Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

we are in the midst of cold and flu season, and anyone with more than one person (especially more than one CHILD) in their house will tell you that germ-preventative measures are priceless - no matter what they are.  well, today's tip is one of the best when it comes to keeping the germs at bay, and it is practically cost-free and effortless (a great combination).  this tip was given to me by our school nurse as well as our dental hygienist.  both recommended we soak our toothbrushes in listerine (or any other such disinfecting mouth wash) after anyone has been sick.  our hygienist told me that no matter those little gadgets out there say,  you can NOT sterilize your toothbrush.  you can, however, sanitize them.  and that is exactly what i do.

i like this idea so much that i soak our toothbrushes once a week.  i do it when i'm cleaning the bathroom (a good way to remember).  it doesn't take much listerine - and i just leave them to soak until we're ready to use them that night.  sometimes, if we're dealing with a lot of sickness in the house, i store the "infected" individual's toothbrush in the mouthwash until they are healthy.

Monday, January 25, 2010

"she is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain."

thank you, louisa may alcott, for that bit of truth.  i'll be the first to admit that my brain has been turned by books... more often than not.  i'm sure i'm not the only one.  still, people ask me all the time, "when in the world do you find time to read??"  i guess that's a fair question.  and there have been phases of my life where i have not picked up a book for months at a time.  really.  but if i were to be perfectly honest, i am happiest when i am in the middle of some book - so, i make time to read.  i see it as an investment in my mental health.  reading can be a great escape... and sometimes a mental escape can be just as effective (and affordable) as a physical retreat.  however, with four children and a busy household, my approach to reading has changed a bit.  there was a time i could lose myself in between the pages of a novel for hours at a time.  lately, i don't do anything for hours... except maybe sleep - and even that isn't always completely dependable.  now, i keep a book handy and read during those "in-between" moments of my day:  waiting at the bus stop, waiting for water to boil, waiting for the dryer to finish, waiting for the commercials to be over...  you'd be surprised how much reading you can get done during 5 minute intervals all throughout your day.  sunday afternoons still offer a nice chunk of reading time... if you can resist that sunday afternoon nap.

i just finished reading Sarah by Marek Halter.  i love historical fiction of any kind - and i think i've read books from all eras.  lately, i've really enjoyed fictionalized accounts of biblical characters, especially women.  halter wrote a trilogy in which he tells the stories of three such women.  what i like best about this book is that the author does not pretend that just because the people are from the Bible they are refined and polished.  rather, the story tells of characters who are barely civilized - very raw and uncultured by our standards.  and yet, they are real and relatable.  i look forward to reading the remaining two books in his Canaan Trilogy.

today, i'm planning on starting the Harmony books.  i had heard them compared to Jan Karon's Mitford series which i loved.  i read this entire series (plus several other books) during the first trimester of my pregnancy with tucker.  seriously, i think i cleared 11 books in less than 3 weeks.  talk about an escape from reality - i have tried every anti-nausea medication known to man but nothing gave me a break from morning sickness as much as sitting perfectly still with a good book (and a belly full of protein... when i could keep it down).  but i digress...  the mitford books are charming and entertaining and endearing and so well written.  i loved them so much that i also listened to the audio books last year (enjoying audio books while running errands can make your most mundane tasks so much more bearable) and was able to introduce them to my children.  patrick, especially, loved them and i think he'll enjoy reading them one day, too.  i am in the midst of collecting the series (ie, looking for them cheap in various and sundry places) and think that by the time i have all of them i'll be ready to read them again!  so.... i'm really hoping that the Harmony books are just as good.  i'll let you know.

and, lest you think i am purely a self-indulgent reader of fiction, i also have at least one non-fiction book i'm reading at any given point.  i just picked up She's Gonna Blow by Julie Barnhill.  i find that parenting and marriage books keep me reading, since they are most applicable right now.

so, what are you reading these days?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

don't let your schedule control you...
learn to control your schedule.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

today's tuesday's tip is brought to you courtesy of my sister, laura.

i like this tip because it's a good christmas follow-up... and it involves using something you already have (instead of buying something).  laura takes old christmas cards (like the ones she received this year) and cuts off the front pictures to use them as gift tags on next year's presents.  you can make these gift tags as small or as large as you want and then simply use a hole punch to make a place to thread ribbon through and attach to your gift.  this is a great plan for when you run out of those nifty little sticky-gift labels and (if you're like me) refuse to buy more and simply resort to using a ball-point pen to label gifts.  yes, i do that.  reused cards make gifts look a bit more special but won't cost you a thing.  and that's important to me.  it's not that i don't like to spend money on gifts... but the actual wrapping and tags, which are quickly disregarded and thrown away, are not where i want the bulk of my finances to go.

another reason this tip works for me is because it gives a second use to christmas cards.  i enjoy sending cards.  i send a lot (much to my husband's amazement: do we know that many people??)  but, again, during a season when money is burnt up as quickly as the wood in my woodbox during these 20 degree winters, i don't like spending the bulk of my resources on christmas cards.  granted, they are usually appreciated, but they serve a rather short-lived purpose.  this year, i actually ordered our christmas cards in july simply because i found a really great deal.  laura's reminder to find another use for these friendly hellos stretches their value a bit more.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

let me 'splain. no, there is too much. let me sum up.

100 points to anyone who identifies that reference.

either way, summing up is going to be a better idea than explaining the last few weeks.

of course, the holidays are always a busy time... and we've enjoyed every last bit.

the kids enjoyed the 2 ft of snow we got right before christmas - giving them just one day of school that week.  chuck and i had lots of fun shoveling and longingly watching our neighbors using their snowblowers.  thankfully, one of them helped out with the end of our driveway at one point.  still, i can't help but wonder if maybe that's on chuck's list for the future.

i really enjoyed watching the kids experience christmas each year.  we had everything ready to go on christmas eve, so we had lots of time to sit around and enjoy each other.  christmas morning was pretty stress-free, too.  the kids seem to be developing a true appreciation for watching everyone open their presents as well as opening their own.  they were pretty patient - and appreciative.  and that is something that takes time!

one of my bigger challenges this christmas was working and traveling with a 3 month old puppy.  parsley had been learning the ropes at our house but was not demonstrating the best manners when it came to other people.  as a puppy, she's full of energy - but beyond that, i have a feeling she's rather high energy.  she did well with all the traveling - and with being in different places.  i had to spend quite a bit of extra time walking her while we were away in an attempt to wear her out before putting her back in her crate, but it was kind of nice.  and... our many walks also helped to keep off those dreaded christmas pounds that usually find their way into my jeans.  all in all, a good deal!

experiencing the chaos of christmas and visiting friends with a puppy is a lot like experiencing it with a newborn - it takes a lot of extra time and effort.  and i came away from the last few weeks wondering if i was making any progress with this dog at all.  my multiple trips outside to have her use the "potty" were spent watching her eat snow... only to come inside and do her business on the kitchen floor.  frustrating, to say the least.  any little freedom would get her so hyper that i was keeping her crated as much as possible.  all the while, i was reading any advice i could find... only to see that i was doing all the right things.  such information should be comforting, but i guess i was just being a bit impatient.  (imagine that!)  thankfully, the holidays - and all their excitement - came and went, the kids went back to school, our "normal" schedule resumed, and parsley turned 4 months.  amazingly enough, that combination of events had a magical effect on our pup, and she seems to have turned a corner.  she seems to really "get" her housebreaking regime (with a few puddles here and there) and has even earned quite a bit of supervised freedom to run around in the house for most of the day.  as i write this post, she's on the floor with tucker and kyle and is peacefully chewing on a bone instead of chewing on them.  i feel so proud.

for all of you non-dog people, i apologize for all of the extra info.  anyone who has ever raised a puppy knows that these things are big deal.  and, regardless, i'm pleased to see our lives return to some sense of normalcy.

on another note, this weekend, my family will finally be celebrating our christmas.  nothing like getting around to it 2 weeks later.  ah, well, when you have 5 siblings with 5 different families and lives it's not as easy as it used to be!  my mother is trying to maintain a sense of humor about the whole thing... but this is a first for her.  i've decided that any christmas celebration that takes place after new year's will from now on be referred to as Festivus.  and there will be the airing of grievances.  a good time will be had by all, i'm sure.

i still need to upload all our christmas pictures... but i figured i'd wait till all the christmases were over.  we also, finally, had our family pictures taken - for the first time in 5 years, meaning that we now have a complete family picture.  complete with tucker, that is.

hope everyone is enjoying the new year so far... and that you are enjoying the return to normalcy.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

we're a people who love our coffee.
a drive through any american town will tell you that. if you can't find a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts, you're sure to stumble upon a McDonalds, sporting their "McCafe."

just ask the 108,000,000 american coffee consumers in the US. it is reported that 54% of americans drink coffee daily. these days, i'm not sure if there's anything that such a large majority of us have in common. so, it stands to reason that we would spend billions of dollars on our dark habit each year.

i've learned, however, that a good cup of coffee doesn't have to cost you $4 a cup; nor do you have to leave the warmth and comfort of your own home to get it. personally, i don't think you need to pay an arm and a leg on fancy equipment or gourmet beans, either. invest in a decent coffee maker (and by that, i mean one that makes a super HOT pot of coffee) and find the brand of coffee you like. i'm a big DD fan but there are other brands out there that are also good (and not as expensive). aldi sells a bag of coffee they've aptly named "donut store blend," complete with pink and orange lettering, that tastes pretty similar.

many of you may remember last year's quest for my perfect coffee maker. i'm not sure if it exists, but i decided that the key is finding what's right for me. in my case, it was the hamilton beach summit brewstation. i love it. makes my coffee fast and HOT and even beeps when it's done. but it has another nifty feature, which brings me to my final factor in making good coffee at home. it reminds me when my coffee maker needs to be cleaned!
you see... right next to the time - it says "clean." brilliant. not that i wouldn't remember on my own - i learned a long time ago that a clean coffee maker makes even the cheapest coffee taste better. but it's nice to be reminded so that i make sure it happens on a regular basis.

first, let me say, that i learned early on from my mother to never put your coffee maker parts in the dishwasher. (or many other appliance accessories, for that matter) regrettably, and much to my mother's occasional irritation, my father has not learned this same lesson. handwashing the carafe (if you have one; this one does not) and filter basket helps to maintain the integrity of your appliance, thus making it last longer. she also taught me, however, that a clean carafe is not the same as a clean coffee maker.

you can buy coffee maker cleaners from different manufacturers, but i've never used them. good old fashioned vinegar and water does the trick for me.
fill your coffee maker with equal parts vinegar and water and then turn it on. the odor won't be as aromatic as a pot of coffee, but it does the trick. when it's finished, pour it out and refill the coffee maker with just water, and run it through again. once that is finished, i clean out my reservoir (or carafe, in "normal" coffee makers) by filling it with warm soapy water and allowing it to soak for a bit before using a brush or sponge to give it a thorough scrubbing.

the result is an amazingly fresh pot of coffee. fresh enough that you'll remember to clean it out the next month.