.  Add sauteed onion and all other ingredients.  Stir well.
4.  Cook in 4 qt crock pot on high for 6 hours.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

All-in-One Cookbook Book!

I love cookbooks.  They make me want to cook!  I have many friends who love to look for recipes on the internet.  But, I'm a print person.  I love the feel of a book in my hands.  Somehow, it's easier for my eyes to focus on a page in front of me than on a computer screen without all the ads surrounding what I'm trying to look at.

But, there is only so much room on my shelf. So, new additions to my cookbook shelves are few and far between.  Every once in a while, though, I come across a book that I'm really excited about!  This is the case of the cookbook that's sitting in front of me on my desk right now.

This is a new cookbook, of sorts, by Andrea Chesman (published by Storey Publishing).  Ms. Chesman has been writing cookbooks for over 30 years.  This book seems to be an updated version of a book that was published five years ago called Back to Basics Traditional Kitchen Wisdom, which Ms. Chesman wrote, and covered similar topics.  But, that book was half the length of this one.  

I love the way Storey formats books.  The font, pictures, columns, bold type--all make it easier to read their books.  This book is divided into 3 sections:  1. Harvesting and storing fresh foods, 2. Food Preservation, and 3. Homestead Cooking.  

This is an all-in-one kind of book.  I love books like this that help me conserve space on my shelves!  The first section is exactly what I want.  It goes through a list of vegetables and lists when to harvest, how to fix (cooking times) and preserve them.  Then, it goes through the fruits (in alphabetical order which is very helpful) as well.  She follows that up with a recipe for sourdough starter and no-knead sourdough bread.  I can't wait to try this!  I need to get a baguette pan first, though, and a big jar for the starter.  I've been very disappointed in the baguettes we've bought over the past few months so I have wanted to make my own.  This book makes it sound very doable to make my own sourdough starter and make the baguettes.  I've read many directions on how to make baguettes over the years and I haven't found any of them that sounded as doable to me as the ones in this book!

In general, I found her directions on making cheese, veggie chips, and other dishes very understandable.  What I think I was most surprised by was the dishes she chose to include.  She included interesting and simple ethnic dishes like tzatiziki and Mujaddara.  I look forward to trying the lentil dishes she included and her recipe for Saag Paneer.  I regret that my school year is in full swing now and it is going to be some time before I get to sit down and make these recipes.  But, I have worked a few of them into my menu for next month.  So, I can't personally vouch for how good the recipes are---yet.  I will update this review once I've made the starter and baguettes and other recipes that I am intending to try.  But, I've never cooked from a Storey cookbook yet that I haven't liked.  

One thing that was very interesting to me was how Ms. Chesman expressed her opinions.  She did share her opinions about things such as raw milk, but I felt that she made it clear that they are her opinions.  I read one review of the book which remarked about her tone in another passage of the book.  I guess she just sounded to me like many women I've met in my life--opinionated, a bit outspoken, weathered, aware that everyone isn't the same and that life isn't as cut and dried as many think it is.  

If you're in the market for an all in one food preserving/storing/recipe type of cookbook, this one is definitely worth looking into (especially if you have a large garden and are mini-homesteading of sorts and keep chickens!)  

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Storey Publishing.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Nestle Toll House Cookies

A friend of mine was asking me today about Toll House cookies and me in my usual, very honest way about cookies admitted that I think it's one of the worst recipes--it comes out sometimes and other times it doesn't come out at all.  I've found this multiple times when I've tried the recipe over the years and I've heard it from others too!  Most of the time everyone seems to think it's them that's the problem--not the recipe.

I think it's the recipe that's the problem.

Recently, though, my daughter Sami was working on a regions report and her project for the Northeast US was to make a regional food.  She picked Tollhouse cookies over a fluffer nutter sandwich...

Thankfully, we found a recipe that actually worked for us!  It's on the blog,  If you click on the name of the blog, it should take you to the blog post that has a download link for a fun printable version of the recipe for kids.  I compared it to the recipe on the back of the bag and the only difference is the distribution between brown and white sugar.

There are a couple of other things that I think help make a successful cookie.

1) I don't soften butter unless a recipe specifically says so.  All of my cookie recipes, minus one, just call for butter.

2) Cream the butter and sugars together until there NO lumps.

3) I use half size bun pan cookie sheets for my cookie sheets with half of sheet of parchment.  Every few years, I order a box from

The quilon parchment paper can withstand temps up to 425, which is fine for every cookie I make and biscuits.  A box usually costs about $35-$40 for 1000 sheets (which can be torn in half to cover 2 bun pans).  I usually divide the box up among a few friends.  It does take me several years to go through a box (3-4 yr), but the cost savings is worth it because 1 roll of Reynolds parchment paper is equivalent to 30 pieces (or 15 full size pieces).  A roll of Reynolds paper cost about $4.50 at Target the last time I checked.  So, 100 sheets from the box cost the same as 15 sheets from the roll.  

4) Use a kitchenaid mixer.  It makes cookie making so much easier!  Kohl's is the best place to get one around Christmas time--combining coupons can make them a much less daunting purchase.