Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Decorating and Homemade Applesauce

I don't know about you, but fresh fruit always seems like a good idea at my house. Unfortunately, we always end up with too many apples -- or my kids suddenly decide raman is a better idea. I hate throwing the apples away, so I've discovered this way, easy peasy recipe that's a pretty big hit.

Homemade Crock Pot Applesauce (with pictures even)

5-8 Medium Apples, peeled and cut into chucks
1/3 Cup Water
1 tsp. Vanilla
1/2 Cup Sugar (Splenda works great too)
1/2 tsp. Cinnamon

Place apples in Crock Pot.
Pour water and vanilla over apples then sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.
Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.

I've also been doing some decorating for Christmas. I don't go all out, but these are some of the small touches (and the tree):

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Apple-Bacon Bread

By popular demand (trust me, there was demand) here is the recipe for Apple-Bacon Bread. It's AWESOME and I have to make it tonight!

Apple-Bacon Bread

1 cup flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp butter, melted
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/3 cup crumbled bacon
1/4 cup finely chopped apple

Whisk together egg, milk and butter.
Slowly mix in flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
Fold in cheese, bacon and apple. (NOTE: Hormel real bacon bits work nicely for the bacon)
Pour into two greased mini-loaf pans.
Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.
Cool for ten minutes then serve. (it's good cold too!!)

* I generally bake toward the higher end of the baking time. This bread doesn't get very brown on the top, but it will be cooked completely in 30 minutes)


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Turkey Pot Pie and Brookeo

Good morning!! The weather's changing around here and it's time for comfort food. Last night it was also time for getting rid of the last of the Thanksgiving Turkey -- four days after is the deadline. I decided to make Turkey Pot Pie. I used cream corn in it. If you're a cream corn hater like me, don't turn up your nose. In this instance, it was really good. Here's the recipe:

Turkey Pot Pie

4 cups (give or take) of cubed turkey
1 can creamed corn
1 can green beans, drained
1 can sliced potatoes, drained
1 can cream of mushroom soup
Pepper to taste
1 cup flour
1/2 cup butter
1 cup milk

Mix together the first 6 ingredients and pour into a 9x13 pan.
In a bowl, cut butter into the flour. Mix in milk. Top the filling with the dough.
Bake at 350 for 1 hour.

Now, after the pot pie, a little chocolate seemed the thing and Brookeo seemed perfect. It's a weird name, but you'll see where that comes from:

Brookeo (pronounced Brook-e-o)

1 roll Toll House chocolate chip cookie dough
12 Oreo cookies
1 box brownie mix (9x13 size mix)

Press the cookie dough into the bottom of a 9x13 pan (I did not grease the pan as there is enough oil in the cookies). If the dough is really hard, as mine was, you can microwave it for 15-20 seconds to soften.
Place the Oreos in a large Ziploc and use your meat mallet (gently!) to crush the cookies. Crumble them over the cookie dough.
Prepare the brownies as directed on the packaging. Pour the mixture over the Oreos. Bake as directed on the box (about 26 minutes) then check the brownies. If they're still gooey in the center (mine were) bake for an additional 10-15 minutes.

A special thank you to Dakota Rebel for bringing Brookeo to my attention.


Monday, November 28, 2011

What Are You Doing?

Recently, I’ve discussed with several people my belief that every person should have a cause or a charity that they support. This is something I teach my children and to which I’m committed. We all have “missions” placed on our heart. It’s what gives us humanity; it’s what keeps our world running.

But more and more, our culture is inundated by what I call rampant self-absorption. People care less and less for number one. It has to stop.

Sometimes, it’s little things that make a difference, like holding a door for someone. Tossing some money in the bell-ringer’s tin. Saying thank you to the person who waits on you. Just being kind to others. Writing a letter to support someone or something you believe in—or to denounce something we hope politicians will shy away from.

Other times it’s bigger—

Wait. I hear some of you yelling, “Oh God don’t tell me I have to do something! I’m already too busy!”

No. Not saying that.

Look, I understand about busy. I have two jobs, two busy kids, a husband and a home to care for. I have a plethora of church responsibilities and commitments to my kids’ Boy Scout troop. I know busy. And I would never tell anyone to do one more thing.

But aren’t we lucky that we can support causes without leaving our homes?

I support several causes outside of church and scouts. Now, I’m not asking you to support my organizations. Far from it. Everyone should find their own niche. If you don’t truly care about the thing you support, you won’t be able to commit to it. I know people whose causes are mostly environmental, people whose causes are animal oriented, people whose causes are human based and people who mostly support things like The Arts and community beautification. All things come together to be important.

My causes are mostly people oriented.

One is my “pet” charity. I am an ardent supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Always have been, probably always will be. I’m so thankful that my children and the other people in my life have been relatively healthy. I want to help kids and families who aren’t so lucky. Since I’m not in the medical field, I do what I can from here.

I am also an avid supporter of The A21 Campaign which is an organization working to abolish human trafficking in the 21st century. This is something I want more than I can tell you, and something I’ll likely talk about again. Just to give you a picture of how big this problem is, a small snapshot of how prevalent, it is believed that there are 11,000 trafficked individuals in New York City alone. Eleven. Thousand.

I’m also committed to a children’s organization called Kid’s Hope USA. This organization partners churches and schools, mentors and students, so that kids in need have adults committed to caring for them. One kid to one adult for one hour. I can’t tell you how cool it is to get to a classroom and see the boy I mentor pop up all excited that I’m there, because he knows I’m there just for him.

Further, I’m involved in several literacy efforts. It’s my belief and the belief of many others that literacy is a key component to making many lives better, increasing people’s hope for the future and decreasing violence for now and generations to come.

Volunteerism and supporting causes enriches a life in ways that can’t be measured. It changes the volunteer’s life, it changes the donor’s life, it changes the lives of those who benefit.

I encourage all of you to look at ways, no matter how small, to volunteer or support a cause. When you find the right outlet, it will change your perspective on life. You might see how truly blest you are and how you can be the change, the light and the hope to another person who needs you badly—even if you never meet.

Please, if you're inclined, comment below and let us know the organizations and causes you support!

Lots of hugs and love,

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Thankfulness

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

I mentioned our family Thankful Tree the other day and I thought I'd give you a look.

Here are the plain branches:

I cut out 5 circles for every one:

And put ribbons on them:

The everyone writes what they're thankful for and puts their circles on the tree:

This was one of my favs (from my son):

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thanksgiving Cooking - Not a Big Deal

This coming Thursday, I'll be cooking Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings. Truly, I find it an exciting experience and look forward to it.

So many people I know, dread cooking the big feast. They worry over it. Don't! It's no big deal if you plan ahead.

If you haven't already, make your plan.

We're fairly traditional around here. I cook the same things every year. What are you planning to cook? Make a list. Run it past your family. Trust me, the one year I decided not to make green bean casserole, I disappointed my youngest son. It's one of his favorite things and he looks forward to it every year. I didn't know it. So check in, and make sure you're not missing something they really want.

Once you have your list, gather your recipes. Again, this should be done today, if you haven't done it already. Using your recipes, check your supplies then make a shopping list of what you need to pick up. Don't forget the turkey pan if you don't have a roaster. Also, determine your meal time and what time you'll need to start cooking. Look at your recipes. How long does everything take to cook? Make a simple timetable for yourself. This will help you to determine when you have to start what.

Go shopping today, Monday. Your turkey should go into the fridge to thaw today so you need to get it out of the freezer, or you need to purchase it. I talked about Door to Door Organics on my other blog two weeks ago. They're delivering my fresh turkey tomorrow -- something to consider for next year. Another thing to consider for next year. Traditional foods for Thanksgiving Dinners are on sale the beginning of November. Save yourself time, stress and money by purchasing what you can early. You won't have to fight the crowd or face the possibility of sold-out items. It happens. Make sure you mark the items as being for thanksgiving or set them aside so they don't get used early.

Tuesday is the last day to order pies, if you haven't already. Hand out Thankful Circles (see tomorrow for what this is)

Wednesday, you should pick up your pies. If you aren't ordering them or if you're doing other baking, do it today. If there are cold foods you can make ahead, make them. Also, check your turkey. If it's still feeling icy, you may need to put it in a cold water bath. This isn't recommended, but it's old-school and I've had to do it many a year when the fridge and the bird haven't cooperated. I've never run into adverse effects. I recommend starting the cold water bath several hours before you'll go to bed because you need to keep tabs on the water temp, make sure the bird stays immersed and put it back away overnight. Please be careful with your poultry. It needs to remain cold.

If your kitchen isn't in order, be sure to do a little work in there today. Make sure your stove, counters and sink are cleared and clean for your work tomorrow. It will start you on the right foot on Thursday.

Okay, the big day arrives. Thursday and you're going to be magnificent. People will sing accolades to you! It's time to get started. If you haven't done this before, don't panic. It's not that difficult. Cooking a turkey is a lot like cooking a chicken or Cornish hens. It just takes longer. You will do wonderfully.

Now, do me a favor before you do anything else. Open your oven and line the bottom with foil. I have foil on the bottom of my oven year round. It's a wonderful way to keep your oven spill-free. You only have to change it as often as you spill. Trust me, it will save you some scrubbing.

Once your foil is in, adjust your oven racks to accommodate your turkey. You'll probably have to put the racks in the two lowest positions. If your oven is quite small, you may need to pull out one rack and use only the lowest setting.

Once that's done, pull out your timetable. Remove the turkey from the fridge 1 hour before baking. Start preheating the oven to 400 for your turkey--the temp won't stay that high--and get ready to cook. That makes it sound like you'll be slaving for hours. Really, you won't. I've found that most Thanksgiving foods (other than the turkey) don't take any longer to make than anything you'll normally make on a weekday.

Now... The Turkey. Start by opening the wrapping then blotting the entire turkey (even the inside) with paper towel. The USDA doesn't recommend washing poultry before cooking. DON'T FORGET to remove the neck and giblets. You don't want to bake the bird with that still inside. There may also be plastic trussing that needs to be removed. Occasionally, there may be large deposits of fat in the neck area. Get rid of that too. Rub the cavity with salt and pepper. Spoon in dressing then place breast-side up on a roasting rack in a roasting pan.

Now look...I like butter and good turkey. For the past twenty years, I've been generous with the butter and have been rewarded with splendid birds. Carefully, lift the skin of the breast portion of the bird. Stuff pats of butter beneath. I usually use a whole stick. Then I press down the skin and rub butter over the entire portion of the bird not touching the pan (the bottom). Bake the turkey for 1/2 an hour at 400. This helps to seal in the juices. Then turn the heat down to 325. Depending on the weight of your bird, you'll bake 4-5 hours longer. Baste with pan juices and butter every 1/2 hour or so. When your turkey is ready to come out of the oven, plan on letting it sit for 1/2 an hour before attempting to carve it.

More on Thanksgiving tomorrow, including my Thankful Tree.

Have a great day!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Daily Cleaning Routine

So what’s my daily routine? Well…

1. Make the beds.
2. Check the laundry situation (I only wash laundry on Mondays so basically what I’m doing is making sure laundry is where it should be -- in the hamper.
3. Wash/wipe-down the bathroom sinks.
4. Change the bathroom and kitchen towels.
5. Check bathroom supplies.
6. Sweep kitchen and entryway.
7. Vacuum (my dog is a major shedder).
8. Straighten living area.
9. Wash and put away dishes.
11. Wipe counters and table.
10. Empty Trash.

That’s it. Pretty easy stuff…and then…there’s the stuff that’s once a week. But that’s another day.


Thursday, November 10, 2011


One of my greatest battles is against accumulation. It's one of the great home perils. STUFF! I don't know anyone who doesn't have this problem. To keep your house clutter free, you must be ruthless!

Here's what I do to combat it:

1. At least twice a year, I go through the closet and drawers and purge clothing to go to Goodwill or the trash. It is my rule that I will never give away anything that isn't in excellent condition.

2. Once a month, I go through my books to determine what will go and what will stay. I've switched over 99% to ebooks so this isn't much of an issue anymore, but books sneak in all the time whether for Sunday School, from conferences, or as gifts. And cookbooks. I have an extensive cookbook collection, but I'm constantly struggling to contain it.

3. Determine what isn't useful anymore. Recently, I purged my jewelry. I had stuff that was over 20 years old and in great shape that I never, ever, wore anymore. It want to Goodwill. Hopefully, it will find a good home with someone.

4. How many sets of sheets do you really need? I have two for each bed and extra pillow cases. I rotate them each week and replace them as needed.

5. Do you have appliances you don't use? Ever? Do you have duplicates?

6. Here's a tough one: how's your grocery inventory? Do you have food in your cupboards that's going to expire because it's lost in the way-back recesses? Do you know what you have? I know people who could go weeks without shopping because their cupboards are so well stocked with stuff they don't know they have. Also, a lot of people have impulse items they will never use. As long as it's still good, give it away to a food pantry!

7. Another toughy and one of my trouble spots: how many cleaning supplies do you really need? Most of your necessary supplies can fit in a normal-sized (you don't need a trolley to move it) caddy. You don't need duplicates of cleaners that all do the same thing. I have one exception to this. I always keep an extra toilet bowl cleaner, an extra Formula 409 and extra paper towels. That's just my thing. Otherwise, I keep the cleaning supplies pared down.

8. Speaking of towels... Do you have more than your family could ever hope to use in a week? Do you have enough to supply a co-ed run car wash? Cut back!

9. Mail is another thing. We get it just about every day. I open mine at the trashcan. Anything I don't need goes into the trash. Bills go into my bill bin (old copies get tossed) and the other rare items to be addressed go in my daily planner. I've found that at least 50% of mail gets tossed.

10. Daily pitch. Once a day, I walk around my house with a plastic grocery bag and look for things to be tossed. There's always something somewhere. It's a quick process. Pick up, toss, take to the outside trashcan. Don't think about it. To date, I haven't regretted one thing that's gone out. It's just clutter, not treasure.

These are just a few things. I'm sure you can find other things that "grow" at your house. I have others too.

Good luck and have fun with anti-accumulation! It's a wonderfully freeing experience.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Recipe: Wok Lasagna

This is one of my family's favorite meals and my son's girlfriend requests it when she comes over. I always double the recipe, but I'm listing the single here. It's fun and easy, but watch out for flying noodles!!

Wok Lasagna

6 Lasagna noodles, broken into pieces (this is the "Beware of flying noodles part". Really, be careful)
1 cup cream-style cottage cheese
4 oz. soft cream cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
3/4 lb. extra lean ground beef
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (15 1/2 oz) can spaghetti sauce

In a large pot, cook noodles. Drain, rinse and set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix cottage cheese, cream cheese, 1/2 cup mozzarella, Parmesan cheese and Italian seasoning. Set aside.

In the wok, brown the ground beef. Drain. Stir in noodles and sauce. Spoon cheese mixture over noodle mixture (at my house, I actually mix it into the sauce). Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella. Cover and cook over medium heat for 5-10 minutes (until the cheese is melted).

Serve and enjoy :-)

I generally cook the noodles at the same time as the meat to save time. Usually there's time to do the cheese mixture while the meat is cooking too. We accompany the lasagna with a salad, green beans and garlic bread.

Have a great day!


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My Dog Has Fleas...

Are you familiar with the silly song by Lorne Elliot, My Dog Has Fleas? That was going through my head this weekend, when I decided that mine did. I was wrong, thankfully. She's just a manic, itchy girl, but that's a different story.

Because of the scare, my Sunday plans went awry. I didn't work, but I spent some veg time, doing dog care I would rather have left for another day. But when you think your pet is suffering, you don't put things off for another day -- even if you want to. So...I did a bunch of research on how to rid the dog and house, because as I soon learned in my research, de-fleaing the dog is not enough.

So here's what to do if you find yourself in a fleaful situation:

1. Isolate your pet to a confined area. A good place would be the bathroom where the dog bath will take place.

2. Gather washables from the areas where your dog sleeps. Anything that can be washed should be.

3. Thoroughly vacuum anything that can't go in the washing machine. Follow that with a thorough vacuum of the carpeting and furniture (if your animal goes up on the furniture). Be sure to get under cushions and into crevices. Empty the vacuum immediately and seal the debris in a plastic bag or the little buggers will just crawl out.

4. Wash hard-surfaced floors, such as tile, wood or cement, where your pet might lay.

5. And now for the washing... By now, poor Fido wants to get out, but first, the part he or she hates. The bath. Now the reason the animal was confined is that fleas jump and flea eggs fall off your pet as he or she walks, shakes, rolls around so you'll have to do the whole vacuum/washing of the bathroom when you're done.

6. Start by wetting down your dog. Immediately and quickly, lather your dog's neck with the flea shampoo. Get all the way around. This creates a barrier to keep the fleas from crawling up onto the dog's head and getting in his or her ears and eyes. Proceed to thoroughly wash your pet, being sure to get deep to the skin. Then comb your pet with a fine-toothed comb.

7. Rinse thoroughly. If you see still-active fleas, repeat the washing/combing.

As a follow-up, experts recommend flea powder for the carpets. Generally, this stays in the nap and will last a year. You'll also need to get the fleas out of your yard. Your local pet store can recommend a good spray. You'll also need to treat your pet with an anti-flea product, such as the topical drops you can place on the back of the pet's necks.

You will also have to do the thorough vacuuming daily for a few days.

I also found this nifty ecological product that several people swear by:

I've ordered it, and I'll report back on how it works.


Monday, November 7, 2011

The Struggle With Perfection

One thing I've learned over the years is not to expect things to be perfect, especially when it comes to the house. When I first moved away from home, I went through a time of transition where I was trying to come to terms with what kind of house I'd have.

My first attempt was "the perfect place". My mom made sure our house got cleaned when I was growing up, but the sepulcher of the ideal -- at least to me -- was my aunt's house. I wanted to have that perfectly cleaned, beautiful home. So when I first moved from home with my then-fiance-now-husband, I tried to make our apartment like that. I was soon railroaded. 1. I didn't have the skills to keep a house like my aunt 2. I didn't understand overkill 3. My husband came from a very disorganized home. Today, he and I both believe that his mom is a hoarder and she learned it from her parents who had paths through their house. They are wonderful people and I don't want to disparage any of them. This is just his background.

So there I was, trying my hardest to be perfect and my husband accused me of being all "Sleeping With the Enemy". You know how it was: cans with all the labels straight, towels all aligned. Perfect, perfect, perfect. He used to tease me that he thought I'd start beating him if things weren't right.

I wasn't that bad. I would never have gotten physical or nasty over the house. However, to say I was militant wouldn't have be far off. I soon gave up the losing battle against his insistence that things were fine all over the place and against my lack of skills.

Thus emerged my second home. If I couldn't be perfect, then I wasn't even going to try. A complete disaster. Frankly, no one should have been living there. Ever. Things were such a horrible mess. It wasn't fit for two adults or for the two kids. I was exhausted by two babies and a house that was falling down around us. It needed more work than we had the ability or the funds to manage. I hated to cook there, and even when I cleaned, it didn't look clean. Here's the God-honest truth: I once lied to my best friend when she dropped something off to me and told her that my toilet was broken and that she couldn't come inside and use it. I was that embarrassed to have someone inside my house.

That was a breaking point. Then emerged my third home, not always perfect but definitely fit for people to live in. I enjoy having people over and don't have to fly into a frenzy at the thought of anyone showing up unannounced. Is the house perfect? No. It has a definite lived in appearance a lot of the time -- lived in, but clean and uncluttered. That's the key. It's way closer to perfection house than to slob house. I no longer freak about a book on the table or shoes left beside the door. I don't rush to wash the single glass in the sink. I don't manically wipe down surfaces.

But I do have routines and I do enjoy cleaning. That was a surprise to me when I came out of the dark ages of "second home". I like to clean and it energizes me.

I will talk about my routines on a different day. I don't try to be perfect anymore, let's just say that. But there are several things I do insist on every day. Here they are:

1. Beds have to be made. That's my number one. Obviously. That's where I just listed it. I don't care if nothing else in the house gets done, the bed needs to be made. This was another struggle with my husband. He was a member of the "why bother making the bed when you're just going to get back in it" club. I can report, he's much happier with the made bed. He even makes it when I'm away.

I'm insistent not just on my bed, but on my kids beds. There's been marked contentment ever since they've started coming home to their beds made. They're relaxed and willing to get right down to homework.

2. Clothes must be picked up. I live with three men. They tended to leave clothes where they drop. Not anymore, thank goodness.

3. Dishes must go to the kitchen. If you have a glass in your room, it better not stay there!! I try not to be mean about dishes. My boys are teenagers. Teenagers tend to take drinks into their rooms. I live with that. It's how it is.

That's it. My routines take care of everything else, but when busyness looms, these three things keep everything in line.

Moral of the post: Don't try to be perfect. It's self defeating. Some is better than none. And in case you didn't see it in the mentions of my husband, your family will likely rebel against any attempt to turn your home into a shrine of perfection. They want to live there and not be uncomfortable in their surroundings.

Have a great week!


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Day of Rest

I'm not writing this post on Sunday. That's just when it's going up.

For a really long time, I didn't observe a day of rest. You know what? I was gypping myself and my family. I didn't realize it until I started taking time off.

I promised I wouldn't bring religion into the blog and I'm not. This isn't about keeping the Lord's day holy. It doesn't matter what day you take as a rest day; you just need to.

On rest days, I try not to turn on my computer. There's a moratorium on work. Only the most basic of straightening is done: clothes in the hamper, beds made, dishes. Food prep is minimal and easy. Other than that, there is no real work. I encourage play and vegging.

Why? We push ourselves so much. During the work week, we tend to do long hours and try to fit in as much as possible. When the weekend rolls around, we try to squeeze in thirty-thousand activities and chores. We're so busy, we never give our bodies the opportunity to just slow down and catch a breath. Did you know that a huge number of people never breathe deeply? (in an aside: Not deep breathing raises your Carbon Dioxide level, increasing fatigue. A 2005 study showed that deep-breathing helped with handling depression, anxiety and stress-related problems.)

It helps the psyche to know there's a time coming when nothing will be expected of you. A time when you can just kick back and rejuvenate. A time when you can putter away at hobbies if you want to, get sucked into TV or movies without guilt, play games with your family without feeling like you should be doing something else, nap...

So today is a rest day for me and I'll be back at it tomorrow, more productive and ready to tackle the world. Have a great week!


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Settling In

It comes as no surprise to any of my friends that I've started a blog about home. It's the kind of person I am. Home is important to me. I say "home" rather than homemaking or cleaning or anything like that because there are so many things I want to talk about, so many things that bring me comfort and joy.

Comfort and joy is an interesting phrase. The original meaning of comfort was "to make strong" and joy means happiness, soul-deep peaceful happiness and contentment. This place, this blog, is about Brynn's strength and complete contentment. This is where I'll discuss the strange, sometimes neurotic, things that comprise my home and family, but it's also where I'll mention my societal beliefs.

It's my blog, so I can talk about what I want, but I'll keep politics and religion out of it. We all have such different systems of belief, I don't feel I should "preach". I am a Christian, but this isn't Sunday School class. And as for is my true belief that you should be informed and you should vote. It's your right and duty, but beyond that, no politician in recent history has ever lived up to his or her promises or the potential we believed him or her to have. We all must learn to live outside of the whole political circle. We cannot rely on government because it fails us, over and over. Instead we need to create harmony inside our homes and let them play their Washington games. Perhaps, one day, we'll be surprised.

Now, do I live in a perfect home? No way. When I'm on a demanding writing deadline, some things slip to the side, but I pick them up as soon as I can. But even when I'm slammed by work, there are things that must be done to keep a basic functioning home.

Do I have the perfect family? No. My husband and I squabble from time to time, but after almost twenty years, we've learned each others rhythms. My kids aren't perfect either. They're normal, okay also neurotic, teenagers. And frankly, a little spoiled. Mostly by me. But this isn't a blog about child-rearing. I'm definitely no expert. It's about everyday life and making the best of it.

I invite you to come along and "make the best of it with me".