Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My Current Menu Planner

These last couple of months I've been posting my Weekly Menu Plans, and singing the praises of being prepared. Today I'd like you to see a different type of menu planner. A very efficient and practical menu planner. A lovely menu planner. A most wonderful menu planner.

And, Here She Is . . .

Yep! She's my menu planner this month. You see, there will most likely be some life-changing events coming for this gal soon. She's courting a young man, and has stars in her eyes and love in her heart, and it's my job to help get her prepared for life ahead.

She's been hanging around with me for some time now, and has first-hand witnessed how I stock the pantry and put food on the table. It occurred to me recently that she had never started from the get-go. She's definitely a better baker than I. But she hasn't gone 'solo' as much with other things. So, Project Caitlin this month is to give her the grocery budget, have her plan the meals and stock the pantry and get the meals on the table. All for our family of 8. If she can do that, she can do anything!

She's doing a fabulous job! And I'm working hard at staying out of the way. Not easy, mind you. I guess this ol' Mom has some things to learn, too.

This week we've had Chef Salads on Sunday, Tacos on Monday, and tonight will be Chicken Pot Pie (and guests for dinner!)  I do not know what else she has in store for the week, but she assures me she has a plan (that's my girl!)

Though this is not my typical Menu Plan Monday post, I'm still linking up over at OrgJunkie.com where you can find menu inspiration from many others.
You can also see this post over at the Welcome Home and Teach Me Tuesday Link Parties.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How Do You Do It? Travel Edition, Packing For a Crowd

When talking with others about vacations or camping or traveling with a large family, I often hear things like "How do you pack for everyone?" "How does it all fit?" "I don't know how you do it!" In the early years, we had 4 children ages 6 and under. It was work. But honestly, it is getting easier. The kiddos are all growing up and getting pretty self-sufficient. I am going from being a Mom-of-Many  to being a Mom-of-Not-So-Many-Anymore. OK, that isn't exactly true (once a mother, always a mother!) But my children don't need me to do as much for them as I used to do. I now can provide a list of items needed to be packed and then just need to double-check that no important items are overlooked. Once they know what is needed, everyone brings their 'stuff' to an assigned place (the living room floor, couch, etc) I have them compare their pile to the list.

For several years, I utilized a marvelous system for my 'Littles'.  A set of those plastic stackable drawers. Each drawer is about a foot tall and about a foot and a half deep. Perfect for baby- and toddler-sized clothing. I filled one for each of my kiddos, and one with diapering supplies. Each night while pulling out pj's, I would also set out next day's outfit, leaving the drawer unit in the back of our SUV-type vehicle. It was easy to fill up in the house, light-weight enough to carry easily to vehicle, and easy to reach and keep in order. But then they grew. Or maybe I should say the OUTGREW my ingenious system. Their clothing just wouldn't fit.

These days I have 11 year old Esther and 6 year old Bekah pack their clothes using a 3-step method. Each of the girls uses a large canvas tote. Below you can see what Bekah packed for a weekend trip last summer:
1. Layer 'em.
dress or jumper/top, shorts/bloomers, undies - whole outfits together

2. Roll 'em.
each day's outfit is a snug little pack

3. Line 'em up!

each night, she takes out a "roll" ready for a new day!

For the boys, now 9 and 8 years old, we still pack up one good-sized suitcase. They wear the same size and basically share a wardrobe, so it's easy to stack, fold and roll like things together. The pictures below are from a week-long camping trip we took this spring.

You can see in the upper corner they each get 2 pair of jeans, next to that I lined up t-shirts folded compactly (I picked up this little tip from a post over at Organizing Made Fun), across the front I stacked shorts and pajama sets. In the empty corner, I placed a couple of sweatshirts, in case of cool nights. In the little pocket at the back, all lined up nice and neat, I placed their rolled up underwear. The pocket in the lid held socks. That's it! 2 boys, 1 suitcase and a week's worth of camping fun. 

FYI -- dirty laundry gets tossed into a laundry basket in the camper, not back into the suitcase. However, they somehow find plenty to fill the suitcase for the trip home -- things like dirt, rocks, sand, insects. You know, souvenirs.

For trips when we have a special occasion or event to dress for, I have packed a separate bag, with one nice outfit for each family member, separate from our everyday play and travel clothes. This stays stashed away until the appropriate time, so we don't have any cross-contamination, if you know what I mean.

So, how do you pack for a crowd? I'd love for you to share tips and tricks that make traveling easy for you!

Linking up this post to Works For Me Wednesday  and Big Family Friday.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Menu Plan Monday - 7/16 to 7/22

This week I'm wrapping up another month of menus. In another 10 days or so I'll be starting fresh, stocking up the pantry and freezers and I'm so happy to be receiving ideas, motivation and inspiration from Laura's Menu Plan Monday (I'll belinking up over at OrgJunkie.com)

You'll again see squash on the menu this week. Luke cooked it up on the grill a couple of weeks ago. Delish!  Just slice lengthwise, brush lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with seasoned salt and lemon pepper. Toss onto hot grill, cook a couple minutes on each side and Voila!  Perfect side dish for the backyard barbeque.

Last week I was pleased with how the zucchini boats turned out. Some in the family were a bit skeptical, and a few did not fully appreciate the culinary sublimity (is that a word? it is now!). I thought they were great, and enjoyed the leftovers next day for lunch! I hollowed out a bit down the center, sauteed up whatever fresh veggies I had on hand (onion, carrot, peppers, broccoli, cauli, celery) and filled in the hollow. Place on cookie sheet and bake at 375 for 10-15 minutes.

Another common theme you'll notice is that many days I'm using an ingredient or portion of the meal that was prepped on my Big Cooking Day prior to the beginning of the month. This makes menu planning and meal prep fast and easy. Saves on physical labor, time in the kitchen and brain work.

 b'fast--Muffins (cinnamon & blueberry)
lunch-Tuna RollUps (kids' on tortillas, mom's on lettuce leaf)
supper--Squash Bake (based on this recipe and this recipe), Cowboy Beans, Mom's WW Bread

supper--Pasta Salad w/ Chicken (cooked chicken from freezer)

supper--Spaghetti w/ Meatballs (meatballs and sauce in freezer)

supper--Nachos, Homemade Tortilla Chips (mom&dad's date night)

Fridayb'fast--Eggs, Hashbrowns
supper--Pizza (pizza pak in freezer)

supper--Luke Grills Hamburgers (patties in the freezer), Baked Potato Rounds

b'fast--Bagels, Fruit, Yogurt
lunch--Venison & Rice (crockpot meal, cooked venison already in freezer)
supper--Popcorn, Every Man, Woman, Child for Themselves

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Excuse Me, While I Bust My Buttons

 This post is brought to you by One Proud Mama, 
shamelessly plugging a new book, fresh off the presses, 
written by My Girl Caitlin!!! 
or should I say by 'Katherine Sezz'
 (her Nom de Plume, her pen name) 

You are in for a treat when you read this fun and adventurous story. Just ask me, I know! I read it!

A quick summary of her book says: "There's a treasure out there. In this fast paced action/adventure book, Earl, a multimillionaire treasure hunter has been obsessed with finding the treasure and has sacrificed everything in search of it. Now after forty years with the help of an English major, a college dropout, and a Great Dane, the treasure may finally be within his grasp. He races time-and his archenemy-to find it before it's too late."

You can order the Kindle version for only $5.99 here at Amazon.

The Paperback version, also $5.99 here at Amazon.

Happy Reading!

{Note: this is not an affiliate post. This blog does not make anything from the links provided. My daughter, the author, does make a small royalty on each book purchased through Amazon.}

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

School Room Make-Over

I'm looking at getting things in order for the upcoming school year and so this is the perfect time to share with you the work we did on the School/Computer/Mud Room. We did a lot of de-cluttering and a little re-organizing and a touch of decorating. It has made the room quite pleasant and  much more user-friendly.

I know you want to see the results of our hard work, but let me show you some 'Before' pictures first.

not pretty - flat surfaces, open areas become dumping grounds
more stuff
walk-way to garage door is clear, sort of

again, flat surfaces - they draw piles
 And now! For some 'After' pictures.

Setting up 'Zones' was a fantastic way to utilize the space more efficiently. We have the School Zone, with our table, chalkboard, bookshelves, supply drawers.
We have the Computer Zone, with Dad's computer desk and the old computer for the kiddos to use. Notice the foosball table has been removed, along with other pile-collecting-furniture.
And then there's the MudRoom Zone.  Complete with the coat rack Dad put up some time ago (he's such a handy guy to have around!)and a storage cabinet to house the bins of hats, gloves, scarves, etc. We painted the cabinet the same beautiful, rich red we painted the door. Did you notice the door? Luke painted that for me - love, love, love it!!!

You must see my wonderfully fantastic shoe cubby (thanks for the idea, Mrs. R!!!) that Mike and Luke built for me. This little closet is built out over the stair well. Just wide enough for my shoe racks, giving each person a shelf of their own. I opted for no door, because then they would have to OPEN it in order to put their shoes away. And CLOSE it so the outside door wouldn't bang into it. That would be asking too much. There is still room for a shelf or two above, which we'll get to this winter.
It's been terrific as we have been doing a little 'light school' this summer. It's also been terrific to have everything in order when we have a project to work on. Easy to set up, easy to clean up.
Starting up a new school year next month will be tons of fun, now that we have a fun and lovely room to work in.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Menu Plan Monday - 7/8 to 7/14

Summer is flying by. Getting my weekly menu printed and posted has made the week go so much more smoothly. It's all about saving energy - isn't that the 'thing' to do in this day and age? Conserve energy? The energy I'm talking about is BRAIN energy. And when I conserve my brain energy, it gives me more physical energy.


 Try it! Sit down and make a plan, consult the plan, work the plan, come back to the plan when you stray from the plan. Having a plan is the greatest tool a woman/mother/wife can have.

But, remember, it is YOUR tool. You are not to be a SLAVE to the plan. Make it work for you.

On Mondays I pop in here with my Menu Plan. But this idea of having a plan can transfer over into planning out your week, planning out your projects, planning out family activities. Whatever it is that seems to make your life overly busy, overly stressful.

 b'fast--Egg/Cheese Burritos
lunch--Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
supper--Leftovers, Zucchini Boats

lunch--Mama's Chicken Soup
supper--Honey Glazed Chicken

Wednesdayb'fast--Baked Oatmeal
lunch--Ramen w/ veggies
supper--Venison (crockpot)

Thursdayb'fast--Whole Wheat Toast
lunch--Sloppy Joes
supper--They're On Their Own (mom&dad's date night)

Fridayb'fast--Blueberry Muffins

supper--Sausage, Kraut, Fried Potatoes

b'fast--Bagels, Fruit, Yogurt
lunch--??? Get-Together with Church Friends
supper--Popcorn, Every Man, Woman, Child for Themselves

Monday, July 2, 2012

Menu Plan Monday - 7/2 to 7/8

Donuts, gotta love 'em. I know I do, too much. That's why they are a rare treat around here.
Recently a friend gave me a bag of Donut Mix. 
"Could you use this?", she asks.
With my 5 year old tag-a-long tugging at my skirts and staring up at me with those great big, pleading eyes of hers I said "Sure! We love donuts!" How could I refuse? Really, I had no idea there was such a thing as Donut Mix, but there it was, being passed from the hand of a friend right into my own hot little hands.

Last week I decided was just the right time. I pulled it out of the cupboard, and find the bag, with no directions attached. I had lost the directions. Ugh! My kiddos are expecting homemade donuts, I've promised them, I can't let them down. I pull out a favorite cookbook, the one with the donut recipe we've used before. I do my best to use the same liquid-to-dry proportions and pray over my mixture.

Little Miss Bekah and I end up with a dough we can roll out and cut (don't have a donut cutter, just a glass and small container the right sizes). While she made circles and holes, I dropped them into the hot oil, turned them and set them out to drain. Esther the Queen of Donuts covered them with powdered sugar and 'YIPPEEE!'   They were edible. Not great, but a nice treat.

Moral to the story --  never be afraid to try.
I could have let the mix sit in the cupboard, waiting for the directions to show up. I could have thrown it out with the trash or fed it to the chickens. Instead we lived vicariously and gave it a try, using our skills and knowledge and resources as best we could.
We had fun together, we learned some things together, and we shared the fruits of our labor together. No one complained that they tasted just a little different, or the texture wasn't quite right, or they didn't look like store bought. Just pure enjoyment.

The other moral to the story? Don't lose the directions.
(Disclaimer:  For all my Grammar-Spelling-Police-Friends out there, I know that 'donut' is not the correct spelling of the word. I know that 'doughnut' is the correct spelling. BUT, that is what the label on the package said. Yes, I did read the label before I lost the label.)

And now for our menu for the upcoming week.

b'fast - toast
lunch - leftovers
supper - enchaladas

b'fast - cereal
lunch - mac n' cheese
supper - Baked Potato Bar

b'fast - baked oatmeal
lunch - Funny Faces
supper - Burgers Brats & Dogs, Celebrate Independence Day!

b'fast - toast (made from mom's whole wheat bread)
lunch - sloppy joes
supper - Venison (crockpot meal)

b'fast - blueberry coffeecake
lunch - sandwiches
supper - pizza night

b'fast - pancakes
lunch - leftovers
supper - Egg Roll and Fried Rice

b'fast - bagels and fruit
dinner - Chef Salads
supper - popcorn, apples, leftovers, every man for himself

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