Saturday, October 22, 2016

10 Cool Weather Foods

As soon as the weather starts to cool, my menus change from summer menus to the soups and casseroles that we love. I'm saving the soups for another post, but am sharing links to some of the meals that have been seen on our table recently - or are on the list to have soon.

I wanted to call this "10 Comfort Foods," but right now I'm reading an excellent book by Lysa TerKeurst called Made To Crave: Satisfying Your Deepest Desire with God, Not Food. This is not a diet book, but a call to look honestly at our emotions and how they affect our food choices. Even a skinny person like me needs to consider what things I use for comfort instead of turning to God. I highly recommend the book.

Anyway...back to food...we do still need to eat. And here are some ideas for your fall menus.

Cheesy Enchiladas

Our Favorite Lasagna - make three, one for now and two for the freezer.

Chicken Stolzfus - my son helped me make this last night and my family raved

Slippery Pot-Pie

Chicken and Biscuits

Sunday Chicken and Oven Rice

One-Dish Pork Dinner

Hog Maw Casserole - We actually had this twice in the past week.

Three-Cheese Pasta with Sausage and Spinach

Meatball Sub Casserole

What is on your fall menu?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Sew Basic Dress Patterns

Cutting the fabric for a dress has always been my least favorite part of sewing. When I make a dress for my girls I first have to find my pattern pieces. Typically I select a sleeve pattern from one pattern, a skirt from another pattern, a bodice from a third. 

Then I start making adjustments. Most patterns don't fit our modesty standards so I add a half inch to a neckline, two inches to a sleeve, and maybe ten inches to a hem. 

Then, finally, I'm ready to cut out the fabric. The sewing itself is the fun part, except that with all my changing and adapting, sometimes pieces don't fit together well. I consider myself an experienced sewer and can usually manage to find a way to pull and push the pieces together. But it doesn't make sewing more fun.

But several months ago, Michelle Oberholtzer contacted me about the new line of patterns she was designing. This sounded exactly what I needed - simple, easy-to-sew, modest patterns.

Michelle started Sew Basic Patterns to help frustrated moms like me who just want a simple dress pattern for their girls without adjusting three different patterns to find one that works. Michelle just completed the first pattern in what (I hope) is a series of patterns.  Michelle gave me a sample copy of her girl's dress pattern to review.

The girl's dress pattern includes two style of skirt (gathered and fitted) and two sleeve options (gathered and fitted.) I tried both options and both fit together well. It was such a fun simple pattern to use. I made the pattern exactly as it was with no changes except for adding a small cuff or ruffle to the sleeve edge.

I've been teaching my daughter to sew, but I never left her cut out a dress because of the chaos of my pattern. But she was able to completely cut this dress out on her own. The pattern paper is sturdy and not like the thin tissue in many patterns and should stand up to lots of use. 

Patterns are available from size 1 to size 8. I used the size eight pattern. I was trying to make the dresses a bit too large for my seven-year-old. But they are quite a bit too big for her - she is a little bit small for her age. I don't mind, she'll wear them some day and I have more little girls coming along behind her. From what I can tell, the measurements are very accurate so take that into considerations when deciding which size pattern to purchase.

You can purchase Sew Basic patterns at Etsy or contact Michelle at sewbasicdresses I'm hoping these pattern sell well and Michelle is inspired to continue on into junior sizes - which I think are even harder to find than girl's sizes.

Thanks Michelle for serving us moms with your well-designed patterns.

Disclaimer: I received a free pattern, but all the opinions in this review are my own.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Bookmarks - The Underground Railroad

Before the Civil War, many slaves risked their lives to flee north to find freedom. The Underground Railroad was a loosely organized system to help these slaves escape.  This topic might not be pleasant to think about, but I think it is important part of our nation's history for my children to know. Some of these journeys to freedom have been recorded in children's picture books. Here are a few of my favorite.

(Post contains affiliate links.)

Night Boat to Freedom by Nargot Theis Raven, Illustrated by E. B. Lewis
Christmas John watches Granny Judith dye thread and dream of freedom. Based on true stories told by former slaves, Night Boat to Freedom contains masterful paintings that depict the moonless journey across the Ohio River.

Almost to Freedom by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, Illustrated by Colin Bootman
Lindy takes her rag doll, Sally, with her everywhere – even on the Underground Railroad. Sally narrates the journey, and oil paintings bring color to her story.

Moses—When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Harriet Tubman is the most famous “conductor” in the Underground Railroad. This book shares her deep faith in God while reliving her escape from slavery with fabulous paintings.

Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine, Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Henry’s longing to be free gave him the courage to mail himself to the north. Paintings show the emotions of the slaves who were willing to take great risks to escape slavery.

Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass by [Cline-Ransome, Lesa]

Words Set Me Free, The Story of Young Frederick Douglass by Lesa Cline-Ransome, Illustrated by James E. Ransome
A six-year-old boy with a longing to learn to read is thwarted because of his skin color. Based on his own written accounts, this book shares the story of Douglass’s childhood. Brilliant oil paintings add drama to the account.

Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter
Molly, James, and other slaves use the song taught to them by Peg Leg Joe to reach freedom in the north. This is an account of one method used by the Underground Railroad to free slaves. Follow the Drinking Gourd by Bernardine Connelly is a similar book with the same title.

Ain't Nobody a Stranger to Me by Ann Grifalconi, Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

A grandfather tells his daughter about his journey to freedom and the kindness he was shown along the way. The illustrations depict the joy of springtime orchards and fear of a dark river journey.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Homemaker's Attempt at the Ivy Lee Method

I think I'm efficient and productive but recently I've been feeling like my mind is a trying to keep a dozen tops spinning, and, as a result, it is flying to pieces. Too often I go through my day responding to emergencies, muddling through my tasks, and feeling like I've accomplished nothing at the end of the day.

I've been hearing about the Ivy Lee method recently and I decided to adapt it for my life as a homemaker and homeschool mom. The basic idea is these six steps.

1. At the end of the day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. NO more than six.

2. Prioritize these six in order of importance.

3. In the morning, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first is finished before moving on to the second task.

4.  Continue down the list, one task at a time. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new six-task list for the next day.

5. Repeat each day.

I found that writing no more than six items was key. I have a tendency to write down everything I hope to do on my to-do list. I also don't usually write down the obvious things that I do every day - like laundry. Or meal prep. Or Bible reading. So I started listing those things on my list of six. Then at the end of the day I can see that I actually did accomplish something, even if nothing "extra" got done.

I didn't sweat about prioritizing, because I never work on one task until it is done. Never. I might start reading my Bible, then jump up to make Ed's lunch, or start breakfast, or the baby wakes up, or....But whenever I'm interrupted, I try to come back to my interrupted task as soon as possible. Even if it is an hour later.

Some tasks such as laundry need started, then I move onto the next task, keeping in mind that laundry will need attention throughout the day. Having meal prep on my list doesn't mean that I'm necessarily making meals at eight o'clock in the morning but seeing it on my list does mean I've been better at making a plan for my meals instead of waiting until four o'clock.

I'm not sure why but this simple six-task list has been helping me keep my mind on what I need to be doing. Maybe it is the fact I'm spending time the night before thinking about the coming day. Maybe it is the fact that I see "Bible" on my list first every day. The first four items on my list rarely vary (Bible reading, laundry, school, meals). The fifth and sixth item are often an "extra" job, maybe canning pumpkin or sewing a dress. Often these are the tasks that get written down several days before finally getting done.

I'd love to hear if you have found a simple method to make your homemaking more efficient.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

September Confessions

I started blogging eight years ago.

And never have I taken off an entire month from blogging.

Until last month.

I didn't plan it. August was the normal summer crazy busy, but I held onto hope that September would be different. September would be a fresh page. In September I would find a better routine, scrape the tomato splatter off the kitchen cupboards, catch up on the laundry, and have time to enjoy books with my children on the couch.

 I should have known better. I've had many other Septembers and they are all the same. August may be busy, but September is worse. Produce keeps showing up in my kitchen. We started school, but the fresh routine didn't go smoothly those first weeks. I always have a few school books waiting for me to check. I try to run faster and work harder, but I can't catch up with laundry and I ignore the sticky floor while I fill more jars. The baby decided she isn't a baby any more. She is learning to climb and her little grasping fingers find ways to reach things that have been put up out of her reach. The older children are a huge help, but keeping six children occupied takes more managing skills than I possess.

At the end of the day I have that knotted feeling in my stomach that comes from frustration.

I have more reasons to be grateful than to be frustrated. Even though my garden didn't grow well this year, I have shelves full of filled jars thanks to friends who shared their extras. I get to spend every day with six of my favorite people. The two-year-old's vocabulary  makes us laugh every day. I enjoy wonderful books and great conversations with my children, every day. That busy baby has a huge grin that charms everyone who sees her.

It didn't take long to figure out why I was frustrated.

A mom's work is never done but usually I can get caught up enough by the afternoon to take a quick break during the little girl's naptime.

But in the craziness of the last month, I was irritated that I never got caught up enough to be able to sit down without thinking of the twenty undone tasks still hanging over me. The way I dealt with interruptions (you really don't want to know) revealed how selfish I am..

Alexander Pope said "Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed." He might be right though I prefer David's quote on expectations..
"My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him." Psalm 62:5
There is One who never disappoints.

Which brings me to another problem I faced the past month - Bible reading. Actually it has been a problem for months, but I faced the problem and attempted a cure the past weeks.

September, like January, is a great time to evaluate progress and build new habits. I knew that my Bible reading was at an all-time low. I don't think there has been a time since I became a Christian that I've read my Bible so infrequently as this summer. (I warned you with the title that this post was going to be a confessional.) I haven't always done well at waking early enough to read my Bible in the morning but I usually found time later in the day, maybe at naptime. For years I have made it a goal to read my Bible before I check email.

I can give a whole list of excuses why my Bible reading has dribbled this summer, but they will only be excuses. I know that I find time for anything important so obviously reading my Bible hasn't been important enough to make time for it. And I miss it.

Do you start to get the idea why I've been online less the past month? I've needed to step back from some other distractions. Maybe I'll share in a future post a simple method that has been helping me focus on my priorities.

But lest I sound depressed (since I'm really not) I'll state that September was a very good month in many ways. Here is a small glimpse.

My boys hooked a drill to my food mill and made applesauce faster than ever.

We spent two wonderful days in Colonial Williamsburg. (Maybe I'll write more about this later.)

Ed has been spending his extra time in the basement playing with his new tool. He plans to use this cnc router in his signmaking and some other projects still in his dreams.

Our boys used the router packing crate to build a hut in the pasture - and slept in it two nights. This overgrown pasture has been their paradise this summer with constant building projects.

This girlie loves to help her dad with clean-up. (Don't ask why she is wearing a nightgown and rainboots.)

I also enjoyed meeting some Home Joy readers this past month - both in our home and at PennValley's ladies seminar. It is always fun to learn that there are real people reading here.

Now I'm enjoying October, relishing an emptier calendar, gloating over a full pantry, and pulling out all my great fall recipes using pumpkin, apples, and cinnamon.

And hopefully I'll be writing about it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Simple Summer Meals: Shortcuts

The past week I have needed shortcuts. I love watching jars fill with peaches, applesauce, grape juice, and tomatoes. I have wonderful helpers this year and am amazed at how much faster these projects take than a few years ago. But it still makes busy days and simple meals became priority.

I feel a little silly admitting this but I find it hard to take shortcuts. I love to cook from scratch. I like to make my own bread, rolls, tortillas, granola bars, and crackers. In the summer I walk through the grocery store arguing with myself. I don't need that; I can make it myself. No, you can't; you are too busy; just buy it.

So whether your busy season is August, December, or May -

Whether you love to make your own bagels and peanut butter or your idea of from-scratch cooking is adding toppings to a frozen pizza crust -

I'm giving you permission to take whatever shortcuts you need in your busy seasons.

Without guilt. Just do it. Buy that frozen pizza. Pick up that pack of granola bars. Hide a loaf of bread behind the carrots in your cart. Do what works for you in this season of life.

And I'll try to take my own advice.

Besides making extra purchases at the grocery store, I also try to stock up on homemade time-saving meal ingredients.

A big one for me is canned meat. The other year a friend told me how much she loved having canned chicken. I tried it and now I don't know what I would do without a few jars of canned chicken in my pantry. I buy a 40-lb box of boneless, skinless, chicken thighs at our local butcher shop and pressure can it in jars. It makes such a fast start to so many different meals. Having some pre-cooked ground beef in the freezer is also a great time-saver.

I also like to have a selection of pre-cooked dried beans such as kidney, pinto, navy, and black beans. These I also pressure can so they are ready to add to salads, enchiladas, and other meals. (The directions for canning dried beans is one of the most read posts on this blog.) I also cook a crock-pot full of refried beans and freeze them in pint containers for quick quesadillas and dips.

Yeah...I know. I could just buy cans of beans. I told you I have issues.

Dried seasoning mixes also get used hard in the summer. A few minutes mixing up various mixes make a difference on a busy night. Here is six of my favorite mixes.

I didn't do it this summer but some years I have mixed up a fruit crisp topping and fruit cobbler topping. (For fruit cobbler I use the muffin mix recipe and pour it over fresh fruit in a baking dish.) This makes super easy desserts with various fresh fruits during the summer. I should mix these up for some apple crisps or cobblers this fall.

Now your turn. I know summer is nearly over, but can you share your favorite meal shortcuts? Maybe next year I'll remember to look back on this list early in the summer.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Simple Summer Meals: The Pantry

A list of simple summer meal ideas is valuable.

But if all I have is some tomatoes and green beans, my meal options are limited.

Far too often I get to four o'clock and start flipping through my meal ideas. I'll make a quiche; oops, no eggs. How about stir-fry? No rice. I can put together some sandwiches. No, I don't have bread or rolls.

For me, the key to simple meals is a well-stocked pantry. And I find that more difficult in the summer than winter.

I'm not sure why. I tend to be at the grocery store far more often in the summer. I might want a watermelon for a picnic or stop in for some more jar flats. Maybe I'm going to pick up peaches and make a quick stop at the grocery store on the way past or maybe I'm shopping for a camping trip. It would seem that more frequent stops at the store would result in a better stocked pantry, but somehow it doesn't work that way for me.

I think it all has to do with planning. When I make a quick stop at the store, I pick up whatever is my pressing need or the items that happened to make it to my grocery list (if I remembered to pick up my list on the way out the door.) When I am at the store more rarely, I do a better job at preparing for the shopping trip before leaving the house.

In the winter I tend to go on a big shopping trip about once a month. I use my master shopping list to go through the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room to find out what I need to add to my shopping list. Those few minutes of preparation are given back many times over when I reach for a box on the shelf, find it nearly empty, and realize I picked up a new box the last time I was at the store.

This is clearly a case of not always doing what I know I should do. I know that nothing wastes time like an extra shopping trip because of lack of planning the last time I was at the store. I know that it is more fun to cook when I have a well-stocked pantry. I just need to slow down enough to prepare before my quick stop at the store.

My challenge for you...decide on some simple meals that your family loves and figure out what ingredients those meals require. Commit to having those ingredients in your pantry or freezer at all times. For me that means items like rice, eggs, rolls, and tortillas. Your list may be completely different. Whatever it takes for you to feel like you have quick options on hand to put together a meal for your family.

In the next post I'll share some shortcuts that I take in the summer, but in the meantime I'd love to hear your hints on keeping a well-stocked pantry in the summer craziness.


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