Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Household Organization Notebook

To be honest, I really didn't know what to call the notebook I have been keeping household information in until I started looking around to see how others have organized their household information. A Swagbucks search of "household organization notebook" came back with enough information that I decided that that title should work just fine.

A household organization notebook should be just that...a notebook that helps keep your household organized.  And I know we all could use help with that. Ideally it would have all the important information that you might need in an emergency or just refer to make daily life simpler, all located in one place. It makes it easy to pick it up and go if you need to leave the house with it quickly. I usually go through it every summer once I hopefully have a little more time and update the information.

My notebook is pretty simple: three-ring binder with page dividers labeled with a Dymo labeler. A few plastic pocket folder and sheet protectors add a little more functionality to some sections, but it's just pretty basic and gets the job done. Currently I use these sections:

Household Maintenance - My running list of where in the house I have deep cleaned and purged; a back-up copy of my Remember the Milk regular chore lists for household cleaning; information relating to cleaning zones.

Animals - Because we are responsible for so many animals, this section also has my hard-copy of the appropriate Remember the Milk (RTM) tasks for our animals; list of horse vaccines and worming schedule; puppy health information.

Garden - This is a pretty broad category but includes the pool maintenance check sheet; hard-copy RTM for watering schedules and timing for various garden-related tasks.

Books - My list of magazines to reserve the library is stored here; a listing of magazine subscriptions and their actual expirations dates (so I don't renew them as early as the publishers would like).

Health - The children's immunization cards; list per family member of dates of various medical procedures and appointments, as I can never remember how long ago someone went in for a strep throat check, physical, you name it; address list of physician/dentist/orthodontist and insurance policy names and contact information. I had a gift list stuck in here, perhaps to keep wandering eyes from seeing it, but I think it deserves its own section now.

Notes - This would be a better home for that gift list; an excellent article on prayer; verses and quotes I want to remember; and most importantly to me, a single sheet with very large type, "Excellence is achievable; perfection is God's business".

Addresses - Pretty self explanatory but a copy of our emergency contact information that is posted in the kitchen cabinet by the phone; a second copy of my Yahoo contact list (my current location of my address list).

Beaver Lake Stables - I no longer have enough activity over there to maintain its own notebook, but I do keep my receipts and statements for the work I do as well as the boarder and trainer contact information.

School - With one child in public high school, there needs to be a place to keep school progress reports, accounting receipts, and school phone numbers. This is where they go. There is also a list to record outside activities for future reference (volunteer work, awards, athletic camps, etc.); school calendar; class schedule.

Mom - No, not a section for me, but for my mother's affairs that I assist her with. There's always a need to refer back to my notes for some transaction that took place or person she contacted and cannot find the paperwork herself.

Your notebook would most likely have completely different sections although some are pretty basic to most situations. I found some other excellent notebook ideas at Blissfully Domestic, Tipnut (which has some cool printable sheets), and Flylady. Along with your own inspiration and creativity, you can pull together a notebook that meets your household's needs and frees up a little more space in your already crowded cranium. Knowing where to go for specific information is definitely worth an hour or two now to get yourself organized.

Have fun, pull together a notebook, and let me know how it went.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Iron Chef Kitchen and a Full Pantry

I suppose there is a chance that you have never heard of the Iron Chef food contest on Food Network. If so the short explanation of this program is the specialty ingredient that is revealed at the beginning of each contest to three chefs who then have to create several courses using this item and a fully stocked pantry.  They come up with some pretty stunning pieces I tell you.  And to be sure, many of them I would never touch, much less my family.  So what's the parallel here?

Our kitchen doesn't usually feature a stunning surprise ingredient too regularly, but it usually does offer up extras of several ingredients or containers of leftovers that don't seem to appeal to anyone the second time around. So my own personal Iron Chef dilemma is to simply turn those items into our next meal or face the fact that they need to go to the chickens before they spoil.  I do keep a pretty well-stocked pantry which might rival those of the TV studios. It's just one of my priorities to be sure I have on hand what I might possibly need just so I can run my own personal Iron Chef dinner any night of the week.

So here's an example of how it went this evening:

There were bowls full of spring greens from the garden needing to be used up...romaine, kale, radicchio, mache, endive, spinach. Good healthy stuff. So a main course salad was where I was headed. I mixed up some of my Honey Mustard Vinaigrette, grabbed some frozen chicken breasts out of the freezer (a branch of my well-stocked pantry) and threw them on the Foreman grill, still frozen, with a little seasoning salt.  There were snap peas from the garden and a red onion as well. In they went.  Main course was finished after the chicken slightly cooled and was sliced to top the salad.

I had some smokey paprika goat cheese that I had made, but then of course needed something to go with it. So using my recipe for Parmesan Flaxseed Crackers, I popped them into the oven...once again thanks to my pantry and my lovely Parmesan producing goats.  Since we were fresh out of croutons, the crackers would also double as 'crunch' in the salad for those who just had to have a crouton substitute. As far as goat cheese goes, some of the plain chevre would have been pretty good in the salad too, but that would have been too exotic for probably everyone.

The mystery ingredient of the week would have to be strawberries from our patch.  I had just finished reading Blue Jeans and Cotton Tees's recipe for Strawberry Pie, so I put that together as well with only a few modifications based on what I had on hand.

Another dinner down the hatch thanks to inspiration from the Iron Chef and my pantry. But in reality the majority of a lot of our work in the kitchen is probably Iron Chef based. What was on sale this week at the grocery store? What do we have too much of that we'd like to use up? What produce is overly abundant thanks to our gardens? It's a tough job sometimes, creating something from the situation we're currently handed versus what we otherwise might plan out in advance. But that's the beauty of a culinary challenge...keeps us on our toes, keeps a little extra change in the pocketbook, and keeps the dining interesting. Bon appetit!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Strawberries

This post is linked up at Wordless Wednesday at Five Minutes for Mom.

Rainier Strawberries from our Garden, June 2010

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sourdough Starter Waffles

I have kept a sourdough starter on hand off and on for most of my married life. Sometimes I have totally forgotten it for way to resuscitate it. Another time I left it setting in the oven to brew a bit overnight and inadvertently turned on the oven in the morning...created a really nice piece of plastic bowl art dripping through the wire racks and an awful mess. But lately I've tried to do a good job and keeping it going. But why? Why bother? A connection to our past when starter might have been the only way to produce leavened goods? I thought I would go do some research and see what fascinates people about sourdough starters.

For starters, Wild Yeast Blog gives a pretty consolidated list of health benefits...lower glycemic index, more available minerals, better for gluten sensitive people. Kitchen Stewardship focuses on the benefits of having starches predigested by the sourdough starter yeasts. Nutrition Data Blog has links to scientific studies backing up the health benefits of sourdough. And Ranprieur has an entire tutorial on the whys and wherefores of sourdough starters.

All of these sites offer a lot of good food for thought, but when it comes right down to it, sourdough products just taste good. Take these sourdough waffles for instance. Something about the yeast in the batter makes the crispiest waffles ever, couples it with a bit of flavor that compliments the sweet toppings we usually pile on them, and you can't beat their light interior.

Sourdough Waffles

1 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 egg
1 cup sourdough starter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup milk

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar; set aside. In another bowl whisk together egg, starter, oil, and milk. Stir wet ingredients into dry until just moistened. Preheat waffle iron. Ladle the appropriate amount of batter for your waffle iron and bake away. Waffles are done when golden and crispy. Enjoy with your favorite toppings. Mine...sliced bananas with a tiny bit of syrup. Delicious!

Have you made or purchased a sourdough starter? Do you use it frequently? Perhaps you have a link to your favorite sourdough recipe. I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Some of my Favorite Podcasts

Do you have an mp3 player? Perhaps an iPod or iPhone? Well I do now. I've worked up through my kids' hand-me downs until I now have an iPod Classic with a ton of space. Still haven't worked my way up to an iPod Touch, but I can still dream.

Anyway back to the post. Yes I love music, but my main reason for having an mp3 player is to listen to podcasts. Driving here and there. Stuck somewhere waiting for kids. Sometimes plugged into an external speaker while doing housework. It has become my link to the outside world and a little mommy culture.

I have all genres put on there, and now that the Classic has video capabilities, I am able to broaden my categories even more with those that support video podcasts. The pocasts that I subscribe to are exclusively through iTunes just because it is a one-stop spot to subscribe and synch. I'd love to go beyond their offerings and track down others but haven't figured out where to go yet. Until then here are a few of my favorites:

Best of YouTube
Brain Stuff
Cooks Illustrated
Dirty Jobs
The Dog Trainer's Quick and Dirty Tips
Earth Eats
Focus on the Family
Food Network
GardenFork TV
Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips
Martha Stewart
Modern Manners Guy
One Minute How To
The Organized Woman Show
The Podchef's Gastrocast
Safari.TV Diary
Stuff from the Science Lab
Stuff Mom Never Told You
Stuff They Don't Want You to Know
Stuff You Should Know
Vegan A Go-Go
The Veggie Kitchen
Working Class Foodies

I would have loved to put links to all these but they are easily found by going to iTunes and searching their podcasts. I noticed that some do not update very frequently, and I'm pretty certain there are some listed there that haven't published in quite awhile. As I don't have a certain listening regimen but simply listen/watch as I have the time/interest, I honestly don't keep track of the dates.

What I'd love though is to here from you if you're an avid podcast listener and find some more subscriptions to join. I'm currently of the opinion that there cannot be too much on your iPod as long as you have the room. Whether watching a cooking show, learning something new on the One Minute How To, or being amazed at Stuff You Should Know, so far it's all been good. So go on...share some of your favorites by leaving me a comment. I'm still in the business of obtaining a little more mother culture.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Simple Woman's Daybook - June 2010

The Simple Woman's Daybook is such a great way to capture a moment of time in a woman's life. I recently discovered her blog and the monthly links to other women enjoying the simple things in life. Here are my thoughts and feelings which I have linked to The Simple Woman's blog for June:

Outside my window...
I see darkness, because it is only at night I usually steal time to be online.

I am thinking...
of how I will finish processing my berries in the morning.

I am thankful for...
my lovely 4H friends who were here for our club meeting tonight.

From the kitchen...
I see rows of freezer jam setting up.

I am wearing...
my usual at-home-when-it's-cold-outside uniform of t-shirt and sweats.

I am creating...
or wishing to continue creating a pair of hand knitted socks.

I am going...
to volunteer at the Gridiron Club Football fundraiser tomorrow.

I am reading...
Every Child Can Write

I am hoping...
the coyote does not return tomorrow to polish off another three of our young hens.

I am hearing...
a dog bark in the silence of the night.

Around the house...
everyone is asleep but me.

I am remembering...
that we're here because God does love us.

I'm sharing this photo...
because it reminds me that even though spring did not arrive this year, summer is sure to show up soon.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Fun Mirrors

Oaks Park Fun Mirrors, June 2010

Friday, June 11, 2010

Do You Like Radishes?

Well, do you like radishes? Some people don't. They're spicy...too hot...tough...just don't care for them. Nice garnish, but nothing to really consider eating. I never was much of a store-bought radish person either. But home-grown radishes are really tasty. We have been growing Cherry Belle for the last few years, and then added Scarlet White Tip this year. These are good!

Radishes are pretty easy to grow if even you have a small garden space. Only thing to remember is that they need to grow quickly enough to avoid being invaded by root maggots or becoming hot and tough. They also need plenty of cool, moist soil. They are a  perfect vegetable for growing in the spring or late fall. The fact that they mature in 30-something days makes for a rewarding effort in the garden when there isn't much of anything else growing. OrganicGardening gives some great tips on growing radishes too.

But what to do with these guys other than putting into a salad? Here's what I do. It's not much of a recipe; pretty much more of a procedure:

Toast a somewhat thick slice of peasant/rustic bread.
Butter it. (THIS is the key ingredient. Don't skip this step.)
Layer thinly sliced radishes over the entire slice.
Sprinkle with kosher salt. (Table salt would work but would not taste quite the same.)

Enjoy, and then find yourself making another helping.

It's the first part of June here, and the radishes are still growing strong. So I've kept up my succession planting. We've had an extremely damp, cool spring which has probably helped. I know that once our temperatures start climbing, the radishes will just be a memory until fall.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Homeschooling With Work Boxes - Writing/Grammar - 8yo

Part six in my series on homeschooling with workboxes in our family.

I'll have to admit that this work box has been empty quite a lot this year. We just have not done a lot of formal writing. But as an 8yo, this child is not ready for anything too programmed.

What we do find ourselves doing is narrating back what has been read in other subject areas or our nightly read aloud. Impromptu books are put together by the 8yo on her own. We will pull out our Storybook Weaver Deluxe CD for the computer. And I also count the work that we do in history and science putting together notebook pages as composition. Sonlight does have a weekly composition assignment at the first grade level where she is reading, but it hasn't been a great fit with us this year. Thank you notes and a nightly journal in which she dictates a short note to different family members for them to respond back to her rounds out this box.

As far as grammar goes, the alternate day from the copywork assignment in Sonlight is a worksheet page to go along with the copywork pointing out grammar letters, punctuation, rhyming words, etc. This is plenty enough for this year. I did break down and print out a scope and sequence for first and second grades just to see how we were doing. Once in awhile I will pick a topic from that list that hasn't been covered such as alphabetizing or pointing out the parts of a children's dictionary and use that as the lesson for the day. We have always overkilled grammar at the older ages, so she has plenty of time down the road.

I want to develop a person who enjoys writing, and so at this age, it needs to come naturally and mainly in the oral form. What philosophy do you follow? Do you adapt for each child as they pass through the same grade level? I admit that I still would love to pick up some new creative ideas.

Also in this series:

Homeschooling with Workboxes - Copywork/Dictation - 8yo
Homeschooling with Workboxes - Math - 8yo
Homeschooling with Workboxes - Phonics - 8yo
Homeschooling with Workboxes - Reading - 8yo
Homeschooling with Workboxes - Bible - 8yo
Homeschooling with the Workbox System

Friday, June 4, 2010

Homeschooling With Work Boxes - Copywork/Dictation - 8yo

Part five in my series on homeschooling with workboxes.

Everyone approaches language arts differently. We tend to follow Charlotte Mason's approach and use copywork and dictation as the basis for early composition which provides for so much flexibility in this area.

With this in mind, as long as my child is working through readers at their level in Sonlight, then I use the corresponding copywork/dictation assignments outlined from them. Makes zero planning on my part. My 8yo is still in the copywork stage though she may be ready for dictation some time soon. So here's how I organize this box:

On Mondays I put in her copybook with the selection for her to copy from her Sonlight reader.

On Tuesdays I have a sheet of lined paper with her Sunday school curriculum memory verse on it to copy as there is only Sonlight copywork two days per week.

On Wednesdays we are back to the copybook and her next Sonlight passage to copy.

On Thursdays and Fridays as there is no Sonlight copywork, I put in a page from her Reason for Handwriting lesson book. By next year sometime, we will need to focus perhaps a little more as we will be approaching learning cursive, but for now this is just enough concentrated practice.

Some families might find this too much work while others not enough. Most passages are only a short sentence or two. If we are focused on a history or science topic, I might forgo our regularly scheduled copywork in favor of something in conjunction with our current project. Another nice change is to use a passage from Draw Write Now which she can add her art work to later. Sometimes I will substitute something from her science reading or most anything that has come up in real life. Lots of possibilities for copywork and handwriting practice.

Do you use a handwriting program? Do you find copywork enough handwriting practice as it is?

Also in this series:

Homeschooling with Workboxes - Writing/Grammar - 8yo
Homeschooling with Workboxes - Math - 8yo
Homeschooling with Workboxes - Phonics - 8yo
Homeschooling with Workboxes - Reading - 8yo
Homeschooling with Workboxes - Bible - 8yo
Homeschooling with the Workbox System

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Demerara Sugar and French Press Iced Coffee

It seems most everyone has a food vice of one sort or another. least since I've entered that 40-something age bracket...happens to be of the caffeinated kind. Unfortunately, I don't guzzle straight black coffee though. It has to be dolled and dressed up with sweetener and milk.

So what's so bad about caffeine? Now that it has redeemed itself with its discovered antioxidants, I'm not worried in the least about it. And milk? Full of calcium. Besides I tend to use our lovely rich goat milk when I have it on hand. So what's the vice? Well, it's the sweetener I find myself stirring in twice a day. High fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, and the like. Those additive things that aren't really good for us. But what's one to do?

Enter organic Demerara sugar. I just so happened to stumble across it in the bulk food bins while looking for something else. It looked interesting. It looked like something you would find sprinkled on the top of baked goods at a high end pastry shop. It looked intriguing enough to buy. So buy some I did.

I decided that I needed to figure out what this Demerara sugar was. Wikipedia says that Demerara sugar is, "...unrefined, granulated brown sugar made from sugar cane extract...It takes its name from the Demerara colony in Guyana, the original source of this type of sugar..." The rest of the article goes on to show how Demerara, Turbinado, and Muscovado sugar are all relatively unprocessed varieties of sugar. Good news to me, not to mention the fact that this particular Demerara sugar was organic as well.

Next up was to try out my new sweetener. I decided to stir a teaspoon of it into my coffee before splashing in my milk. To my surprise, it was more than just sweet. It had hints of caramel and a tinge of molasses, much more depth than plain white sugar or corn syrup would ever have. I then found out that I happened to be behind the trends of culinary experts of the world, not that I would expect anything different. Billingtons, an unrefined cane sugar producer, reports that "with its distinctive aroma and crunchy texture, Demerara is the traditional accompaniment to coffee." And here I thought I had discovered something new.

So here's my favorite way to enjoy this natural sugar:

Iced Coffee

1/4 cup Coffee beans, coarsely ground
1 cup Water, cold
1 cup Water, cold
2 teaspoon Demerara sugar
Ice cubes
splash Whole milk

The evening before, place 1/4 cup coarse ground coffee and 1 cup of cold water in a French coffee press. (Alternatively you could mix together the coffee and water in a glass container and use a fine mesh strainer the following morning.)

In morning add the additional 1 cup cold water and use the plunger to press down the grounds.

Divide the coffee between two glasses; stir 1 teaspoon demerara sugar into each glass. Fill to top with ice cubes or crushed ice. Pour a splash of milk over the top if desired.

Serve immediately.

So I say, go ahead and have your food vice. But just see if you can't tweak it to make it a tad healthier. You might find as I did that the healthier version is actually much tastier!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Homeschooling With Work Boxes - Phonics - 8yo

Part four in my series on homeschooling with workboxes. For our 8yo, phonics instruction goes right along with her basic readers to complete her beginning literature program.

Phonics for us is another not so straight-forward work box. We do our two-page spread daily in Explode the Code but that gets rather monotonous. I have picked up a lot of practical ideas from Peggy Kaye's Games for Reading which can be subbed out in the workbox instead. After some on-line poking around, I also found a lot of printable resources that I plan to stick in now and then. We have some language arts games that were above my 8yo's abilities, but I think I will start trying some out shortly. I usually work through the Explode the Code series with the kids through all six books, and since we are just about through with book four, we have some time before I will think about spelling.

When spelling does roll around, I almost always go with Spelling Power for my children. Another no-frills but short and sweet spelling program.

My guess is that there are some pretty creative ways to make this work box fun. I'd love to hear from you how you tweak your box so that it keeps up interest on a subject such as phonics or spelling that can get tedious at times.

Also in this series:

Homeschooling with Workboxes - Writing/Grammar - 8yo
Homeschooling with Workboxes - Copywork/Dictation - 8yo
Homeschooling with Workboxes - Math - 8yo
Homeschooling with Workboxes - Reading - 8yo
Homeschooling with Workboxes - Bible - 8yo
Homeschooling with the Workbox System

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