Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Get the job done ... the easy way

A Post About Housekeeping

I used to be fairly well organized and very clean. Not any more. Now, I'll happily settle for clean. Chronic illness means the necessity for budgeting my time and energy is more important then ever. In a sense, I am very glad. There is something quite humbling about realizing my limitations and accepting a 'new normal' ... and doing it cheerfully - most days! Every season of life has it's challenges, and joys!

So, in the midst of our new normal, I am trying to teach our children the simple principles of easy cleanliness. Considering that we have two classic 'messies' who are easily sidetracked and have far better things to do then keep their rooms clean, I've boiled it down to the essentials for doing what needs to be done with as little effort as possible - the easy way. I decided to post it here, so when I look around and see that things aren't running quite as smoothly as we'd like, I'll be able to remind them of the easy principles and get us all back on track!

The Easy Way to Tidy Up

  1. Do your job right the first time. You'll just have to do it a second time if you don't do it 'right' the first time! It takes more time and effort to put a piece of a paper on the counter, move it to a pile, sort the pile and then toss out to the recycling bin - put it in the bin right away! Don't touch it again! Dirty plates go directly into the dishwasher or sink - why load up the counters? For the children, this translates to folding square the first time, delivering the right socks to the right bedroom, arranging the shoes on the mat just the right way, the floor swept clean - even the corners, and all the toothpaste scraped off the sink - all this just takes training! Don't look for perfection the first time - re-train as needed and don't do it for them if you know they have the skills and were just 'goofing off'. If they have done their best - don't re-do it - that's just demoralizing.
  2. Never travel empty. During my very brief waitress experience, our trainer drilled this into our heads, and I have never forgotten. If our hands were empty as we entered the kitchen or left, we were severely reprimanded. We were supposed to always bring in the dirty dishes or be taking out food or drinks - always a full tray. Always! We all have those piles in our homes that are 'base camps' - things waiting to be put in their right place - at the bottom of the stairs, on the side table or on the counter. If you use the principle of 'never travel empty' as you walk by those piles to the general area they are going to you always pick it up and take it - and as you return to the room, you bring something with you that you need or was out of place. It takes less than 20 seconds and it is the easiest way to put things to rights.
  3. A place for everything and everything in it's place. Your hairbrush does not belong on the kitchen counter. Dirty clothes do not live on the floor. Garbage does not get stuffed into pockets. You wouldn't dream of putting muddy boots on the white carpet. You get the idea! Even if you aren't super organized, there is a general place for everything. If everyone in the house knows where that place is and puts things away where they belong, life goes so much more smoothly! If you have things that don't have a home - find a home or give them away! It's just that easy, and that hard. Again, this is an area for training - for everyone in the household. If you have a labeller, this is the place to use it - and for non-readers, take a picture of where everything goes and post it until they get it. Also - if you move something, make a change or get rid of something completely, let everyone know!
  4. Open your eyes to what needs to be done and do it. Some folks just don't see it. Clutter and dirty don't register from their point of view. Sometimes we have to train our eyes to see what needs our attention and be aware of our surroundings. It's a good idea to take pictures of a room when it is tidy and clean and post them where your children can see them so that if they are asked to help tidy, they know what the end goal should look like. At the same time, if you feel like something isn't quit right and you can't put your finger on the problem, take a picture of your area and soon you'll be seeing with fresh 'eyes' just what needs to be done to bring a sense of order to a space. Then, there are those of us who see it, but just leave it! The training to just do it takes more time - we all have other things to do, but doing the bit of work in front of us that needs doing first smooths the path to time for doing things we enjoy.
  5. Finish - don't get sidetracked. This is where I fail most often, and I am sure it is a struggle for most moms with with children at home - their eager young faces often get in the way of my schedule! We have to be flexible and realize that their needs are more important than keeping on track. Our children are young for such a short time and we need to enjoy them as the gifts from God that they are. At the same time, if you know you don't have uninterrupted time, it's better to tackle a job in small tasks - even 5 minutes of concentrated effort will yield great rewards if you just keep coming back to it, investing those 5 minutes and seeing it through to the satisfying end!
  6. Eat your elephant one bite at a time. Unless you have a SuperWoman costume under your clothes, you have limits. Time and energy constraints are real and they sometimes discourage us from even beginning to face an overwhelming task. Even breaking it down into smaller tasks might seem too much at first, but the alternative of living with a big ugly smelly 'elephant' in your midst isn't even an option! Get help - enlist husband, children, a friend - or hire a stranger to come in and help. Whatever it takes! I'm not always very good with this either, but I'm learning to accept help and ask for it when I need it - it's a learning process!
  7. Do everything as a service to the Lord. "Are you grumbly hateful or humbly grateful - what's your attitude? Do you grumble and groan, or let be known, you're grateful for all God's done for you?" Words from a childhood Sunday School song often come to mind when I am tackling a particularly distasteful task. As a follower of Christ, my service to my family should be done cheerfully, ' as unto the Lord'. Jesus taught us by example to have a servant's heart, not a Doormat and not a Queen. I want to lovingly serve my family as though I were serving Christ, Who gave Himself completely for me. Puts things into perspective, doesn't it?
  8. Have fun once it's done! Whatever little job you have to do, it is always more fun to have a goal in mind - something enjoyable at completion. It doesn't have involve chocolate food, an expense or even leaving your own yard - but plan something you enjoy for after your housekeeping is done! Work has it's own rewards - it is more fun to live in cleanliness and easier to live in order, but other little rewards are always an added bonus. If your kids have a list of their chores, have them check it off, put on their sticker or whatever they do - it's just as satisfying for them to note all they have accomplished as it is for you to cross your jobs off a list! I like page protectors and erasable markers for this - but whatever works best for you!

I'm quite certain I have missed a lot of great ideas, but these are the principles that work well for us, and I hope you find just a little something here to make the everyday things that need to be done a little lighter!

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Company Girl Coffee

I'm joining Rachel Anne and the Company Girls for a cup of coffee this morning ... but if you don't mind, I'll be serving tea! I have quite a variety on hand because my lady at The Spice Rack just re-supplied her bulk foods store and she ordered lots of neat new bulk teas! I'll whip up a batch of Orange Scones with Lemon Curd for you all to make up for the lack of coffee. Trust me on this, making coffee is not one of my strong suits, so tea is a better option, unless you want to grow hair on your chest ... then a cup of my coffee might be in order!

Well, what have I been up to this week? I am happy to report that for the first week in a long long while, we have ALL been healthy all week long! I was praying for a healthy week, and now I am praising the Lord for accomplishing that for us!

We've been doing our schoolwork faithfully each day. There was no co-op this week but both children are hard at work finishing projects and learning new things!

I tried a casserole experiment this week that worked out really well - now I just wish someone would take my idea for altering great casserole recipes to be 'one skillet' meals and market a cookbook! I thought that there was such a cookbook, but I can't find it! I recently ordered a' one skillet' cookbook, but it turns out that there are a lot of recipes that take 1 or more hours of prep time before baking and at least three pans! I should have tried it out by ordering it through the library first!

Our very 'schmelly' kitty Mr. Peppermint has received a pardon due to the cool rainy weather we have enjoyed this week - but as soon as it is warm enough he will get a bath! Phew!

It's been a bit too cool to tackle the wicker project, but as soon as we get some consistent 70's weather in the forecast - I'll be risking carpel tunnel to get these pieces prettied up!

Our Dreamer is a huge help when it comes to bathing her kitty - she lovingly soothes his ruffled nerves and dries him off until he is fluffy again!

Both children have been spending a lot of time outdoors - picking up sticks, playing, riding bikes and doing outside stuff. Dreamer had a long orthodontist appointment this week and the result has been a soft menu for her since Tuesday! Poor honey!

Last night we went out and 'celebrated' the Storyteller's first 'A' on a spelling test - with frozen custard! Mmmm! What a treat!

We've been eating way more beef then usual because of our freezer full of wonderful locally grown grain fed beef. It has such a nice flavor, but I know it isn't as good for us, so we'll just have to spread it out on the menu. At least it is pretty lean and drug free! We usually eat a lot of chicken and fish when we can get it - but our freezers are full of fresh pork and beef!

Another project on my mind - I don't like the color of our front door, and we have been planning to replace it for the 4 years we have lived here, so I haven't painted it - but replacing it is a lot more involved then we had expected since the odd shaped 'light' and framing for our door are all one piece and would have to be custom ordered. $$$$

So, I am determined to paint it. Our house is light grey, our windows and eaves are white, the shutters are black and the front door should be painted ....

any ideas?

Thanks for joining me for coffee tea!

Have another scone and be sure to go visit the other Company Girls! They all make better coffee than me, I'm sure!

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Great Cassarole Experiment

There are days when my dubious skills as a short order cook collide with reality in a very big way. Today - was one of those days. We recently took possession of 190 pounds of beef. Wonderful drug free, grain fed, locally grown beef. It was comparatively inexpensive, and it is really quite delicious. I can foresee us eating a bit more beef than usual. In fact, since ice cream season will be upon us before we know it and there is no room for ice cream in our freezers, we will be featuring beef in some fashion prominently in the menu plan for the next few weeks!

Beef - it's what's for dinner!

The problem is that it is frozen. Solid.
I am used to cooking with fresh beef - not often do I use frozen beef.
We live too close to the grocery store, I know.

I am used to thinking about dinner in the morning and making my preparations then, so that our day will go smoothly. Or as smoothly as possible! Yesterday I checked the menu - meatloaf! I thought I'd better take out the beef and start it thawing - and I did! This morning it was not one iota softer than when I placed the frozen brick in the fridge to thaw. So I gave it some time. By 4 o'clock I realized that a plan B might be in order - there was no way that brick was going to work it's frostiness into anything remotely resembling a meatloaf. No way.

Plan B - inspired by RuthAnn from Warm Pie, Happy Home who shared her wonderful recipe for Hillbilly Spaghetti Pie HERE. If you get a chance to make this recipe, do! It was yummy and so simple! Since I made it, I've been pondering an idea. I've been thinking that almost any casserole with noodles could be adapted toRuthAnn's method, and since I am all about simple and dirtying just one pan, I thought I'd take a simple family casserole recipe and try it out!
Time was running short!

See the rock of ground beef?

Well, it eventually thawed and browned. I drained the fat, though there wasn't as much as grocery store hamburger - and I usually spend $ more for the leaner cuts!

I added a chopped cooking onion and cooked it for about 3 more minutes until it was soft and translucent.

Added salt, pepper and some basil that I dried last summer when the garden was in full swing.

I threw in the two cans of condensed soup called for - one tomato and one mushroom.
Then I added 3 cups of hot water and a pinch more salt to make up for the salt that pre-cooked noodles would have added. It made for an ugly soupy mess, but I didn't loose heart!

I threw in the two cups of fine noodles called for in the recipe - forced them under the liquid, and put a lid on the whole mess.
At this point the kids were in doubt - in fact, they were down right worried.
Uncooked noodles in a soupy mess isn't exactly appealing!

After 5 minutes I pulled off the lid and gave it a stir. Another five minutes and it was looking much much more promising!

I added two table spoons of Worcester sauce and gave it a final stir, then put the lid on for about 5 more minutes.

In the meantime, I decided I needed an effective bribe! Fluffy homemade biscuits to the rescue!

I grated about two cups of sharp cheddar because I have never really understood grated cheese in packages, and besides, I like to take my life in my own hands on a regular basis.
This time, I didn't grate off any digits! Yeah!

After sprinkling the cheese on the noodled mess, I threw the whole skillet under the broiler for about 4 minutes until everything was good and bubbly!

I put my 'bribe' fresh from the oven into a basket and dinner ( along with a salad) was ready.
They had to eat 5 bites of Mama's mess before they got a biscuit! Surprisingly, they liked it. Dreamer even recognized it as an oldie but goodie 'Graces Beef Noodle Casserole'.

So, there you go. Can you make a casserole start to finish in 30 minutes while only dirtying one skillet? Yes, you can. For once my short order cook calamity took a turn for the good, and everyone went from the table full.

We are so very very blessed.
Wouldn't you agree?

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Monday, March 23, 2009

The Simple Woman's Daybook

I really enjoy participating in Peggy's Simple Woman's Daybook when I am able to.
It's a great way to start the week with a positive focus.

For Today
Monday, March 23, 2009

Outside My Window...
36 degrees and clear skies! The grass is so green, and the leaves on the trees are just beginning to unfurl. Lots of cars going by on their way to work this morning - it seems like a busy Monday morning.

I am thinking...
It's good to be starting a new week after a restful but productive weekend.
It's great to be feeling better! I had a really bad time with my liver on Thursday, so I'm quite pleased to feel as well as I do!

From the learning rooms...
Dreamer has her final draft Ohio history report due this week.
Storyteller is beginning a new area of study in math ... multiplication!

I am thankful for...
Rest, strength to tidy the house, and a challenging Biblical message on Sunday morning!

I am praying for ...
A healthy week for our family and lots of warm sunshine so that I can get at our outdoor projects.

From the kitchen...
Our freezers are stocked with wonderful drug free beef and lean pork - both direct from the farmers, so those will figure prominently in our menu plans for the next while! We need to make room in the freezer for ice cream and sherbet ... there isn't any room at all!

Monday: Luscious Leftovers - sliced Rolled Chicken Washington
Tuesday: Grilled Ham Steak
Wednesday: Meatloaf
Thursday: Grilled fish
Friday: Homemade Pizza
Saturday: Pulled pork sandwiches
Sunday: Roast Beef & all the fixings!

I am wearing...
Long denim skirt, soft stretchy green top - still long sleeves!

I am creating...
I made a new wreath for the sunroom door over the weekend, and some new tassels too!

I am going...
To run an errand while the Historian is home - and use that 50% JoAnn's coupon that's burning a hole in my pocket! I plan later to take our Dreamer to ballet. I hope to have the grocery list and my coupons organized so that the Storyteller and I can do our weekly 'shop' while the Dreamer is at ballet.

I am reading...
Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens:
No Digging, No Tilling, No Weeding, No Kidding!

We came across some passages in the book of Joel (Old Testament) in our family devotions that I'm not familiar with, but they are of great comfort. I am planning to re-read them this week.

I am hoping...
I'm always hoping for a well week, but I'm really hoping for a chance to be a blessing to others this week - and that will require an extra measure of health and strength!

I am hearing...
Dreamer is having breakfast and is almost ready to head out for piano.
Everything is pretty quiet this morning. I need to get the washer going soon, and start the day properly!

Around the house...
Inside - one room to clean thoroughly, a dresser to tidy and a small pile of ironing.
One schmelly kitty to bathe!
Mr. Peppermint is quite in need of a bath ... first warm day!
If you hear a loud and mournful sound, it's just our vocal kitty - don't worry. He starts his cry as soon as we take him into the laundry room and finishes as soon we complete the last rinse!

Outside - planting, raking, trimming and painting those wicker pieces as soon as it is warm enough! I am still trying to find some willow to make a waddle fence, and I need to set up our wee green house and get some things stated.

One of my favorite things...
A hot bubble bath by candlelight ... with a side of Toblerone!
Thanks hon!

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week:
Continuing to pray for the Lord's guidance with our search for a new church.
  1. School, piano, ballet, AWANA, playdate with friends!
  2. Garden and home chores.
  3. Get out and get walking more regularly!
  4. Sewing the porch wicker cushions ... if the paint sticks!
  5. Sending a special card for a very special birthday girl!

Here is a picture thought I'm sharing:

We have begun the official 'foot bath' season! I keep dishpans handy in the laundry room and as soon as the children come in from playing they have a little foot bath before they go running through the house! The water is blue because they love my Gehwol foot Soak!
Thank you for reading my daybook!

Be sure to visit Peggy to read more Daybooks!
There are many many others participating in The Simple Woman's Daybook
and it is so much fun to read their thoughts!

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Rolled Chicken Washington

Rolled Chicken Washington is a very simple old family recipe that is perfect for Sunday Dinner. There aren't very many ingredients, it can be made up a day ahead and it's perfect for 'fussy' eaters - nothing strange about it! I've served it for company and everyone likes it - even those with discriminating tastes. It is always tender, juicy and attractive! The leftovers (if there are any!) make excellent cold meat too.

Are you ready for the recipe?

Assemble the cast of characters - boneless skinless chicken breasts, butter, salt, pepper, flour, fine bread crumb, paprika, and sliced ham - I used the all natural deli meat.

You'll need a mallet or meat tenderizer of some type to flatten out those chicken breasts. If they are large, cut them in half before pounding. My husband does this for me. He seems to like doing it! For years we used a wimpy wooden meat tenderizer, and it was an effort. Especially when I served this for a group of ministers and had him pound out 60 breasts - which he had to de-bone first!

A few Christmases ago I received this heavy duty metal tenderizer in my stocking - it makes the job quick and painless. My husband sandwiches the chicken between two sheets of heavy parchment paper ( to contain fly-away chicken) and pounds them to about 1/3" thickness.
If you are on good terms with your butcher, they often have a machine to do this.
It doesn't hurt to ask.

Soften your butter to that 'almost melted but not quite' stage. Set aside.

Make egg wash using 1 large egg and 1 Tbsp. cold water. Use a fork to blend it well.

In another bowl combine flour, crumbs and seasonings.

Spread out your first chicken breast on a piece of parchment and apply butter liberally with a pastry brush. Don't be shy here!

Salt and pepper well.

This step is optional, but it adds so much! Lay a slice of deli ham on your flat chicken.
Roll the whole thing up from the narrow end.

Dip that beautiful roll first in egg wash, then in crumb mixture. Hold it together as best you can! Yes - your fingers will get really goopy, and it might take a bit of practice, but don't worry - it will all work out!

TaDa! Not perfect, but beautiful none the less.
Now that you have the hang of it, preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.

Do the same thing for the rest of your chicken and snuggle them all together in a shallow pan.

You should have some 'almost melted but not quite' butter left , but if not, melt more! Drizzle 3 or 4 tablespoons of melted butter over the whole assembly of lovely chicken rolls and place in your preheated oven.

Bake, uncovered for one hour. I like to cut into one big breast and make sure the juices are clear and the chicken is no longer pink.

Please excuse the messy plate - this is what it looks like when you slice into it. Yummy!

Rolled Chicken Washington
6 boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded flat
1/2 cup softened butter
6 thin slices of deli ham
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
1 large egg
1 Tbsp. cold water

Combine crumbs, flour, salt, pepper and paprika. Set aside.

Combine egg and water and beat with a fork until frothy. Set aside.

For each chicken breast: Lay flat, butter well with pastry brush, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place deli ham flat on surface of chicken; roll the whole breast, encasing the ham slice, from narrow edge. Dip roll in egg wash, then in crumb mixture and place in shallow baking pan. Repeat for all 6 breasts. Completely melt any remaining butter, or melt more to have enough(3-4 Tbsp.) to drizzle over chicken rolls. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees F for about an hour. Cut a roll in half to be sure they are fully cooked, juices running clear and no pink remaining. Serve hot! Enjoy.

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Spring Subtlety

It seemed like a nice day to play around with a wreath idea that has been floating around in my head for a few weeks! It's hard to photograph a glass door, but I hope you can see well enough! If you look hard you can peak through the sun room into our back patio garden!

I 'shopped the house' for different gardening theme elements that I could put together.
I was surprised at how many little things were tucked away here and there!
I scoured the yard for fine twigs and a branch that would serve as my tree!

I made this 'gazing globe' with a wooden candle stick and a Christmas ball!
Wouldn't it be perfect for a fairy garden?
The trellis is a wooden button and some bamboo skewers.
The watering can used to be hot pink!

I used my acrylic paints to paint all the unfinished wood pieces and to re-paint the ones that didn't fit on my 'green and cream' theme! I distressed them a bit and used lots of sealer to protect them from the weather.

I hope Mr. & Mrs. Bird are happy with their new home!
They seem pretty content!

I hope the real Mr. & Mrs. Robin don't 'shop' my wreath like they did last spring!

Happy Spring!

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