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Friday, February 28, 2014

Clutter's Last Stand Project 6: More Bathroom Storage

I’m writing this post between games at the home school state basketball tournament. As I was rushing around getting ready to leave Thursday morning, I grabbed my camera to get a photo of the bathroom cabinet I organized this week. I pressed the switch to turn it on and nothing happened. I pulled the battery, put it in the charger, waited an hour, re-installed the battery, and tried again. Still, there was no whirring sound of the opening lens. I fear some young person may have broken yet another camera. Arrrrgh! I have the “smartest” basic phone, but the picture quality leaves a lot to be desired. Until I can get Wonder Husband to repair the other camera, the phone camera will have to do.

In the past, this calamity would have been all the excuse I needed to march down to the Verizon store and sign up for a smart phone. Since we are committed to a non-consumptive lifestyle, I’ll just have to make do with what we have. I hope the camera can be fixed. It takes great pictures, even if a photography moron is operating it. Still, if any of you have a digital camera languishing in a drawer somewhere, think of me before you toss it in the next mission trip garage sale.

Back to that bathroom cabinet…

Earlier in the week, I was taking a shower. When I reached up to grab the shampoo, I discovered that both it and my conditioner were gone. I was one unhappy mama. When I found out they had been swiped and carried up to the girls' bathroom, Leah informed me that we were completely out of shampoo and conditioner. How could that be? If you read my toilet paper post, you know I abhor running out of anything essential. (I know, a true minimalist would question the assigning an “essential” label to shampoo and conditioner. We’ll have to look past that. It’s a heart change we’re after here.)

Determined to make sure this never happens again, I decided to have one central location for all extra shampoo, soap, etc. Since I do the toiletries shopping (and I avoid the kids’ bathroom like the plague), I decided the logical storage location is the cabinet above the toilet in the master bath. That way I can monitor consumption and purchase replacements as needed. This required some reorganization, but I think it turned out nicely, as you can see in this picture.



Baskets which we already had hold like items – all the bar soap, sunscreen, etc. In lieu of baskets, I would have used shoe boxes. Shampoos, conditioners, and body washes are organized in a straight line on one shelf. I can easily see what I have and what I need. Did you notice the bottle of Eckerd Body Wash? That’s a classic. Anyone know how long ago CVS bought out Eckerd? I know it’s been at least 6 years. Well, at least it isn’t Revco brand!

I tend to be queen of the store brand products. In 95+% of the cases, I've found store brand toiletries to be of excellent quality. Back in the Eckerd Drug days, every 3-4 months they would have a sale – buy one Eckerd brand product, get a second product of equal or lesser value free. I took these opportunities to stock up on everything from soap, to feminine products, to meds, shampoos, school supplies, foil, zipper storage bags, cleaners, food items, etc. It was a great deal that CVS has yet to reproduce. (I guess they heard about me and didn't like my ways!) Wal*Mart, CVS, Walgreens, and Kroger all market excellent store brand products – I've tried them all, and have found this to be a very simple way to cut my spending. Usually the stores place the store brand item next to the comparable national brand product. Often their will be a little label on the shelf or container that says, "Compare to Robitussin," or "Same Ingredients as NyQuil." Thar makes it super simple to find the product I need.

Next week, I will be blogging from the frozen land of central Nebraska. Esther and I are leaving Sunday and will get to spend a week with our Rachel, her husband, Jacob, and his family. I can hardly wait. If you think about it, keep us in your prayers for good weather and safe travels. 


Have a great weekend!



Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Wednesday Eats and Treats: Kathleen's Mean Beans

With 4 teenagers and 2 "tweens" in the house, someone is always hungry. I usually prepare beans on Mondays. We have beans and rice or super burritos on the first day. Then we mash and re-fry the leftover beans. The beans stay in the refrigerator, along with a steady supply of flour tortillas and shredded cheese. When someone is about to perish from hunger, the making a of bean burrito are close at hand. So far, no one from this household has died from hunger!


Kathleen's Mean Beans

Ingredients
  • 2 pounds dry pinto beans
  • 8 cups chicken broth (or water + bouillon)
  • 2 large onions (or 2 T onion powder)
  • 2 fresh jalapenos (or 2 T pickled jalapenos)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced (or 1 tsp. garlic powder)
  • 1 cup green salsa (or red picante sauce or salsa)
  • 1 T cumin
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • Water, if needed
Directions
  1. Soak pinto beans overnight.
  2. Rinse beans and pour into large slow cooker.
  3. Pour in chicken broth.
  4. Stir in onion, jalapeno, garlic, salsa, cumin, and pepper.
  5. Cook on high for 6 hours, low for 8-10 hours, until beans are tender.
  6. Add water as needed to keep the beans moist.
Addendum

To turn Kathleen’s Mean Beans into creamy refried beans, perfect for burritos:
  1. Drain or ladle out broth* until the level is a little below the top.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon each of chili powder and ground cumin, and 1 teaspoon of garlic salt.
  3. Mix in 2 to 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil or melted animal fat. (Lard is traditional.**)
  4. Use blender to puree or potato masher in a cast iron skillet until smooth.
  5. Simmer in frying pan, stirring frequently to prevent burning, until desired thickness is achieved. (Like gravy, it will thicken slightly after cooling down.)
*   Makes a great stock for vegetable soups – I like to add beef bouillon & sautéed onions for a hearty onion soup.
**I prefer rendered beef or chicken fat, and bacon grease is also pretty tasty. Although not as healthy as vegetable oil, this is the secret to a creamy texture and soul comforting satisfaction. I think olive oil is the best alternative.




Monday, February 24, 2014

Monday's Musings: Week 8

This was my highest spending week of the year. It's probably no coincidence that it came on the heels of my lowest spending week of the year. 

Here's the spending breakdown for Week 8.

Groceries/Food                            $130.75
Piano Lessons                                 $10.00
Gifts                                                 $95.53
School Expense (Leah)                  $10.00
Toiletries                                            $5.02  
Total                                               $251.30

Here are a few things that contributed to my increased spending.

  • Overconfidence -- Considering myself an expert "non-spender" because of the previous week, I let my guard down. 
  • A major case of writer's block -- A serious misunderstanding regarding one of my current projects may have some serious financial implications, not only to our family, but to others I hold near and dear. The gravity of the situation really knocked the wind out of my sails. I spent hours last week staring at my computer screen, unable to produce anything of merit. Criticism of my work led me to doubt my abilities as a writer. 
  • Worry -- I began to worry about our future financial condition. As we're going through Financial Peace University, Syd and I are changing some spending patterns and setting short and long range goals. We've determined that I am at a place where I can contribute more to our finances by working part-time from home. When the above-mentioned fiasco happened, I began to worry that I had really messed up the great opportunity I have to do work that I love from home. 
  • Conflict -- Relationship struggles that are inherent with raising a large family (especially when dealing with adoption-related issues) reared their ugly heads, and I spent most of the week feeling like the poster child for "Worst-Mom-Ever."
  • Time Constraints -- 3 nights of basketball games, dentist appointments for the entire family, Syd and David being at a conference on Friday and Saturday, a wedding to attend, school work for my 3 home-educated children, helping my older three with their school-related needs, and running our household were just too much to handle. I realize we don't just have too much physical "stuff." We have too many demands on our time and energy. As much as we all enjoy basketball, I'm really looking forward to the season's end on March 1. 

With everything that was happening this week, I just didn't have the energy to fight the battle against consumerism. As a matter of fact, it actually felt good to spend money. I was trying to make myself feel better by indulging in spending. Bad, bad idea.

What I'm realizing is that this is a spiritual battle we're waging. Cutting our spending and getting on top of our finances will free up resources that will allow us to give more of ourselves to things in life that are really important. Not being owned by our possessions will help us gain an eternal perspective on the pressing needs of the world's poor and oppressed. Not being tied to our comfort level might even allow us to one day answer a call we both felt when we were in college -- to serve in the mission field where Syd can help bring clean water to villages and I can help in educational efforts, all the while sharing the love of Christ with others.

Our challenge isn't just a simple little social experiment. It has eternal implications. The forces of evil will seek to destroy us, to make us despair, to cause conflict within our family. And so, in the midst of our efforts, it is imperative that we find our strength, our hope, and our help in the Lord.
Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
    and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
    for He grants sleep to those He loves.
Psalm 127:1-2

As I first sat down to compose this post, I felt like a defeated and weary failure. In my dark place, God reminded me of some very important truths. If I try to complete our challenge in my own strength, I am doomed to failure. If I try to have a sanitized blog that won't offend anyone because of it's Christian tone, then it is worthless. This battle is not mine, it is the Lord's, and He deserves all the glory. I don't want to live a life filled with vain efforts. Instead, I want to live in the house that HE builds, and have HIM standing watch over the affairs of my life.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Clutter's Last Stand Project #5: The Master Bedroom Corner

I knew I was asking for trouble when we put the crib in our bedroom when we have no crib occupant living here. That's just an invitation to fill it with stuff. And then, there is the example of my grandmother. She had a crib in her guest room, and while it was never piled high with assorted clutter, it did always contain a couple of old fabric store pattern books and assorted goodies. I don't recall ever seeing a baby in there, even though she had 20 grandchildren, and I was the third oldest.

While the laundry room was bad, at least it was presentable. On the other hand, the bedroom corner is a place no one dares to look. Who knows what lurks beneath the piles and piles of stuff?

There were gift-wrapping supplies from Christmas, miscellaneous objects from both weddings & Mother's Day 2013, assorted craft projects, palette-making materials from our two youngest who still like to sleep in our room from time to time, outgrown kids' clothing, and assorted bed linens. In other words, it was a MESS!


I set up my sorting station in the center of my bed and got to work.


I pulled out all the big items first -- the broken chair, crash pad, and Christmas decorations. That made a big difference. My corner began to look manageable.

Then I started on the crib -- comforters and blankets, clothes, etc.
Before long, the crib was empty,
and I had 3 sacks of things to give away, 3 containers of trash, a neat bedroom corner,
and a bedroom that looks so much better.
WHOOP!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Wednesday Eats and Treats:Best Ever Chocolate Birthday Cake


I've been making this recipe for 25+ years. It was given to me by Carol Hearne, one of  my beloved's coworkers, when he worked for the City of San Marcos.

It's simple and delicious -- perfect for choc-aholic birthday celebrations.


Best Ever Chocolate Birthday Cake


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, combine:
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar

In a saucepan, combine:
1 cup water
4 tablespoons cocoa
2 sticks of butter (NOT margarine)

Bring mixture to a boil. Add to flour-sugar mixture. Blend.

Add:
2 slightly beaten eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon soda dissolved in 1/2 cup buttermilk
(I usually substitute 1/2 cup milk + 1 teaspoon lemon juice for the buttermilk.)

Mix together. Pour into greased 9 x 13 pan. 
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.


Icing - prepare while cake is baking


In a saucepan, combine:
 1 stick butter  (NOT margarine)
4 tablespoons cocoa
1/3 cup milk

Bring to a boil. Remove from fire. (I love that line...)

Add:
3 1/2 - 4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped nuts (We prefer pecans.)

Mix together and spread on hot cake in pan.

That's it -- warm and delicious. 

Best when served with copious amounts of ice cream! Blue Bell Natural Vanilla Bean, Coffee, or Mocha Almond Fudge are our favorites. Peppermint and Mint Chocolate Chip are also quite good with this cake.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Monday Musings: Week 7

Short and sweet today --

We're dipping into our food stores, and I'm not replacing things we use. This requires some creativity in the kitchen. For example, what do we cook when we run out of ground beef from the freezer? This week, we had chicken tacos instead of beef since I had precooked chicken in the freezer. We are having to re-tool some of our favorite recipes, as well as branch out into some new ones. This is tough when there isn't a lot of time for experimenting and the  busyness of life often requires that we just get something edible on the table.

While I love the opportunity for our children to play basketball, I'll breathe a sigh of relief when the season ends in two weeks. The games and evening practices wreak havoc on our dinner schedule, and the temptation to grab pizza or chicken or Subway or anything-we-can-because-we-are-starving on the way home is strong.

The Dave Ramsey class is really great. This week, we're working on our budget. We've operated on the envelope system for household expenses for several years. It's worked well for us, but we need some tweaking of our budget. Talking about money can sometimes be emotionally-charged, but it's always worth it in the end. 

Here's my spending breakdown for Week 7.

Groceries                                         $54.65
Piano Lessons                                 $10.00
Lunch after service project             $6.50
Tournament T-shirt                      $10.00  
Total                                                 $81.15

Friday, February 14, 2014

Clutter's Last Stand: Project #4 The Laundry Room, Part 2


Last week, my life was so cluttered with three million things to do that I didn't even touch my laundry room clutter. We have relatives coming in town tomorrow, so I have a good incentive to get this done.

Here is my BEFORE picture:
And here is the finished product:






















Cleaning the obvious clutter was easy. Packing up the wedding and graduation decorations ans putting away folded laundry was  a cinch. Then came the hard part.

Emotions got involved.


We are licensed foster parents. With the weddings, etc. from last year, we went on inactive status with our agency. If you or anyone you know have ever gone through the licensing process, you know that it is long and complicated and expensive. It involves training upon training, background checks, inspections, getting our homestead up to licensing standards including everything from fencing the pond to vaccinating the cat to making sure we have approved trash cans. If there is any way to keep our license active, that's what we want to do.

What does that have to do with the laundry room?


The laundry room counter doubles as a changing table, and this is the area  where I keep the supplies for caring for sweet little foster babies. Before the end of March, we have to make a decision about whether we go back on active status or relinquish our license.  In order to properly declutter, I need to know what that decision is. I don't want to decide, because I'm afraid we're going to let it lapse, and I don't want to. I don't want to let go of this ministry God has placed on my heart.

So, I came up with a compromise. The baby stuff stays. It's neat and organized, and "at the ready" should we decide to go back on active status. If we don't, I know several people with babies, and I'll box it up and pass it on to them. In the meantime, maybe I'll find out one of my married children is expecting a wee one, and then I can have a "Honey" stash. You never know...

For those that like pictures, here are a few more:
Sadly, someone dumped out a container of baby powder, and this drawer was a MESS!
Isn't this MUCH better? This makes me smile.
 
                                                 These neat and organized cabinets make me smile, too.
 My decluttering "kit" has it's very own home. My professional kit includes two laundry baskets, a crate, a storage container and a bunch of trash bags. I take it to an area and attack -- one container for keepers, one for things to give away, one for trash, and one for the undecided stuff that I'll hang on to for a little while before parting with it.

This is the tub for outgrown clothes. I've found the kids are much more likely to get them to me if I have a place to put them. Below that it our foster care "at the ready" container. It contains sheets, burp clothes,blankets, and a small assortment of unisex clothes for when we get a placement. On our last time around, the caseworker called to confirm we were willing to take a placement. In the next breath, she said she was less than 30 minutes away and this baby had nothing except one baby bottle and the clothes on his back.

So, there you go. I feel like I've really accomplished something. Now, to decide where to declutter next week. 

Have a blessed weekend,


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Wednesday Eats and Treats: Octopus (Just for Fun!)

Did you know that an ounce of octopus only has 47 calories? So, when Essie came to me with a request to cook octo-dogs for her birthday lunch, I was thrilled. She even had a recipe complete with photos.

Octo-Dogs and Shells

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients
4 hot dogs
1 1/2 cup uncooked small shell pasta
1 1/2 cup frozen mixed vegetables
I cup prepared Alfredo sauce
Yellow mustard in squeeze bottle
Cheese flavored fish-shaped crackers (like Pepperidge Farm goldfish)



Directions
1. Lay 1 hot dog on a cutting surface. Starting 1 inch from one end of the hot dog, slice hot dog vertically in half. Roll hot dog 1/4 turn. Starting 1 inch from the same end, slice in half vertically again, making 4 segments connected at the top. Slice each segment in half vertically, creating a total of 8 "legs." Repeat with remaining hot dogs.

2. Place hot dogs in a medium saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Remove from heat; set aside.

3. Prepare pasta according to package directions, stirring in vegetables during the last 3 minutes of cooking time. Drain; return to pan. Stir in Alfredo sauce. Heat over low heat until heated through. Divide pasta mixture between 4 plates.

4. Drain octo-dogs. Arrange one octo-dog on top of pasta mixture on each plate. Using mustard, draw eyes on "heads" of octo-dogs. Sprinkle crackers over pasta.

5. We served this with rainbow jello parfaits topped with whipped cream and sprinkles. As you can see from the photo below, it was a very festive meal.

We found the recipe in Cooking for Kids: Winning Recipes. I bought my copy at Sam's, but you can buy it for $4 at Amazon.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Monday Musings: Week 6

Last week was a crazy, crazy week. I had a HUGE writing project due by Friday, and our home-school group hosted a 3-day basketball tournament. I didn't even get to address my clutter, so I had nothing to post for Friday. I briefly considered clearing everything off in the laundry room, tossing it in the bathtub, and taking a few pictures. Knowing that wouldn't be honest, I decided to swallow my pride, admit my failings, and move on. There it is -- confession is good for the soul, right?

Syd and I, along with our 18 and 19 year-olds, Miriam and David, enrolled in a Dave Ramsey financial planning class at a local church. Last night was Session 1, and I'm really excited about what we'll be learning. What a gift this will be for Miriam and David! If you aren't familiar with his money management principles, you might want to follow this link to explore Financial Peace University.

I wondered what we would do with the $800+ that we didn't spend last month, and now I know. We're going to use that money to start an emergency fund. Dave Ramsey recommends getting $1000 as soon as possible, and then building it up to the point that you have a balance that will cover 3-6 months of living expenses. 

With all the time I spent writing this past week, I was feeling guilty about ignoring my family. Plus, I thought, What's the use of working to make money if you aren't going to use it? So, we went to the local Chinese buffet after church and dropped $80. I caught myself looking at the kids plates to assess if they were getting $10 worth of food. (Does anyone else do that?) None of us "got our money's worth" on that meal, and I think that's the last time we'll be going there. I certainly don't want to be guilty of pressuring my kids to stuff their faces. Most of them would have been just as happy, or happier, if I had packed sandwiches and we'd gone to the local theater to watch the new Lego movie.

Here's my spending breakdown for Week 6.

Groceries                                      $137.90
Laundry detergent                        $19.42
Sunday lunch for 8                        $80.00  
Total                                              $237.32

That's it for today. I hope you have a blessed week.




Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Wednesday Eats and Treats: Mini Chicken Pot Pies

I'm trying to help my children learn some recipes they can make for simple breakfasts and lunches. Josiah and I made these for lunch today, and they were simple and very tasty.


Mini Chicken Pot Pies

(Serves 8, assuming none of them are hungry teenage boys.)


Ingredients:
  • 1 12-16 oz. package frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1-2 cups diced cooked chicken*, **
  • 1 can (10.75 ounce) condensed cream of chicken soup*, ***
  • 1 can of 8 Pillsbury Grands! refrigerated biscuits (or store brand equivalent)***
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional)
*You can substitute leftover roast and cream of mushroom soup for the chicken and cream of chicken soup.
**I had some canned chicken I needed to use, and it tasted just fine.
***You purists out there can make your own biscuits and make a cream sauce in place of the canned soup.


Directions:
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cook vegetables in saucepan or microwave. Drain well.
  3. Add chicken and soup; mix well. Heat until bubbly.
  4. Press or roll each biscuit into a 5 1/2-inch round. Place 1 round in each of 8 greased regular size muffin cups. Firmly press in bottom and up sides, forming a 3/4-inch rim.

     

  5. Spoon filling into each, evenly dividing it among them.
  6. Pull edges of dough over filling toward center; pleat and pinch dough gently to hold in place.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees F for 18-22 minutes, or until biscuits are golden brown.
  8. Remove from oven; sprinkle with cheese. Return to oven until cheese is melted -- about 2 minutes.
  9. Cool 1 minute; remove from pan.
  10. Enjoy with sliced apples and carrots. Caution: Filling will be hot!










Mini Chicken Pot Pies (Text Only)

This is for those of you who want the mini Chicken Pot Pie recipe, but you don't want to print out all the pictures.  

I'm trying to help my children learn some recipes they can make for simple breakfasts and lunches. Josiah and I made these for lunch today, and they were simple and very tasty.

Mini Chicken Pot Pies

(Serves 8, assuming none of them are hungry teenage boys.)

Ingredients:
  • 1 12-16 oz. package frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1-2 cups diced cooked chicken*,**
  • 1 can (10.75 ounce) condensed cream of chicken soup*,***
  • 1 can of 8 Pillsbury Grands! refrigerated biscuits (or store brand equivalent)***
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional)
*You can substitute leftover roast and cream of mushroom soup for the chicken and cream of chicken soup.
**I had some canned chicken I needed to use, and it tasted just fine.
***You purists out there can make your own biscuits and make a cream sauce in place of the canned soup.

Directions:
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cook vegetables in saucepan or microwave. Drain well.
  3. Add chicken and soup; mix well. Heat until bubbly.
  4. Press or roll each biscuit into a 5 1/2-inch round. Place 1 round in each of 8 greased regular size muffin cups. Firmly press in bottom and up sides, forming a 3/4-inch rim.
  5. Spoon filling into each, evenly dividing it among them.
  6. Pull edges of dough over filling toward center; pleat and pinch dough gently to hold in place.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees F for 18-22 minutes, or until biscuits are golden brown.
  8. Remove from oven; sprinkle with cheese. Return to oven until cheese is melted -- about 2 minutes.
  9. Cool 1 minute; remove from pan.
  10. Enjoy with sliced apples and carrots. Caution: Filling will be hot!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Monday Musings: Week 5


Can it already be February? We're one month into our challenge, and it feels like it's becoming a part of who we are. I can honestly say that I have lost the desire to mindlessly shop. I  go to the store, get what I need, and get out of there. Even though I went to town four days last week, I only went to Wal-Mart once. When Sunday's paper comes, I might flip through the sale papers to see if there is something on sale that I specifically need. However, more often than not, I just push them to the side, and read the articles. 

I never realized how much I was affected by the flood of email offers that come to my inbox. Since January, I've been deleting them without opening, but in the next few days, I plan to unsubscribe from a lot of notifications I get that are just thinly (or not so thinly) veiled pitches for me to buy something I don't need. Same thing goes for the text alerts from stores which send me coupons for a percentage off. You know the ones, "The more you spend, the more you save." Yeah, right.

Early in our marriage (back in the days of two incomes and no children), I would go on shopping expeditions and come home with bags full, proudly announcing, "Honey, you won't believe what I saved!" Even then, my husband, who was wise beyond his years, would say, "I don't care what you saved. Just tell me what you SPENT!"

Now that I'm keeping records of exactly what I spend, and being accountable to not only Syd, but to my readers as well, the wisdom of his thinking sinks in deeply. 

Here's my spending breakdown for Week 5.

Groceries                                      $99.06
Printer Ink                                    $17.83
Piano Lessons                              $10.00
Lunch after community service    $8.12   
Total                                            $135.01

Of the money that we allot for household spending, which includes food, toiletries, clothing, entertainment, school materials, gifts, miscellaneous purchases, and piano lessons, I saved $614 in January, just by applying our use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without principle. Since February is a shorter month, I anticipate that we might even see greater savings. 

For transparency, I need to let you know that we have allotted $20 each month for Syd and I for discretionary spending. At this time, we aren't including gasoline, car repairs, charitable giving, utilities, taxes, house payments, or insurance costs in our spending reports. Also, Syd has a "date night" fund. Anyone with kids knows how important it is to have couple time, so that fund is off limits. So, if you happen to run into us at the Roxton Cafe on a Thursday night, you won't think this whole exercise is a sham.