Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tornado Season

I know it is a little early, Winter isn't even totally gone yet but, tornadoes do happen this early in the year.  My home was destroyed on March 10, 1986.  Thankfully, no one was hurt in our area and we were insured.  We weren't even home but it made me very aware that had we been home, we had no clue what to do.  We weren't prepared.  

Tornadoes happen so randomly that we tend to take it for granted that we are safe.  But if those sirens go off and there is a tornado on the ground, are you ready?  Do you know what to do?  Where to go?

I am not an expert by any means, but do some checking.  Find the safest spot in your home.  Obviously, a basement is the best but if you don't have one, find somewhere that will offer you the best protection.  This site from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a great section entitled "During a Tornado" that has wonderful tips.

You should also have an emergency kit.  Ready.gov has a "Build a Kit" has a great list of things you should have.  This kit is good for more than just tornadoes.  We keep our kit in the basement with our camping stuff so I have a way to cook, a tent, etc. with it.  I also have a couple of those little flashlights that you power by shaking them for the kids.  They feel better with light when power is out and this doesn't drain batteries.

Something else that is necessary is a weather radio.  You can get a relatively cheap one.  I have one on an app on my  phone as well but I don't depend on that.  When they start going off, they'll drain your battery quickly.  Whether you have an app or the actual radio, everyone needs a weather radio!

You also need a plan so the whole family knows what to do.  Everyone in the house knows what to do during a fire, they should also know what to do during a tornado.  It's about more than just where to go.  My family knows when there is a tornado "Watch" that we get things ready.  

**That's also something to know...the difference between a "watch" and a "warning".  A "Watch" means conditions are favorable.  A "Warning" means there is a tornado spotted whether visually sighted or 'radar indicated'.  Either way, don't ignore it.

Back to getting things ready, even though I keep the kit in a plastic tub with a lid in the basement, there are still things to get ready.  When things go to a tornado "Watch", I put a laundry basket at the top of the stairs.  In it goes a pair of shoes for everyone and a coat, the dog's leashes, my insulin and other meds, cell phone chargers, the weather radio and our family household book.  The household book is another post but it contains a lot of valuable information about our doctors with phone numbers, complete medicine lists, emergency contact numbers, and more.  With all of these items in the laundry basket, it makes it easier to get it to the basement if we have to go.  One of us will grab the dogs on the way down too.  It's a plan and we all have our parts.

We also have all of our information on a memory stick that is kept somewhere else with someone trusted.  That has copies (front and back) of our driver's license, social security cards, credit cards, birth certificates, marriage license, etc.  If your home is destroyed by a tornado, you may not have the physical cards and documents.  Imagine trying to replace these documents without having any way of proving you are who you say you are.  At least this gives you a place to start.  

Please take a moment to prepare your family and get a plan.  You don't want those sirens going off and wondering "what do I need?"  Plan now!  Be safe.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Do the right thing!

Bear with me while I drag out my soapbox for a moment.

I often remind everyone in the Winter to check on their elderly neighbors and shut-ins to make sure they are safe, that no one needs anything, etc.  It's the right thing to do.

Last night, the family and I were coming back from a meeting, it was dark and extremely cold.  My car's gas gauge is messed up so I watch the trip meter and gas up accordingly.  I failed to take into account that sitting, waiting on my son in the car rider line does NOT add miles to the trip meter.  

Yes, we ran out of gas.  In the dark.  On the highway.  The temperature was around zero.  We got to the side of the road with our flashers on.  Thankfully, our nephew was just getting off work and could come and help us so weren't stranded.  

In the 45 minutes between the car stopping and our nephew getting us going again, the highway was well traveled.  Yet, not one person stopped.  Four police officers passed us and not one stopped.  Now, I'm not advocating that you stop at night on the side of the road for strangers, that's not safe.  But, if you have a cell phone, call the police or whatever highway helper program is near you, notify someone.  We were ok, but what if it had been an elderly person?  Someone who had had a medical emergency?  Someone who didn't have a cell phone?  Someone with small children?  There are a lot of places without cell service.  Do the right thing, call it in.  

Along the same lines, is your car prepared for this weather?  I don't just mean the windshield washer fluid, oil & tire pressure.  Had we been stuck for a while, I do keep a heavy blanket in the trunk, some bottled water and I have a battery stick to charge the cell phone if needed.  I know there is more that I should have in there but like a lot of people, I take it for granted that I live in the city now and not the country.  I take it for granted that there is a gas station, quick mart or some other type of business nearby.  Although technically, I was still in the city, I was on dark stretch of highway with no businesses in sight.  It's too cold to take those chances when you have children in the car.

Oh, and make sure the gas tank doesn't get below a half tank!  LOL.

I'll get down off my soapbox and put it away if you will please, check on your neighbors.  Not just those who live next door.  If you see someone in trouble (or who could be), don't just shake your head and say "I hope they're ok".  If it's not safe for you to check on them, call someone who can.  That goes for our furry friends and family too!  

When temperatures are this cold, we have to remember that, as my Mom used to say, we're all in this together!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Changing routines!

So much has been going on around here!  Overwhelming doesn't begin to describe it.  The short version is that I have been in school to become an English Professor at the college level and am in my last semester of my Bachelor's degree.  I have decided (with my family's support) that I will continue on to pursue my Master's Degree. I was offered a job at Ivy Tech Community College.  Although it is currently part time tutoring in the TRIO program, it is still 20 hours a week.  I am also going to school during this semester so, in essence, I will still be gone from home almost as much as if I were working full-time.  

But the frugal part of me sees this as an opportunity to have the part time job pay for my Graduate classes.  It will take me a bit longer to get through my Master's courses but, cross your fingers, I won't end up with a mountain of debt when I am done.

This brings me to figuring out how to make this all work.  Although I have worked, it's been a very long time since I had full time out of the home hours.  I will work during the day and go to school a couple of evenings a week.  Plus my husband teaches late one night a week an on Saturdays.  Add to that, we are responsible for transportation for our son to and from school and all of his activities.  This should be interesting.  I know when I was a single Mom, working full time I had a system that worked well for us.  It's been over a decade since then so I'm working on tweaking that to make it a habit again.  Lord knows, without it, we'd eat out half the time and I'd have to devote every weekend moment playing catch up.  The first part of that is too expensive and the latter part I'm just too old for.  LOL.

To make things a little easier, I already do menu planning each week so that's not an issue.  The difference now will be taking some time on Sunday to do any prep work that I can do to save time through the week.  Since I do have two nights a week that I have classes, I have to factor in that those nights need treated differently as one of them is busy for my husband and son too.

Prep work would include browning any meat for the week's menus, chopping any veggies and portioning them out.  Casseroles can be made and put in the freezer, just make sure and take them out the night before.  Roasts can be browned for the crock pot and put in the fridge until needed.  If you cut potatoes, be sure to put them in a Ziploc full of water so they don't discolor.  You can brown hamburger for chili, tacos, sloppy joes, etc.  

The crock pot will be our friend on nights that I have class.  One of those nights, the hubby gets off at 5 downtown and our son has Scouts on the far south side at 7.  He's gotta get home, feed the short dude and get to Scouts.  The first week wasn't exactly a successful experiment with me starting the meal before I left and them finishing it.  So to the crock pot we go!  Many crock pot meals can be put together in a Ziploc baggie and frozen until ready to use.  Again, set the bag out the night before to thaw, then just pour into the crock pot and go.  

I also make a salad bowl (see a previous post) that lasts for several days and they'll eat it if it is ready.  I also cut up carrot sticks, celery sticks and put them into a Tupperware type bowl in the fridge with cherry tomatoes and whatever else you like on a veggie tray.  I keep a bowl or Ranch dip in there too, if it's easy, they'll eat it instead of something less healthy.  

I don't always make them eat only healthy, on Sunday, I'll also make the snack of the week.  Whether that is a batch of cookies, a pan of brownies or whatever.  This week I took some bananas that were turning and made banana bread and a couple of dozen banana nut muffins.  I toss them in a Ziploc and freeze them so they're easy to grab and toss in lunchboxes or to warm up for a snack.

There are more things but I'm still trying to remember what I did way back then and how to make it work now.  I'll add more to that later, as I remember.

I do know that the family calendar is a lifesaver!  I received this one for Christmas and I am loving it so far!

There is a line for each one of us plus a spot for notes.  It helps to keep things straight.  I'm playing with a calendar on my phone that supposedly you can share among family members, but I don't know how to share it yet.  My son ended up with it on his phone (I have no clue how) and he thought it was just on his phone so he started deleting things.  This, of course, deleted them on my phone too.  That was a nightmare so for now, we're sticking to old school and this calendar!  LOL

The other thing that really is helping a bunch is our message center that we created on the fridge.

Our thoughts are the top dry erase board is for "To-Do" list type of things.  Load the dishwasher, pack a lunch, etc.  The bottom one is reminders.  The Calendar says that Scouts are on Wednesday but there is a reminder note here for the hubby that Scouts are at 7 and where the meeting or drop off is (it's not always in the same place).  It has my son's nightly reminders as well.  

There is also a magnetic notepad for items needed from the Grocery.  There is also a magnetic clip for anything else that we need to make sure the other one sees.

I know it's hard to read in detail but the list under the pen cup is our weekly checklist for each room. This list is here because the men in my life are the "can't see the forest for the trees" kind of men.  So if they have a few minutes time to help me, they can see what's on this list and pick one.  Ideally, by the weekend, the list will have all items checked off.  Here is that list:
1.    Sweep floor
2.    Mop floor
3.    Clean out fridge
4.    Clean counter
5.    Clean stove & hood

1.    Clean mirrors
2.    Clean counter
3.    Sweep floor
4.    Mop floor
5.    Empty trash

1.    Vacuum carpet
2.    Dust
3.    Change sheets
4.    Clean TV screens

Living Room:
1.    Dust
2.    Vacuum
3.    Bag newspapers for recycling
4.    Straighten book bag area
5.    Return ‘strays’ where they belong

Dining Room:
1.    Clear Table
2.    Vacuum
3.    Straighten Jam area

Paperwork & Miscellaneous:
1.    Plan menus for next week
3.    Water plants
4.    Clean out vehicles & check fluids
5.    Check freezer stock
6.    Check pet food supplies

    This isn't a perfect list, but it's a start.  I am thankful that my guys are willing to pitch in and help out.  They know that we're a team and the goal at the end of this adventure will benefit all of us.  I know that I have to accept that they won't do things the way I would do them but they will be done.  And, theoretically, we should still have some time for us that doesn't involve catching up for the week.  I'll keep you posted on how it's working out!  LOL

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Super Bowl Food!

Next week is the Super Bowl and we can't wait.  I will say it's sad that there is so much controversy going on this year with "DeflateGate" and all.  My own personal opinion is they should be harshly punished for any cheating regardless of what team, Super Bowl or not.  It's as if these grown adults are currently only seeing money and fame and are forgetting that there are a lot of children who love the game and look up to these people.  And they example they set?  Cheating.  Now before I get blasted I know it was only one team in the media doing this right now but people aren't going to remember what happened in the first round of the playoffs, they're going to remember this cheating scandal.  And that's sad.  So come on people...remember the kids are watching!

We never go to Super Bowl parties because we have kids at home who have school the next day. My kids are not the type of kids that can stay up late and have a good day the following day so we've just always stayed home for the big game.  You can still have a Super Bowl Party at home!

Now back to the best part of the Super Bowl (if you're not going to the game that is)...the food!  I love watching football, so I don't want to be stuck in the kitchen cooking during the game.  There are a lot of fun foods that go beyond chips and dips that you can prepare ahead of time and are so yummy.

Our menu this year (and I will try to remember to take pics next week as I am preparing it) will include hot wings, taco dip, sloppy joe cups, lettuce wraps, cookies, hand pies, and I'm sure there will be add-ons as my guys think of more.

I know that sounds like a lot for our family of three but here's the secret.  Part of that is made with planned-overs.  When we had Tacos, I put the leftovers in a Ziploc and tossed it in the freezer, same with homemade sloppy joes.  The lettuce wraps are also starting with leftover baked chicken.  Even the hand pies are starting with pie dough I had left over after a Christmas order I had for the pies and I tossed it in the freezer.

Here's how it all comes together.  I bought frozen, uncooked chicken drummettes when they were on sale.  I know the drummettes cost a bit more, that's why I wait on a sale but for the amount of meat, I think it's more cost effective to get the drummettes.  I have a deep fryer but you can certainly do this in a dutch oven of oil, just be really careful.   I don't even thaw them.  I have the deep fryer set at 350 degrees and I fry the frozen drummettes for 12 minutes.  Don't over fill the pan and they'll cook better.  When they are done, I immediately coat them in the sauce.  I can't eat overly spicy stuff so, I mix Frank's hot bbq sauce with our favorite bbq sauce (for us, that is Sweet Baby Ray's) I mix it to taste.  I put it in a big bowl and using tongs mix the fried wings around it in.  I am not talented enough to toss them in the bowl...LOL.  I then put them on a cooling rack that is set on a sheet pan and put them in a warm oven to hold while I cook the rest.

The taco dip is so easy.  Basically, you take everything you like on a taco and layer it in a cake pan, sheet pan, whatever.  I start with refried beans (I mix them with a little taco sauce to thin them a bit) on the bottom, then taco meat mixed with black beans, cheese, sauce (if you didn't use some in the refried beans), tomatoes, shredded lettuce, avocado, sour cream, etc.  You can add jalapenos if you like.  Just use tortilla chips with this.  Easy.  I should add that you can serve this with the refried beans and taco meat hot or cold.

The sloppy joe cups are so easy.  I take cheap, biscuits in a can and put one biscuit in a muffin cup that's sprayed with non stick spray.  Kinda push them in so that they fill the tin and make a cup, add in a spoon or so of the sloppy joe mix.  Bake until the biscuit is done.  When they come out of the oven, you can add cheese on top.  Done.  It's nice that you can make these ahead of time and warm them just before the game.  

The lettuce wraps are leftover baked chicken and a packet from the grocery to make lettuce wraps.  Again, these can be made a head of time and warmed.  Just put the bowl of hot chicken mix out with some fresh cold leaf lettuce.  

The hand pies are something I began making because my husband and nephew are from the south and they love them.  It took a while to get the dough just right because I like a thin pie crust and that doesn't translate to hand pies well.  But, now I have it thanks to those guides you can buy for your rolling pin to prevent me from rolling it too thin.  Anyway, I have this neat little hand pie cutter thing that I got from Walmart, it's by Wilton.  it not only cuts out the top and bottom but then you can fill it and it crimps the edges too.  

So, for the filling you can use pie filling from a can or make your own.  Devon loves chocolate or butterscotch pie so you can even use pudding.  Just make sure the pudding is cook pudding and not instant or you'll have a liquidy mess.  I will use apple pie filling for most of them and make a few butterscotch ones for Devon.  I'll be using my Gram's recipe for the butterscotch filling and since it only takes a little bit, I'll put the rest in a graham cracker crust that I have in the freezer (also bought on clearance, I think you can freeze almost anything) and we'll have a pie for later in the week.  I do bake these instead of frying them.  Since the filling is done and they're eaten cool, just bake until the pie dough is done.  Once done, I put them on a cooling rack.  When cook, I sprinkle with powder sugar.  You could easily glaze them with a powder sugar/milk mix but it's all about easy for these!  LOL

Finally, the cookies will be whatever my son decides that he wants for the week.  We bake a treat on Sunday that is for the week.  So, I'll just set some of these out for the game too.

Drinks can be anything from water to soda to juice.  We don't drink very often at all here.  I'll have to see if hubby wants a beer for that night.

So you see, you can have a Super Bowl party at home and eat well even if you can't really go out because kids have school the next day.  So think and prepare now so that you know what you want for the big game and you won't be stuck in the kitchen the whole time!  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Make a Salad Bowl!

Hello everyone!  Our new semester has started at school, the last of those needed for my Bachelor's degree.  My husband and I have talked and I've come to the decision that I am going to go on and begin working on my Master's Degree.  It's such a scary decision but I'm going to do it!

In the past, I have always made salads up as I needed them thinking that they would go bad if I didn't.  I tried something a few weeks ago and I won't lie, I was surprised at the results.

I prepped a salad bowl for the fridge.  I put the salad greens in a big bowl, I prefer Mesclun mix but used Romaine as it was on sale this week.  I went ahead and put some thinly sliced carrots, celery, radishes, sweet peppers and mushrooms.  I bought some mixed salad tomatoes, grape tomatoes would work too, I just found these on sale (of course...LOL).  They are a mix of cherry tomatoes, yellow cherry tomatoes and chocolate tomatoes.  My husband prefers the lower acid tomatoes so I wanted to make sure to have some yellow ones.  Anyway, in little bowls, I'll put some diced up boiled eggs in one, some shredded cheese in one, some cucumbers in one.  You get the idea, if it is wet or will make the salad soggy, put it in a little bowl.  

I did this one Sunday evening thinking that I would have salad for the week since I'm trying to get more veggies in me.  I was shocked when my husband and son went to town on the salad.  Two days, TWO, and it was all gone.  So now, once or twice a week, I put together this salad stuff.  The whole family is eating more salads with more veggies.  If I would have put the celery, peppers and radishes, etc. separately, they wouldn't have added them to the salad.  They're getting more variety in their salads and not even noticing.  Even my son is now eating lighter dressings and not just Ranch!  I'm stunned and loving this.  

It's also saving money as I don't have produce hiding in the lower crisper drawer going to waste.  

I also have to add that if you have a Fresh Thyme Market near you, you really should check them out.  They will have awesome sales on a few items a week and the produce is phenomenal!  If  you can brave the crowds, go on Double Dip Thursday.  They will honor prices from the prior week's ad and the new week's ad both!  The last trip I was there, I left with 4 1/2 bags of produce for right at $19.00.  If you are near one, give them a shot.  Sometimes they will have great meat prices too!

Have a great week!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Holidays!

Hello everyone!  I hope you're all enjoying this time of year!  I've finished another semester and said a little prayer for my Political Science grade...LOL  It's also been a lot of hustle and bustle trying to get ready for the Holidays.  My husband taught his first full semester as a college professor so he was gone a lot dealing with the learning curve of settling in to a totally new type of job.  I've been visiting a lot of Christmas Craft Fairs with the jam business, which I must say has been so much fun.  

We laughed around here because it took us 9 days to get the tree up.  Yes, NINE days.  Just for the tree.  With everyone so busy, we did a little at a time.  A very little.  But it got done and it looks pretty good too!  It took another 2 days on one weekend to get the outside stuff up.  That was exciting to see since I got the lights last year on after-Christmas clearance for next to nothing.  I got lucky and even the picked over Christmas section at the stores yielded enough of the same type of lights that I was able to do the front of the house for under $25.  I'm going to have to really hunt this year's after-Christmas sales as my husband wants to turn our flagpole into a Christmas tree in the way the city of Indianapolis turns the Soldiers and Sailors Monument into a Christmas tree.  That's a LOT of lights.  

Back to the Christmas Craft Fairs.  I would really suggest that you check out some of these in your area.  There are some really wonderful things out there that people make that are unique gifts.  I didn't think to get a picture of it before I wrapped it, but I got my nephew a VERY cool bow and arrow toy (I wish I had gotten his information to share) that is safe for kids to use with nice padded tips on the arrows, is simply  made with some PVC pipe and kite string (it's nice that if the string breaks, it's just kite string and can be replaced), it doesn't shoot far, which is good for little kids and it is going to give me some serious "Great Aunt Points"!  LOL.  I have gotten some amazing goat's milk soaps and lotions from Solstice Sun Farms, I'm diabetic and have seriously dry skin and I'm amazed at how well they work.  I got my son a lotion that smells like Juicy Fruit chewing gum!  I found my grandkids some crocheted blankets in their favorite colors made by Favors by Design.  My granddaughter got some hair bows from MiaBownita.  She'll be so excited.  I was at a Christmas Craft Fair sponsored by the Special Olympics and there was a beautiful young lady with Down's Syndrome who made some beautiful bracelets that she was selling to raise money.  My grandkids got some of those too.  

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.  The point is that this is a wonderful way to support small local business people and crafts people.  You can get some really unique gifts that go beyond just buying the newest thing out there or the same old gift set.  Take the time, generally on a weekend, and go find a local show near you and just check it out.  You'd really be amazed at what you'll find.  
Tomorrow, I will have my grandkids here and have a little fun planned for them.  I'll get pictures and share in a day or so.  In the meantime, have a wonderful holiday!


I thought I'd edit this to add some local craftspeople I know (other than those linked above) to a list with links to how to find them.

Jennifer Wainscott makes diaper babies

Friday, November 28, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving All!

Hello everyone!  I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  If you're out braving the Black Friday crowds shopping, please be careful.

I know lots of people are sitting there with tons of Thanksgiving leftovers.  You can only eat so many turkey sandwiches, right?  Get creative and put your freezer to use!  I didn't host this year so I will be cooking turkey for us on Sunday.  

The first thing I do is cut as much meat off the carcass as I can.  Then I put the entire carcass (you might have to break it down if you have a smaller pot) and put it in a stock pot big enough to cover it with water.  If you truly have a small pot, nothing says you have to use all of the carcass.  I will add some of the same things into the stock that I used in cooking it, carrots, onions, leeks, parsnips, celery, etc.  You could even use some of the veggies from the veggie tray in your stock.  Be flexible and be creative.  Bring it to a boil and then reduce to simmer.  Skim off the gunky gray stuff.  Then let it simmer and do its thing for a while.  I like to simmer it for 2-3 hours, the more it simmers the more the flavors concentrate.  When it is done, I let it cool and then strain it.  From here you can cool completely in the fridge and then remove any fat off the top, it should be in a solid form then.  From here you can use it or portion it out and freeze it in Ziploc bags for later use.

A friend of mine showed us a picture of her freezer.  She'd taken some of her leftover turkey and make turkey pot pies, don't bake them and put them in the freezer.  When you're ready to use them, treat them just like you would those from the grocery.  Only they'll taste so much better.  On a previous post (Here) is a recipe that I use to make Chicken pot pies, you can simply substitute turkey in this recipe.

Turkey and dumplings is just as good as Chicken and dumplings.  There is a recipe for it on the same link above.

My husband looks forward to turkey Manhattans after every Thanksgiving.  This will use up leftover mashed potatoes, leftover turkey and the gravy too!

You could also turn leftover mashed potatoes into potato pancakes.  I'm sorry for no recipe here but I just kinda wing these.  If I have 2-3 cups left, I'll add an egg, some flour, some chives, some shredded cheese (not too much) and some bacon bits (fresh or packaged, it really doesn't matter).  My family loves loaded baked potatoes or kicked up mashed potatoes so they like kicked up potato pancakes too.  The dough needs to be stiff enough to roll into balls, about like peanut butter cookie balls before you squish them with a fork.  I flatten them and fry in a bit of butter, sometimes with a little bacon grease added for flavor.  Fry until brown and yummy.

Stuffing is a tough one.  But I've used it as a topping in the past when I've made the insides of the turkey pot pie and had more than I needed for the pie crusts I had.  Just put the extra pot pie filling in a casserole dish and crumble the stuffing on top and bake.  The stuffing gets all crispy and crunchy. 

At this point, if you have any turkey left, put sandwich sized amounts on wax paper and then put them on a sheet pan or cookie sheet and put in the freezer.  Once frozen, pop them into a Ziploc and you can grab what you need for sandwiches later.

Just some ideas for dealing with the Thanksgiving leftovers.  It should make some of the cooking during the days when you're shopping, wrapping or decorating and need a little help in the kitchen!

Be safe out there!