Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Homemade Chocolate Syrup

I got this recipe from my friend Kiley.  Super yummy and cheaper than store bought.  After I finished using up a Smuckers caramel sauce, I washed the bottle.  It is PERFECT for our homemade chocolate syrup!

1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup water
2 cups sugar (or little less)
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 tsp vanilla

Mix the cocoa powder and the water in a saucepan.  Heat and stir to dissolve the cocoa.  Add the sugar, stir to dissolve.  Boil 3 minutes over medium heat (be mindful not to let it boil over!).  Stir int he salt and the vanilla.  Let cool.  Pour into a clean container, and store in the refrigerator for several weeks - if it lasts that long!  Yield: 2 cups.

You can certainly toy around with this recipe.  Add some cinnamon (and maybe a dash of cayenne for the bold) for instant Mexican chocolate flavor to your [insert desired sweet].  Or how about some peppermint extract?  Orange extract?  Get creative!

This makes absolutely delicious hot chocolate and is of course perfect for ice cream
!  I also use it with half/half, a pinch of sugar, and normal amount of coffee to make a wonderful mocha latte.  See you less frequently, Starbucks!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Super Smoothie Popsicles

What to do with leftover Super Smoothie?  I had a "Duh!" moment this morning as I bemoaned tossing such a wonderful thing.  Popsicles!  You've never met a more health-full popsicle in your life!

(Super smoothies for us include frozen fresh spinach, frozen blueberries and/or strawberries, 1/2 avocado, blueberry or strawberry Greek yogurt, banana, and milk.)

Please forgive the cracked trays.  The popsicles *might* be hard to get out sometimes...

Kid approved!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Pin-tip: Pesky Egg Shells

Pin-tip: A tip I found on Pinterest!

I hope that you never end up with both halves of an egg shell in your bowl.  But I might know someone who occasionally drops at least one half in while cracking eggs.  Just might.  However, I know that we all have occasionally gotten one or two little flakes of egg shell in the bowl while cracking eggs.  And how many seconds add up to minutes of wasted time trying to fish those pieces out of the slippery whites??  Frustrating!

Wet your finger.  Retrieve shell in 2 seconds flat.

I kid you not.  I did it this morning.  And was shell-shocked.

Bah-dum ching.

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Homemade Friday

What better to do on a really rainy Friday than try out some homemade stuff -- with all on hand ingredients (because who wants to go to the store with three kids in the rain...not that I could go anywhere since the van won't start...)?  :-)

Cheese Crackers

I followed/doubled the recipe.  The only changes I made were to add more water until a good dough formed, and I sprinkled a little natural salt on top before baking.  As a tip, cut parchment paper to the size of your baking sheet.  Roll out the dough to 1/8" thick along your parchment rectangle.  Use a pizza cutter to trim the edges straight and then slice it super quick into as big or little squares as you want!  Prick with fork if desired.  Pick up parchment and plop on baking sheet!  Verdict:  Eden and I really like them.  Elijah's on the fence.  Judah wouldn't even finish one.  They do have a bit of a "flour-y" taste to them, but a nice cheese taste (I used Open Nature medium cheddar).  Perhaps a sharp cheddar would make the cheese flavor pop even more!  And a hint of basil?

Snack Cookies (because we can't figure out what to call them...)

Can you call them "animal cookies" if you don't use animal shapes?  I can't.  I'm too technical.  These, along with the cheese crackers, were super easy!  They taste pretty much like a non-dressed up oatmeal cookie (before you add spices, mix-ins).  After being stored in a container, they are pretty soft rather than cracker like.  A little too easy to eat, if you ask me.  ;-)  They also have a bit of a flour taste.  Next time, I will totally add cinnamon to them!  I followed/doubled the recipe exactly this time.  First tip, if you don't have a food processor, use your blender to pulse up the oatmeal and then mix the dry ingredients in a bowl.  Use a pastry blender to cut in the butter.  Second tip, clean your counter, flour it, and roll out all the dough at once.  Use little cookie cutters (if you want to add an hour or more to your prep time) or get that bad boy pizza cutter out and roll away!  They WILL be squares next time.  Shapes will be a treat on occasion!  Whew!

Hand Sanitizer

Does anyone else have a child who has a fetish for "being like mommy" and filling the soap dispensers with water?  The most recent casualty was a bottle of hand sanitizer.  I figured, surely, someone somewhere has made homemade hand sanitizer.  I mean, if it has alcohol, it kills germs, right?  So I found a super simple "recipe" - equal parts real aloe and ~90% rubbing alcohol.  I added 15 drops sweet orange essential oil and a few drops tea tree oil.  Shake it up, shake it up, until it gels together.  It's PERFECT!  My hands were so soft after I used it and not one lick of "medicinal" smell!  I just need affirmation that since half of it is alcohol, it gets the job done.  :-)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Pinteresting Successes: Hard "Baked" Eggs and Hairstyle

Remember, Pinterest is a time waster unless you USE what you pin!  Don't be an idea hoarder.  Be an idea implementer!  Then you can maybe justify the silly boards that don't have actual ideas pinned... ;-)  Self control!

Alton Brown's Hard "Baked" Eggs

I love hard boiled eggs.  I don't love heating up and messing with an entire pot of boiling water and a bowl of ice and peeling the eggs and... It's just not worth it to me.  But I saw this idea someone posted that Alton Brown (a Food Network chef/food scientist...talk about a cool job!) bakes his eggs.  Now, this is near and dear to me as I also learned from Alton to bake yer bacon.  That transformed my chef life.  Really and truly.  Anyway, bake eggs too!  Preheat oven to 325, place eggs straight on your mid-level oven rack to fit with the wires so they are cradled, and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove with spring-loaded tongs or a hot pad.  Submerge in ice water 10 minutes.  Peel under lukewarm running water (if desired) and ice them until cool.  These eggs were definitely easier to peel than boiled eggs AND they have a softer texture, less dry.  I'm sold.  :-)

Greek Goddess Hairstyle

Our church recently had it's annual Sweetheart Dinner.  Such a lovely time with the Hubz having a meal with friends and then dancing.  Because of my health and current arm jewelry (an IV line!), I really didn't feel up to getting all decked out like I usually do.  I admit, it's been nice to not care as much!  :-)  So we went nice casual, and I decided that I would try to play up my hair to fit my semi-Grecian cotton oh-so-comfy maxi dress.  I found a Pin, watched the YouTube video...and attempted.  :-)  I got as far as the "lace braids" which were easier than I anticipated...and then gave up and did my own thing.  My hair is SOOO much longer than hers, and it just didn't work for me to do it by myself with an IV hooked to my arm.  :-P  So this is a half-success but success kind of Pinterest trial.  If you watch the video...

1) Like her, I side parted the front sections and did put up the rest to keep it out of the way for the lace braid part.

2) I did the lace braid on BOTH sides of my part towards the back of my head rather than doing one all the way around and pinning.  Once I got to my ear, my hands had no idea how on earth to hold the braid and keep going.  :-P  So, at each of my ears, I just braided the tail by itself and tied it off.  It looked pretty funny.  Pippy, anyone?

3) This is where I abandoned her tutorial.  It ended up looking fine after I took all the rest of my hair and finished it with a messy ponytail pinned into a messy-bun look.  Then I swept the tails of the lace braids back and pinned them under the messy bun.  Added some good ol' hair spray.  Realized later that this style would lend itself beautifully to a thin shell/beaded necklace tucked in!

The BoNuS??  When I took it out after we got home, I realized that the lace braids can simply be swept up with the rest of my hair in a regular ponytail!  Such a cute, practical, and easy summer do!  I LOVE that none of my fly aways are brushing (read: itching) my face and that it's not just another humdrum ponytail "mommy" do.  I slept on it...and didn't have to do a thing this morning.  The sad part?  I didn't get a picture of the real up-do.  Ha!  There were others taking pictures, though, so hopefully someone will email me a few!  Here are several of my around-the-house day-after do.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Once A Month Cooking, Part 3

So you've made your month-long (or more) menu, shopped, and all that food is sitting in your kitchen.  Don't be overwhelmed!  Be thankful!  Put the pantry/cabinet items away.  Group your meats and produces according to kind.  If you know you can't cook multiple meats at once, choose which one you want to start with and put the rest in the fridge for safe keeping.  Make sure your recipes are handy so you can consult them.

I used a small white board I keep on my fridge to figure out how much of each kind of meat to cook in what particular fashion for which meals and how many of those meals.  Too confusing to follow?  :-P  Similar to this for ground beef...

Plain ground beef - 2 lbs (Spanish Rice x 2)
Pepper/onion ground beef - 3 lb (Spaghetti x 2 half pounds, Chili x 2)
Taco Season ground beef - 4 lbs (Tacos x 2, Taco Salad x 2)
Meatloaf - 2 lbs (Meatloaf x 2)
Hamburgers - 2 lbs (Hamburgers x 2)

Or this for chicken...

Boiled/cubed chicken - 4 breasts (Chicken Tortilla Chili x 2)
BBQ Chicken, shredded - 8 breasts (BBQ Chicken sandwiches x 2)
Raw, cubed - 10 breasts (Honey Soy Chicken x 2)
Raw, cubed - 6 breasts (Chicken Broccoli Parmesan x 2)

And so on.  If you have questions about this, just ask!  These lists were helpful to keep track of what exactly I was doing.  Once I had two pounds of plain ground beef cooked up, I knew to divide it into 2 ziplocs labeled "Spanish Rice."  Then, on Spanish Rice Casserole night, I just take out one pack of frozen plain ground beef.  Or for the Honey Soy Chicken, I cube 10 breasts and divide them between 2 ziplocs labeled "Honey Soy Chicken," make up a double batch of the marinade and divide into the two bags of raw cubed chicken.  Zip 'n freeze!  For the Chicken Broccoli Parmesan, I got my HUGE red bowl (Thanks, Nonie!  Grandmas know what a kitchen needs!) and threw the 6 raw cubed chicken breasts in along with all the other casserole ingredients and froze it in 9x13 pans.  You probably have more questions now that I've tried to explain.  Like I said, I winged it!  I know some people like step-by-step instructions to get a feel for how someone did something, so at the risk of being wordy and even more confusing...here is a run-down of how to actually do the cooking without making a huge mess.  :-)

Meatloaf:  Mix up two pounds according to my recipe and place in parchment lined loaf pan.  Cover with foil and freeze for a few hours until very firm.  Remove from freezer and cut in half with a sharp knife -- careful!  Wrap the two halves and put back in freezer.  You can then pull out a meatloaf half the night before and pop it in your loaf pan (since it fits perfectly because you froze it in that pan).  I forgot to do that, and it still baked up beautifully but took twice as long.

Open it up, plop it in the pan.  I happened to already have some fresh carrots I chopped and froze, so I just baked those (covered) right along with the meatloaf.  If you like meatloaf but don't have a meatloaf pan, GET ONE.  It keeps your meatloaf from swimming in grease which 1) is healthier, 2) allows the loaf to get crispy on more sides than just the top!

Ground Beef:  Use one pan and do batches!  Cook your plain ground beef batch, drain and let it sit for a bit to cool before you divide for freezing.  While it cools, cook your next "plain-est" batch, in this case, with peppers and onions for spaghetti and chili.  Just before it's done, divide up your plain ground beef into labeled ziplocs to free up your strainer.  Then drain the pepper/onion ground beef and let cool while you cook up your four pounds of taco seasoned ground beef.  No need to even wipe the pan because you're moving from least seasoned to most seasoned.  Before your taco meat is done, divide up the pepper/onion ground beef to free up your strainer once again.  Drain your taco meat, cool, divide.  You just made meat for 9 meals!  If you made up your meatloaf while your ground beef was cooking, then you just made meat for 11 meals!  How easy was that??  And all you have to wash is the ground beef pan and the bowl you used to mix your meatloaf.

Chicken:  Boil in batches for those meals that need cooked chicken.  Cube or shred and combine with whatever the recipe calls for.  Cool before cubing; shred while warm.  It's easy that way!  While you're boiling your chicken, cube up the raw chicken and prep their labeled ziplocs for freezing (marinades where applicable).  Again, multiple meals done and frozen, just like that!  One pan used for boiling, one cutting board for raw chicken, and one for cutting cooked chicken.

I know there are other OAMChefs who get into chopping and freezing the veggies to go with that dinner, but I didn't prefer to do that.  I'd rather get fresh produce each week when I need the regular milk, bread, and such.  I did however get big bags of frozen broccoli for a few of the meals, and I do use some canned vegetables/beans.  But everything else is purchased and used fresh.  Here are a couple pics of my freezer when I was stocking the shelves.

Frozen, foil-wrapped casseroles and lasagnas.  More on that in the next post.

Shepherd's pie, chicken pot pie (that failed), honey soy chicken in it's marinade...and more!  There are
about 6-7 meals in this one little picture.  Main dishes of course.  Because really, who has a big enough
freezer to fit 36 meals of main dish AND sides all together?  :-)

Roasts and chickens and meatloafs, oh my!

Next up, how to freeze casseroles without losing your pan for weeks!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Pinterest Success: Buckeye Brownies

Buckeyes: chocolate covered peanut butter balls.

Brownies: self-explanatory.

Together?  Uh, can we say YUM??  :-)

The Recipe

My Results.  I apologize for the picture quality.  Taking pics in our home at night with an iPhone never makes for quality.  Also, I'd love to know how the recipe's author cut hers so perfectly!  :-)  They eat the same, though!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Once A Month Cooking, Part 2

How I Began

I first started by sitting down to make a master list of my family's favorite meals.  I just thought it through without looking at cookbooks or online recipes.  That way I knew it would be the TOP favorite meals and the most go-to dishes.  I didn't think it would be many, but I ended up with 18!  I realized I could stop there, but that wasn't quite a month.  So why not double 18 and end up with more than a month rather than think up more meals?  Wouldn't that be nice??  I printed out a table with all of the meals to have on my fridge.  I did NOT use a calendar or date the boxes of the table.  Leftovers are bound to become a meal, and what if I wanted to try a new recipe one week or we ate somewhere else one night?  Then the whole dated meals would be thrown off.  This way, I could just move through the meals one at a time.

My 36 Meals... Fish 'n Chips was added as a reminder Hubz likes it.
So I might throw it in somewhere for his sake.
Do feel free to read through the meals if you want ideas of what can be done!
Once I had my menu, I then began the monumental-but-doable task of assembling my grocery list.  I made up a blank list with categories based upon my grocery store's layout (something I use every time I shop).  Then I went through each recipe, writing down the double amounts of each food item in the right category.  Only write down ingredients that will not perish: meats to freeze, canned goods, pasta, baking supplies, spices, etc.  (You'll buy produce and other perishable ingredients each week.)  Then if a food item repeats in recipes, just increase the amount on your list.  Very basic and easy, just time consuming.  At the end, you'll have what might be the biggest grocery list you've ever made.  But that's ok!  Think of how little time and money you'll spend at the store for the rest of the month!

Before I started the grocery list, I went through on my table and penciled in how much meat each meal would use on the first 18 meals.  I would use 4 chicken breasts for BBQ Chicken x 2 would mean I 'd need 8 chicken breasts on my grocery list for two meals of BBQ Chicken.  Spaghetti would use 1/2 pound hamburger x 2 meals, so I needed 1 pound of hamburger for two meals of spaghetti.  And so on.  I hope this isn't confusing anyone!  Do what works for your brain.  It just made it easier for me to add up the meat poundage for my list AND know how much to allocate to each freezer meal once I had it home for preparation.  'Twould be a shame to get all that meat home and not remember how many pounds went with each meal.  Talk about feeling lost!

Initial Tips

1) Make sure you don't make more meals than your freezer can hold!  If we hadn't had an extra fridge in our garage from when friends were living with us, I would have gotten seriously stuck in this process!  I hadn't even though about how much our freezer would hold (or not).  :-)  After we had been through a few days of meals, I was able to fit it all in our own freezer.  Whew!  And we got rid of the extra fridge... so I need to really think through storage space for my next OAMC!

2) Be sure to purchase storage items: parchment paper, aluminum foil, freezer zip-top bags in both gallon and quart size.  It is also helpful to have a cookie sheet that will fit into your freezer.  This helps liquids in zip-top bags freeze flat instead of with ridges from the wire shelves.

3) Carve out a good chunk of hours for the shopping and cooking.  I did my shopping and cooking over two days, and it ended up being about 12 hours total for work time.  It would have been a bit more if I hadn't forgotten to purchase the Italian sausage for the lasagna.  So add maybe 2 hours (my sauce simmers for 1.5 hours).

4) Figure out which part of the recipes you can prep/freeze.  Here are a few examples:

  • Asian Beef w/ Broccoli & Rice: roast can be frozen in zip-top bag with marinade; prep frozen broccoli and rice day of.
  • Chicken Pot Pie, Fruit:  filling can be made and frozen (do NOT freeze raw potatoes...subtract two meals from my menu above); pie crusts can be frozen or made day of; purchase fruit week of.
  • Spaghetti, Salad, Garlic Bread:  sauce and garlic bread can be made and frozen; prep noodles, salad day of.
  • Chicken Tortilla Chili: chicken can be boiled, cubed, then frozen; combine with canned goods and broth day of.  (beans can also be made and frozen if canned is not desired)
So now would be a time to get started on your own menu if you're interesting in trying this!  Go in easy.  Think of meals today, and write them down.  Do your list on another day.  Plan your shopping the next day.  How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.  :-)

Next, I'll talk about a few tips on how to cook and freeze all the food!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Once a Month Cooking, Part 1

Food and drink.  Necessary for survival.  A blessing to be enjoyed.  And something to plan for!  Let me start by saying I feel quite inferior to the other blog posts and articles I've read about this "Once a Month Cooking" shindig.  It's cropping up everywhere on Pinterest it seems.  I've only tried it once, used my own recipes, and sort of just winged it.  How's it going now that I'm about two weeks in?  WONDERFUL!!!  Several friends have been interested in how I did it, so I thought I would share some of the basics from a non-professional OAMCook.  :-)

Why I Tried It

Because of all that has happened in the last few months for my family, there has been much good and bad stress.  On top of that, fatigue from life's duties and increased fatigue from my current MS flare have made it harder to function as a meal manager.  Spending brain power on menus and grocery lists proves to be a daunting task that takes longer than it used to.  Physically going shopping each week (sometimes with three kids in tow) and cooking every afternoon is hard on my back and energy level.  I began to loathe it all: the menu planning, the shopping, the cooking...  It made my impatience during the Valley of the Shadow (4:30 - 6:00 pm... you moms know what I mean) worse.  I'd be angry if my Hubz had to say he'd be later than planned (poor guy!).  I didn't enjoy creating food that would satisfy my family and make them smile -- I've always loved that about feeding people.  Something had to change even though I had tried several methods to make it easier.  So I got my Hubz on board with the OAMC idea (it's a bigger hit to the finances since it's all at once) and got the gusto to actually do it one weekend (Jan 28-29, '13).

Already Realized Benefits

1) I can't even begin to explain the burden that has been lifted from the Valley of the Shadow!  It's incredible.  Because there is much less prep that has to go into dinner, I have this strange time now that I can do...whatever!  I can say YES to reading a book or playing outside or sitting and snuggling with a groggy little girl who woke from her nap.  I don't have to be so tempted to use the Electronic Babysitter to keep them occupied without a fuss because I can be WITH my kids.  I can SIT down for a while instead of standing in the kitchen for an hour or more.  I can REST at the dinner table when we gather 'round rather than collapse in the chair with a sigh of relief that cooking is over.

2) The amount of brain power needed for meal management has been drastically reduced.  Slower cognition is actually a flare symptom of MS.  I've not talked to anyone except my doctor and those very close to me about it, and it's humbling to admit because it makes you feel stupid or forgetful or disorganized in front of others.  Very humbling, especially the disorganized part.  I think I'd rather limp or have a hand tremor.  Time to fess up.  I have experienced slower cognition over the last several months, some days much worse than others.  I think that, combined with the extra fatigue, is precisely what made meal management become SUCH a mental chore that I dreaded.  It actually makes me a little choked up when I think about how much more free I feel mentally when it comes to feeding my family.  Again, a huge burden - lifted.

3) Hubz had a good point.  With these meals made and frozen, should we choose to take a meal to someone (which we used to do often!) ... there's no extra prep or purchases necessary!  Gotta admit though, my knee-jerk reaction to that was selfishness.  "But if we take a meal to someone, that means one less meal for me not to plan!"  Silly Dawn.  Be generous!

Remaining Questions

1) How will the food budget at the end of using the meals compare to weekly planning/shopping?  Will we have come out ahead, the same, or will more have been spent?  My hypothesis is either ahead since more can be bought in bulk theoretically saving more, or it will be the same.  If we end up spending more, I think it will be because shorter grocery lists can sometimes give rise to feeling like you have more wiggle room to spend week-to-week.

2) Just how long will this last?  I think I was still used to cooking for two families when I made my list, or I had forgotten the exact amount my family eats by itself.  Several of our meals have extended into two dinners or even three  (Roast/veggies, leftovers, then a beef pot pie).  So making a date-less table already paid off (explanation in Part 2)!  I started out with 36 meals, and we have already gone beyond that.  This may end up being Once A 1.5 to 2 Months Cooking!

Next, I'll talk about what I did to prepare for OAMC!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Allrecipes Trial: Mouse's Macaroni & Cheese

Allrecipes and Pinterest.  Two sites I love to get new recipes from.  My most recent trial was Mouse's Macaroni & Cheese.  My Hubz had a potluck lunch at work and requested that I make macaroni & cheese... with the specification that he wanted it to be smooth and cheesy.  As in not the recipe I instantly got giddy to make (Ma Meador's Mac!) which is the down-home Southern type.  As in... more of the Velveeta type.  ::grin::  Some people just like the typical American way better -- processed.  And I admit, it sure is indulgent and tasty!  Just not the best for every day.

I doubled the recipe which made it fit nicely in a 9x13.  The only change I made was to use 2 lb of Velveeta rather than half American and half Velveeta.  Really... aren't they the same?  I actually Wikepeida-ed it.  Velveeta is indeed an American cheese, but it is made in such a way to melt more smoothly than regular American.  Who knew?

The biggest tip from the reviews that rang true for me is NOT to add more pasta.  When you first mix the partially cooked pasta and the cheese sauce, it's a soup.  But by baking it in the oven, the pasta finishes cooking by absorbing some of the cheese sauce and you end up with the creamiest mac!  I topped it with a bit of shredded mild cheddar once it came out of the oven.

Here is the doubled, slightly edited recipe:

Mouse's Macaroni & Cheese

3 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
1/2 cup butter
4 Tbs flour
2 tsp mustard powder
2 tsp ground black pepper (I used about 1.5 tsp)
4 cups milk
2 lb Velveeta, cubed
1/2 cup seasoned dry bread crumbs (I substituted shredded cheddar)

Preheat oven to 400*.  Butter a 9x13 casserole dish.  Bring a saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil.  Add macaroni, and cook until not quite done, about 6 minutes.  Drain.

In a separate saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Blend in the flour, mustard powder, and pepper until smooth.  Slowly stir in the milk, beating out any lumps.  Add the cubed Velveeta cheese, and stir constantly until the sauce is thick and smooth.

Drain noodles, and stir them into the cheese sauce.  Transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole dish.  Sprinkle bread crumbs over the top (optional).

Cover the dish, and bake 20-25 minutes, or until the sauce is thick and bubbly.  Top with shredded cheddar (optional).

I just saw that I forgot to cover my dish to bake.  Oh well!  It worked out fine anyway!  :-)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Holiday Decorating Simplified

Do you realize there is a "major" holiday nearly every month?  I really like holidays, all of them.  Well, most of them.  I like decorating for the holidays, but I'm not very creative.  To be even more honest, I'm lazy.  Dawn doesn't do a lot of decorating either, but her excuse is that lots of decor looks cluttered which is not her preference. And we all know more decor means more storage space needed.  We both prefer to just do little touches of festivity for the bigger holidays except one...  Christmas is the only holiday I go all out and decorate multiple rooms in the house and the one in which Dawn uses more decor than just little touches.  Though I confess, I find it a chore...mostly the putting everything away after Christmas.  (Boy, do I sound like a downer??)  Despite the laziness, I do like to decorate for the biggest holidays...Valentine's Day being one of them!  So I thought I would show you how I decorate quickly and easily for Valentine's Day.  You could do this for any holiday.  If you want to plan for the future -- and save money!! -- wait until after the holiday and purchase decor when it is on mega-sale.  So here are my little Valentine's Day decorations!

I have a pair of decorative salt and pepper shakers.  They are difficult to fill because the hole
on the bottom is quite small.  Here's a simple tip to fill them without making a mess!
Take a small piece of tape and cover the holes.
If you don't, you may have a "duh" moment when you turn it over.  :-)
Next, place your tape-covered shaker in a container to keep it propped up.
Put in a small funnel, add salt or pepper, replace the stopper.  You're ready to go!

Salt and pepper shakers are only one part of my decor.  I have
these clear glass floating candle holders.  They are wonderfully versatile!  
Whichever the holiday, I can usually find something to fill
the candles holders.  For Valentine's Day, I use "conversation
hearts."  I would use chocolate...but it would get eaten.  :)
I have had these hearts for four years.  They just don't go bad!
I add the salt and pepper shakers to the candle holders and
end up with a nice little centerpiece for dining room table.

The only other places I have decor are on my front door and in my kitchen.  Wreaths are easy to switch out and offer guests (and yourself!) a festive entrance to your home.  Kitchen towels are a super easy way to keep a touch of fun with the functional!

Using simple decorations like these allows your home to be a touch decorated and festive for the holidays without all the fuss 'n muss and expense.  AND... it's easy to clean up, put away, and switch out for the next holiday!  What are some ways you decorate for the holidays?  Which is your favorite holiday to decorate for?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

One Week Down

Month of Freezer Meals...

LOVE.  After one week, both my Hubz and I have noticed how much smoother things run.  Especially in that Valley of the Shadow between 4:30 and 6:00.  I know I'm not the only SAHM that knows how hard those hours are!  With at least the main part of the meal already prepped, so much stress is taken off of that part of the day.  Hubz even had to call one night to say he'd be home an hour later.  Normally, I would NOT be happy with that but would try to suck it up and push through, desperate for help to come home.  This time?  "Ok, that's fine!  See you then!"  Because I knew that dinner prep/cooking was not going to be a big ordeal.  Dishes have greatly been reduced post-dinner which frees up time for family.  Oh, and reduced prep means more time to just chill with my kids.  Another bonus?  I had all of 8 items on my grocery list for this week.  Crazy!  I totally can do 8 items with 3 kids if I choose to go mid-week.  And I didn't have to use brain power to come up with a menu and list -- can't tell you how huge that is since quick thinking hasn't been one of my fortes the last few months.  Summary: We are lovin' it!

Health & Fitness...

This week saw me stepping out like never before to truly be disciplined with what I eat and exercise for both health and internal wellness.  I feel a strong need to get my body into good shape for the future since MS is unpredictable in it's timing and symptoms.  It has gone WONDERFULLY!  I attribute the new found discipline to making it a spiritual endeavor this time around.  Actually praying and asking God to help me choice by choice, day by day (with a few friends also praying for me!).  He is faithful to answer!  I also was led to My Fitness Pal, a website that helps you track food and exercise.  I checked into it -- and it is amazing!  I have never counted calories before, and it has turned into a challenge for me.  It also really helps the discipline with what I eat.  I can also plan out my day and "save" calories if I know of something I'll want to eat later (i.e. a restaurant where an MS seminar is held or Super Bowl snacks...).  My Fitness Pal also has an app which has been helpful when I can't sit on my computer.  If you are wanting to lose weight or are already working on it or you just want to see how many calories/nutrients you regularly eat, you should try it out!  It's free!  Within the calorie counting, I have also made sure to keep sugar intake extremely low and keep carbs/dairy on the lower side but NOT out completely.  My body still needs the nutrients found in them!

Weekly Tips...

* Do NOT freeze raw potatoes.  They turn BLACK and soft as well as leak liquid all in the container/foods they are in.  There goes both my chicken pot pies for the month.  :-P

* Buy your local grocery store's deli pizzas when they are on a good sale. Snip in half, plastic and all, with kitchen shears and wrap with foil.  They'll fit in your freezer for one of those nights and save you money!  Safeway's deli pizzas are big and go on sale for $5.00.  Two for $10 is better than any Pizza Hut special!

* Top Doritoes with shredded pepper jack and heat either in the oven or microwave.  YUM!  Thank you, Super Bowl, for the opportunity to have one of our favorite snacks!

Monday, January 28, 2013


Obviously, from our last post, readers can see that life was in a bit of an upheaval.  That was...[checking files]...October 18.  It's January 28 today.  Oh well!  I was indeed diagnosed with MS and in addition to some back trouble, I have had more doctors' appointments than I can count (and they aren't over just yet).  MS and its symptoms/appointments, plus having a dear church planting family live with us plus homeschooling meant that any extra time and mental capacity I had was usually spent resting!  I'm not giving up on posting, so I hope our readers don't either!  I may not post AS often due to life, but I'm gonna try.  :-)

That said, I have no idea what to post for today!   :-)

I have been thinking a lot about how fun it is to USE the things I pin on Pinterest.  I saw an idea to try to implement at least one thing you post on Pinterest each week.  It's a nice goal and ensures that you are not on Pinterest JUST to waste time.  ;-)  I have been able to do small things -- tying a scarf in a new way, trying a hairstyle, a different recipe, a chores/reward method.  It's fun to use the ideas, whether they work or not.  You know what they say, "You'll never know if you don't try!"  I think it's also good for the brain.  We home managers can get so stuck in a rut sometimes that we are tempted to see life as boring and humdrum, becoming discontent with the same ol' same ol'.  But, throw in one twist however small or large each week, and you've upended "routine" -- and perhaps found a really cool new way of doing something!

My latest endeavor, inspired by Pinterest and a good friend, was to shop and prep/freeze meals for several weeks.  Most of the articles I saw started small with 2 weeks.  I figured, if you can do 2 weeks, why not double your recipes and then you have a whole month!  So I did.  :-)  Hopefully in a near future post, I'll be able to give you the basics of what I did to show you that it really isn't as daunting as it may seem as well as update as to how I like this way of meal management.

Enjoy your family today!