Friday, December 5, 2008

Holiday Bite #16: Just jump back in and start nibbling

If you are like me your schedule is starting to overflow and the deadlines are starting to roll around on the calendar. Don't throw in the towel yet! Just take some minutes each morning and plan your attack on the day to nibble away at the elephant-sized task(s) before you.
Here are some ideas to get you going based on what I am doing this week:

I drove my son to a retreat in northern Spain this week. Put 880 km on the car over two days. (About 5-6 hours in the car each day due to weather conditions). Will you be travelling somewhere this season? Take a minute or two and get the trash out of your backseats and trunk, check the tire pressure, oil, wiper fluid, etc. and pick up some of your snacks for the trip when you hit the grocery store this week. (My niece was impressed with my bags of goodies for the road trip. Just call me the junk food queen. We had ham and cheese sandwiches on cute little rolls called medianoches, Pringles, bugles, nuts (cashews since my one son with a cashew allergy was not with us), almonds and peanuts, cans of soda and bottles of water, Snickers bars and mint chocolate bars, and left over gingersnaps from the cookie jar. Yum. I will have to do some serious walking to work all that off.

Do you do advent calendars? So you are 5 days behind .... no problem. Why not get it out and start tonight? My kids love this tradition. It has nothing to do with the fact that we do the chocolate ones and they each get a little piece of chocolate each day. Nope, nothing at all to do with that.

Don't let yourself get surprised with late fees or credit card shocks. Decide on a DAY AND TIME to check out the balance in your accounts and make sure the bills are paid on time. I just realized that one CC account is due tomorrow and one is due Monday. I am making the online payments today. Your shopping deals are not deals if they come with additional finance charges or late fees.

Well, those are my bites for this week. This weekend is a busy one at church and next week we will try to fit in a couple of tourist days since it is my niece's last week with us. (boo hoo).


I finally got to the computer to see if I could post a quick Holiday Bite and found that the #15 one from last week never got past draft mode. I can't stand to see my time wasted so I went ahead and hit publish anyway. Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. We had a great time celebrating with some good friends and eating the most delicious apple pie ever. (I have to get her to give me her recipe.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving timeline

This is just one of a few ways I am making sure that next Thankgiving goes smoothly --- posting my tentative timeline to (hopefully) ensure that all food is hot and ready at the same time.

Goal for dinner to be eaten is 3:00pm (which should ensure that we at least eat by 4:00 --- but I will still shoot for 3)

Turkey stuffed and in the oven bag and in the oven at 8:30 if I am also cooking ham, or 11:00 if it is the only meat.

Ham (if we have it) goes in oven around 12:30

mashed potatoes. Peeled and cut up early in the morning. Cooked on the stove early and then kept warm in crockpot or over really low flame. Mashed at 2:45 by my husband, the master masher. I am so glad he will be here and can work his magic on the potatoes.

Baked sweet potato casserole -- I will peel, cube and boil the potatoes on Wednesday and put them in the fridge overnight. Thursday at 10 am I will assemble the casserole with brown sugar, pineapple and mini marshmallows. Goes in the oven at 2:00

Broccoli casserole -- Wed. I will cut the fresh broccoli into small florets. I will also crush the required Ritz crackers. Thursday while the sweet potatoes are assembled I will steam the broccoli and melt the butter to mix with the crackers for the topping. Approx 10:15 the broccoli, cheese butter and toppings will go in the casserole dish. Goes in the oven on the other rack at 2:00 with the sweet potatoes.

Corn -- frozen corn goes on the stove top around 2:40

Turkey is removed from the cooking bag around 2:00 and carved around 2:45.

Gravy: Made on top of stove from the turkey drippings approx 2:45

Thanksgiving Menu 2008

This is the plan for what will grace our Thanksgiving table this year.
The timeline to get it all done at the same time is here.

Turkey and stuffing

Baked Ham with brown sugar and pineapple glaze (maybe. I will do it if the turkey looks too small to me when I pick it up at the butcher tomorrow.)

Mashed potatoes and gravy

Baked sweet potato casserole with brown sugar, pineapple & mini marshmallows

Broccoli and cheese casserole topped with crushed Ritz crackers and butter

Salad (my guest is bringing this -- the recipe with raw cauliflower and bacon bits)


bread (baguettes) fresh baked locally

relish tray

one lone can of cranberry sauce (it seemed way too expensive at the import store so I only bought one can. Everyone will be able to have a spoonful or two instead of large servings of the stuff.) Supplemented perhaps with a jar of Lingonberry jam from Ikea (they always garnish their plates with it)

Desserts (YUM!)

A variety of pies. Final round up still to be determined based on what our guest decides to make. Possible finalists include:
pecan pie, chocolate pudding pie (homemade pudding), chocolate chip pie,
apple pie (or apple crisp), pumpkin pie(s)
Crunch bars (if any is left of the batch we made today)
Soft gingersnap cookies
vanilla ice cream to turn pies a la mode
whipped cream for topping the pumpkin or chocolate pies
pumpkin bread
zucchini bread

apple juice
cranberry juice mixed with lemon-lime soda
sweet iced tea
hot tea
hot spiced cider (packets)

Holiday Bite #15: Do you know what time it is?

The Holiday bites may seem sparce this week because, let's face it.... this is not a week for preparation for Christmas so much as it is one of the main events in the Holiday season .....THANKSGIVING! This is extra busy because of the addition of my time on Thursday and Friday speaking at the local elementary school. See here for more details on that.

My niece have been steadily progressing in the process of preparing for Thursday's celebration. Monday we cleaned the bathrooms and straightened the living room. Today the floors were vacuumed and mopped. Steps were made ahead of time on several recipes that will be finished tomorrow or Thursday. We will be offering pumpkin and zucchini breads to the children at the school after the talks I give. (probably won't tell them what the secret ingredients are until after they try a bite) We got out some large ziploc baggies and my niece measured out the dry ingredients for a double batch of bread and labelled it. Now the mixing of the breads will go much quicker and we can get the pans in and out of the oven with speed. I know others will say to bake them early and just freeze them but I have never been overly thrilled with how frozen baked goods taste after they thaw. Fresh baked is sooooo much nicer in my humble opinion. The crunch bars were made today because, providing I can hide the tupperware from my sons -- and myself, the bars will keep and taste great on Thursday. The only problem is having the self control to not eat anymore before then. They are so good my niece and I have renamed them ... "Oh, baby! bars"

Today I made lists and a tentative timeline for the oven and stovetop on Thursday. Check it out here.

And if you want to know what will be on our table Thursday you can look here.

Today's holiday bite is for those of you who are going to be celebrating Thanksgiving this Thursday. Make a timeline to keep you on track from now until the time you sit down at the overflowing table. A little bit of planning goes a long long way towards de-stressing the day. If I don't get back on before then, I'll be back with holiday bites after I recover from my turkey overload. At which time I hope to be humming Deck the Halls, or "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas" since the weekend after Thanksgiving is traditionally when we like to set up our tree and decorate the house.

Tuesday's Tackle: Talkin Turkey

This week I have a great privilege. I am being allowed to come into my children's elementary school for the second consecutive year and talk to the children, presenting the American holiday of Thanksgiving. I did some hunting around the house last week and found the visuals that I used last year as well as the notes I had for my talk on Squanto and a brief history of the first Thanksgiving. I will be reviewing those notes and making changes today and tomorrow, between trips to the store for food supplies, straightening up the house, and picking up my husband at the airport tomorrow (my #1 thing to be thankful for this year!). When I was home in the states in June I helped declutter my mother's home by relieving her of her colonial dress and apron that she made and wore back in 1976 for Bicentennial celebrations in our town. I needed to make a new mop cap to go with it so last week I sat down with this tutorial and whipped up a cute cap to wear with my costume. This will be a new touch for the kids who were in the school last year and have heard this talk once already. The school scheduled me to talk to the preschoolers on Thursday (which means I will have to do as much of Thursday's dinner ahead of time as possible so we can still eat soon after the kids get out of school at 2pm) and then two sessions on Friday. In addition to cooking for 11 at the house Thursday, my niece and I will be baking up extra pumpkin bread, zucchini bread and chocolate pudding tarts to share at the school. I learned last year not to even bother to bring sweet potato casserole because only 3 or 4 kids even dared to try it. Oh well, their loss.
If I get my cooking timeline done today I will try to post it later along with the menu for Thursday's spread.
Head on over to 5 Minutes for Mom to see what others are tackling this week.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Menu Plan for Nov 24-30 , 2008

Monday 11/24
Breakfast: oil bread
School Snack: yogurt drink & homemade gingersnaps
Lunch: goulash
Dinner: ?

Tuesday 11/25
Breakfast: Oatmeal
School Snack: sandwich
Lunch: hotdogs and baked beans (cut up the dogs into small bites and heat together in crockpot all morning)
Dinner: Clean out the fridge to make space for Thanksgiving items

Wednesday 11/26 HUBBY COMES HOME!!!!!!
Breakfast: cereal and yogurt
School Snack: peanut butter and crackers
Lunch: Baked potato soup
Dinner: ?

Thursday 11/27
Breakfast: hot chocolate and maria cookies
School Snack: fruit
Lunch: The Full Spread -- Thanksgiving Dinner (check back tomorrow for the full menu)

Friday 11/28
Breakfast: cereal
School Snack: kids' choice
Lunch: turkey sandwiches
Dinner: we've been invited over to some friends' house for dinner .... if she is not in the hospital delivering their son

Saturday 11/29 Possible sightseeing day
Breakfast: ?
Lunch: ?
Dinner: ?

Sunday 11/30
Breakfast: Cereal
Lunch: we'll eat lunch downtown and stay in town between services to go sightseeing at the Prado museum (free on Sundays) and maybe to Retiro park
Dinner: snacks or sandwiches after church

Head over to Laura's to see what's on the menu for others this week. I will try to do a separate post with Thursday's menu but life is so busy this week that it may not happen. Should be up by Tuesday if it is going to happen.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Holiday Bite #14 Tis more blessed to give than to receive

Do you have kids? Do you get a little crazy this time of year dealing with all the "wish lists" and begging for more stuff from them? I am blessed with four children and still have one or two that are still sure that the world revolves around them. Princess still feels that every store she walks into has something that I must buy for her .....right now. You'd think that after almost 6 years of life around here she would have gotten the message, but she is still learning. My oldest two are pretty good this time of year at having their radar out for gift ideas to give each other and for the rest of the family. We went to a little mall near our house tonight and both boys were thrilled to pick up gifts for their siblings for just a teeny bit of cash.
The mall was having a "toy rastrillo" where they had tables set up and people could come and bring their used toys to sell or trade with others. The kids spent a little bit of time gathering up some things to bring and we arrived with a large Ikea bag and the box from my new microwave full of stuff. We are very cheap on our prices so the boys had a good crowd of kids around their table. The event was not really well advertised so the crowd was small but by the end of the night they had cleared out most of the things on their table and had netted about 6 euros. I didn't fare quite as well with the stuff on my table (the things Princess and son #3 gathered up) but did sell some Discovery Toy puzzles for 6 euros and a couple of little beany teddy bears for a euro. The boys were able to go to some of the other tables and buy (for almost nothing) some presents for Christmas presents. One was even able to trade for a present for his sister so no cash was involved in the deal and both parties ended up happy.
Today's Holiday bite is to help your children get thinking about who they want to exchange gifts with and what they can do to plan and purchase or make gifts for others. Even at a young age they can color a picture or help you make a special treat for someone. My son used to help me make candy cane bark to give to his father as a gift. (break candy canes into small pieces, melt white chocolate in double boiler, add candy cane and spread on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper to cool. Break into small pieces and store in an airtight container). Do they really want to give something that will cost money? Why not have them "earn" some money by helping you around the house with some age appropriate jobs instead of just giving them the money to purchase their gifts? You were going to shell out the money anyways (at least if you are like me) so why not get something out of the deal yourself and let them take "ownership" of the whole process?
Don't have children? Get working on your own gift giving list then. Can you pick up one or two gifts today, or order them online? Get busy .... and don't wait till the last minute to wrap these. But that is another bite for another day, I think.

Holiday Bite #13 Sew What?

I pulled out my sewing machine today. Usually it sits in the corner gathering dust but today it was imperative that I put it to use. Next week I have been given permission to speak to the entire preschool and elementary school where the kids attend and explain the American holiday of Thanksgiving. When I was home in the States last June I talked my mother into giving me her colonial dress that she made for herself to wear at various functions during the Bicentennial celebrations back in 1976. I , of course, could not wear my old dress from that year since I was only 14 years old (and several inches smaller all around). , Yes, that is me in the dress and blue apron, the helmet bonnet and the farmer's tan on my scrawny little arms. I tried it on and mom's dress will fit me (at least I hope I haven't gained weight since I tried it on in June). She is missing the mop cap that she loaned out to someone and never got back.
I hopped online and found a tutorial for how to make myself a proper head covering and found just the right cloth in my cedar chest. Had a bit of a blonde moment while trying to draw a 20 inch circle using a pencil with a string tied to it to be a compass. I made a mistake and cut the string to be 20 inches at first, making the circle really huge and then I remembered that the string needs to be the length of the radius not the diameter. Oops!
Once I got it cut out the sewing went rather quickly and the kids were duly impressed with mommy's new cap. Princess even declares that she wants one although I do not know what she thinks she would do with it except maybe pretend to be Laura Ingalls and wear it to bed with her nightgown.

Check back here for my post on Tackle it Tuesday and I will post pictures of the whole outfit and the cap project.

So, what is the Holiday Bite for you today? Do you have a special outfit that you will want to wear during the Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays? Is it something from last year and you put it away without replacing that missing button? Is it something new that needs a little alteration or hemming? Why not pull out your sewing machine, or a needle and thread and take care of it now? Can't do it today? Get out your calendar and write down when you plan to take care of the mending or alterations so that you are all ready with just the right clothes on those special occasions that are coming up.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Holiday Bite #12 And Mary kept all these things...

and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2:19

My son told me a secret yesterday. In one of those sweet moments of motherhood, he opened up his innermost self and told me something very special. I will say no more about it (and that has nothing to do with the fact that he reads this blog so if I blab it to the world he will know .... and never trust me again). I will hold this secret close to my heart because of the great privilege he gave me when he trusted me enough to share what was important to him. I am honored.

As I was reminded of the above verse I was drawn in 2 directions in relation to today's Holiday Bite. The first has to do with secrets. This time of year, there always seem to be a good number of secrets in our house as each one tries to come up with gift ideas for each other. Growing up, my grandmother (God bless her!) was notorious for innocently spilling the beans and ruining someone's surprise on Christmas day. Sometimes she managed to keep the secret right up to the moment of unwrapping the present, but, because she was legally blind, she might ask you (as you were starting to open the present) what you thought of the beautiful blouse so & so gave you. It was comical at times, and a bit frustrating for the poor gift givers who were hoping for a surprise. You might not be able to do large extravagant gifts this year, but can you think of a wonderful surprise for your loved ones? Can you plan a special activity to do together during the Christmas school break? Can you create something special that lets that person know how much you love him or her? One year I purchased inexpensive small photo albums (the kind with slip in pockets) and gave one to each child. Then we spent a few nights going through old photo envelopes looking at pictures of them as babies and on old family vacations. As we pulled out doubles each child could add some of the doubles to their own personal photo album. (This was about the time that I gave up on my unrealistic plan to create elaborate scrapbooking albums chronicalling their every milestone in life). Think of a "secret" gift and get busy working on it if it is something that is going to take some planning or crafting.
The second part of this verse talks about pondering these things in her heart. What an incredible experience Mary had as she gave birth to God's Son. Just imagine the thoughts that were rolling around in her head as she travelled to Bethlehem and then gave birth in a dirty cave surrounded by animals. And then all that she and Joseph went through as the shepherds came and worshipped the newborn, as Anna and Simeon recognized her son as the promised Messiah, the visit by the wise men and their escape to Egypt. Don't you ever wonder what that young mother was thinking at those times? What do I think about during the hustle and bustle of this season? Today, pull out your Bibles and read Luke 2. Carve out some time to ponder the Christmas story and make a plan to stop often, even daily, to ponder the wonder of God becoming man and all that means. If that doesn't make you thankful and get you ready to share your blessings with others then I don't know what will.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Baked Salsa Chicken recipe

2 cups salsa
3 Tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into lengthwise strips, 3 strips per breast

Mix salsa, sugar, and mustard. Place chicken strips in 2-quart shallow baking pan. Pour salsa mixture over chicken. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until chicken is well done. Serve over rice.

Holiday Bite #11 Don't Reinvent the Wheel

We continue to deal with sickness in our home. My #2 son has an ear infection that did not respond to the antibiotic from last week so it was back to the doctor's office this afternoon. We have a new antibiotic and the Dr. didn't like the sound of my cough as I was in his office so he checked me out and gave me some instructions for some medicine that I had from previous bouts with colds and flu. Right now I do not need an antibiotic but he didn't like the looks of my tonsils so we are keeping an eye on that in case I develop an infection there. Meanwhile I just want to go to bed and take a nice long siesta .... but I will push through to bedtime since I am an AWFUL napper.

Today's Holiday Bite is a result of what I am dealing with this year (because I did not do this last year.) Last year I had a wonderful plan for Thanksgiving dinner, I sat down and mapped out a timeline for the day and miracle of miracles everything was done at the same time and we sat down to eat within a half an hour of my target time. I was uncharacteristically calm throughout the morning and even my husband noticed it and asked me why I wasn't so frantic (as I usually am). Since the plan worked so well he encouraged me to save the paper that I had mapped out the timeline on for this year. I thought I had done it, I planned to do it, I probably did do it but I have no idea where that wonderful paper is. Oh brother! Now I will need to write out my menu and figure out the plan of action all over again. BUT THIS TIME I WILL PUT IT IN MY HOLIDAY PLANNER. Next year I will not have to "reinvent the wheel" when it comes to Thanksgiving. I will jot down any changes that need to be made if something doesn't work quite as planned. Today, when I am taking a break from cleaning, I will sit down with my planner and add a Thanksgiving Dinner planning page. I also will take a walk over to the butcher's shop and place my order for the Thanksgiving bird.
What can you do today to make your life easier for the holidays in 2009 and beyond?

Menu Plan Monday: Nov. 17-23

This week's menu still has some holes to fill but here is the plan as it stands right now. I know that things are going to get very busy starting next week so I think I will be looking at repeating some of my old menu plans from last year at this time. This kind of goes along with today's Holiday Bite .... don't reinvent the wheel.
Monday 11/17
Breakfast: homemade bran muffins, juice
School Snack: yogurt drink
Lunch: Baked bean casserole
Dinner: Chicken and dumplings

Tuesday 11/18
Breakfast: Oatmeal
School Snack: bocadillos (sandwiches on sub rolls)
Lunch: lentils, rice
Dinner: ?

Wednesday 11/19
Breakfast: cereal and yogurt
School Snack: muffins
Lunch:cheeseburgers, chips, raw veggie sticks
Dinner: leftovers

Thursday 11/20
Breakfast: hot chocolate and maria cookies
School Snack: fruit
Dinner: ?

Friday 11/21
Breakfast: cereal
School Snack: open house day at school, PTA will be roasting chestnuts for all to eat
Lunch: Baked salsa chicken I tried this recipe a couple of weeks ago and it was sooooo easy and very dilicious. I had to substitute regular mustard for dijon but it was still wonderful.
Dinner: eat out at Burger King or McDonalds .... we'll be at a mall in our town that is having a toy "exchange" where kids can bring their used toys to sell or trade with others.

Saturday 11/22
Breakfast: toast with olive oil
Lunch: ?
Dinner: ?

Sunday 11/23
Breakfast: Cereal
Lunch:Ikea meatballs and gravy over rice, corn
Dinner: snacks or sandwiches

Head over to Laura's to see what everyone else has on their menus this week.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Holiday Bites #10 Making lemonade

Making lemonade? What does lemonade have to do with the holidays? Well, we had a few "lemons" this morning and grabbed the oppportunity to make some lemonade, figuratively that is. This has been a productive morning. In fact, a little more productive than I had originally planned. I am several years away from being a "senior" but I am sure having enough "senior moments" creeping into my daily life lately. My short term memory has been shorting out and I get so easily distracted that I find I don't even finish my
Well, the plan on our menu for the last few weeks has been to make pepperoni rolls . Each Friday it has been scrapped because I was just too tired or short on time to mess with it. Today was the day to break out the flour cannister and get kneading.
I measured the 6 cups of flour into the mixing bowl and proceeded to measure and add the yeast. As I was mixing it together, my niece (who was reading the recipe --- hmmm what a novel idea) noted that the instructions said to mix the yeast with the water first. "Oh, so does my pizza recipe but I use the fast acting yeast and do the other method of mixing it with the flour and then using slightly hotter water. It'll be fine." I reply.
Then I decide to read the recipe too and the next thing it talks about is that you need to add the flour slowly because it may not use all 6 cups. Oops! Now I have a problem.
"I know what to do. Let's just take this flour and yeast and add what we need to turn it into my pizza dough recipe and we'll freeze it to have on another day in the future. My dough recipe calls for 2 cups and I usually double it to have enough to feed my crew on pizza night. OK, we'll triple the recipe. I'll just add 2 more TBSP of yeast, the salt, 2 cups of flour, the wet ingredients etc. Here, Jenny, why don't you mix it together and I'll prepare the counter."
My niece mixes away and asks me if the dough usually looks this way (it was pretty dry). Did anyone catch what I did wrong in the paragraph above? I added an extra 2 cups of flour, which in effect gave me enough flour for FOUR batches of dough. Oh brother! We quickly heated up some more water, added an extra tbsp of yeast to it along with the oil and honey and mixed it up. Once we got kneading, it started to look better and I now have 2 portions of pizza dough in the freezer, each one the amount I normally use on pizza night. I'll pull them out and let them thaw and rise for pizza night sometime in December. I'd been meaning to work ahead in the kitchen anyway, using some freezer space to store up some timesavers for December meals.
I washed the bowl and we started on today's recipe which is rising as I type. But I was on a "make ahead" roll..... I looked at the two squash sitting on my counter and decided to cut them and cook them up for Thanksgiving. I love winter squash at Thanksgiving but it always takes so long to peel and cut up that it stresses me out. Someone told me I could just cut it in half, scrape out the seeds and bake in an oven or microwave until the flesh is tender. Let it cool and scrape out the cooked squash. This is my plan for this afternoon. I will throw the cooked squash in a freezer bag and then mash and add seasoning on Thanksgiving day when all I have to do is defrost and heat it up. Yeah! Works for me. (hmm, maybe I should have saved this post for Wednesday. )
What can you do today to stock your freezer? Can you double whatever you are preparing for tonight (on purpose)? Oh, and if you are like me, you may have a mishap or two this week ..... be creative and see if there is any way to salvage the thing before throwing in the towel. And remember, as my niece said through her chuckles, this is the thing memories are made of.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Holiday Bites #9: Silver and Gold

OK, now that I typed that title I now have Burl Ives' voice playing in my mind. Silver and gold, silver and gold .....
Excuse me. I came across the Christmas videos today as I was cleaning out the coat closet. (Pardon me as I toot my own horn and tell you that I am throwing away an entire trash bag of old videos, donating another two boxes of videos and in so doing, created enough space in the closet to move my husband's tool boxes to the closet from their current spot in the middle of my bedroom floor. Go me!) I'm back from the rabbit trail ... where were we? Oh yes, Christmas videos. I wonder if I will be able to wait until after Thanksgiving to start watching. I do love many of the stories and the music as well.
However, none of this has anything to do with the Holiday Bite for today. I spent some time in the last couple of days working on filing expense reports and gathering info to file some medical claims. Both of these jobs require some time filling out forms but the reward is that we get reimbursed for a significant amount of money that was spent paying for doctor's visits and ministry expenses. The reimbursement check should come to us right at the time when we can most use a little bit of "extra". Now you may not have the same kind of paperwork as I do, but is there something you can do to put a little extra in your bank account? Could you spend an hour or two putting some items on ebay? Do you have quality clothes that a consignment shop would buy or sell for you? Any rebates that you need to fill out and mail? Could you plan to use more coupons in the next few weeks and set aside the amount of money that you "saved" with coupons and place it in an envelope to use as "mad money" during the week before Christmas? A little ingenuity now could save you even more if it means keeping you from pulling out the plastic at the last minute.
Can't think of any way to add a little silver and gold to your wallet? Try today's "alternate" Holiday bite: Find your holiday videos/dvds and while you are in there pick a few (or several) old ones to get rid of. Less clutter = less stress and less work cleaning up for the holidays.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Holiday Bite #8: ... and checking it twice

This is really part 2 of yesterday's post. With one sick child at home and then last night I started coming down with something (sore throat, runny nose, etc) I am not up to long complicated posts .... or for labor intensive bites in the Holiday planning either. But that doesn't mean I have to do nothing either. Today I took advantage of the half hour subway ride to my chiropractor's appointment to pull out my holiday planner folder and start some of my lists. I began to write in the names of extended family members, friends and neighbors that we will give some kind of gift to. I started a list of people who will receive cookie trays if I do them this year, which I fully intend to do unless, like last year, I am sidelined by illness for the entire Christmas/New Year's/ 3 King's Day season. And finally, I started my list of "must have" Christmas cookies and sweets. I jotted a T next to the ones I would want for the cookie trays and the rest are just the family favorites that came to mind. I will whittle the list down but it was fun to start thinking about goodies to come.
Most are family favorites that we make (nearly) every year. One recipe is a new one. My niece did a trial run last night on this recipe and all but one person in the house is loving this easy candy that tastes like Heath Bar toffee. We left out the nuts because of allergies in the house and substituted 2 large chocolate bars from our local supermarket for the chocolate chips. They worked wonderfully and had a great flavor.
Do you make cookie trays to hand out to friends or neighbors? What is going on yours this year? If you don't know, take a couple of minutes and sit down with a cup of tea and start your list. What about other homemade gifts .... does anybody still give those "gifts in a jar"? If you need special ingredients or supplies, now is the time to get those things written down and gathered up. I don't know about you, but I think a stress-free ( or at least stress-reduced) Holiday season sounds as sweet as a bite of my holiday cookies.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Holiday Bite #7 (S)he's Making a List

Sorry I couldn't post yesterday. My son was sick with a very painful ear infection and I spent a good part of the afternoon getting him to the doctor. Then my children were monopolizing the internet until their bedtime, at which time the internet provider was so overloaded that I couldn't get online for a while.

Before I got the call from the school to pick up my son, I pulled out my Holiday planning notebook. This is just a report folder (one of those with metal tabs that hold the paper in place) that I have used for the last 4 years or so. It started out by printing out pages from FlyLady's Holiday Control Journal and some other pages from this Holiday planner. I pulled out last years's calendar, printed out a new one for this year and decided instead of printing out new gift list pages I would just recycle the unused pages from previous years. I keep the list of gifts given from year to year because it helps me avoid giving the same thing 2 or 3 years in a row. I will refer to this planner several times so I try to have it handy but not so handy that the kids see the gift list. (Actually, I normally do not list their presents now that they are old enough to go sneaking around and spoiling their own surprizes). I love being able to jot notes in it as I go through the next few weeks and let myself know what worked (and what didn't). Each year I benefit from the previous years.

Do you have a planner, notebook or notepad where you can start those lists that will help you keep it all together as life gets more and more hectic? Take a moment or two and start those lists .... or at least get yourself a place to keep those lists as you start them.

Tuesday's Tackle: The Coat Closet

My niece is going to be here helping me out for another 5 weeks. It's amazing that half of her visit is already gone. She helped me immensely in the kitchen reorganizing project where I created a baking corner and even went on to make several other areas of my kitchen cupboards more useful. I find myself drinking tea in the morning now that it is so easy to get to the supplies and when my husband gets home it will be easier for him to have his morning coffee at home instead of always going out to the local coffee shop.

Today I had the idea that we should start at the front of the apartment and just work our way through the rooms in the weeks that are left, hitting problem spots as we can. We were going to install the new coat hooks that I bought at Ikea last week but couldn't find my husband's drill and bits. Instead of wasting a lot of time hunting, I decided to store the hooks away and move on to a new project.

We came to the coat closet in my front hallway. It was so full you couldn't get put another coat in and when you did try to remove a jacket it would pull the coat on either side down off the bar with it. The floor was filled to overflowing, literally. The doors did not want to stay shut because the overflow from the floor kept pushing tham open.

We are not finished with the whole closet but we have a good handle on the hanging coats and the stuff on the floor is fairly contained in baskets or boxes with like items together. We can even find the gloves and mittens and umbrellas if we want to.

Several jackets were moved to an unused closet in our back bedroom because they are the wrong season or a couple are simply in-between sizes for my boys. They will hang out in the back closet until #2 and #3 sons have another growth spurt. Ball gloves and small sports equipment have "teamed up" in a small basket on the floor. We pulled out 25 baseball caps from the depths of the dungeon and spread them out on the couch for a picture.

Yikes! We certainly do not need to keep ALL of those caps!

I whittled the caps down to a mere 12 (which still seems like more than we need but it isn't that bad since it includes the ballcaps that are part of my son's team uniform).

Here son #2 plays with the "rejects" before they make their way into the giveaway bag. The best part of the job? 4 bags of stuff in the car to go to charity, 3 other jackets in the wash to see if they will clean up enough to be given away or if they need to be trashed. Either way, they are not taking up space in my closet anymore.

Be sure to head over to 5 Minutes for Mom to see what others are tackling this week.
And I'd love to have you join me (and comment) in my Holiday Bites series, tackling holiday preparation One Bite At A Time.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Menu for November 10-17

I had lofty goals of accomplishing great things in the house today. I did get a couple hours of work in (done with the timer set to 15 minutes and when it went off I would move from one job to another), and then the school called to have me come pick up my #2 son who was complaining of ear pain. He complained of it this morning but has missed so much school that I gave him Tylenol and sent him off to school to see if the medicine would kick in and he could make it. The medicine did not do the trick so I picked him up and took him to his doctor's downtown and the poor kid has a raging ear infection. Fortunately, in my morning work I was able to clean the bathroom, straighten the front hallway and make the midday meal (get the casserole ready to go in the oven). The menu was finished over a nice pot of tea this morning and my niece and I were able to talk about some goals for this week. I did not get to write a new post for my Holiday Bites series. Good thing I posted last night and left directions for a quick and easy craft.

Here's what we are eating at our house this week...

Breakfast: Nesquick and maria cookies
School Snack: Yogurt
Lunch: casserole made with leftover Rotisserie chicken, gravy, broccoli and rice
Dinner: cheese omelettes

Breakfast: grilled croissants
School Snack: salami and cheese on a roll
Lunch: spaghetti with one of two choices on top . Either Sunday's meatballs and tomato sauce, or Saturday's chili.
Dinner: sandwiches

Breakfast: cold cereal or toast
School Snack: homemade cookies
Lunch: Lasagna sandwiches (new recipe to try from Taste of Home)
Dinner: chicken noodle soup, quesadillas

Breakfast: bacon and egg casserole
School Snack: croissant with chocolate nocilla spread
Lunch: Crockpot applesauce pork (using this recipe with pork instead of chicken), egg noodles
Dinner: chorizo and fried potatos

Breakfast: toasted baguette bread with olive oil
School Snack: fruit Apple or banana
Lunch: pepperoni rolls
Dinner ?????? something fun for family fun night.

lunch: homemade macaroni and cheese with ham cubes

lunch: chicken and dumplings

Head on over to Laura's to see what's on others' menus this week. And check out my series which is designed to help take some of the holiday stress out of Thanksgiving and Christmas by helping you prepare for the Holidays by dealing with each task One Bite A A Time.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Holiday Bite #6 : Feeling crafty

I was in the States back in June and on a whim picked up some patterns that were on a 99 cent sale or something like that. I thought I would pick up some cute flannal material and sew a nightgown for my princess as a Christmas present. I also have a pattern for pajama bottoms that I thought I might sew for my three boys. It has been a while since they got new pj's for Christmas. I found the patterns the other day and thought I would stop in one of 2 or 3 fabric stores that are a few blocks away from our church before church Wednesday night. To my surprize, none of them had what I was looking for. I guess this might be harder to find than I thought. Fortunately for me I have not waited until the last minute and I have a couple other stores in mind to go check.
It is getting a bit late to start a major project, but not too late. The important thing is to have all your supplies before you get started. Also, be ready to adjust your plans if you find it necessary to come to grips with the reality that you cannot make complicated hand-made Christmas cards for all 250 people on your list. Decide which projects you really need (or really want) to do and make a list today of the supplies you need to pick up, then decide when you will pick them up.
And, if just reading this gives you the itch to create something crafty, here is a quick idea for a soft fabric pumpkin decoration to bring a little Autumn in your home.

Quick Craft: No Sew Fabric pumpkin decoration

Not ready to pull out the Christmas decorations yet? Wishing you had something new to decorate your home for Thanksgiving or other autumn get-togethers? Here is a super fast no-sewing-required easy craft idea.

Here is what you will need:

Fabric with fall print, preferably with orange tones
silk leaves
brown craft paper or a brown paper grocery bag
Thin quilt batting
a roll of toilet paper

Cut fabric into a square aproxiately 18"x18"

Cut batting in a strip approximately 9" wide by 25" long.

Roll the toilet paper in the batting, centering the roll in the batting and tucking in the excess in the ends of the toilet paper tube.

Place toilet paper roll in the center of the fabric square on the wrong side of the fabric. Pull the fabric up and tuck into the center of the roll.

Cut the paper into a long strip, roll up and flatten the roll. Cut down to a "stem" approximately 5" long. Wrap the "stem" with brown twine and tape or glue ends down.

Cut a small section of fall leaves from silk autumn leaves. Tuck into the top hole and then push your brown paper and twine stem. Enjoy.

And the best thing about this little craft, apart from being sooooo easy, is that when it is time to put the fall decorations away to get out the Christmas ones, you can merely dismantle the pumpkin, put the toilet paper roll back in your linen closet and the rest will store anywhere in little to no space.

Holiday Bites #5: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

I haven't decided if I should plan to post on the weekends or only on Monday through Friday. The decision was made for me yesterday. I was on the computer but not surfing the web or posting on my blog. I was finishing the writing and translating of the Sunday School Christmas program. We are doing music which I started practicing with the kids 2 weeks ago. However the verses and other parts needed to be typed up and printed out. Also, I am adapting The Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Walburg into a program to go with the music. Tomorrow we will pass out parts to the children who are willing and able to do more than just sing. It is a project that has been hanging over my head for quite a while but I knew would take some concentration and work. I am so glad to have it done. It really didn't take that long either once I got started.
So what task or deadline is looming over you today? Do you have any responsibilities for your church (or school) Christmas programs? Do you have a work project or project around the home that is dragging you down and making it impossible for you to spend your energy on other things? Why not sit down and finish that project and get it out of the way? Or, if it is too big to finish in one sitting, work on it for an hour and then write on your calendar how and when you plan to work on it again.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Holiday Bites #4: Time is money

I made soup yesterday for lunch. Awesome soup. Rib-sticking soup. The best I've had in a long time. I made Baked Potato Soup using this recipe as a foundation but making a few substitutions based on what I had in the house and the comments others had left on the site. (I used half milk and half chicken broth, seasoned salt for regular salt and threw some chives in for color). The best thing I did was since I didn't have fresh green onions I used up the last handful of frozen chopped onion in my freezer. A few weeks ago I was at the grocery store and saw that they sold chopped onion in small freezer bags right by the frozen peas and corn. It was less than a euro for the bag so I decided to "splurge" and try it out. Oh my word! What a time-saver! I will not allow myself to stop and figure out what I am paying in a per kilo price for those onions vs buying fresh ones and chopping them myself because "time is money". With all the extra busyness of the holidays I allow myself a few conveniences that I might not ordinarily have in the grocery cart. I think frozen chopped onions are going to be one of those. Another is what I brought home from my morning at IKEA today. Frozen Swedish Meatballs. Yes, I am paying 7 euros a kilo for the frozen ones and it is only 4.35 to buy a kilo of ground beef, but then I have to mix up the meat, form it into tiny balls,brown them, and freeze them. All that time and effort is worth more than 2.65 to me. I now have 5 bags of meatballs in the freezer and a couple packages of brown gravy mix. On busy days I know I can pull a bag out and heat it on the stove (or throw it in the crockpot early in the day) and turn it into one of several easy meal options. This Sunday it is going in the crockpot with spaghetti sauce for meatball subs. Another day they can go over rice with brown gravy. Or thrown in spaghetti sauce. Or in BBQ sauce. Get the picture? Better food than making sandwiches and a lot cheaper than a trip to McDonald's or Pizza Hut.
Today's Holiday Bite is to think of one or two convenience foods, or staple foods that you can pick up the next time you are at the store to have in your freezer or pantry. With the extra running around that goes with the Holidays it will remove some stress when you know that a home-cooked dinner can be on the table just minutes after coming home, and all the ingredients are already there waiting for you.
What is your favorite "pantry meal"? What convenience food or short cut tip do you just love?

It works!

Thanks to Charity and her link to this tutorial, my button works and the code is in the sidebar if anyone wants to grab it and add it to their blog.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Holiday Bites #3: A Place for Presents Pt. 2

Did you create (or straighten up) your place to store presents as you purchase or make them yesterday? I'm so glad to have a place to store things and I am really hoping to break my father's tradition this year. Last night I put an empty box in each of my children's rooms and encouraged them to begin the process of making way for the presents that they will certainly be getting in December. My husband is in the States right now visiting some of our supporting churches and having meetings in others. He is being flooded with gifts for the family .....clothes that we all need as well as other things. Since we barely have room to put things away as it is, we MUST PURGE SOME CLUTTER from our house. I dropped off 6 supermarket bags of clothes and misc. stuff at the second hand shop yesterday and hope to make several more trips there in the days to come. I also bit the bullet, realized that it's time to wave goodbye to short-sleeved shirts for a while and packed up all the boys' tshirts into a suitcase. Now they can get to the longsleeved tshirts in their dresser and there is space for whatever new things are coming home in Daddy's suitcases in 3 weeks.
So..... take a few minutes to make some space in your drawers or closet or perhaps clear out some space in the toy box, game closet or bookshelf. Work fast, do not think too much, and donate those items now so that others can do some thrift shopping for their Holiday gifts out of your abundance. I'm curious .... what did you get rid of today?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Holiday Bite #2 A place for the presents

We had a tradition in my family growing up. It would be time to open the presents under the tree and my Dad would suddenly get that look like the lightbulb just turned on and would jump up and run upstairs to his bedroom, or to the basement, or to the shed outside because he just remembered one more gift that he had forgotten to wrap. Unfortunately I inherited these genes from my father. I do pretty well at picking up gifts ahead of time as I see something that strikes me as just right for someone. My problem is keeping track of it once I get it home and then remembering what great hiding place I used to stash it away. Even more unfortunate is the fact that my husband is also challenged in this same area. This September we spent some frustrating hours on my son's birthday hunting the house up and down trying to find some gifts we had bought in the summer. Never did find them that day which was a bummer .... but I did find them a couple of weeks ago so I have a head start on my Christmas presents for him. :-)
Today I was working in the bedroom and decided it was time to corral the few presents that I have so far into one central location. I have a box now hidden away with the aforementioned items and a couple of stocking stuffers that have been picked up. This week I will clear out some space in the closet to store bigger items as they are purchased. If something has to be hidden somewhere else due to size I will jot a note to myself to remind me of where I put it.
Are you game to join me in this holiday bite? Do you shop for presents all through the year? Do you have a gift shelf, closet space, or other place to store these items until you wrap them and give them away? Why not take a minute or two and prepare a place to store your gifts. Just a tip ....If you are going to store things in bags make it a store shopping bag (preferable the paper kind with handles or something that will not be mistaken for trash and thrown out by mistake) and if you store things in a box you might want to make it a clear plastic box or a Rubbermade that is a different color than your other totes. The idea is that you don't want to be searching through several boxes or totes trying to find which one has the presents. Do you have a great idea for storing gifts or a great hiding place idea? Leave me a note in the comments. I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Can anyone help????


I made this little button/banner/whatever you call it hoping that I could easily figure out how to place it in my sidebar and make it available should anyone wish to put it on their blog and make it easy for someone to find me with a mere click on the button. No such luck. Can anyone point me to a tutorial that shows me what I need to do? I have the picture created, it is uploaded to Photobucket and I also uploaded it directly to blogger in my first Holiday Bites post. That is as far as I got.

Tackling the Holiday in small bites

We've "fallen back", turning back the clock an hour, Halloween candy has been devoured (granted, we only have a little bit that we purchased for some in house trick or treating) and the fall decorations are out in the living room. We are entering one of my favorite times of the year but one that has the potential to drive me close to the point of insanity and certainly tests my sanctification. Yes, the Holidays are upon us. Or at least Christmas is a mere 51 days away. The calendar gets so full in these days and the task(s) that I need to do seem quite elephant sized. This year I have decided to apply the one bite at a time principle to my holidays the same way I attacked several large projects I had back last spring. It helped to post (almost) daily what I planned to do to break down the tasks into bite sized steps.
One thing I will do differently is to try to focus each post on one thing I am going to do that day (or already did) to help prepare for the holidays. For a couple of years I have followed along as the Flylady Cruising Through the Holidays and would read her daily missions to help be prepared for Christmas by December 1. The missions did not always fit well with my schedule. So this year I will come up with my own missions, writing down the things I come up with and sharing them with the handful of readers here, encouraging you to see if my suggestions are helpful for your own preparation. My desire is to take as much of the frantic panic out of the Holidays and pave the way for true worship, family fun, warm memories and reaching out to others in this wonderful season to come.

What's today's Holiday Bite? Think of one way you can spread out the holiday food shopping list so as not to have a huge bill all in one trip. I have started picking up one or two things each time I go to the store as I see items (like the chocolate advent calendars that the kids will start opening up on Dec 1.) There are many baking items that you know you will need either for Thanksgiving or Christmas or both. Why not start a page where-ever you keep your running shopping list (I just put a page on the fridge with a magnet) and jot down the items you pick up as you go? You will be able to tell at a glance what you have in the house and when the supplies are there, you will be able to take advantage of small blocks of time to start tackling baking. Hmmm, Holiday baking. I can hardly wait.

Would you like to join me in these little Holiday bites? Leave a comment and let me know what one thing you did today to get ready for the busiest season of the year.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wordless Wednesday: "Afternoon Tea"

Click here for the recipe for these apple puff pancakes.

Apple puff Pancakes Recipe

Here's the recipe for the apple puff pancakes from this week's menu. A wonderful light supper with a taste of fall.

Toni's (my mother-in-law) Apple Puff Pancakes
3 or 4 large apples (we used Granny Smith ---YUM)
1/3 cup butter plus 2-3 Tbsp more
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2/3 cup sugar (divided)

3 eggs
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Peel, core and slice apples. Sautee apple slices in 1/3 cup butter for 5 minutes. Mix together 1/3 cup sugar with spices and add to apples. Cook over low heat 10 minutes.
Mix eggs, milk, flour, & salt. Beat well with a whisk or hand mixer till smooth.
Place 9x13 glass baking dish in hot oven with 1 to 2 Tbsp butter. When butter is melted, pour batter into dish and return to oven. Bake for 15 minutes. As soon as batter puffs up puncture puffed area with fork. Lower heat to moderate (350 degrees) and bake 10 minutes more.
Brush with remaining tablespoon of butter and sprinkle with sugar if desired. (I usually just brush with butter but leave off the extra sugar). Serve topped with hot apple mixture.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tuesday's Tackle: Creating a baking center

I have been less than thrilled with my kitchen lately. It is small but I believe there is adequate storage space for the things I need. My problem was that I don't think I was using the space in the best way. There was only a rhyme and reason to a few select shelves and the rest of the cupboards and shelves were a hodgepodge of whatever happened to land there. I sat down with my niece who is here helping me till mid December. We made a plan of some "little bites" we plan to do this week to help meet some goals and deadlines. Then after lunch we tackled one area of the kitchen. I removed everything from the "book"shelf behind my curtain and turned it into the baking corner. I know that I will be doing a lot of baking in the next 2 months and the equipment and ingredients were spread out all over the kitchen. We sorted through spices and decorating supplies, put some Tupperware containers to new use, gathered up muffin tins and cake pans from to and fro and it is all reunited in this new home. Things that did not relocate are the glass Pyrex baking dishes because they fit perfectly between the top of the microwave and the shelf above it, and because they are also used for casseroles or other cooking tasks. Likewise the cookie sheets will remain nestled on their sides in the small space to the side of the microwave. The mixing bowls will also probably stay where they are in the only cupboard with extra wide shelves and because they are also used for so much more than just baking.
I am happy with what has been accomplished so far. I am very motivated to attack another area tomorrow. Maybe I will create a beverage center or group all the sandwich/lunch/school-snack supplies together.
"Before" Shots

The corner in it's original disorderly state. The hole on the middle shelf is where I normally store the crockpot which was in use today. It is temporarily going to remain on my counter in the corner. Since I removed all the cannisters from the counter I think I have room to leave the crockpot there without feeling too crowded.

This cabinet is probably my least favorite thing about my kitchen. It is a corner cabinet with really deep shelves. The only one I can reach all the way into without standing on a chair is the bottom shelf. The door will only open halfway because it bumps into the hood/vent over the stove. (Definitely poor planning on somebody's part). Although I do not use the food coloring and cake/cookie decorating supplies I had stored on the higher shelves that often, I will be using them in the next 2 months and now they are much easier to get to. I also discovered several half-full bags of salt, baking soda, etc that had gotten pushed to the back and then I had purchased another one, not knowing I had some in there to refill the smaller containers that I use to hold these items for daily use.

The corner cabinet as it is now after relocating the baking supplies. Almost 2 full shelves now empty and waiting for something else to be stored there. Something used rarely and not too small so as not to get pushed to the back and lost there. Any ideas?????

The microwave shelf-unit still holds the Pyrex baking dishes and cookie sheets, but the cake pans, bread pans, muffin tins, and some other assorted baking things have moved out of their old home in the bottom shelves and over "behind the curtain". The shelves over by the microwave are some of the easiest to get to and I am feeling like I should use them for pots and pans, plastic pitchers or some other items that I use every day.
The "After" Shot:

Cannisters have been relocated to the comfortable middle shelf which should make it almost just as easy to grab flour while cooking as it will be to get to for baking. It's just not on the counter anymore. If I find I absolutely cannot live without having my flour right by the stove for dredging meat and thickening sauces, I may just keep a small tupperware of flour by the stove and maintain the large cannister in the new spot.
Let me know what you think of the new plan. And check out what others are tackling today over at 5 Minutes For Mom.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Menu Plan October 27- November 2

No time to do a big post with the plans for the week and the little bites I will take to try and get some things accomplished. Maybe tomorrow.
I did write out a lunch/dinner menu for this week so I will share here and over at Laura's.

Monday: School Snack: Yogurt
Lunch: Quiche (one bacon & cheese and the other Ham & Broccoli)
Dinner: was going to be pork filets and buttered noodles but I got home late from the chiropractors so we just heated up some leftovers and the little ones had peanut butter sandwhiches,

Tuesday: School Snack: zucchini bread
Lunch: Crock pot beef stew
Dinner: either the pork filets that I didn't make tonight or my mother-in-law's recipe for "puff pancakes" (kind of like popover batters baked in a 9x13 dish) topped with cooked apples

Wednesday: School Snack: croissant with chocolate spread
Lunch: Salsa chicken over rice
Wednesday: fresh bran muffins with jam, juice, yogurt

Thursday: School Snack: apple slices or clementina oranges
Lunch: cream of broccoli soup, crackers
Dinner: pepperoni rolls, chips, raw veggies, pumpkin cake for dessert

Lunch/dinner Pack a picnic to eat while we are out doing sightseeing all day.

Saturday: chili and cornbread

Sunday: Buy broasted chicken from the restaurant around the corner with their patatas ali oli and a dozen croquetas as well.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

bloggy giveaway

OK, I have yet to win anything from any blog that is giving stuff away, but I'll still try every once in a while. I get an extra entry for blogging about this ... but then i let more people know about it which, if they enter, reduces my chances of having my name picked ..... hmmm. oh well, if I don't win maybe someone who is still looking for a Christmas gift idea for me will just send me one of these books. It looks interesting. I don't recognise the authors but do recognise the names of a couple of the people on the list of "endorsements" so I would definitely try it out, especially if it is free. :-)

Here's the link to the giveaway of the book Passionate Housewives Desperate for God.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Not bad for the first time....

A couple of weeks ago my #1 son(13) entered his first "official" chess tournament, one that was organized on the weekend of our town festival days. This was the first time he was in a tournament with adults that had paid to enter and where there were cash prizes along with trophies for the winners. He was a bit intimidated by playing against men like his high school chess club coach, but he had a great time and ended up coming in 4th place among the other entrants under 15 years old and 1st place among all those who were playing in the tournament for the first time. He came home with a pretty impressive trophy (no cash, but that was no surprize) and a huge smile on his face.

Lots of concentration going on in the room.

Playing against his chess coach's son. He has yet to beat this little whiz kid but he gave him a good run for his money in this game.

A very pleasant surprise at the end of the day!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tuesday's Tackle: musical bedrooms

My niece is arriving tomorrow to stay with us for the next 2 1/2 months. It will be a missions "internship" of sorts, but mainly being a "mother's helper" during the time that my husband is away in the States reporting to our churches and looking for some new support. I am soooo ready to have another adult in the house. OK, she is 23 so I understand that she is of another generation than me but I am very excited to get to know her better and I think we will work well together. I am hoping to get some projects done around the house with her help ..... mainly purging some clutter. One thing that needed to be done before she gets off the plane tomorrow is to deal with the bedrooms. #3 son and Princess have been sharing her room all summer because they could share a fan that way. Since he wasn't using his bed, it became a dumping spot for everything we had no other home for. Ditto for his floor and under the bed (aka the man cave). The other side of the room has been our storage spot but we needed to take down some of the Ikea shelves to make room to move a dresser into the room for Princess's clothes. She is moving over to big brother's room so her cousin can use her room while she is here. Today I totally cleared out the top of the bed, cleared out the underbed and turned the "man cave" into the "girly den". There is still a pile of boxes that needs to be gone through and dealt with but that will have to wait for another day. Tomorrow morning I will finish up the last straightening up of Princess's room and then head to the airport at noon to pick up my helper. I can hardly wait.

Check out 5 Minutes for Mom to see what others are tackling today.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Internet Woes

Wouldn't you know it, just after I blog that I am going to try to blog more regularly again, my internet goes crazy. First another ISP hijacked our line and left us with no option but to continue service with them for the next month or two since it will take at least a month to switch us back to the company we had. We got our router configured to work with the new company and then our new antivirus and firewall program decided to go Nazi on us and block all internet access from our desktop computer. The laptop still works plugged into the router so we know the router isn't the problem. However the laptop was supposed to be leaving on a two month trip with my husband the day after tomorrow. It may end up staying but that will put a crimp in his connectivity while he is away and will leave him doing all his work in longhand or borrowing someone else's computer. What a pain in the neck!

Who knows when I will get it all figured out. I will do my best to post whenever I can.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tuesday's Tackle: Back To School, Back to Routines

The neighborhood pool closed Sunday. I broke down and wore pantyhose to church Sunday instead of sandals. The elementary school started yesterday. Summer is officially over here in my little corner of the world. Actually, I guess it ends tomorrow as my eldest doesn't go back to school till tomorrow. I have seriously neglected the blogging world this summer but now it is time to get my new routine down and I do hope and plan to include some blogging in that. (it is my quick creative outlet and a fun way to keep the family and friends informed)
Here's the threesome that headed off to kindergarten, 3rd grade and 6th grade Monday.

One way to get back in the groove is to jump back into some of my favorite weekly memes. Since I missed the chance to do Monday Meanderings and Menu Plan Monday yesterday, I will jump in with Tackle it Tuesday. However, one of the things I absolutely MUST DO is get back into the habit of weekly menu planning. I tackled that on the bus yesterday on the 45 minute ride downtown for my twice weekly torture sessions with the physical therapist and chiropractor. You can see the plan for this week here.

As always, laundry tops the list of things to tackle. Oy! It makes me tired just to think about it. We got behind on it and have let several days go by without throwing a load in so now the hampers are overflowing.

My niece is coming to live with us for a couple of months. She arrives in 2 weeks and we must get Princess's room ready to turn over to cousin Jenny and then get #3 son's room ready to share with Princess. Currently he and Princess have been sharing her room because his room became a dumping ground for all the stuff that no longer has a place in mom and dad's room when we got rid of a big piece of furniture that was overpowering the room. Unfortunately there was a fair amount of stuff being stored in it. Sooooooo, the main tackles for the next two weeks are:
1. Create a reasonable daily routine in the home and stick to it.
2. Get the two bedrooms ready and get rid of or find new storage homes for the extra stuff in N's bedroom.
3. Catch up on laundry.
4. Help my husband get ready for his big trip coming up next week. He will be out of the country for 2 months.

Check back next Tuesday to see my progress .... I will post pictures if I dare. Ü
And head on over to 5 Minutes for Mom to see what others are tackling today.

Menu for the week September 15-19

This week's menu was planned while I was on the bus for 45 minutes heading downtown to the chiropractor and physical therapist. At least something productive was accomplished on the drive. The weekend is still up for grabs.

Monday 9/15
Breakfast: Oatmeal, milk, juice
School Snack: peanut butter and crackers
Lunch: Spaghetti with meat sauce
Dinner: frozen "fried rice" with vegetables, scrambled eggs and leftover chicken added in

Tuesday 9/16
Breakfast: cold cereal, milk, juice
School Snack: cheese and crackers
Lunch: BLT's
Dinner: canned soup

Wednesday 9/17
Breakfast: cold cereal, milk, juice
School Snack: homemade spice cake or peanut butter cookies (whichever I feel like making Tuesday)
Lunch: Chicken parmesan, mashed potatoes
Dinner: left over spaghetti

Thursday 9/18
Breakfast: scrambled eggs, milk, juice
School Snack: fruit (whatever good deal I get at the outdoor market Wed.)
Lunch: cream of zucchini soup
Dinner: tuna melt sandwhiches

Friday 9/19
Breakfast: Spanish oil bread (toasted bagette topped with olive oil and crushed tomatoes) milk, juice
School Snack: tortilla roll-ups
#1 Son's birthday meal HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY FIRST TEENAGER!!!!
Menu for the meal as per family tradition is up to the birthday child
Meat still to be determined .... either ribs or maybe baked ham
Cheese raviolis
brussel sprouts (can you believe he chose this for his veggie??????)
Chufi Maestro horchatera horchata (a Spanish drink made from the tiger nut)
dessert -- flan

Chocolate cake with chocolate icing.
Neopolitan ice cream (or as we always called it in my family growing up ... van/choc/straw ice cream.)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Olympic Moments

Well, the Olympics are almost wrapped up. I have been watching off and on, whenever I can boot the kids off the GameCube to steal a peak at what is being broadcast on tv. I don't think I get much live but I do try and watch the coverage in the evening where they will show the highlights of the day. I got to see Phelps in the relay that won him his 8th gold medal that way. As a family we enjoyed catching the tail end of the game where Nadal won gold in tennis for Spain. We cheered him on in the semi-finals too. The kids and I cheered for a team of table tennis players (it was a week ago so I can't remember if it was an american team or spaniards. Most likely it was Spain since they showed the whole match) against China. My 8 year old got so into it that he was crying when the Chinese team came back from being down 2-0 to win the whole match 3-2. (He is a bit competetive and really has a hard time losing. We need to work on that).

I miss getting coverage of the USA like I would if I were back in the States. I really miss being able to hop online and catch the video clips from NBC but I am blocked from viewing them since I reside overseas. I am glad to at least get the American "news" via my AOL browser.

I am disappointed in the clothes (or lack of them) in so many of the sporting events. I even heard the other day that the women playing table tennis were being encouraged to wear "sexier" outfits and not the shorts and t-shirts they normally wear to try and create interest and increase ticket sales. And here I was watching table tennis and thinking "good for those girls ... wearing something comfortable that they didn't have to readjust every two minutes. Finally a women's sport I can feel comfortable letting my prepubescent boys watch."

I think the quote from my #3 son the other night sums it all up. As we flicked around and landed on the olympic coverage for a minute or two we tuned in to the last 5 minutes of the women's beach volleyball gold medal match. It was pouring rain and the USA won the point and then proceeded to win the gold medal match point. We cheered for our beloved USA team and then Mr. Competetive cheered with a big smile on his face, "Yeah! They won the gold medal!! And their underpants stayed up too!"

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Banished at the end of the world

OK, I am not really at the end of the world, but I am banished in a way from the internet. We are staying at a timeshare in Germany and the only internet access is during the limited hours that the reception office is open. There are 2 terminals open for everyone to use so we are limited to 15 minutes at a time. I am sneaking some extra time today since there is noone waiting for the computer. i have so many posts going around in my head. Perhaps I will get them in my laptop on our two long travel days this weekend and then post them when we get to a McDonald´s with WIFI or once we get back to home sweet home. I am having a wonderful time relaxing and playing tourist with the family. We have eaten in McDonald´s in 4 different countries in the last 2 weeks, ordering in 3 languages. Interesting since we only speak 2 languages, and we haven´t ordered in English yet. Ü

There are pictures galore in the laptop and digital camera ..... but no way to post them yet. Be patient .... I will probably do tons of posts later in August and September, although there will be regular life to get back to once we get home.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wordless Wednesday: A little junior high humor

I saw these at the checkout stand of our local supermarket. It struck my funny bone (OK, those years teaching junior high must have gotten to me.... or maybe it is just being the Mom of 4 kids) The two kids I had with me didn't even notice them, but now that they have seen the picture I took for the blog, they (and the two older ones) have jumped all over this. Let's just say in our house there are new lyrics to the old "clapper" jingle.

Playing with the blog

My son wanted to figure out how to add music to his blog. I knew that Rachel over at Home Sanctuary has a fun music player on her blog so I decided to check it out and see if I could figure it out for my son. I've just added one song so far (a fun song that the kids are loving right now). Upside: Fairly easy to set up the player and get it on the blog. Downside: I do not like the pop up photos that show up on the site that you go to to add songs to your player and I don't know that we could upload our own music. I imagine there won't be the kind of options I would like, but I probably can come up with some fun songs to add now and then. If you'd rather have a quiet blog-reading experience, just hit pause on the player button when you surf on.

BTW, I love men's acappella music so I was drawn to this song (pb&j)and thought I might even download the whole album for our upcoming long family car-trip but the song listing --including one about the book of Mormon -- convinced me that we'll keep on looking for other options.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Monday Meanderings: July 14-20

Life has been so crazy for our family these last few months. I had a wonderful visit with my parents for their anniversary but as soon as I came back I was up to my eyebrows in Vacation Bible School stuff (it was my first time as director and the first one for our church so the stress levels were basically off the charts). Last week I tried to catch up on the house since I had basically ignored it for 2 weeks and had been away for 3 weeks before that. I ended up catching up on sleep and being slowed down by heat several days. I (and even more, my hubby) am SO READY FOR VACATION. Well, let me rephrase that. I am so ready for a REST. Vacation-ready is something I have to do this week. It will require some planning and lots of little bites to arrive at travel day with everything I need, the house in some reasonable good shape to return home to (and just in case the landlord needs to get in for some reason) and with all 4 children and my husband with their heads intact. (Can you tell that packing can be a bit stressful around here?)

Must Do's this week focus on getting house and family ready for our trip to Germany for a missions conference followed by some family vacation time. There are two appointments to fit in as well -- Haircut Wed and Dentist on Thursday.
Today's focus will be laundry so that I will have everything clean to choose from while packing.

I had to head to the big grocery/super store this morning to order the kids' school books for the fall. I also wanted to pick up the snacks for the trip and whatever food items I would need to turn the contents of our fridge and freezer into meals for the week. Hubby wants to see if we can empty the fridge before we go and then maybe turn it off while we are away. We'll see. Like a good girl I checked the supplies we have to use up and tried to make a menu of lunch and dinner items that will use them up. Here's what I came up with. After returning 3 clothing items that my hubby bought for the kids on clearance that didn't fit, using 2 other credit slips/carrefour cash-back coupons, my entire order (including juice boxes, nuts and raisins for the trip, pate and individual jelly containers for making sandwiches on the road on day 1 and 2, potatoes, eggs, frozen chicken patties for lunch, bread, plastic plates and napkins, and a few other things I cannot remember) only required me to pull out a 20 euro bill. Yippee!

Clean out the fridge/freezer menu
Meal 1: Baked fish, steamed frozen broccoli
Meal 2: chicken sandwiches, chips
Meal 3: hamburgers and buns, salad
Meal 4: landlubber's paella
Meal 5: fried chorizo sausages and eggs, toast
Meal 5: crockpot beef stew
Meal 6: fried rice with bacon and scrambled eggs added
Meal 7: pizza or pepperoni rolls
Breakfast -- eat up the 6 bagels that I bought at Lidl a few weeks ago when they had products from the USA.

Add a couple of lunches of leftovers or sandwiches and we should be set through Friday evening. That should completely clear out the freezer of all but 2 boxes of puff pastry (any ideas for using those up?) and some extra pepperoni. I may give that away to some friends. Oh, the other thing in the fridge is my bounty from the spring strawberry freezer jam fest. I will have to see if they can be transferred to a friend's freezer or just give them away. Problem is I wasn't thrilled with how it turned out (used a different brand of pectin that called for less sugar. I like my jam much sweeter and thicker. I will go back to SureJell in the future.)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Eat one for me, please

To all my friends and readers in the good old USA ...
do you have a chick-fil-A restaurant near you? They are having a promotion today (July 11) that anyone who comes in dressed like a cow gets a free meal. Get moooooving girls and tape some black paper spots on your cutiepies and solve the dinner dilemna tonight. Enjoy one for me cause I am seriously craving a chick-fil-a right now.

Oh, and it would be really cute if you took pictures of all those adorable cow outfits to share with me. I´d really love to share your chicken sandwhich and waffle fries but since that isn´t possible I´ll have to be content with cute, calorie free photos.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Guess what today is?

This song was the way we kids always serenaded our parents every May 31. I can't believe I forgot to include it in the party for my parents last month. Oh well, I sang it to my hubby over the phone a few hours ago and then found the clip on youtube of the original version. Enjoy! I am praising the Lord for 21 years with the best husband in the world!

Monday, June 9, 2008

party time

I am having a great time visiting my parents and flitting from anniversary party to graduation party to birthday party. I still have some shopping (tomorrow the plan is to head to the outlets. yippee), visiting with friends and family, a ladies' retreat with my mom and father's day. Then I pack it all into 2 suitcases and head back home to my own family. My husband (did I mention I married the best guy on the planet?) is holding down the fort well and is especially glad that we have a vonage phone that allows him to call me several times a day with questions like "how do I add time to the cell phone?", "where do we keep the bag of extra batteries?" "How do I pay the credit card online?" etc. I get the feeling that I am going to be appreciated in a new way when I get home.
Web access is very limited for me as my parents only have dial up access (read SLOW) and I don't plan to spend much more of my limited time left at the public library where I am hiding out and enjoying the air conditioning today.

My parents, my siblings and myself get a long overdue family picture at the 50th anniversary party.

Mom and Dad cut the cake now .....

and 50 years ago.

The recent college grad. Congratulations to my beautiful niece.

At the 88th birthday party for a family friend, also named Alice. Actually at this little tea party there were FOUR of us named Alice. That was a first for me!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Wordless Wednesday: Allergy Skin Test (aka Fried Egg Arms)

#2 son was tested recently for allergies. 3 came up positive. We thought the positive results looked like fried eggs after the doctor drew the two crooked circles around the reaction sites to measure them.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I need your help.

Tackle it Tuesday this week needs your imput to help me make some wise shopping decisions in the next two weeks. Read on to see how you can help.

I am heading home to the states at the end of the week. I will be there for a little over two weeks. While I am there I hope to do some shopping. My wardrobe needs some help but with the horrible exchange rate and the difficulty I have just finding clothes that fit me well here (not to mention that the prices before the exchange are awful) I haven't bought much here. I know I can make my money work for me better back "home". I have been reading and listening to some advice on buying clothes that are flattering for your figure and I would like whatever I buy to really look good, not just be serviceable. So, this is where you come in .... I am trying to determining what colors I look best in and what "season" I am color-wise. Would you take a look at the slide show and leave a comment letting me know which colors you thought were the most flattering and which season you think I am (if you know anything about that.) As an incentive for commenters, I will use a random number generator to pick one of commenters (or maybe 2 if I get lots of response) and I will send you a little souvenir of Spain as a thank you for taking the time to look and comment.