Friday, February 26, 2010

Stumped by static

Who knew laundry was such a compelling topic? Since mentioning my static issues last month, I stumbled across this forum, as well as two magazine articles on the subject!

I received lots of ideas in the comments on my post, and I've tried a few different things:

Monica mentioned that over-drying clothes causes static, so I've been trying to pay more attention to that. Anne Marie brilliantly suggested I line-dry just my fleece items, so I've been pulling the fleece stuff out of the dryer after about 10 minutes. Since our century-old house has these fabulous radiators, it's easy to toss the kids' pajamas on and the radiant heat dries them in about an hour with less static-y results!
When I asked your opinions about dryer balls, Milissa delivered! She had purchased some and didn't care for them*, so she willingly passed them on to me. I'm still not certain they make a big difference where static is concerned, but I like that I'm not using traditional fabric softener, and my kids love playing with them. Thanks again, Milissa!
Adding vinegar was also suggested on my post, but I didn't try that. I never looked it up on-line, and I wasn't sure how much to add or when. One other solution to the static issue is called spring. Some people who live in more moderate climates are apparently already experiencing it, and I am anxiously awaiting our turn. =)

For even more compelling thoughts on laundry: A couple of years ago on my blog, I asked people to comment with their household size and how many loads of laundry they do each week. Twenty-four people responded, and the averages came to 4 people and 8 loads of laundry. (We are below average, as we have 4 people in our family, and I wash 5-6 loads per week.)
*Milissa felt like the dryer balls were destructive to some of her linens. I decided to take the plunge anyway, and I've noticed no wear or tear.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Checking in

I wanted to post a few random updates while I'm thinking of them:

*The part-time job I've been doing for the past 6 weeks wraps up today. I've enjoyed the work, but am also glad it was a temporary situation. I put in a lot of extra hours last week leading up to the event we'd been planning, so it will feel nice to have a little more "down" time!

*I was recently asked if I've continued to take monthly retreats now that I have two kids. I do take them, but less frequently (about every other month)--this is something I'd like to be more consistent about. My retreats are usually shorter now (But it's amazing what even an hour can do to provide clarity and much needed peace and quiet!) and I often just hide out in our bedroom with the door closed and a fan turned on to block the noise!

*My dad is doing pretty well, and just signed up for another marathon. Praise the Lord! I definitely plan to be at the finish line--his determination is an inspiration!

*It's snow, snow, snow around these parts. Last week a radio announcer made a joke that the low that night was "warming up" to NEGATIVE 12. Yikes! Here's a pic of Nathan taken yesterday in our yard. (That is the actual amount of snow--no alterations were made in this photo!)
*Eric and Nathan had the opportunity at our church this weekend to help package food kits that will be shipped to Haiti. Nathan's continued to talk and pray about the situation there, so it was really neat that he could do something hands-on to help.

*As usual, I have lots of posts brewing in my head, but first up will be a riveting post about . . . laundry! I know the wait will be difficult. =)

Have a good week, everyone!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Carrie & Carolyn

Remember my creative birthday gift? Well, Carolyn came over this past weekend for our cooking day. (I felt this choice was more practical for me right now--maybe down the road, I will persue learning how to can.) We donned aprons (thanks, Erin!) and got to work. It was fun to be in the kitchen side-by-side and to learn lots of tips firsthand. I confess I've always let my mixer do all the kneading, but with making 2 double batches of bread, we definitely needed to be hands-on! Carolyn showed me how to knead, and also how to shape the loaves, which is something I always feel a little awkward doing.

Once everything was in the process of cooking or baking, we sat down at the computer so she could introduce me to our local grocery co-op. I've heard rumblings about it for years, but was never quite sure how it worked or who to talk to. Since Carolyn is one of the head officers, I definitely got the inside scoop! It doesn't work quite how I thought (prices are higher than I anticipated), but I'm glad to see what's available and may join in at some point.
There are obvious benefits of bulk cooking, but I was exhausted at the end of the afternoon! It was fun to work alongside someone else, though, and I was quite proud of what we made: 4 loaves of honey whole wheat bread, 4 loaves of oatmeal bread, 2 large batches of chicken and rice soup, 18 cups of cooked chicken (!), 16 cups of hearty chicken stock and 1 batch of granola! It was very rewarding seeing it all lined up on the shelf, as well as sitting down to a delicious supper of fresh soup and bread. Yum!
I think Carolyn had a nice afternoon, too. She has two daughters who both live far from home (sound familiar, Mom?!), so she said this was a neat opportunity for her. I appreciated her willingness to come over, and of course am grateful to Eric for having the idea in the first place--and for watching the kids so we could work without interruption (Wahoo!!)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

10 on the 10th: the ramble edition

I had so much fun participating in Mer's 10 on the 10th last month that I thought I'd do it again. This time I don't really have a theme, just a random list of 10 things:


1. I don't like using overhead lights, especially at night, and I prefer natural light as much as possible during the day.


2. Kiwi used to be my favorite fruit, but I hadn't had one for probably a couple years until Eric sliced one up for my birthday breakfast in bed. (What a sweetie!) While I was overseas in college, I learned from a Frenchman that you can eat kiwi fruit with the skin on. Kinda funny, since the peel is furry, but I've done it a few times. My current favorite fruit is definitely fresh pineapple!


3. Speaking of pineapple, I recently read about this gadget, and decided to purchase one using some of my birthday money! It's in the mail right now, but I'll let you know soon what I think.


4. Sometimes I really enjoy eating a meal by myself at home--not so much at restaurants, although I've done it several times. A few years ago, I had lunch by myself at Applebee's as kind of a personal challenge. And even though I brought a book to read, I still felt awkward/silly.


5. I truly love practical gifts. My friend Mandi and I were laughing about this recently, because we are totally different in this regard. One of my favorite birthday presents was these pens (my long-time favorite, a splurge compared to basic Bics or freebies)--thanks, Grandma!


6. Along the lines of #5, my friend Sara gave me a roll of this when it first came out. I use it very sparingly, and she will laugh out loud when she reads this, because I've had that same box for over 6 years now! (She knew when she gave it to me that I'd been wanting to try it, but wouldn't spend the money--in my opinion, that is a fabulous kind of present!) Sadly, the roll is almost gone, so if anyone has a coupon, feel free to send it my way. =)


7. OK, well, maybe this list is turning into a theme of my quirky favorite gifts. Because while typing this, I just realized I hadn't yet shared about a fabulous package my sister-in-law, Kristin, sent me for Christmas. I'm a fan of Trader Joe's, but rarely have a chance to shop there. A friend got me hooked on this delicious snack, and Kristin sent me two packages of them, in addition to all this other fun loot. Love it!

8. I have a bad habit of looking at the clock when I (inevitably) wake up in the middle of the night. I then have an even worse habit of doing the math in my head of how many hours of sleep I've gotten, how much sleep I might get before Natalie wakes up, etc. Naturally, these calculations probably cause me to get less sleep on some occasions. The phrase "Don't lose sleep over it" comes to mind . . .


9. Last fall, I read on my friend Leah's blog that she only subscribes to as many blogs as she is years old. I thought that was an interesting idea and decided to follow suit. Thanks to a recent birthday, I was able to add a new one to my reader: this was my selection, a thought-provoking blog I just discovered a couple weeks ago.


10. I smiled when I saw a recent article called "You're so organized" I recently had coffee (correction: a caramel steamer--I don't like coffee!) with several acquaintances, and after launching into a description of my reusable trip packing list, one of the girls raised her eyebrows at me, and said "Wow, you must be really organized!" Well, I try. But as we all know, everybody has their trouble spots! Last week, Eric and I finally attacked our guest room closet, which had become a total catchall disaster. Eric was in shock when we pulled everything out and covered two twin beds with the contents, especially since it's a pretty small closet! After much sorting and removing, I'm happy to say it looks a ton better.


Thanks for hosting, Mer! If you survived reading my list and are hankering for more, click here. =)

Friday, February 5, 2010

You win some, you lose some

Here are some of our recent wins and losses when it comes to trying new recipes!

WINS:

I received Family Feasts for $75 a Week for Christmas, and have really been enjoying it. These are a couple of the recipes we've tried and really liked from the book:

Chicken, potato and black bean soup

4 cups chicken broth
4 cups water
4 medium-size russet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
1 medium-size sweet potato, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces (did not include)
1 T. olive oil
2 cups chicken cut into bite-size pieces
1 medium-size onion, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, thinly sliced
2 tsps dried oregano
2 tsps ground cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp dried sage
2 tbs seeded and diced green chiles (optional, did not include)
15 oz. can black beans, undrained
1/4 cup lime juice

Bring broth and water to boil in a soup pot; add potatoes and boil ten minutes. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add chicken and cook until it turns opaque. Add onion and celery; cook, stirring a few times, until vegetables are soft. Add oregano, cumin, cayenne, sage, and green chiles. Stir to combine and cook 1 to 2 minutes longer. Add mixture from skillet into soup with boiling potatoes. Reduce heat to medium and add can of black beans. Simmer soup until potatoes are tender. When potatoes are done, stir in lime juice. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with taco chips. (We loved the crunch of these in the soup!)

Curried Chicken and Rice Casserole

The book says this makes an 8x8 pan, but it filled my 9x13. I also thought the rice/broth ratio was a little off so I'm posting this with my alterations.

2 T. butter * 2 ribs celery, chopped * 1 small minced onion * 2 carrots, chopped * 1 peeled and chopped apple * 3 c. brown rice * 2 c. diced cooked chicken * 4 1/2 c. chicken broth * 1 c. milk * 2 tsp. curry powder * 1 tsp. black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in a skillet over med-high heat. Add veggies, and cook for a few minutes. Add the rest of ingredients, and pour mixture into casserole dish. Bake 45 minutes (or more) until rice is tender.

Many thanks to Lisa in GA who sent me several crockpot recipes, including this one:

Mock Pierogies

1/2 c. butter, melted * 1 c chopped onion * 6-7 potatoes, peeled, cubed, and cooked * 2 c. shredded chedder * 16 oz. bowtie pasta, cooked ** Combine butter and onion in slow cooker; add potatoes. Sprinkle with half the cheese. Spread pasta on top, and cover with remaining cheese. Cook on low 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Lisa also sent me this delicious recipe:

Crockpot Cashew Chicken


2 c. cooked, diced chicken * 2 c baby carrots * 1/2 c water or broth * 4 T soy sauce * 8 oz snow peas * 1 chopped red pepper * 20 oz pineapple tidbits, drained and 2T juice reserved * 1/2 c cashews * Cooked rice ** Cook chicken, carrots, 2 T soy sauce, and water/broth in slow cooker on low for 3 hours. Stir in snow peas, red pepper, and pineapple. Cook 20 minutes. Stir in 2T soy sauce and 2T pineapple juice. Add cashews, and cook for 10 more minutes. Serve over rice.

This BBQ chicken casserole added some variety to our usual fare. I omitted the corn (not a fan, unless it's on the cob) and decreased the BBQ sauce by 75% as it's a tomato-based product (due to Eric's allergy, though he can tolerate small amounts), and thought it still had plenty of flavor. Yum!


I know recipes for Banana bread abound, and I already have a go-to recipe. But a friend brought this over last week, and Eric and I agreed that it's amazing!

1/2 c. butter
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
2 c. sifted flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3 large bananas, mashed
1 c. chopped nuts
Cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time. Mix in sifted dry ingredients. Beat in mashed bananas, and add nuts. Pour into greased, floured loaf pan. Bake at 350* for 50 to 60 minutes, or until done. While warm, pour melted butter (1 tablespoon) over top, and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.

And now for some LOSSES:

*I kept reading on various blogs about adding spinach leaves to smoothies, and I decided to give it a try. I like spinach, but I thought the smoothie was terrible. Thankfully, Nathan liked it, so he had the whole thing!

*Remember how I tried making cranberry sauce? Well, Eric was less than thrilled with the change in this dish. I now have several cups of homemade cranberry sauce and am wondering what to do with it. I'm sure I could find some recipes on-line, but I thought I'd pick your brains first since you always have such great ideas!

*I've seen lots of recipes for polenta lately, and decided to give this frugal staple a try. I was not a fan, and neither was Nathan. I had to coach him through swallowing his one and only bite!

*We recently hosted some of our neighbors for supper, and I made two kinds of soup, including white chili. I deviated from my usual recipe, because it's hard to guess the spice-o-meter for guests. Well, I leaned too far in the opposite direction, and the chili was really bland. Had I thought to taste the soup in advance, I could have remedied the situation. Once I tried it that night, I was so embarassed! It wasn't terrible--just not very flavorful.

So there you have it, a few of our recent wins and losses! Anybody else have some to share?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Some thoughts on the pantry challenge

My goal for the January pantry challenge was to spend half our usual monthly grocery budget. I was motivated to begin with, but my determination was revved up when we decided to immediately send the second half of our grocery money to Haiti. I knew then that I really had to make it work!


I'm thankful I don't operate on the "half-amount" every month, but participating in this challenge was very beneficial for me. I'm not sure I made fewer trips to the grocery store in January, but I was definitely more strategic. I made my final grocery run last Friday, and had just $7 left to spend! I whittled my list down to the basics--bread, milk, yogurt and bananas and ended up with just a few coins. Whew--we did it!


The hardest part of the challenge was not being able to stock up on some great sales, as I didn't have the funds to do so. Throughout the month, I heard that listed as a concern or criticism of the challenge ("Won't you deplete your pantry and overspend when 'starting over?'"), and I thought this was a valuable article in that regard. (I just re-read this paragraph, and it sounds a bit silly to say it was "hard" to not stock up on some things. When I think about it, it's pretty amazing to even have a pantry--a solid supply of food stashed away--and I don't want to take that for granted!)

When we started the month, our deep freezer was kind of a pit, as I'd just been tossing in packages of meat, cooked beans, and diced veggies. Organizing the freezer was a bonus of this challenge, as I needed to "consult" the freezer regularly when deciding what to make. I was also more intentional than usual about menu planning. We tried quite a few new recipes this month, and I plan to post some of them on Friday.


I think that doing this challenge, or something similar, would be a helpful annual tradition for us. In addition, Eric and I had a budget meeting over the weekend and decided to decrease our monthly grocery fund by about 15%. I've been working on a basic price book, and am becoming more aware of when and where to stock up on certain items, so I'm actually excited to continue challenging myself in this way. Though I feel like kind of a nerd admitting it, I'm having a lot of fun comparing prices and trying to get good deals!