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.