February 26, 2010

Seasonal Cleaning: Kitchen

The kitchen is the only room that may take more than one day to deep clean. It really depends on how dirty your kitchen is and when you cleaned it last. At the same time, the kitchen is the worth the effort. We spend a lot of time there and keeping the kitchen clean will keep you and your family healthy.

1. Prep--remove any items that go elsewhere and trash.

2. Remove dirty dish towels, rugs, and window treatments. Wash them.

3. Dust and/or wash ceiling and walls.

4. Remove all decorative items from the walls/shelves/tables and clean each item. Wipe surface before returning items. If you have any decorative arrangements you want to keep exactly the same, here's a tip for you: grab your camera and take a quick picture. Then when you go to put things back you can look at the picture to jog your memory.

5. Remove parts of light fixture(s) and clean them. Replace any burned out light bulbs.

6. Wash any doors (front and back), frame, and door knob.

7. Wash window(s) inside and out.
Brush window screen with a dry, stiff brush. Wipe sill and frame.

8. Here it is the part you've been dreading. This is the hard part: Empty and wipe out each cupboard and drawer. Vacuum crumbs out of drawers before wiping them. Return only items you use frequently that are in good condition. Toss expired food.
If you buy food in bulk be sure
to store smaller amounts in handy containers.

Don't keep four cheese graters, if you want to keep a "backup" just in case then pack those items in a box and put the box in storage. Line the shelves if they are in bad shape or you want to protect them. Organize as you put things back. Use baskets or boxes to help keep like things together. It is also recommended that you store items that you use together with each other. (Baking supplies for example.)
If you have a "pantry" in your kitchen, consider it a big cupboard. :) Which means you need to take everything out, wipe the shelves, and organize as you put things back. If you happen to store extra appliances in your pantry, and could use the space for something else, reconsider before you just automatically put them back where they were. If you only use an appliance once a year store it in the basement, if you use an appliance more often but not daily store it somewhere handy (linen closet?) but not in the prime real estate of your kitchen.
I have a fairly small "pantry" in the kitchen so I keep my overflow food and appliances in the basement. I'm not sure I'll ever do a post on organizing your basement... that seems even more daunting than the kitchen!9. Wipe outside and handles of all cupboards and drawers. Take extra care of cupboards above the cooktop. They get greasy and grimy. Don't forget to wipe cupboard sides, fronts, and along the floor.Here's another helpful hint for you: Post a list of substitutions and a few favorite recipes you make frequently on the inside of your cupboard door for handy reference. (I also have an OTC children medication chart there as well.)

10. Clean oven/stovetop. Use the self-clean if you have it. Soak/wash the stove drip pans or replace them, if needed (tip: the black ones are easier to keep looking clean). Remove all knobs and soak them, while you wipe behind them. Don't forget the drawer if you have one. If you are really motivated, pull out the stove and wipe the sides and clean the floor underneath. Clean exhaust fan. Remove and soak the mesh filter, or replace if it is really bad. Wipe down front, door, and handle.11. Clean sink and faucet. Don't forget to clean any sink accessories (sprayer, filter, etc). If your sink is stained use a magic eraser to wipe it down. A paste of baking soda and water will usually remove spots from the faucet. If needed, use an old toothbrush to clean around the fixture base. If you have a dish rack, clean it really well (soak in a bleach solution) before returning it to the sink. Clean the garbage disposal/drain area really well. Run some ice and a few slices of lemon in your disposal if you don't want to reach in there and scrub.

12. Wipe outside of dishwasher and around the door. If necessary, run your dishwasher with a cup of vinegar or bleach to clean the inside.

13. Clean refrigerator/freezer. Wipe all sides and top. A magic eraser or Soft Scrub will get off scuff marks. Pull fridge out and clean wall/floor under and behind the fridge. Vacuum fridge coils.
Clean the inside of the fridge. Empty the whole thing and remove all the shelves, don't forget the shelves in the door. Wipe down inside walls/floor/ceiling. Wipe all shelves and drawers. Return food, tossing anything that is past it's date or gross. Wipe jars for drips, if necessary.Now I know a lot of you won't listen to me on this one but if you keep stuff off your fridge your kitchen will look a lot less cluttered. I know it is full of kids drawings and photos of loved ones, but those things can be displayed elsewhere. If you have to leave an occasional note to a family member on there that is one thing... an added bonus is if there is not a bunch of stuff on there already they might actually get the message! At the very least limit what you put on there to one piece of artwork per kid and a few special pictures.

14. Clean microwave, inside and out. Put a mug of water with a slice of lemon in microwave and heat for 1-2 minutes. Let it sit before wiping down the inside. This will loosen any stuck on food.

15. Clean or wipe any other small appliances that you keep on the counter top (toaster, mixer, coffee maker, etc.)

16. Remove everything from counters and wipe. Don't forget the wall/backsplash. If you feel it is needed wipe with a disinfectant of some kind. Be sure the counter is dry before you replace items. Wipe each item as you put it back. Make sure you only put back things you need or love. A cluttered counter is hard to keep clean!

17. If
you don't have a separate dining room then clean your dining area with your kitchen. Wipe down all chairs and the table, including legs and decorative trim. Magic Erasers get scuff marks off of furniture.18. Wash trash can inside and out.

19. Return all clean wall decorations, light fixture, rugs, window treatments.

20. Sweep and scrub floor, wipe baseboards.

Stand back and admire your clean kitchen! Good job!!

Want to keep it looking great?
  • Deal with dishes daily
  • Wipe counters daily
  • Keep your sink empty and clean
  • Wipe up spills as they happen
  • Sweep as needed and mop weekly
The printable kitchen cleaning checklist can be found here.

February 24, 2010

Coupon Organization

Coupons can save you a good bit of money... if you remember to use them. Part of making sure you get the most out of your coupons is a good coupon organizing system. I have tried several methods (binder, envelopes, etc.) and this is the one I keep coming back to. If this method doesn't work for you don't give up, just try something different. Coupons are worth the hassle.

Personally, I don't waste time cutting every single coupon out of the paper. I just cut the ones I know I will use and save the rest of the coupon "inserts" in a file folder sorted by date. When MoneySavingMom or someone mentions a coupon they usually tell you which insert it was in so you can go get it out when you need it later. You can also search the "Virtual Coupon Organizer" at CouponMom to see if/when a certain coupon came out.

This has been especially helpful since I started shopping at CVS. I buy things there that I normally would not have saved the coupon for, but since it is free, I'll get it. This "system" has saved me a bunch of time...and space in my coupon file! The down side to this is if you don't have a coupon with you that would get you a great deal, like if you find something on clearance for instance. But it is still much better than cutting out the ones know you will use and tossing the rest!
Coupon File Box (above and below)

My coupon box is an accordion style check file from Walmart (costs about $4). It is a bit longer than a regular coupon organizer which is nice since I don't have to fold some of the longer coupons. It also has a little compartment in the front that I use to store scissors, a pen, and a calculator. Put your name and phone number on your coupon organizer somewhere so if you lose it (say in a church parking lot... not that I've ever done that!) then you'll hopefully get it back.



Organize your coupons so you can find what you need quickly. I organize my coupons by category. I use envelopes to divide each category. For example, in my "mouth" section I have envelopes for toothpaste, mouthwash, toothbrushes, floss, etc. On some of my envelopes, I jotted down the known lowest price (like from Sams or Aldi) for items I buy frequently. That way I know if I can get a better deal with the coupon then I should stock up.


This is probably obvious, but make it a habit to go through your coupons and remove the expired ones. I hate when I think I've found a great deal and then notice the coupon is expired!

In the back of my coupon organizer I have an envelope for each store I shop at (Piggly Wiggly, CVS, Walgreens, etc.) and as I make my list I stick the coupons in the store envelope. Do bring your coupon organizer along though even if you pulled all the coupons out ahead of time to match your list...you never know when you'll find a deal.

February 22, 2010

Why YOU Need a Reader!

One of my goals this year is to get more people reading blogs! [One of my other goals is to get more people writing them! So watch out!] The biggest reason people don't read more blogs is: "don't have time". What if reading blogs was as easy as checking your email? What if you didn't have to bookmark all your favorites and go to each site? What if each site came to you instead? That, my friend, is what a reader can do for you!!

Once you have a "reader" you just add all the sites you want to follow and then check the reader like you would your email. All the new posts show up as they are published. You just have to scroll through them. No more going to a blog only to see it hasn't been updated. You just "set it and forget it". [Hey, I sound like an infomercial!] If you have an Gmail account you already have a reader, just look at the top of your Gmail page and you'll see:

Click on the word "Reader" between Documents and Web.

A reader really is a huge time saver! You can organize your reader any way you see fit. So if you are only in the mood to read friends blogs but want to skip the others you can do so easily. I subscribe to all sorts blogs, including several "money saving" blogs. Now I rarely miss a great freebie or deal!Another great feature of a reader is the ability to search what you've read. If you want to look up an old blog post for some reason (ex: recipe) then, in Google Reader anyway, you can just use the search function. Again this is a great way to keep up with the deal blogs... just search the store you're looking for a deal at and all posts from all the sites you subscribe to will show up (sorted most recent first). This is how I make my CVS or Walgreens shopping lists.
My hubby and I both use Google Reader, but there are other readers available. They are easy to set up and easy to check. There really is no reason not to give it a try! I know some of you use the links on your own blog as a "reader" of sorts, but you are still clicking over to each blog to read. With a reader they are all on the same page. There's no need to click back and forth. You also won't miss any posts. If more than one new post has been added, those sidebar links will only show the most recent post not all the posts since you last checked. You might be missing posts... and you don't want to miss any posts (especially mine)!!

If you're skeptical, just give it a try... I think you'll be surprised!

Here is a YouTube video that explains it for you visual learners:

February 18, 2010

A Tale of Two Hotels

While on a trip recently we stayed in two hotel rooms (the rest of the time we stayed with family). One hotel room on the way down and one on the way home. Both fulfilled our three requirements: an indoor pool, wireless internet, and a continental breakfast. At both hotels we got two standard rooms with two double beds. Neither was fancy and both had the usual (no one will ever steal this) hotel decor. They cost roughly the same (actually the nicer one was cheaper), but there was a big difference.

It's hard to explain the difference since both seem so similar "on paper". I would highly recommend one and definitely not the other. One was just "warmer" and more welcoming. You could just tell the owners of one hotel took pride in their property. It was well kept and clean. They took the time to replace, repair, and update as needed over the years. The owners seemed to understand things wear out, especially with daily use, and they kept up with the wear and tear.

The other hotel wasn't really "dirty" but it wasn't clean either. Things were more worn or just plain broken. They obviously were trying to get a few more years of use out of several items that had seen better days. The pool area was the worst; the ceiling was in terrible shape and we joked it might fall down at any moment.

I was talking to my grandma about this when we got back. Her house is over 60 years old and in excellent condition. I know repairs and updates cost money, but that isn't all of it. As Grandma says just taking good care of things goes a long way. [She also says it doesn't cost a lot to keep things clean. See? My disease is genetic. :) ]

It just struck me that two hotels, so very similar, gave off such different vibes. I wonder what motivates some people to take better care of their property than others. Is it just being cheap? Laziness? Lack of pride?

I'm sure there is some lesson to be learned in this, although I'm not exactly sure what it is. I do know that well cared for homes are worth more financially speaking, but it's more than that. Our homes are supposed to be our getaways from a crazy, busy world. If the place you call home is slowly deteriorating around you, and you don't care, that's saying something. Are you taking care of the home you're so blessed to have?

February 14, 2010

Why We Homeschool

Most of our friends and family know we homeschool, but while on a trip to recently we got asked several times... why? Truthfully, my answer depends on who asks. Sometimes a stranger asks (usually if we happen to be out during school hours). My answer to a complete stranger when we have approximately 15 seconds, while standing in the checkout line, is different than the answer I give a friend or family member who seems genuinely interested. Sometimes people ask only to argue and defend their choice to send their kids to school. I try to avoid these conversations because no amount of polite discussion is going to change minds on either side.

No matter who asks, though, it is always hard to answer. It is similar to the working mom/stay-at-home mom debate. There are emotions tied up in the discussion. I know what is right for my family and hope others are doing what is right for their family. Just because we homeschool doesn't mean we think you should. It isn't right for every family and that's okay. Now, do I think more families could do it and do it successfully? Absolutely.

I found this article awhile ago that listed ten good reasons to homeschool. As I read, I nodded in agreement the whole time. First, the author has different answers to "why" depending on who asks, just like I do. He also tries to avoid discussing it with some people:

I have found that it is often necessary to change the subject quickly, otherwise I’m stuck listening to total strangers defend their decision to place their kids in school, defend their need for two incomes, and then ask me if I’m worried about issues associated with my own children’s socialization experiences. It still amazes me that people I barely know will readily draw me into such intimate and personal discussions. And worse yet, the defensive nature of the conversation inevitably yields to the expression of guilt on behalf of the person who has children in school. Guilt, defense, and the probability that I’m messing up my children – all from somebody I may have just met.

So why do we homeschool? Our favorite short answer is that we don't want peers to be the biggest influence in our children's lives, but our long answer is much more than that. The author (from the above article) summed it all up much better than I ever could. You should really go read the whole article, but just in case you don't, here are a few highlights that hit the nail on the head:
Reason #3: Time. If I had to pick one phrase that summarily communicates why we homeschool, it would simply be "school is a waste of time." This isn’t to say that people don’t learn important things in school, or that school is a total and complete waste of time...

I would rephrase that to: a lot of time is wasted at school. Even parents who send their kids to school admit this. In school, classmates move as one through each grade. Are each of those children really at the exact same level? Are some kids being pushed along? Are some being held back? How much of each day is "busy work" only to have homework with the parents later anyway?
Reasons #4 & #5: Identity and Control... we want our children to develop clear pictures of their own individual intellectual identities, and we want them to know how to take full advantage of the fact that they are always in control of their own learning.
Somewhere along the line, I learned how to LEARN. More than anything I want that for my children. You might not know everything, but you know a way to find out. My most successful, and most enjoyable, educational experiences are the times I have taught myself. Would you rather spend years learning something or hours?

For example, in the last couple years I've learned a little bit (emphasis on little) about HTML codes. The only reason: this blog. If I had been forced to take a class on computer code in high school I know I would have hated it. It probably would have been a semester of pure torture. I was a good student, so I would have passed. I would have learned what I needed to and then I would have promptly forgotten everything. Then when I found out blogs use HTML code I might have said, "No thanks! I hate that stuff!". Thankfully, that didn't happen. I started a blog and then learned just what I needed to, when I was motivated, in a short amount of time.

Everyone is different. That is a good thing. Different children have different abilities. All students are NOT equal. One of our teacher friends mentioned recently how sad it was that students don't have a sense of "rivalry" (between school sports teams) anymore. I can think of several reasons things have shifted in this area, one is partly due to the fact that students are told everyone is the same. You can't say you're better than someone else, even if it's true. People are different though, that is just a fact. Some people are not as bright as others. Some will be sanitation workers while others will be doctors. And you know what? That's okay! We need both!

I often think about people's God-given, innate talents. How many people missed their calling because they had to toe the "school" line and never had the chance to branch out and find their own path. Being taught to be the "same" as everyone else is not what I want for my children. If you're hoping for a classless society where all members are perfectly equal then you're hoping for communism.
Reason #6: Socialization... But it may surprise most people to learn that concerns about socialization are one of the most important reasons why we choose tohomeschool.

I don't want my children to be "socialized" in the way most people mean when they ask about this. Dictionary.com says this about socialization: " a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills...". Socialization is a process that starts at birth and never ends. That process doesn't magically start when a child enters school and it definitely doesn't stop if they stay home!
Reason #7: Shelter. One of the criticisms I get occasionally during discussions about homeschooling is whether or not I’m concerned about the fact that our children are sheltered too much from reality...
Our kids are "sheltered", but isn't that what parents are for? All parents "shelter" their children in some ways whether they go to school or not. Our kids don't see some of the differences that kids in school might see. They don't think that hanging out with your baby brother is lame. They played with a neighbor kid for months before it dawned on them that her skin was a different color. They don't care one bit about what clothes they wear and they don't ever ask for something "because all the kids have one".

Reason #9: Family. Perhaps the most profound reason why we homeschool is our desire to truly appreciate the daily sanctity of family. Time is a precious commodity, and it is much more worthy of family than many of the non-family experiences...
I think it's unfortunate that the mandatory age for schooling just keeps getting younger and pulls kids away from their families earlier. I'm only half kidding when I say that before too long we'll just discharge them from the birthing suite to a learning institution of some sort.

I have absolute confidence that we can properly educate our children within the walls of our own home. Why? Because one on one "tutoring" works. Because we know our children, their strengths and weaknesses, and we love them more than any teacher ever could! No one cares more than we do about whether or not they are successful.
Reason #10: Religion...We homeschool because it is part and parcel of our faith experience. Serving others, praying together, and living lives that are not defined exclusively by the values of our society...
We are not religious nuts. In fact, we aren't part of any "religion". We do, however, have a relationship with Jesus Christ and what we believe, as Christians, has become taboo in the public school system while other religions and lifestyles are freely discussed as part of a "global worldview".

Bonus Reason #11: It's Not All About Fun
My last point wasn't mentioned in the above article but I thought I'd mention it here anyway. I have to chuckle when people say my kids are missing out on all the "fun". Well, since we are talking about school here, I thought the goal was an education!

But don't worry, homeschoolers have plenty of fun. We just took a two week vacation in the middle of the school year! We go on field trips, play sports, and hang out with friends just the same as schooled children. Ourhomeschool group even has their own prom.

Homeschoolers, who feel so led, can do everything their school-attending counterparts do. We definitely aren't missing any fun! We're just having fun (and learning) together as a family. And when it comes down to it... I can't think of anything more important than that. I might regret a lot of things later in my life, but I don't think spending time investing in my children will be one of them.

Heart Scones

Happy Valentine's Day! We had a quiet day at home. Not that we ever do anything too exciting on V-day anyway, but it was extra quiet. We didn't even leave the house once. The boys have runny noses and terrible coughs so we didn't even go to church.
We don't usually go all out for holidays, but we do like to do a few fun things to celebrate. I made some delicious heart shaped scones for breakfast. I followed this recipe, except I substituted white chocolate chips for the almonds. The boys weren't too crazy about them but my hubby and I really enjoyed them. It's hard to tell from the photo but each heart has a center of strawberry preserves.

February 7, 2010

(Cleaning) Lesson Learned

I recently read a great blog post titled: "What I learned from having a cleaning lady, and 5 reasons you should learn too."

Long post title, short lesson. One good deep cleaning will save you a LOT of time in the long run. I know some of you thought my cleaning lists were a little over the top but I'm telling you... taking a few days out to work through those checklists will make your house a lot cleaner with much less effort.

I spent the better part of Friday working on cleaning the kitchen, (it's the one room I didn't get to before the holidays and vacation) but I'm not done yet. I'll write up a post and a checklist to share soon... get ready though... the kitchen is the hardest room in the house!

Date Night (at Home)

This past fall, my dad shared some venison with us. He suggested we save the best cut to fondue and serve it with some shrimp cocktail. So... being good, obedient children that's exactly what we did! Instead of using the fondue pot my dad also suggested using the FryDaddy, which worked quite nicely. To round out the meal we had some bread with two dips (one store bought spinach, the other homemade oil and herbs), both were delicious.

We fed the children early and kicked them out of the kitchen to watch a movie. We set out our spread, then ate and chatted. The food was excellent. We took a short reality break to clean up the kitchen and get the boys to bed before we settled down to watch a movie. We had Netflix send us "The Proposal". You won't get glowing reviews from either of us, but it was still fun.

I voted we should make this a monthly event. Coming up with delicious food to eat is easy (although if you have any recipe suggestions I'd love them). It's the movies that are hard to choose... we don't sit down to watch movies together very often because our taste in movies differs so much. Got any good movie suggestions?