31 January 2011

Five "To Do" list hacks

My dear Felicity,
Sometimes it is the little things that help us the most.  Following are a few simple hacks for the humble "to do" list that take it from mundane to magnificent.

1.  Only put tasks on your to-do list that can actually be done.  
This seems like a no-brainer, doesn't it?  But glance down your to-do list and you might see the nebulous "Car Inspection".  Do you seriously intend to personally perform a 54 point inspection, emissions testing, and slap a new sticker on the windshield?  Of course not.  In reality, you have to get the city & state registration stickers  and touch base with your hubby before you can schedule an inspection and bring your car in to the mechanic.  The to-do list should have the next do-able task:  "Register Camry @ town office", and "e-mail Dagbert re: possible car inspection dates"  Those are single tasks that can actually be done and checked off.

When you're scanning your list, a project (several small related tasks with a single outcome) short circuits your brain...there's not actually something written there that can be done, and you end up passing it over time and again until it's at a critical level where you have to deal with it.  Take a look at your lists, and learn to only write tasks on your to-do list that can actually be done.  If you have a multi-step project, figure out the next do-able step, and write that on your to-do list, not the title of the whole project.
~ concept from Getting Things Done by David Allen

2.  Assign each item on your to-do list a time slot.
It's easy to overestimate your own awesomeness.  I can't tell you how many times I have had fifteen 30 minute tasks planned for a 4 hour afternoon!  Prayerfully assign a rough time slot for each task you have on your to-do list. Once you get in the habit of scheduling your to-do lists, you have a much more realistic picture of what can actually be accomplished.
~ concept from the Girltalk website, Carolyn Mahaney

3.  Keep a "running" to-do list.
These are simply tasks that need to be done during this week, but not necessarily today.  When an item pops into your head:  "Ooo!  I need to pick up lion noses at the party store for my Sunday School lesson this week", it goes on the running to-do list.  Each time you make up your to-do list for the day, check the running to-do list to see if there are any tasks that could or should be added to your list.
~concept from many sources, including Denise Schofield's Confessions of an Organized Homemaker

4.  Don't put routine items or things that can be done in less than 2 minutes on a list.  Just do them.
Do dishes.  Run laundry.  Make bed.  Honey, if these things are popping up on your to-do list, you took a wrong turn at Albuquerque.  Routine daily household and personal grooming tasks should not have to be written down to be accomplished.  Get off the phone.  Put down that book.  Do your job!  Unless you have toddlers, in which case you get a free pass until they're 5.  You may want to pencil in a shower before you forget....
Very often I can take just a few moments and accomplish a task before it goes on the list.  In the example in #1, I'd text or e-mail Dagbert about the car inspection rather than write it on my list because it only takes seconds.

5.  The Timed To-Do
A quirky but effective idea is to have lists of tasks that only take 5 or 10 minutes. When you find yourself with a few odd minutes, head for these lists rather than wasting the time.  Ideas abound on the internet and include everything from rounding up pet toys to chopping celery.

Remember Sweetie, "only God gets his to-do list done".  A list is simply a tool to keep you focused and bless your family. It's pretty easy to overwhelm ourselves with everything we think we "should" be doing.  I hope these few hacks will help you learn to tweak your to-do list so that it serves and motivates you rather than discouraging you.

Love and a big hug,

P.S.  Your daddy used to say "If you don't have a list, you'll be listless"  He made it a habit to make a list for the day, and encouraged me to do the same when my energy and motivation were low.

30 January 2011

Speedy Gonzales Sunday Stew

Dear Lissy,
We've just finished another beautiful Lord's Day.  Daddy preached on Joshua 1:8 tonight and I was convicted and challenged.
One of the hardest suppers to make is Sunday dinner.  Everyone is tired and hungry when they get home from church, and it's nice to have supper ready to whisk on the table in just a few minutes' time.  Of course, that means it has to be in the oven before you leave home, which can be a real challenge.

Enter Speedy Gonzales Sunday Stew. It goes together in just a few minutes the night before, and you pop it in the oven on Sunday morning and bake it while you're at church.  I usually serve it with a salad and rolls, also made up on Saturday.

Speedy Gonzales Sunday Stew
Serves 6
2-3# beef round or chuck roast, cut into bite-sized chunks
8 large carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
8 medium-large red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into largish bite-sized chunks
1 envelope of Lipton Beefy Onion soup mix (You may want to use 2 envelopes if the beef roast is at or just over 3#)
1/4 cup tapioca pearls (not the pudding)
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2-1/2 cups V-8 Vegetable Juice
Place beef and vegetable chunks in a large roasting pan.  Mix soup mix, tapioca, and brown sugar and pour over beef and veggies.  Pour V-8 over all.  Seal tightly with foil.  Bake at 250 degrees for 5 hours.  Serve hot.  The tapioca pearls will thicken the broth so that the stew doesn't need any extra attention once it comes out of the oven.

Sunday is a hard day to serve your family.  It's easy for selfishness to creep in and make us miserable.  Having an easy lunch pre-made takes some of the pressure off of an otherwise overwhelming day.


29 January 2011

Outfitting a sewing basket

Dear Lissy,
Time for some fun!  We both have a love of kits:  well-stocked cleaning buckets, quiet time totes, hiking haversacks, nail spa baskets...there's just no end to that for us, is there?  You've enjoyed sewing projects since you were a tiny girl, so I expect you've accumulated quite a stash of supplies by now.  After many years of trial and error, I've chosen to keep several smaller sewing kits -- hand sewing, machine sewing, quilting, crochet -- rather than a single large one. This allows me to keep each container right where it will be used.   I keep extra supplies in a cabinet to restock my various totes and baskets.
In today's letter I want to give you a few reminders on outfitting a sewing basket.  Every homemaker needs a well-stocked plain sewing kit to mend, hem, replace buttons, and for the handwork portions of machine sewn projects. A well-stocked sewing basket can make a nice shower gift for a friend, too.

The container...
         ~Your goal is to be able to find and replace items quickly, so look for plenty of dividers and pockets.
         ~ Before sewing machines were popular, most ladies carried a workbag of their own making.  You might enjoy making one of these intricate projects in place of a box or basket.
         ~If you're retrofitting a favorite tin or hatbox, make or find containers that fit inside and keep everything in it's place.  Ziploc bags, or their sturdier cousins, project bags, sometimes work better than hard sided organizers.
         ~Using a drawer?  Spend a few dollars to get trays that are divided into small sections.  Most drawers can hold two deep as well.
         ~ If you have toddlers or kitty-cats in your home, consider a container that shuts tight.  Do you remember my horrid orange Tupperware sewing kit?  I was so excited to replace it with a classic, pretty basket once you were old enough!  Now it's probably considered "vintage" and a real find.
         ~A medium sized container, 9 or 10 inches to a side (or across a round) and 9-10 inches deep is plenty big.  The largest item in your box will be a pair of 6" long scissors.  When the container gets too large, it's very difficult to keep organized.

The Contents...
  • Pack of assorted needles:  I prefer English needles, either John James or Richard Hemming.  John James currently makes a professional collection that has a wide variety of needles.  The only other type of needle I had to purchase was a tri-point leather needle.  
  • Needle threader:  Clover, a Japanese company, makes sturdy 1" square threaders with a tiny blade for cutting thread.  Don't splurge on a fancy needle threader since the wire pulls out after several uses.  For most needles you can probably thread faster without a threader, but it's nice to have one when you're trying to get dental floss through the eye of a needle to repair your umbrella!
  • Needle safe:  A 2-1/2" x 4-1/2" box that is lined with magnetic tape and used as an etui.  The tape is white, so you can easily designate or trace certain places (keeping ball point needles for repairing knits separate from sharps, for example). You will use this to store needles, a needle threader, and bobbins loaded with common colors of thread for quick repairs.  Just this portion of the sewing basket makes a nice small gift for a friend.  Save the pretty needle books for your fancywork basket.  
  • Thimble:  I love thimbles!  I keep two types in my basket:  A clover leather ring thimble and a vintage silver Dorcas thimble.  I prefer to sew off the side of my middle finger, and usually use the lightweight (and cool!) ring thimble.  As a bonus, the ring thimble fits into a needle safe well, too.
  • Seam ripper:  Clover makes fat handled extremely sharp rippers that are easy to use.
  • Scissors:  Gingher 5" Knife Edge are my go-to workbox scissors...sharp and accurate enough to remove excess material when hemming, but small enough for trimming a thread.  Keep your dressmaking shears, pinking shears, and embroidery scissors in other baskets at the location where you actually use them.
  • Thread Heaven:  This is a tiny block of solid silicone stored in a blue acrylic box.  If you run the thread through it, it prevents static, and therefore those irritating little loop knots.  You'll probably be able to find it with beading supplies or on a notions wall.  Only use wax if you're working with linen thread.
  • Bobbins loaded with thread:  Full-sized spools are a waste in your everyday sewing basket.  Load several bobbins with common colors:  white, ecru, gray, taupe, tan, navy, black, and red.  If you hold the thread over the block of Thread Heaven while it winds, it will already be pre-treated when you get ready to sew.  When you make a garment that needs hand-finishing work, pop the bobbin out of your machine and into your workbox.  You may have a section in your sewing basket that will fit several bobbins on end, or look on the notions wall at your sewing store for a box or holder.  Some sweaters come with a hank of extra yarn for repairs which I usually store with my buttons.
  • Dental Floss:  A trial size case of waxed dental floss makes great "thread" for repairing anything that will get wet...umbrellas, shower curtains, lawn furniture cushions, and even snowsuits.
  • Retractable tape:  You'll use a measuring tape time and again.  The retractable style work best in a small workbasket.  They are available in round or square styles, and range from plain bright red to whimsical animal shapes.
  • Sewing Gauge:  Usually a six inch metal ruler with a sliding piece down the side or center.  They are indispensable for hemming and other small measuring jobs.  If you do a lot of garment sewing, the Clover Zieman is a nice luxury, but a small Dritz or Collins ruler works quite well.
  • Pins:  Ah, the bane of Daddy's existence!   You just don't need a thousand pins in a hand sewing kit.  25-30 pins are enough for any hand sewing project.   Clover patchwork pins with the yellow glass heads or the round blue tins of Swiss Iris Superfein are my favorites.  You may want to add a few ball point pins for knits and a few sturdy pins for working with denim or duck material as well.  Store them all in a tin with a secure lid.  A stripe of magnetic tape will hold the different sorts in the lid so you can choose them easily.  A few safety pins in various sizes are handy for quick (temporary) fixes.
  • Pincushion:  I prefer a finger pin cushion, you may like a wrist or magnetic style better.  I don't use a large pincushion in my workbasket since I only use a few pins on any project.  Some sewing baskets have built-in pincushions.
  • Bodkins:  These are specialty tools for pulling ribbons, elastic, and drawcords through casings.  My mother used a big safety pin.
  • Zipper rescue kit
  • Buttons:   The buttons I keep in my sewing basket are ones that come with garments or are standard shirt button sizes.  I also keep a couple of hooks and eyes and snaps.  All of these fit in a tin the size of a travel soapdish  My large button box is in the sewing cabinet.
  • Sweater repair hook:  These go by different names.  I have the Dritz Knit Picker, there's also a Snag Nab It or you can use a tiny crochet hook.  It's used to repair snags in knits.
  • Pencils:  I keep a mechanical pencil and tailor's chalk pencils in silver and yellow.  
  • Sampler or hand stitching guide:  It's easy to forget how to hem with a catch stitch or how to repair a rolled hem on organza.   This chart works well when you need a quick reminder.
  • A love letter or two tied with a silk ribbon.  A beautiful tradition that should be carried on.

We set up your first little sewing basket in a lunch tin when you were only five.  You've grown, and we added to it over the years.  If you're missing something, or looking to make a box for a friend, see if your local fabric store has a subscription program for sale flyers.  I was able to buy virtually everything for both of us with half off coupons from Jo-Ann fabric flyers.  The pretty and whimsical notions are typically available at Christmas and Mother's Day.
If you are like I was at your age, I had a humongous, overloaded sewing basket and had to streamline so that I only had what I needed for plain sewing tasks.  I learned that I didn't need 50 spools of thread, pinking shears, and the buttonhole attachment for my machine in my workbox.  Having a cabinet or tote that functions as a "sewing pantry" will keep your workbasket tidy and allow you to stock up when you see a bargain at a yard sale or store.
One last little thing.  Try to mend or repair as the problems arise.  It usually only takes a minute or two and saves having a basket of unwearable garments waiting for your attention.

Love you SEW much,

27 January 2011

Jesus first, Jesus only, Jesus always

My dearest Liss,
     If I could write just one letter to future you, it would be this one.  Jesus was the door to your salvation many, many years ago on that April morning.  He alone is the strength, the truth, the way to live the Christian life -- your sanctification now.  Jesus, not Heaven, not rest from labors, not even a reunion with our dear ones who have passed before us, is our reward.

     I struggled for many years with Phil 1:21 - "For to me to live is Christ, but to die is gain".   Wasn't it gain to be working for the Lord here on earth, bringing souls into the kingdom, encouraging the saints?  Wouldn't death bring me into the presence of Jesus?  The verse seemed backwards to how I was actually living!

     And then I hit a rock wall when I was 36 years old.  I simply didn't have enough love, enough strength, enough something to continue doing everything I was being asked to do.  I learned during that time that His yoke is indeed easy, and His burden is light.  I had to stop trying so hard and instead run to Jesus and ask for His love and strength for what He had called me to that day.
     And he gave grace!
       He gave the grace to say "I can't" and ask for help.
       He gave the grace to assist Grammy Bea as her Alzheimer's spun out of control
       He gave the grace to take care of my home, a toddler, two home-schoolers, and a cub scout den all in the same day.
       He gave grace -- divine help.  It was Him, not me.  It was Him through me.

     I want you to know that when interpersonal conflict is threatening your peace, you don't try harder, you lay it at His feet.  Let Him anoint the pain with His love, and fill you with His love for them.
     I want you to learn to take your agenda for the day before Him each morning and ask for His wisdom and grace to accomplish all in His strength.

     I want you to see that any pain you face --
       the long, lonely evenings as a single lady,
       the aching heart when you can't bear a child, or you've lost one,
       the rawness in your soul when you're parenting toddlers,
       the impossible agenda during the school years,
       the gaping void as family and friends move away and pass on
       the numbness and disappointment when you've failed Him yet again --
       He longs to help.  He wants to strengthen and keep you.  You'll never see perfection, but as the years go by, you'll be able to trace the progress He has made in conforming you to His image.  You'll trace his hand of love and mercy in your life.

   I'll write letters to you in the coming days and weeks on how to establish and strengthen your relationship with Jesus Christ.  The principles are not difficult to comprehend, but they are exceedingly difficult to apprehend.   We want a to-do list:  have devotions, faithfully attend church, pray, witness.  But a relationship with Him demands far more:  trust, obedience, submission, surrender, and above all, grace.  

As much as I love you, He loves you far more,

26 January 2011

And so it begins

My Dear Lissy-Lu,
Many years ago women spent hours recording every detail of their housekeeping so their daughters would have access to their hard-earned wisdom once they moved away from home.  From favorite family recipes to first aid for chickens, nothing was left out.
It has been my desire for many years to compile a book for you.  You won't need or want to do everything the way I do, and sometimes calling for advice is just the excuse you need to enjoy a quiet conversation and unburden your heart a bit.  But for the days when you need a recipe, or wonder how I did something, or maybe why I did what I did, I hope these letters will come in handy.
You're just a bitty little thing right now.  You turned 8 on Sunday.  Do you remember your favorite gifts?  How you set up a tea party for your dolls with the beautiful china set the Scearbos gave you?  Carving a bar of Ivory soap into a little apple with your first pocket knife? You love to be busy, you love beautiful things, and you have a tender, happy disposition.  I hope all of those qualities will follow you into womanhood and serve you well as you build a home.

I love you to the moon (and back),