Tuesday, March 31, 2009

When Frugal Minded Meets the Kitchen: Cooking with Dried Beans

In taking a closer look at paring down my weekly grocery bill, I decided that perhaps having one dinner per week based on beans might be prudent. I grabbed a couple bags of dried beans off the grocery shelves and started researching a few recipes. Now I routinely purchase canned beans all the time, but I was also interested in cooking my own beans to see how much extra work it would involve, if there was a taste difference, and to see if there would be a cost savings. And to top it all off, I know that including more beans in one's diet is a healthy way to go.

There are many tasty recipes out there. At the end of this post is the recipe for Tuscan White Beans recently published in the FoodDay section of our local newspaper, The Oregonian. The recipe was easy and tasted fantastic. A definite keeper.

How about cost savings on purchasing dried beans? Safeway.com prices their store brand of dried bean varieties at about .09 to .10 per ounce. Similar types of beans of their store brand canned variety price out at .06 to .07 per ounce. But that cannot be taken as a true comparison as the canned beans have already been cooked. Dry beans will triple their volume once cooked, so a more accurate comparison could be made by using .03 to .04 per ounce per final cooked weight of the dried beans. That's basically half the cost of the canned variety.

Everyone has heard about the health benefits of beans, but what specifically are they? Fiber is one of the number one benefits. They contain both insoluble and soluble fiber which contribute towards a healthy digestive tract by moving along digested food and absorbing fats, cholesterol and carbohydrates. In other words, a healthy gut equals lower risk of cancer and lower cholesterol levels.

Beans are a great source of non-fat protein. There are 16 grams of protein in just one cup. That's impressive.

Another benefit of beans is that they are a complex carbohydrate. These are the carbs that are considered to have a low or moderate glycemic index which help provide energy over a longer period of time by being slowly released into your bloodstream as opposed to a sudden rush of carbs.

And the USDA recommends that adults eat more than three cups of beans each week for maximum health benefits. That's three times more than the current average American currently eats. I'm all for upping those figures in our family.

By now you're also thinking that beans are healthy, and oh yes, the magical fruit. You know ... the more you eat the more you ... Well, here's some surprising news. Research shows that cooking your own beans and following the soaking/rinsing practice will greatly reduce the occurrence of intestinal gas. Cooking the beans slowly will also lessen any undesirable after affects of eating beans.

By following these simple soaking methods - I prefer the overnight method - cooking your own beans becomes easy and lessens worries you might have about eating them.

Soaking Dry-Packaged Beans

Before cooking, soak dry-packaged beans to help soften and return moisture to the beans and reduce cooking time. Most beans will rehydrate to triple their dry size, so be sure to start with a large enough pot.

•Preferred Hot Soak and Quick Soak Methods — Hot soaking helps dissolve some of the gas-causing substances, making the beans easier to digest. For each pound beans, add 10 cups hot water; heat to boiling and let boil 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and set aside for at least one hour (Quick Soak), or up to 4 hours (Hot Soak).

•Traditional Overnight Soak — For each pound (2 cups) dry-packaged beans, add 10 cups cold water and let soak overnight, or at least 8 hours.

This info alone was enough for me to decide that beans are cheap but extremely healthy eats. Here are some tidbits that will help you convert your existing canned bean recipes to one using dried beans.

15 oz can beans = 1-1/2 cups cooked beans, drained

16 oz or 1 pound dry beans = 2 cups dry beans = 6 cups cooked beans
8 oz or 1/2 lb dry beans = 1 cup dry beans = 3 cups cooked beans
4 oz or 1/4 lb dry beans = 1/2 cup dry beans = 1-1/2 cups cooked beans

Here's also a helpful calorie/fiber conversion:

2 oz or 1/8 lb dry beans = 1/4 cup dry beans = 3/4 cup cooked beans = 90 to 100 calories = 5-9g fiber

Not sure what variety of bean to start experimenting with? Here's a list of the beans I'm more familiar with and have the most experience cooking with:

Medium-sized, black-skinned ovals
Also called Turtle bean
A favorite in South and Central American and Caribbean cuisine
Cooking Time: 1 to 1-1/2 hours

Dark Red Kidney
Large, deep reddish-brown and kidney-shaped
Famous in Red Beans and Rice
Popular in chili, soups and salads
Cooking Time: 1-1/2 to 2 hours

Light Red Kidney
Large, light red and kidney-shaped
Famous in Red Beans and Rice
Popular in chili, soups and salads
Cooking Time: 1-1/2 to 2 hours

Small white ovals
Belongs to the White bean or Haricot bean family
Often used in baked beans, soups and salads
Cooking Time: 1-1/2 to 2 hours

Great Northern
Medium-sized, white oval
Belongs with the White bean or Haricot bean family
Often used in soups, stews and Cassoulet
Cooking Time: 45 to 60 minutes

Medium-sized, mottled beige and brown ovals
When cooked, loses mottling and turns brown
Staple in Latino cooking
Often found, whole or refried, in favorites like burritos and tacos
Cooking Time: 1-1/2 to 2 hours

Most, but not all recipes, will include instructions for soaking and cooking dried beans. But if you're substituting your own dried beans for the canned variety, here are basic directions for cooking your own beans.

Cooking Dry-Packaged Beans
•Drain soaking water and rinse beans; cook in fresh water. In general, beans take 30 minutes to 2 hours to cook depending on variety. Check bean packaging for specific cooking times and instructions.
•Spice up beans while they cook. Seasonings such as garlic, onion, oregano, parsley or thyme can be added to the pot while beans are cooking. Add acidic ingredients, such as tomatoes, vinegar, or citrus juices, only at end of cooking, when the beans are tender.
•Add salt only after beans are cooked to tender. If added before, salt may cause bean skins to become impermeable, halting the tenderizing process.
•To test for doneness, bite-taste a few beans. They should be tender, but not overcooked. When cooling, keep beans in cooking liquid to prevent them from drying out.

Okay, and now for the promised recipe:

Tuscan White Beans

2 to 3 ounces bacon, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red onion, diced fine
1 large carrot, diced fine
1 stalk celery, diced fine
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
pinch fennel seeds (these really give the beans their fantastic taste!)
1 pound Great Northern beans, sorted and soaked in water overnight
1 head garlic, top 1/8 cut off to expose cloves
1 bay leaf
6 cups chicken broth and/or water

Combine bacon and oil in a large Dutch oven or stockpot set over medium-high heat and cook until bacon has rendered its fat, 3 to 5 minutes. Add onion, carrot, celery, red pepper flakes, fennel seeds and large pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown and sticking to bottom of pot, 12 to 15 minutes. Stir in beans, garlic head, bay leaf, and broth and/or water; bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, until beans are soft and tender (adding additional liquid as necessary to cover), 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

Remove garlic and bay leaf from pot. Discard bay leaf. When cool enough to handle, squeeze garlic cloves from paper skins, mash to paste with back of knife, and stir into beans. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt and a pinch of sugar, if needed.

Serve with a sprinkling of grated parmesan cheese or garlicy bread sticks and a large green salad. Mmm good.

Do you love or hate beans? Have you tried cooking them from scratch? I'd love to hear your experiences and what you have learned.

If you're interested in doing some more research on your own, here are some sites I found helpful:


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Famous No-Knead Bread Recipe by Jim Lahey

If you love food and especially good homemade bread, there's a good chance you have heard about the no-knead bread method developed by Jim Lahey back in the fall of 2006. The recipe was run by the New York Times and was instantly picked up across the country by local newspapers and took the internet by storm. It was through our local newspaper's food section that I came across the recipe. The procedure is unique in that no kneading is involved, very little yeast is used, and the rise time is anywhere between 12 to 18 hours. It is also baked at a very high temperature in its own little 'oven' so to speak within your regular oven.

Being one to turn down plain, gummy sandwich bread as I truly prefer the artisan loaves that cost $4 to $5 dollars at the grocery store, I figured this was my chance to recreate those chewy loaves with the incredible crusts that I so love for just pennies.

Here's my not-so-condensed version of the recipe with comments. You can follow the link above to Jim's posted recipe. As this procedure is unique, be sure to read it in its entirety before starting.

No-Knead Bread

3 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups water, barely warm
2 tablespoons water, barely warm

Using your largest mixing bowl, combine all of the above ingredients and stir using a large spoon. The dough will come together loosely and will be incredibly sticky. Just be sure all of the flour is incorporated - nothing vigorous is needed. Cover with plastic wrap or a baking sheet and set aside. I usually mix this up at night and let it set out while we are sleeping. The idea is to let the yeast develop over a long period of time, at least 12 hours. More time is ok too. I have had dough resting for up to 18 hours at times.

no-knead dough after initial mixing

no-knead dough after 12 hour rising

If you have a Silpat baking mat, sprinkle generously with flour. Otherwise you can sprinkle a clean dishtowel with the flour. Turn the dough out of the bowl onto this flour. You might find it helpful to scrape at the edges to release it as you hold the bowl over the flour. Do not try to use your hands. It will be way too sticky to touch. Using the outside edges, fold the dough over onto itself until it is somewhat piled up in the middle. This dough is very wet and does not hold its shape as you would expect regular dough to. Let it rest a while longer as you clean up the bowl and your hands, about 15 minutes or so.

Return to the dough, and gently begin to fold it over itself several times. The best way to describe this procedure (wouldn't a video be nice here?) is to fold over an edge towards the middle and press it down into the center, move to the left a little and repeat, continuing all around the dough. When the dough is somewhat shaped, re-flour the surface you are working on and invert the ball of dough onto it. It will again rest 2 or 3 hours. I take my large mixing bowl and turn it upside down over the dough to cover it.

no-knead dough after shaping

There is one critical piece of equipment you will need, a covered cast iron dutch oven ... a covered roasting dish ... something that the bread will cook inside in the oven to develop that wonderful crust. The lid is essential. Place your cooking utensil in the cold oven and preheat to 450 degrees. Once the oven has reached temperature, carefully pull out the rack and remove the lid. This next step is the only tricky part of the recipe. The risen dough may have spread out a ways depending on the length of time of the last rising or how warm your kitchen is. Generously flour the top of the loaf, pick up the baking mat or towel with both hands and flip it over while holding it over the open pot. It will loosen and drop into the pot. You may have to give the mat a little shake but it should come loose if you used enough flour underneath it. Don't worry how it looks. Shake the pot a little if it needs to be centered a little better.

no-knead dough in pot ready for baking

Cover with the lid and bake for 30 minutes. No peeking. The next step is to remove the lid to allow the crust to brown. 15 more minutes will do this nicely.

Alright, your loaf is ready. Turn off the oven and take out the pot. I simply put a knife or spoon alongside of the loaf and lift it out. Will you ever be amazed to look upon the best loaf of bread you can imagine. As hard as it will be, allow it to cool a little. As the loaf cools, it will actually crackle and pop a little as the crust does it thing.

no-knead bread after baking

Slice and serve. Be sure there are plenty of others around to share the bread with as it just might be entirely possible to try to consume the whole thing yourself. Really ... it is just that good!

no-knead bread ready to slice and enjoy

Monday, March 23, 2009

Coupon Savings

Due to my recent interest in clipping coupons and inspiration from some mom blog sites such as Consumer Queen and tidbits of information I've run across on Twitter, I decided to track my savings through couponing both store and manufacturer, watching for store discounts, and checking into free offers. I have always been careful of spending as I am a stay at home mom, but to be truthful I would not always remember to take the coupons or to even clip them. In an effort to prove or disprove to myself whether it is worth the time and effort to look for the coupons, to be sure to use them before the expiration date, and to even remember to give them to the cashier, I decided to track savings. Have I ever been surprised.

It has not been quite 30 days, and I can track savings of $233.41 to date. The breakdown is as follows:

Store coupons $43
Store discounts $94
Manufacturer coupons $58
Value of free items $26
Miscellaneous $12

I have only followed the receipts from my purchases and haven't include any of my husband's, as he is not specifically targeting sales and coupons but in general purchases items as he needs them. On the other hand, I have been thoroughly reviewing the sale ads for Fred Meyers, our main grocery store chain that we purchase at. We also shop at Target, K Mart, Costco occasionally, and eat out as infrequently as possible. I utilized online coupons found through Consumer Queen and free offers that show up through Twitter. Sure it has taken a little more planning than just running out to the store and getting what you need when you need it. My husband preaches "time is money, and money is time", but in today's economy I can see that my time is worth the savings that we are incurring.

I plan on continuing to track our savings and am hoping to do a better job of matching up manufacturer coupons with local store offers. We do not have double coupons in our area so what you see is what you get in terms of coupons. I also generally purchase generic over store brands as Fred Meyers is part of the Kroger chain and carries their own high level line of products under the label of Private Selection. With the exception of Q-Tips - which generic just do not cut it in terms of quality - their store label brands beat out the unit cost pricing of major brands unless there is a fantastic store sale/coupon match up.

Time will tell if a little more planning will bump up our savings, but it will be interesting to watch nevertheless.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Home Schooling Trials and Troubles

Sometimes reading something that makes you step back and take a look at your own situation is the best thing that could happen to you in a given day. Hence the inspiration for this post. I finished reading a blog at Simply A Musing Blog this morning and left a comment. Here was a case of a mother feeling a little down about her home schooling efforts and children's character but knew that she was still on the right track and public school was not the answer:

"This is the reason I typically do not discuss publicly or talk about homeschooling. Instead of finding ways to be supportive, my family looks for every possible way to get me to place my kids in PUBLIC SCHOOL where they are going to magically be transformed into children who "learn to cope with the everyday stresses" of life.

To this I say: I am protecting my children because I love them. I'm not keeping anything of the reality of the world from them, but I am measuring it out in small doses instead of letting them be overwhelmed. The world should not be defining life for my kids. Psalm 127 says that we are to prepare our children - they are like arrows in a quiver - I am preparing them to speak with the enemy at the gates and not be ashamed. They will be equipped to face reality without letting men overrun them or tell them what they should be thinking.

I do not believe that public school is a magic pill that a child can take in order to be better able to cope with the everyday stresses of life. This is a fallacy long purported by those who tout public school and I'd like to formally call it out right now."
I applaud her for her honesty and sincerely and her desire to see things to the end. Too often we wallow in our own troubles, thinking that we're the only ones at this place in our lives, and don't reach out to others who are following the same path. Here was my response:
We are all parents and we will all have our own heart and education issues with our children regardless if we public, private or home school. As a home educator we know that there will be heart issues to deal with within ourselves and those of our children as we develop their character. It's a natural course of action as we are able to nurture and educate simultaneously. Once we realize that conflict and frustration are inevitable, then it is easier to move on and see the path before us. I have been homeschooling for over ten years and have seen the advantage and confidence and well-rounded social aspects that are the results of my 18yo daughter's home education. My son did enter public high school this past fall at his request while I still have his two younger siblings at home. I can say first hand that I would rather deal with the issues of heart that we did experience in prior years than those that we are now dealing with in the social arena, educational budget cuts, athletic politics and the like where I no longer am directly involved. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can compare to the strong moral, social, and educational foundation that a child receives at home. Compared to his peers at school, the time he spent at home has provided him with an attitude towards life that he would not have been able to obtain in a public school system. You've made the right decision.
I believe that is what has drawn me to write for this blog regardless of the subject content ... to recognize the support that comes from other mothers and home educators as they post about their experiences as they too travel through life. Simply knowing that there are others that have been, are now, or will be passing through similar circumstances is incredibly empowering. If you don't already regularly read the blogs of others who fill similar shoes as you, take the time to do so. You will be encouraged, enlightened, and renewed.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Homemade Soft Pretzels

The most surefire way around our home to make someone's day is to whip up a batch of something in the bread machine. Although I could use my stand mixer for simply putting together a batch of yeast dough, I love my bread machine's dough cycle. Layer in the ingredients and walk away. I probably use the dough cycle to prep yeast dough products more than I use the machine to bake actual loaves of bread. These homemade soft pretzels are one of the reasons why.

Homemade Soft Pretzels

1 cup water, slightly warm
2 tablespoons water, slightly warm
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 1/8 teaspoon yeast
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
5 tablespoons buttermilk
4 cups all-purpose or bread flour
3/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons baking soda

kosher or coarse salt

melted butter

Layer the first eight ingredients in bread machine in order listed. Set bread machine for dough cycle, usually 90 minutes. Alternatively, use stand mixer to mix and knead dough for ten minutes. Cover and let rise for one hour.

Remove dough from bread machine and punch down. Divide dough into twelve pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope, about 18" long. The thinner the rope, the larger your finished pretzels will be and the more open they will be. Now here's the tricky party: forming the pretzel. Place the rope horizontally in front of you, bring both ends towards you forming and upside-down U shape. Criss cross the ends twice about midway along the rope forming a twist. Bring both ends straight up until they touch the top of the inverted U. A little hard to verbally describe, but hopefully these photos will help.

Place formed pretzels on lightly greased baking sheet or non-stick baking mats on a baking sheet. Let rise for 30 minutes. It's not necessary to cover them at this time. Slip the baking sheets into the refrigerator for 15 minutes. (If space is an issue, you can skip this step. The dough will just be a little harder to work with for the next step.)

While the dough is chilling, bring 3" of water to boil in a large stockpot. Add baking soda and ensure that it is thoroughly dissolved.

Remove trays from refrigerator and preheat oven to 450 degrees. Carefully lift one pretzel from tray and place into boiling water. Repeat with another pretzel if you have room in your pot. Try not to crowd them or they will stick to each other. Pretzels will rise to surface and begin to swell and crack on the surface. After 30 seconds, remove with slotted spoon or spatula and place back on baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Continue until all pretzels have been prepared in this manner.

Bake in oven 15 to 20 minutes rotating sheets halfway through cooking. They are done once they take on a light golden color. Now you may brush them with melted butter - if you are able to fend off the waiting onlookers. If they beat you to the finished pretzels before you can finish this step, I promise they will be just as tasty.

If you prefer other toppings such as sesame seeds, chopped garlic, or poppy seeds, they can be used along with or instead of the coarse salt ... your choice.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


I would venture to say that my two oldest daughters have thoroughly enjoyed Stephenie Meyer's Twilight book series. That said, I asked one of them to ghost write a blog today explaining what they find so fascinating about these books and the upcoming Twilight movie DVD release. So now you know I can't take credit for all the information provided here but instead feel a little like an onlooker only. I have promised the girls that come summer I will work my way through the books.

The Introduction

I had never heard of Twilight until our State Fair where I met the actual deer that was in the very beginning of the movie. I pretty much thought that it was some weird vampire movie that only true freaks would want to see … but I was so wrong. After I learned about it, the books and the movie seemed to be everywhere. I saw my first Edward Cullen picture about a month before the Twilight movie premiere and immediately changed my mind about the movie.

The Obsession

My sister went and saw the midnight premiere of Twilight November 21st. She brought home the Twilight book from a friend that night, and I was allowed to read it when she wasn't. It had to be the best book I’d ever read. After that, I begged for weeks to see it myself after hearing the positive ratings on the movie from my sister. Finally, around the 20th of December, I persuaded my dad into taking me to the theater and watching it. It immediately became my favorite movie, and Edward Cullen became my all time favorite character. I added the Twilight Saga to my Christmas list only to find out later that only my sister received the books, all to herself. She let me read them once, although I secretly read them each again, and that was it. I wasn’t allowed to touch them or anything. Instead, I watched Twilight four or five more times and soon began to collect Twilight posters. I got tired of never getting to read the books, so I recently went and bought the complete Twilight Saga set for forty-seven dollars with my own personal money. They were officially mine, and I could do whatever I wanted with them.

The Books (contains NO spoilers)

The Twilight Books have to be the best novels I’ve ever read in my whole life. I think what makes them so good is that they are all a little mix of everything. They’re a romance book, a horror book, a mystery book…everything mixed together to form the best series ever. Stephenie Meyer is my favorite author in the world, and she inspires me every day. One of the things I love the most about the book Twilight is how Stephenie Meyer describes everything so well that you can envision everything that you read and really feel what Bella is feeling and see what Bella sees. It’s modern and enthralling. I can’t think of anything bad about it. New Moon wasn’t my favorite book. I loved it but it was extremely sad and made me cry in one part. However, I love that Jacob Black gets a bigger part in this book. Eclipse was awesome. It was probably more of a horror book than anything else but it was so intense and interesting that I couldn’t put it down. Breaking Dawn is my second favorite from the Twilight Saga, Twilight being the first. I like that they switch narrators in the middle from Bella to Jacob. It was a nice change to see everything from his perspective. Even though it’s over seven hundred pages, I never lost interest. Edward is my absolute favorite character in the books. Then it would have to be Alice, Bella, and then Jacob. I love their personalities.

The Movie

After seeing the movie, my obsession grew from “this is pretty good” to “OH MY I LOVE TWILIGHT SOOOO MUCH!!!!”. The movie was awesome and covered about everything in the book. I think that all of the actors were great choices for their characters. I love Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Kristen Stewart, and Ashley Greene the most. Like a lot of other teenage girls, I’m completely obsessed with them. Catherine Hardwick is a great director, and I love how she filmed the movie. The acting was great, and it all flowed very smoothly. I was really disappointed that she wasn’t going to be the director for New Moon, but I’m sure Chris Weitz will do a great job. I can’t wait until it comes out on DVD. Twilight is the best movie, and everybody should definitely see it.

When Twilight Comes out on DVD

I coaxed my mom into letting me camp out at Blockbuster for our local Twilight DVD party. I would love to be in the first fifty people there, so I will be going out pretty early. I figured that I’d bring a blanket, a camping chair, and my Twilight books and wait until 12:01 a.m., get my movie, go back home and then watch it with my family and friends. I decided that I will make a Twilight cake and serve Twilight colored snacks like red soda and licorice. My sister will be out of town and my two Twilight-obsessed friends will be as well, but I’m still set on having a party no matter how many people come.

Well friends...Twilight from the perspective of a tween. So to help fan the fire of the movie release, I have been entering all of the WalMart ElevenMoms $150 Giveaway Contests in the hopes that one of the wonderful packages will become ours ... or should I say ... theirs.

I'm sure you'll want a chance at the drawing, so here are links to the sites I have visited:








Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Head on over to Abernethy Creek Farm for our latest kidding news

We've posted our experience with our latest doe to kid this year, HPF Rose. Get the full scoop over at Abernethy Creek Farm.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Paper, Glue and Scissors Crafts

As a home educator I try to attempt one type of creative activity each day, especially for my 7yo who is still exploring the world. At this age they can still be quite occupied with the process of 'doing' as opposed to the project's final outcome...something I had to learn to be content with. Therefore, open ended projects can be more satisfying at this age. But that doesn't mean we don't attempt something that has a final purpose as in this project we did together today.

Supplies are simple. You can use whatever you have on hand:

two sheets of paper
glue or glue stick
pen or pencil

Take the sheet of paper that you wish the name to end up on and fold it in half lengthwise.

Placing the fold at the bottom, lightly trace or have your child write their name. Cursive provides a more interesting final project but printing will work. I have an example of each method here. Should you have a name with a trailing letter, just bump it above the line as we did here with the final 'y'. Unfortunately my pencil marks do not show up well in these photos.

The next step is to create dimension from the letters by tracing along the outside of the letter to create a block-style writing. There is no need to be exact here and the side with the pencil marks will be glued down in the end.

Using scissors cut around the outside of the letters being sure to leave a continuous fold of paper along the bottom. This is more difficult if you are using printed letters. Just keep a small strip of paper intact between the individual letters. If you are using cursive letters, you may cut out the interior of hollow letters as well. Anything goes here.

Unfold the paper and lay it face down with the pencil marks underneath. It will look absolutely fascinating, and I guarantee your kids will ooh and ahh. Using a glue stick or glue, adhere it to the second piece of paper and then it can be embellished with glitter, stickers, markers, or even turned into a totem pole or alien as my 7yo decided to do.

Older children will enjoy this as well as they can appreciate the symmetry and the final flow of the project. It is definitely unique depending on each child's name and their style of writing. Enjoy for awhile on your refrig and then mail off to relatives who will in turn enjoy this unique paper, glue and scissor craft.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Control Journal: the Cleaning Zones

Another important aspect of a Control Journal is planning out the manner in which you tackle common household cleaning tasks. Do you focus on one room per day? Do you try to keep all rooms clean all of the time? Everyone has their own plan or perhaps no plan. Once again Marla Cilley, the FlyLady, has come to my rescue.

For the past 20 years I have had a housework plan that focused on cleaning each room of the house on a specific day. Born organized people like myself love to have charts, categories, and all sorts of written checklists to work from. That might work if you have ample time to pull it all together. Raising four children and homeschooling at the same time quite often does not leave as much time as you would like to dedicate to maintaining your home. Working outside the home creates the same demands. A clean home is important for health and safety as well as providing the loving environment you wish for your family. As I could never get each room cleaned, top to bottom, each and every week my procrastinating perfectionism kept me from even starting. A new approach was needed.

Upon discovering the FlyLady's concept of her weekly Home Blessing Hour along with Zone Cleaning, I was able to make great strides in improving my ability to "keep home". Here's how it works:

Marla's Home Blessing Hour was a life saver for me. Here's an excerpt from her site which explains the concept wonderfully:

What is the Weekly Home Blessing Hour?

The Weekly Home Blessing hour is the time FlyLady spends slipshod cleaning her home. No detailed cleaning required; vacuum the middle of the floors only!

FlyLady sets her timer for 10 minutes to work on each of 7 tasks:

Polish Mirrors and Doors
Purge magazines
Change Sheets
Empty all trash

This takes approximately one hour; some tasks take less than 10 minutes.

"Don't obsess, set your timer for 10 minutes for each task, then QUIT!"

As you can see, setting aside the time to complete these simple but very basic tasks keeps basic home maintenance on track. Your children can help with these chores and work along side you to blast through them in no time. It makes so much sense to get out the duster once a week and do everything than to go fetch it daily and use it only one room at a time. Ditto for your window cleaning and so forth. Some tasks just don't lend themselves to this hour or so period, so I accomplish them on an ongoing basis through an approach the FlyLady calls Baby Steps. Here's the link to my previous post regarding baby step cleaning.

With these basic items complete, you can then focus on Zone Cleaning, detailed cleaning of the major household areas in your home. I started by breaking my home down into zones similar to those the FlyLady lists and then modified her detailed cleaning to meet our family's needs. Once again, focusing on one area for an entire week ensures that eventually you will find the time to get some of the detailed cleaning done during that week as opposed to cramming it into one day that just might not go as scheduled.

With these two plans in place, I'm pretty certain these days of getting the basics out of the way and then having time to pick away at the detailed cleaning for the zone area that week. I don't by all means get it all done that week, but the beauty of the plan is that you will return to the zone the following month and accomplish a little bit more. The overall affect is a clean and welcome home...one that you and your family can enjoy to its fullest.

Related Posts:

Control Journal: Routines
Control Journal: Fifteen Minutes of Focus
Control Journal: Baby Steps

Friday, March 6, 2009

Control Journal: Baby Steps

Aren't some things in life just so daunting that you don't want to think about them? You unconsciously procrastinate until you think the timing will be just right before tackling it. Maybe you need more time or you don't want any distractions or you don't have all of the necessary supplies or ... you can fill in the blank. This pretty much sums up the largest stumbling block that I've run across. A procrastinating perfectionist can be their own worst enemy.

But what to do about this? First of all, simply taking yourself out of denial is a great start. It wasn't until Marla Ciley, the FlyLady, put a name on this character trait that I could even single out what caused me to drag my feet in certain areas of life. This was a big ah-ha moment for me. FlyLady's advice is simple: baby steps. Just taking one small step one day at a time in each of the areas that you need to work on will get you so much further than either whining, procrastinating, or ignoring the scenario at hand.

Here's an example for you in the housekeeping department: I hate to clean my vinyl flooring. With a passion. It's just plain detestible in my book. Therefore, it doesn't get done. Oh the floors get vaccuumed and the worst of spills cleaned up, but they dont' get scrubbed and we have a lot of traffic in our home. When I do tackle the job out of desperation, I end up with a sore back, aching arms, and a good portion of the day used up. Here's where baby steps come in. Marla talks about a tile shower that she had procrastinated cleaning and just could not bring herself to tackle. Her mantra is that you can do anything for five minutes. So she spent five minutes tackling just one square of that shower tile and grout. Then she was done for the day. The next day she took on another square and so forth until the shower was cleaned. Sounds silly but I took that advice and started on my vinyl floors. The first day I cleaned just one row of the pattern. Yes, just one row, and after a few minutes of really doing a detailed job cleaning it, it was done. It was a sparkling reminder of what the floor could and should look like. The next day, I tackled another row. As the week went on, the bathroom vinyl was just about done. For an investment of just a few minutes a day, I had impressive results.

After that experiment, I was hooked. I took a look at those housekeeping tasks that I perpetually put off and put them down on paper. My list included cleaning the kitchen cabinet doors, scrubbing three bathrooms, a mudroom hall way and a laundry room with vinyl flooring, and keeping the cabinets and drawers in the rest of the home organized and cleaned. Since then I've added doors and trim throughout the house. Every weekday I wipe down just one kitchen cabinet door. Takes maybe 20 seconds. I clean one row of vinyl flooring starting in a particular room. Then I move on to picking a room in the house to work through that needs cabinets wiped down or drawers purged/cleaned. After completing one complete cycle through the house in a few months, those areas were cleaner than ever before and there was no drugery involved. The bonus is that they stayed cleaner and were a cinch to clean the next time around. I now clean a set of cabinet doors or a larger section of the floor because it just takes no time at all.

There is so much to be said about tackling things in baby steps as they pertain to at-home jobs, hobbies, personal growth, and so on. I know I've just scratched the surface of how the power of this approach can affect all areas of our lives. If you have ever experienced success in surmounting something that just looked too big to deal with by tackling it one step at a time, I'd love to hear your story as well. Leave me a comment below.

Until then, remember ... one baby step for you, one giant leap for your life.

Related Posts:

Control Journal: Fifteen Minutes of Focus
Control Journal: Routines

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Homemade Pudding Cups

Perusing the grocery store aisles the other day, my youngest child, H-Bob, decided that she would like me to purchase a box of flashy looking pudding cups hanging in the deli case. No, no, no was my standard answer. Not because I'm against pudding, but more along the lines of wondering what really was in the cups and knowing the extra expense associated with throw away packaging and the like. Why not make our own I thought?

So off to the baking aisle we went and picked our own instant pudding mixes. They were on sale to boot as well. I fished out a coupon for storage containers and headed over to that aisle and picked up a set of small lidded containers. We were set and ready to make our own pudding cups.

Of course if you have the time, homemade pudding would work equally as well.

This is a case of where no additional instructions are really needed. Mix up pudding mix as directed using your favorite % milk. We happen to have fresh raw goat's milk on hand from Goat Princess' 4H project animals, so we're fortunate to have some pretty rich milk on hand. We also used just a tad less milk for a firmer set. Just a personal preference of mine. After whisking for two minutes, we poured the pudding into the cups, lidded them up carefully, and then popped them into the refrigerator. Based on the size of your mix and the size of your containers, you should end up with four 1/2 cup servings of pudding. We actually prepared two batches at once just to be on the efficient side of things. Now they're ready to grab in the refrigerator for quick snacks and lunches. If I could only convince my high school son to pack one in his lunch and remember to bring back the container, I would share them with him too!

So have your pudding cups and eat them too.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Control Journal: Fifteen Minutes of Focus

You've got a control journal set up, you've got lists of tasks to get done all day, but you soon realize that you don't have the chunks of time it takes to a) scrub the entire downstairs floor, b) reorganize your bedroom, c) anything you can think of that you'd rather procrastinate than actually do. Here's how FlyLady would have you approach this.

Break your day down into fifteen minute increments and go from one task to another. When I first heard of this I immediately thought that I would never actually accomplish anything. You just can't get much done in fifteen minutes. Wrong. You can get a lot done in only five minutes if you're fully concentrating on just one task. You might not get it ALL done, but fifteen minutes of something is sure better than nothing. Those of us with children at home or other distractions can live with this system. Obviously babies and toddlers need responding to quicker than an older child, but it's easy enough to carve out fifteen or even five minutes of uninterrupted work on a particular task. You'll be amazed at what will get done. When those fifteen minutes are up, you're done. Finished. Don't worry about it again until tomorrow when you tackle another fifteen minutes worth of work on it.

Here's an example: We have an oversized attic space where school supplies, craft materials, holiday boxes and the like are stored. It suffers from stash and dash syndrome and can get out of hand. The obvious solution is to put things away immediately, but that room needed help first. I can recall going in there for extended periods of time during the summer and hating every minute. The thought of cleaning it all up in one setting wasn't getting me anywhere. Enter the five minute rule. I set a timer for five minutes because fifteen minutes in there seemed too long. I went to work knowing that I would be stopping when the bell went off. I took this approach every day, and within a few weeks, I had made a vast improvement. No overwhelming thoughts. No negative feelings towards anyone as to how it had gotten in this condition. Just five minutes of focused work.

Today I live by this rule. Fifteen minutes of school with H-Bob, fifteen minutes of picking up, fifteen mintues to check email, back to another fifteen minutes of school with Goat Princess. I tell you, it works! Quite often I will group three of the five minute tasks together for one fifteen minute chunk but the concept remains the same.

Next post I will focus on a variation on this approach that works for those tasks that you just do not want to deal with, and therefore, procrastinate on indefinitely. Yes, I know. I've been there.

Related posts:

Control Journal: Routines
What's with the FlyLady?
Control Journal: Baby Steps

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