Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cleaning House

I downloaded a "Get Organized in 30 Days" plan to cleaning and decluttering your home from Home Made Simple. Honestly, I was disappointed by the list. Not that there aren't good suggestions on there (I'm still hanging on to it to remind myself of areas to target), but here's some examples of this "plan":

"Day 03: Coat closet. From coats to boots, wrangle your outdoor gear."

"Day 17: Desk. Clean and streamline your workspace."

"Day 25: Purse. Put an end to digging around for that tube of lip balm with a total purse clean out."

Now, there are (somewhat) more helpful tips on how to go about doing these things elsewhere on their website. But that's not exactly what I call a "plan" ... I think a plan would look more like Crystal's "4 Weeks to a More Organized Home" Challenge. Here's Day 1:

Day 1 Assignment

::Get dressed in something that makes you feel great {there’s something about dressing in clothes that make you feel great that just gives you more energy and zest for life! Get your free copy of SarahMae’s ebook, Frumps to Pumps, if you need more motivation in this.}
::Sit down with a cup of coffee or tea and make a list of 5-10 goals for this week.
::Complete your morning routine {if you don’t have a morning routine, take some time to create one today! Read my How to Develop a Routine That Works–And Stick With It series for step-by-step help.}
::Set the timer for 15 minutes and quickly pick up the main living areas of your home.
::Clean out your purse and/or diaper bag.
::Find 7 items to get rid of today. Throw them out, stick them in a donate or garage sale box, give them to a friend who can use them, or list them on Craigslist or eBay.
Note: If you work outside the home or have a really busy week with little time for extra projects, just do the bolded project above.

Now that's what I call a plan. And she does this for four weeks. Bite size goals that are attainable ... and a shortcut version for those who can't get to the full clean, even if they wanted to right now! I like that. It's real. It's flexible.

Now, I'm not saying the other list is totally useless. Actually, it made me feel a *little* better about the state of things in my house. Of the 30 day assignments, I have recently done 12 of them (or they didn't apply (e.g. our linen closet has always been neat and easy to maintain. So I don't need to "tackle" it).

That's the way I like to start a project ... with almost half of it checked off *grin* And there are a number of items that are decently kept up, but I haven't checked off the list because I'm sure when I get to them they will bear a little work (like making sure I've kept my jewelry organized and put away).

Sometimes, you know you have irrational and overblown hesitations. For example, I know if I start planning a week or two of meals at a time, I will be less stressed and we will save money. But I find the task of sitting down and planning that out daunting. I don't know why, but I do. I'm hoping that once I do it, though, I'll breathe a sigh of relief and go that was easy, and a load off of my mind ... why didn't I do it sooner?

 What are your organizational and cleaning tips and strategies?

original image source

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Chewy Sugar Sprinkle Cookies

Sound amazing? Look incredible? They DEFINITELY live up to every expectation I had for them.

Actually, I think they surpassed my expectations.

I'm not going give you the recipe here, because, well, I did not come up with this wonderful creation. Averie did. And you should totally check them out on her site because she deserves all the credit for these. Leave her a comment and tell her what you think, but please come and leave me a comment too. Really. I want to know if you love them as much as I do.

What I will do is show you process through my pictures. But don't look unless you want to get the urge to make them RIGHT. NOW. Seriously, just posting these pictures makes me want to go make another batch.

All mixed and ready to go. Honestly, I was perfectly content with the idea of stopping here. I love cookie dough better than cookies. Alas, I was taking them over to a lunch. I couldn't just bring a bowl full of cookie dough, could I? So into the fridge it went overnight to be chilled.

Next morning I rolled them. Aren't they cute? I  was definitely having second thoughts about putting them in the oven.

Then, I slightly flattened them. DO NOT OVER-FLATTEN. I know Averie makes that point, but I thought I would echo it.

See? You roll them, and you flatten them. It's fun.

These are the finished product. Yes. Finished. Fresh out of the oven. But they look barely baked! I can hear you now.

Barely baked, perhaps. But there's a nice crunch on the outside, followed by chewy middle. That's the best. My mom, upon trying one at the lunch, said she liked them because they were almost like eating cooking dough.

That's absolutely right. But, there's enough of a shell outside to keep the texture varied, and to make my husband (who doesn't like cookie dough) reach back for another cookie as many times as everyone else.

They're fun. They're soft. They keep well (I only found this out with the greatest discipline) ... but even so, there's really no reason for them to keep. They're so good you're going to want them all. NOW. ... my husband and I may or may not have had a couple for breakfast with tea one morning.

Hey, our baby's still inside me. And as long as they don't see you do it, it's ok, right??

So what do you think? Are you going to give them a try?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Reading Aloud

I love reading (if you haven't figured that out). I've been reading for as long as I can remember.

Another long memory is of my father reading aloud to our entire family. He read many works, but the one I remember best was an old Grosset & Dunlap copy of the Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. My mom also read to us.

Book have such treasured memories for me, and the love of books and knowledge is something I have desired to pass on to my children. I also wanted them to have lovely memories of being read to.

What I didn't expect was that I would be reading out-loud before they born ... to their future father.

We were dating when he first asked me if I would read to him. I'm not sure what prompted him asking (maybe he does, I don't know) ... maybe it was because I was astounded that he had never read the Chronicles of Narnia, even though he professed that he wanted to.

He just never really read fiction, he said, didn't particularly get into it.

And he liked hearing me read.

Well, I liked reading outloud, and didn't get much of an opportunity. So we began reading together. I believe we read through the first 4 books of Narnia before we married and finished the 5th on our honeymoon.

Yes, I read to him on our honeymoon -- it was very relaxing, being able to read together curled up in front of the fire!

Concurrent with those we have been reading nonfiction to personally edify us and facilitate discussion.

We also started The Four Loves (Lewis) before we married, but haven't finished it yet. It's a very good book, but dense, which makes it hard to read aloud and the listener be able to process it.

We have since finished out Narnia and read The Hobbit. That book wasn't as easy to read aloud as Narnia ... I think because each chapter is lengthier.

As for my husband not getting into fiction ... almost every time I would finish a chapter, he would beg for "just one more!" Precious.

We just started reading the Space Trilogy. (Honestly, I'm just not looking forward to reading That Hideous Strength outloud, but can hardly wait to read the other two again!), and we'll probably read The Return of the Dragon (Zaring) after that.

Return of the Dragon will be different, because it'll be a fiction book I haven't read before that I'll be reading outloud to him ... so I won't be to suppress a smile when he conjectures about what happens next, because I won't know either! From what I could find, it is a children's book that has pretty consistent high reviews. I'm looking forward to reading it.

There are so many books I think he would enjoy - so many books I want to read ... But, I thought I'd ask: what books would YOU recommend I read? Are there any books you think I should read to him?

original image source

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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Cheesy Chicken Pasta (aka Mac & Cheese for Adults)

I hadn't thought about blogging this recipe. I made it up as I went along, and wasn't expecting something that special. I don't know if it is special, but when my husband said "I would buy this at a restaurant" I quickly grabbed the camera to take pictures before I forgot and everything was gone!

I invented this recipe through a very scientific process.

I needed something to make for dinner.

I knew we had penne pasta, and I knew we had Velveeta (well, the Aldi equivalent, but we still like it), so Mac & Cheese it was. But that's not that healthy, I thought. I can at least add protein. So I got the chicken out the thaw.

Later in the day, I start the pasta, and am cutting up the chicken into very small pieces when I realize this meal is going not really have much color. Besides orange. Orange is a great color, but I really wanted to get some veggies in without having to cook something else.

So I decided to add peas to the dish.

Then, as I have the cheese, chicken, and peas in the pan, I realize I need something to help make it creamy. So I add a little sour cream, cottage cheese, and milk. Melt it, stir it, sprinkle it with cheddar, italian bread crumbs, and parmesan, and stick it in the oven for 25 minutes.

Ok, not rocket science, but this is a great dish to take to a pot luck. It's easy, fairly quick, and very economical. As well as very cheesy. What's not to love?

(1) 16 oz box of pasta - your choice. I used penne
(1) 16 oz Velveeta, cubed
(1 ) 1/2 lb chicken breast, cut up very tiny (makes about 1 cup)
(1) 1 cup peas. I threw mine in frozen and they turned out fine
(1) 1 scoop sour cream
(1) 1 scoop cottage cheese
(1) milk. I'm not sure how much I used ... probably just over 1/2 cup?
(1) 1/2 cheddar cheese, shredded
italian bread crumbs
parmesan cheese

What You Do
Cook pasta according to directions. Meanwhile, cut up chicken very tiny and cook in skillet with some butter. Set aside.

Whenever you have time, cube the Velveeta. This is important so that it'll melt easier when the time comes.

Drain pasta and pour into a greased 9x13 baking dish. Preheat oven to 350. Start adding Velveeta into the pasta. The heat will start melting the cheese, but it won't be enough to melt it as needed.

Add all of your cubed Velveeta, your chicken and peas, scoop out your cottage cheese and sour cream, and pour the milk over. Stir. Put in the oven for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, pull out the dish and stir very well. You want to try and get the cheese well mixed and spread. Top with cheddar cheese, sprinkle generously with the bread crumbs, and add a little parmesan, if desired.

Put back in the oven for 25 minutes. Mine was just beginning to brown and get a little dried out on the top, but underneath was nice and moist. It made for a good texture mix when eating.

So let me know what you think! Would you pay for this at a restaurant? What variations would you put in?

I think this would also be good with broccoli, mushrooms, and/or bacon! Of course, for any added ingredients, you'll need to increase the liquid/cheese some to make sure everything is coated properly.

Happy eating!