Did I Just Do That?

Yes, I did. I signed up for the Hang ’em Dry challenge over on Crunchy Chicken.

Hang Em Dry Challenge 2010

I’m a little scared. With three kids, the youngest wearing cloth diapers, I do a lot of laundry. However, I’m luckier than many in that I have ample space in my basement for line drying even though I can’t hang things outside our rented town house. Here’s the laundry corner in my basement. It’s not fancy, but it get’s our clothes clean.
Yes, that’s a wine rack beside the utility sink. It was a wedding present. We have a very small town house and there was no room in the dining room. Here’s my dryer.

It’s 22 years old, at least. In fact, I think it may have been 22 years old when we inherited it, so that would make it closer to 25 years old now. When my grandmothers washer kicked the bucket, they replaced the set. We became the grateful owners of a very free, very old dryer. I know it uses a ton of electricity, and it takes forever to dry a load of clothes. Don’t get me started on the diapers.

Here’s what I’ve got set up for line drying. I’ve got a folding drying rack, and a very long, sturdy pipe with hangers.

The few times I have done line drying this has proved to be ample space for a single load of laundry. We’ll see if I need to update my system as we go. I have a load of diapers in the washer as we speak, so they’ll be first up on the drying rack tomorrow morning.

Fish Tacos with Baja Sauce

This is my mom’s recipe. My mom is a wonderful cook, and I’m thrilled any time I can re-create a dinner of hers.

1/2 C plain yogurt or buttermilk
1/2 C flour seasoned with salt and pepper to taste
1 lb tilapia fillets
vegetable oil

1/2 C sour cream
1/2 C mayonnaise
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 tsp lime zest (optional – I never have actual limes so I usually skip this and it still tastes great. But the lime zest adds a lot of depth so use it if you have it)

Start by heating about 1/4 inch of oil in a cast iron pan. Pat dry your Tilapia fillets. Dip in yogurt and then dredge in flour. Place in oil and fry until golden brown. Use a fork and a spatula to gently flip the fish and brown on the other side. Be very careful not to splash oil when you flip the fish, nothing ruins a perfectly good dinner faster than a trip to the ER for 3rd degree burns.

Place on paper towels to drain excess oil. For the Baja sauce, mix sour cream, mayonaise, lime juice and lime zest.

Of course my favorite tortillas are home made, but with three kids underfoot that is often not realistic. Second best is Chi-Chi’s Whole Wheat tortillas. They’re nice and soft, and don’t brake when you fold them. I serve them ‘build your own taco’ style with all the condiments in bowls ready for the topping. Serve with Baja sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and of course Frank’s Hot Sauce. Everything is better with Frank’s.

Meal Plan 9/27-10/3

Time for another meal plan. Seems like I have to do this every week. It’s amazing how much I dislike a task that makes the rest of the week so much easier, but there you have it.

Leftovers to use: I did a pretty good job using up leftovers last week, and we ate most of what we made, so very little needs used up this week. Meat in the fridge/freezer = 1 5lb package of chicken breasts, 2 pot roasts, 1 pkg tillapia.

Monday: We had pasta and shrimp. The shrimp had been in the freezer and needed using, and I always have tons of pasta and sauce because I buy it when it’s on sale.

Tuesday: Fish Tacos using the tillapia, salad

Wednesday: Pot Roast with onions and potatos, salad

Thursday: Crock Pot Chicken, rice, stir fry veggies

Friday: Stew w/left over pot roast, potatoes, barley

Saturday: Pulled chicken sandwiches, chips

Sunday: Chicken and rice casserole

Inniswood Gardens

Columbus has a wonderful Metro Park system. And Inniswood Gardens is one of my favorites. So when Owen was asking last week if we could go, I was more than happy to say yes! Inniswoods is a botanical gardens. There are no playgrounds, but still plenty for kids to do and see.

The boys ran ahead with Daddy,

while Aria and I came along at our own pace.

The first stop is always the water tower. There is a button on the back side that turns on the water for a couple of minutes. The boys play in the water and use plastic slats to direct the flow.

Another favorite is the tree house. It’s insanely cute, and the boys have a great time climbing up in it and running across the rope bridge behind it.Notice the biggest kid is having as much fun as the little ones.

This beautiful garden has a Native American creation story etched into the stone pathway. You follow the numbers around the garden and read the story as you go. It’s a beautiful story of how the wife of the Chief of the Skypeople fell through a hole in the sky to the water below, and the water creatures had to swim to the bottom of the ocean to bring up earth for her to stand on. The earth was placed on a turtles back so the woman could have a place to stand, and that became the whole world.

The gardens change with the seasons, so there is always something new to see. Today there were mums all over, and they were the most brilliant colors.

This is the knot hedge in the herb garden.

And there is lots of open space for rolling down hills.

And tons of interesting water features.

As a family, we love spending time with nature, and with each other.

The Autumn

The Autumn
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Go, sit upon the lofty hill,
And turn your eyes around,
Where waving woods and waters wild
Do hymn an autumn sound.
The summer sun is faint on them —
The summer flowers depart —
Sit still — as all transform’d to stone,
Except your musing heart.

How there you sat in summer-time,
May yet be in your mind;
And how you heard the green woods sing
Beneath the freshening wind.
Though the same wind now blows around,
You would its blast recall;
For every breath that stirs the trees,
Doth cause a leaf to fall.

Oh! like that wind, is all the mirth
That flesh and dust impart:
We cannot bear its visitings,
When change is on the heart.
Gay words and jests may make us smile,
When Sorrow is asleep;
But other things must make us smile,
When Sorrow bids us weep!

The dearest hands that clasp our hands, —
Their presence may be o’er;
The dearest voice that meets our ear,
That tone may come no more!
Youth fades; and then, the joys of youth,
Which once refresh’d our mind,
Shall come — as, on those sighing woods,
The chilling autumn wind.

Hear not the wind — view not the woods;
Look out o’er vale and hill —
In spring, the sky encircled them —
The sky is round them still.
Come autumn’s scathe — come winter’s cold —
Come change — and human fate!
Whatever prospect Heaven doth bound,
Can ne’er be desolate.

The Power of the Meal Plan

Ah, meal planning. Something we all aspire to and yet rarely get around to doing. And it’s too bad, because for such a short time investment you reap huge benefits. Meal planing saves time, money, and a great deal of sanity. For those who have never meal planned before and may be a bit daunted by the prospect of coming up with a weeks worth of meals RIGHT NOW, I’ll break down my process for you. It’s not nearly as huge a beast to tackle as you might think.

First things first, take a quick look in your fridge, freezer, and pantry. If you can plan your meals around things you already have on hand then your shopping list is that much shorter, and you’ve already saved money.

In my fridge I have 1-2 meals worth of turkey (depends on what I decide to do with it), lots of eggs, bacon, cheese, carrots, celery, and homemade yogurt, among other things. In my freezer I notice a surplus of green beans, and a package of boneless skinless chicken thighs. We’ll definitely be seeing those on the meal plan this week. And I always keep a fairly well stocked pantry of dry goods such as rice, beans, flour, onions, potatoes, sugar, spices, etc.

Once you have determined which leftovers from the week before need used up, and what ingredients you have on hand already, it’s time to start thinking about the meals themselves. I typically try to do my meal planning on Sunday so that I’m ready for the week, but I was working Sunday night/Monday and so I’m doing it today. I also try to plan meals for early in the week that I have all the ingredients on hand for, so I have a little flexibility in my grocery shopping. Nothing kills a grocery budget like running to the store at the last minute for the one thing you need for dinner and coming home $50 later with a bunch of stuff you don’t really need.

Any time you can cook once and eat twice you should. Baked chicken thighs for dinner one night can become the basis for soup, stew, sandwiches or casserole later in the week. I can stretch that turkey for two meals if I do one soup and one casserole. I also try to plan one meatless (or at least less meat) meal based around beans and rice.

Now it’s time to start planning those menus. If you have something to use up but don’t know how, I like http://www.food.com (was recipezaar) for finding new recipes. Just make a basic plan of what to serve and when. We’ll look at our recipes in a bit to decide our shopping lists. There are several tools you can use to organize your meal plans. Here are two that I’ve used that are working for me.
I found this nifty note pad at Target. It gives you space to write in your meal plans with your shopping list underneath. I like that it doesn’t take up much room, and is always visible on the fridge so I can add to the list as I discover things we need.

This is the menu section of my Home Management Binder. I don’t use my binder nearly as much as I wish I did, but I’m trying to make it a part of my daily life again. The pages are in page protectors, and you can write with a dry erase marker. I have two menu pages so I can start planning next week without having to erase the week that’s not quite over yet.

Here’s how my weeks meals are shaping up:

Monday (yesterday): We ordered wings. Yum!
Tuesday: Turkey Stew
Wednesday: Turkey and Rice Casserole
Thursday: Baked Chicken Thighs, Roasted Green Beans
Friday: Bean Soup with Bacon
Saturday: Dinner w/Grandparents
Sunday: Chicken Sandwiches, salad

I’m using up my turkey first since it’s been in the fridge for a few days. Also, I need to get the chicken thighs out of the freezer and into the fridge so they’ll be thawed for Thursday. I love meals that can be made all in one dish, so I haven’t listed a side dish for things that include plenty of vegetables. Both my husband and I are watching our weight, so we’re trying to stay away from starchy sides and focus more on veggies and salads.

Now is the time go go through your recipes and make sure you have all the ingredients you need and make out your shopping list. Looking at my list, the only thing I need to pick up is salad greens. This is mostly because I shop according to sales and keep my fridge, freezer and pantry well stocked with things we use often. It’s partly because I get in ruts and we tend to eat the same several things over and over. Now make up that shopping list, and sit back and relax knowing you’ve avoided the “What’s for dinner” panic for the rest of the week!

Continuing Effort to Declutter

It’s official. The kids have too many toys. And with birthdays and Christmas fast approaching, I need to do something to remedy the situation ASAP! With one child in preschool this morning, I took the opportunity to tackle the toy corner. My problem is a combination of too many toys, and too many random parts that don’t really go to any particular toy, and too many wood puzzles, which the boys never play with. They just get dumped. I’m the only one who has put together a wood puzzle in the past 12 months. Here’s what I was dealing with this morning.

The weight of the books on the bookshelf had collapsed the top shelf. My kids idea of putting toys away is to stand at the far side of the room and heave toys with all of their might in the general direction of the toy shelves. In this kind of chaos they can’t find anything they want to play with, and sit around board while surrounded by toys. And this is only about 1/3 of all of the toys we own. With a plethora of loving and generous grandparents and great grandparents, these children will never want for something new to play with. But with a 900 sq ft apartment and 5 peoples things to store, I have to let some things go. Two hours, 1 trash bag, and 2 good will boxes later and we have this:

I still need to tackle the other 2/3 of our toys that are waiting rotation in the basement, but this makes such a huge difference in the livability of our living room. I love before/after photos and posts. What have you been working on?