Monday, July 9, 2012

not Tuesday's Tip

It's not Tuesday.  I'm not even sure the following counts as a Tip.  However, I've learned to strike while the iron's hot.  And the kids are watching a movie.  And I'm on my second cup of coffee.

People always comment on my ridiculous love of school supply shopping.  I know - it's an illness - and I have no problem admitting that.  I used to force myself to wait until August to buy anything.  Now, I start as soon as the ads do.  While "others have excuses; I have my reasons why" (thank you, Nickel Creek).

I've always loved stationery stores.  Pens, paper, you name it - as a child, that kind of stuff lured me in faster than any toys could.  While they still have their allure, my reasons for hitting Staples (and Office Depot and Target and Walmart and Walgreens and...) in early July go far beyond their allure.  It's really about self-preservation and a happy budget.  As a private school teacher, I pay for most of my own supplies as well as my classroom supplies.  As a mother of 4 children, I pay for everything (whoever believes public school education is free has been quite misled).  My husband works for the public school system, and I am well aware that public school teachers pay for more than their fair share, as well.  

So, I started watching the back-to-school ads very closely - and making a weekly trek to multiple stores to get their best deals.  Beginning in July, I examine all of the weekly ads and determine which stores are worth visiting.  The ones mentioned above are my favorites (in that order) but many drug stores and grocery stores are worth watching.  I especially pay close attention to the penny deals (right now, Staples has 1 cent glue, packs of pens, and 24 ct. crayons).  Next comes 25 cent, 50 cent, and dollar deals.  Of course, there are limits and, often, rebates are involved.   However, my experience has been that the rebates are returned very quickly.  And, interestingly, if you are a teacher, many stores will exempt you from the limit on sale items.  So, if the ad says "limit 4" on 25 cent glue sticks, you can get as many as you want.  Staples and Office Depot both have "teacher rewards" cards - in fact, at Staples, the only thing that teachers can not exceed the limit for are the penny deals (new policy this year).  But, if you use your teacher reward card, you can buy as many of the penny deals as you want - you pay the full price, but they send you a reward check at the end of the month that reimburses you for the full cost of those items.  The reward check can only be used in Staples (like a store credit) so it is not the same as a rebate - but well worth it!  

The real trick is following the ads and waiting for the best deals.  For example, Staples has marble composition books for $1 this week - not a bad deal.  But, I know from experience that throughout the next few weeks, someone will sell them for 50 cents or even 25 cents.  I'll be watching.  The ads truly do change from week to week - and it is important to get the good deals as they appear.  However, I've found that waiting too long can backfire - I've tried back to school shopping so late in August that there was nothing left.  Not good.

My other strategy is to stock up on all the good deals - not just what my kids or I have on our supply lists.  I keep a large bin filled with all our "extra" school supplies and we "shop" from that throughout the year.  There are plenty of times when someone needs a folder or extra pencils, and, at some point in the school year, the teachers make a desperate plea for glue sticks.  It's nice having those things on hand so I don't need to worry about buying them later.  In fact, my stock from last year was so good, I am starting my kids back-to-school shopping there before I head out to any stores.  We'll see how far I get.  I have a friend who uses a similar strategy with household items (toiletries, cleaning products, etc) - but I haven't started that yet.  Another project for another day.

OOH, another tip - and this one is a bonus.  I keep the kids bookbags (which I washed at the beginning of the summer) and their supply lists in a central place - and as I buy the supplies, I place them in the correct bookbag.  It's easier than having to sort through it all just before school starts.  Excessive?  Maybe.  But with 4 kids, it keeps me sane.

So, there it is, my sickness - justified like a strategy.  

Friday, June 22, 2012

oh, no, she didn't... (oh, yes, she did)

A few months ago, Chuck and I were at the movies (I could end this post right there as that is such a rare occurrence) when we both had a good laugh at a preview highlighting an upcoming movie entitled Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter.  While not offended by the concept, we did find it ridiculous at best.  A week or so later, however, something reminded me of the preview, and I did some digging which revealed that the seemingly laughable movie was actually based on the New York Times bestseller of the same name. 

I'm not gonna lie; I was intrigued.  

Typically, I am one to stick to my genre (I'm a sucker for historical fiction).  While this fell in that category, the apparent abundance of blood and gore certainly did not.  However, in recent years, I have found myself on that bandwagon of those who quickly "judge books by their covers."  In many cases, I  opted to read those books (despite my own self-imposed resistance) and was almost always surprised at just how wrong my snap judgment was.  You see where I'm going here?

I did it.  I read Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter.  And I'm glad I did.  It was everything I did not expect it to be.  
I expected a farce.  
I expected gratuitous violence.  
I expected the darkness to be glorified.  
I expected graphic passion.
I expected a national hero to be made into a joke.  
None of those things were in this book.

Now, that being said, do I think everyone should read it?  No, probably not.  But, if you do read it, you may be surprised what you discover.
You will discover surprising historical accuracy.
You will discover a (fictional) accounting for Lincoln's (actual) brooding nature and struggles with depression.
You will discover an interesting twist on the nature of good vs. evil in our nation.
You will discover an amazingly tasteful description of what could be a rather gory account.
You will discover an author who took the time to weave fiction into a very real and very important part of our nation's past.

I read this book because I knew that if I didn't, I would join the hoards of people naysaying it without an informed, educated opinion.  Yes, it sounds ridiculous.  Yes, it clearly did not happen that way.  But, come on, people - It's fiction!!  That is what fiction is.  It is a verbally artistic attempt to remove us from our reality so that we can glimpse a world that is not.   And, for a time in our nation's history that has probably been the most studied, the most researched, and the most exposed, this author did an impressive job of incorporating a purely fictitious, fantastical element without really changing that historical element that makes our 16th president who he is.

In no way do I feel that this story undermines Lincoln's reputation or the nation's deep reverence for him.  In fact, as many works of fiction do, it has almost made him a larger-than-life hero - someone who went to great lengths to save our nation from the evils of slavery and inequality.

Go ahead.  Add it to your summer reading list.  I won't tell.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

kt who?

I humor myself when I consider that anyone thinks about the fact that I have not posted in almost a year.  Interestingly, after perusing my blog list, I realized that I am not the only one.  I blame facebook - why post a blog entry when you can update all day long?  Anyway...

Yes, I am back. For now.  This year "away" has taught me quite a bit - one thing being, do not overcommit.  

I have so many things on my mind, and, because the school year has ended and summer vacation has officially begun, I have so much more time to think about them!  And, so... in an effort to process all that is in my brain and record for posterity, I will be writing.  If you are easily bored with the (sometimes) mundane elements of my life, feel free to pass.  However, if you are a looking for a diversion or are interested in an update, be on the lookout.  kt is back.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Granny's Peach Cake

This weekend, I mentioned making Granny's Peach Cake on facebook.  Maybe it's everyone's abundance of peaches or just a fondness for a rather hard-to-come-by delicacy, but I had several requests for the recipe.

Last year, I posted about a very special cookbook / memory book  that my mom gave to them women in our family.  This collection of my great-grandmother's recipes is quite a keepsake with it's pictures and memories, but it's a valuable resource, too.  The front cover boasts a picture of one of Granny's best loved recipes - her peach cake - and just the other day, I had such a craving for it that I decided to make it myself.  This was the first time I had made it, and it turned out wonderfully (I called Mom first to find out if she had any pointers since she has made it quite a few times).  I've added her tips to the recipe below.

Granny's Peach Cake
the recipe is actually for her Basic Sweet Dough and can be adapted for several types of fruit, but Granny almost always made it with peaches...

2/3 cup milk, scalded
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 tsp salt
6 TBSP shortening
    For those of you who aren't used to such (ahem) old-fashioned recipes, scalded milk just means that you heat it in a sauce pan until it is about to boil but then you don't let it boil.  And, yes, you need to do this part.  Once the milk is scalded, remove from heat and add the sugar, salt, and shortening to the sauce pan and allow those ingredients to dissolve and melt.  Set aside.

2/3 cup lukewarm water (hot from tap, will be lukewarm once you add other ingredients to it)
2 TBSP sugar
2 pkgs dry yeast
    Add the sugar and yeast to the lukewarm water and allow it to dissolve.  Mix and set aside, waiting for the mixture to "bubble," showing that the yeast and sugar are interacting.

Place the milk mixture in mixing bowl (I use my KitchenAid and it works just fine.  Granny, of course, did it all by hand...).  Add the yeast mixture to the milk mixture.  Make sure your milk mixture has cooled a bit as you don't want it to kill your yeast concoction.  In all reality, by the time you've reached this point, it should be just fine.

3 beaten eggs
6 cups flour
      Add the beaten eggs slowly until mixed along with one cup of flour.  Gradually add more flour (about one cup at a time) until the dough is the right consistency to knead (elastic but not too sticky).  At this point, I've switched to my dough hook.  Depending on you mixer, you can allow the mixer to do the kneading.  I still prefer to knead for about 5 minutes with my hands - helps me to "feel" that the dough is right.

Place dough in a greased bowl and cover with a towel.  Allow to rise in a warm place until doubled (about one hour).

Once the dough has risen, divide it in thirds (approximately.  see below) and roll out thin.  Place rolled out dough on 1" pans (jelly roll, cookie sheet size) forming an "edge" with the dough along the outside.  Place sliced peaches on top (can also used sliced apples or plums).  Sprinkle lightly with sugar.  Cover with towel and allow to rise again, for one hour.

Bake about 20 minutes at 350 degrees.
Makes approximately 2 - 1"x11" pans and 1 - 9" pan.

I baked mine for a little more than 15 minutes.  You don't want to over bake this!  Just let the edges get golden brown.  Serve warm (or cold!) sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Some other tips...
- for me, 3 peaches was enough to make one cake
- I only wanted to make one cake, so I rolled out the extra two portions of dough, placed them on the proper pans, covered them with wax paper, and then put them in the freezer.  They will be ready the next time I have a few peaches on hand.  Just allow to thaw and rise once fruit is on top.

Try it!  Don't be scared off by the scalded milk,  yeast, and rising parts... it is actually very easy and not nearly as time consuming as it sounds.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tuesday's Tip

I am an organizer.  (I know, I know, you're shocked...).  I like order and am a firm believer in "a place for everything and everything in it's place."  Noting that my house is usually in some semblance of order, people often comment that I'm "lucky" that my kids are also neat.

First, let me say that "luck" has nothing to do with it.  Just like with eating, sleeping, reading, and (insert desired action here), my response is, "They did not come out that way."  The truth is, kids are kids, and they need to be taught.  They need to be taught how to eat, how to sleep, how to read,... and how to be neat.  (This could be a whole other post, but I will refrain for now).

Second, my kids are not all neat.  Each of my four children have very distinct personalities - a blend of Chuck and me with a smattering of where-in-the-world-did-that-come-from.  They have their "neat" moments but they are kids - and they would much rather adopt the "leave it where it lands" mentality of organization.

What works for me does not necessarily work for everyone, but we have incorporated a few rules in our house that helps keep us all sane.

1)  Put it away.  It's pretty simple, I know, but a lot of people never get their kids to this place (it also applies to adults!)  If you got it out, put it away.  If you are finished with it, put it away.

2) Help in the clean-up process.  Every now and again, Chuck and I will announce a "whole house clean-up."  It takes less than 10 minutes.  The kids have to stop what they are doing and go through the main areas of the house (kitchen, dining room, living room, family room) and look for things that are out of place.  Might be Dad's shoes, Mom's book, Tucker's cars, Patrick's sketch pad, etc - you get the idea.  But regardless of whose it is, they put it away.  I think this is important because it builds accountability and community.  Plus, I've often made the point that I put away a lot of things that aren't mine.

3)  Make common areas common.  Because we live in a rancher, our kids rooms are not far from the living areas of the house.  For that reason, we don't have a play room.  We also don't allow them to keep toys in the common areas.  They can bring toys, games, etc into the living areas, but when they are finished playing, the toys go back in their bedrooms.  This is important to me, because it means that our house does not look like it has been overrun with children.  Our house looks like we all live in it, but it does not look like the kids have taken over and pushed us out.

4)  Limit the amount of "stuff" kids have.  This is a hard one - one that causes some of us to get a bit defensive.  But, the truth is, we all have way more stuff than we need (if you are on a computer reading this, then - yes, you fall into that category).  I'm not saying it's wrong to have stuff, but I do think we need to teach kids, from a very young age, how to manage their stuff rather than be controlled by it.  Here is the method we use:  Our kids have a certain amount of space in their bedrooms - closets, bins, shelves, baskets, etc.  When that allotted space is full, no more stuff.  That means, when a birthday is coming, I might remind that particular child that they need to make room for new things.  In fact, before Christmas, I usually facilitate a mass purging.  The kids have learned to decide what is important to them, what they really play with, and what has value.  They also decide if something should be thrown away (the itty bitty pieces of happy meal toys) or donated.  Sometimes they designate a younger cousin or friend to "inherit" the toys.  Other times, we donate to a local charity.  But, through this process, they have also learned to give to others.  They've even begun to comprehend the spiritual principle that you can not receive (physically and spiritually) unless you have first given.

5) Limit the amount of "stuff" adults have.  Ok, this one might be even harder.  I think we can all agree that kids will best learn what their parents model.  The same things I ask of my kids, I maintain in my parts of the house.  No new kitchen gadgets unless there is a place and a need for them.  Nothing new in a full closet or drawer, unless something has been taken out to make room for it.  It's not easy, but it is simple.  And I enjoy not feeling like I'm being overtaken by my house.

These methods really can be effective.  For some kids, it will mold the way they naturally keep their own space clean.  For others, it may only "contain" their mess for as long as they live in your house.  But, you would be surprise how well it works.  Just the other day, Chloe came to me and asked for a laundry basket.  I handed her one but asked why.  "Oh, Lucy and I really need to get rid of some stuff.  Our room is getting too crowded."  

Be still, my heart.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tuesday's Tip

I assume that not a lot of men read these posts (except for my husband who humors me when I need an audience...), but, in any case, this is a post that won't apply to the male persuasion.

Ladies, today's tip is simple.  Do yourself a favor and get a good bra... that fits.

This sounds like a no-brainer, but, at the risk of sounding a bit too Oprah-esque, I believe there are quite a few women out there who are wearing the wrong bra in the wrong size.  A few years ago, I was one of those women.  (Truth is, 4 kids later, I didn't always recognize my chest let alone know what size bra it needed.)  One day, a friend I had not seen in some time came for a visit, and I couldn't help but ask if something was different.
"Did you lose weight?  Are you working out?"
Her answer was funny... but got my attention.  "Nope," she answered, "Just found the right bra."

I thought about it, and later that summer while shopping at the Leggs, Hanes, Bali... outlet, I took advantage of the free bra sizing service they offer.  They told me the proper size I should be wearing and then suggested bras with the features I most needed.  I walked out of that store amazed at what a difference the right bra made.  My shirt fit differently.  My entire outfit looked different.  My posture had changed.  It was the quickest and easiest diet I had ever been on.

Here are a few pointers I'd offer...
1) Get over the awkwardness of being sized.  You don't have to strip down to nothing.  It's easy and fast.

2) Don't get hung up on a particular size.  Quite often women are amazed at what size they actually are (whether it be how small or how large).  The truth is, you will look best in the proper size - not the size that you want to believe you wear.  Also, wearing the right size can often help to "diminish" a larger chest or "enlarge" a smaller one.  They don't call it WonderBra for nothing...

3) Consider features you may not have used before.  To this day, I swear by the wonders of underwire and a molded cup.  Ladies, you all know it's true - after several years and a few kids, it can take origami strategies to put a bra on.  Do yourself a favor: choose a bra that holds it's shape when your body can no longer do the job.

4) Be ready (and willing) to make an investment.  I'm not talking hundreds of dollars.  But a good bra will cost more than the $7.99 special at Walmart.  If that one works for you, that's fine - but, usually, there's a difference - and it shows.  Shop at the Leggs outlet - and you'll find that the bras are significantly marked down (to about $20- $25) and they often are combined with other discounts and offers.  Consider that the right bra will make your shirts fit and take off about 5 - 10 lbs.  It's worth it.

Friday, July 15, 2011

I got no tips...

I have tried to think up some witty Tuesday's Tips... but it's just not happening.  Truth is, I've been too busy living tips.  Like...
- lots of grilling and easy dinners for our fast-paced summer schedule
- lots of grilling and easy dinners for lazy, HOT summer days when I don't want to be in the kitchen
- crazy advertisement-scouring, deal-finding back to school shopping
- going through the kids' school folders
- organizing the kids rooms / purging / simplifying (some of this is still on my To-Do list)
- reading for fun, reading for work, reading for both

I am sure there are others, but I just can't think of them.  This fall marks my official return to the classroom (as I will actually have a classroom), although I am still part time.  I will barely be part time, in fact, I'll most likely be there all day, but it's part time.  The kids have spent a few days in my classroom while I work on organizing and planning.  Fortunately, much of this can also be done at home, but there is just soooo much to do.  I have to admit, I had no idea how much I missed teaching.  Working is, well, work, but - then again - so is being at home.  So, I've just moved my location and restructured my schedule a bit.  

Making my transition a bit easier this fall is the fact that all 4 kids will be in school (yikes!  how did that happen?).  Even more convenient is the fact that my kids' school, my school, and our home are all within 7 minutes of each other, so I have easy access to all three.  Tucker is ready for kindergarten and the older three are excited to have him there.  I can only imagine what this year will look like.

For now, I am doing lots of reading.  I just finished The Hobbit and have moved on to Johnny Tremain.  I'm still trying to squeeze in some fun, summer reading - especially since I bought myself a Nook color.  What a fun toy! (and, yes, I can admit that it is a toy - but it's a pretty handy one).  

In addition to planning to teach totally new material for 4 preps, it's been a summer of vacation, kids, gardening, library, and pool time.  We (mostly Chuck) have lots of VBS prep ahead, the two older kids will have a week of sleep-away camp, and Chuck and I will be traveling to Minnesota for a wedding.  And with all this, I am amazed at how often I hear one of my children randomly say, "I'm bored!"  Really?  How?  When?  Gosh, I remember those summers...

That said... time for another trip to the library.