Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Kids' Summer Cooking 2018, Week 1

Summer vacation!! Woohoo!! After a whirlwind of a finish to the school year, a graduation celebration, and a couple road trips, we are settled into our summer routine. More about all that later. But that means the kids are cooking dinner! Each kid is cooking one dinner each week.

Week 1
Keanna: creamy pesto with bow tie pasta and Greek salad (Kimiko's salad recipe here)
Lukas: pancakes (see Kimiko's recipe here)
Koda: pizza with homemade dough (focaccia as the crust!)
April: baked potatoes, chili, and broccoli

Meanwhile, as the kids are enjoying swimming lessons, summer reading time, play dates, and more time outside, I am preparing for next school year. For the fist time, I will be teaching a video production elective. Consequently, I'm having to produce some example videos to show my students what my expectations for them are. Using pictures I had readily available on my phone, I threw this video together while experimenting with Adobe Spark. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Taming the Kids' Dishes

I actually enjoy doing dishes. Most of the time. The warm water. The clean kitchen afterward. It's rewarding to me. But that doesn't mean I want to be doing dishes all the time.  During the school year, I have very little time at home with my family. As much as I like clean dishes, I was saddened by the fact that I had to say "No" to other things to get them done. Yes, ideally, my kids should be doing all the dishes by now. But due to our season in life and our daily schedule, that's just something we can't do right now.

A few months ago I finally got fed up with the amount of time I was spending on dishes, and I took a drastic step--I donated all the plastic kid dishes.* Seriously. We had about a dozen Pampered Chef plastic plates and various Ikea kid dishes. That was one of the problems. We had too many dishes. With so many dishes in the cupboard, the kids felt like they could get a dish out any time they wanted. We had trained them to rinse their dishes and put them in the dishwasher (or the sink if the dishwasher was full/clean/running). But I still spent so much time unloading the dishwasher, hand drying the plastic stuff that didn't dry in the dishwasher, reloading the dishwasher, and hand washing all the dishes that didn't fit in the dishwasher. With our crazy schedule, there were always dishes in the sink.

"I donated all the plastic kid dishes."

With my cupboards empty, I replaced the old kid dishes with nine new kid dishes. Each of the younger ones has exactly one plate, one bowl, and one cup. These are the only dishes they are allowed to use. After each use, they hand wash, dry, and put their dishes away. Each kid has a different color so there is no arguing about who left their dishes out or who forgot to clean theirs. Keanna is old enough to use the real, grown-up dishes so I didn't buy her a set.

"Each of the younger ones has exactly one plate, one bowl, and one cup... After each use, they hand wash, dry, and put their dishes away."

Kid dishes go in the lower cupboard for
easy access by little people.

I bought these at Target for $0.79 each. They have a lot of color, size, and style options. All of them seem to stack very easily and neatly.

There was some whining and complaining the first couple of weeks, but now they know what is expected and they do it with happy hearts. An added bonus is that they kids now think twice before using any dishes. It is very rewarding to see my kids learn the skills they will need as an adult and take ownership over a small part of dish duty. And it's nice to be able to spend time the extra time doing things with my children.

*I actually did keep a few of the old plastic dishes for when the nieces and nephews and neighbor kids are here,but they are out of sight, out of reach of my children. I am considering getting rid of those and getting a few more sets of these Target ones in a different color.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Backpack Storage

Why do we put up with inconveniences or inefficiencies for so long before we act upon them? My latest "Finally!" moment dealt with our backpack area. In my mind, my children would come home from school every day, neatly line up their backpacks against the wall under the chore chart, hang their coats in the coat closet, empty their lunch bags and return them to their backpacks, and my nook would always stay picture-perfect clean. Yeah, I'm not sure whose kids were in that fantasy. Or which mom, for that matter. The truth is that if I reinforced it everyday, it could happen. But after a l...o...n...g day of teaching, being the backpack police is the last thing I want to do.

About six months ago, I was looking at the backpack hooks at school. "We should do that at home." Six months ago. Yeah. I knew the solution but had just gotten so used to putting up with the chaos that I didn't act immediately. Well, the latest Costco coupon book lit a fire under me. They currently have a 2-pack of hook racks for $14.99!!

That price was just too good to pass up. I may end up grabbing one or two more before the coupon ends on April 8. Unfortunately, this product is only available in-store.

The box includes the screws and wall anchors for hanging. And although the enclosed directions were less than helpful, it only took me about 20 minutes to get these on the wall, including trips to the garage to get supplies. The directions say you only need a pencil and a screwdriver--that's a lie.

Tools needed:

  • pencil
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • level
  • drill and bits (I ended up using the largest drill bit I could find. Sorry, I don't know what size it is.)
  • hammer
  • vacuum

To get enough room for three backpacks, I hung both racks side-by-side. I also hung them into the drywall only as the holes did not line up with any studs. Regardless, they are solidly on the wall, and I have no fear of them falling with the weigh of the backpacks.

Since hanging them up, I have only had to remind one child one time to hang up his backpack. The hooks themselves are a reminder of where school things belong. And my boys have commented about how much easier it is to get things in and out of their bags when they are hanging as opposed to sitting on the floor.

Another bonus: I can more easily sweep/vacuum the floor in this area.

When summer vacation comes and the backpacks go into storage for two months, these will become our swimming lessons/pool bag hooks. We're all looking forward to that!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Clark Summer Cooking Adventures, Part 2: April's Waffles and the Perils of Cooking

By far, the most popular things to make for dinner among the Littles are pancakes and waffles. They would eat pancakes and waffles for three meals a day if I let them. During the summer when they are doing the cooking, the rule is that only one of them gets to make breakfast for dinner each week. And we rotate who gets to do it. April got the first round of waffles this summer.

As I write this, I'm realizing that my favorite waffle recipe isn't yet on Near to Nothing! I'll have to post that soon. It's a yeast-risen waffle recipe which is great because you put it together the night before (for breakfast) or the morning of (for dinner) and let it rise in the refrigerator until you are ready for it. Kimiko's go-to waffle recipe can be found here.

In the shuffle of April's waffle day, we did not get the yeast recipe mixed together in time, so we went with the regular waffle recipe out of The Joy of Cooking

As I've said before, I try to let my kids do as much of the cooking as they can do on their own. April is now six years old and can do quite a bit on her own. For the waffles, she measured the dry ingredients (as I challenged her to double fractions), cracked the eggs, poured the wet ingredients that I had already measured out, mixed the batter, and poured the batter into the waffle iron. I took the done waffles out of the iron and transferred them to the oven to stay warm.

Batter should be lumpy. 
I LOVE my double waffle maker!

Sadly, this cooking adventure took a bad turn, and I don't have any pictures of the rest of the process or the finished product. The kids love canned fruit, but I hardly ever buy it. Since April was cooking breakfast, I splurged and bought canned peaches and mandarin oranges. April successfully opened and poured three cans of mandarin oranges into the serving bowl. But the peaches got her. :( As she was preparing to pour the peaches into the bowl, she sliced her thumb on the open can lid. It was a pretty clean cut, such that it took her a few seconds to realize what happened and it didn't start to bleed right away. But once it started bleeding, it bled and bled. After washing her up, wiping her tears, and applying a band-aid, I finished making dinner by myself while she rested on the couch.

Even though April's waffle night didn't end as planned, we still had a delicious breakfast dinner and she had a great time working in the kitchen up until her injury. Despite the painful experience, she's looking forward to her next turn to cook dinner. And because of her painful experience, I know she'll be extra careful with cans from now on.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Clark Summer Cooking Adventures, Part 1: Koda's Mac 'n Cheese

This is the best fact I could get out of him, silly boy.

It's summer! And that means my (Sumiko's) kids will be doing the cooking! Each kid is in charge of cooking and cleaning up dinner one night each week. Of course, they have Mom's help and guidance, but I let them do as much of it as they can.

Making the roux.

First week's meals are as follows:
Koda: stove-top mac 'n cheese
Keanna: penne rigate with creamy pesto and Japanese cucumber salad
April: waffles
Lukas: chimichangas and bean dip (he's my burrito boy!)

We started last night with Koda's mac 'n cheese. You can find the recipe on my baked mac 'n cheese post. The kid-preferred stove-top variation is mentioned toward the bottom.

One thing that I love about cooking is that it is a great teaching opportunity. As we cooked, we talked about the science behind what we were doing. Why do we add flour to the cheese sauce? To thicken it. How does flour thicken things? The individual flour granules act like little sponges--they soak up the liquid and swell up. Why do we stir the flour into the butter rather than just mix it directly into the milk? To separate the flour granules before they swell so we don't end up with lumpy cheese sauce. I love it! I get one-on-one time with one child, dinner gets made, they learn a life skill, and they learn the concepts behind cooking so they can apply them to other dishes.

Another great benefit of having the kids cook for everyone else is that it teaches them to serve and be grateful. Koda was so happy to make macaroni and cheese for his family. And they were so appreciative. Every other kid complimented him on his dish without prompting. My heart swelled as I sat at the dinner table and heard the kids showing love to each other. Having the kids cook means more time prepping dinner and more mess, but it is a small price to pay for the character rewards gleaned.

Proud of his accomplishment!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Homemade Deodorant

Homemade Deodorant
Folks, I have stopped buying deodorant.  Early last year, I came across a recipe for deodorant that I had heard worked incredibly well.  I was a little skeptical, but also intrigued, so I filed it away mentally and moved on with my life.  The deodorant I had been using was no longer working.  I had to apply several times a day and it still didn't work.  So one day, out of desperation (and curiosity), I searched for the recipe and mixed up a batch.  I was surprised and amazed at how well it worked.  I continued using it, testing its limits (hey, I'm a mom and don't always get a shower), and I'm happy to say that it hasn't disappointed.  I told my sister about this amazing new discovery, and after a few months of her not trying it, I finally mixed up a batch and gave it to her.  She's now hooked too!  And she's also got her husband hooked.  And her 12-year-old daughter. I don't think I've ever used a deodorant that worked as well as this...nor was as cheap as this!  The great thing about it is that it is made with ingredients that I already had, and many of you probably have them as well.

Natural, homemade deodorant

Homemade Deodorant
1/4 cup baking soda
1/4 cup cornstarch
6 Tbsp coconut oil
Essential oil (optional)

Mix until it's well-combined into paste-like consistency.  Place in a lidded Tupperware-type container, jar, or an empty deodorant dispenser.  If you want a scent, you can add some essential oil to it.  I don't add any scents to mine.

I store mine in little condiment cups I found at Smart & Final, but you can put it in any container/jar with a lid.  The ones I use are similar to these.  One batch filled up three cups. To apply, I just put a little on my finger and apply.  Just be careful when putting on dark-colored shirts, as the baking soda and corn starch may leave a little bit of residue.

Sumiko whipped up a batch and put it in an old deodorant dispenser.  Since it's winter and her house is cold (read: frigid :)), it works well.  She said she just has to be cautious that she doesn't twist out more than she needs, because it doesn't twist back down.  Also, if your house is warm, it may be too runny for this.
Twist out contents completely.

Remove product from plastic base. Return base to container.

Just twist and apply.

Seriously, I can't believe I'm this excited about deodorant, but I am.  Give it a try!  I think you'll like it!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Great Purge of 2017

Things. We have too many of them. And they are taking over our lives.

A simple Google search of "getting rid of stuff" returns over 3 million results. As a society, we recognize the fact that we have too much--so much that our possessions are getting in the way of more important parts of our lives. Yet we also live in a very consumeristic, materialistic society that always wants more.

Since this is the beginning of a new year, I recently sat down and looked at my purpose statement, mission statements, and long-term and short-term life goals (that will have to be a different post). For my home, my mission statement reads as follows: Maintain my home as a refuge and sanctuary where my family can thrive and grow and others can be refreshed and encouraged. My someday goal for my home reads this way: Live minimally and with organization and systems such that the care of the home is a joy and not a consuming burden.

How many partial bottles of dried paint do I need? NONE!
In order to fulfill my mission and reach my goal, I need to seriously deal with the THINGS. The STUFF. Not that I haven't been trying to do that the past few years, but this year I am going to make a noticeable difference in my house. The plan requires a two-fold approach. First, we are going to control what comes into the house. Second, we are going to get rid of at least 2017 things this year. Thanks to my friend Debbie for this idea!

As I write this, we are five days into the new year, and I've already gotten rid of more than fifty (50!) items! Throughout the year, I will post updates on my progress here on the blog as well as on our FB page. If you would like to join us in our quest to reclaim the space in our homes and the time in our day, please comment to let us know. The communal encouragement will help us all be more successful.

These are the ones I got rid of. I counted every
three as one item.

BTW, one of my favorite articles about getting rid of stuff can be found here.
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