Homemaking

Friday Findings #7: Making Turkey Stock

[box] One of my personal challenges in life is to keep learning and trying something new. This series is a documentary on some of the things I am learning, whether it be as a child of God, wife, mother, homemaker, teacher, friend. I invite you to learn along with me![/box] It seems like every year, I end up looking up how to use my turkey carcass to make stock. It's usually an afterthought with me, as I am usually so wrapped up with getting the main meal together that I'm not usually thinking about what to do with what's left. There are probably a bazillion recipes out there, but I came across this one that I really liked because it is simple and delicious. (If you want to see the video, you can find it on this page at Something Edible.)

I also liked it because being a nerdy kind of girl, I like to know the science behind it all. In the recipe I found for today, I learned several things about making stock:

  • Stock and broth are not the same thing. I learned from The Kitchn that while they are similar, there is a slight difference. Stock is unseasoned; broth is seasoned with salt and spices. Stock is more of the neutral base; broth is "seasoned stock." For this reason, there is no salt added to this recipe, only vegetables---and that is added later in the cooking time. The benefit of this is that you can use the stock in a wider variety of recipes, at which time you can add your salt as needed.
  • Slow cooking the stock (as opposed to boiling it on the stove), does take a bit longer but gives the stock time to extract all that flavor that is in the carcass. It turns what was once inedible into gelatin, which holds lots of flavor.
  • You'll know when you've done it correctly when, after chilling, your stock looks like loose jello. On the post, there is picture of his cooled stock with a spoon sitting on top of it.
  • Add the vegetables towards the end of the cooking time so that the stock retains its aromatic flavor.

We had a large bird this year, almost 23 pounds, so I actually split this up into two. The recipe on the site requires the carcass of a 12-14 pound bird, so this was perfect. If your bird is smaller, then put in the whole carcass. You may need to cut it in half to fit.

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It really was very simple. I took half the bones and put it into the crock pot, then poured nine cups of water in. The crock was about 3/4 full. Then I turned it on low for six hours.

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After six hours, I cut up 2 carrots, 2 celery stalks (with leaves), and a yellow onion into chunks. Oh the aroma!

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Push the vegetables evenly around the pot. Put the lid back on, and let it cook for another two hours.

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In two hours, it looked like this. Not too appetizing right now, but don't let that stop you!

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Then I picked out all the big stuff with some tongs, then used a slotted spoon to catch up some of the stuff that sunk to the bottom. Be careful of the hot liquid! I got splashed a little. As recommended on the video, I did not save what came out. Nor do we have a dog, so I just tossed it.

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When I was done, it looked like this. There was still a bit of little pieces floating on top, but not to worry! The next step will take care of that.

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Prepare a double layer of cheesecloth in a strainer over a bowl.

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Using a ladle, I gently poured the stock to strain through the cheesecloth.

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This takes care of all those little bits and pieces and leaves behind a nice clear, rich stock. So beautiful!

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Chill in the refrigerator overnight.

Skim off what's left on the top. No need to save that.

Yield: I was expecting to get back less than the 9 cups I put in (the original recipe stated a yield of 6 cups), but I got pretty much all of it back. Not too bad! I wonder if it will be diluted. I'll need to repeat this with the other half of the carcass.

I'm going to use my stock right away in this Delicious After-the-Holiday Turkey-Rice Soup. It will use up 12 cups of the stock. But if you want to freeze it, there's a great suggestion on the post/video to freeze in 1 pint (2 cup) portions. That's like a can you buy at the store. You'll need to slightly heat (not too much, just to melt the "jello") before pouring into one-quart freezer bags. Squeeze out excess air, then lay flat on a cookie sheet to freeze. The result: flat sheets of turkey stock that are easy to store and quick to defrost. (Unlike what I did last year in plastic containers that were very bulky). I read somewhere else that you can also freeze it in ice cube trays if you just need a little shot of it in your cooking.

There are a lot of other uses for turkey stock besides making soup. Risotto seems like a good option, or simply cooking your rice in stock instead of plain water. Some people like to add a few spoonfuls early on while sauteeing vegetables, resulting in some very tasty veggies. Others like to add it to marinara sauces, gravy, stews, pot pies and such for more body. Whenever you would need a can of chicken broth, that is a good place to substitute with your homemade turkey stock.

Not a bad way to use up the whole turkey!

Friday Finds #5: Thanksgiving Dinner Ideas!

Freedom_From_Want [box] One of my personal challenges in life is to keep learning and trying something new. This series is a documentary on some of the things I am learning, whether it be as a child of God, wife, mother, homemaker, teacher, friend. I invite you to learn along with me![/box]

At this time of year, I love browsing through the recipe sites online, looking for something new to try on our Thanksgiving menu. While many of us probably have a traditional menu, with side dishes we always have or ones we only serve for this one particular meal every year, my Thanksgiving tradition has been to try something new every year. Sure, it is a risk to try something new, but I am a little heedless that way. Maybe I'll even test it out before the big day, but often I don't.

We have our traditional turkey (which I cook without too much fuss using Butterball's easy instructions), a sweet potato souffle, and mashed potatoes and gravy. Other than that, the side dishes usually vary: some kind of hot vegetable, some type of bread, either cranberry sauce or stuffing or something incorporating those ingredients, and an apple or pumpkin-flavored dessert. Whatever I don't try, I usually delegate to someone else. It works for us!

So here are some of the contestants for this year's feast:

Hot Vegetable:

Reminds Me of Home Green Bean Casserole: just four ingredients required! I think I'll use frozen green beans instead of canned though, just because I think there's less of a canned "taste," if you know what I mean.

Bread:

Buttered Rosemary Rolls from Pioneer Woman: though I might just try it in another pan...because 7 rolls is not going to feed all of us!  This one uses frozen bread dough, so it can cut down on the time required.

Honey Potato Rolls may also be another alternative. A plus with this one is you can make it in advance and freeze the dough. Even if it doesn't make this year's Thanksgiving cut, I may need to try it out on another night!

Cranberry alternative:

Cranberry Ice: sounds like something I can make ahead of time...and a little different too!

Dessert:

Apple Pie Cookie Bars: I don't know about you, but by the time dessert rolls around, we're pretty stuffed. We're not big on the pie thing, so this may be a good substitute!

And after the feast is over, I always like to try to make a soup with the carcass, and then use the turkey for some dinners!

What do you have planned for Thanksgiving dinner? 

 

Friday Findings #2

[box] One of my personal challenges in life is to keep learning and trying something new. This series is a documentary on some of the things I am learning, whether it be as a child of God, wife, mother, homemaker, teacher, friend. I invite you to learn along with me![/box] This week, little Jon and I delved into the art of crepe making. Have you tried it before? I did once and did not like how they turned out, so I was a bit reluctant to try again. However, Jon and I were reading one of my review products this week that took us to the country of France...and he was fascinated by the idea of...crepes.

It all started with watching a video from All Recipes:

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We watched it because he asked me what crepes looked like. Afterwards, he kept asking me, "Can we make crepes?" I kept putting it off because, to be honest, I know that when Jonathan gets ideas, it's usually me that carries them out. He just likes to direct. Maybe that was what I was trying to avoid.

Well, his persistence paid off. We then looked through this list of crepe fillings from the World of Crepes website; he settled on the blueberry sauce. Unfortunately, when we got to the grocery store, the frozen blueberries were $2 more per bag (so I'm cheap), so we went for a mixed berry flavor instead.

I used this basic crepe recipe from the AllRecipes website. (It's not exactly the same as the one in the video though.) I didn't have a crepe pan, but I had a 9" skillet. Good enough!

So I am not going to have dolled up pictures of pretty food. I'm going to give it to you straight, even if it isn't pin-worthy. Just trying to keep it real here, okay?

What I learned:

  • Use a blender to make the batter. It turns out nice and smooth. At first, we just mixed it in the bowl, but it was lumpy.

crepe1Yuck.

Using a blender took care of that problem. (Or a hand/stand mixer can do the job too. You just want to get the lumps out.) The second perk with the blender is that it made it easy to pour into my 1/4 cup measure.

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  • I had read in another recipe that it is best to refrigerate it for 30 minutes before using it, so I made it before starting dinner.
  • Before cooking the crepes, have a small container of melted butter, a brush, a spatula, and a 1/4 cup measure next to you. It also helps to have a timer.
  • If you're not eating them right away, then lay the crepes on a wire rack to cool, then stack them up individually between sheets of waxed paper. I didn't let them cool. I just stacked them and they were a bit soggy. It didn't stop us from enjoying them, but I think it would have been better. Doesn't it look pretty? (The other side didn't turn out as nice, but I used it for the inside.)

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  • For a 9" pan, 1/4 cup batter was just right. I tried just 3 Tbsp. at first and it did not cover the pan, so it looked like this:

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  • Move quickly after pouring the batter in. Lift the pan up off the heat, pour batter in and swirl quickly. My son tried to take a picture for me, but it didn't turn out so great.

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  • There are a couple ways to serve crepes. You can fold them into fourths and put the sauce over it. The video above shows a crepe folded in half.

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You can also put the filling in and roll it up.

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I think I like the first one better. The berries look so pretty, it's a shame to hide them! Maybe the rolled version is better for the creams and mousses.

  • This wasn't really a little kid-friendly recipe to make unless your kids are old enough to work on the stove. As it was, I did most of the work. Jonathan did help some in the beginning, I let him put together his own crepe.

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  • Give yourself time to make the crepes. It took me about half an hour to figure out what I was doing and make eight crepes. But then again, I was also trying to eat dinner in between flips.
  • They really weren't that hard. And it was very satisfying to see them cook up and brown so beautifully.

Want to learn more? I found these websites and pages helpful:

  • World of Crepes
  • Crepe fillings: Taste of Home, The Kitchn. Google "crepe fillings" for other options!
  • How to fold crepes
  • Can you freeze crepes? Yes, you can! Make them ahead of time for lunches or snacks!
  • Have a DIY crepe bar! A great idea for a ladies tea, a bridal shower or baby shower! This post from Your Homebased Mom details what was in her crepe bar: bowls of fresh berries, powdered sugar, cinnamon sugar, canned whipped cream, nutella, sliced bananas, lemon curd, and sprinkles. She also includes recipes for the crepes, as well as the white chocolate mousse and cream cheese mousse!
  • If you want a really nice thin crepe, try using a crepe spreader. What's that, you ask? Check this 24 second video out:

[jwplayer mediaid="7416"]

  • And if you really want to go to town, check out this page for some reviews on crepe pans.

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For a smile like this, I think it was worth it, even though I did have to do most of the work.

After this, I think I'm going to try making more of these in bulk, freezing them, and having them on hand for some lunches in the future. Lunch always seems like such a hard meal in our home. It's always the same old thing or if I want to do something different, it takes too long. I think I'll give it a try and see how it turns out!

Thanks for joining me for this week's Friday Findings!

 

Molly Review: Christi the Coupon Coach

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Christi the Coupon Coach is a mom of four who has figured out the couponing game and has shared her wisdom and insight with us in her book, Couponing Made Simple. The 64-page e-book I received is divided into ten chapters, starting with the very basic lingo of the couponing world. She then coaches her readers in setting up a filing system for your coupons, how to find coupons, and ultimately how to use them. Throughout the book, Christi shares photos of some of her shopping victories to inspire us to do the same. Supplementing her book is her "Christi's Favorites" page, which lists websites to help us get started, especially with coupon matching.

But as great as couponing is, Christi is even more passionate about Jesus. She reminds us that the greatest deal on the planet is no match to the salvation we have in Christ. And even if we score big on the shopping scene, it is not simply to hoard but to wisely steward the resources God gives us and even share generously with those around us. I loved that reminder.

Price: $4.99 for the e-book I received. If you are using a computer to print your coupons, make sure you have paper and ink!

christithecouponcoachbook_zpsfd7911d1Before starting, I would recommend asking yourself one question: Do you have some time to invest to buy, print out, sort, match up coupons and possibly shop at several different stores? Yes, I can potentially save a lot of money, but even with the most straight-forward and detailed instructions, I still need to invest the time to do those things. If you do have the time, then this book is for you!

I would suggest first of all, read  the book all the way through. Christi then goes through the step by step process of creating organizers for your coupon fliers, files for the coupons you use in the store, and how to use your computer and printer to print out even more coupons. Before collecting any, it helps to create a place to house these little slips of paper, which can easily get lost (don't ask me how I know this).

I must confess, however, that this part is where I felt rather overwhelmed and a few questions came up. The first one was: Do I have to purchase a Sunday newspaper simply to get the coupons in it?  Our L.A. Times is $2 per Sunday paper at the rack. According to the book, I would need to purchase at least two copies and ideally six copies for our family of 6. That's a minimum of $4, up to $12 per week, $16-48 per month! From the examples in the book, I know that couponing well can make it up, but to me that is a lot to pay just for coupons. We're not big newspaper readers. Not only that, did I really want all that newspaper in my house?

We could get a subscription, but that would mean making a commitment to longer-term couponing than I was ready to make. Otherwise, it sounded like I would need to be prepared to get up early to snag the paper before they all disappeared, or take the time to hunt them down later in the day. It wasn't really the way I wanted to spend my Sunday.

So my next question is, Where else can I get coupons without having to spend that much? Coupon clipping services and coupons from the website are also options. However, with the services, you will need to account for shipping fees and a bit of lag time. Coupons from your printer are limited to two per household computer, plus printer ink. When I tried couponing before, I certainly did not save as Christi did, but I did not spend any money on coupons either. It seems like serious couponing will require time (and some money) to find said coupons and then organize them so that they are ready when the deals roll around.

My last question was, How do I know if something is at its rock-bottom price? I heard that items in the store hit that price every 3 months. However, I am not always good at recognizing these deals. Because I don't have a stockpile of coupons (because I don't have a Sunday paper or time to search for coupons on the internet), I don't have coupons for them either. So it seems like you need to be able to recognize a deal when it shows up plus be prepared to take advantage of the sale.

And then there is the actual time spent shopping. I really don't like grocery shopping. I try to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible. To have to spend time at several stores just to get the good deals takes up a lot more time than I can afford in this season of my life. The closest store is 5 minutes away, the others are 10-15 minutes away...and I live in suburban Los Angeles! To do this would conceivably take me at least a couple of hours.

Overall Summary:

I guess you can best describe me as a frustrated couponer. I see its value. I know the potential it can have to bless my family and serve others. But I also know that to put money in my pocketbook, whether it be through earning my wages or learning how to cut corners wisely, is work. And work takes time. To be honest, in this, our first year of adoption, I am thankful that I can get food on the table, even if I did pay a lot more for it than Christi did. I felt a bit discouraged because I knew that I could save a lot if I really wanted to, using Christi's tips. They are simple and easy to follow. I am sure that if I did follow her steps and guidance, I could net a lot of groceries for a few bucks too.

But the other factor for me right now is time. The savings appeals to me, but I really don't know when I would be able to squeeze in the time to do it. I guess I was hoping that there was some way to get around it, but it doesn't seem like it! I just can't put that much time into couponing right now, even if I asked my kids to get involved. I have had to just accept the fact that at this point, this year, I will be spending more than I would like. I have been able to look out for blinkies and peelies and stocking up on what looks like I good deal when I can. And maybe one day, I will be able to rock the coupons like Christi does. For me, it may just be being able to cut a few dollars off my bill instead of paying full price. It's not something I would take a picture of, but it's one step in the right direction.

Thanks, Christi, for offering your wisdom and guidance in your book. Even if I didn't get very far in applying its principles, I know I have a better idea of how to get started and what to look for when I can. I learned many tips and hints that I did not know, which I thought were worth the value of the book. Most of all, I have been reminded of the bigger picture of why couponing is such a good idea. It is not about it being a phase or fad. Instead, I appreciated the vision of being able to bless others with my groceries and one day, I hope to be able to do so.

Now, if only I could buy time...

 

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Catalogs and Magazines

magsWe have collected all our papers, gotten rid of all the outdated and unnecessary ones. We've gone through our kids' schoolwork and saved the very best. Our reference papers are in a home binder, with or without a tickler file included. Ahhh...Doesn't that feel good? Okay, so the last type of paper that I'm going to deal with is catalogs and magazines. I used to subscribe to a lot more magazines than I do now, but that was when I actually had a little time to look at them. Right now, I only subscribe to one cooking magazine, and I am probably going to just let that expire.

However, I do get a lot of catalogs, and now that it is summertime, I get a lot of homeschooling vendors' catalogs. I like their stuff, and I definitely am interested in ordering but what do I do when I am not able to order right now or would like to order it for a birthday in a few months? Usually I only am interested in a handful of products in a catalog. Do I need to keep the whole thing?

As most catalogs have websites nowadays, what I have found the most convenient thing to do is to create a wish list. There are many universal wish list apps and programs out there, but I personally prefer Amazon's because 1) I can save it to any/all my different wish lists (I have a personal one, plus one for each of the kids and a school one), and 2) I shop at Amazon a lot. I have installed the bookmarklet in my browser so that all I need to do is just click on it, fill in the information I need and voila! I have it saved.

So what I do is usually go to the catalog's website and enter in product numbers in their search bar. I double check to make sure it is what I think it is and then I file it in the appropriate wish list, along with any notes (e.g. purpose, gift idea, age/grade I'd use it, etc.). The nice thing about Amazon is if they the same item at a better price, it would show me their price and I could add it from Amazon instead. Of course, if you want to patronize a particular company, you can ignore it. I usually batch this job, that is, I collect all my catalogs and do this in one sitting instead of doing it whenever one comes.

Being an information junkie, I love magazines. All those great ideas and tips, yummy recipes, thought-provoking articles and inspirational samples...I just know I'm going to need them---someday. Do you think that way too? Like the catalogs, however, do I need to keep all those magazines for the sake of a single article or tip?

This is a little tricky, and I am not sure I have any surefire ways to get around the copyright issue of magazines, which is why I am hesitant to suggest scanning articles. I'm sure there's a law against that somewhere. The safest bet is to just rip out the page and file it topically or put it in a binder. That's what I've been doing. If it's something like a recipe, I go to the website to see if they have that recipe online and save it into my online recipe box. If it's a tip I like, I summarize it in a note in my Evernote notebook. If it's a scrapbook layout, I cut it out and glue them on a page to make my own idea collection. And when you're done with this job (which will take me awhile!), check out this post and this one for ways to repurpose those old catalogs and magazines!

I hope this series has helped give you a start on dealing with the paper in your home and organizing it so that it is useful for you. Now that school is out for the summer, this is a great project to tackle. Happy organizing!

Tickle Tickle!

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image21183144When I first heard about tickler files, I thought "What in the world is that?" It sounded a little weird. Anyways, if you are wondering what they are (as I was), they are files that are meant to "tickle" your brain to remind you of things that aren't immediately urgent but will be if you forget! If, in the process of sorting through your papers this month, you came across some papers you will eventually need in the future and they have a deadline or RSVP date, then you may want to create a tickler file for yourself. There are a couple main ways you can do this.

1. Create a physical filing system. 

As a mom, I don't need the 43-file system. Maybe in a business, yes. Home, no. For me, a simple filing system is not only less bulky, it is easier for me to use. I already have a husband, four kids, school papers, a home and a website to manage. I don't need to make it more complicated than it needs to be.

I know I'm not the only mom who feels that way. April Perry has a simple one that just takes 12 files and your working calendar (you do have one of those don't you?). All you do is take those

  • bills,
  • wedding/birthday party invitations,
  • sales fliers from your favorite stores,
  • coupons with expiration dates (e.g. I have a Kohl's Cash coupon that expires on July 14),
  • concert tickets you don't want to lose,
  • renewal notices (e.g. car registrations),
  • routine maintenance for home, car, etc.,
  • book club fliers from school
  • event announcements

---anything that has a date that you don't want to forget but don't need to deal with right away. Your tickler file then becomes your storage location for all those loose bits of paper that you don't want to lose. Having one place to look instead of ten is much easier.

All you need to do then is to put that paper in the monthly file in which you need it. For example, if you need to RSVP to a wedding and can't do it right away, put the invitation in the month of the deadline (or if it's due early in the month, put it in the month before). After you RSVP, move the invitation into the month of the actual event so you will not have to hunt all over the house for directions to the church. In your calendar, write down the date of the wedding. The post I reference also suggests putting a "T" in your datebook or Google/electronic calendar to remind you that the hard copy is in the tickler file. All this can be done in a few minutes, if that, but can save you hours of hunting and searching or save you from embarrassing apologies and explanations! (Not only that, it can make you look uber-organized!)

If you have to schedule routine maintenance in your house or yearly health exams put a note for yourself in the monthly file for the preceding month. I like to do that so that if they are booked up for that month, I have a bit of a cushion for myself.

The physical file helps me with actual paper notices that I have. It may also be a good option if you are still transitioning from paper to digital.

The other way?

2. Create a digital reminder.

Now, I am new in this area. I am one of those who is still trying to make the switch. There are many others who are way more savvy on how to create tickler files with Evernote and their Google Calendars. If you are up to it, you can probably do a search and find what you need.

I'm more basic. I am still working off my to-do list with Remember the Milk. Nothing fancy. If you have another list-making app you use, then use that. This is how I usually handle these:

  • Deal with it promptly or set it next to my laptop if I can't.
  • Create a task in RTM with a date to accomplish it. I usually just leave it in my inbox but if you want to put it in a "tickler file" list you can do that too. For example, I made a note to myself to use my Kohl's cash coupon on the Wednesday before it expired, as that is the day I could get out and do some errands.
  • If it is something that is recurring (e.g. monthly blood draws, annual health exams, or a membership that is due every two years), then I set it to repeat at the appropriate interval.
  • If there is a paper attached to it, place them all in a single file folder and keep it with your home management binder. Just have a section in it to house just these types of papers. Having one place to look for these pieces of paper is better than having to hunt through a bunch of piles or worse, all over the house.

That's my simple method and it works for me, but if you need something a little more robust, you can check the link above or do a little research. There is no end of help out there. If I figure out something in the future, I will write about it but for now this works for me.

The Bottom Line

For me, the important thing is to have one place for all this type of paper, and then check it regularly. It helps to write "Check tickler files" as a to-do item on the first of the month so I can see at a glance what is coming up.

This file differs from the home management binder in that it has a date that you don't want to miss on it. The binder is good for things that are more informational in nature or for things that aren't going to kill you if you forget (e.g. coupon fliers for 2-for-1 at your favorite restaurant---optional but not crucial). If you don't have a lot, it may just be easier to keep your tickler file in your binder and you'll have one less thing to manage! I like that. And I hope it will help you too.

Recipe Organization

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-recipe-box-ingredients-spaghetti-fresh-sauce-image30396190Ever since I was a young girl, I have had a thing for collecting recipes. I would find ones that I sound yummy and would painstakingly copy them onto recipe cards. I remember spending many happy hours poring over cookbooks in my spare time. Let's say not much has changed! Today, with all the many resources out on the internet, I find myself doing the same thing. But instead of copying them by hand, I would print them out on the printer. Needless to say, I have a huge pile of dishes that I would like to try someday!

However, there are a couple of problems I encounter:

1. I usually cannot find what I am sure I printed out. So I print another one. (Which equals more paper.)

2. I have way more recipes to try than time. (Which equals paper that is not serving a practical function.)

Before I go on, I want to say that there are a billion options of organizing your recipes. What I'm sharing today are some of the options we can choose from. Depending on what you prefer, you may end up with a different organizational plan than I will!

So here are a few questions to ask yourself:

1. Do I need all of these?

For me, I love to collect recipes. The first thing then, for me, will be to ruthlessly purge what I have. I have not done this yet, but this is definitely my first step. If I really don't think I'll make it, or it's no longer appealing to me, or I have a similar recipe, or if it is not realistic to hunt down some exotic ingredient, or it takes too much time than what I can do right now, then I should probably get rid of it. If I think I will need it someday, but don't think I'll need it now, then I will file it someway in storage.

Which brings us to the next task: what to do with what I do want to keep.

2. Do I prefer my collection in a particular format?

Paper or paperless, that is the question.

If you prefer paper, what size? Cards? Sheets? Other? Which works best? I prefer mine in 8.5x11" sheets, placed in a binder, so I tape my cards or loose papers onto a sheet of paper or re-type them if I need to. However, I am seriously considering how to digitize my collection and am looking into options.

3. How do I search my collection?

Next, I try to categorize them in the way that I would use them. I usually think by meal, so I put all the breakfast dishes together and all the lunch ideas in their own folders. For dinner, I subdivide them by main dish and cooking method (crockpot, stovetop, oven), bread, and sides (includes veggies, starch). We like dessert so I subdivide these into cookies, cakes, and other. Just think of how you "search" for a recipe (e.g. cooking type, ingredient, or time required, etc.), then organize them in those categories.

Whichever method you use, these become my dividers. This can be in the form of divider tabs in my binder or folders on my computer.

4. How will I handle new recipes that I find without having to print them out?

I don't want to add more while I am cleaning out. That makes no sense. And yet I'm going to be realistic. I know I'm going to find recipes that "I've just gotta try!" I'm going to need something that will help me to corral and find those recipes in the future (and those that I already have!).  I am a cheapskate, so I want do this without having to spend money on a program. So what can I do? Here were a few suggestions:

  • Pinterest. Great for visual people. Create boards to serve as your dividers.
  • Flipboard is another visual option. Create "magazines" according to your dividers. This option allows you to "flip" through your saved recipes in digital format.
  • Gmail users (or probably any email server) can copy and paste recipes into emails, then send them to yourself. Set up category files. This is an easy option, plus is searchable.
  • Delicious is another searchable option. Use tags to help. Here's a post to help you do that  from I'm an Organizing Junkie.
  • Evernote allows you to create notebooks of your recipes. No Ordinary Homestead has a detailed post on how one mom has used the standard Evernote in her recipe organization.
  • Kitchen Daily, Kitchen Monki, One tsp., Say Mmm, and We Gotta Eat were other free sites that were recommended. I have done no research on these, so look into these at your own risk. I am not endorsing or recommending any of these at this point.
  • Plan to Eat allows you to store all your recipes in one place online, drag and drop menu planning, create shopping lists, and a host of other features. The service is $4.95 per month or $39 per year.

If you have a Mac:

  • Paprika: $19.99 , with $4.99 for the iPad.
  • MacGourmet: $29 for desktop, $4.99 for iPad.

So, depending on whether you are a traditional collector or someone who wants to transfer your collection into digital format, whether you are visual, desire the ability to search, or are willing to spend money, hopefully you can find something to help you. Happy curating!

Creating a Home Management Binder

Another big help for me in this paper-taming journey has been to create a home management or family binder. This is where we keep papers and other reference materials that we refer to often in daily life. It's a very simple set up: just a 3-ring binder, business card pocket pages, and page dividers with pockets is all you need. If you don't have pocket dividers, you can use standard dividers with page protectors for pockets instead. Ours looks like this. Nothing fancy. binder1

If you have done some sorting already, you may have found things that will be perfect for this binder. For us, we have sections for:

  • important phone numbers (just in case my kids, husband, or babysitter need to know and they don't have access to my phone): family, doctors, neighbors, etc.
  • rosters and/or directories
  • take out menus to our favorite restaurants, along with coupons, maps, etc.

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  • a copy of immunization records for each of us. I make it a goal to update them when we get shots or get a new copy made. I also include any medical information (e.g. medication information, doctor/insurance phone numbers, etc.) that I often need to look up when filling out forms for our kids.
  • utilize the business card pages to make a "directory" within various sections of your binder. Here is our "medical directory":

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  • sports schedules
  • coupons for shopping and if you're comfortable with it, gift cards
  • brochures for activities we'd like to check out in the future
  • maps for places you don't visit frequently but will most likely go to again in the future (e.g. our friends' church, friends' homes, new shopping spot, etc.)
  • any home information you often need to reference. For me, I kept a "where to find it" list. I have consulted it on occasion, but I must admit that I didn't do a very good job at it. There are still things I cannot find! Intention was good, but execution---not quite.

The benefit of this kind of binder is that:

1. the rest of the family has access to common information that we all need in one centralized location

2. there is a place to put reference materials that we need in an organized manner without it littering the house

3. we know where to find said reference materials when we do need them instead of searching all over the house

4. I don't have to gather information out of a file box before sitting down to fill out release forms or permission slips for my kids. All I need is in one place: emergency contact numbers, medication dosages, insurance phone numbers, the date of our last tetanus shots.

Here are some suggestions that I have found helpful:

  • before labeling my dividers permanently, I put them on "test drive" to see if they would actually work. 
  • train yourself to put information in the binder. This takes a little while to learn, but for me, it is worth the effort.
  • update any information regularly. Out of date information is not going to be helpful. If I have something to update, I put notes/information in the front pocket of the binder so when I have several updates to make, I can do it all at once.
  • clean it out periodically and remove outdated information, rosters, etc.
  • show your family what it contains so they know where to go
  • keep your binder thin. Ours is a 1" width. Keep it easily manageable by everyone.
  • keep your binder in a centralized location. We put ours by the couch, where I often fill out forms for the kids.

As with the rest of my paper-taming journey, I think the key is creating places for the different types of paper I need to deal with. This binder has already saved me a lot of time hunting down what I need. Yes, it does require a little training time to learn how to start utilizing it. I still need to tweak it here and there. But for the most part, it has been a very useful tool in our home. I hope it works for you too!

School Papers: What to Keep and What to Toss

paper8 As we finish off the school year, this is probably the best time to go through all those papers that I've been stockpiling. You know what I mean--work pages, writing samples, art projects, and the like. Whether your child is schooled outside of the home or in the home, it's highly likely that you have a stack like this too. This is just Jonathan's preschool pile, so don't worry if your's is bigger than mine!

 

Before starting this paper-taming journey, I used to put papers all in one pile. It didn't matter if I needed them now or didn't need to look at them again. They just all went into one spot. As a result, I would have to wade through a ton of non-important papers to find the one important paper I needed. (Not smart.)

Because not all of my kids' school papers are of equal value, I had to find a way to house them until the end of the school year. As I was creating my file system in my last post, I created two folders for each of the kids: one for current work (which I refer to on a daily basis) and one for completed work (which rests in my filing box). So now, whenever Jonathan draws me a picture or Matthew turns in a science writeup or we finish an art project, I have a place to put it.

My first task then, at the end of the year, is to pull out this folder of completed work. Before hyperventilating though, I would suggest that you go back to your vision. What are you trying to accomplish in saving these papers? Does this help your purpose? Will it affect the grander scheme of life? Will there be dire consequences if you toss them?

My personal reason for keeping papers that my children do is to give myself a snapshot of what they have done over the course of the year. I want things that showcase their individuality as well as their developmental stage in this year of life. For this reason, I generally throw out all homework sets, worksheets, and other generic daily work. If I save anything, it's usually their best test.

If you are in a public or private school, knowing this may allow you to toss things out right away. However, if you are required by your homeschool PSP or charter school to show proof of your work, you may need to wait until you are cleared for the year before you do so. Sometimes in my desire to purge, I end up throwing things away before I should, which is why I like to make sure the school year is completely over before I do a complete purge.

If I had to keep something, it would be original work. However, 3-D constructions don't file away very neatly! So what I like to do is take photos. For example, this cute little "Mayflower" that Jonathan created at Thanksgiving just doesn't fit well in a folder and is bulky. If you are more artistically inclined, you can set it up nicer, but for me, this is good enough.

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If your child is really attached to his work, we make an agreement. We keep the original a little while longer, but set a date for it to disappear. I then print out the photos onto paper and put it into the file for the year. That way, I have a copy of the work without the bulk.

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After my first pass, I was able to whittle it down by half. What I do have in here is a book we made, his lapbook from one of my reviews this year, a flyer from the orchestra performance we attended, five of my favorite drawings/notes he made for me, and my lesson plans. I included some pages of his reading program, but I think I will eventually end up throwing them away, along with my lesson plans, which I already have on my computer.

Another option I am working on for Matthew is scanning his work and filing them electronically in his school folder on my computer. Now that he knows how to type, we are simply saving his documents into his file on the computer. If this works out, I may end up just doing all of the kids' school files this way. Just think of the space I'd save!

At the end, I like to keep only the very best. If I were to go through the same file of paper I saved this year in another 12 months, I would probably purge out even more. Think about it. Do you feel a need to look through your schoolwork now as an adult?

I didn't think so. It's a good chance your children will not care either. For me, I think it is more an emotional letting go at times than a physical issue. As the years pass, I get rid of more, until all I have left are the sweet, misspelled, yet heartfelt letters of love from my kids.

Those things I'll keep.

My birthday card from Jonathan this year

Getting Started, Part 2

What we've done so far:  1. Picture a vision for where we're going.

2. Corral all our paper that's floating around.

3. Start purging and making general categories.

For me, what I want to be able to do is: 1) quickly find necessary papers without hunting through many piles for them, 2) have a place to house papers I don't need all the time, but want to access, 3) have a way to archive papers that I want to keep but no longer need to have around.

What I have found best is different storage methods, depending on what I need. I first started with

Filing Your Paper

For me, it's so much easier to find things by file instead of by individual piece. So even though I may not have all my pieces in place yet, our next task is:

TASK #4: Start a filing system to hold your papers for now.

For each of your five categories, assign a colored file folder or marker color. Tackle each of your piles and subdivide them even further if you have not already done so. For example, what I have in my filing system for now:

  • Medical Records: Mostly these are for Anah, but any reports and records of treatments done, results of tests, etc. are kept in a file for her. If you have multiple children, you may wish to have a file for each of them, including immunization records.
  • School: One folder per child with current lesson plans and goals; one folder for completed work I am saving up for their yearly portfolio. Anything involving outside activities, classes, programs go in another folder so I can deal with them all at once.
  • Work, ministry: I have a folder for all the review material I'm currently working on, one file for each ministry project I'm planning, one file for my homeschool group work, one file for each writing project I have. I also have folders of past projects that I have completed, each in it's own folder, if I think I would like to keep them for reference.
  • Home: This is a catch-all of sorts. I have a folder for any recipes I found that I'd like to try, ideas for the home (decoration, organization, cleaning tips, all things homemaking); appliance manuals (if you don't already have them in another place), etc. If you do the bills, this may be another folder.  Things that I may need to reference, like take out menus, directions, phone numbers, sports schedules, business cards, as well as information on upcoming kids' events, activities, programs, and all associated paperwork. Most of these are not things I will need to look at too regularly.
  • Catalogs, magazines: I don't subscribe to much, but my goal is to keep no more than the current year's issues. I flip through any catalogs and decide whether I would realistically shop with them or not. If I think I need a second look, I file these catalogs into a file folder. The rest will get tossed.

In future posts, I will share what I have been doing with each of these categories and how I am working through them to create the system that I need, like:

  • creating daily and tickler files
  • creating portfolios of work for the kids
  • recipe organization
  • creating a reference binder
  • dealing with catalogs and magazines

As I mentioned in my opening post, I am not dealing with archiving/storage paper yet. We're just working on making the paper you need work for you, not against you. So let's get those papers somewhat organized into some folders! For me, that alone helped a lot. No longer did I have to wade through the whole stack of paper. Also, future papers that came in had a place to go right away.

I hope this helps you too! When you're done with this job, find a place to hold your files! After purging and sorting, what I had left that held my current work, was about half the pile I started with! (If only it was this easy to shed weight!) I was able to fit them into a wooden magazine rack that I had around the house. You can use a dishtub, a basket, whatever.

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The colored folders have helped me to even know which folders to look in. I didn't have time to buy colored folders yet, so I recycled manila folders and colored them with highlighter. It works for now. All just to say that you don't have to have top -of-the-line stuff to get organized! Just use what you have! Some of it is going to be temporary anyway, so until I get the other parts of my system organized, I'll stick with this. When I'm ready, I'll switch to nicer folders.

My cheapskate filing system. Really. It doesn't have to be expensive.

When you're done, pat yourself on the back and take a little break. Then join me next week for more specifics!

Getting Started Part 1

 "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."--Laozi

What's Your Vision?

As with all things, I like to have an end goal in mind or a vision of what I am working towards. This is often that "first step" I need to take. Without a direction to aim for, it's easy for me to get sidetracked or overwhelmed. For me, I am still not 100% sold on turning everything completely paperless. In fact, I am not sure that will be entirely possible for me. There are some things that I prefer on paper and is easier for me to work with. But what are those things? And could I learn to make the switch? That is what I am needing to decide.

I think though for the most part, I'd like to:

  • not have to go through ten piles of things to find one note or receipt or recipe or permission slip. No, I don't do that much. =)
  • find a way to put my recipe collection into a digital format so I can use my iPad as a cookbook instead of needing so many papers. I know there's a lot of online recipe boxes out there, but being the skeptic that I am, I want a backup copy of my own.
  • figure out a way to file away my ideas and notes (for blogging, speaking, ministry, school, home) in such a way that I can access and add to them easily. This is where I am considering if Evernote would be a good option. I haven't done enough reading yet to write about it, so stay tuned for a Part 2 to this series when I get that figured out!
  • create a system and have a place to put any papers that do enter our home without them lying in piles and getting lost or accidentally tossed (not that that has ever happened to me, of course).

TASK #1: What do you want to see in your home in regards to paper organization? 

Think about the things that frustrate you. How would you change them? What are you always looking for and can never find? What are some things you have hit on that work well for you now? What are things you'd like to try? Jot those ideas down!

Corral Your Paper

To get started, I began by corralling all the papers I found in my home. I went from room to room, collecting those unsightly piles. (Tip: Before I just piled everything in, I rifled through them to make sure there wasn't anything really important in them, like permission slips, that coupon I needed for the store, bills, anything I was working on, etc. Sometimes in my zeal, I get so "organized" that I lose track of what I need and have to wade through a pile to find it again! Don't let that be you.)

Mine ended up looking like this, and it included old newsletters, receipts, magazines, catalogs, etc. as well as kids' work, to-do lists I had started, recipes, information for Anah, plans for school next year, and more.

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TASK #2: Okay, now you go around your house and collect all that you see. Remember to set aside the things you are going to need and clip them up somewhere.

Purge and Sort Your Paper

Clockwise from top left: school, teaching, home, magazines. Medical stuff not pictured.

TASK #3: After you have gathered all those loose papers and saving the ones you need immediately, do a quick preliminary evaluation. I threw away stuff that we didn't need anymore, like fliers from expired sales, old shopping lists, old to-do lists, etc. Freedom! It is a very satisfying feeling to see your pile start shrinking.

For those things you want to keep, start quickly organizing them into very broad categories like:

  • medical receipts (subdivided by person if needed)
  • school/kids papers--all those art projects, worksheets, tests, certificates (subdivided by child, if you wish)
  • home business, work, or ministry related papers (subdivided if you wish).
  • home/personal papers--recipes, ideas, menus, notes to self, to-do lists and such. I found a lot of loose receipts, the instruction manual for an electronic toy, directions to a place that I will probably go back to. I also included permission slips for the kids, activity information, etc. in this pile.
  • catalogs/magazines you'd like to look through

If these don't describe you, then separate into what seems like natural divisions for you. I have five major categories, some with subcategories. See if you can keep it to no more than five that work for you.

Okay, now take a break! Join me on Thursday for the next step! While you're waiting, you may want to gather some file folders (colored are great, but if you have blank ones and some highlighter markers, that will work too).

New Mini Series: Taming the Paper Monster

Ever since I reviewed Mystie Winckler's Paperless Home Organization last month,I have been building a new vision for our home. Not that I'm trying to be green or anything. It's just that the piles of papers (most of them just sitting there, untouched, mind you) are really getting on my nerves. I did manage to put things in file folders, which helped a lot, but it is still a mess. The mess to work through this summer.

 

Being the way I am, I like to read a lot of "how-to" books before I get started. (For me, that's half the fun of beginning a project!) I then plan the steps I need to take and then start putting it into my to-do list to tackle. This is a work-in-progress for me, and will probably be for some time. For me, homemaking and housekeeping is about creating systems that work for me, not another thing that I maintain.

Before beginning though, I just wanted to say that this is not coming from an expert, but just an ordinary mom discovering and working through what would work best for her family. If it helps you too, then great! And even then, you may find a way that works better for you or is more intuititve for you. Those are the best anyways, because it fits you. After each of my steps, I'll have a task for you to do or a question you'll need to answer. That way, you can decide if that's what you want before you blindly follow me.

Just wanted to get that out of the way.

So if you care to join me in the journey as I learn what works and what doesn't, please do. This is just as much for me as it is for anyone else and if no one else benefits, I know I will. My goal is to work through the paper that I need to deal with most, to create a home for these poor lost souls and to hopefully make it easier for others in my family as well. I am not dealing with archiving paper right now--you know, the paper that is sitting in file boxes untouched for years? I am on a learning journey right now about learning how to use Evernote to archive my stuff. One day I'll hopefully be able to share with you what I have learned then.

I'll meet you back here tomorrow to get started!

Molly Review: Paperless Home Organization from Simplified Pantry

Do you have piles of stuff in your house too? Do they drive you crazy? Then you can probably understand why the title Paperless Home Organization intrigued me! You curious too? Then allow me to introduce you to Simplified Pantry! (This review is slightly different than my other reviews for The Old Schoolhouse, as it is really a review for a sister publication. If you haven't checked out the Molly Green magazine, which features great homemaking ideas for the frugal mom, you may wish to head on over to Econobusters.com and take a peek!)

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Company Information: Mystie Winckler, author of the blog Simply Convivial, a wife and homeschooling mother of five, knows what it's like to be busy. As most moms do, she has sought to find the best way to get the most done in the least amount of time. I know I'm always looking for help like that!

book_cover_zpsea3c0ac1Product ReviewedPaperless Home Organization is an e-book that Mystie has written to help busy moms track all the myriad of details in their lives using the many free resources that are now available online, such as Gmail, Google Calendar, Remember the Milk, and Evernote. Besides being able to sync and access your lists and calendars across mutliple devices, she shows you how to organize all the paper you and I have lying around the house...and get rid of it!

In addition to Paperless Home Organization, we were also given the e-book Simplified Dinners, as well as a gluten-free version of the book, Simplified Dinners: Gluten-Free and Dairy Free. (My review will focus primarily on Paperless Home Organization.)

Price: $3.99 for Paperless Home Organization, $12.99 each for Simplifed Dinners and Simplified Dinners: Gluten-Free and Dairy Free.

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How I Used It: I usually like to read books twice---the first time to get the overview, and the second time for the details. I'm glad I did this because even though I didn't understand everything the first pass, I was able to get a better understanding when it came down to putting it into action.

After reading the first time, I sat down with the book and worked through it step by step. I already have a Gmail account, so that made using the calendar easy. I have always preferred my paper calendars, but I don't always bring them around with me. On the other hand, I usually have my tablet with me. It was a matter of learning the habit of using Google Calendar instead of the wall calendar.

Similarly, I also set up accounts with Remember the Milk and Evernote. The step-by-step directions were easy to follow. After I set things up as Mystie directed and used it for a few days, I tinkered around with it to create categories that fit my usages better. For example, she had many lists in Remember the Milk that were just a little too complicated for me. Perhaps once I get to be a master at this digital format, I may find it useful, but at that point, it was too overwhelming for me. I just have one Inbox list and put everything in there so I could see it all at once. I don't have a lot of items on the list yet, so it's still not too bad.

Because I had a way of setting my day's tasks already on paper, I used the systems that Mystie had suggested as far as it fit the way I usually did things. As there are a million and one ways to organize your day and use planners, I tried to take what worked for me and then combine it with the online tools available. As a result, I didn't always follow the directions to a T, but it gave me a good start. After all, what's important is that it works, right?

What I Liked:

As I had mentioned above, the main thing is training myself to use the system that I set up. I've been using it for a few weeks now, and it has been great. I used to write  a list, then rewrite it or add more points to it that I had forgotten, etc. I never stuck with anything for long. With Remember the Milk, I can now add things without it looking like a mess. Because I am only selecting 1-3 tasks from my master list each day, I don't feel overwhelmed with all that needs to be done. Having it set up to show on my Google Calendar gives me a complete picture of the day's activities, appointments, school needs, as well as the specific task items for the day. I would never have known how to do this on my own!

I also have liked using the Google Calendar for meal planning. I had never thought of it! Now, I write down what I make, and in the notes section I include what prep needs to be done and how much time is required for the meal, sides to go with it, and any special groceries I may need on hand. I can also set it to repeat every few months so that I don't have to start from scratch every month and still have the variety I like in our menus. Changing the menu is easy too. I just drag the plan around to fit, just as I did with my little sticky post-it notes on my big calendar.

I am still learning how to use Evernote, though I am beginning to see the potential in the program. The only problem was that I got so excited about clipping websites, scanning my son's schoolwork and putting together my notebooks that I quickly maxed out the 60 MB limit for the month. This is one that I'm just going to have to train myself to use, and Mystie did a great job in showing us how to set things up, what notebooks to create, and the way to utilize it for the home. I would never have thought of it myself!

What I Didn't Like:

Nothing! I found the book easy to read and it made a lot of sense to me. I didn't use every setup that she had suggested (for example the Daily Checklist on Evernote), but I'm realizing that's okay. The important point is to set it up so that it works for me and how I function. That will vary from person to person.

Overall Summary:

If you're looking for a way to get a handle on all the paper in your house, I would suggest picking up a copy of Paperless Home Organization and carving out a few hours to read the book. Then start where you are and start developing the systems you need online and on your computer to help you start moving forward. I wouldn't worry about those papers in file boxes that you've kept for ages. Those can wait. Just start with this year's school work and archiving that. Start with this month's meal plans and this week's work. My goal for myself has been to just start learning how to use the system, tweaking it as I go.

And maybe then I'll have the system I need to work on cleaning out all those piles!

SPECIAL: Enter TOS2013 at checkout from May 20 to June 3, 2013 to receive a 30% discount from any or all of Mystie's ebooks! 

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Let's Read!: The Hidden Art of Homemaking

This week, I began this month's series on good summer reading and plan to share a couple books each week for the remainder of the month. Last time, I shared about a couple good children's literature booklists so that you can help your children select good books to read over the summer break.

If you're thinking, "Yeah, right. My kids are not going to read if they don't have to," then I encourage you to set the example for them. Some moms cringe at the thought of their kids staying at home with them all day, so they feel a strong temptation to sign up for every class available. That's all well and good, but it builds a need in our children to be entertained by some outside force. On the other hand, children who learn how to read on their own will very rarely find a reason to be bored.

Perhaps that attitude needs to be first cultivated in us. It is not unusual to find ourselves addicted to much activity and busyness. The times in which we live don't really put a high premium on simplicity and quietness. Everything is loud, bright, and flashy, geared to draw our attention and steal our focus. No wonder we feel compelled to always be doing something.

Which is why I want to recommend to you Edith Schaefer's The Hidden Art of Homemaking. Written in the 1950's, this book takes us back in time to an era that was simpler. I will admit that some of her suggestions sound a little hokey in this day and age, but if you are willing to look beyond the "how-to" into Mrs. Schaefer's heart, you may find much that resonates with you.

One thread that runs throughout her book is the idea that homemaking is a "hidden art," meaning that as women, we have the unique opportunity to create a masterpiece within the walls of our home. Whether it be through our meals, our gardens, our music, our living quarters, our clothing, our recreation, we are setting the stage when we artfully use our ingenuity and resourcefulness to create a haven for those we love.

After reading this book, I was challenged to think of ways that I can make our house not just a place where we sleep before we dash out the door for another day of activities, but a place where my family can enjoy being together. I appreciated her emphasis on why we are doing these things: so that the relationships within our home are nurtured and fed and have a beautiful place to blossom.

As I said, these are ideas from the 50's, so we may not need to save leather hides to cover chairs, but she shares many principles that can be applied creatively to our lives today. I know that I was challenged by the way she used stick figures to help a young child understand an adult sermon and by the time and effort she was willing to expend just to make her children smile. Am I willing to do the same? Do I have the heart of a homemaker? Or do I see this work at home a drudgery, a necessary evil that I must keep doing so that our house doesn't fall apart?

This book is not a difficult read, so if you are looking for something to challenge and inspire your homemaker's heart, I encourage you to pick this one up and read it. Why not institute a family quiet reading time on the days you are home---not just for your children but for you too? I hope that as you savor these thoughts, they will help you to look with fresh eyes at the home you've been given and find a new motivation to make it the happiest place on earth.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Sometimes my best laid plans just don't work. I had planned to do more blogging on homeschooling this month, which I haven't been able to do. Instead, I have been trying to make sure we have food on the table, clean underwear in the drawer, and lessons for the kids. Life just gets like that sometimes. Well, to let you all know that I haven't forgotten about you, I thought I'd post something fun and quick. I hope to be able to do some writing this weekend. Until then, I realized I haven't shared my oatmeal raisin cookie recipe here yet. I've had this one since I was in college. I remember baking these with my girlfriends for our small group meetings. Yes, it's been around that long. I have since baked them with my preschool students and of course, shared with my own kids. The recipe card is faded, with lots of notes all over it. So you can say it has been tried and true. What we love about it is that they are soft and chewy, not dry like some oatmeal cookies. Hope you enjoy them too!

cookies1 Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 cup butter, softened

¾ cup packed light brown sugar

1 small package instant vanilla pudding

2 eggs

3 ½ cups quick-cooking oats

1 cup raisins

Mix flour and baking soda. Combine butter, brown sugar, pudding mix in a mixer bowl. Beat until smooth and creamy. Beat in eggs. Gradually add flour mixture, then stir in oats and raisins. Batter will be stiff. Drop onto rounded measured teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets about 2” apart. Bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes. Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

The nice thing about these cookies is that you can also freeze them. All I do is line a pan with waxed paper then put the raw cookie dough on it. I put 2 dozen in the freezer in this batch and then baked the rest. (This is so we don't eat 5 dozen cookies at once!) When the cookies were done freezing--I left them in the freezer for an hour but it can take less time--I took the frozen dough balls out and put them in a heavy-duty freezer bag, marked with the type of cookie, the baking temperature and the baking time.

Half for freezing, half for baking!

With these in the freezer, I can then make a batch of fresh cookies, usually a dozen at a time for our family, and enjoy! You can bake them straight from the freezer, but add a few extra minutes to the baking time. I do notice that they do seem a little smaller, probably because they start out frozen. Or you can set them on baking sheets, let them thaw, and bake as directed.

Here's a copy of the recipe in PDF form! Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Rolo Pretzel Treats

One of my favorite things to do during this Christmas season is to bake. However, this year, I've just had to give myself permission to let it go. And yet, I couldn't not make something, so I have turned to a quick and easy treat I discovered last year. It only requires three ingredients:

Yep, that's it. Mini pretzels. Rolo candies. Pecan halves. Your limiting factor will probably be the Rolo candies, so if you want to make a lot, then you'll want to get a few bags. Try to get as many pecan halves to match the Rolo candies.

So all you do is lay out your pretzels on a baking sheet. Unwrap the Rolos (that is probably the most time-consuming part of the whole thing so you can employ your children for the task or do it while you're talking on the phone or something mindless). It should look like this when you're done:

Place your pretzel-Rolo sets into a 250 degree F oven for about 3 minutes. You want it to be nice and soft but not lose its shape. Once I didn't do it long enough and it made the next step a little harder, resulting in not as pretty end products. Take them out of the oven and set on a hot pad.

Quickly press a pecan half into the soft chocolate. I was able to make a pretty full pan (I fit about 48 on a sheet) and not have the chocolate harden too soon. Let the chocolate set up so that it is no longer melty (is that a word?). If you're in a hurry, as I was, you can put them in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes to speed it up. Ta-da! That's it! Don't they look pretty?

You can then put them into a box or plastic bag for easy treats. This one is something the whole family can do together!

Enjoy!

A Christmas Special (and my last Gabby Moms post)

Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to serve on two review teams. As our responsibilities at home with Anah have increased, I have had to re-consider what I commit myself to doing in the coming year. As hard as it was, I knew that I would need to let go of at least one of my review teams. I have thoroughly enjoyed the discipline of reading and learning from others who are wiser than I am and then reflecting on how it would impact my own marriage and mothering. So, as of this post, I will be relinquishing my spot on the Gabby Moms review team, but I didn't want to leave you without one more review---and this one is a great one! If you hop on over to the Eternal Encouragement website, you'll find the new digital version of the magazine. I had reviewed the print version earlier in the year, but now Lorrie Flem has moved into the digital age with a digital version.

Now I must confess that I have a preference for real books that I can hold in my hand, but with the addition of our iPad last year, I have quickly become a fan of digital books. Not only is it handy to have a wide selection of reading material all in one device, it has saved me tons of valuable real estate on our bookshelves. (Of course, my next job is cleaning out my virtual bookshelves, but that is another issue altogether!)

If you enjoy e-books, then this is not an issue for you. But if you've been resistant to the idea, I wanted to share a few things that a digital magazine has that goes above and beyond an e-book (these comments are particular to Eternal Encouragement's magazine):

  • you can listen to audio clips embedded in the magazine. For instance, instead of reading Lorrie's welcome message, you can hear her share it verbally with you. Talk about interactive---your magazine is talking to you! (The only thing is that I wish there was a way for me to pause if I have to step away. Once you stop the audio, you need to start all over again. But I'm sure that if I am patient enough there will be a remedy for that!)
  • you can zoom in to enlarge the text on the page. If you're like me, your eyes aren't working quite the same anymore. This is really helpful!
  • you can click on ads directly to find out more information on a product if you are interested. No more trying to remember to look it up later when you get on the computer.
If you've never read a digital magazine before, I encourage you to give it a try. If you go on to the Eternal Encouragement website, look for the red button that says, "Click here to read your free issue." And there you go!
This issue includes stories, ideas to put more Christ in your Christmas, frugal decorating ideas, recipes, Christmas card ideas and even a New Year's party article. What I particularly like is how many of the articles have the main points in bold print, with details in regular type. For me, this has allowed me to skim the article and find the main points quickly. If I wanted more detail, I could read the rest of the paragraph.
This magazine has always been a joy to read. While it does mention homeschooling (and I am biased in favor of that form of education), I believe it is a wonderful magazine for homemakers. Some of what I have read is not new to me, but it is still a good reminder. Sometimes what I "already know" is what I need to hear the most.

I know I should have posted this earlier in the month, but I hope you'll go check it out anyways. Maybe you'll find some last minute tips and help. Or take notes for next year. Whatever the case, I trust that it will be a blessing to you.

 

Just For Fun Friday: Cooking Extravaganza Bundle (Gabby Moms Review)

How was your Thanksgiving? To be honest, I was thoroughly unprepared for the day. It snuck up on me, even though I knew it was coming. I think with all the adjustments, I was barely getting used to cooking dinner for all of us, much less preparing to host our family's annual gathering. Oh well. Anah enjoyed her time. Here she is, enjoying her first taste of turkey and mashed potatoes! (We did have some Chinese noodles for her too on the side, which she clearly enjoyed much more.) With yet another holiday coming up close behind, I am determined to be a little more prepared. As cooking is such a big part of our lives as moms, I was particularly pleased to receive this month's Gabby Moms review product, entitled Cooking Extravaganza. This is a collection of 7 e-books and 1 softcover book (shipped separately), What's For Dinner, Mom?, which I reviewed earlier this year. From bulk cooking to filling those bottomless pits in your home, as well as pizza to salads to cookies to breakfasts, I was pleasantly surprised by the many practical tips and recipes Lorrie Flem of Eternal Encouragement (and friends) included in the set.

In these books, you'll learn:

  • What you can do with milk that is marked past the freshness date
  • What sucanet is
  • How to keep raisins from sinking to the bottom of your baked goods
  • How to soften dried out brown sugar
  • Why pizza dough needs to rest for best results (sounds like me!)
  • How to prevent freezer burn in your frozen meals
  • And more!

I think my favorite one was the Pizza Primer from Briana van der Veen. In it, she goes through each of the four components of a pizza: dough, sauce, cheese and toppings, and walks you through the options for each one. She also includes recipes for a homemade dough and sauce, one that I am eager to try. I also didn't know that you could freeze the unbaked dough and use it another evening. Perfect! I enjoyed the book's conversational style--it was like having a friend walk you through the process. If I can figure a way out how to stock up my freezer with toppings, sauce and dough, I can easily pull out a dinner the kids would love during the busy season.

Another e-book I really enjoyed was Lorrie's Favorite Recipes. I loved her idea of adding 10 new recipes to our family's favorites list each year. It will keep me trying new things, and as those new favorites surface, I can begin to incorporate them into our meal lineup. Lorrie also gives us 10 recipes that made the cut in 2011 for us to start with. I always enjoy trying meals that other families have enjoyed and building our recipe collection that way.

With the addition of Anah, meal preparation has been pushed up a notch. She will eat just about everything we give her, but she definitely likes variety. Not only that, as the kids grow, they like to eat more! The books gave me some new ideas, as well as reminded me of some things I had forgotten. Whether you stay home or not, these books will give you a good foundation in developing healthy, filling and frugal meals for your family. Even if you do not care for the recipes (more American fare), you can extract principles from them to use in developing your own family's menus.

The details:

  • Cost: regularly $52.97, but available at this time for $19.97
  • If you're interested in giving this as a gift, make sure to place your order by Dec.12 to ensure What's For Dinner, Mom? arrives before Christmas. All others are e-books and are downloadable immediately.
  • Lorrie will be giving away a copy of this set at her blog, Randy's Rib. You can enter to win there. A winner will be picked by Dec. 1 so don't wait!
Well, with these e-books in hand, I'm off to plan next month's meals!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the Cooking Extravaganza Bundle at no cost to me in exchange for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Just For Fun Friday: How Much Stuff is Enough? (David Platt)

As I have mentioned in my last goals post, our family has just moved back into what we have affectionately dubbed "our new old house". With the imminent arrival of our new daughter, there is a definite deadline for getting things in order. Back in April, I went through each room of our home and tried to figure out its purpose and function. I am now taking that plan and going through the boxes in storage and trying to purge and get rid of things that don't fit that picture I have in my head. So today, as I settled in to start tackling another section of boxes, I came across this video from David Platt, author of Radical. I had just read his book a couple months ago and was really challenged by it. This short clip came at a good time for me as I sort through my possessions and think about how I can share them with others who could use them more than I can. I hope it will encourage and challenge you too!

[jwplayer mediaid="4672"]

 

Proactive Summer Parenting

If you have the opportunity to stay home with your children during the summer, it may be a little daunting to think of all those hours your kids are at home with you. I have had a lot of moms ask me, "How can you spend all day with your kids at home?" Let me tell you, I am no saint, that's for sure. And I do understand that little note of desperation I hear. I've felt it too. It may be tempting to sign them up for every class you can afford so that you can have some semblance of order and routine. But not only is this costly in terms of money, I believe it is also costly in terms of our opportunities. If you send your children elsewhere for their schooling during the year, summer can be prime time to invest deeply into their hearts, minds and souls of our children. Even as a homeschooling parent, I need to remind myself that academics is not all there is to raising children. More importantly is the raising of their character, the development of their spirits and the cultivating their minds in godliness.

If you feel a bit apprehensive of all that time with your children, may I encourage you to look at it as a positive thing and not one to be avoided? Trust me, it is possible to be at home with your kids and have a good time in the summer. A few things that I have learned that have helped me in my own home:

1. Remember that you are the steward of your children.

God has blessed us with our children, not just to feed or clothe, but to nurture in His ways. This is an incredible privilege. Our job is not merely to chauffeur them to classes, pay their class fees, or make sure they stay out of trouble.

Rather, He has given them to us to pour our lives into. If you haven't read my Teaching Them Diligently series yet, I encourage you to take the time to do so. Summer is the perfect opportunity, if you choose to look at it this way, to cultivate and nurture their faith. This is especially true if you find yourself strapped for time during the school year.

Ask the Lord for one specific goal that is appropriate for your children this summer. And then by His power, make that your aim in all that you do with your kids. Be open to the opportunities. Be present in the moment. It could be your best summer yet.

2. Think through a routine.

Even the best planned mom is probably going to have some days at home. In fact, I personally think that if we go out, it should not be every day of the week. I have to wonder if planning every day out to the fullest with outside activities is not an act of fear.

We do not have to fear chaos when the kids get home if we have a routine. Just yesterday, I read a thought-provoking article from How Does She? entitled "No More Summer Mush Mind!" I thought it was a simple way to think through developing a well-balanced routine for our children's days. We do this by:

  • taking time to nurture our kids' spiritual lives. We can read a Bible story with them or give them space to spend time in the Word alone. Learn hymns, or take time to sing praise choruses. To some of you, that may sound hokey. It doesn't matter how you do it. Just do it.
  • making time each day to give them physical exercise. Whether it be swim classes, or simply running through the sprinkler, going to the park, riding their trikes or bikes on a neighborhood walk, give them time to move their bodies.
  • using the time to help them learn how to do household chores and care for the home. Yes, they are home more in the summer, so it does tend to get messier, but that doesn't mean you have to resign yourself to living in a pig sty for the next couple of months. Use the time to work with your kids to clean out old school papers and file the ones you want to keep away. I have a post planned sometime next month about organizing with your kids.
  • investing time to keep their minds sharp. I believe that summer school isn't the only way to do it. In fact, this week, I am going to be posting some sites that I have discovered that can help make reading, math, and science fun. On Friday, we'll talk about art, which is often neglected in our schools today (including mine!). During the summer, we have vast opportunities to help our kids link what they learn during the school year with real life.

Summer can be the best months of the year, or it can be a stress to the system. I hope that it will be the first option for you. If you haven't done so already, take a birds-eye look at the whole season, and then develop a routine for the day-to-day. Balance fun with work within each day, week and activity. (Who says being a mom is easy?)

Relish these days with your kids. You have an incredible impact on your kids. Don't let it slip away in the summer.