Monday, January 30, 2012

Chai Latte

One of my favorite warm drinks is a chai latte, but since I rarely visit coffee shops, I've had to come up with a recipe for home. This is a really simple and basic special barista skills required.

Chai Latte
Milk (6 to 12 oz.-depending on how much you want)
1 Chai tea bag
Flavored beverage syrup (like Torani)

Warm milk in microwave or on stove. Pour in mug and steep tea for 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in 1 to 2 tsp. (more or less to taste) of your favorite flavored beverage syrup. My favorite is Torani's Sugar Free Vanilla. Enjoy! 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Weekly Cleaning Schedule & Our Calendar

I am by no means a clean freak, but cleaning is a necessary part of maintaining your home. Before I had kids and was working all week, I would clean the house on Saturday mornings. We didn't have a big house so it didn't take me long to do it. During the week, I'd wash dishes, do some picking up and wash laundry as needed. It worked well.

Now that I am staying home and have little kids, my cleaning strategy has changed. It is unrealistic for me to get it all done in one day. Our house is bigger now so it takes longer. Plus, having a large block of uninterrupted time doesn't always happen. I've tried a few different ways of breaking up the cleaning into smaller bits--one or two rooms a day, doing all one task in one day, etc.

Finally, I decided to match the amount of time needed for cleaning tasks to how much time I had available each weekday. I laid out the daily taks that I have to do: dishes and kitchen cleaning, making our bed, picking up, and sometimes laundry. For the rest of the weekly cleaning, I figured out about how long it takes me to do each task. Then, I looked at our weekly schedule. Some days we have more time at home, and others we are gone more. On the days that I have more time at home, I do tasks that take longer (ie, cleaning the upstairs bathrooms). On Wednesdays, I have less time at home, so I just have to vacuum the stairs and Windex glass surfaces.  On average, the cleaning for each day takes only 15 to 25 minutes.
(Sorry for the light on these pictures. It was cloudy and I couldn't use a flash because I'd get a glare.)

Once I had a schedule that worked for me, I made a reusable cleaning list that I posted on my refrigerator. I'm big on lists, especially 'to do' lists. They help me to stay focused and I feel good when I get things done.
As I get my cleaning tasks done, I fill in the circle in front of each task. If something doesn't get done on the day I have planned, I can easily see what still needs to be done the next day.

While we're in that neighborhood on my fridge, can I tell you how much I love my calendar? I have used this type of calendar since John and I were married--this is my third one. It's a Real Simple Flexible Planning Calendar.

It's an undated eighteen month calendar (it does also come in a predated version) that has five different colored sets of stickers. You can assign a color to each person in your family or color-code your activities (ie, work, school, social, appointments, church, etc.). I like that at a glance, I can see what days we have things going on and what days we are free. You can purchase it at Target.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Organizing Our Toys

One of my organizing goals for this year, was to better organize the toys that we have in our family room and living room. We don't have a dedicated playroom. Instead we have areas in each room where there are toys for the kids to play with. However, both rooms still also function as spaces to watch tv, hang out, play games, and entertain. The storage we had was inadequate for the toys we had.

We needed to add storage that would function better and look somewhat neat and attractive. In our living room, Levi has his train table. It has a storage drawer underneath, but it's not big enough to fit all the train tracks, trains, cars and trucks that he has. Therefore, they often ended up strewn about on the floor or piled on top, making it hard for him to play there.

 I thought I could possibly find some sort of storage bin that was intended for underbed storage. That way it could be tucked away under the table. I found exactly what I was looking for at IKEA. This bin is lightweight and large. Even when filled with his toys, it's still easy for Levi to pull in and out.


Levi enjoying the cleaned up train table.
It easily holds oversized toys that didn't fit in the drawer and all the other vehicles when they're not in use on the train table. The drawer in the train table now can just hold the tracks.

I also cleaned up our book bin so the lid could go on it.


The electronic readers/games were moved to the family room toy storage. Now this bin can be used for extra seating or a side table when we have guests. The red bin contains the farm and tractors. It has a home in Levi's room and can be brought down when he wants to play with it. The barn is still near there...for some reason I didn't include it in the pictures.

In the family room, I had a basket that held the toys. The worst part about it was that it would get piled high at times and then Levi would dump the whole thing out to find a toy buried in the bottom.

I knew I wanted to get an Expedit shelf from IKEA because we have the same one in his closet. It is great for storage of books and toys. I like that the toys can be stored neatly and attractively. Plus, we now have a place to put a lamp to brighten up this dark corner of the room.


I chose to get two boxes with handles so they are easy to get in and out. There is plenty of room inside for anymore toys that get added into the mix. The corner looks so much neater. It's a small change, but I love it.

Organizing of the toys wasn't that hard because I had already put time into thinking about what possible solutions would really work for the toys we have and for the available space. That's a really important step in organizing that many people skip. Organizational pieces have to function well in order for them to help keep you organized. Before buying, spend some time thinking of what exactly you are organizing, the sizes of any containers and any features they need to have, as well as the space you have to put things.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Flannel Baby Blanket

Back in the summer, I bought this adorable flannel fabric and chunky rick rack to make a blanket for Lillian. I saw one made up in a quilt shop and thought it'd make a great multi-purpose blanket.

It's big enough to keep her warm in her carseat or spread out on the floor for a play space. Yet, it's super soft so she can cuddle with it. On top of's cute!

This is my first sewing how-to, so please forgive me if my lingo is not quite right or if something is not completely clear. I tried to take pictures of my steps to help with clarity. If you are unsure about something, please leave me a comment.

What you'll need:
-1 1/8 yd. each of two coordinating flannel fabrics (you could also use fleece or cotton on one side)
          My fabrics are from Robert Kaufman's "Cozy Cotton"
-4 2/3 yd. extra wide rick-rack

This fabric is 42 inches wide, so by getting 1 1/8 yd., I was able to make a square blanket. If you want a blanket of a different size, you can get more or less fabric.

First, I traced the curve of a plate to create curved corners.

Trim off all the square corners.

Then, you'll attach the rick rack to one piece of the fabric. By doing this, it will be held in place when you stitch the two fabrics together and it is sandwiched between. Pin the rick rack to the right side of one piece of fabric so just a little (1/8 to 1/4 inch) sticks over the edge.

Stitch close to the edge of the fabric (about 1/4 inch away) to attach the rick rack all the way around the fabric.

Next, put your two piece of fabric together with right sides facing. Pin in place, lining up the edges all the way around. The  rick rack will be sandwiched between the fabric. Only a little bit will stick out around the edge. Then, stitch 1/4 inch. inside the rick rack stitching (about 1/2 inch. from the edge of the fabric).

Stitch around the blanket, but leave an opening of 4 to 6 inches to allow you to turn the blanket right side out. Turn blanket right side out and hand stitch the opening closed.

Finally, find a cute baby to cuddle up in their new blanket.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Carrot Cake

One of my family's favorite cakes is carrot cake. This recipe was my dad's. Like his sugar cookies, it was always popular with family, friends, and coworkers.

It's a simple-to-make, flavorful cake with a delicious cream cheese frosting.

Dad's Carrot Cake
2 C. sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 C. flour
3 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 C. oil (I sometimes use half the oil and add 3/4 C. unsweetened applesauce)
5 eggs
3 C. grated carrots
1 C. chopped walnuts

Mix dry ingredients and  then add rest of ingredients, beating well. Bake in a greased 9x13 inch pan at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour (until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean). Allow to cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 stick butter or margarine, softened
1 (8 oz) box cream cheese, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
4 C. powdered sugar

Cream together butter/margarine, cream cheese, and vanilla. Add powdered sugar and beat well. Cake will need to be refrigerated once frosted.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Tack, Sweden!

That's "Thank you, Sweden!" for those of you not fluent in Swedish.

This weekend I made my annual trek to IKEA, along with the kids and my mom.

Once upon a time, I lived a mere five minutes from this home megastore, which allowed me to make more frequent trips. So now, whenever I get the chance to go, I always look forward to it. If you've ever been there, you know that IKEA is almost always filled with people. You also know, that it's full of inspiration. That's my favorite part. You can gather so many great ideas from their room setups and displays. And, I don't know about you, but it seems to me that the Swedes have come up with a solution for just about every storage dilemna there is. On top of that, it's all stylish and reasonably priced.

On this trip, I fell in love with this kitchen and dining room. If anyone is looking for a late Christmas present/early birthday present for me, I'll take one of these.

But my purpose for this trip was not to pick out a new kitchen. I was on a mission to solve my organizational issues. This led me to focus my shopping in the kids section and the home organization section.

I came home with one of these. I have the same one in Levi's closet and it works well for toy storage.
Expedit Shelf
 And I had to choose from the many boxes and baskets that are available to fill the shelf.

Levi enjoyed some of the toys and play equipment while I shopped.

The kids section is so bright and happy. I love it! Cute things with lots of functionality.

Of course, what trip to IKEA would be complete without some Swedish meatballs and lingonberry preserves?

Levi preferred the chicken tenders, with some Swedish flare.

I'm excited to put all my purchases to use as I get things organized. If all goes as planned, I'll have some progress to show you later this week.

 If you don't live near an IKEA store, you can visit IKEA online.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Five years...

It's been five years since I lost my dad. I wish this date didn't mean anything. That it was just another day, but I think it's a date I'll always remember. Each year at this time a little cloud settles over me. I get teary and sad. My last days with him replay through my mind, though I'd rather not remember it. Most of the time I think of him in times when he was well and full of life.

When remembering the loss of my dad, I can't help but reflect on what I've learned about God in these five years. It was his death that brought me back into a close relationship with God. Without it, I don't know how I would have dealt with my loss and all the emotions that come during the grieving process. Here are some promises that have meant the most to me...

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken...Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. Psalm 62:5,6,8

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. Psalm 63:8

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me. Psalm 23:4

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Monday, January 9, 2012

What I'm Reading Now

When I posted my first 'What I'm Reading Now', I planned on doing it once a month. It's been a very long time and I'm only now posting my second list of books.

Each New Day by Corrie Ten Boom
I am a big fan of Corrie Ten Boom. The Hiding Place is one of my favorite books. Her faith is amazing and inspiring so when I saw this devotional, I asked for it for Christmas. It is a collection of 365 daily devotions, each containing some scripture and some commentary from Corrie. I am keeping this next to my bed so I can be sure to start my day focusing on God's Word. Though the devotionals are short, they are powerful and thought-provoking. They really help me to set my mind on the right things as I begin my day.

In My Father's House by Bodie Thoene
This is another favorite author of mine. I love her historical fiction because it's believable and complex. There are always multiple story lines which end up connecting. The last hundred pages of her books are always extremely exciting and it's hard to put the book down. This is the first book in the Shiloh Legacy, a three book series that starts with the end of the first World War and goes through the Great Depression. John has been reading through the series and is on the last book now.

Practicing Hospitality: The Joy of Serving Others by Pat Ennis & Lisa Tatlock
My church recently offered a class on this topic. They shared a lot of interesting ideas and got me wanting to read more about it. This is one book on the topic my mom shared with me. It is a practical guide that reminds us what the Bible has to say about hospitality and also provides ways, both big and small, that we can practice hospitality.

In the past months I also read a few popular titles. I'm sure you've heard of them. In fact, I may be the last person finally reading them. For my book club, I read The Devil In the White City by Erik Larson. This was especially interesting to me since I live in the Chicago area. It was a great mix of history and suspense. I also read The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I loved the lively characters in this. I have yet to see the movie so I'm looking forward to it, but I know that the books are always better.

Have you read any good books lately?

Friday, January 6, 2012

This is January?

The average high temperature in January is 26 degrees.

The high for this day last year was 29 degrees.

Today's high was 52 degrees.

And I'm not complaining one bit. It felt like a spring day, when the chill is wearing off and the sun actually feels warm. It was too good to stay in all day. Even though both the kids are getting over colds, we spent some time outside this afternoon.

We broke out the stroller and cozy coupe for a trip to the park.

We climbed. We chased. We pretended to go on a train ride to the North Pole. (Thank you Polar Express.)

We even spent some time by the fire pit with our neighbors.

All too soon, the sun started to slip lower in the sky and the air cooled, reminding us that it is still winter. But I'll take a 50 degree winter day when I can get. I'll file this day away for when it's 0 degrees out and we have a foot of snow on the ground.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Getting Organized in the New Year

Once the new year begins it seems that everyone is talking about getting organized. It's the topic of morning news programs, daytime talk shows, magazine articles, sale ads, and blog posts. Everyone, myself included is looking for a fresh start in their home. We want to clear clutter and organize our spaces so they function better.

I'm not one for resolutions, but I do try to set some goals for the year. To build in some extra accountability, I decided to share some of my organizing goals for the year. I'm actually hoping to tackle these in the next few months so they may get checked off my list sooner, rather than later. When taking these before pictures, I had to restrain myself from cleaning things up. It's a little embarrassing, but I'm keeping it real.

Organizing Goals for 2012 (so far):

-"Junk" Drawer and Cabinet in Kitchen

Everyone seems to have a junk drawer in their kitchen, but I also have a junk cabinet. Between the two, they house glassware, office supplies, Levi's art supplies, CDs, keys, gum, candy, coupons, and a mish mosh of other things. I know that these spaces are always going to hold a variety of items, I'd just like them to be more organized.

-Mail Center on Kitchen Counter

This one goes along with the first one. My mail center is working okay for me. I don't end up with mountains of papers, but I do still end up with little piles. Also, John dumps the contents of his pockets on the counters here and it drives me NUTS! I'm hoping to develop a system in this area to keep the counter clear and things stored neatly in the cabinet above or drawer below.

-Coat Closet in Laundry Room/Mudroom

One of the things we loved about this house was that it had a generous sized laundry room that also functioned as a mudroom. There are entrances from the garage and from the outside so it's the primary spot we enter and leave the house through. It has a nice big closet for all our coats and shoes. The big issue is the shoes. It can get pretty bad after a week of coming and going. I had recently straightened the shoes, so these pictures aren't so bad. Also, the shelf above gets things piled up and doesn't really help to organize anything.

-Closet in the Office/Guest Bedroom

I love this big closet, but it is another place that has many functions. Being in our office, it obviously has to store our office supplies. However, since it is a bedroom, it is equipped with a storage system designed for clothes. I organized it last winter, but it's not working for me (obviously). I've been doing more sewing and crafting projects and those items are also stored in here. The systems I have now don't make it easy to get out what I need when I need it. In addition, I'd like there still to be some space for a guest to put some clothes and their bags in the closet.

-Toy Storage in Family Room & Living Room

We don't have a dedicated play room/toy room in our house. Instead, we have a few spaces on our main floor where toys are stored, as well as space in the kids' rooms. The storage we have in our family room and living room is inadequate, especially with the addition of the toys received at Christmas.

I'll be making a trip to IKEA in a few weeks to purchase some items to help get things organized, but I'm not planning on spending a lot. I'll be utilizing what I have on hand and repurposing items. Of course, I'll share the results of each project once I have it done.

What about you? How are you getting organized in the new year?