Friday, February 27, 2009

The Control Journal: Routines

Do stay-at-home moms have guilt? You bet we do. Just as mothers who work outside of the home have a myriad of reasons to carry a load of guilt around, those of us who have chosen to stay at home and raise our children can pack the guilt on as well.

In my opinion, one of the biggest drains on the emotional well being of a stay-at-home mom is feeling guilty that we are not spending enough time taking care of our responsibilities there. First there are our children whom are the reason we are home. We might be home educating them. There very likely could be work-at-home jobs going on in the background. We generally have the responsibility of maintaining the organization and cleanliness of the home. Someone needs to be shopping and preparing meals,handle errands and doctors appointments, and make sure the dog is walked or even that the livestock is fed. There are our kids extra-curricular activities, church activities, perhaps caring for our parents affairs, and oh yes our husbands. The list just goes on.

So what's one to do? Once again I turn credit over to Marla Ciley, the FlyLady, for opening up my eyes to the perfectionism that tries to creep into our lives and tell us that we're not doing it 'right'. Sometimes that just leads to procrastination which will make the cycle vicious. We want our time at home to be be the perfect mother, wife, homemaker. But life is life and every day can bring its own twist. The best laid plans can fall apart before we know it. I've been all over the gamet from scheduling every last minute of everyone's time to the nth second to a totally laissez-faire attitude. Neither do much for easing the guilt that you aren't doing enough.

At FlyLady's urging, I put together a list of those things that I feel are absolutes to accomplish every day. Marla calls them routines and keeps them grouped together by morning, noon, etc. in her control journal. I took this a step further and broke those activities down into four groups: household chores, home educating, my part-time work at home, and time for me. On a grand 24-hour scale, I put all of my necessary tasks under each heading and assigned each one a probable length of time to complete. For all of the feelings that the kids weren't getting enough time with mom or that household work was getting slighted, I found out that each of those four areas were getting just about equal treatment. I just hadn't been able to 'see' it on paper and had let it get the best of me.

If you're prone to feeling that certain aspects of your stay-at-home mom life aren't where they should, then I challenge you to take the time to pencil things out. See if you've got a reasonable balance between your unique responsibilities. If your routines need tweaked, then take a stab at correcting that. My four-column list is now in my control journal. I listed each item chronologically according to its timing under each heading and refer to it daily. Slipped inside a sheet protector, I can track where I am with a dry erase marker and see where I am at any point in the day. We are all unique and everyone's list will look different, but I can assure you that this will make a difference in your approach to your responsibilities at home.

I've done a little more fine tuning as to how I move from one list item to the next, but since I've rambled on quite enough here, I'll leave that for a future post. Until then, get out pencil and paper and list those essential things that you'd like to see accomplished in your and your family's lives each day, categorize them, give them a rough amount of time to complete, string them into chronological order, and see that you really can strike a balance.

Related Posts:

What's with the FlyLady?
Control Journal: Fifteen Minutes of Focus
Control Journal: Baby Steps

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Homemade Play Clay

Who doesn't remember that lovely tactile feeling of squishing something warm through their fingers as a child? Some of us have more than likely never outgrown it. Enter homemade play clay for your children. Here in the Northwest the kids don't even consider playing outside during our wet and cold winters much. In fact caring for the outside animals is just about all they can take. So we look for plenty of indoor activities to fill the time once 'official' school is done. This play clay recipe lasts an incredibly long time and is truly best enjoyed right after it is finished. It will slowly dry to a hard consistency if you care to air dry it, but keeping it tightly sealed while not using it is best. I've extended its shelf-life by keeping it in the refrig, but it's really not necessary. The original recipe gave it a life of two to four weeks, but I've never really tracked it. Here goes:

Homemade Play Clay

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup water
1/2 cup salt
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
food coloring

Mix together all ingredients except for the food coloring over medium heat in a heavy saucepan. Stir together as thoroughly as you can at this point. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly. It will begin to thicken, and then get thicker, and then so thick that it is pulling off of the sides of the pan and you just can't stir anymore ... really! Just be sure to try and get down to the bottom of the pan while you're stirring. Your pan is going to look like it has crusties all over the sides, but don't panic. You'll just let it soak in water for awhile and it will all loosen up. Once the dough has come together into a fairly well-formed ball, the cooking stage is done.

Take the pan off of the heat and turn the dough out onto a heat-safe surface. Let it cool slightly, but half of the fun is kneading it while it's still warm.

Once you're safely able to handle the dough, call the kids and start kneading it as if you were working with bread dough. Never kneaded bread dough before? Then just push your palm into the dough to flatten, then fold it over on itself and repeat. It will go from hot and sticky to warm, smooth, and pliable before you know it.

If you want color in your dough, now is the time to dribble a few drops onto the dough and knead the color it. Now here's the caution: wet food coloring drops will stain whatever they come into contact with such as your hands, your kids hands, and even the counter before it has been mixed in. So think ahead. Work on a baking sheet and put your hands inside baggies if you're worrried.

That's it. Be sure to enjoy it while it's still warm and get creative.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Food pyramid for moms

I only wish I could have taken the credit for coming up with this little gem. It is so true. It has been pasted on the inside of my pantry door for years now ... one of those things that your eyes just glaze over because it has always been there. Its point has been well taken, so it may just have to come down now. Things aren't quite as intense in the food pyramid department as they once were as my toddler is now a preschooler, but some aspects are still relevant.

Caffeine/Analgesics still seem to take priority over all.

Leftovers for breakfast and lunch still take precedent ... cold pizza for breakfast is fantastic!

Grains. We no longer honor the 5-second or even 1-second rule in our house for every dry foods like goldfish crackers ... topic for another post.

And yes, fantasy foods are rare and far between unless I concoct them.

Give-aways. I'm not sure about giving away that last spoonful of my Ben and Jerry's Coffee Heath Bar Crunch ice cream to someone else. Gotta draw the line somewhere!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Perplexing purse swapping solution solved

I have to admit that I used to be one of those ladies who packed everything including the kitchen sink into my voluminous purse for the just-in-case moments. Somewhat justifiable when toting babies or toddlers around. I might have had it with me, but the real question was whether I could find it. Been there before?

After my children no longer needed me to haul their stuff around, I did downsize my purse but still had just about everything I could possible need in it. And had the same problem of not being able to find it. Need keys in a hurry? Forget it. Locate a simple tube of chap stick? No way.

Enter a solution that I cannot take credit for, but will take credit for instigating: dollar store zippered cosmetic bags. I have one for:

* pens, pencil, post-in notes, small notepad
* basic cosmetic supplies like pressed powder, compact mirror, etc.
* feminine products
* just-in-case items such as band aids, contact eye solution, sample lotions, Kleenex, emery board, Advil, chap stick, multi purpose tool, tape measure, dental floss, small sewing kit, cough drops
* small hairbrush and pony tail holders

Throw these into your purse will a wallet, cell phone, and keys and you're set. No fumbling around looking for tiny items again. I even keep a small zippered pouch for loose change and small bills. On a day-to-day basis I don't keep all of these bags in my purse as several of them just stay in my "mommy missile's" center console. I just grab the ones that I might need when I leave the vehicle. Just this little step has simplified life in a big way.

What about purse swapping? Just how easy is it to change out your purse with this system? I'm sure you get the picture. It's no trouble at all. In trying to kick up my style just a bit, I've picked up a couple of purses in colors other than basic black. If the one I'm using will clash terribly with what I have on, it's a simple matter to just switch over.

Trust me and try this. You'll love it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Kids are here!

Or should I say,the first kid is here. Check out the story at our farm blog Abernethy Creek Farm for the whole scoop and pictures to boot.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mock Cheesecake Parfaits

I'm a genius...or so my two youngest kids, H-Bob and Goat Princess, told me last night. We don't usually serve dessert as such at dinner, but I will at times put together something for an evening snack. With two teenagers in the home as well, we need to have a constant supply of food. I'm not fond of packaged and prepared foods, so that leaves me with the task of putting together something on my own...which I do honestly love to do given time and the right frame of mind.

Back to the genius part. We pick and freeze a lot of berries over the summer, so I tend to incorporate them into as much as possible...need to push those fruits somehow. This recipe was a conglomeration from a couple different things I had scribble down previously. I must was steller and quick and simple and fairly healthy as well. Try it out.

Mock Cheesecake Parfaits

serves 6

8 ounces cream cheese - I used a low-fat variety
1/2 cup sour cream - once again, we use low-fat
1/2 cup powdered suguar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 to 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (optional)
3/4 cup finely crushed graham crackers
3 cups frozen berries

Using a mixer, thoroughly combine the cream cheese and sour cream until it is pretty light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest. Incorporate with mixer until smooth.

To get genius points from your family, pull out six parfait glasses or clear drinkware. Otherwise, any individual serving bowls/cups will work fine.
Start creating layers by putting in fruit, spoonful of cheesecake mixture, then topping with a tablespoon of the crumbs. Repeat.

If there a few berries left over, sprinkle them over the top.

That's it. Let them set out for 30 minutes or so for the berries to soften and then serve.

Note - I love flexible recipes. If you don't have graham crackers on hand, try vanilla wafers or even crumbled sugar cookies.

No lemon zest, you could try orange or lime or even just leave it out. I zest any lemon that comes into the house just before using the juice and pop the zest into the freezer in a baggies just for occasions just as this.

And lastly, use whatever berries you have on hand. We happened to use strawberries for that authentic cheesecake experience. Come summertime, we'll probably use fresh ones as well.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The three-sport high school athlete

That's a mouthful you say. What does it mean? Well to our 15-year-old son it means beginning football practice in July, practicing in the heat of the summer through August with double daily practices during the last week. Practices usually run three hours a day. It means games starting in September when school starts and running through October. Because you're playing with a group of boys that have been together since the 3rd and 4th grade and have been fortunate to have wonderful coaches, it means that you come away from the season only having lost one game. Not bad. If you are lucky enough to be asked to practice and suit up with the varsity team during playoffs as he was, that means you add an extra week to the season (they lost their first round playoff game.)

During that time basketball tryouts are in full swing, and their practices begin promptly in November. Games start in December and keep going through mid-March. Now if you're 6'2" and pretty talented as our son is, you're asked to practice with the varsity team for three hours every day and even get invited to go with them on their Invitational trip to Hawaii just before Christmas. You play the freshman games and then suit up for the varsity games. You end up sitting on the bench for all but the last few minutes of each game, but hey, you might get a statistic for the record. Still not bad for a freshman whose team has won almost every one of their games for the last three or four years. The varsity team is doing pretty good as well, so there could be hope that he'll be a part of a successful playoff team. You can never forget that your practice with the team contributes to their success regardless of how much playing time you actually get.

Well, that's takes us up to where we are today...the beginning of lacrosse season. Yes, he plays that as well. Practices are actually going on now, but with basketball season still going, they'll just have to wait. I'm certain the day the varsity team finishes up the last of their games, he'll be packing his lacrosse stick to school. Games will run through mid-June and then we'll be back full circle.

So what does that mean to parents and siblings of a talented athlete? Well we do our fair share of fundraising - school budgets don't cover much of anything. We both try to make all of the games, home or away. We work snack shacks. We're part of booster clubs. We schedule family activities around games. We've also met great families that we've been close to since 4th grade. But that is his passion, and we're here for him. His hopes and ambitions include full-ride sports scholarships to the college of his dreams. Best guess is that he'll be part of the school's varsity teams for the next three years, and his exposure will grow.

Stay tuned, and someday we may be watching him on never can tell.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What's with the FlyLady?

Those were my words exactly when I first came across a reference to the FlyLady. What an odd name I thought ... what could she possibly have in common with flies? She explains where the nick-name came from on her site, but it has nothing to do with common house flies!

I took a peek at her website, and I was blown away. Marla Cilley, the FlyLady, has adapted and brought to a new level the writings of Pam and Peggy Young, the authors of the Sidetracked Home Executives among other titles. I used to watch them on our local morning show back when I did day care in my home with my first child about 18 years ago. They created a daily schedule based on 3x5 cards which I tried to follow as faithfully as possible for many, many years. It was a system that worked ... until toddlers started playing in the box ... or it fell over ... you get the picture. But the concept stuck with me. There even was a time my kids would joke with me, "Better put that on a 3x5, Mom."

I'm a born organized person, but with a hubby with 40-hour-plus job across town who also coaches youth sports plus four children to raise and homeschool, time has been my limiting factor. Pam and Peggy's system took the guilt away of knowing what needed to be done and broke it into manageable chunks every day. Not everything has to be done every day. Family is more important than keeping your home white-glove ready.

Back to the FlyLady. Pam and Peggy taught me how to organize my home but Marla's writings and Blog Talk Radio shows have taken my entire way of approaching my home executive position to a new level and made me think twice. After six months of being immersed in this way of thinking, I don't do the guilt-thing anymore. I don't consider myself a martyr. I've gotten rid of clutter in my home. As FlyLady says, "Clutter can't be organized." I drown out the negative stinking-thinking that tends to creep into our self-talk as we are about our daily lives.

People go to Marla for organization and home-cleaning tips but come away with more than that...a new perspective on our lives whether we work full-time, have the opportunity to be home with our kids, care for elderly parents, or home educate our children. Her positive attitude and Southern voice can't help but elevate your mood and put everything into perspective. If you haven't heard of her, check out what she has to offer. You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Homeschool journey

Hopefully this will just be a summary of a few thoughts that have been rattling around in my head lately. Thoughts of how my charts and forms oriented brain started homeschooling some 10+ years ago, of how organized my day was - with only a 2nd grader and preschooler, how motivated and fresh everything was. Flash forward to today with that 2nd grader graduated from high school and in community college, the preschooler enrolled in public high school as a freshman, and my two youngest in 6th and 1st grade. Things aren't the same now. We don't keep to the same rigid schedule though we do have a plan for the year. Hopefully we allow ourselves to take side journeys and explore hobbies and interests that we come across.

My youngest whom is in the tree above is a perfect example of how perhaps I've loosened up my approach to life in general. In my earlier parenting days I would have never told my kids to go ahead, figure out how to get up that tree, have fun. But I find myself there today, and my kids are loving it.

All in all, I keep coming back to the words of Charlotte Mason, an early educator whose writings I have followed at times, that all children need three things as they are growing up in order for them to succeed in life: someone or something to love, something to do, something to think about. If they have our love, the love of their God, or a special pet; if their chores about the house make them an integral part of the family; if they are presented with learning and information to spark their minds and creativity; then we are nurturing their souls, their character, and their minds. The rest will fall into place. What more could we ask for.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

It's all about the eggs

Yes it is all about the eggs, isn't it? Why else do we keep chickens. Since moving to our little place, we've had a hen or two on hand. The first was a throw-away Easter chicken that a friend of ours rescued in town and thought would live quite nicely out at our place. We had no chicken accommodations in the early days, so we put her out in the front pasture with our only other piece of livestock, a miniature Mediterranean donkey. Well "Daisy" the hen got pretty attached to "Holly" the donkey and soon started following her around everywhere. It was kinda cute. We put out a doghouse for her and that was where she slept. Then one day ... it happened ... screams from the front pasture and a small child running back to the house with a beautiful green egg in her hand. We were hooked and have been purchasing chicks at the feed store every year to keep ourselves in chickens.

I don't keep track anymore, but I think we have around 15 or so. They lay more than enough eggs for our use, so I usually try to sell the extra dozens for $3 or so. As you can see, some are Araucanas and lay the Easter colored eggs, but for the most part, the others that are laying the best right now are traditional breeds ... sexlinks, banties, and last year's buff orpingtons.

We allow the hens to hatch out eggs, or they do so on their own because we just don't know about it. The chicks that survived the natural course of events this year have all turned out to be roosters it would appear, so several of the following guys are going to have to go.

And another reason to keep poultry, the crowing. During the times we haven't had a rooster on the premises, we actually got to missing that sound and had to track one down to purchase. And by the way, it's only a bedtime story fallacy that roosters crow in the morning. First-hand evidence at our place indicates that roosters crow plentifully during all waking, and at times, non-waking hours.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Our Family's Homemade Granola

All right ... here it is ... the most amazing homemade and good for you granola recipe ever put down on paper. Or so at least I think, and I've tried a lot of them. The fantastic thing about the recipe is that it can be tailored to your liking or whatever you might have on hand ... walnuts or pecans ... dried cranberries or raisins ... apple juice or orange juice ... you name it.

The Northwest's Best Granola

1/4 cup fruit juice - apple, orange, or any 100% stuff
1 1/2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 teaspoons cinnamon
pinch of salt
3 cups old fashioned oatmeal - no instant stuff here
1 to 2 cups nuts - roughly broken into pieces or left whole for a decadent look
2 cups dried fruit - raisins, apples, apricots, anything goes

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Get out two rimmed baking sheets.

Stir together juice, oil, brown sugar, honey, cinnamon and salt. Stir in oatmeal and nuts. Mix together very thoroughly. Divide between both baking sheets trying to spread out evenly.

Place in oven and set timer for 15 minutes. At that time, give each pan a stir and rotate the pans. Keep checking the granola every five minutes or so and giving it a stir. Don't walk away at this point as it can go from golden to burnt very quickly.

Remove from oven and let cool completely in pans. Once thoroughly cool, add in dried fruit and mix together. Put into tightly covered container to maintain freshness.

This is sooooo good straight from the container, but of course goes well with milk or even on top of your favorite yogurt. Tastes great and is healthy for you too!

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Okay, what's up with buttemilk? Well, for one it's featured in such classic recipes as Buttermilk Biscuits, those wonderfully tender and flaky biscuits that we all crave at some point in time and Buttermilk Pancakes. Usually used in baking, buttermilk tends to produce what foodies would call a "tender crumb".

But where does it come from? Wikipedia describes it as a fermented dairy product. They identify two different processes whereby it is obtained. One is as the leftover product of producing butter. The milky liquid left behind is very low in fat, naturally acidic, and actually easier to digest than regular milk. The other is labeled cultured buttermilk and is the method whereby it is produced commercially. An acidic culture is added to 1%, 2% or even nonfat milk and the milk is allowed to "clabber" or thicken.

In our family, we go through stages of using buttermilk regularly, always in pancakes but also in scones, biscuits, and muffins. When we lived in town but I didn't get out much with the younger kids to shop as often, I would purchase a buttermilk powder to reconstitute with milk to use as buttermilk. It worked. Up until about a year ago, I would just grab a quart container off of the dairy shelf and call it good.

But all that was before we had dairy goats to milk and an abundance of wonderfully, fresh milk. That started my interest in what could be done with this milk. I found that buttermilk can be cultured at home so easily that it seemed silly to go out and purchase it any more.

Here's how it works:

Place one quart of milk, goat or whatever percent fat commerical milk you have on hand, in a clean sterilized quart jar. Leave about an inch headspace when filling the jar. To that add 1/2 cup buttermilk. This can be from a commercial batch as long as it is fresh and the label says cultured. Top off with a sterilized lid and give it all a good shake. Now this seems scary, but leave it on the counter at 70-86 degrees for 12 hours or so. As the acidic cultures begin to develop in the milk, it will become thick - noticeable so. If your kitchen is colder than 70 such as ours, it may take up to a day or two to thicken. Remove the lid and take a sniff. You should have that distinctive buttermilk smell. Success! Refrigerate and you're set.

Now here's the cool part. Never use up the last 1/2 cup of your buttermilk and start the process over each time. Of course, you need to be sure it doesn't actually sour on you and take on a spoiled smell. If so, you know what to do - throw it all away and start again. I know it seems a little startling and feels a little like you're about to eat a science experiment, but buttermilk has been cultured at home for centuries. We're just adding back one more piece of the self-sufficiency puzzle.

(Alternatively you can purchase packets of buttermilk culture from cheesemaking or dairy supply sources online.)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Why blog

One of the beauties of life is that we all can find time to think. Sometimes we like to shut the voices out of our head, but if we take the time to listen we find out a little bit more of ourselves. In the past few months I have entered the world of others by visiting their blogs and websites, listening to podcasts, gleaning information and becoming inspired. I've come to realize that blogging can be an extension of our passion whether it be specific or just in general terms. As Marla Cilley, the FLYLADY and my initial inspiration, says - everyone has a story to tell. It is just inside and only needs a little prompting to come out. She was referring mainly to writing a book in that conversation, but I have come to believe that blogging is just another outlet for that part of ourselves that needs to be expressed. For some, putting pen and pencil to paper is a more natural act than speaking. Perhaps that is the way with me. It is here that I hope to share and in turn learn from myself the lessons of life.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The easiest BBQ beef sandwiches ever

Okay - Super Bowl was coming up and I knew my daughter was inviting over a group of friends. I didn't want to go shopping as I had just been to Costco but figured there had to be something "manly" around the house that could be whipped together to qualify as Super Bowl food. It didn't literally get whipped together, and it did take all night to prepare it, but it was the crockpot that worked all night ... not me. Now the name is a little misleading, I never go buy beef because our freezer is full of deer and elk. So it should really be titled Easiest BBQ Elk Sandwiches, but it just doesn't have the same ring to it.

Easiest BBQ Beef (or Game) Sandwiches Ever

1 3-4 lb. arm or shoulder elk roast
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup favorite BBQ sauce
1 onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 teaspoon beef bouillon granules

Place roast in crock pot and set to cook on hi for 6-8 hours. Pour in remaining ingredients in order listed. Cover and step back.

If your roast was not still frozen as mine was, make sure that the meat will not get done in the middle of the night. You might have to adjust your timing.

By morning, the meat was falling off the bone, and the smell was incredible. I removed the bone - dog thanked me profusely - and pulled off any visible connective tissue, gristle, the icky stuff kids might find. Another squirt of BBQ sauce for flavor, and the meat was ready to go.

Ladle up onto your favorite rolls, we used potato rolls, and serve with sliced pickles, red onion, or your favorite hot pepper.


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