How much…

One of my pet peeves is articles about homesteading written by people who have never done it. “It is so easy to grow fresh food for your family!” “Sewing your own clothes will save you money!”, “chickens can provide you with free meat and eggs!”

None of that is true at all. It is hard, can be very expensive, and there will be years that all you do is fail.

And it is completely missing the point.

For example, did you know that a loaf of bread can be purchased for under a dollar?

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That eggs at Costco are less than ten cents each?

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That land taxes will go up every year?

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That free range chickens require you to go lock up them up every evening at sunset?

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That tractors, even used, are very expensive?

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That heating your home with wood is messy and requires year-round work?

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That the further you are from town, the longer it takes your roads to be cleared in snow?

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That line drying your clothes will bring pollen and bugs in your house?

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That soap at Walmart is cheaper than making your own?

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That unless you are making minimum wage, it is almost always financially advantageous to work and put your kids in daycare?

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That porches are expensive to build and require maintenance?

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That homegrown flowers save you exactly nothing?

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So put away your spreadsheet. It will never tell you what is it worth.


Rethinking the Linen Closet

I have been on a mission to redo the storage in my house. After realizing that traditional storage locations make no sense, I have been changing everything up around here. Things are now stored at their point of use, not where the label on the house plan dictates they should go.  I don’t have beautiful linen closet pictures, but I have functional storage.

Our pantry was in our mudroom and it got turned into a closet for coats, flashlights, and other things that live by the back door. The food that was in the pantry went in the kitchen. Pretty simple, but felt like a revelation.

Next up…. the linen closet. We have a large one upstairs full of junk. It held sheets, towels, extra toilet paper and toiletries, and the air mattress. I did not want to rearrange things in expensive crates. I did not want labels. I wanted to store things logically and for free.

My new organizing philosophy, store at point of use, made this one easy.

Storing towels- Towels are used in the bathroom. Obviously. And yet they are almost universally stored in a hallway. Can someone explain this to me. I divided them up and four went under each bathroom cabinet. I rolled them and they didn’t take up much room. I like to keep ratty towels for drying off muddy people or mopping up disasters. So I put them in the mudroom closet. Beach towels… this was a hard one. Our girls get changed into their swimsuits up in their rooms, so the beach towels went in a drawer in one of their dressers with their swimsuits and goggles. If that doesn’t work, I will move them to the mudroom closet in summer to grab on the way out. There will be more room since all the coats will be out of there.

Storing paper goods- a few rolls of paper towels under the kitchen sink, a roll in each bathroom for cleaning mirrors, and toilet paper divvied up among the bathrooms. We buy paper towels and toilet paper in bulk, so we still had extra. These went to the basement, which I like to think of as my mini grocery store. I only put things there if there are sufficient duplicates where they are needed, so that going to the basement is like going to the store to replenish that stock. I’m not explaining this well. Anyway.

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(Each bathroom has its own supplies.)

Sheets- they are used in the bedroom. I do not have a lot of extra sheets. In fact for our bed I have only one set. They are washed and put right back on. If someone happens to throw up (or other) in our bed, I strip it and put down throw blankets from the living room until everything is washed. Our kids have extra sheets because they have flannel ones for cold weather. I folded those up (very poorly) and they went in the top shelf of their closet.

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(Now it’s easy to clean the bathroom, restock the towels/ soap/ whatever is needed.)

What else- the aero bed went in the closet of the guest room where it is likely to be used. Spare toiletries were divided among the bathrooms. Extra sheets were thrown out, since they were completely useless and ugly. There was a collection of travel size toiletries that I moved to the guest room in a basket. Saved grocery bags for trash went into bathrooms as well. Extra blankets were folded at the bottom of beds or put in the guest room closet.

And now what is this empty closet for?

Well, we have a toy problem in this house, despite the fact that I buy them hardly any! The girls have a little play loft in the upstairs hallway off their bedrooms. So their toys are stored in the old linen closet. I take out a few at a time and rotate them out every week. It keeps them interested and able to clean up what is out (in theory). They are not allowed to open it, but they are welcome to request things. It works because they play right next to it, so the task of rotating their toys is easy. And therefore it actually happens!

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(This looks like a disaster, but because there are only a few sets of things out, they could clean it up quickly.)

So down with the linen closet! Unless you have one actually in the bathroom, because that would be perfect. And what is with all these extra sheets! Even if I had no need for a toy closet, I would still arrange my linen closet contents to be stored at point of use. The closet could be for gifts, out of season storage, or whatever else I don’t need easy access to at the moment.

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Cleaning day awaits!


Our Favorite Pound Cake

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This recipe is from Cook’s Country, called Cream Cheese Pound Cake.  The cream cheese does not do anything other than make it delicious.  You would never guess it is in there.  We like this in the winter and spring, served with berries and whipped cream.

We always bake pound cake recipes in small Bundt pans.  They are 6 cups each, instead of the standard 12 cup large Bundt.  One to keep, one to share.  A small slice holds up well in lunch boxes.DSC02442.jpg

 

You will need:

12 ounces of cake flour (3 cups, but better to weigh it)

1 t. salt

4 eggs and 2 extra yolk at room temperature

1/4 cup milk

2 t. vanilla extract

3 cups sugar

3 sticks of unsalted butter, softened

6 ounces cream cheese, softened

  1. Heat oven to 300 degrees.  Liberally spray 2 small Bundt pans with cooking spray.
  2. Mix salt and flour in one bowl.  Mix eggs, milk, and vanilla in another.
  3. Cream butter, sugar, and cream cheese on medium high until light and fluffy.  Slowly add egg mixture on low until just blended.  Add flour mixture one cup at a time until just blended.  Scrape down sides and mix a few seconds more.
  4. Scrape into prepared pans and bake about 60 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean.  Remove from pans after about 5 minutes, or else they will stick.  Cool completely on wire racks.  Will keep well wrapped in plastic wrap a few days.

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Signs

Virginia winters are not bad.  There are always warm patches throughout them, and by late February it all really feels like it is over.

Today is one of those warm days, windows open already, that was so very much needed after a weekend of rain and the stomach flu.  Isn’t it so hard to remember that there are always sunny days ahead when you are stuck inside in the rain?  It feels dreary and eternal.

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My brother died of cancer this past October, and I remember coming home after he died and wanting a sign.  He had not believed in heaven as far as I know, but I wanted something from him so badly.  I got home at night, and the next morning looked out the kitchen window.  There was some sort of pink trash in the garden.  Tissue paper, or wrapping paper, something like that.  It must have blown out from the trash cans and gotten stuck on a plant.  I walked out to it, and realized it wasn’t trash.  It was pink cosmos, blooming like crazy, looking absolutely ridiculous covered in flowers.

Not a sign from heaven… but a sign from the cosmos?  I would take it.

I have never told anyone that.

Since then I have tried to dedicate all my sufferings, big and small, to his soul.  They are mostly small, but I hope they count for something.  The church tells us that of course they do, but I feel my doubts daily.  This is stupid, they say, how could could God care whether you eat sweets or not this Lent?  What would some uttered words do for him now?  No one is listening.

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But there is no Lent without an Easter, no Friday without a Sunday, no death without a resurrection.  Every turn of the calendar page, every rise of the sun, every change of the season, reminds me of that. On days like this, winter with spring creeping in at the edges, I can hear it, that small voice that prompted my conversion years ago.

“I promise…  ”

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“I promise…”

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“I promise.”


A Penny Saved #2

There were some frugal misses this week, but some successes too.

  1.  Made a batch of my favorite soap recipe using half mango and half peach fragrance because I had a little of each to use upDSC02396.jpg
  2. Switched to Kirkland brand laundry detergent.  I had been using Tide Pods for the super practical reason of thinking they looked good on the shelf in a clear container.  I realized my laundry room is not beautiful, and went for the big orange jug.DSC02356.jpgOh wait my laundry room looks like this:DSC02347.jpg
  3. We stayed home through a very rainy weekend that felt boring.  But we persevered! DSC02354.jpg
  4. But then… I spent $200 ordering berry plants from Gurney’s, and then since my pepper seeds seem to have at last croaked, I ordered more of those, AND giant jalapeño seeds that intrigued me, AND early girl tomato seeds since I’ve never grown them before, AND a new seed starting set up.  All of this is okay, but AFTER I ordered I read dozens of very poor reviews of the company.
  5. Kept the fire going all week and the heat didn’t kick on once.

 

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Winter is hard.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Getting rid of my pantry

Probably 90% of what I save to Pinterest is pictures of pantries, laundry rooms, broom closets, and potting sheds. There is something so beautiful about them… places that say dedication to the home, organization, attractive utility. I have always dreamed of a walk in pantry, to go in and be surrounded by glowing home canned jams, baskets or potatoes, braids of onions, and bunches of herbs drying. It was the number one thing I wanted when we were planning our new house.

Our original plan had a 9×9 room with two windows, off the kitchen, facing northwest and northeast. One wall was a step in pantry with three walls. The other wall had a broom closet and a built in desk for me to lovingly craft handwritten notes and meal plans. Well… through a series of events, my laundry room got turned into my husbands office and the washer and dryer had to be moved into my pantry room. Fine. Broom closet was taken away, and we planned on a stackable washer and dryer going in its place.

Then, the house had to be angled differently than we envisioned because of the slope of the land, and instead of pulling up at the front door, you would pull up at the side of the house. So a door was added where a window once was, and my pantry

room became a laundry room/ mud room/ pantry. The lovely desk with a window above became a bench. Sad. I always had wanted one well used entrance instead of a front door no one used. Oh well. We decided to tile that room instead of using hardwood and I consoled myself with pretty mudroom pictures.

And then, most horrible of all, it was discovered a washer and dryer wouldn’t fit in the footprint of the broom closet, and they would have to go on the long wall, side by side, where the pantry was supposed to be! My old washer and dryer! No new ones. No pantry. No broom closet. No desk for my, um…. correspondence.

So I got my broom closet back! But it was now a pantry. And because of where the light switch had to go the door is too small for it and one side is impossible to get to. And it bumps in to the mudroom door. And there is no coat closet. I don’t mean no coat closet in the mudroom. I mean none in the whole house. So coats and backpacks are on hooks, shoes are piled up in front of the bench that no one sits on, cans disappear in this odd, deep pantry closet, and I must correspond using the kitchen table!

And guess who goes in the office that was supposed to be my laundry room? No one! No. One.

I feel better now.

Anyway, one year after moving in it was all driving me a bit nuts. I had recovered from the loss of the special dream room. But there was too much going on in this actual room. The coat situation was awful. So two days after Christmas, in a fit of aggravation, I took all the food out of the pantry and shoved everyone’s coats and bags inside. And there they remain. (Except for my husbands, which seem to prefer… the kitchen island.)

And do you know what I realized? Storing your food in a room other than the kitchen does not make a lot of sense.

I took my own advice and put the food stuffs throughout the kitchen, where they are used. I have a corner of the kitchen with my mixer with the spice cabinet above. In the corner lazy Susan went all the oils and vinegars, different kinds of flour and sugar. Cornmeal, molasses, honey, rice, oatmeal, things of that nature. Everything fits, even Costco sized oils and ten pound bags of flours. Frequently used dry ingredients went in canisters on the counter. Why would one want to go another room to get ingredients for a baking project, and then back again to put them all away? Oh I need a teaspoon of vinegar. Let me shuffle into the pantry. It is as silly as a cleaning closet.

Canned goods, dry pasta, and extras of things like salad dressing went in one 36 inch lower cabinet that used to hold my canning jars. Everything fit, and I have many duplicates. The canning jars went on an upper shelf on an upper cabinet. I will need to use a step stool to get them, but I can handle that.

The upper cabinet above the “can cabinet” holds snacks. Any extras go above the fridge. Fruit in a bowl, cookies in the cookie jar. Bread in a drawer below the toaster, next to the fridge. I do not buy cereal. If I did I would put it near the fridge or the cereal bowls. Coffee went in the cabinet below the coffeemaker.

I do have a large unfinished basement where I can store home canned foods,extra paper towels, ziplock bags, and things that I buy in bulk. But I treat the basement storage as my own little grocery store. Anything that I would need in moment is in the kitchen, where I need it. When I run out, I go down to the basement to restock.

The vacuum lives at the top of the basement stairs where there is a large landing. It is centrally located so works out fine.

And now I have a super useful laundry room/ mudroom. When dirty children come in from climbing piles of dirt (yes, this actual thing they do) they shed their clothes to be dropped right in the washer. The broom closet, then pantry, now coat closet holds coats, snow pants, boots, old towels for cleaning off mud, kitty treats, birdseed, sunscreen, a first aid kit. The shelving above the washer and dryer holds laundry stuff. I would love to have them redone to be a bit more attractive and have two rows of shelving. But I don’t really need more storage.

It is not what I imagined, and we now have an office and a large foyer that go largely unused. But I am hoping to turn the office into a small sewing room, and the foyer would be nice open floor space for board games and puzzles. And visitors do tend to use it.

So my point is… pantries are dead to me. Beautiful in pictures. Not practical unless they are truly in the kitchen, and are nice and shallow so nothing gets lost. A twelve inch deep cabinet, floor to ceiling, would be ideal. I am glad I did not waste a whole wall on one. But I still long for that desk.


How I am Keeping My Kitchen Clean Every Day

Last summer I started following a homemaking schedule where certain things were done on certain days: “Laundry day”, “Town Day”, etc.  I loved the fact that it gave each day a focus and kept me ahead of the game instead of constantly playing catch up.  I also loved that it had a slightly retro feel.  I felt like a real housewife!  But one day, Kitchen Day, was torturing me.

It was a day for canning, baking, cooking ahead, making freezer meals, and cleaning the kitchen.  This meant organizing the fridge and cleaning the shelves, washing the trash cans, cleaning the sink, organizing the pantry and the cabinets, and all those little tasks that kitchens need.  It was just too much, and it was stressing me out.

I realized I was acting a bit silly, as if federal law had decreed that I must cook ahead and clean the kitchen in one day.  So I decided to change things up and it has been a huge improvement.

Two or three times a day, I go in to the kitchen to make a cup of tea.  It steeps for seven minutes.  During those seven minutes, I do one small task to clean the kitchen.  Just one!

It has been amazing!  The kitchen is always clean, and it feels effortless!  Setting a timer has been so important for this working for me.  

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Here are some of of the chores I tackle during those seven minutes.

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-cleaning the sink with barkeepers friend and filling it with water and a splash of bleach

-organizing and wiping down ONE shelf or drawer in the fridge

-cleaning the fronts of the cabinets

-getting down on the floor with a damp microfiber cloth and mopping by hand (surprisingly quick and effective)

-organizing and wiping out one drawer

-polishing the stainless steel appliances

-filling the coffee maker with vinegar and to clean it

-cleaning the cooktop

-organizing the pantry cabinets

-cleaning the kitchen windows or sliding glass door

-polishing two pans with bar keepers friend, drying them, and putting them back

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I am so happy I changed up this aspect of my homemaking routine.  And it has freed up my Tuesdays so that they are now “baking day”, and I am free to do things like this:

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So if I skip a day, no big deal.  And after the chore is completed, I get to relax with a cup of tea!

 


A Penny Saved plus Last Week’s Menu, Week One

A penny saved is better than a penny earned because there are no taxes on it and it gives you something to do!  Every week I am going to do this to keep myself accountable for my spending, and see where I saved money or where I failed.

For me, the biggest opportunity to ruin my budget is buying food and wasting it, or not having a realistic meal plan and having to go out.  So I will also go over the week’s menu to see if we ate out too much or if I planned meals poorly.

A Penny Saved

  1. Started my basil and pepper seeds.  I like to have big basil plants to go out in containers and be used right away, and my pepper plants are always small and slow to get going, so I started these early
  2. I skipped a birthday meal out since Maddie had Nutcracker dress rehearsal that night.  Did not request a meal later in the weekend to make up for it.
  3. I made simple molasses cookies for the Nutcracker concession stand instead of trying to show off and make something elaborate that would have been more expensive.
  4. REALLY wanted to order cotton lawn to make pretty spring skirts for the girls, but I didn’t.  They don’t really need them.
  5. Instead of buying more Iron Out to get rust stains out of the shower and bath, I discovered that vinegar + dish soap in the dish cleaning wand is actually working.

 

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Birthday surprise from Matt!

Last Week’s Menu

Monday- Quesadillas and carrot sticks, Matt was out of town

Tuesday- Chick fil a nuggets bought by my mom, Matt still out of town

Wednesday-buffalo chicken tenders and fries

Thursday- sugar and spice pork roast

Friday- leftover chicken, plus antipasto salad for the grown ups

Saturday- linguine with sausage and sage creamy tomato sauce, homemade French bread, and salad

Sunday- picked up pizza and wings after the Nutcracker to go watch the first half of the Super Bowl with friends

 

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Maddie’s nutcracker flowers.  I did spend $10 on these.

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We loved this pork roast from the America’s Test Kitchen Make Ahead Cookbook.  Pork roast is always marked down at our grocery store.  It turned out so well using the oven probe so it didn’t get overcooked.

Back to laundry day!

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Eeeek!


The Best Chicken Tenders (Buffalo if you want)

I see a lot of recipes for things that picky kids are supposed to like and I laugh, because my kids would never eat them in a million years.  When I think of picky eater recipes, I think of this.  All children, and all adults, will love them.  I promise.

This is our most frequently made dinner.  We eat it almost once a week, on either Saturday or Sunday, and have not tired of it for five years.  I highly recommend a deep fryer.  We have one that filters and stores the oil and it has paid for itself many times over in oil costs, convenience, and how much it has improved the quality of our food.  We use it for this recipe as well as frozen appetizers, egg rolls, homemade General Tso’s chicken, fried shrimp, and other things.

You will need:

8 chicken breast cutlets (Perdue frozen ones from Costco are our favorite)

2 cups of all purpose flour

2 cups of panko bread crumbs

2 eggs

1/2 cup of milk

1/2 t. of seasoned salt

1/4 t. of black pepper

Peanut or vegetable oil for frying

A deep fryer OR a candy thermometer

  1.  Cut your chicken into the size strips or tenders you want.  
  2. In one medium sized bowl, combine the eggs and milk
  3. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients
  4. Start heating your oil, either in a large Dutch oven or your fryer, to 360 degrees.
  5. Dip the chicken pieces into the the milk and egg mixture and then the flour/ panko mixture.  Do this one by one.  
  6. Fry until golden brown and dry on paper towels
  7. Serve plain with dipping sauce, OR toss in buffalo sauce (half melted butter and half Franks red hot).

This makes about 30 tenders, which don’t go as far as you might think! Any leftover chicken is great plain or on top of salads.

I serve these with homemade fries, which are easy peasy with a French fry cutter.  You simply cut russet potatoes using the fry cutter, soak them in ice water in the fridge for at least 2 hours, and fry them in the deep fryer.  They are fried twice.  First at 320 degrees for about 8 minutes, until lightly golden, then drained, and fried again at 375 for about 3 minutes until they are crispy as you would like.  Typically I do the first fry, set them aside, heat the oil to do the chicken, then do the second fry last.

The chicken can be breaded in the morning and stay in the fridge until dinner, along with the potatoes in their ice water bath.  Then all you have to do at dinner time is fry them.  Serve with a raw veggie to make life easy.

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Honey Mustard Chicken with Bacon and Cheese

This is a meal we eat quite often because everyone likes it and the ingredients are always on hand.  I adapted it from my favorite cookbook, Taste of Home, Best Loved Recipes.  It is out of print and none of the other Taste of Home cookbooks are quite as good.

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You will need:

For the marinade:

1/2 cup honey

1/2 cup Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon lemon juice

To assemble:

4 chicken breast cutlets

6 slices of bacon

1/2 cup cheddar or Mexican blend cheese

Salt, pepper, and paprika

  1.  Mix up the marinade ingredients and divide the marinade in half. Marinate the chicken in half of the marinade, in the refrigerator in a plastic bag, for 2-4 hours (not too long because of the lemon juice).  Reserve the rest of the marinade.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375. Bring chicken to room temperature for about 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a large cast iron skillet until partially cooked.  Drain bacon on paper towels
  3. Drain the the chicken.  Generously season with salt, pepper, and paprika.  Brown chicken in the same skillet, using bacon grease, on medium high, three minutes or so per side, until browned but not cooked through.
  4. Arrange chicken in single layer in a 9×13 baking dish.  Pour reserved marinade on top.  Layer cheese and bacon on top.
  5. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes, until bacon is crispy and chicken is cooked through.

I served this with a Caesar salad and roasted potatoes for a simple weeknight meal.  I always leave one cutlet without cheese and bacon for the kids to share.

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