Friday, February 26, 2010

Refrigerator Organization

We now have a new best friend at our house. The seven-year-old got a great playhouse out of the deal. The thirteen-year-old is just impressed. The 16-year-old loves the fact that choices are now easier. And the remaining adults are just as happy as can be. The new friend...a shiny black refrigerator with double French doors on top and a freezer compartment on the bottom.

There are many reasons why our old refrigerator needed to go, but let's just focus on how the new guy is going to help organize life in the kitchen. While helping to unload the refrigerator, a friend commented, "Wow. You certainly have a lot in your refrigerator."

I stepped back and tried to take an objective look, and yep, it was crammed to the gills. But everyone always said, "What's there to eat?"

Since I knew where every last container was, my reply would usually be, "All sorts of stuff. Can't you see the leftovers from two nights ago?"

"Nope," they would reply.

"Well, they're right here," I would retort angrily while pulling away miscellaneous containers to unearth it. Obviously time for a new routine with this new refrigerator. Especially with a second refrigerator out in the garage.'s the plan. Nothing was moved back into the new refrigerator unless we actually needed it. I also set up designated areas.

  • Those for leftovers. 
  • Another for ingredient-type items - lime juice, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, eggs. 
  • A shelf for condiments - pretty obvious here, ketchup, mustard, mayo, etc. 
  • This refrigerator has a great drawer for deli items so the only thing that will be allowed here will be - deli meats, sliced cheese, flavored cream cheese, etc. Sandwich makings.
  • Of course there are your standard crisper drawers. But they're pretty self- explanatory. As there are three of them, one has been designated for quick snack items - yogurt, baggies of jerky, precut veggies for snacks.
  • The shelf with milk will hold all of the dairy products - sour cream, buttermilk, etc. 
  • And another section is just for stuff that goes on other stuff - salsa, jam, dressings, etc. 
  • There's another section for bread-type products - tortillas, bagels, and the next loaf of unopened bread. 
  • And my brainchild, a shelf just for those foods that were purchased for dinner this coming week. That might seem obvious, but how many times does newly purchased food become forgotten and wasted? Well, at our house it was often enough. 
  • The freezer compartment is only going to house frozen juice cans, frozen snack food items, and anything purchased intentionally for this week's consumption. No mystery freezer bags. Those can go live outside.
The other's going to stay in the outside refrigerator until I can purge through it. I do a lot of coupon shopping and so end up purchasing block cheese, butter, and other items that keep very well but don't need to end up in the house refrigerator. Those will be stored out there. And all the condiments or obscure ingredients that seem to keep forever, they're not coming in. I can always go out there to fetch them and promptly, hopefully, return them. As we have our own laying hens, our egg supply will be out there as well as jarred goat's milk when we starting milking again.

Now when we take a peek in the refrigerator, you can actually see what we have to eat. No excuse for not being able to make a sandwich. Easy to tell when you're on the last jug of milk. Dinner ingredients are staring at you reminding you to use them up if the weekly menu plan gets out of synch. And those lovely leftovers are front and center.

The other refrigerator was so packed that I had considered getting rid of any round storage containers as they were space wasters, but so far there's enough room that it doesn't seem necessary. Nice idea though to have square, stackable containers. And clear ones too. It's a little hard to distinguish at a glance what's inside that frosted purple container.

So what's your refrigerator like? Is it prettier on the outside than it is inside? Do you have a trick up your sleeve for keeping it organized and purged? Leave me a comment. I'm guessing this is an area that we could all tweak a bit to make more efficient for ourselves and our families.

Friday, February 19, 2010

My 365 Photography Project

One of the most empowering advances of the digital era has been the introduction of the digital camera. Remember the days of carefully selecting photos to take knowing that every print needed to be paid for? At least in our family that enjoying taking photographs, we almost needed to budget for the cost of developing! But with the power to now take hundreds of photos at a time and then weed through them for the keepers, I believe it has unleashed the creative side of many. Hence the development of 365 Photo a Day Projects. 
I have been intrigued by other bloggers who have begun these projects and decided that this was the year for me to do so as well. But what is a 365 Project? I did a little searching but could not find much of a definite answer other than it involves taking one photo per day for the entire 365 day year. As you can see from a few shots from my project that are sprinkled throughout this post, they can be as random as you would like. Those photos are posted to a host site where others can post their projects as well. Flickr where my photos are held allows for the author to leave a few comments regarding the nature of the photo as well. When all is said and done on December 31, you more than likely will look back on your entire year in photos and be amazed at what caught your interest each and every day or may simply just reaffirm those things that are important to you in your life. You will find a Blogger widget by Blogger Buster on the right hand side of this blog which shows thumbnails of my nine most recent photos posted to my 365 Project. I decide to use Flickr as the host source for my photos as they support a 365 Project group there. I know there are other sites as well, but this was my jumping off point. At one time I had a widget by PictoBrowser but went back to the Blogger Buster widget as it was sized better for my column. You can still see an example of PictoBrowser's widget on our hobby farm site Abernathy Creek Farm
Because I know that I have a photo to post each day, I have started taking my camera along with me wherever I go. Sure enough, I will quite often be thankful I did. Each evening the photos are uploaded to my computer, and I sift through them for 'the one', which in itself can be a hard decision. Then I edit or crop it if needed. I'm currently using Picasa as it is simple to use and then upload it to Flickr. From there it is automatically updated to this blog. Yes, that seems like a lot of site hopping, but if I hadn't taken the plunge and just started with those applications I was familiar with then perfectionism would have once more taken over and the entire project would not have begun. 
This is a perfect example of what Charlotte Mason, a brilliant educator whose methods many homeschoolers follow, would have deemed 'mother culture'...something that 'mother' can do to improve her own culture and education while being at home with her children. She obviously would have never envisioned the scope of digital photography, but she would have given it her thumbs up, and I couldn't agree more. A few books checked out from the library to read up on digital photography skills, a little more practice with my camera, stretching a bit by researching and adapting this blog to accommodate the all adds up to mother culture accomplishments and a sense of pride. 
Do you have a 365 Project? If so, leave a comment with your link if you would like to share. We are all so different but yet so much the same, and it is incredible to now be able to see the world through each others lens, 365 days a year.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Seasoning Cast Iron Pans

I'm in love with cast iron pans. I've never known why. I just always knew they seared meat, made fantastic Dutch pancakes, and stayed hot enough to brown most anything put in them. Then I read Alton Brown's Gear for Your Kitchen. He put the science behind my reasoning by declaring that cast iron is a great conductor of heat because of its mass. Example of this would be when slapping a cold steak into the pan, it doesn’t lose any of its heat and can start searing immediately. But a key to cooking in cast iron is having a well-seasoned pan. Well-seasoned meaning that it has a sheen to the metal and exhibits non-stick properties of its own. Cast iron doesn't come that way from the manufacturer and quite often used pieces are either spotted with rust or simply look dull, almost dry. Those pieces are not 'goners', they just need re-seasoned. And with the help of Alton, I figured out why my seasoning process was good but wasn't great. I had been using oil rather than solid vegetable shortening. Anyway, on with the good stuff and how to properly season a cast iron pan so that you will love yours as much as I love mine.


How to Season a Piece of Cast Iron

Turn your oven on to 350 degrees. A new piece of cast iron should be washed in soapy water to remove any type of manufacturing residue and then air dried. An older piece being re-seasoned doesn’t need this step.

Put a lipped cookie sheet or disposable foil pan on the bottom rack of the oven.

Place the cast iron item on the middle rack and put a tablespoon of vegetable shortening in the bottom of the pan. Using vegetable shortening is key here…the difference between my not being able to effectively season a pan before and getting perfect results now.

Once the pan has warmed enough to melt the shortening, carefully remove it from the oven and rub the entire interior surface with the shortening…inside, outside, and handles. You can use a paper towel or a pastry brush.

Now it is time to put the cast iron piece back into the oven, but this time, it needs to be put in upside down so that the excess shortening does not puddle inside and create a gummy texture.

Bake the greased cast iron for an hour, and then turn off the over and allow it to cool down and finish curing in the oven.

After it is completely cool, give the entire piece a wipe down to remove any residual shortening.

The next time you use the pan, do not scrub it within an inch of its life with soap and scrubber, but instead pour in a little coarse salt and some oil. Give all of this a rub down with a paper towel, and then wipe clean before storing. All should be good for the next time over the flame or round in the oven.

If storage were not an issue, I'd have cast iron all over the kitchen. My small skillets, large skillet, deep skillet, and Dutch oven are wonderful as is my scone pan. But on my list, would be more small skillets for individual Dutch pancakes and a double burner cast iron griddle. Someday...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

99 Things on the Wall

I just learned a new vocabulary Now I don't think I could summarize its true comprehensive meaning as it is used online in just a few words yet, but does a pretty good job:

At its most basic, an Internet meme is simply the propagation of a digital file or hyperlink from one person to others using methods available through the Internet (for example, email, blogs, social networking sites, instant messaging, etc). The content often consists of a saying or joke, a rumor, an altered or original image, a complete website, a video clip or animation, or an offbeat news story, among many other possibilities. In simple terms, an internet meme is an inside joke, that everyone on the internet is in on. An Internet meme may stay the same or may evolve over time, by chance or through commentary, imitations, and parody versions, or even by collecting news accounts about itself. Internet memes have a tendency to evolve and spread extremely quickly, sometimes going in and out of popularity in just days...
The term may refer to the content that spreads from user to user, the idea behind the content, or the phenomenon of its spread. Internet memes have been seen as a form of art. There exist websites that collect and popularize Internet memes as well as sites devoted to the spread of specific Internet memes...
Regardless, memes appear to be fun journal-type prompts for bloggers in general to use to generate insightful content on their blogs. I tracked down this site today, The Dailey Meme, which I expect to more fully explore later, just to familiarize myself with internet memes. But perhaps the first meme I stumbled across was entitled "99 Things on the Wall" at the Little is Better blog. True to the spirit of memes, here is my list of 99 Things on the Wall with those which I have done in bold type:

1. Started your own blog

2. Slept under the stars

3. Played in a band

4. Visited Hawaii

5. Watched a meteor shower

6. Given more than you can afford to charity

7. Been to Disneyland/world

8. Climbed a mountain

9. Held a praying mantis

10. Sang a solo

11. Bungee jumped

12. Visited Paris

13. Watched a lightning storm at sea

14. Taught yourself an art from scratch

15. Adopted a child

16. Had food poisoning

17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty

18. Grown your own vegetables

19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France

20. Slept on an overnight train

21. Had a pillow fight

22. Hitch hiked

23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill

24. Built a snow fort

25. Held a lamb (Definitely a goat kid!)

26. Gone skinny dipping

27. Run a Marathon

28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice

29. Seen a total eclipse

30. Watched a sunrise or sunset

31. Hit a home run

32. Been on a cruise

33. Seen Niagara Falls in person

34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors

35. Seen an Amish community

36. Taught yourself a new language

37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied

38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person

39. Gone rock climbing

40. Seen Michelangelo’s David

41. Sung karaoke

42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt

43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant

44. Visited Africa

45. Walked on a beach by moonlight

46. Been transported in an ambulance

47. Had your portrait painted

48. Gone deep sea fishing

49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person

50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris

51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling

52. Kissed in the rain

53. Played in the mud

54. Gone to a drive-in theater

55. Been in a movie

56. Visited the Great Wall of China

57. Started a business

58. Taken a martial arts class

59. Visited Russia

60. Served at a soup kitchen

61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies

62. Gone whale watching (From the beach in the San Juan Islands)

63. Got flowers for no reason

64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma

65. Gone sky diving

66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp

67. Bounced a check

68. Flown in a helicopter

69. Saved a favorite childhood toy

70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial

71. Eaten Caviar

72. Pieced a quilt

73. Stood in Times Square

74. Toured the Everglades

75. Been fired from a job (If that includes a day care client, walking out on you in anger and never coming back!)

76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London

77. Broken a bone

78. Been on a speeding motorcycle

79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person

80. Published a book

81. Visited the Vatican

82. Bought a brand new car (Not since I was 20!)

83. Walked in Jerusalem

84. Had your picture in the newspaper (Local church newsletter count?)

85. Read the entire Bible

86. Visited the White House

87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating

88. Had chickenpox

89. Saved someone’s life

90. Sat on a jury

91. Met someone famous

92. Joined a book club

93. Lost a loved one

94. Had a baby

95. Seen the Alamo in person

96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake

97. Been involved in a law suit

98. Owned a cell phone

99. Been stung by a bee

Looking back at my list now, I'm thinking I have a lot more living of life to do. So if you're reading this, give it a copy and paste to your own blog and highlight those that you've done in your lifetime. Leave me a comment with a link back to your blog and it will be fun to see how different we all are!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Beretta and Ruger - Our Mini Aussie Pups

Well our two little bundles of joy are here. Our six week old miniature Australian shepherd pups made the trip home late, late Friday night with my husband and two oldest girls. And of course, they're cuter in real life than in the photos we received.

Short story, it would appear that having the two of them is a bonus. They play together, they have each other to sleep with in their crate, and there's just plain more puppiness to spread around in our family of six. Trouble is that you just want to sit around and watch them...and of course get nothing else done.

So far, potty accidents are at a minimum considering their age. They have no trouble following or coming to us when called. Their appetites are not the best, but I'm sure that will turn around after settling in and getting over any reactions from their vaccines. It would be nice seeing them to start drinking more water as I do worry a little about them staying hydrated, but the mother had all but finally weaned them before they left as it was. So I guess things are on track.

With the oldest daughter fighting the stomach flu and the next oldest coming down with some type of chest congestion after fighting a cold for a week, a lot of the puppy care has ended with me. But I'm sure glad our capable little seven-year-old is good at getting them outside for potty breaks and keeping an eye on them in general. She's been known to sit outside their crate just waiting for them to wake back up.

Since puppyhood is so fleeting, my goal is for a minimum of a picture per week to chronicle their metamorphosis into adult dogs. It's going to be a long time before we have any more puppies, so I definitely want to take advantage of the digital age we live in and capture as much of this stage of their life as possible. Here's the link to their Flckr stream.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Dog Training

Life is about to change for us...big time. We will be picking up two miniature Australian Shepherd puppies this weekend. It's been about nine years since our last puppy, a Brittany spaniel. The dog before that came to us as a one-year-old several years prior. And before that, my husband and I, or should I say my husband, brought home a yellow Labrador retriever puppy about a year into our marriage. So to say the least, it has been a long time since I've done any serious puppy raising. But I'm banking on one thing being different this time. These dogs have got to be respectful and well trained.

As much as I love to Google things and reserve books from the library, it really helps to get first hand recommendations about things that are truly important. The last time our farrier was here to trim our horse's hooves, I asked him what his go-to resource was for dog training. He has a pit bull mix that is the most well adjusted, well behaved dog you could ask for. His comment was, "Cesar Millan. Get his books. Watch his shows. This man has it figured out." So off I went to see who Cesar was.

My mother knew about him. She apparently watches his Dog Whisperer show on National Geographic TV. There are also full length videos of his past shows which you can watch online. The library is full of his books and DVD series. He has his own website and blog at Good enough recommendation for me.

Cesar's approach is that there is a leader in every pack, and that leader had better be you...not your dog. Not an aggressive leader or one who is cruel. But someone who is confident that they are in charge and can recognize that no matter how cute your puppy is, he needs to be told what to do by someone he can respect and follow. The concepts he lays out seem to be solid, so that is the way we plan on proceeding. An interesting side note is that his basic premise applies to raising children as well. There could be some good lessons learned there as well I suppose.

I'm sure this puppy training will be fodder for many posts in the future, and hopefully we don't end up as a candidate for Cesar's dog rehabilitation program. We've had too many unruly, undisciplined dogs in the past, and I'm not about to slack off this time. May the pack leader rule!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Art Supplies

Here's a question for you purchase everyday, discount art supplies for your children or seek out quality items? Crayons for example, do you give any thought to them? Grab whichever is cheapest off the rack? That would have been me until I read an interesting article years back about a family that gave their child real, working art materials to use once they realized the amount of satisfaction and creativity the child expressed when they were able to produce projects with quality art supplies. Since then I've tried to obtain 'real' supplies for my children...within reason of course...and have been surprised at how they love the feel of crayons that go down smoothly, colored pencils that do not produce thin, scratchy lines, and creamy paints that cover well and just plain feel good underneath your brush.

Here's a few of our current favorites:

Stockmar Crayons

We had relegated crayons to the maybe-again-sometime-down-the-time project area because my youngest wasn't interested in what she could produce with them. All until our neighbor purchased a small set of these crayons for her last Christmas. Until you actually use a quality crayon, you have no idea that there is even a difference. They produce thick color on the page, blend well with the other color already put down, and have vibrant colors. She decided not only to draw with them, but produce full pages of color as they were so inviting to use. I noticed on Stockmar's site they have some product information sheets that I plan to check out with additional creative uses of their crayons.

Prismacolor Colored Pencils

I have been a fan of these since my earliest days homeschooling. I believe Timberdoodle Co. Homeschool Curriculum exposed me to them. They too put down a smooth, creamy color that can be blended and used to completely fill areas. No thin, pale color here. They are a bit spendy, but taken care of properly, our box has lasted a decade or more. It's now time to purchase another, and now that Michael's has put them as a 40% off item, I'm out to get another set. They too have some tips and tricks for their colored pencils, although they are geared towards the older student or parent who could then relay the information to your child in a manner useful to them.

BioColor Paints

There are no better tempura paints around. Once again, the key seems to be color that goes down thick enough to actually produce vibrant colors. The paint is so creamy and smooth underneath your brush, you just want to keep on painting. I don't recall having a staining problem with clothes on younger painters as we've been out of that real messy stage for awhile, but precaution is probably advised. I believe these BioColor paints are produced and sold only by Discount School Supply but are well worth the cost of paying shipping and handling versus purchasing something local. The BioColor paints are so popular they have a link on their site for watching videos and downloading activities that can extend the normal use of their paints.

So the next time you head out to pick up craft supplies for your children, think about what you're buying. If it doesn't feel good in their hands or look good on the paper, irregardless of their abilities, you won't be giving them a chance to keep going with their project and expand their creativity. Do you have a favorite art supply that has made a difference in your children's love for art? If so, please share. We just might need to adopt another new favorite.

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