Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Storm Clean Up

After Hurricane Irene moved up to our northern neighbors, we were left to clean up the mess she made.

Due to lack of previous rain, we were spared a lot of damage from uprooted trees and severe flooding.

Sunday morning dawned sunny and humid and this is what we found in our front courtyard.

This branch was impaled into the ground - this is why you don't want to be walking around outside when storms hit (take note you crazy television storm reporters)

 Our back deck was full of leaf confetti.  We had already removed the large branches before I took the pic. 

After accessing our yard damage, we drove down the road to check on our neighbors.  We followed the city trucks for a bit as they made their rounds.

Here is the wind instrument that was set up at the small airport near our house.  I'm not sure what the top wind speeds were. 

Some neighbors (on West Road for you locals) had water front property for a few days. 

The water in this neighbor's yard went right up to their front porch.

Notice their chicken yard art?  It's sitting on it's own little island. 

Most roads were littered with branches and leaves.  Only a few had large branches blocking the road. 

Fortunately we had our two favorite "stick picker-uppers" helping us with the yard clean-up.

I hope the rest of you on the East Coast escaped much damage and are safe and sound.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Treasure Hunt

A few weeks ago, when Hubs and I went on a quiet little camping trip, we found ourselves smack in the middle of one of those large, miles long yard sales. 

We didn't buy much, but one thing that I couldn't leave behind was this treasure. . .

A string holder shaped like a bee skep.  It sits in a little metal tart tin.  I fell in love with it and had to have it.

Do you blame me?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday Motivation: Organizing Recipes

If you're one of those cooks who can whip up dishes without using a recipe, I applaud you. 

I'm not one of those cooks.  I need recipes - printed recipes.

Actually, I love written recipes. Especially ones written in the handwriting of the person who gave me the recipe.  I have recipe cards from grandmas, aunts, cousins, neighbors, co-workers, and church friends. 

My problem is having too many recipes and trying to keep them organized so I can find them when I need them. 

I've tried a few different types of organizing tools over the past 10 years and I've finally come up with a system that works for me.  Because every cook is different, there is no perfect system that will work for everyone. 

I found that I really like to use recipe boxes.  I have a nice solid oak box and I'm looking for an additional one as my current one is a bit "stuffed".  I'd like to have all of my baking recipes (breads, desserts, and various breakfast foods) in one box and  savory recipes (entrees, salads, sauces, side dishes) in their own box.

I also have a small binder with pocket dividers where I keep recipes that I'd like to try.  After they pass family approval, they get transferred to my recipe box.  I tried using a photo album with pocket sleeves to hold my recipe cards, but I wasn't happy with how the cards slipped around the book. 

I've come across several recipe systems around the blog world lately and thought I'd share them with you. 

1. Online Options:
         Mom's Online Recipe Organizer (MORO)
         one tsp. - keep your recipes online so you can access them anywhere
         Tip Junkie's guest blogger shares how to use Delicious (a bookmarking site) to organize recipes

2. Binder ideas
        To The Moon and Back - uses several binders for different categories
        Prudent Baby - cute templates to download for your binder
        The Organizing Boutique - great step by step instructions

3.  Recipe Card ideas
       Simple Organized Living - uses a large photo box as a recipe box       
       Source of beautiful recipe boxes
       Displaying heirloom recipes on Complete Organizing Blog

I'd love to hear how you organize your recipes.  Please share your ideas in the comment section or even better, send me an email with photos of your system and I'll share them in a future post. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Monday Motivation: Organizing Household Paperwork

If you're overwhelmed with paperwork, do Step 1 and Step 2 first. 

Now we're ready to tackle other household paperwork that tends to spread around the house.  Some of that paperwork could include:

Appliance manuals and receipts
Mementos and keepsakes
Phone numbers/addresses
School work
Personal and confidential paperwork
Tax records
Emergency information
Command center for daily paperwork

For each category of paperwork, I'll give you some tips for how to weed through the mess, and some options for how to organize the information and be able to retrieve what you need.

1.  Appliance manuals and receipts:
     First, go through each piece and toss out any information for items you no longer own.  Then, sort paperwork according to type. (kitchen appliances, camping gear, electronics, etc.)  I'm a fan of binders, so I keep my appliance info in a large 3 ring binder that has labeled pocket dividers.  For more information, check out my previous post about making a household manual binder.

2.  Mementos and Keepsakes:
     This category will be different for everyone.  Some people like to save every item pertaining to a specific memory and some will save nothing.  If you have more of a hoarding tendency, you'll have to make some firm rules for yourself.   Decide how much room you have for keepsakes and that will help you determine how much you can save.  Not much room?  Then, photos are better.  They give you a lot of bang for your buck - lots of memory on one or two card size pieces of paper.
     I've kept a few Rubbermaid bins for each of my children and stuffed them full of mementos of their first 21 years.  I have a few things I've kept for myself and I keep them in fabric storage boxes on the top shelf of my bedroom closet.  Every time I go through the box, reminiscing, I actually throw something away.  That goes to show you that the more time that passes, the more those memories are stored in your heart and you don't need so many reminders.

3.  Phone numbers and addresses:
     It's a good idea to have addresses and phone numbers recorded in several different places in your home.  You can use your cell phone, an address book, a day planner, a Rolodex, or a 3x5 card file.  Having two different places to record the information will make sure you always have one handy in case you loose one. 
     Be sure to keep updated contact information for your doctor, dentist, veterinarian, child's coaches, church contacts, neighbors, school contacts, and hair dresser (most important).  LOL

4.  School Work:
     If you have young children at home, this will be your number one angst during the school year.  If you don't have kiddos at home, skip to number 5. 
     If you have a pile of school related information in your staging area, sort through it to make sure it is all relevant to your child.  Before the school year starts again, throw out all outdated information.  There is no need to save last November's school lunch menu. 
     Prepare a binder or file box to handle the children's incoming paperwork.  Every day, after school, immediately go through each child's backpack, with them, and look at every paper.  Any paper that needs to be saved goes in the child's labeled file or section in the binder.  Any paperwork that needs to be returned to school is signed and put back in the child's backpack to go to school the next day.  Any homework is set out to be completed as scheduled. 

5.  Correspondence:
     We all get cards, invitations, and letters in the mail that we should respond to.  The temptation is to set them aside and answer them later.  Well, you know where I'm going with this, right?  We set them aside and then forget about them.  Oops. 
     As soon as you get a card, etc. write down, on your to-do list, that you need to answer it.  Is it an invitation?  Write the date in your calendar immediately and either call the person to RSVP or write down who you need to talk to before you can RSVP.  If you'll need a babysitter, write down that you need to find one. 
     If you get a letter that you want to respond to, grab a note card and either immediately write them a note or stick the card into your day planner and you'll be one step closer to answering the letter.  I've found that it really doesn't take as long as I imagine it does to write a little note to someone. 

6.  Personal and Confidential Paperwork
   Any paperwork that would be hard to replace or that you would not want someone to read should be kept in a secure location.  Papers that you might need to have handy like a birth certificate or passport can be kept in a fireproof safe that is bolted to a floor in your home.  Other papers that don't need to be in your home can be kept in a safety deposit box at your local bank.  

7.  Tax Records:
     Any receipts that you'll need to have for your taxes should be kept in one place to make tax time easier.  Designate one place, a file, envelope, or box that you can quickly drop the receipts into.  You'll be patting yourself on the back when tax time rolls around. 

8.  Emergency Information:
     Any paperwork that your loved ones would need to have access to in an emergency should be readily available and neatly compiled.  We have a large binder that we call the "I Love You Binder".  I named it that when my husband showed me all the preparations he had made to ensure I'm taken care of if anything should happen to him.   Copies of all of the paperwork are also stored with our financial planner.  Here is a post I've already written about the "I love you binder".

Friday, August 19, 2011

Adventures at Sherando Lake

Several readers have emailed me, asking where we go camping. 

Our favorite place to camp is Sherando Lake in the George Washington National Forest.  It's located right outside of Waynesboro, VA.

It has a man-made lake with a small island in the middle.  Our children practiced swimming out to it every Summer and felt great pride when they accomplished that feat without any help.

The lake is also stocked with trout and fishing with a license is allowed.  You can see the roped-off area where swimming is allowed.

Small boats are allowed (no motors) and we've enjoyed canoeing and even just paddling with an inflatable dingy.

One of the things we love about the lake is that it's surrounded by trees, so you can get out of the bright sun if you want to.  Many families spend the entire day at the lakeside, switching back and forth between the sunny sanded area and the shaded tree area.  There is also a bath house with showers and toilets. 

The bark on this tree was amazing.  It reminded me of camouflage fatigues, which my son loves to wear.
We took a few morning trips away from the lake.  We love looking at old homes.  I love how the original log home was added on to.  The metal roof and red paint made me swoon. 

This small, one car bridge, was the only way to get to the regional airport in the area.  Hubs has a special love for bridges so we had to drive over it. 

I hate to see beautiful old  buildings abandoned.  I just want to wrap my arms around it and take it home.  Honey, do you think it will fit in the back of the truck?   

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Breakfast Ideas For Camping

Because camping trips are full of physical activities like hiking, swimming, canoeing, and playing, breakfast is an especially important meal of the day. 

Country Living
 The recipes I'll be sharing are for basic camping trips where you have access to a cooler and camp stove or camp fire.  For those adventurous folks who like to wilderness camp - well, that's a whole different type of camping - and eating. 

First, I'll give you a list of breakfast ideas that have worked well for our family.  When our children were growing up, we'd allow them to each bring a friend along, so I was usually feeding 8 people for each meal.

Breakfast ideas:
Oatmeal with toppings
French Toast and bacon
Pancakes with campsite compote
Cereal and yogurt
Breakfast Burritos
Egg and Cheese on an English muffin
Premade muffins (for those non-breakfast eaters)

Oatmeal with toppings:
I like to use quick oats.  We add 1/3 cup of dried quick oats to a bowl.  Then add 2/3 cups boiling water.  Cover the bowl with a lid or a plate and let sit for 5 minutes.  Then add toppings of your choice. 
 We like to add a spoonful of coconut oil, a squirt of honey, a tablespoon of craisins, and some chopped walnuts.  Give it a stir and you're good to go. 
 By the way, Hubs and I eat this almost every day at home for breakfast.  In fact, it's Hubs speciality - actually it's the only thing he knows how to cook for breakfast - and I've very grateful for it. 

French toast and bacon:
I cook this over our camp stove, but you could cook it over a campfire if the temperature was low enough.  (french toast + high heat = yucky). 
 First figure out how many slices of bread you'll need.  My girls usually ate 2 and my guys ate 3-5 slices each.  For every 2 slices of bread, whisk 1 egg, 2 Tbl. milk, and a dash of cinnamon.  Set this egg mixture aside while you cook the bacon. 
 Try to use bacon that is free of nitrates and nitrites.  Pastured is even better.  Cook bacon in a skillet, 4-5 slices at a time.  Remove bacon to paper towels to drain.  I place the paper towels in a folded aluminum foil packet to keep the bacon warm.  After bacon is cooked, drain off most of the fat into a bowl you've lined with aluminum foil. This fat can be used to further grease the pan and then later thrown away when it hardens. 
Now, dip the slices of bread into the egg mixture and cook in the bacon fat, turning to cook both sides.  Serve with butter and maple syrup.  

Pancakes with Campsite Compote
I made up the compote  recipe one year when we found wild logan berries in the woods behind our campsite.  I needed to feed a lot of people and we were running out of syrup so I invented this  topping. 

I make up my own pancake mix at home and bring it along, but you could also purchase a premixed pancake mix like Bisquick.
To make your own pancake mix: 1 cup wheat flour, 1 cup white flour, 1 Tbl. sugar, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. baking soda, 1/2 tsp. salt  
At camp add:  2 eggs, 2 cups buttermilk, and 3 Tbl. coconut oil  (you can use regular milk instead of buttermilk, but the pancakes won't puff up as much)
Spoon the mixture onto your greased griddle and cook until the top of the pancake starts to bubble.  Flip carefully and cook a few seconds more until golden brown.  I keep the cooked pancakes in a separate lidded pan to keep them warm.
To make the compote:
Add fresh berries to canned peaches and or pears.  Toss in some craisins and walnuts and give it a stir.  Top the pancakes with the compote.

Breakfast Burritos:
I make these burritos before big hikes to give us lots of energy.  They can be easily adapted to accommodate your family's tastes.  They are also great for using up small bits of leftovers.

Wrap whole wheat tortillas in aluminum foil and warm them next to the fire or in a pan on the camp stove.
Cook onion, garlic, and green pepper in oil in a skillet.  Add left over meat to the veggies (bacon, kielbasa, sausage, chicken, beef etc.)  If you have them, add leftover potatoes that have been cubed.  Stir to heat through.
Whisk 2 eggs for each tortilla with salt and pepper.  Add eggs to the skillet and gently stir as they cook.  Right before the eggs are set, add grated cheese and gently stir.  
Unwrap the tortillas and place a generous spoonful of the egg mixture into it.  Roll up and enjoy.  My guys like a bit of hot sauce on their burritos - to each their own! 

Egg and Cheese on an English Muffin

Spread butter onto the English muffins and toast them on a griddle. 
In the meantime, fry eggs in butter until desired consistency. Top with cheese (we like cheddar or pepper jack) and place on toasted muffins.  Easy!

To make life easier when feeding a large group with different tastes, I simply boil water on the stove and allow the campers to pick their own hot beverage mixes.  Coffee singles, hot chocolate packs, tea bags etc. 
For coffee, you can also use a french press, for a delicious morning brew. 

I make one pitcher of juice each morning, using  thawed frozen juice.  I try to vary the flavor each morning.  You can pack the frozen cans into the cooler and they'll be fine, while thawing, for several days. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wrensday: And The Tomatoes Keep Coming!

Remember, back in the Spring, when I showed you the "Lazy Gardner's Way To Grow Tomatoes" here and here?

Yup, just bags of garden soil with heirloom tomatoes plopped down in them.

Well, now that tomato season is in full swing, I've got tomatoes coming out of my ears - and my canning pot!

We had to fence off the area with chicken wire to keep the chickens out.  After all, they love ripe tomatoes as much as we do.    We sprayed diluted fish emulsion every two weeks over the plants and mulched with compost and dried grass clippings.  Hubs dumps the grass clippings into the walkway to let them dry and turn brown.  Then we top dress the plants with the dried grass.  Easy peasy. 

I've been canning around 20 jars of tomatoes or tomato sauce every week this month.  I'll be happy to have a full pantry.

This was just one day's harvest.

I've also been eating tomato sandwiches - my most favorite sandwich in the world!  Yummmmm!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Few Camping Tips

Hubs and I managed to get away for a few days last week (hence, the lack of posts) to go camping.

It was our first camping trip since my transplant and as empty nesters. 

Over the years, I've streamlined our camping process and learned a few tricks that I thought I'd share.

First, I make up a menu for the whole trip, including what we'll eat on the trip to and from the camp site.  I plan for breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks as well as beverages.  After making the list and shopping,  I store the prepped items in zippered bags or Pyrex containers.  I keep everything together so I can quickly pack the chilled items into the coolers right before we leave.  All of the non-refrigerated items are packed in a bin with a lid.

I always bring my coconut oil.  I use it for cooking and for first aide.  (We'd only been at the camp site for an hour when Hubs was stung by a wasp.  We immediately washed the sting and applied coconut oil.  The swelling and redness was greatly reduced in a few hours.)
Posted by Picasa

Although these post holders have seen better days, they have great sentimental appeal.  The woven potholders were made by my daughters when they were little, and the little red one belonged to my grandma.  I keep them handy on small screws attached to my camp table (which my neighbors were throwing away).  They are just the right size and weight for camping.  We use fire-proof gloves for handling cast iron pans over the camp fire.

Here is my camping kitchen.  My stove, my dishes and utensils (in the covered bin), my fridge (the blue cooler), and my counter (the end of the picnic table).

We always cover our cooking area with a tarp.  We've been using this pop-up awning as a base, and covering it with a waterproof tarp.  Everything is secured down just in case it gets windy.  It was raining when I took the above photo. The large tarp came in handy to keep all of our supplies dry.  We also use lidded kitty litter buckets to hold all of the tools and other supplies (other than cooking) that we'll need.  The gray bin on the left side holds our dry food.  Every evening we load the gray food bin and the blue cooler into the truck and lock the doors to keep animals out of our food. 

Our tent has a rain fly which we seal regularly with  seam sealer.  Even with that, though, I awoke at 3 AM with water dripping on my face!  That's just part of the adventure.  We also use an old door mat in front of the tent opening to keep dirt and debris from getting tracked in. 

This is my favorite camping item.  It is a collapsible bucket from L.L. Bean.  We use it to wash our dishes in.  We've had it for many years and it still looks like new.  It collapses flat to store in our gear bins.

I also love to use these mesh, zippered bags.  I can see what's in them and moisture doesn't get trapped in them.  I use them for my kitchen linens, extra paper products, and silverware.

I also like to use mesh food covers.  I got these at Party City.  They also fold flat for storage.  Since we camp during the Summer, we always have a problem with flying bugs.  These food covers keep all of the bugs away (except for ants).

If you're a camper, I'd love for you to leave any tips you have in the comment section. 

Happy Camping!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Monday Motivation: Handling Paperwork - Mail and Bills

If you're overwhelmed with paperwork, do this step first.

Now that all of your bills are compiled into one central place, you'll want to sort them again.  This time, sort them into sub-categories.

First, remove all bills that are current and must be paid into their own pile.  Don't misplace this pile!  You'll need to tend to it sooner than later. 

Next, decide how you want to sort your bills.  These are the bills/receipts you've already paid.  These should be kept until the end of the year for tax purposes or to help you prepare next years budget.  You don't really need to keep bills that are over a year old when you get a statement and pay your bills every month.  I've never referred back to a 2 year old cell phone bill - just sayin'!   You can sort them in a few different ways.  Alphabetically or by type (power, phone, automobile, medical).

We file ours alphabetically.   First comes Auto, then Banking, then College, then Dentist, etc.   We use an accordion file that has pockets for each letter.  Since we don't have too many bills, this works for us.  We also use this accordion file to store warranty information, lists of magazine subscriptions, library cards, etc.   

Another option is to use hanging files.  These files can be stored in a file cabinet or a portable file box.  There are also some really attractive counter top file boxes.   If you use hanging files, you can also use smaller manila files as sub-folders within them.  There is no right or wrong option.  Whatever works for you is fine.

Now that all of your bill receipts are filed, you can turn your attention to your current bills that need to be paid.  The method we use is very primitive - we're still very much in the old fashioned paper bill paying world.  Maybe we'll change one day.  We just find something very "safe" about touching the bills we pay.  Plus, it's a little more "painful" to write a check than to click "pay bill" online. 

  When our bills come in the mail, we immediately open them up, throw the junk filler stuff into the shredder and fold the envelope around the bill to be paid.  Then we write the day we need to mail the bill in the upper right hand corner of the envelope where the stamp will cover it up.  Then we use an antique napkin holder that my grandfather made to hold the bills; with the next bills to be paid sitting in front of the stack.  Here's a
modern day version that would work well.

 Every week we check the holder and pull out any bills we need to pay.  We reconcile the statement with any receipts we have before paying the bill. 

  Before filing the statement in our accordion file, we write the date, the amount paid, and the check number on the paperwork.  If I have to call the company about the bill, I write the name of the person I talked to as well as the date and time and what information I gleaned from the phone call onto the statement.  This little tip has been very helpful when handling discrepancies.  There's not too much arguing when you can name the person, date, and time you first called about a problem. 

Is your mail overwhelming you?  When you bring your mail into your home, handle it immediately.  Stand over your recycling bin and toss any junk mail.  Take any mail that has your personal info on it and shred it.  Place magazines into the magazine basket, place invites into your day planner so you can RSVP and plan to buy a gift or send a card. 

Cut out coupons and put them in your purse, coupon organizer, or set them with your keys to keep in your car.  I keep all of my coupons for stores in my car so I will always have them available without lugging them in my purse. 

Next week, we'll handle more general household paperwork.

*Any links to products in this post are affiliate links.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Monday Motivation: Getting Control Of Household Paperwork

Out of control paperwork seems to be the number one problem most of my clients have.  I would say it has to be my number one problem as well.  I still struggle with it, but I've come up with some systems that help me to create order out of the mess pretty quickly. 

If you're overwhelmed with papers, here's how to take control and set up your own system to make your life easier.  First we'll start with figuring out what you have.

Let's pretend you have papers all over your house and they are totally disorganized.  Don't apologize - just get started:

1.  Start with a large surface, like your dining room table, to use as a staging surface.  Cover the surface with boxes or other rectangular containers to sort your paperwork in.  Some of the categories you might choose are:  Bills, medical, car, school, insurance, photos, banking, stationary, taxes, recipes, contact info., appliance manuals, etc.)

2.  Working one room at a time, collect every piece of paper you can find and bring it to your staging station.  Go through the pile of papers you collected and sort them into the categories you created.  (warning:  be sure that any papers that require immediate attention, like bills, are kept handy so you can attend to them)

3.  Now that you've gone through each room in your house, it's time to sort each category.  The next three weeks will be devoted to sorting the categories and developing your systems to keep them organized.  Next week we'll tackle mail and bills, followed by household paperwork, and then finally look at recipes.

Quote for the week:
"You've got to think about 'big things' while you're doing 'small things', so that all the small things go in the right direction"  Alvin Toffler 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Big Thank You

Congratulations to Donna Rae who won the 500th post give-away.  She chose the red and white apron from my Etsy shop.  It's one of my favorite aprons because red is my favorite color.

For real, though, I'm the big winner.  I'm the winner because I have all of you who check in with my little blog and leave me encouraging and kind comments. 

You've cheered me on through my surgeries this past year.  You've followed along as I delved into healthy eating.  You've encouraged me to continue with the organizing posts (even though I think I overwhelm some of you -  LOL) 

I so appreciate each and every one of you and thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading my blog.  I sometimes struggle with wanting to blog but wondering if it's worth the time and effort involved.  I'm constantly trying to juggle family time, time in The Word,  household chores, church ministry, working with clients, filling the Etsy shop, and blogging.  But doesn't that sound like most of us?

I thank you for the time you spend to connect with me and the others who read my blog.   If you've been reading for awhile but never  leave comments, please know that I'd love to hear from you.  If you'd feel more comfortable, just send me an email  at

Have a blessed week!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Monday Motivation: 10 Minute Pick-up and A Winner

This little motivation will make a big difference in how orderly your home looks. As a professional organizer, I'm often asked how to keep a home looking neat. The answer is the 10 minute pick-up. Here's how the 10 minute pick-up works:

1. Start at your front door.

2. Pick up anything that doesn't belong in that area. It helps if you use a small laundry basket to keep the items in.

3. Go to the next room (let's say the living room). Pick up anything that doesn't belong in that room. Put anything from the laundry basket away that belongs in the living room.

4. Continue through each main room of the house until everything is put away.

Remember, you're not CLEANING the house, only picking up clutter. If you have little ones at home you might have to do this several times a day. I personally do this 10 minute pick-up every morning before I leave for work and every evening before I go to bed.

And. . . now for the winner of the 500th post give-away!

Congrats, Donna Rae!  Just let me know what item you want from my shop and I'll get it right to you!