Sunday, February 28, 2010

Seven More Habits of Highly Successful Housekeepers

Image courtesy of

When I wrote the Seven Habits of Highly Successful Housekeepers post, I asked my friend Jodi--mother of five children, twelve and under, and a highly successful homemaker--to share with me some of her habits that help to keep her house under control at all times. I was blessed by what she shared and am confident you will be too.

  1. Get up plenty of time before the children. Proverbs 31 talks about rising when it is dark. I usually get up 1-1/2 - 2 hours before my children. This gives sufficient time for meaningful devotion time of reading and praying. It also allows me to put dishes in drainer away, move a load of laundry along, look over my list for the day, check email, turn on the Scentsy [wickless candle], etc. I cannot stress enough how this is probably the single most important factor in determining how my day goes. The key to remember: In order to this, I must be disciplined about getting the kids and myself to bed at a decent hour (always by 10 pm for me). And trust me, if you get up consistently by 5 or so, you will be tired by 10!
  2. Don't allow children to make multiple large messes. This is very important to me. I don't mind play-doh, legos, Lincoln logs and trucks. They just can't be out at the same time, especially in the living room (I am much more relaxed about their rooms). Don't be afraid to have discipline consequences for disobedience. Most of the times that my children are confused is due to the fact that I am not consistent in my follow-through. My goal is to explain simply what needs to be done. Monitor their immediate obedience (or disobedience). Praise them or discipline them. And, yes, I spank for this. If I have asked them to do something and they refuse or delay, they are disobeying me. Period. This is very Biblical, loving and effective. The better I am in this area all the time the better my day goes.
  3. Practice cleaning one area completely before a meal or snack, even if you might come back to it later. This accomplishes two things in our house. 1 - It reinforces the idea of good work ethic. You don't work, you don't eat. 2 - It gets one area of your house tidy. Again, assign the children a task while you do a task.
  4. Invite people over often. Let's face it. Most people tidy up before guests arrive. So...invite someone over weekly. It can be for dinner, coffee or a just a play date. You will be motivated to have your house cleaned up (not perfection, but inviting) so that you can relax and enjoy yourself when guests are there. The more often you invite others over, the tidier it stays! Trust me.
  5. Keep it clean. Cleaning shouldn't be a major overhaul. Doing a little bit, all of the time, is what my day consists of. This is not a burden any more than other "professional" jobs are. I am thrilled to be a stay-at-home mom and my husband will believe me if I delight in my children and my home! One other tidbit - I like to check email and blogs so I discipline myself in this area and make sure dishes and floors are done before I enjoy this pleasure.
  6. Be scheduled. You know this would be a big one for me. Everything from naps, meals, outings, chores. Kids need boundaries, they delight in boundaries. This is not an elimination of freedom or fun, but parameters around it. Training is my job as a parent, and I have seen wonderful, happy results in eating, sleeping and playing by putting my children on eating and sleeping schedules from infancy. (Most of the frazzled mommies begging for relief are the ones that demand feed and have very light to no schedules. On the other hand, the ones that have scheduled naps and feedings seem much more relaxed, efficient and able to be involved in activities and ministry outside the home. I know this is not absolute, and trust me, I know there are always exceptions to the rule, but for the most part it is what I have consistently observed.) You know the old saying, "If momma ain't happy, ain't no one happy!" How true is that. If I am fatigued because I have been up all night with kids, the next day is probably not going to go as well as a well-rested mommy! [Moms In Need of Mercy here--Jodi and I approach this a bit differently. I tend to have more of a general routine, and more flexible feeding times. But I asked her to share the habits that work best for her (and her family), and this is one of them. If you think it could help your family, you can prayerfully consider becoming more scheduled. If you do not agree with a more formal schedule, that's fine too! God has created us all differently. We are to do that which we feel He is calling us to.]
  7. Be willing to work hard! Some people ask, "What's your secret?" It's no secret. It's hard work, especially in the beginning, but I believe it is foundational to the training of children and letting them know from early on the roles of parents and children.'s worth it!!
Thanks, Jodi!

If, like me, you are working to improve your housekeeping habits, I encourage you to pick one area to concentrate the bulk of your efforts. As you see improvement, you can work on adding a new habit. Don't try to do everything all at once, or you--like someone begin to train for a triathlon--will burn out quickly.

I'm continuing to train my mental responses to do something immediately that I see needs to be done. I'm seeing improvement! I am also working on inviting people over regularly (at least once every couple of weeks). Jodi's right--it provides a benchmark for making sure your house is relatively tidy. Plus it's a great way to bless a friend, or even a stranger! The more comfortable you become with having people over, the more you realize it doesn't have to be perfect--just inviting (your spirit of hospitality has more to do with that than your home!).

Last week, I said we'd start link-ups for Messy Monday. So here we are! If you have a housekeeping tip that has helped you get it together, please link up a past or present post to encourage us all!

(I am having some problems getting the links to display properly. Please check back later).

Once-a-Month Cooking Festival: Marinara Sauce

It's time again for our once-a-month cooking festival. While other bloggers are focusing on bulk cooking days right now, our festival is geared more toward everyday cooking--simple steps you can take to reduce your time in the kitchen throughout the month.

A few weeks ago, I made homemade marinara sauce for the first time ever. I absolutely love it! When I buy pasta sauce in the store, I prefer the Classico brand; I just think it tastes the best. I am so pleased to say that this recipe tastes very much like the Classico kind I pay nearly $3 for a jar. For $3, I made four jars worth!

Here's how:
  1. I purchased a giant can of good-quality crushed tomatoes from Sam's Club. It was about $2.70.
  2. I coarsely chopped about 1 cup of onion.
  3. I minced a lot of garlic (the recipe calls for 4 T.; I think I used somewhere in the ballpark of 8 cloves)
  4. Saute the onion and garlic in a lot of olive oil (the recipe calls for 3/4 c. but I used only enough to coat the bottom of the pan) in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat until the onion is softened.
  5. Add the tomatoes (be careful, they'll splatter!), 2 teaspoons salt (I used coarse salt), 1 tsp. pepper, and 1 T. oregano and 1 T. basil (If using fresh herbs, use 1/4 c. fresh oregano and 1/3 c. basil).
  6. Simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes or until very thick.
  7. You can puree the mixture (working in batches) in a food processor or blender, and then return it to the saucepan, adding fresh herbs (if using them) and 1/2 tsp. additional salt. Continue to simmer, partially covered, for another 30 minutes or until as thick as you like. (I did not put mine in the blender; I prefer sauce a bit thicker).
  8. Once I simmered it until my desired consistency (about an hour, I think), I poured it in empty spaghetti sauce jars I have been saving, leaving a few inches for the sauce to expand. I let the jars cool slightly and then put them in the freezer.
  9. Next time I need pasta sauce, no more will I have to add it to the grocery list or watch for sales! I can just pull a jar out of my freezer, allow it to thaw (or thaw quickly by placing the jar in boiling water for a bit) and voila! 
I also wanted to point out a tip about freezing chicken nuggets, cookie dough already shaped, and more. I have been wondering for some time about how to prep nuggets and freeze them without the breading clumping together in the freezer. Laura shows us how. Simply lay everything out the way you want it on a baking sheet (lined with parchment paper or tin foil for easier cleanup), freeze it, then pop everything all together in a freezer bag, and it won't stick together but will be in the form you want!

This week, I'll be featuring some other great recipes from the book, Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys. I absolutely love this book! So much more than just another cookbook--more like an excellent tutorial on feeding hungry boys and men. And here's the good news for you: I will be giving away a copy, courtesy of Artisan Press.

But before we get to that, what kitchen shortcuts are you celebrating that you can share with us for our once-a-month cooking festival? I'd love for you to link up a post you've written (past or present), or share in the comments section.

May your week start out with lots of mercy and grace!


Friday, February 26, 2010

The Topic of “Me” Time

Photo By Steve Webel

In the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, Adam had abundant “me” time. He could do anything he wanted, all day long, and he had every minute of every day all to himself. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it (at least for a day)? Yet despite all this alone time, he was lonely. In His infinite wisdom, God said that it was not good for him to be alone, and created a helper for him, Eve.

Ever since then, instead of being grateful for the gift of people in our lives, we have been looking to withdraw and get back to that “me” time. In reading through the Gospels, I find it interesting that Jesus Himself never took “me” time except to spend time in prayer with the Father. We don’t read about Him needing to recharge by going to look around at the market, or the old-fashioned version of Home Depot, or the nearest coffee shop to read. We’re told He only withdrew to pray.

As wives and mothers, we can feel very stretched by all the demands pressing in on us. It is very easy to snap when all we want is a few minutes—quiet, and alone—and yet we continue to be bombarded with needs to fulfill. We reach the end of our rope. The rubber-band snaps. To help our perspective in these situations, I think there is much to learn from a day in Jesus’ life.

One day, Jesus received some devastating news: John the Baptist’s head was served to King Herod on a plate. The Bible tells us that “when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself” (Matthew 14:13). He wanted some alone time. So alone, he went to a desolate place. No one would bother him there, right? Wrong.

The Bible tells us that when the crowds heard where he was going, they followed him. When he arrived, instead of being alone in a desolate place, there was a great crowd already awaiting him. Did he snap: “I just want a few minutes alone, people! Come on!” No. He had compassion on them, and even healed their sick. And then they got hungry and needed to be fed too. (The nerve!) The disciples urged Him to send the people away to a village so they could buy food. But Jesus met the need with only five loaves and two fish (and prayer). Only after all their needs were met (the sick healed, their hunger fed), did Jesus finally get some “me” time. He went up on the mountain by himself to pray.

Here’s what I see in this account, and how it relates to us as moms:

Let’s say you get your kids down for a nap. The house is quiet. Ahhh. Finally some time to just sit, without answering the constant questions of a curious four-year old, without breaking up fights, without doing anything. Time to drink some tea, read a book or magazine, or just totally veg. Then you hear the baby crying. End of the “me” time. Are we grumpy? Irritated? Grouchy?

Instead, may I encourage us to follow Christ’s example. We already know Jesus wanted to be alone. Yet when He saw that wasn’t going to happen, instead of snapping at the crowd, or acting kind outwardly but feeling irritated inwardly, He had compassion on them.

Jesus also teaches us that the strength to meet all the needs that press in on us comes from prayer. We constantly read of Him blanketing His day in prayer. He rose early and spent time alone in prayer. At the end of the day, he went by himself to pray. In the Matthew 14 account, He prayed so long, in fact, that the disciples were several miles out in the boat (probably about 3 miles according to the ESV Study Bible). He appeared to the disciples “in the fourth watch of the night,” which would have been between 3:00 and 6:00 AM (since the Roman military measured the night in four watches of three hours each, starting at 6PM). That means Jesus was gone, praying, for about 9 hours.

Instead of thinking we desperately need some “me” time alone to recharge, Jesus shows us what we really need is prayer. His example shows us that prayer should be the first place we turn when we feel pressed. This is where we receive the strength to meet the demands of our day.

I also find it interesting that, while Adam walked with God in the Garden of Eden, the Lord said “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2:18). We really would be lonely without people in our lives. Even though it takes much effort and endurance to live with them some days and serve them consistently, they are blessings given to us by God—for our good. May we embrace them, and their needs, with joy.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Finding Time for Exercise: When Do You Fit It In?

Coffee Talk Thursday

Before I had kids, I went to the gym regularly (a free membership was one of the perks of working on-air for the TV station). After I had my first son, I lost all the baby weight fairly easily, and then some. I’m 5’4”, and I was wearing a 4 (I know; I was pretty pleased, myself! I am not there now, though). With my baby in the jogging stroller, we set off for long walks, even some runs, in the summer.

Then I got pregnant again. The last ten pounds of that baby weight did not come off as easily as with the first, and when the summer following my middle son's first birthday hit, I was pregnant again. Those extra pounds got added to the several I gained during my pregnancy.

Now that my youngest is 16 months, and I am not pregnant, I’m setting out to tackle those final ten pounds that have hung on so tenaciously. I do not have a gym membership, and we do not have a treadmill or any other kind of large exercise equipment. Oh, and I have three very active little boys that occupy my every minute.

So what do I do?

  • I know I could wake up early. However, for me, on the days I do, it is more important to me to prepare spiritually for my day by reading Scripture and spending time in prayer. Eventually, when my baby is fully weaned, if I can rise even earlier consistently, I could try to find some time in the early morning hours.
  • For me, I can't find time to exercise apart from my kids; so what I do has to involve them.
  • I am looking forward to the arrival of summer. I much prefer exercising outdoors over indoors and love to load the guys up in the double stroller and head out for long, brisk walks. We garden. We take bike rides. I may try to get back to roller-blading. Lots of outdoor activity.
  • Since it's the middle of winter in the Rockies, and I can't take everyone out for exercise as regularly as I would like, I have been doing some exercise videos a few times a week. I like Jillian Michaels - 30 Day Shred and Denise Austin: Get Fit Daily Dozen. They are both short enough that I can finish the workout without my baby clamoring at my leg for me to hold him. Plus, the 30 Day Shred involves push-ups, jumping jacks, and other exercises that the boys can get into too.
  • On the days that I don't get "intentional" exercise, I try to remember that we are quite active anyway. I have three flights of stairs in my house, that I climb up and down several times a day. We eat healthy. I try not to be too hard on myself. I've done that before; it's not too healthy.
  • I try to be patient about losing the last few pounds. I find they drop off completely when my baby is fully weaned.
I really like what Jordan Rubin writes in his book, The Maker's Diet:
“From my research, I am convinced the Creator’s prescription for exercise more closely resembles real-life activities involved in the daily patterns of work and play.

The longest lived peoples in human history usually walked everywhere they went, trailed their animals and herds, hunted wild game on foot, built rugged shelters, or cultivated fields at an active pace each day with intermittent periods of rest. They knew nothing about aerobic exercise, treadmills, or running tracks, but they were masters at anaerobic exercise—activities that incur an “oxygen debt” through temporary or briefly sustained exertion…

My description of the oldest physical activity of the human race can be expressed in one word: walking. Even before Eve, Adam was assigned the task to care for God’s garden—a job that could not be done without walking.”

He recommends a brisk, two-mile walk a day. Plus, walking outside gives you fresh air (unless you’re in LA) and plenty of sunshine.

Above all, it helps me to remember that while it is important to be healthy, a little extra tummy flab is what one friend refers to as our “battle scars”—souvenirs of the sacrifices, but also the joys, of bearing our children.

So that's my side of the conversation this Coffee Talk Thursday. What works best for you when it comes to exercise?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Potty-Training: From My Bathroom to Yours

Image courtesy valentinap

I wouldn’t consider myself an expert potty-trainer by any sort (that would make for an interesting business card, though, wouldn’t it?). I successfully potty-trained myself (ok, so I had a little help from my mom) and two of my boys. Disclaimer that I’m not an expert aside, I’ll share what works for me.

My oldest was so, so hard to potty-train. He is strong-willed to the nth degree. He resisted every one of my attempts to get him to use the potty. Finally, right before his 3rd birthday, he decided he wanted to do it. It was his idea, and he was successful (except for a summer of pottying out in the yard, like the dog).

My middle son is potty-training now. We tried several months ago, and he was doing well for awhile, but then started having so many accidents that I tabled the idea, and brought back the diapers for a few more months. Several weeks ago (right before his 3rd birthday), he decided he wanted to go to the bathroom like his big brother, and off he went. He’s been using the toilet ever since, with a few accidents here and there.

So what specifically works for me?

  • My experience with boys, as well as the advice of our pediatrician and several mom friends of multiple boys, is that it works best to wait until boys are closer to age 3. Of course, you can introduce them to the idea before that, but I have not had much success with actual training until they’re very close to their 3rd birthday.
  • Forgo the little kids’ toilet and just buy a seat that you can put on the regular toilet seat. I read in
    Michelle Duggar’s (the supermom of 18+ kids) book--The Duggars: 20 and Counting!: Raising One of America's Largest Families--How they Do It that she waits to potty-train until her kids can get up to the toilet and handle the specifics on their own. I think that is good advice.
  • As I have potty-trained the boys, I have found it works best when they can initiate it (“Mom, I have to pee”) rather than me taking them to the bathroom every half hour to “see.” Of course, in the beginning, you will still have to initiate the trip every hour or so, but it still helps if they have an awareness of whether or not they have to go.
  • With my first, we checked out lots of books from the library to introduce the idea to him. I think this works well for visual learners as well as only/oldest children. For subsequent kids, older siblings are a great motivator.
  • Candy. I let the boys pick out one bag of potty-training treats. They get one piece if they successfully go (or even if they give it a good try, because I'm a pushover like that). Right now, it’s Jolly Ranchers. Bad for their teeth, I know, but it provides a great incentive.
  • When they’re serious about potty-training, switch them to undies right away. Yes, you may have to go through several changes a day, but you want them to it to feel slightly uncomfortable when wet. Change them into a dry pair, have a little talk about trying to get to the potty earlier, and just keep asking if they have to go to the bathroom. Take them if a few hours pass without them admitting they have to go.
  • Teach them to listen to and obey their “signal.” In her book, Michelle Duggar also wrote that they use potty-training to teach spiritual lessons: that God gives us a signal that we have to go to the bathroom, and we need to listen and obey that signal if we don’t want to have an accident. Similarly, God gives us as Christians the Holy Spirit, and we need to train ourselves to listen and obey His still, small voice in our lives, or we’ll run into trouble.
Those are my tips in a nutshell (or should I say toilet bowl?) Happy training! What works best for you?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Baking Is My Love Language

I am enamored with baking. To me, it's such a heart-warming, nostalgic way to show love to my family. As the saying goes, "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach," and I have no shortage of men in my abode!

Lately, though, I see a tragic trend of fewer and fewer women donning aprons (optional) and baking up something special for their families, friends, or neighbors in their kitchens. Some have even admitted proudly that they never bake, unless it's Pillsbury cookie dough in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. It's as if baking went out of style when June Cleaver and Leave It To Beaver went off the air. Well not in this house!

Let's just say it was a big hit!

For Sunday breakfast, I made this blackberry cream cheese coffee cake--a recipe one of my best friend's shared with me several years ago. I don't know why I've never made it before. As you can see from the picture, it's one of our new family favorites. My little boy proclaimed, while cutting yet another piece, "Mom, you're a good cooker." Now that's praise!

Blackberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake
1- 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. sugar
2 lg. eggs
1/4 c. milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1-3/4 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. blackberry jam
2 T. powdered sugar

-Beat 1st three ingredients at medium speed until creamy. Add eggs, milk and vanilla until smooth. Combine flour, next three ingredients; add to cream cheese mixture, beating at low speed until blended.
Spread batter into a greased and floured 9 x 13" pan. Dollup with jam and swirl with a knife. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 min. or until cake leaves side of pan. Cool slightly and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Enjoy!

May I encourage you to head to your recipe box (or the Internet) and bake something yummy for your family this week? If you don't have children (or children at home), who else in your life would appreciate a freshly baked good? Coworkers? College students? An elderly neighbor? If you do it, they'll devour it (and feel very loved too)!

Visit Tasty Tuesday for more recipe ideas!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Cleaning is Like Dieting

Image Courtesy: lepiaf

Learning new housekeeping habits (or improving old ones) is like losing weight. Just as someone who commits to shedding pounds will work hard to resist chocolate cake and other desserts in the beginning, those of us who are trying really hard to shed bad housekeeping habits that cause clutter and chaos will need to be more firm with ourselves starting out. For awhile, it will seem as though we are over-compensating to the “neat freak” extreme. I think this is almost necessary, though, as we discipline ourselves to put new habits in place, just like the beginning dieter saying no to triple chocolate chunk cookies and eats some cherries instead.

After we have maintained tidier housekeeping habits for awhile, we can begin to lighten up, just as the dieter who’s maintained her goal weight for several weeks can add in previously “forbidden” foods. We can feel comfortable knowing that leaving a room a little messy for a day is not going to cause our home to approach chaos again overnight, just as the person who’s lost twenty-plus pounds knows she can eat three cookies or two brownies without instantly regaining all the weight she worked so hard to lose.

For me, personally, the biggest housekeeping habit I am working intensely to put into place is #3: “Say yes when others say no.” Right now, I need to be much more firm with myself (“yes, I need to do it now”) when it comes to picking up all the miscellaneous things that get strung all over my house all day. I need to firmly tell myself “yes, now,” when it comes to washing dishes, and—especially—putting them away (I tend to leave them to dry in the sink all day, even overnight). I need to firmly tell myself, “yes, do it now” when it comes to mopping the floor, even though I really never “feel” like doing it.

Once I’ve grown in these disciplines, I can arrive at that place of balance, where I can say “Not now, but I will later” with complete certainty that I will indeed do it later. Since I’m not there yet, I shouldn’t give myself that option, just like someone setting out to lose weight should really not sit down and down two pieces of cherry pie with four scoops of vanilla ice cream. Cleaning, and dieting, are really very similar, after all, you see!

Do you have a homemaking tip for getting it together you'd like to share? Please post in the comments section; we'll start link-ups next week, if you'd like to link up a homemaking post you've written to encourage the rest of us!

Menu Planning: Planning Out all Meals

I cannot tell you how much it helps me to set aside a few minutes and plan in advance for all meals for the week. Usually I start by just jotting down items we already have (or meals I can make quickly from what we have on hand). If there's a recipe I want to try but don't have the ingredients, I'll put them on my grocery list (if they're fairly inexpensive) or watch for a sale (if they're more expensive). 

This week, I have just about everything already from stocking up when stuff was on a great sale. I ran to the store tonight, though, for the red beans, frozen spinach, cottage cheese, milk, tomato soup, cheese, and a few other items.

Monday:Oatmeal & grapefruit
Baked potato bar
Roast, potatoes, carrots

Oven Baked omelet, oranges
Grilled cheese, tomato soup
Shepherd's Pie (from leftover roast), salad

Waffles with berries and cottage cheese
Chicken salad, grapes, cherry jello
Chinese Chicken, rice, coleslaw

Thursday:Cereal, bananas
Steak and cheese quesadillas (leftover roast)
Potato cheese soup, biscuits

Lemon Poppyseed bread, fruit salad, yogurt
Pizza night

Pancakes, orange juice
Spinach quiche, glazed carrots
Fish, baked potatoes, peas, cherry cobbler

Oven pancakes
Chili-Cheese dip, chips
snacks and leftovers

Visit to see more menu plans!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Free Weekly Gourmet Cooking Lessons

I’ve been spending Saturday mornings with Christopher Kimball of Cook’s Magazine, along with Bridget, Julia, and other chefs, in the kitchen of a 200-year old New England farmhouse. You can join us, too! (So truth be told, they’re in their test-kitchen farmhouse on the East Coast, and I’m in my living room in the West, watching them on my TV, but you probably already figured that out).

Keeping with authentic frugal living, we do not have cable television. This means I miss out on many of the fun cooking shows on the Food Network and various other cable channels. However, I recently discovered America’s Test Kitchen on PBS. Every week, the cast prepares a recipe hundreds of ways and shows viewers what worked (and tasted) the best. They delve into scientific explanations of why certain steps, like searing a roast before cooking it or hard-boiling an egg before adding it to sugar cookie dough, are important to the end result. They also test appliances to demonstrate what works the best (it’s not always the most expensive). Call me a food geek, but I love it!

To find out when America’s Test Kitchen is on in your area (if you’re in the United States), you can go here, and enter your zip code. If you're not in the States and interested in the show, you can order the DVD’s of the latest season, which comes with a comprehensive cookbook of every recipe they’ve featured in the past ten years! (This is not a paid endorsement, just a personal one!)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Seven Habits of Highly Successful Housekeepers

I have a guest post called The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Housekeepers running Friday at I'm an Organizing Junkie: Living a Life of Simplicity and Order. Head on over and check it out. Maybe you'll pick up a new habit or idea, or two!
If you're visiting for the first time, welcome! I'd love for you to become a new friend here at Moms In Need of Mercy.

We'll be diving deeper into some of these habits in our Messy Monday: Tips for Getting It Together post coming up--you guessed it--Monday. See you then and have a great weekend!

Make Your Own Clorox Clean-Up

We know we're supposed to sanitize our kitchen counters and other areas of the home to prevent the spread of germs and bacteria. tells us that "Disinfecting with an EPA registered product such as Clorox® Clean-Up® Cleaner with Bleach has been shown to kill 99.9 percent of E. coli, Staphylococcus (staph) and Salmonella, plus other potentially harmful germs including viruses such as influenza (the "flu" virus), rhinovirus (one of the causes of the common cold) and rotavirus."

The Clorox website also informs us that "antibacterial dishwashing liquids and hand soaps destroy or inhibit growth of bacteria on skin, but they are not formulated for killing viruses or other germs on hard surfaces. Sanitizing and/or disinfecting hard, nonporous surfaces, especially in the kitchen, is a good way to reduce the risk of spreading germs by touch."

To banish these pesky invaders from our homes, we can buy Clorox Clean-Up Cleaner with Bleach for about $3 at the store, or we can make our own. Sorry, Clorox, but I prefer to save those dollars and make my own. It's a cinch. (And I'm still buying your bleach).

Here's what you do:
  • Buy a spray bottle, easily found at the Dollar Store (or Target or Walmart; sometimes the travel section bins will have some for $1).
  • Fill it with cool water.
  • Dip the dry sprayer stem in bleach, coating at least 3/4 of the stem.
  • Immediately dip the coated stem in the water bottle.
  • Repeat, dipping stem in bleach and water bottle two more times (total of three times).
  • Attach bottle lid tightly and shake.
  • Make fresh weekly (recommended) (I make it every two weeks).
Lest you think I am just making this up, so surely that small of an amount cannot really effectively sanitize, this recipe comes from our state university's health sciences division and has been thoroughly tested. A small amount of bleach (I would estimate this to be less than a half-teaspoon) is highly effective.

After spraying, I recommend allowing it to air dry if possible. When not possible, spray and allow to sit for about 30 seconds at least, and then wipe.

Happy Cloroxing!

Visit Frugal Fridays for more frugal inspiration!

Balancing Housework and Homeschooling

Coffee Talk Thursday

Just brewing a pot of coffee, and I am excited to have a coffee talk with you today!

I have been thinking a lot lately about homeschooling and housework. (If you don't homeschool, please still join the discussion). My oldest is just shy of five, so we are not too formal yet. We read plenty of books (own the Sonlight pre4/5 curriculum) and try to do plenty of fun activities each week.

Even though we don't need to have a formal four day schedule yet, there are still plenty of times when I set a goal of having the breakfast dishes done and the floor swept by 9:00, for example, so we can sit down and read together/work on letters/play a game/etc. I can't tell you how often something else will happen that will push back my "start time." Maybe my baby dug in the plant, and now I need to vacuum it up. Maybe my potty-trainer had an accident, and we need to get that taken care of. While I'm in the laundry room, I realize there's a load in the dryer that needs to be folded (and then put away), so I do that. Unexpected things that created new chores happened so much yesterday that we never sat on the couch and read a pile of books until late afternoon.

What I would love to talk about with you is--if you homeschool, do you just try to get the house in as best of order as possible, and then start at a certain time, regardless of what is undone? Or do you give yourself an extra half hour to finish some of those tasks (or deal with the unexpected) and then call it quits, even though you could always find more to do? If you don't homeschool, I would love for you to still join this discussion still, because I'm sure you, also, have ideas for things you'd like to do with your kids; and those things can keep getting pushed back because of housework that needs to be done.

So what do you do? We can all be blessed by hearing what you have to say!

My coffee's ready!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Why Being Locked Out Can Actually Be Fun

Today was definitely an interesting day. It’s funny how a fairly small thing, like a child closing a door, can alter the entire day. Because in reality, it’s no small thing when it’s the only way to your bedroom, and the door happened to be in the locked position—oh, and there’s no key. No small thing at all.

So at about 9 o’clock this morning, my nicely planned day returned to the drawing board. No running upstairs for that load of laundry I usually grab right after breakfast, no running up for a shower or makeup or fixing my hair (not that I do my hair most days anyway). Fortunately everyone was already dressed, or we would have stayed in pj’s all day long (since I was all caught up with laundry, it was all locked upstairs)!

Today showed me how much I take for granted being able to freely access any area of my home at any time. The day also gave me an opportunity to get caught up on some projects I never seem to have time for. I sorted, and washed, a few baskets of miscellaneous items I’ve been storing because I previously didn’t know what to do with them—store, give away, mend, take to the cleaners.

When I couldn’t get my littlest guy to take a nap because he wasn’t in his bed, we loaded up and went for a drive. Before we left, the boys counted out a dollar and five pennies (for the tax) out of their piggy banks and put their change in Ziploc baggies for a stop at the Dollar Tree (this is the highlight of their lives lately—mine, too, I guess!). My oldest was so excited to purchase some orange silly string (he’s actually been begging me for two days to take him so he could buy some); and I really wanted another microfiber cleaning towel.

Once we arrived home, I tried unsuccessfully to get the boys to take naps on the couch. I also realized how much we all need that afternoon naptime. They need the rest, and I need some time, too--alone and quiet. Since it didn’t happen, and they were acting like Labrador puppies, I decided we’d all bundle up and go for a walk. It was nice (and at least one child fell asleep).

Although we do have an upstairs access door on the roof, my husband was out of town, and I wasn’t feeling brave enough to climb up there. Finally, this evening, out of necessity (a little thing called sleep), I mounted my courage and summited the roof, only to find the door locked—and the keys are hanging on the wall inside. Going down was much scarier than climbing up.

(That's because this summer, my husband repaired the leaking roof. Doing so required him to remove the last flight of stairs to the roof. So now the only way up is to scale the plastic awning that hangs from the edge of the roof over the back door. My husband calls this the “Stairway to Heaven,” because if it doesn’t go well, you’re looking at a one-way ticket.)

Fortunately, my mountaineering husband arrived home shortly later and successfully picked the lock inside.

Here are some lessons I learned from getting locked out:

  • Getting dressed immediately upon waking really pays off. You’re productive right out of the shoot (another post for another day).
  • Keep some essentials in a room you’re sure you won’t get locked out of (or outside somewhere in the event you get locked out altogether).
  • Know how to get in your house (or any part of your house that you could get locked out of). Also know how to get out (fire escape).
  • Don’t panic. You will get in eventually. In the meantime, try to find fun ways to fill your time. Unique ways that make memories and leave your kids begging, “Mommy, can we get locked out again sometime?”. "No, but thanks for asking."
With that, I’m so grateful I can go through the unlocked door and access my room! (I will be getting dressed first thing in the morning, and coming downstairs with my laundry with me—oh, and my kids. Wouldn’t want to lock them up for too long. Or would I?). :)

(Visit Works for Me Wednesday to read others' ideas on a variety of subjects.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

It Doesn't Have to Be Expensive to be Special

This teapot is one of my cherished possessions. I bought it in Bath, England, when I studied abroad in London while in college. I've never even used it. It's been tightly guarded behind glass doors in a china case. All that changed on Valentine's Day.

I finally decided that I didn't want my boys growing up, eyeing the items in that china case, but never being allowed to use them. I wanted them to know that I cherish them enough to trust them with my special things. Because really, they are more important to me than the things. We give people a sense of honor when we trust them with something dear.

That gift, in itself, was worth more to them than a bag full of Valentine's Day treats. And truly, even though it was free, it was the best Valentine's Day gift of all. On the holiday where we celebrate love, the boys were shown in a very tangible way that they are loved enough to be esteemed with previously forbidden things. We all shared a special memory of using the teapot and serving plate I carted all the way from England, and then packed carefully when I moved cross-country, for the very first time. We enjoyed some delicious cranberry-orange scones and tea and filled our hearts to overflowing this Valentine's Day. It was the best Valentine's Day ever, and it was free!

Cranberry-Orange Scones (the best!)
(recipe from my friend Jodi)

2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 T. sugar
1 T. grated orange rind
1/2 c. butter, cut up
2/3 c. buttermilk
1 c. dried cranberries (or use fresh/frozen--not so tart if you cut them in half)
1 T. milk & 1 T. sugar

Combine first six ingredients; cut in butter with pastry blender until mixture is crumbly. Add buttermilk and dried cranberries, stirring just until moistened. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead 5 or 6 times. Pat into an 8-inch circle. Cut into 8 wedges and place 1 inch apart on a lightly greased cookie sheet (I use a baking stone). Brush with milk and sprinkle with 1 T. sugar (I use raw cane sugar). Bake at 425-degrees for 15 minutes or until scones are golden brown.

Share what you're thankful for at Gratituesday!  
Share what you're cooking at Tasty Tuesday!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Messy Monday: Let It Be Messy and Go Do Something Fun!

I thought I should take this opportunity to clarify the reason behind our “Messy Monday: Tips for Getting It Together” posts. The intent in improving our homemaking is not so we can be militant housekeepers and keep a clean house at all costs. Rather, I aim to improve my homemaking to bless my family. The order is good for everyone’s spirits. Plus we can more easily invite friends over if we don’t have to have a major cleaning overhaul first. So I am doing my best to step it up a notch, and I share any housekeeping hints I learn along the way with you.That’s “Messy Monday” in a nutshell!

While it is a good principle to finish our work before our play, sometimes we need to put an intentional halt to the work. Lately I have been so occupied with housework that too many days have passed since I’ve taken time to play. So today, I encourage you to leave the mess, and go make some fun messes with your kids. Finger paint, make play-dough, bake something fun (gingerbread men are not just for Christmas as far as boys are concerned!), play a game, set up a camp, play toys with them, go somewhere fun.

Today let’s have a little reminder that people always trump things!
(And warn your husband first that he might come home to a little disorder! But I’m sure he won’t mind if you tell him you’ll all be in a great mood.) :)

Menu Planning: Creating New Meals from Leftovers

Do you ever feel stuck in a rut when it comes to planning lunches for your family? Maybe it's the constant rotation of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, ham/turkey sandwiches, macaroni and cheese that's got you looking for new ideas. I've been there.

One thing that has really helped me in this area is to find creative new uses for leftovers. Think of it as planning an entirely new meal from what didn't get eaten.  I'll show you how I do this as I share my plan for the week.

  • Oatmeal, brown sugar, Craisins
  • Leftover lasagna or Chinese food (not getting creative yet--it's Monday, what do you expect?) :)
  • Roast Chicken, sweet potatoes, cauliflower in bread crumbs

  • Overnight Caramel Rolls, fruit salad
  • Italian Sausage Soup and rolls (last week, I made Stuffed Green Peppers. I scooped out what was not eaten and made a soup out of it the next day, chopping up the green peppers, adding chicken broth and some leftover rice. It was really good! I froze what we did not eat for that meal and will reheat it for this lunch)
  • Chicken and Noodles, peas, rolls (using white and dark meat from leftover roast chicken)

  • Oven Baked Omelet (adding in some leftover cauliflower if there's any left)
  • BLT's, salad
  • Roast, potatoes, carrots
  • Breakfast potatoes (leftover from roast), eggs, any leftover bacon, toast, grapefruit
  • Chicken Salad wraps (white meat from leftover roast chicken), oranges
  • Spaghetti Bolognese and salad (I will saute some garlic and onion, add some crushed tomatoes, a splash of olive oil, and some Italian seasonings and parmesan cheese along with some of the beef--shredded thinly--from the leftover roast).

  • Blackberry Cream cheese coffee cake
  • Pasta Fagioli -- take leftover spaghetti, add a can of chili beans (undrained) and some shredded cheddar cheese. Warm through. Serve with more cheese. (This is actually really good, and a great way to use up spaghetti leftovers. My boys love it too!).
  • Pizza night & popcorn
  • Pancakes and juice
  • Leftover pizza and other snacks for lunch
  • Pork Chop Casserole with Scalloped Potatoes and Chinese Cabbage Salad

So there you have it! If you are new to the whole "turning leftovers-into-new meals" thing, start out small. Pick one meal where you have leftovers and think of a way you can turn them into something new--a soup? A pasta? (Spaghetti Carbonara comes together super easily with a little leftover bacon). A vegetable salad? Try to vary it, so you are not serving the same leftover source all in the same day (I saw I had chicken salad wraps and chicken and noodles planned on the same day, for example, so I switched that around).

I'd love to hear if you've found any creative ways to use leftovers and any great standby recipes you turn to when you have a certain kind of leftover (beef roast for example)! 

Visit to see other menu plans!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

An Ultra-Frugal, Green, and Long-Lasting Powerhouse Cleaner

My mother has a certain magic when it comes to cleaning windows and other glass. The woman can get a streak-free shine every time. Same with stainless steel. We’re talking gleaming. I, on the other hand, could never quite seem to recapture her luck. Until now.
Now I have a little cleaning secret of my own.

It’s called a microfiber cleaning cloth. You’ve probably heard of it; chances are you even own one. Do you know what a wonder you possess?

my microfiber towel resting on the washer after a hard day's work

For $1 at the Dollar Tree (that’s redundant, I know:)), I bought myself this nice absorbent microfiber towel. I let my boys pick out their own colorful cleaning cloths, thinking they’d be more excited about helping me if they had their own special “tools.” It worked…for a few weeks. :) My oldest picked out orange (his favorite color), my middle picked out green (It’s currently missing in action), and my youngest…well, he just kind of watches the rest of us/me clean.

(The roses have absolutely nothing to do with the microfiber cloths, but I just had to show them off)  :)

Here’s what I love about it:

  • Replaces need for glass cleaner. Simply get a portion slightly damp, wipe any smudges, and dry with the dry portion of your towel. Your glass will shine (until your cloth gets dirty; then it will start to look streaky).
  • Great for shining stainless steel (just wipe and dry). Never before have I been able to achieve success in the shining-stainless-steel sector. I feel so proud. I've come so far. :)
  • Dusting
  • Wonderful for cleaning cabinet fronts. Again, you can use it slightly damp with elbow grease; or I spray on some Shaklee-Basic-H, and it works magic.
Cleaning with the right microfiber cloth will revolutionize the way you clean! Since it replaces the need for paper towels or newspaper, window cleaner, even furniture polish, it is super frugal and green. I’m so crazy about them, I’m heading to the Dollar Store to go buy me some more (not right now, since they’re closed, but you know what I mean). :)

Visit Frugal Fridays for more money-saving ideas!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What to Do When You Feel Like He’s Just Not That Into You

Coffee Talk Thursday

I’m sure you, like me, can recollect super romantic events your love gave his all to pull off for you while you were dating, or even engaged. Once, my husband pretended his truck broke down, only to have a carriage pull up alongside us and whisk me off to a beautiful dinner. Before he proposed, he left me little clue notes on exquisite paper in Hebrew. Now I get reminders to pay certain bills plopped nicely on the table. How far we’ve come!

While it’s fairly easy to pull out all the stops and go overboard in the romance department for a few months, it is much harder to keep up that level of intentional romance for the long-term. I love my husband dearly, and I know he loves me too. However, every marriage, at times, will go through seasons when the level of affection, or the intentional time spent together, is not what we as wives would prefer. It might just be a busy week that leaves us feeling disconnected from our husband. Or maybe the problem is more chronic and serious--a wife feels like she's not a priority in her husband’s life; another feels like her husband is not very close to her anymore, or very kind for that matter. You may not see these problems on the outside, but inside, their hearts are breaking.

So what do you do when you feel like your husband’s just not that into you?

1. Talk about it.
Often the problem is nothing more than a difference in perspectives. Men usually get so caught up in providing for their families that showing the amount of affection we as wives need isn’t necessarily even on their radars. They assume we know they love us. Yet, this lack of expressed affection is the very thing that, as wives, can make us feel unimportant to our husbands.

Take the example of a wife who feels like her husband doesn’t spend much time with her. Her husband, on the other hand, may feel like his hard work shows his wife just how much of a priority she is in his life. She interprets it differently. Talking about it clarifies it all.

By failing to communicate, we poison our minds with our often incorrect interpretations about our spouse’s actions. My parents drove themselves to divorce this way. They always misunderstood the other, but never addressed their perceptions to receive clarity and truth. So remember, your interpretation may be very different than your husband’s. He may have no clue you feel like he’s just not that into you. Talk to him--openly and honestly.

2. Find a mutually-agreeable solution

As we share our desire with our husband for his time and affection, we can work together to find a mutually agreeable solution. Maybe it’s going out for lunch once-a-week, or having a cup of coffee before he heads off to work each day. Find something that works for you both about being intentional about togetherness.
3. Find your contentment in the Lord

While marriage is indeed God’s gift to us, our ultimate source of fulfillment comes from our relationship with the Lord. Sure, our husbands can—and do—meet our needs, but they fail, as do we. So if we always look to our husband to meet our deepest needs, we will always be let down.
"I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth." (Psalm 121: 1,2)
4. Refuse to become bitter and cold-hearted

While this is very easy to do when needs are not being met, it will not bring about the improvement one seeks. If we pull away from our husbands when we feel like they’re not being as good to us as we think they should, the division will escalate. He’ll pull away, we’ll pull away, and on and on it will go, until it will be so thoroughly broken it will take a major act of God to put it back together again.
5. Continue to treat your husband kindly

Maybe you’re just misunderstanding him; maybe it’s just a busy season; maybe there really is a bigger problem. Either way, honey catches more flies than vinegar.
“Love is patient, love is kind…It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps to record of wrongs…It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Cor. 13:4-8). It is not in vain!

6. Endure

“One of the most disastrous tendencies, that seems to be gaining strength year by year, is giving up too soon when life gets tough. What is happening to perseverance?

Well. Homes can’t be homes at all if they are dissolved when problems come. If they are to endure, it means sticking to home-making when it all seems bleak. Everybody feels unhappy at times—and perhaps even caught in what feels like a trap.

One of the beautiful things about some elderly couples I’ve known is the sense that although there were many challenges to endure and no quick cures to the ills of life, they stuck it out and now have the peace and enjoyment of an ‘Indian Summer’ in the relationship. They share memories, home, grandchildren, places, people, failures, victories, and, for Christians, the fruit of the Spirit. (Gal. 5:22-23).”--For the Family's Sake: The Value of Home in Everyone's Life

7. Cling to supernatural help.

There is a verse in Ecclesiastes which says “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecc. 4:12). As Susan Schaeffer Macaulay writes, that cord is Jesus. I really like what she says:

“None of us is able always to be or do enough in relationship with each other. We have failures too. We are sinners, not yet perfected. Often the needs of a home and our lives become overwhelming. It is pretty horrible to become overwhelmed. That is why the two strands are reinforced with the third gold-like fiber. Knowing Jesus’ promises and asking for His help are part of the securing strength. So is the obedience to God’s instructions. Christians can enjoy God’s comfort, strength, and guidelines if they ask and listen.”
Remember, you are not alone when you feel like you’re wanting more out of your marriage. Women all over the world feel the same way at various times. That’s why everyone says marriage takes work. Great ones are rarely effortless. Where you’re at today is hopefully not where you’ll be tomorrow. Marriage goes through phases. Extend each other grace in the busy seasons, the hard times. Roll up your sleeves, and get ready to dig in!

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. Do something special for your man, even if you wish he’d do something special for you first. It may just be the ember that causes him to show you he really is that into you after all.

Additional Resources:
Focus on the Family Radio Broadcasts
"Game Plan to Revolutionize Marriage Parts 1 and 2"
and "Is There a Hero in Your Husband Parts 1 and 2"

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Have You Written A Letter Lately?

Photo from

With email, text messaging, Facebook, and Twitter, sitting down with a pen and a piece of paper to write a letter is practically becoming a lost art. Yet, receiving a letter in the mail is such a special treasure. I have even known people whose sole Christmas gift to family and friends is a thoughtfully penned letter. And you know what? That simple gift is often the most cherished of all.

I was both encouraged, and challenged, by these words:

"We all have someone waiting for a letter, and each of us has someone thinking about him or her and wishing the mail would bring some sort of word, some message...Start by writing a letter to one person, and continue by writing letters to others who are waiting for a letter." (The Hidden Art of Homemaking) by Edith Schaeffer

What a gift it would be for grandparents who live miles away to receive weekly update letters in your own handwriting about your children’s week—the funny things they’ve done and said, how they’re growing and learning, and any other highlights. I guarantee they’ll save these, and someday you’ll find them, and what a gift they’ll be for your grown children as well. As Edith Schaeffer writes, "When they finish reading your letter, they will feel as if they had been spending the week with you."

You can write a letter and pop it in the mail today, and it will make it in time for Valentine's Day (or thereabouts). It will thoroughly brighten the recipient's day--maybe even week. It only costs a postage stamp and a little time. Yet the gift it gives is immeasurable.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Raising Boys: No Greater Challenge, No Greater Joy

A while back, I was reading in the Old Testament about King David’s elite soldiers. They were known as “The Three.” Their exploits were renowned.

Fast forward to today. Meet “The Two.” Their exploits are becoming quite renowned as well. While they’re not slaying Philistines, they stake out other covert ops—like knowing just the right time to hit the Swiss Miss stash in the garage.

In Boys Should Be Boys: 7 Secrets to Raising Healthy Sons, Dr. Meg Meeker writes that everyone wants the kind of boys who run and play outside, building forts and climbing trees. No one really wants their son to camp out in front of video games all day long. So on one hand, we want our boys to be active and energetic; yet, on the other hand, that energy can—at times—drive us moms up the wall.

It is true that boys are usually messier, louder, and rougher than their female counterparts. Raising them requires much patience, and a good sense of humor. It takes a special kind of woman. If you feel like you’re not that woman now, take heart. God is using your boys—and the challenges you encounter--to refine you into a more holy woman for His glory.

While you’ll encounter many challenging moments as you raise your sons, you’ll also come across lots of gold nuggets. Little boys adore their mamas; they grow into teens, then men, who will fiercely protect you. They’ll pick dandelions for you and present them to you with as much pride as if they bought you a beautiful bouquet (in their mind, the dandelions are a beautiful bouquet). They love to pamper you, bringing you beverages and massaging lotion into your heels when they see they’re cracked and dry. You’re their best girl, until they find their wife.

But until they leave the nest, enjoy each day with them. As everyone says, it goes by so fast.

In the meantime, here’s some practical help for raising our boys:

  • When they’re bouncing off the walls, send them outside. “But it’s the middle of winter, and I can’t send them out.” Yes, you can! Get them bundled up and send them out. They’ll burn off a little steam, and so will you.
  • It can be easy to nag our boys about their boyishness. As much as possible, try not to.
  • Take time to build close relationships with them. Do special things together. While I don’t agree with everything they say, I love Mike and Debi Pearl’s advice about “tying strings of fellowship.”
  • Find the cute moments each day. Give those more weight than the times you find your boys covered in Swiss Miss brown (even though those times eventually become funny to you too).
  • Pray for perspective on those hard days: Treasure your treasures!

“Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him.” (Psalm 127:3).

(Visit Works for Me Wednesday for more tips on a bunch of subjects!)

Menu Planning 101

I am guest posting today at Life As Mom about the most frugal way I know to menu plan each week. Head on over and check it out!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Menu Plan 2/7-2/14

One way to menu plan that saves so much money (and time) is to think about what you already have in the house that you could pull together for a meal. I have everything I need to make this plan in my refrigerator, freezer, or pantry, except for some canned mushrooms for the beef stroganoff and green peppers for stuffed peppers. Leftover dinners easily become the next day's lunches, usually with a twist (taking the bean and rice casserole and using it as a filling in tortillas).

Sunday: Chili-Cheese Dip, chips
Leftover Chicken Pot Pie, boiled potatoes, asparagus
peanut butter popcorn

Cereal, fruit salad
Grapefruit, toast, eggs
Oatmeal, brown sugar, raisins
Waffles, oranges
Yogurt with granola and mixed berries
Muffins, fruit
Pancakes, eggs, bacon (Saturday breakfast), OJ
Overnight Caramel Rolls, fruit salad

Baked Potato Bar
Stuffed Green Peppers
Bean and Rice Roll-Ups (from casserole)
PB & J
Saturday: snacks and leftovers

Lasagna, french bread, salad
Rice, Bean and Cheese Casserole
Chicken Durango in Crockpot, Rice, Broccoli
Pork Chop and Potato Casserole, glazed carrots
Easy Beef Stroganoff, Rice
Crockpot Chicken and Noodles, Rolls, Peas
Sunday Roast

Visit for more menu plan ideas!

Messy Monday: Excel With Discipline!

(First, let me apologize for the failure to post the posts I said I'd post last week--wow, a lot of "posts" in one sentence! :) My husband had some unexpected trips out of town, and I just didn't have time to write something thoughtful. I'd rather wait and write a decent post than throw up something just for the sake of having a post. So I will aim to reschedule those for Thursday and Friday of this week. Thanks for understanding. :) Now onto Messy Monday: Tips for Getting It Together) 

I’ve been using my spreadsheet for weekly cleaning tasks for the past several weeks now, and it’s working out real well. Some of you may have thought the spreadsheet was a silly and superfluous step, but for me it was necessary because I was missing too many tasks week-to-week. Fortunately, it's now becoming routine enough that I don’t need the spreadsheet to remind me of some of the more infrequent tasks.

While it’s fairly easy to psych up and tackle a bunch of tasks in a few hours one morning a week, it is much harder to discipline oneself to not let things get too out of hand between cleaning days (Thursdays are working well for me). Everything looks so nice after it’s cleaned and shined, but it can all go downhill fast in a matter of minutes. If I allow this downhill trend to continue to compound, I'll be buried in an avalanche fast. Then, I'll be dreading my cleaning day because it will seem so overwhelming.
Keeping a consistently clean house requires much diligence. I used to think that I was the only one who struggled so hard with housekeeping—not so much the act scrubbing, dusting, and vacuuming, but the discipline of not letting things get out of control. I have come to realize that there really is no magic formula for keeping a clean house, nor is there an easy way out. It is hard work, and that’s ok.

"Let us not dread labor. Beautiful rewards and satisfaction come from labor. Sweat and work are not to be despised, as they bring enjoyable results. Cleanliness and order enhance the environment of our homes and surround our loved ones with comfort. This makes the labor of our hands worth the effort." (Heaven at Home: Establishing and Enjoying a Peaceful Home
Helpful housekeeping hints build on top of each other. Slowly as time goes on, you’ll find you’re doing better than you were before. It’s a process, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Plus, there are different stages of life—some much harder than others for keeping things tidy. Be patient through these stages and don’t be too hard on yourself. As you consistently practice discipline, it will become a habit. When the stage of little children (or whatever else) passes, housekeeping disciplines will be more noticeable in your home.

What are some of the disciplines I’m talking about?

  • Putting something away right away, all the way.
  • Picking up a mess right away, all the way.
  • Not allowing too many messes to happen simultaneously (This is my weak point. The kids can dump out toys, and I allow them to leave them to have a snack, which they spill and get crumbs all over the floor, and then I remember I have to throw in a load of laundry, and then they get markers out and write where they shouldn’t, and on and on we go. You can see how things can get completely out of control very fast).
  • Doing dishes and putting them away right away. (They don’t build up too badly this way).
  • Sweeping the floor after every meal.
  • Many others!
Practice the disciplines this week and reap the benefits!

Please share any housekeeping disciplines that help you in the comments section!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Saturday Evening Blog Post: January Edition

For this month's Saturday Evening Blog Post, I am choosing "Even Though Your Husband's a Big Boy, He Still Needs You." This post came about after I received a comment bashing taking care of your husband, since "he's a big boy."

In the post, I failed to mention that neglecting your marriage so you can devote to caring for your children, does--in fact--neglect your children as well. Both my husband and I grew up in homes with much tension between our parents before they eventually divorced, and we paid the price for it. A strained marriage does cause emotional insecurity in children, even if parents think they're doing everything to dote on their kids. Take care of your marriage; everything else will fall in line. Plus, you'll have an ally to help you in the hardest job in the world: parenting.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Coffee Talk Thursday

Just a little note to say Coffee Talk Thursday: What to Do When He's Just Not that Into You will be a little late (tonight or possibly tomorrow). Please stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Young Boys in the Store: Battleground Strategies

Little boys exude energy. I am convinced they wake up with a pre-set amount that simply must be burned throughout the day; although, often, it seems like a snowball effect: the more they use, the more they gain. Having only grown up with sisters, and now raising three boys of my own, this boy energy can be so foreign to me. I’m still not entirely used to it, or—to be perfectly honest—always comfortable with it, especially when they’re running laps around the living room, trying to jump off the furniture or stairs, or any other act that resembles Tigger on Red Bull.

Handling this boy energy out in public, particularly at a store, can be challenging. When does it cross the line from normal boy behavior to inappropriate behavior? While on one hand, I may need to loosen up and accept their boyishness; on the other hand, sometimes I probably need to be more firm with discipline and consistent with follow-through. It’s tough to find the middle-ground.

For example, the other day, we went to the mall. The boys did really well in Target, our first-stop. From there, they wanted to stop at the germ-infested play-land, but I wanted to run one very quick errand at the department store first. While I was at the makeup counter, my oldest son started making airplanes out of foundation sponges and q-tips. My middle son was checking out the mannequin nearby, trying to figure out how he could move her arms and hands like his Transformers. My youngest was strapped in the stroller, voicing his displeasure at being trapped. Some of the workers were amused at their antics, but I could tell from the disapproving glances she kept sending the boys, that the older lady helping me was probably wondering if they were hopped up on caffeine.

I can tell you story after story like the one I just shared. Taking all the boys to the store with me usually means I’ll return with high blood pressure and in a real grouchy mood. Since I have three boys and there’s a good chance that our fourth someday (I’m not pregnant now) will be a boy, I better get a handle on the whole-boy-energy-out-in-public thing.

While I’m not excusing bad behavior (after all, boys still need to learn self-discipline and proper social behavior), our expectations of our boys in public settings need to be realistic. I think, depending on their energy level, it may be expecting too much to expect them to stay at my side at all times like little robots. When I asked for her advice, my pastor’s wife (who raised two wonderful sons and a daughter) shared that we each need to set our own limits for our own families. We are all different, and we should not try to clone children or families. So start by forming, and then knowing, your personal expectations for your children’s behavior.

From there, we teach those expectations and follow-through with consequences. This takes time. It is helpful, for those of us with multiple children, to take each child separately to the store so we can devote your full attention just to training him. Make behavior expectations clear (keep the rules fairly simple, no more than three if he’s very young) and deal with it immediately if he steps over the line. Leave your cart; leave the store; get in your vehicle for a little talk and any other consequences; go back in. Do this as often as necessary on this training exercise.

Once our children have mastered their basic training, it is time to take them on field exercises. My boys do really well with me one-on-one in the store; it’s when they’re together that the herd mentality comes out. Here are my best and brightest strategies for surviving the battlefield:

  1. Know their limits
  2. If unsure of their limits, it is far better to underestimate than overestimate.
  3. Keep trips short. If they get bored, boys will create their own activity. This will usually not go too well for you.  

  4. By keeping trips short, the boys have a greater chance of success. They'll be proud they pleased you, and you'll be pleased with how everything went, instead of returning home super-stressed and feeling like a failure. You can build from this point.
  5. Limit trips to one store, two max. My boys do so much better when we only go to one; the problems usually emerge at the second store for all the above reasons (overestimating their limits, they're getting bored, they're creating their own activities to counter-act their boredom...).
  6. Boys like to run. You set the parameters of where they can run. Maybe there's a grocery store aisle with no one in it. You can make a game out of it and let them run from point x to point y. Then they have to halt and stay by you until the next chance to burn some steam.
  7. Involve them by having them grab items for you. They can burn some of their energy by getting four oranges, a bunch of celery, three green peppers, a loaf of bread, etc.
  8. Ask the grocery store manager talk to your boys about what kind of behavior he/she expects from kids in the store. This will make a strong impression, especially since it comes from a stranger and not Mom.
  9. Plan in time for discipline issues.
  10. Remember that training your boys is more important than anything else on your schedule. Getting home from the store in time for lunch or dinner is not as important as taking the time necessary to train our boys and establishing consistency with consequences if they cross your behavior expectation lines. This will build their respect of you; you will reap good fruit from that for years to come.
  11. Pray! Ask for God's help, especially if it does not go well, and you're tempted to lose your cool. Talking to our children calmly is more likely to result in a change in their behavior than if we were to yell at them.
  12. Don't give up. While trips that don't go well can leave us feeling like never taking our boys to the store with us again, it is important to get back out in the field. You'll make memories and learn new things (who knew you could make an airplane out of a makeup sponge and q-tip?). Plus, your boys' smiling faces and youthful energy may just be the rays of sunshine someone really needed that day.
If you have any other strategies for success in the store with little boys, I'd love for you to share in the comment section!