29 September 2013

Frankenstorm Prep

Dear Lissy,
A monster hurricane-Nor'Easter combination is bearing down on us as I write.  We have the usual emergency preparedness kits, but I wanted to give you a few ideas about easing life for your family and yourself during a 72 hour to week long power outage.

Fill the bathtubs.
We use far more water than we realize, and it's a shame to use drinking water to flush the toilet, do dishes, or simply heat a pot of water to clean up.

Know how to draw water off your hot water heater.
Chance are you have about 40 gallons of potable water sitting in your water heater.  A simple spigot makes it easy to refill pitchers and gallon jugs.

Pre-cook your meals.
It's pretty simple to keep food  cold for 72 hours with only a cooler or even in the fridge.  It takes only minutes to reheat a meal over less-than-stellar heat sources like a grill or woodstove.  For this storm I cooked off

  • 6 pounds of chicken, 
  • A ham (this is the most versatile since it can be used at any meal)
  • A steak 
  • A batch of meatballs
  • 2 dozen eggs
  • Rice pilaf
  • Barley pilaf
  • Spaghetti
  • Rotini
I have fully stocked the fridge and pantry with canned and fresh fruit and veggies as well.  Instant pudding and a bag of chocolates provide a few treats for morale. 

Have "comfort" snacks available.  
I normally hate the idea of manipulating emotions with food, but favorite snacks, drinks, and a few extra sweets will go a long way during a tense time and can be taken to a shelter if necessary.  I like to stock up on cheese sticks, beef jerky, granola bars, graham crackers or celery with peanut butter, fresh fruit, carrot sticks and dip, and nuts. We almost always have Gatorade powder on hand, but Kool-Aid or Mio works well, too. Nothing decompresses tension quite as well as mom yelling "OH, NO!!!!  The power's out!!!  Quick!!! We NEED to eat ALL of the ice cream before it melts!!!!"

Have all the laundry washed, dried, folded, and put away.  Iron a church outfit for each person if there's time.
One time during a hurricane I was already 3 loads behind and then had 4 days worth of laundry before the power was back on.  Never again!!!

Fill the car with gas.  Check the oil, wiper fluid, etc.
Gas pumps need electricity to run and for payment, and gas prices always rise following a storm.  It's a win-win to just fill up.

Bring sleeping bags, pads, and cots into a "safe" common room in case you have to move in the middle of the night.  It's no fun to have to search for those items in the dark.

Bring flashlights and batteries to a central location.  
Camping headlamps are a great choice since they're hands free.  We've tried to purchase flashlights and lamps that use a wide variety of battery sizes.  We also have candles and Kerosene lamps.

Have games, books, crafts, and coloring sheets available.
Even teens can get into crafts and coloring if there's no power!  

Keep your mood light and upbeat, even if you're tense.  Your kids (and animals!) pick up on the fear and tension.

We're optimistic that Sandy won't hit us too hard, but we can manage well for up to a week if the need arises.


18 September 2013

Raised Waffles

Dear Lissy,

For years my waffles were little more than corrugated pancakes.  Yummy, but definitely not worth the extra time and clean-up. We enjoyed them when we went out for breakfast, but I only made them at home a couple of times a year.  About 10 years ago I discovered yeasted waffles while cooking through Shirley Corriher's massive tome, Cookwise:  The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking.  These waffles are feather-light with a crispy crust and a creamy interior -- the waffle incarnation of Krispy Kreme donuts, if you will.  I also like the flavor and health benefits of a batter that ferments for 8-12 hours.  Raised waffles are best served hot off the iron.  If you plan to hold these waffles warm, do so on a cooling rack set over a cookie sheet in a low oven -- they turn to mush on a plate.  I tend to serve these when we're not all sitting down to eat at once.

 ***If you're reading along with these letters to my daughter, do yourself a favor and do-si-do over to Smitten Kitchen for Deb's gorgeous writing and drool-worthy photos of this same recipe she calls, Essential Raised Waffles   Her readers left dozens of comments praising their favorite waffle irons, too.***

Raised Waffles
This recipe is older than dirt, but this version appeared in Cookwise in 1997. 
Makes 4 -6 waffles
1/2 cup warm water (115 degrees F)
1 pkg (2-1/4 tsp.) active dry yeast
2 cups warm whole milk (115 degrees F) 
1 stick or less butter, melted
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 cups bleached all-purpose flour (9-1/4 oz)
2 large eggs
1/4 tsp. baking soda 

Sprinkle the yeast on warm water in a very large mixing bowl and let stand 5 minutes.  Add the milk, butter, sugar, salt, and flour and beat until smooth.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand overnight at room temperature.  Seriously, it's ok.  They won't have a wonderful malty flavor if you pop the bowl in the fridge.

When ready to cook the waffles, beat in the eggs and baking soda.  The batter is very thin, and most waffle irons will require 1/2-3/4 cup batter per waffle.  Cook until waffle stops steaming, which is more than one complete cycle in our waffle iron.  Serve immediately.

Waffle irons vary dramatically -- always read reviews before purchasing.  We prefer classic waffles to Belgian style, and I recommend the $30 Cuisinart WMR-CA Round Classic Waffle Maker. You can often pick it up for about half that price if you catch a sale and use a coupon at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

Happy Waffling,

14 September 2013

First Things First: Evening Routine

Dear Lissy,

The day has finally come, Dear Heart, that I am writing to you now, not some mysterious future-Lissy.  The very first thing I want to teach you is that a well run home starts the night before.  We're going to start punching out this list before bed each night, lickety-quick! We'll start this list around 7:30 since your bedtime is 8:30.  At first it may take the whole hour, but pretty soon you'll be even speedier than I am, I'm sure.

Go through tomorrow's calendar with me and help me write my to-do list.  Gather any items needed (5 min) (Robot club, grocery sacks, library books, things to return to people at church, etc.)

Tidy the family room (3 min).   I know, I know -- your brothers and Daddy are still up.  We'll do the best we can so you get in the habit now.
  • In winter, shake the coal stove and fill the hopper. Turn the thermostat knob on the back down as low as it will go, and then back up 1/2 turn. Check the ash pan and have one of your brothers empty it if it's full. Make sure the coal hod is full for the morning.
  • In the summer, turn the A/C up to 74 or just to "Fan 3" if it's a cool night.
Put the house to bed with me (5 min).
  • Lock the doors and turn off the outside lights.  Make sure Harley is indoors first!
  • Close the blinds (and drapes in the winter) in each room.  If tomorrow is supposed to be warm, leave the windows open and the blinds up just a bit to let in the cool night air.
  • Pick up any odd bits of clutter as you move through each room and deliver them to their proper home.  I bring a laundry basket with me for this purpose.
  • Check the washer and dryer to be sure they're both empty.  Fold up and put away the last load if you forgot it earlier.
  • Give the kitty her nighttime handful of chow and refill her water dish so she doesn't wake anyone up at odd hours.
Tidy the kitchen and set up breakfast (10 min).
  • Drink a large glass of water.  Get in the habit now of doing this every night before bed.
  • Put away the pots and pans.
  • Unload the dishwasher if we ran it after dinner.
  • Reload the dishwasher with the cups and plates from evening snacks. Rinse out the sink.
  • Set the table.
  • Pull the breakfast bread out of the freezer, and set the eggs out to warm to room temperature overnight.
  • Clean up the coffeemaker and set it up for tomorrow.
  • Refill and refrigerate water bottles.  Freeze Daddy's water bottles (full in the summer, half-full fall and spring). Pack the dry items in his lunchbox (chips, granola bar, snacks, napkins, flatware).  We'll make his sandwich and add fruit and veg in the morning.
  • Give the counters and table a final wipedown.  If any food is out, make sure it's tightly wrapped and put it away.
  • Top off Harley's water bowl.
Set out your outfit for tomorrow (3 min).  Don't forget your hair pretties, shoes, and jewelry!

Wash your face, brush your teeth, and brush out your hair (5 min).  Put away your brush and hair pretties and hang your facecloth to dry.  Rinse/wipe out the sink when you're done.
Take a shower then tidy the bathroom (10 min).  You only need to wash your hair on Mon, Wed, Sat; but you're old enough now you need to shower every night.  Don't make this into a half hour production, darling. . .keep it quick!  If you want to soak in the tub or take a longer shower, do it before we start our evening routine.  If you've already showered after your workout, you can skip showering now.  Before you leave the bathroom, look around and make sure it's clean and ready for the next person.

Say goodnight!  Find out what time Daddy needs breakfast, and if he's working a double shift and needs his dinner packed along with his lunch tomorrow.  I'll show you how to look this up on the Google calendar, but I usually ask him, too.  You should have a few minutes left to read, and now is a great time to review your memory verses, too.  Lights out at 8:30, though. . .you need your energy for tomorrow.

We'll start doing the evening routine together until you have it memorized and can do it every night by yourself.  Once you've mastered it, we'll move on to a morning routine. 

I love you to the moon and back,

11 September 2013

Home Management Evaluation Form PDF

Dear Lissy,

We're studying The Knights of the Silver Shield in literature this week.   I first discovered this favorite tale of bravery as a little girl in one of my grammy's storybooks.  I can still see the cover and all the illustrations from the trials of Sir Roland in my mind's eye.  Now that I find myself "guarding the gates" as a full time momma, I appreciate the truths of the silver shield even more.  Google books has scanned this fairytale from Beaupre-Miller's Our Book House:  The Treasure Chest so it can be enjoyed by generations to come.  I hope you'll take a few minutes to read it again after you've read this letter.

How do I know how well I'm managing our home?  No enchanted stars appear on my calendar after a long day.  If I rely on feelings, I'm in big trouble.  I rarely finish a day and feel like I've nailed this whole mom thing.   If I wait for comments or compliments from our family, I'm going to be disappointed most of the time, too.  My work is only noticeable when it's neglected.   I developed a Home Management Assessment Rubric many years ago to help me look at my work record objectively instead.   I don't use this to judge other people's housekeeping -- it's just for me.  I go through it with the Lord a couple of times a year and set goals for the upcoming year.   I'd encourage you to use this as a starting point to create your own assessment, not as a golden mom standard.

 As always, relationships are the focus in our home.  This rubric primarily measures my home management (or lack thereof), not my role as wife and mom. I hope this blesses you as you learn to keep your own home, Sweetie.


Linked up at Raising Homemakers Homemaking Link-up #140

Ranch Dressing Mix

Dear Lissy,

Ranch dressing is a food group at our house, so I've always made it from scratch to save a few cents.  After a friend raved about this recipe, I decided to give it a try.  It is far and away the best ranch dressing I've ever made or eaten.  It doesn't require a single fresh herb, either.  Buy the spices in bulk to maximize the savings.  The mix will just about fill a quart mason jar, and makes up a little over 7 gallons total.  We make it up in 3 cup batches for home use, but when you need to cater an event you'll appreciate the ability to make the larger amount.

09 September 2013

Busy Day Banana Bread

Dear Lissy,

It's fall, and I should be making apple cakes and pumpkin bread. But alas, I had four dead bananas lingering in the fruit basket.  All the other ingredients are in my pantry.   I actually make this banana bread instead of just thinking about it like I did with my old recipe that required copious amounts of sour cream. I use a bundt pan rather than two loaf pans, which keeps the bread moist enough to eat without any kind of spread. In a pinch, a little buttermilk glaze will dignify this humble bread to dessert status. 
**Busy Day Banana Bread can be sliced and served easily while warm**

Banana Bread
from the kitchen of Mrs. F.

Preheat oven to 375 (350 for a dark pan), grease and sugar a bundt pan OR two loaf pans.
In a large bowl, cream together on medium speed:
2-1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup oil
3 eggs, unbeaten
1/4 cup buttermilk
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla
In a medium bowl combine:
3 cups (15 oz) flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
Stir into wet mix until just moistened.
Fold in
4 mashed bananas (1-1/2 cups)
Pour into greased and sugared pan.
Bake 50-60 minutes or until pick inserted in center of bread comes clean.  Cool slightly; remove from pan.  Cool 10 minutes and drizzle with glaze.
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. buttermilk 

 Easy and economical, banana bread is a year round staple.  Bundt style breads also make a nice gift for a housewarming, new baby, or grieving family.  Happy baking!


Linked up at Homestead Blog Hop #126 
and Raising Homemakers #139 

04 September 2013

5 Essential Skills to Streamline Meal Preparation

Dear Lissy,

When I set out to write you this letter, I tried to write the whole system I use to manage the pantry, shopping, and meal prep.  Yikes!  It was a book, and very overwhelming.  I analyzed it for a couple of days, and found the five essentials that make this system work for me.  Moms make meals look effortless, but the minute we're out on our own, it's panic time.  Dial the stress down a notch by mastering these 5 essential skills.

01 September 2013

Kindergarten at Home

Dear Lissy,

I consider the privilege of teaching each of you to read among the greatest experiences of my life.  Kindergarten is a precious and exciting time with your child, and one I wouldn't have outsourced for the world.  A year before I began schooling Nate, I attended a couple of home education seminar sessions that gave me a great deal of confidence heading into my first year of being a teacher-mama.  You, my little bean, were tucked away in my tummy at the time waiting to make your appearance second semester.

We used a file folder system to stay organized and begin teaching  independence.  It worked well, but the Sue Patrick Workbox system (originally designed for a child with severe autism) is a much more thorough and elegant solution that has revolutionized home education.  The first video is an Australian mum showing how the workbox system works when used almost exactly as written.  The other two videos she created on the support systems for the boxes are wonderful, too, and give you an excuse to listen to her lovely accent a little longer. 

The second video is an American mum showing her customized workbox system for a K-4 Student.  Workbox style systems were a key part of home educating for us in the lower grades.  They instill good work habits and attitudes in the student and help mom stay organized.  Don't be scared off by the expensive supplies in the videos:  the original system is very economical to set up.


In Kindergarten through third grade, most of the new material needs to be taught one-on-one.   The workbox system takes this into account by providing "work with Mom" stickers for boxes that need to be done with Mom instead of alone.  Most of us are in our late twenties or early thirties by the time we teach Kindergarten, so here are a few reminders for teaching wiggly little bodies!

Little kids are physical, and need physical prompts that school is in session.
  • You dressed in a school uniform, a white polo and khaki pants or skirt, during school hours.
  • We set up a desk and bought you supplies that could only be used for school.  That is where we had school every day.  Siblings were never allowed to use your desk, books, or supplies
  • I was dressed.  This was haaaaard once you were born and I'd only had a few hours of sleep.
  •  Boys often need to run a few laps up and down the stairs before beginning school to release extra energy.  You needed to have your love tank filled up with a long cuddle.
  • We began with the pledge and Bible class every morning, and finished by picking up our desks and snuggling together for read aloud time on the couch.
Strict physical routines free Mom to be a fun, encouraging teacher.  Sloppy routines can cause Mom to nag, give up, or be "mean".  
  • Mom decides when the school day starts.  I preferred a clock time, but many mums use a cue like baby's morning nap.
  • You sat in your desk chair facing forward with your feet on the floor and your bum in the chair while you worked.  This small discipline pays big dividends.
  • Have a routine for putting away one subject box and moving to the next.  Consider adding a fun action song or finger action routine at the top of each new workbox to manage the wiggles.
  • Mom should not use social networks or her phone during school time.  If necessary, put a cheery sign on the door to let drop in visitors know it's school time and you are unavailable.
  • Other siblings should be napping or well occupied.  If they are old enough for workboxes, they'll want their own.  I was very, very lucky to have a bathtub for you to play in right next to the classroom while I taught your brothers. 
  • Children received one chance to do their best work.  If you were deliberately sloppy or fussed, the paper went to Dad to review with him when he got home. Dad made sure that was a rare occurence.  If they simply weren't able to do the work well, Mom praised the good parts and retaught the challenging parts the next day
  • Mom doesn't need to hover during worksheet time.  Teach the concept, have them "teach" it back to you, and then let them finish the paper on their own and move to the next box when it's done.
Radiate a spirit of cheerful urgency and keep the school day fun.  
  • Move quickly enough the kids are just barely able to keep up your pace.  Down time equals behavioral problems.
  • Use vivid language from their world to explain new concepts.  The lines for writing and numeric notation should be referred to as floors and ceilings.  If a letter is crossed or connected, instruct them to give the character a belt "right at their bellybutton." 
  • Only teach one skill at a time, and use songs, jingles and rhymes whenever possible.  Don't try to teach time if they haven't mastered the numbers 1 - 12.  Teach them how to line up a ruler to a line before you teach them how to measure. Educational websites and Pinterest have dozens of ideas for every skill under the sun.
  • Use goofy cheers or silly physical antics to reward success.  I screamed at the top of my lungs for perfectly traced letters.  Matt and I elbow bumped when he counted by 10's or wrote a hard letter.  I did happy dances for all three of you to celebrate various milestones.
  • Put their best subject first and hardest second.  They should never know that one subject is harder for them than another one.
  • Invest in a good set of home education games and learn how to use them. Free printable resources are all over the web.  You were especially fond of the Dover sticker books that had a background scene to which you added stickers to make a picture.  The Bob Books series have a finger puppet stage included.  Make it and play with it as you work through the books.  I prefer real games over computer games for Kindergarten.
  • When the work is done, the day is done.  Kindergarten rarely takes over an hour a day.
  • Express your expectations in positive language.  If a child is dragging and daydreaming, a cheerful "Let's see how quickly and neatly you can get this done!" while setting a stopwatch is far more motivating than "Prunella, don't dawdle -- get back to work or we're going to be here all day."  I drew clouds around well-written letters during handwriting.  We'd then make ambulance noises (bee-boo-bee-boo) and take our pencils over to help another "broken" or "hurt" letter look all better again. Switch to a favorite colored pencil for corrections. We didn't do every letter, just one or two so I knew you knew how to make it properly.
  • Keep a digital file (Pinterest is currently a great resource) of fun ideas for teaching particular topics like holding a pencil correctly or learning diacritical marks that each of your children will have to learn.  Not all kids learn the same way, and you may have to try a few different techniques before one clicks.
Don't skip science, history, art, and music.
A classic workbox system utilizes 12 drawers.  The purpose was to encourage Mom to include some of the extra material that students love.  We all have a tendency to do just the required subjects and promise ourselves we'll get around to that trip to the pond or a messy art project later.  Later becomes never, and the student misses out on enrichment that would have created a deep love for school.
  • Take tours or watch videos to learn about civic helpers and career positions for social studies.
  • Pond studies, a class pet, gardening, star gazing, and spending time helping mommy make healthy meals are all ways to pick up science and health.  Mrs. D bought your brothers little aquariums and filled them with water and frog eggs from her pond for us.  We checked out library books about frogs and watched them go through their whole lifecycle.
  • Put a CD in the workbox along with paper and markers and have your child "draw" the song.  Pick up a game or phonics curriculum that teaches famous works of art and music. Find and use a book that ties great artist's works and methods into kid projects.  Don't get stuck cutting, coloring, and gluing everything.
Kindergarten is a time of discovery and enjoyment.  Get your kids excited about school and learning now while they're young, and it will pay off for years to come.  If you establish good habits in Kindergarten, 1st through 3rd grade routines will be a snap to keep up, too.