Monthly Archives: February 2013

Here’s a blog post from “Down Under” that I stumbled upon this morning. Breathtaking photos. I can’t imagine farming in such dry country, and yet somehow they are managing.

R e d t e r r a i n

Yesterday Mike and I spent the morning driving around the property checking the water and the stock.  We do this every second day, due to the fact that sheep are in fact very fussy water drinkers and we need to keep an eye on the feed.

A lot of sheep will avoid drinking water if there is dust settled on top.  It’s been very dry, and sadly not much of the feed is left, so the sandy ground has become exposed and is blowing all over the place.

We also spent time laying down a line of oats for the merinos who are in desperate need of energy.  You’ll see a trail of yellow in the photo below, which is scary how obvious it is when there isn’t much else around.  Our pets are free to roam around our house, driveway and shearing shed yards.  It’s safe to say they…

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Review: Free Printable Blog Planner from Homeschool Creations

Here’s my very first review for the Mosaic Reviews Team, from Homeschool Mosaics. Members of the review team were given a list of free blog planners to choose from. It was a difficult choice! I might have chosen a one-page planner that sort of hit the highlights, or a blog planner that had a nice introduction to blogging and a mini-lesson on setting priorities.

But the Free Printable Blog Planner from Homeschool Creations really spoke to me. I almost passed it by, at first glance. I found 63 planner pages to be overwhelming. I barely have enough time to keep up a blog as it is… and yet, as I perused the pages I found so much practical help that I kept reading. I can also reassure you that you don’t really get 63 unique pages to agonize over. Much of the planner is made up of the same few pages, 12 copies of each, so that if you print the planner and bind it, it’ll be good for a whole year.

Anyone can be a hit-or-miss blogger. I’ve done it for years, but I’m trying to get more methodical in this endeavor, as in many others. However, with blogging, as with so many other things, a little planning goes a long, long way. Now if I could just get a little ahead on my blog posts, so that they could be automatically scheduled and just, plunk! — sort of post themselves. That takes time. I’ve gotten better at planning, but too often lately I’ve been thrown off my blog plan by an unexpected curve ball, like coming down with a cold, or a too-busy schedule.

With a blog planner, though, I can think through the coming days and weeks, write down themes and ideas, and actually have a target to shoot at. It’s so much better than sitting down at the keyboard, looking at that blank page, and thinking in a panic, “I have to blog something!

So what do you get in this blog planner? There’s a pretty cover sheet, a link to a blog post where the author shows how she uses her planner (I always find this kind of thing to be very helpful, as I tend to be seized by paralysis when confronted with a blank form), and a 2013 year-at-a-glance calendar. For each month, there’s a blank monthly calendar, with an area to record a focus (or eleven) for the month; a page to document reviews, giveaways, notes, and contact information; and two pages of weekly calendars with room for a to-do list for each week. (I haven’t used the weekly calendars yet, but I can see how they would be useful as I ease into regular blogging.)

Additional planning helps include pages that will help you keep track of blog statistics, websites and passwords, affiliate information, Twitter hashtags, linkups, an income and expense sheet, and (for the serious blogger whose blog is her business) even a mileage tracker.

A couple of “Notes in my head” pages round out the planner — honestly, these two pages are the ones that I’ve found most useful. Now I’m keeping my notes in one place, rather than stuck on sticky notes that end up who-knows where.

The planner is done in a pretty pastel pink-and-green color scheme. It looks really nice on the screen. Mine is printed out in grayscale for the sake of my budget, but it still works.

You can print the planner and bind it, or punch the pages and put it in a separate section of a planning notebook, or even break out the monthly and weekly pages and incorporate them among your homeschool/home planning pages. It’s a versatile format!

You can download your own copy of the planner at the link above. It’s free!

Gluten free? Be careful…

While perusing magazines in the orthodontist’s waiting room yesterday (emergency appointment; Youngest has been miserable with the latest adjustment last week, scarcely able to eat — doing much better today, am thankful to say!), I picked up the March issue of Everyday with Rachel Ray.

I subscribe to very few magazines, but I’ll occasionally pick up an issue of Rachel Ray’s cooking magazine at the store, especially if I’m hungry, going through the checkout line, and the recipes look good. (Musical scrap of an old advertisement floats through my distractible brain: Don’t shop when you’re hungry! No! No! No!)

Back to my train of thought. The March issue looked good, certainly, and I may well seek it out next time I’m grocery shopping, and snap it up. I adapt some of the gluten-containing recipes, and others are naturally gluten-free.

Imagine how pleased I was to see an article for a buffet meal for friends that was gluten free and allergy friendly!

In the old, carefree days, before we discovered severe gluten sensitivities in some of our family members, I might have cooked up this menu and invited gluten free friends to dine, blithely assuring them that the magazine said it was safe for them to eat, as the recipes were gluten free. (Thankfully, our celiac friends are very careful and don’t just take people’s word for it…)

You might think Chicken Cordon Bleu rolled in a cornflake crust would be gluten free, wouldn’t you? After all, a lot of GF people can eat corn products, like corn tortillas or cornstarch. Cornflakes ought to be a no-brainer, right?

Unfortunately, no. When I cleared out all the gluten-containing foods from the pantry (to keep our GF family members safer, from cross-contamination and accidental self-poisoning) and removed these foods from my shopping list, my beloved cornflakes had to go. (There’s nothing better in berry season, than cornflakes with fresh-picked blueberries and some lovely raw honey drizzled over it all…)

On rare occasions, I will still buy cornflakes in boxes that are marked “gluten free,” but they cost more than my old standby brand, so it’s a rare treat. Usually in blueberry season.

The problem with a lot of cereals seems to be the malt flavoring, which comes from barley, which contains gluten. This has, sadly, reduced the list of cereals we can use. Former favorites like Rice Krispies and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes are off our list. (Rice and Corn Chex cereals are a decent substitute, though they don’t make very good “Rice Krispie Treats” as far as we’re concerned.)

If you decide to make a gluten free meal, and you’re new to GF cooking, be very careful. Read the ingredients list. Look at the labels on the ingredients for the words “gluten free.” Ask an experienced GF friend for help in maneuvering through the maze of ingredients that are out there. Don’t just assume something is safe to eat because a recipe claims it’s safe.

For more information on finding gluten free cornflakes, check out this article at about.com.

Easy GF Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas

How I love chicken enchiladas. I almost can’t tell you how much I love them. It’s one of the few dishes where I will take seconds when offered. From my old Weight Watchers days, I guess that would make them a “red light” food, as in foods to avoid, because they trigger excess eating. Not much worry about that — I never made them, up until last week, I only enjoyed them at potlucks and other people’s houses.

You see, all the recipes I’ve seen for my favorite chicken enchiladas, up to this point, involved cream of chicken soup. With more than half of my family gluten free, and a couple of us very sensitive to MSG, well, you can see the problem.

(Yes, I’m aware that you can make your own gluten-free “cream of” whatever soup approximation. I just never got around to it in the case of this recipe.)

Last week, I was really wanting Mexican food. People in my family really aren’t that wild about that flavor profile. None of us likes cilantro, for example. Once in awhile I can get away with homemade tacos, or chips and salsa, or Spanish rice, or chili, and not hear too many complaints. But enchiladas? Nobody (but me) likes them.

I got reckless. I really wanted chicken enchiladas, you know, the kind laced with cheese and sour cream and no tomatoes. (I like tomatoes, but my favorite chicken enchiladas are not tomato-based.) I had leftover chicken I needed to use up. I didn’t want to make one of our standbys for using up cooked chicken, like Fried Rice or Chicken Salad or a number of other things. I went looking online for recipes, and found this. Amazing! The first recipe I saw, at least this time around, and doesn’t call for canned soup! With very little adapting, I made it gluten free and also hassle free. No need to stuff individual enchiladas and roll them up; this recipe works well as a layered casserole. So here goes:

Leftover cooked chicken, shredded or diced, as much as you want (I used a whole breast)

1 medium onion, chopped (I didn’t have any fresh onions so used 1/4 cup dried onions, sprinkled over the chicken-cheese layer)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil (I use coconut oil for most cooking, and if I’d had fresh onion, I would have fried it in the oil until translucent, and mixed with the chicken before layering)

12 corn tortillas (we use non-GMO organic corn products)

1 1/2 cups grated monterey jack cheese or 1 1/2 cups Mexican blend cheese, divided

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup flour (gluten free flour mix works)

1 (15 ounce) can chicken broth (I used 2 cups homemade chicken stock)

1 cup sour cream (see the Daisy? No thickeners, just cultured cream)

1 (4 ounce) can chopped green chilies

Directions:

Grease casserole or spray with nonstick spray and lay down a layer of corn tortillas. It doesn’t have to be pretty — it’s going to be covered up by other ingredients.

I love my Pampered Chef clay lasagna pan. After much usage, it’s practically non-stick even without greasing. I think I wiped it with some olive oil on a paper towel before I added the tortillas, just to make sure.

Spread chicken and 3/4 cup of the cheese over tortilla layer.

(By the way, you can cook a chicken breast, cut it up and use it in this recipe, but I had leftover chicken. If I had an uncooked chicken breast, I might not have made this recipe…)

If you want to make them richer, you can add a dollop of sour cream on top of each tortilla. Lots more calories, though. Here you can see that I boosted the calorie intake for the family members that actually need more calories, by adding extra sour cream to two of the servings. Can you imagine needing more calories? Seems like a dream to me.

Top with another layer of corn tortillas. Six was the right  number for my baking pan.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan; stir in flour to make a roux; stir and cook until bubbly; gradually whisk in chicken broth then bring to boiling, stirring frequently.

(Easy GF Flour Mix: 1 part brown rice flour, 1 part white rice flour, 1 part starch — I usually mix two starches, choosing from cornstarch, tapioca, or arrowroot. We can’t use potato starch, but that’s an option, too.)

Remove from heat; stir in sour cream and green chiles.

Pour sauce evenly over enchiladas.

Top with remaining 3/4 cup cheese.

Baking dish may be double-wrapped and frozen at this point, if you’re using a foil dish perhaps. I can’t spare my Pampered Chef pan; I use it often. If I wanted to make this ahead and freeze it, I’d probably line the pan with parchment paper, assemble the dish, put it in the freezer, lift the whole thing out when frozen, and double wrap it. We avoid using aluminum foil as much as possible.

Bake at 400F for 20 minutes until cheese is melted and sauce near edges of baking dish is bubbly.

Yum. Even those of us who were indifferent to the delights of Mexican food liked this dish. Some (besides myself) even asked for seconds!

My very fussy eater managed to eat most of a portion.

I think this one is a keeper.

28 Days to Hope for your Home (e-book Review and Giveaway)

Keeping a home has always been… what should I call it? …an impossibility a struggle a challenge for me. I’m sure it has a lot to do with my mom’s attitude. Bless the woman, but she had a poor attitude towards staying home, keeping house, taking care of children; she bitterly resented not having a career outside the home. (I know, Mom’s not to blame for the mess I’m in — I take total responsibility. But drawing on my experience, I realize the vital importance of training our daughters to smooth their way in the future.)

I remember hearing her say, more than once, that she was raising her daughters to “have a good career and pay someone else to do the drudge work.” While we were off at school, the house magically cleaned itself. Well, really, I know it didn’t, but I saw little of the process. When I went off to college, my roommate had to teach me how to use the washer and dryer in the dorm basement.

My Saturday job was cleaning the bathroom. I grew up knowing how to clean a bathroom!

Since I loved chocolate chip cookies, I tended to hang around when Mom baked them. (She did most of her baking, too, when we were at school, but there were a few times I remember adding ingredients to the mixing bowl under her direction, turning on the mixer, scooping out spoonfuls of cookie dough onto a greased baking sheet…) My cooking skills were pretty limited when I left home. My repertoire included the aforementioned chocolate chip cookies, milkshakes in the blender, sandwiches, and heating up canned soup.

My older sister taught me a few more skills, the year we shared an apartment (some years later). She was quite a good cook, and I learned a lot from her about taking basic ingredients and turning them into good food. I also learned a little about keeping an apartment clean with an intensive weekend cleaning session, but not a whole lot about daily upkeep. I certainly wasn’t in charge and didn’t give housekeeping any thought; I just did what my sister said to do.

Over the years of having my own home, I’ve been frustrated by the difference between how I’d like the house to look, and reality. I can’t tell you how many how-to-keep-house books I’ve read over the years. I finally came to the conclusion that I know all the theory, but reading isn’t going to get the house clean so much as doing.

I’d try, in spurts, and burn myself out pretty quickly. I tried different systems. Some worked better than others (Sidetracked Home Executives was one, and FlyLady was another), but if I got sick or life got busy I couldn’t keep it up. Not to mention my lack of self-discipline (I need a bumper sticker that says I’d Rather Be Reading) or cluelessness about setting up a cleaning schedule and sticking to it. Add to that the clutter (mostly paper and books) that keeps adding up, and you’ve got a problem. I mean, I have a problem. So does my family. I’m not the only one who didn’t learn how to keep a house from my mom — my daughters are in danger of the same thing, for different reasons!

28_Days_to_Hope_web-286x300Then along came A Slob Comes Clean. (Yes, I was still reading about cleaning, more than actually doing it. However, my reading had changed from books to the Internet.) I read the title of Dana White’s book with a jaded eye: 28 Days to Hope for your Home. Yeah, right, I said to myself. I’ve seen this kind of thing before. Only, this was different. It wasn’t promising a clean house in 28 days, it wasn’t promising a clean house with no effort, nor a house that (practically) cleans itself. This book was promising hope. Believe me, when you’re feeling desperate, hope sounds good.

Just reading about the book at the webpage was different. I got the feeling that Dana knew exactly how I felt. (In chatspeak: BTDT.) Moreover, she wasn’t offering a spotless house in 28 days. She was offering four habits. Four. Would four habits really make that much difference?

Like I said, I was desperate. I bought it and downloaded it to my Kindle. (I don’t have a Kindle, mind — I would like to, someday, but that’s another story — but I do have a Kindle app on my PC.)

I read the Introduction. Well, okay, Dana calls it something else, but it serves as an introduction of sorts, taking you gently by the hand and leading you into the meat of the book. Which, for meat, is (figuratively speaking) already cut up into small bits, set out on the highchair tray, ready and waiting.

(Let me make this clear: I am not saying that the author’s tone is demeaning or that I got the feeling she was talking down. Rather, she was rolling up her sleeves, getting ready to get into the trenches right alongside me, after already having been there at the start of her own battle. I’m mixing my metaphors between battle-hardened soldiers and highchairs, but, as FlyLady so eloquently puts it, Baby Steps…)

I shook my head, reading Day 1. This is too simple, I thought. It’s not gonna work. It’s just too simple.

Nevertheless, I rolled up my sleeves — see, Dana, I’m not just reading but doing and following your example — and I did the assignment for Day 1. I must admit, I peeked ahead and read through the first half of the book before I could restrain myself and return to trying this program as it was designed, one step at a time.

As I went through the first week, I got the eerie feeling that Dana was right there with me, reading my mind. (Well, in a sense… she really has been there. That’s why this book has worked for me as well as it has. She understands my mindset, because her mind appears to run along in a similar fashion. Poor woman.)

By the end of the second week, something was working. I wasn’t sure exactly what. Having little-to-no homemakerly instinct made it difficult to realize that, while I was doing so little that was different from the way I’d managed (or rather, not managed) before, new habits were being laid down, and (let’s mix in another metaphor for variety, shall we?) dominoes were beginning to cascade. In slow motion, but one domino had knocked against another, and… We’re talking hope, here.

So I made the book assigned reading for the girls.

I knew I was on to something when one of them said, “Wow, Mom, this sounds doable.”

Let the training begin.

Dana has a new book out, which I haven’t read yet, called Drowning in Clutter? (It’s on my list. Yes, we’ve graduated from the 28 Days program, after several re-starts, and we’re decluttering, in fits and starts as we work around debate tournament schedules and flu epidemics.) Anyhow (almost distracted myself, but whew, I got back on track), you can get both e-books together for a discounted price.

Right now, Dana is offering a special discount to my readers. Click here to go to the order page for 28 Days to Hope for your Home. Use the special code SWEET to get either e-book for $4 or the pair for $6. This deal is good until midnight, 2/6/2013, so if you’ve been looking at one or both of these titles, it’s a good time to order.

******************* But I promised a giveaway! *******************

…so here it is. Leave a comment below, and on Valentine’s Day I will draw a name for a free copy of 28 Days to Hope for your Home. If you decide you can’t wait and go ahead and buy the book and not wait for the drawing, Dana has promised to refund your purchase price if you win. Please include your email address in your comment so that I can contact you if you win. Comments are moderated, so your email will remain private.

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Disclaimer: In a burst of desperation, I bought 28 Days to Hope for your Home. I did not receive a free copy for review, nor will I receive any compensation for writing this review. However, the links in the review are affiliate links, so if you buy the e-book by clicking on a link in this post, I will receive a portion of the sale, which (if I didn’t mention it before) I hope to add to what I’m saving to buy a Kindle. Thanks!