Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Where I want this blog to go

I have been gone for a little bit now. Mostly it is because I am not sure where I want this blog to go. I have so many things that I am interested in that I am having trouble figuring out what I want to write about.

I have also been away because we have been battling illness. The boys have had sniffles off and on and Matthew had influenza. I had the boys get flu shots this year because of their young age and a new baby coming into the family right around flu season. I also got a flu shot because Little Little would not be able to get one (and he would be inoculated through me). I have only gotten them when I was pregnant with each child because I loss a pregnancy and I wanted to do all I could to make sure they had help with their immune systems (also Middle Little was born during the whole Swine Flu hoopla). I was never one to get a flu shot and figured I wouldn't get them again because they were a waste. After seeing Matt go through a real flu and not a stomach bug and then it missing me and the boys I will be getting one from now on. I am not saying everyone should get shots because we are told to - it is your choice. My experience has not been negative and I feel it helps. Do your own research and make your own choice. You know I always say what works for me may not work for you. :)

Ok so on to what I would like to do with this blog. I sat down and came up with my goals for 2011 (yeah only a few months late there momma!). My goals came down to a few main categories. Family activities, organizing, gardening, sewing, and meal planning. Those will be the topics I will be covering in the year 2011. In January I will set down, look over my goals, the progress for each goal over the year and create new goals.

My 2011 Goals
Gardening -
Plant a vegetable garden and record growth and yeild
Clean front garden bed

Family Activites -
Take the boys to the library once a week
Take the boys to the park, local garden, nature center, etc once a week (weather permitting)
Potty train Big Little - OH PLEASE LET THIS BE THE YEAR!
Take a family photo once a month - you know it took me about 30 minutes of scanning though pictures to find one I am in!!! It was Christmas 2010. I need to be in more pictures of my kids will not be able to know what I looked like when I am gone. Not to be morbid - just practical. 

Sewing -
This is a new hobby for me but I really want to make it work
Sew 7 dresses
Sew 7 aprons
Make master quilt out of baby blankets

Organizing -
Clear out not used items - take to garage sale/good will
Do a regular chore list (daily, weekly, monthly, season, kids)

Meal Planning -
Freezer Meals
Budget for 5 people average $250 a month (including toiletries, cleaning products, etc)
Writing a monthly meal plan - and wait for it... STICK TO IT!

Now I know where I am going with this blog I am hoping I will keep up with it more... provided we don't have any more illnesses sideline us.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Organization Challenge : Week 12

Lets start off with some info. I was gone last week from the challenge. I was burnt out. I went back to some areas I organized only to see that they were back to the way they were before. The pantry cabinet, the paperwork clutter, the basement all back to the pre-challenge state. I was so defeated. I gave up. Then I read Laura's post from last week about being so proud that people were still keeping with the challenge. She was right. I needed to take a week off but I am back with new vision on what I want to accomplish.

This week? I purged. I purged like I was trying to get rid of a horrible illness. Actually I was. Clutter makes it hard to accomplish anything. The week that I cleaned the basement I slept better than I have in a long while. Then my mother-in-law came over and we went through her stuff that is stored in our basement and made a huge mess all over again. (we didn't have a plan. It was very spur of the moment and the huge pile shows. I am happy it has been sorted through though. I now have to price it all for the garage sale) My sleep has gone back to the way it was before I cleaned the basement and that is not good.

I did not take before or after pictures of this week because it was just small piles that were a little bit out of control but easy for me to get back down before they got much bigger.

Magazines - We have about 10 different kinds of magazines that come into our home. I flip through them and then toss them in the bathroom for ..... ummm lets say extended stays. The pile can soon get to be 2 feet high in a matter of months. No bathroom is large enough to handle that much clutter but my 10x10 size room takes quite a visual beating with that many magazines in one location. It is now pared down to 5 magazines. How? Easy. I was keeping them because there was a recipe I wanted to keep. 130 some odd pages kept for just one half page recipe (in most cases). So one night I grabbed them, turned on How I Met Your Mother and ripped out the recipe and tossed the magazine into the recycling bin. Then I took those recipes and started typing them into Word (yes I could scan them but I want to be able to adjust them when I try them and if they are already in the system I can do the easier). Once I have them typed in they also meet the recycling bin to become reacquainted with their brethren. I rip them out because I can't always get them all typed in so if they are ripped out I can file them away until I can get to them, in case you were wondering.

Kids Books - I like to read to the Littles but they really don't offer too much opinions about what they want to hear at bedtime. I try giving options but two are too small to tell me yes or no (although I still give them the option) and Big Little has a communication delay so he also doesn't say yes or no when asked a question (still ask just to show him that we want a response).

Any-who... I am always grabbing the same few books off the 3 shelves we have. Mostly because we have 3 full shelves of books. Kids books are not that thick so that amounts to 100 or so books. I decided to go through them and keep one shelf. We keep them up so Middle Little can't rip them (he even rips board books!) but he has gotten to a few. The ones that were ripped were tossed into a box. It hurt so bad to get rid of books by way of recycling. I was in big pain over but in the end I had to realize that no one would want a book that was missing a page or two. Then I took out books that we never read because of subject matter. We had books that were for 7 and 8 year olds, books that were too scary for the Littles (I still have nightmares about Bearestine Bears Strangers), or ones that they just don't like the characters (as much as I like to think I don't gender stereotype, my boys really just don't care for princess stories) . I decided those could be sold at the garage sale to go to someone who would appreciate them. When they get to be older I know they will get more age appropriate books to replace those ones for older kids. Grandma is a teacher so Christmas and birthdays always come with a kiss and a book. We also request books at holiday time because so many friends and relatives don't have a ton of money and want to get the kids something. Books can be found at the dollar store and many other places for little money. Just need to remember the one in one out rule from now on!

Paperwork/Paper clutterHaven't I done this already? Yes, Yes I have. Yet we still have it piled in a basket on the kitchen table. I am not scrambling to try to find a bill like I was before, but I do have to dig through a lot of junk in a basket to find the bill. Well I am always saying "do what works for YOUR family" and this system was not working. Off to try something new. I read in one of my 10 magazines that you could save $720 in stamps alone if you go paperless. It also stops the clutter from even coming to your house. So I set up a folder on my computer and made sub-folders for each bill. Then I went to the website and requested paperless billing. I have the bills sent to my email and download the bill from there, placing it in the correct sub-folder. That way I have them in a place I know where they are and I don't have to find physical storage for them. I have just started this so we will see if it will work or not, but I am hopeful.

Chores - The last thing I did was streamline our chores. With the Littles I am finding that at the end of the day I was looking around thinking I accomplished nothing. I would write a to-do list every once in a while but there was always the same thing and half the time I couldn't remember when I did something last. Now this is one of those things that I found stuff that I thought would work on other peoples blogs, saved it and then never implemented it. I did this so long ago I don't remember who came up with the concept so I apologize if I don't credit everyone who came up with the ideas. It is a hodgepodge of ideas that I put together but not one idea is my own.

The daily chores and weekly chores are place on a word document. You can create one yourself buy writing down what you want to be done daily with 7 circles underneath each item (one for each day of the week) and then on the other side the name for the day of the week with that days chores under it, leaving a place to mark off that chore. You can then laminate it and use a dry erase marker to make your markings or print off 52 pages, up to you.

Some examples of my daily chores are:
Make Beds
Fill Dishwasher
Empty Dishwasher
Round up trash from bathroom, bedrooms and kitchen. Take out.
Charge Phones
Fill Diaper Bin
Pick up toys

Some exsamples of my weekly chores are:
Sunday - Meal plan
review budget with Matt
Monday - Wash Mom and Dad's clothes
dust living room
wash living room window
Tuesday - Wash Kids clothes
Clean fridge
Mop Kitchen floors

You get the idea.

Then lastly I have a once a month plan to end the frustration of having to look at places I just organized get messy again. On the first of the month, each month I will (and the family can help too) be going though each room and doing some tasks to make sure things are not getting out of control. Example you say? Of course you know I love to explain myself more. In the living room we will be making sure books, dvd's and video games have not gotten out of control (one in one out). Kitchen will be straightening cabinets, taking stock of what we have, what we are low on, what we just didn't use. The list can go on, just pick things that fit your lifestyle and home.

So there is my week of the organization challenge. Are you finding places not staying as tidy as you had them? Did you hit "a wall" and need support to bust through it?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dishwasher Soap

My first item I tested for homemade vs mass produced was dishwasher soap. I found a recipe that many people said in the comments worked so I was very eager to try it. Homestead Revival has it pretty well laid out as to why it works and what you need to make it. It consists of 3 basic ingredients that you can also use for homemade laundry soap - to be made at a later date - as well.

The cost breakdown is about $1.17 to make homemade compared to about $3 for generic detergent.

How does it work? Well Amy from Homestead Revival explains that it is not a one size fits all type of thing. I feel that is very true. She said she used 1 and 1/2 teaspoons per load and I found that 1 and 1/4 worked a bit better in my dishwasher. It is something that needs to be played with a bit in order to get it to work well for you, but I truly feel it will work.

I did notice that it left a dullness to plastic items but the new commercial stuff does that as well. Here in Michigan (and many other places) mass producers of dishwasher detergent have been transitioning to phosphorous free soap. This has been making my dishes dull and sometimes doesn't clean as well. I consider the homemade stuff to work better than the new mass produced item. 

As for time. It took me a total of 5 minutes to place it in a jar and shake. That was opening the boxes and getting out measuring cups. I will say that I had a hard time finding the Arm and Hammer Washing Soda at Wal-mart but I was able to find it at Meijer. I checked out the prices on Amazon and I would tell you to just go to the store. The prices online were MUCH higher without the cost of shipping. When that was added in you could buy one box at a store about 3 times over for the price they were charging on Amazon.

I feel this is certainly a recipe that is worth your time and energy to try. The cost is not outrageous and if you don't like it the supplies could be used for other items.

Let me know if you have tried this and how it worked for you.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Making it myself or just buy it?

As I look through many blogs I am finding a pattern in what I choose to click on. I am intrigued about making things from scratch and for-go buying the items already made. I then asked some friends if they were interested in knowing how to (or if it was worth it) and was surprised by the answer. People actually do care about this stuff and it isn't just me who is fascinated by this subject (although with the amount of blogs I look at to find the recipes I want to try I shouldn't be surprised. It seems our culture is trying to find a balance between what we did in the past and what we do currently.)

So let me start this series of blogs off with a run down of why I am looking at homemade versus mass produced products. There are a few factors that cross my mind and may cross yours too when you look at the reasons to choose one method or another. Here is my list to reason why I am making one choice over another.

Cost Comparison -
In this day and age many people look at ways to cut corners. Yes you can save most of the time making items yourself but not always. For example - toothpaste. When you factor in supplies, storage, time to make and overall effectiveness I have not found a homemade toothpaste recipe that can do a better job than it's mass produced counter parts. If you match up coupons and sales you almost always can get toothpaste for free if you don't care about the brand. If you are brand loyal, most of the time you still can get away with spending no more than $3 every few months (for our family. We don't go through a ton of toothpaste because many of our inhabitants have yet to get all their teeth).

I will break down each item I make and give you the mass produced items price and the homemade price. This will help you figure out if you even want to try the recipe. I will use the same formula on everything but not everything will fit all categories. The formula will look like this:

Mass Produce Price - not on sale - This will be easy since I just have to look at the tag. Remember regions and stores vary. It will just be a way for me (and you) to see what you could expect to pay if you were to get this item.
Home Made Price
Then you will see a breakdown of the homemade product. For this I will use the cost per unit, per ingredient,to get a total cost.
Time - Our time is important so I will give you about how long it took of actual work to make the item. Some items take a long time but not much I have to involve myself in. For example, one item takes the time of me pouring it, adding an ingredient or two and waiting a few months. I will include all of this when I give the breakdown.

Yes it is a deadly sin to be prideful, but I just don't know how else to explain it. When you make something out of pretty basic ingredients and share it with someone else you get a sense of joy from their acknowledgment. I like it when I receive complements about a carrot cake or brownies (man we like sugar in our house!). It makes me feel like more than just a mom.

Knowing what is in the products we use and consume

Ahh the big one! I will have to say that this is probably the second most popular reason people choose to try homemade. Well I am just going to get this out there now... Two buzz words that really bug me are "green" and "organic". I sometimes feel more compelled NOT to do something when those words are thrown around than I am to actually think "oh this is a product I should use". I am not an expert on the subject nor do I want to be. I am pretty sure that these words are used just like the words "new and improved" on products. They are just put on items to sell them most of the time. Well I am not buying it big business!
Rant Over
I will say that I do care about how many chemicals are in my house. It isn't so much the whole BH - blah blah blah, but more the fact that an item gets so processed that who the heck knows if it will hurt you years from now. I strongly believe that "whole" items (foods or items we have in our home) are best. Once again not something I am too passionate about to do a ton of research on or get a degree in. Just a mom with three boys who wants to do the best she feels she can for her family.

I have had this section going in my head for a week. I have wanted to explain this part without making anyone nervous for me or even put the idea in your heads. I have no idea how to explain this but I will try my best and hope it comes across how I intend it to, here it goes....

I strongly believe that another reason we are turning to the "old way" of doing things is also set some in fear. It could be a fear of money, a fear of loss of production, a fear of survival. With hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, unemployment, etc happening all over the world I can not help but see that people seem to think the end is near. We all have a fear of the unknown and when you can see things when they happen it becomes even more scary.

I don't care for a political or religious debate on this because I find those subjects to be very personal. It just gets messy and one person blames this and that person and it goes on and on. As for religion my stance is I don't want you telling me what you believe unsolicited so I won't do it to you. (I hope that isn't taken harshly.)


With social media being everywhere - and most people know I love me some Facebook - it seems we are disconnected because we are so connected. I am so drawn to how my grandmother did things now because I feel isolated as a stay at home mom of 3 (wonderful) little Littles. As I learn these skills or relearn in some cases, I feel that I am connecting my children and myself to our past. We are making tangible items and in turn making a connection with each other with memories.

Those are the main things that I think are drawing myself and others to the "homemade" items. Do you think there is a reason that stands out more than the others as to why you are interested in trying instead of buying?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St Patrick's Day

We have many traditions in our house for almost every holiday. St. Patrick's Day is no exception. For the day - and sometimes week - I am cooking festive meals. We always have the corned beef and potatoes (no one around here likes cabbage all that much). The boys and Mom get a Shamrock Shake from Mc D's and share. We also take a photo of our leprechauns dressed in green. This year I did not pick out their clothes because it was a hectic morning. Kids screaming first thing in the morning, Little Little up all night long and I only had breakfasts that required at least 90 seconds in the microwave. Apparently 90 seconds causes meltdowns in one year olds. Once we got breakfast squared away, Little Little wanted to eat - leaving Mom out of "commission" for at least 20 minutes. Dad stepped in and got the Littles clothes around. I have learned not to complain about what he picks out because he is helping. If I don't want him to help all I have to do is criticize his choices. Since I need the help I have learned to let some things go. This is no exception. I asked why he got a yellow shirt for Middle Little and green pants. He said that is just what he grabbed. I went with it because honestly they are kids and within 20 minutes will have something on their clothes. I was impressed that all three Littles had something green! Dad did too! He isn't into holidays as much as I am, but I did tell Big Little to pinch Daddy so maybe he didn't want to get pinched.
Usually we go to the park as well. It is the first warm day most of the time and we celebrate buy going outside. This year we will be doing that this weekend. I can not get all three to the park by myself - and Dad is at work in the evening. I will make sure that when Big Little gets off the bus we will spend some time in the yard before digging into our Irish Feast.

Do you have a tradition? I would love to hear what you do to celebrate this fun holiday.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Organization Challenge: Kids Clothes

I can not believe it is Friday. Really, Friday? Well I guess when you get as little sleep as I do the days really run together. Since it is Friday it means another week of 'The Challenge". I kinda took it a tad easy but did something that has been driving me crazy for a LONG time. The kids clothes.

I have a small 2 year old (3 in April) a chunky 1 year old and a even chunkier 2 month old. I have clothes for them ranging from newborn to 4T. I had an idea that I would go through the boxes and keep only 14 items of each size. Meaning I would keep 14 pairs of pants in size 2T, 14 pairs in size 6-9 months, etc. This created a HUGE mess because I would have to go through each item of clothing and inspect for stains, holes, rips, etc. Then I also had to remember that what my oldest wore at 6 months would not be the same thing my 2 month old would wear when he is at that age - I live in a state with seasons. It was just a daunting task and seemed to cause more work than what was needed. I also attempted this when I was very pregnant with Little Little and could barely get everyday tasks done.

Today I decided I would have one tote per size. I sat them out and looked at the tags only when sorting. I didn't care if they had stains or what-not because when I get to placing them in the drawers I would pull those out if I need to. I may need to keep some stained clothes for painting or gardening as well. It took me all of 30 minutes to get through 7 boxes of clothes - and they are FULL boxes. I slapped a label on the boxes and put them in the basement for clothing changes when I need to.

Since Little Little is the last of the babies (unless the doctors didn't get the clips just right) once he is out of a size, the clothing will be placed in our large family garage sale we hold every summer. If an item is too stained I plan on cutting the piece up into squares for picnic blankets.

So why am I using a large tote to hold just one size? My kids are very lucky in the gift department from family and friends. I have tried to tell people that they don't have to buy them things but have found that people love to buy baby clothes. I have to admit I have a hard time not getting a clearance Target item here and there. When we get a article of clothing for holidays, birthdays, just because I have room to put the item away until they are ready to wear them. I have some new items from Christmas that I just left the tags on when I was sorting. I didn't see the need in making more work for myself.

There is my tip for organizing - Don't make more work for yourself. Changing a plan that isn't working is ok. This journey is for you and your family. Organization is not a one size fits all, much like my kids clothing.

Middle Little and Big Little 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Make Ahead Breakfast

Ahh Breakfast. The most important meal of the day and yet the hardest one to get on the table to eat. I have never been a huge breakfast person. When it was just me, I would skip breakfast many times because I was in a big hurry. I would sleep in and then have no time to eat and still get to where I needed to be in time. Then you add in 3 little growing boys to the mix and not only did I have to get food on the table for myself but also some screaming toddlers.

I find breakfast to be even more stressful than dinner (the whole "witching hour" thing) to get on the table when you have little ones. The main reason is they wake up because they are hungry and crying is the fastest way of communication at this age. Most days I have to wake up at 5am to get up before Big and Medium Little and I have been up at least 2 times with Little Little. I have been trying to teach the older ones to sleep until 7am but it seems that 6am is the time they want to start stirring. So how does a groggy mommy get meals around that a 1 and 3 year old can eat without much help because I am tending to a 2 month old? I make my breakfast a month or so ahead of time. If I didn't we would be eating sugary cereal all the time.

Stock Photo

Planning Ahead

I am a big planner but you don't have to be to eat a nice breakfast. I have some standard recipes that require little more than an hour to make many and then a microwave to reheat for 90 seconds in the morning. I also have some that you need to get out the night before and then pop in the oven in the morning. 

I choose one day to make many different types of breakfast items and then kick the kids out of the kitchen. Dad is the only one in charge that day and Mom is 100% off limits to taking care of children. I have also spent a week making 2 or 3 dishes at nap time each day. The best way to set up any make ahead cooking is to choose one or two main ingredients and work off from those. It is also important to remember that you don't have to have a sausage based meal every day, for example, but you can make 4 sausage based items and have them throughout a month or two. It won't get repetitive if you don't want it to. 

How do I find what to make?

I have found a wonderful site for inspiration of make-a-head meals. Life as a Mom is a great resource for ideas of how to cook ahead of time, what meals work and ones that don't, and how to store foods. I have also found that going online and looking for OAMC (once a month cooking) meals I can get an idea of things that I would like to try. When trying a recipe I always make it small, test in the freezer and then try to eat it a few days later. I also send some to work with Dad to get their input as well. They are very good at telling me what needs to change, what they like, what they don't like, etc. Ultimately it is up to my family to make the decision because we will be eating it, but it nice to get other feedback from outside sources. I also try to make all my recipes toddler friendly. Since small children out number adults we try to have everything in a form little ones can eat them in. We don't sacrifice taste just sometimes the presentation is missing.

Some recipes I like (and so do the Littles)

Pancakes - make a ton, place on a cookie sheet, freeze for 30 minutes and place in a container. Placing on a cookie sheet will Flash Freeze them and keep them from sticking for the long term freeze. 

Muffins - I have my favorite muffin mix and I store the DRY ingredients in a mason jar. When it is early on a Sunday morning I just have to add milk, veggie oil and a egg. Saves time because you are not getting measuring cups and many other ingredients out.

Granola - I am working on my recipe for this. 

These are just a few that we have tried with success. I have a few that I want to try but haven't had time on my big cooking days. I also have a few that I like but need some tweaking to get just right. 

Do you freezer cook? Anything you do to make breakfast less hectic?