Friday, January 30, 2009

Finishing Out Our Unit on Coffee and Tea, our books

Serving Coffee

Is coffee healthy for you, or is it a health hazard? Maybe, it's a bit of both. The studies seem to be contradictory, at any rate. Scientists are finding out new reasons why coffee might actually be very good for your well-being. At the same time, coffee consumption has some potential drawbacks, and coffee also affects different people differently. Here's what Wickpedia has to say about it. If you are pregnant, be sure to ask your doctor whether it is safe for you to drink coffee or not. De-caf coffee can have its own health risks for pregnant women, as there is some concern about the effects on a developing baby of the chemicals used to decaffeinate coffee.

Some tips that will improve your coffee experience:

1) Make sure that all equipment you use for coffee making is very clean. I do what it takes just to get the coffee maker basically clean, but true coffee drinkers thoroughly clean their coffee maker and other equipment after every use.

2) If you like, experiment with buying a re-usable metal strainer that fits your coffee pot. Some coffee drinkers think that the paper filters we all buy leech bleach and other chemicals into the coffee that alter the taste. This type of filter is not supposed to be very expensive. I just learned about this, myself, so I am going to investigate.

3) Remember, the largest ingredient in a cup of coffeee (or tea) is water. It's fine to use tap water, if your tap water tastes okay. If you have any question about the taste of your water, use water poured from a pitcher equipped with a Britta filter when making coffee.

4) Make only enough coffee to last for the next hour. Don't make so much coffee at one time that it either sits in the pot for quite a while or you are tempted to reheat it later. Trying to keep coffee hot for too long or reheating it later makes it taste harsh. As I mentioned yesterday, if you are having a lot of people over and you are serving coffee, you can transfer the coffee to carafes to keep it warm. This is better for the coffee than letting it sit in the pot.

5) In today's world, the making of coffee has become an art and a business. There are any number of coffee gadgets and expensive coffee beans or blends that you can buy. However, unless you have a special interest in coffee, you probably need only a basic drip coffeemaker and a reliable, but not necessarily expensive, brand of coffee. If you want to take it up a notch from there, buy a coffee grinder and grind your own beans. Other than that, you probably don't need to invest in a lot of expensive equipment in order to produce a decent cup of coffee. As with anything, we need to take care not to be dazzled by an offering of products that we don't really need.

For your homemaking journal:

It's quiz time!! Use these questions to spur your thoughts:

1) How are my family relationships? Do I have areas of concern? Have I reasons for rejoicing? Have I seen growth in a relationship lately?
2) Am I enjoying my family and my home? Why or why not?
3) What is my current greatest struggle as a keeper of my home? What will help me overcome this?
4) What is my current greatest joy as a keeper of my home? Am I grateful?
5) How am I doing as a steward of my time?
6) How am I doing as a steward of my health and energy? Am I eating nutritious food? Do I allow myself some time to rest when needed? Am I getting enough sleep? (If you have a baby or a toddler in the house, you probably aren't getting the full amount of sleep that you're used to. Are you taking measures to cope with this?) How am I doing on exercise? (Heavy gardening and heavy housework count here.) Are my thoughts focused on the things in Philippians 4:4-8 or do I allow my thoughts to wander at will? What influences do I allow to dominate my thoughts? Do I have any medical, dental, or eye appointments that you need to make, but have been putting off. (Ouch!) (See the Home Manager's Health and Beauty, a companion blog to Project Home Economics: A One Year Course.)
7) Have I learned something new about keeping a home recently? Am I still growing as a keeper at home or am I coasting on what I already know? Learning new things will help us stay inspired as keepers at home, rather than feeling that we are in a rut.

For Your Book of Days:

Remember, in your homemaking journal, you not only keep information that you are learning about managing a home, but you take some time to take note of everything connected to your adventures in managing a home -- the good, the bad, and the ugly. For your Book of Days, focus more on the good and the beautiful. This is the book where you record the gems you find in the ore of daily life.

1) Have your husband or children said something to you that you want to remember and treasure? If so, make a note of that in your Book of Days.

2) Have you seen something beautiful in nature recently? Make a record of that, and include a photo if you can.

3) Have you recently completed a home project? Take a picture and make a few notes in your Book of Days.

4) Have you learned something new about God lately? Record that in your Book of Days.

5) Have you come across an inspiring quote in your reading lately? If so, record that in your Book of Days and jot down a few lines about why you found it to be so inspiring.

6) Have you recorded any happy childhood memories in your Book of Days? Do you have special memories of the way your mother or a relative or a friend kept her home? If so, record those for inspiration.

7) Do you have a special pet? Write down something cute your pet has done. Record any happiness that your pet brings to your life.

Happy homemaking!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

January 29 -- Even more about coffee and tea

Strange how a teapot can represent at the same time the comforts of solitude and the pleasures of company. ~Author Unknown

Drinking a daily cup of tea will surely starve the apothecary. ~Chinese Proverb

Bread and water can so easily be toast and tea. ~Author Unknown

Tea to the English is really a picnic indoors. ~Alice Walker

Iced tea is too pure and natural a creation not to have been invented as soon as tea, ice, and hot weather crossed paths. ~John Egerton

You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me. ~C.S. Lewis

Tea is second only to water in worldwide consumption of beverages.

Here's a little more about milk and its effects on the health benefits of tea. One study used ultrasound to measure the function of an artery in the arms of 16 healthy women before drinking tea and two hours after drinking tea. Black tea without milk significantly improved blood flow in the arteries. Black tea with milk did not produce the same results. Tests on rats produced similar data. There is a theory that this is why in Asian countries, where it is not as common to add milk or cream to tea, tea seems to prevent strokes and improve blood flow, while this does not seem to work in countries like England, where it is common to take cream and milk in tea.

Here's a very short video about the tea plant and a video about the way the different parts of the tea plant are used. According to this video by a tea expert, the lower parts of the tea plant, which have almost no nutritional value, are used in tea bags. Therefore, she is an advocate of using loose tea leaves, which comes form the upper part of the plant and are fresher and have more health benefits. Who knew? I don't think I'll ever give up tea bags completely, but from what I am learning, I do think I will start using loose leaf tea frequently.

Tea plant -- also see this short one on Tea plant
Parts of tea plant that are used
Where to find good loose leaf teas

Now, on to coffee (except that I am throwing out an appeal to Seraphim or one of our other British readers to write a little article for us about how tea is observed in England. If we have any Asian or Indian or Middle Eastern readers, we'd love to hear your thoughts on tea, as well.)

Do you know why coffee, tea, and chocolate were very important in the original 13 British Colonies in Colonial America? If you are ever in Williamsburg, Virginia, and you love to learn about the domestic arts in history, visit the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. Among other things, they have a dizzying array of beautiful china, pewter, silver, pottery, punch bowls, devices for making hot chocolate, etc. I learned there that in our country's Colonial Days, it was very difficult to keep drinks free of contaminants. Of course, the Colonists had some means at their disposal to keep beverages from spoiling, but, obviously, they didn't have refrigerators and freezers as we have today. Milk, juices, and even water spoiled quickly and might not have come from the purest source to begin with. One early solution was to create mildly alcoholic punches that could be drunk throughout the day. The alchohol served as a preservative that allowed people to drink fruit juices safely. Later on, as coffee, tea, and chocolate became more plentiful in the American Colonies, Colonists turned to these drinks as means of consuming liquids safely.
Thus, punch bowls and special pots for making coffee, tea, and chocolate were essential items in every household and in every commercial establishment that served food and drink. Many of these wonderful items have been preserved, and many are quite beautiful.

Over second and third cups flow matters of high finance, high state, common gossip and low comedy...From roadside mugs to the classic demitasse, it is the perfect democrat. ~Author Unknown

No coffee can be good in the mouth that does not first send a sweet offering of odor to the nostrils. ~Henry Ward Beecher

In Seattle you haven't had enough coffee until you can thread a sewing machine while it's running. ~Jeff Bezos

Coffee is beloved all over the world. However, it's especially hard to imagine many households in the Americas -- North or South -- that don't offer coffee when showing hospitality. My beloved husband and I don't make coffee for ourselves very often. However, we do always offer it when we have guests. Just as a true iced tea fan will drink iced tea on a zero degree day, a true coffee fan will drink scalding hot coffee on an evening when it's 100 degrees and humid.

A good cup of coffee starts with a good brand of coffee. However, this doesn't meant that you have to pay a lot to have good coffee. Look for a reliable brand and for coffee that is fresh, not stale. If you truly enjoy coffee, you might think about grinding your own beans, rather than using pre-ground coffee. Or, you can grind it at the grocery store. You can store coffee in a tight container in your fridge or freezer to preserve some of the freshness.

Many people believe that hot tea, being a delicate beverage, actually tastes better when served in thin, porcelain tea cups. I, myself, do think it's lovely to have hot tea in a beautiful china cup. Whether or not it truly affects the taste, I don't know. I do know, however, that a pretty and dainty cup adds at least a psychological boost to the act of drinking hot tea. It makes sitting down with a cup of hot tea seem like a special moment.

On the other hand, while I think it's loveliest to use a china tea cup, I have no objection to drinking hot tea from a mug. If I make a cup of hot tea for myself or if I make a hot tea drink for someone in my family who has a cold, I'll likely use a mug or at least a heavy cup. If I am served hot tea in a mug at someone else's house, I enjoy the tea and friendship. It might be easier for me to take such an easy-going attitude toward hot tea because I am more likely to serve or be served iced tea, and I drink hot tea only occasionally. If you are a real hot tea fan, you might always prefer to serve it in pretty tea cups.

Coffee is considered to be a more robust beverage than tea, and people enjoy it either in mugs or cups. Traditionally, porcelain tea cups were made slightly smaller than porcelain coffee cups, and people made a distinction between the two. Today, most people use tea cups or coffee cups for both tea and coffee. This saves a family from having to have two sets of cups and saucers -- one for tea and one for coffee. If you make Turkish coffee or expresso or even coffee as strong as South Americans generally drink it, you might want to have small demitasse (French word for half-cup) on hand. The world's very strongest coffees are best served in smaller portions.

There are many types of coffeemakers. The automatic drip machine is one of the easiest ways to make coffee, and I would imagine that it has become the most popular method in the U.S. Some people do not like the automatic drip method, and they cite various reasons why coffee made in these machines is not as good as coffee made by other methods. However, you can't beat it for ease and convenience, and it's a great way to make coffee if you drink or serve coffee frequently. If you don't like the way the coffee tastes from being left on the machine's burner, pour it into a carafe as soon as you make it.

Coffee can be ground until it is either fine, coarse, or medium. The longer the coffee is going to be in contact with the hot water during the brewing method, the coarser grind you want.

Here are some types of coffee makers and the type of grind that is appropriate for each one. (This is according to Cheryl Mendleson's book, "Home Comforts):

Expresso: very fine
Vacuum pot: fine
Drip coffeemaker: medium fine to medium
Percolator: medium to medium coarse
Melior or French press or plunger coffee maker: coarse.

There are coffee substitutes if you do not want to drink coffee, tea, or chocolate but would like to have a hot beverage on hand. In the past, some coffee substitutes were created by necessity during times when people could not get coffee (Southerners during the Civil War experimented with various grains to make coffee substitutes, for example). C. W. Post felt that coffee was not healthy, and he came up with a grain based substitute known as Postum. It was sold until quite recently, but, as of last year, it is not made anymore.

Here is an article about the five top coffee substitutes that are around today:

Happy Homemaking!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

January 28 More about tea

The tea pot is on, the cups are waiting, Favorite chairs anticipating. No matter what i have to do, My friend, there's always time for you."
As with iced tea, there are lots of ways to make hot tea. The simplest method for one serving is to place a microwavable mug of water in the microwave. When the water is heated, take the mug out of the oven and place your tea bag in to steep.

The traditional method for making hot tea is to put a kettle of fresh, cold water on the stove to boil. In a separate container, place a small amount on the stove to heat. Use that bit of water to warm the teapot you will be using. Put the water in the teapot shortly before the kettle boils. Then, pour it out and put in the tea -- 1 teaspoon of black tea or one teabag for each 5 1/2 ounce cup of tea you plan to make. Use 1/2 teasoon per cup for oolong and 2 teaspoons per cup for green tea. You can put the loose tea into the bottom of the teapot. However, an easy way is to use a tea ball or tea infusion. Some teapots come with an infuser basket inside, and that's probably the easiest method of all. Do not pack your infuser or tea ball more than 1/2 the way full, as the dried tea leaves need room to expand when soaking in the hot water.

Immediately when the kettle boils, bring it to the pot and pour the water in. Hod it close to the mouth of the teapost so that the steam of the water does not get cooled by air during pouring. Put the lid on the teapot. Cover it with a cozy if you have one. Steep black tea for three to five minutes, oolong for about five minutes, and green tea for one to two minutes. Don't judge by the color of the water as the tea starts to seep in; wait the alloted time so that all the ingredients of the tea diffuse into the water.

Once the tea is brewed, you must get the leaves or bags out immediately to prevent your tea from becoming bitter. For teabags, simply lift the out. The same applies to a tea ball or other type of infuser. If you put the leaves directly into the pot, you will need to strain it as you pur the tea into a new teapot that has also been preheated.

When using teabags, you can pour hot water into a cup that is safe to hold it and place a bag in the cup to brew. This is handy when serving a number of guests who have different preferences in tea. A lovely tea presentation is to use a pretty basket or plate with several different types of tea and/or herbal teas. Each guest can then choose his or her preference.

If everyone is taking the traditional type of tea, it's nice to brew it the traditional way so that you can simply pour it into each person's cup without each guest having to deal with a tea bag.

Some people enjoy milk in their hot tea -- particularly in black tea. This is not as common in the Southern U.S., where I live, as it is in other regions and other countries. Even so, some do enjoy it this way. There is some evidence that milk ruins the healthful benefits of tea. The casseins in the milk prevent the absorption of beneficial compounds. Of course, if you are drinking tea purely for pleasure and not for the potential health benefits, this is not a consideration.

It's also common for people to enjoy lemon and sugar or lemon and honey in tea. Lemon is never used when milk is used, as the lemon curdles the milk. Some like tea simply with sugar or honey.

Green tea is traditionally not served with a sweetener, but I confess that I do put sweetener in a cup of hot green tea.

If you're confused about the terms black tea, green tea, and oolong tea, just remember that black teas are completely fermented in processing, green tea is not fermented at all, and oolong is somewhere in between the two. White tea is harvested before the leaves fully open. The buds are covered with a fine white hair. Like green tea, it undergoes little processing. White tea has less caffeine in it than green tea, and some think that it has even more potential health benefits than other types of tea.

Fermentation in tea means how long the tea leaf is allowed to oxidize by drying. It doesn't mean that the tea becomes alchoholic in any way. Fermenting the tea to a certain degree allows certain flavors to emerge.

Chai tea refers not to the type of tea, but how it is served. It is usually served with milk or cream, and it has lots of spices in it. Three of the spices commonly used in chai tea are cardamon, cinnamon, and cloves.

Unless you intend on becoming a tea expert, you don't need to be confused by the plethora of tea blends that are available. Just buy a good brand of the kind of tea you prefer. Any good black tea is suitable for a tea party.

Should you use tea bags or loose tea when making hot tea? Well, theoretically, it shouldn't matter whether the tea is loose or in a tea bag. True tea lovers, however, point out that manufacturers do sometimes use better tea in packaging loose tea than they put in tea bags. Also, tea bags are not necessarily stored in airtight containers, and it tends to go stale more easily than loose tea. Moreover, a lovely pot of tea is more attractive and easier for your loved ones to deal with than a bunch of tea bags. So, if you give lots of tea parties or frequently serve hot tea to your family, it's worth it to prepare loose leaf tea in the traditional way. If you and your family seldom drink hot tea, you'll probably do just fine with tea bags. It's a matter of personal choice.

Most everyone knows that a soothing drink for a sore throat and congestion is to prepare a cup of hot tea with lemon and honey.

Since the mid-twentieth century, at least, American culture has been more known for the morning coffee than for the afternoon tea, unless you count the Southern custom of serving lemonade or iced tea on late summer afternoons. However, most of us do take a snack or a beverage in the mid to late afternoon. Even if it's just you and your children who are participating in the afternoon break, why not make it special? Use pretty dishes and prepare dainty or tasty foods ahead of time to delight your family. Just a little something in the tummy, combined with loving attention and a pretty atmosphere can soothe the mind and body and head off the late afternoon "fussies".

The afternoon tea as a social even has made a come-back in the past decade. It is especially popular now to give brides teas rather than showers. There is a lot of information available today about how to give a tea, so I won't go into detail about that right now. However, those of you who love old-fashioned menus and recipes, I've included a few tea menu suggestions from Mrs. Henrietta Dull's 1941 cookbook. Mrs. Dull was a famous cook and home economist from Atlanta. I thought you'd enjoy thinking of how teas were done in our mothers' or grandmothers' day:

Chicken sandwiches; cheese and nut sandwiches; salted nuts; fancy cakes; mints or candy; Have nicely appointed table, with platters and dishes of the articles suggested, and see that they are kept flled as needed. A glass of tea on a small palte is served from the pantry. Fruit punch may be served.

Frozen fruit salad with crisp crackers; salted nuts; olives; iced tea -- all on one place, and each guest served a plate, from the pantry.

A vegetable aspic on lettuce with mayonnase, chicken salad sandwich, cheese sandwich, olives; ice cream; cake; fruit punch; fruit punch served from a nicely appointed table.

For a bridge tea; chekcen salad; tomato sandwich; carckers; olives; iced tea

For a bridge tea: Nut bread sandwich; frozen fruit salad; cheese straws and coffee.

(You Southern ladies were waiting for those cheese straws, weren't you! They're a must-have, even for today. :) )

Happy Homemaking!


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tea and Coffee -- Part II

(Image from 1950's book owned by my mother).


When making tea -- hot or iced, never boil the tea bag or tea leaves! That produces a bitter tasting tea. Some purists use a particular bottled water or filtered water for making tea. That is entirely optional; however, be aware that some waters with high mineral contents do alter the taste of tea.

Of course, since I'm a Southern girl, we'll talk about iced tea first. I drink iced tea, or sweet tea as we call it, almost every day, all year round, even on the coldest day of the winter. A true Southernor expects that when ordering tea in a restaurant, the waiter will know that you mean that you want a glass of sweet iced tea. That's the norm, while unsweet tea and hot tea and herbal tea are special orders. There are several ways to make iced tea: place water and tea bags in fridge overnight, use a special tea maker, make sun tea, etc.

The most common way is to make a tea syrup and then dilute it with water or with water and ice. In order to do this, use the amount of tea bags your tea calls for for the amount of tea you want to end up with, plus one tea bag "for the pot". (Iced tea needs to be brewed a bit stronger than hot tea.) For two quarts of iced tea, put about a quart of water in a pan. Heat it just until the boiling point. While it's heating, put a small amount of water into the bottom of your 2 quart pitcher so that the pitcher will not crack when you pour in the hot liquid. When the water you are heating reaches the boiling point, take it off the burner. Stir in one cup sugar (or to taste). Add your tea bags -- as many tea bags as the tea box calls for plus "one for the pot". (Iced tea needs to be brewed a bit stronger than hot tea, as iced tea is diluted.) I use 3 family size tea bags for two quarts of tea. Tie the tags together to keep the tags from slipping down into the tea syrup and also to make it easier to pull them out. Let the tea steep for at least five minutes. Some people brew their tea for up to an hour. I, myself, just go about cooking the rest of a meal I'm making without worrying about the tea steeping too long. However, some people believe that steeping tea for more than five minutes leaves a bitter taste.

When the tea has finished steeping, take out the tea bags, pour the water into the pitcher, and fill the pitcher the rest of the way with water or water and ice. Chill the tea.

For health reasons, I usually use de-caf tea bags, but the best iced tea is just good old black tea with caffeine. Also, there are teas that are especially made for iced tea. These have less tannins than tea normally does. This helps the iced tea to stay clear. If your tea does have tannins that produce a film on the top of the iced tea, it's not the end of the world. But, it is best to use the bags made for iced tea.

When serving iced tea, offer lemon slices. Mint sprigs are also a popular accompaniment to iced tea. If you want to be creative, offer a strawberry or two per person, or orange slices, or pieces of pineapple. You might want to arrange these attractively on a little plate and add a little serving fork or spoon so that guests can help themselves.

Tomorrow, how to make hot tea.

Happy homemaking!

Monday, January 26, 2009

sewing apron project, serving coffee and tea

Just a thought: When things do not have a specific place, you become a slave to them. You are never in control of your house; your house is in control of you. Deniece Schofield.

I had a few minutes to work on our apron project tonight. Here's what I did. I made a sandwich of the upper part of the apron. First, I placed one layer of the bib. Then, I put in the straps where I wanted them, making sure that they pointed downward. Then, I put the second layer of the bib face down, so that the right sides of the bib face together. I pinned the layers together and sewed around them. Then, I turned the layer inside out. I haven't pressed yet, so the bib still looks a little bit rough.

As you can see, I'm not an expert seamstress. But, I'm having fun and am getting in lots of practice! I hope you are, too.

I tried another new recipe today. This one is an ultra-easy way to make cookies. You start with one box of cake mix -- any flavor except for the kind that has pudding in it. Add two eggs and 1/2 cup oil and stir well. This is your basic cookie dough. If you like, you can roll each cookie in nuts for an added touch. Pat out little cookie shapes and place them on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for about 71/2 to 10 minutes. I used chocolate fudge cake mix for chocolate cookies. The person who shared this recipe with me used a white cake mix to make little goodies for a Christmas gathering. I hope I remember this recipe next Christmas, when it's cookie time!!

Serving Coffee and tea/Part I: Coffee and tea have become an important part of modern family life. They are also essential to hospitality. These beverages provide an aroma, a taste, and a sensation of hot or cold is very soothing to the body and mind. They also take the edge off of the appetite and help us to feel satisfied. Today, we are finding out that tea and coffee also have certain healthy elements in them, such as bioflavinoids. These drinks are so important to our culture that even if you avoid them for religious reasons, you probably have found some sort of substitute for them.

Coffee and tea both contain caffeine, which is stimulating to the body. Studies seem to indicate that a moderate amount of caffeine is ok and possibly even beneficial. However, too much definitely brings on jittery feelings and sleeplessness. People with certain health conditions may be advised by their doctors to avoid caffeine. Also, while doctors swing back and forth on this issue, it's probably best to avoid it while pregnant. Moreover, if one ingests caffeine every day, the body does become used to it. Mild withdrawal symptoms can occur when stopping caffiene. Older people may be more sensitive to caffeine than younger people; some studies indicate that thier bodies retain coffee longer. Keep in mind that a little bit of coffee with a lot of milk and a little bit of sweetener in it could potentially have less caffiene and sugar than a Coca-Cola.

I myself limit the amount of caffeine that I drink. I do so mainly because of health issues and also because I don't want to become dependent on caffeine for energy. I find that I can't handle caffeine in cofffee, as I used to. However, I do enjoy some caffeine in sweet iced tea and in chocolate.

Today, we have so many decaffeinated products, herbal teas, and other options available to us. If one seeks to avoid caffeine, there are plenty of other options available. (If you do avoid caffeine, you may want to slip a baggie with some herbal tea bags in them into your purse. That way, you can make your own caffeine free drink wherever you can obtain hot water.)

Even decaffeinated products contain a little caffeine. However, you're not likely to feel any effects unless you were to consume copious amounts of decaf tea or coffee. If you are highly sensitive to caffeine, though, you might need to avoid even decaffinated products. For you, herbal teas or other drinks might be better.

Coffee generally has more caffeine than tea. A 6 ounce cup of coffee may range from 60 to 180 mg. Tea averages about 40 mg, but may range from 20 to 90. Some people who are sensitive to the caffiene in coffee are able to handle tea without any problems.

Since many people avoid caffeine for health reasons, it's wise to have some alternatives on hand for family members or guests who cannot drink fully caffeinated coffee or tea. On the other hand, real lovers of coffee and tea complain that the taste of decaf tea or coffee is not as good as "the real deal". If all you have on hand is decaf coffee and you are serving it to a real coffee drinker, you can add a little bit of flavoring to overcome the taste difference. For example, you could add a bit of cinnamon or offer a flavored coffee cream.

Tea comes from the plant Camellia sinensis. We'll talk more about the forms of tea later. Herbal "teas" do not come from the tea plant, but from certain other aromatic or fragrant plants. Usually, these do not have caffiene. Some are said to cure certain ailments or ease certain symptoms. However, in consuming herbal teas, you should use caution. Contrary to popular belief, these teas can have side effects, and some can also react harmfully with prescription medications. Additionally, some people are allergic to some herbal teas. For example, some hay fever sufferers are allergic to my favorite herbal tea: chamomile, which is a cousin to the plants that make people sneeze in the late summer and fall. Also, not all herbal teas are processed exactly alike, so you can't be sure how much of the herb you are getting in one cup.

Do your research, talk to your doctor or pharmacist, stick to known brands, and know how your body reacts to the various herbal teas. If you do these things, you can probably get great enjoyment out of your favorite herbal teas. An herbal tea might become the drink you turn to when you want to enjoy a soothing hot beverage, but you don't want to consume tea or coffee.

(Much of the information in this article on coffee and tea is taken from Cheryl Mendelson's book, Home Comforts.)

Happy homemaking!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

More on the Tools of our Trade

Ideas for Storing the Tools of Homemaking:

Do you sew or do crafts? If so, you need a way of storing your materials that not only looks neat, but allows you to find the items you need quickly.

One way of storing notions or little craft items is to use one of those fairly inexpensive plastic containers made for storing little tools. These usually have little drawers of different sizes, which you can label so that you can find things you need. These are great for storing glue sticks, measuring tapes, hem gauges, hem tape, ready-made appliques, seam rippers, glitter, or any other sewing or craft items that will fit in the drawers.

I have a shelf above my sewing center on which I've placed little square white baskets which I bought at the Dollar Store. I use those to store patterns I'm currently using or plan on using soon, fabric glues, etc. They are very handy.

There are cases made especially for crochet hooks or knitting needles. If you don't have one and don't want to buy one, buy one of those inexpensive and decorative tubes made to hold a wine bottle from your local craft or dollar store. You can drop the needles and hooks into the holder and place the top on it. You can also make yourself a case for shorter needles out of placemats that you buy at a dollar store. Sew narrow pockets inside to hold the needles.

If you purchase a comforter, bedspread, curtain, sheet, or pillowcase, chances are it will come in a heavy plastic bag with a zipper or a snap top. Consider saving these. The plastic is not very breathable and isn't the best for the long term storage of fabrics. However, they are perfect for organizing fabrics for current and future projects. For example, if you quilt, you can store all of the fabrics for a quilt project in one bag, the fabrics for another quilt project in another bag, and so forth. This is especially helpful if you buy a lot of quilt fabrics in one shopping trip and then work on them throughout the year. You can also use these to organize knitting, crochet, or scrapbooking projects. You can also travel with these. If you are going somewhere, and you want to hand stitch a quilt or knit a scarf, just grab the bag that holds the project you'd like to work on and you're ready to go.

For large stocks of fabric, you can use big cardboard boxes. You can cut sturdy pieces of cardboard a little narrower than the box is wide and a little shorter than the height. You can wrap the fabric around these cardboard pieces, as if you were wrapping fabric onto a bolt. You can slide these "mini-bolts" into the box, as if you were filing papers in a file drawer. Then, when you are ready to sew, you can flip through the box. If you have many fabrics, label your boxes. Group like colors together or like textures. You can attach index cards to each fabric with any information you'd like to remember, such as the width of the fabric, the type of material, the length you have on hand, when and where you purchased it, etc.

Swatches and scraps that won't fit on your homemade bolts can be kept in a separate box or in a big plastic container.

Be sure to be disiplined and go through your fabrics and espeically your scraps every once in a while. Give away fabrics you know you will never use.

If you have an extra closet in your sewing area, you can also fold lengths of fabric and attach them to clothes hangers using clothes pins.

Remember, your system of organziation needs to be only as elaborate as you need it to be. If you sew or craft only once in a blue moon and you don't have many sewing or craft items to store, it doesn't make sense to spend hours setting up a means to organize your small store of stuff. If, on the other hand, you are an avid seamstress or crafter, putting in the time to organize it up front will save you lots of time in the long haul.

If you use sewing patterns, think twice before storing your patter for future use. Will you really use it again? If so, store it. If you won't, it's not worth the space to file it or the time to put it away. Try to use patterns from which you can get a lot of use.

One easy way to store patterns and pattern pieces is to place them in large manilla envelopes and file them in a box that will hold the envelopes. Or, you can store them in zip lock bags that are big enough to hold your fabric cover and your folded patterns. Doing this saves you the effort of tryng to fold everything back into the pattern cover.

Many people do put their patterns back into the covers. You can buy boxes especially made for storing patterns at craft and sewing stores.

Did you know that you can make a book or ring of zip-lock storage bags? Reinforce the top with mailing tape and punch either one hole at the top or three holes down the side like notebook papter. Hold the various bags together with loose binder rings. Store embroidery threads or other craft supplies inside the bags. You can use quart or gallon size bags in tis way.

If you knit or crochet, you might want to store a few skeins of your yarn in an open basket. This looks beautiful in a sewing area. You can also place a colorful pair of knitting needles in the skeins (Unless you have small children around who might take out the needles and injure themslves with them.)

Do you garden?

Lawn tools can be hung on a peg board or a specially made row of hangers or even between to closely placed nails.
You can also put rakes, hoes, shovels, etc. into a glavanized garbage can and tie the can's handle to something to keep it from falling over.

What about tools for home maintenance?
Keep a special jar for screws that you find on the kitchen floor or in a drawer. Don't throw them away until you're absolutly sure that they didn't fall out of some place where they are needed. An empty, clean baby food jar is great for this. Be sure to place little items like this all together so that if you do need to find a missing screw or bolt or nut, you don't have to rummange through five drawers looking for the perfect one.

Dishpans make great slide out drawers to use on shelves in a garage. You can use them to store light bulbs, extension cords, etc.

For ideas about organizing sew rooms, follow this link. Don't be discouraged if you don't have the sewing space that these ladies do. You can function quite well if you have a place in the bottom of a closet in which to store a sewing machine, a table you can clear and use for cutting and sewing (You might want to cover it with a cutting mat to protect the table), and just enough fabrics and notions for your current projects.

Here are some ideas for organizing the garage. Again, don't be dismayed if you don't have the money or time right now to create a fantastic looking garage. Just take whatever ideas work for you. Here's more about organizing a garage. Here's a garage someone has set up to hold a potting bench. Hmm...that looks much better than my collection of garden odds and ends.

We'll get back to our apron project soon and move on to crochet.

In the meantime,
Happy Organizing!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

January 22 -- organization, tools of a home keeper

The Home Economist: The Tools of our Trade

Today, we're addressing a topic I probably should have mentioned from the beginning of our Home Economics Project. As with any profession or endeavor, the home economist needs to have the right tools for keeping a home. The tools need to be ready to use when needed, and the tools need to be stored where they can be accessed when needed. The keeper at home may have many different sets of tools: garden tools, kitchen tools, sewing tools, craft tools, office tools, teaching tools, but for today we'll focus on cleaning tools.

Cleaning Tools:

Each keeper at home will need to decide how many and what kind of tools she needs to manage her own household. Perhaps, you will decide all you need is a broom, a mop, and one type of cleanser. Or, you may need a wider variety of cleaning items. Just be sure that you think carefully about the products you buy. Note which ones truly make cleaning easier for you and which add little to your work. Otherwise, you may be enticed by the dizzying array of products that promise so many wonderful results and find yourself in my position -- with overstocked and cluttered shelves of cleaning supplies.

Don Aslett has written several books about cleaning and organizing a home. He became interested in this subject when he founded a house cleaning service as a means to work his way through college. He saw that many of the methods used to clean commercial buildings or to clean homes professionally would help the average home manager function more efficiently.

He is an advocate of buying janitorial grade cleaning tools or at least investing in the best cleaning tools you can find. Two he mentions are industrial grade entry way mats and a really good dust mop. Having good mats at your doors -- both outside and inside -- cuts way down on the amount of dirt that people track into your home as they enter. This will keep your home cleaner and help preserve carpeting and wood flooring.

Whether or not you agree with Don Aslett's theory that a homemaker should invest in tools made for cleaning professionals, it does make sense to buy quality tools that will last for a good time. It also makes sense to eliminate and concentrate -- buy only those items which you really do need to clean your home.

So what tools are you likely to need? Here are some suggestions to choose from:

A good vacuum cleaner. I prefer bagless ones, myself.
A good mop and dustpan. You may want two -- one for indoors and one for sweeping porches and sidewalks.
A great dustmop with a washable cover. (I have taken to using Swiffer type products because they are easy and you can use them for a variety of things -- such as dusting walls. However, the most economical option is still an old-fashioned dustmop with a reusable cover.)
A hardwood floor "mop" with a washable cover.
A few great dusting rags.
3-5 utility towels.
A squeege for washing windows.
Bowl brushes for toilets.
A long handled brush for cleaning tubs and showers.
As mentioned, mats at your entry doors.
A cleaning bucket
A utility push cart (a grocery cart can work) to take supplies with you as you move through the house or a carryall with cleaning supplies in it. If you use a push cart, attach a bag to collect bits of trash as you move through the house and another in which to put laundry to be carried to a distant hamper or items that need to be moved to another room. This will save you a lot of walking back and forth as you work. If you need inspiration for this, think of how efficiently hotel personnel clean a room by bringing in a cart with everything they need on it.
Art gum eraser as a gentle way of removing scuff marks from floors and marks on walls -- Rub lightly on walls to avoid peeling paint -- test on a small spot first.
Refrigerator coil brush/long, skinny appliance brush.
disposable sponge paintbrushes for cleaning under knobs on appliacnes, cleanign blinds, etc./old toothbrush to clean around faucets or to clean grout
Trash bags
Deniese Schofield uses a bowl brush resevered specifically for brushing around the edges of carpeting to pick up lint, bugs, etc., that the vacuum might miss, as well as to brush underneath and around furniture between times that you move it to clean under it, to brush carpeting on stairs, etc.
An old-fashioned cotton head mop -- Some people believe that this has never been improved upon, despite all of the tools avialable to us today.
Feather duster -- Some women love using a feather duster, but others believe that these only spread dust around. There are other dusters on the market -- micofiber ones, swiffer type, etc. I am one of those who prefers to use other methods than a feather duster, but you may find that you love one.
A cordless dust buster. (You might find that a whisk broom and a small dust pan will work just as well.)
A small razor-edge tool for cleaning burnt-on sugar off of stove tops.

If you have a two story house, you may or may not wish to have a double set of some items so that you do not have to carry them up and down the stairs. It's easy, for example, to store some bathroom cleaning products in an upstairs bathroom. Or, you might keep an old vacuum upstairs and your newer model downstairs, provided that your old one still works.

Remember, every woman must determine what tools she needs for her household. Again, a good rule of thumb is to have on hand no more than you need and to store it so that you can reach it easily.

If you do find that you have overbought cleaning supplies, force yourself to use up cleaning solutions before buying more and give away any tools that you have not used recently. If you think you will use an item during a bi-annual deep cleaning session, it might be worth keeping. Otherwise, if you haven't used it in two months, ask yourself if you really do need it clutterng up your household.

There are various ways to store your items. Obviously, you need to keep potentially poisonous or dangerous tools out of the reach of small children. You can buy hangers for mops, brushes, brooms, etc. You can also store such items in a clean trash can or a bucket that is large enough and heavy enough to hold them upright.

A pegboard is another option for hanging cleaning tools, as are shelves and hooks in your laundry area.

If you use a utility cart to clean and you have a closet that will hold the open cart, you can simply store your items on the cart. Or, store the items near your cart and use your cart for other things. For example, you might get double usage out of your cart by using it to carry clean laundry to various bedrooms and clean towels to various bathrooms.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

January 21 -- Preparing teens, Staying motivated as keeper at home by depending on the Lord

Staying motivated; Depending on the Lord: Sooner or later, in our endeavors as managers of our homes, we all run face to face with our poverty of spirit. We come to the end of our ability to love in a certain situation. We become physically and emotionally tired. Especially in today's culture, we feel the sting when people do not appreciate what we do in the home or why we do it. We make mistakes or even sin. We fall short of our goals. We compare ourselves to other women who seem to have it all together, and we become discouraged or even jealous. Instead of developing godly sorrow that leads to refreshing and repentance, we nurse wounded pride because we are not as perfect as we thought we were. (II Cor. 7) Regarding that last sentence, have I ever been there and done that!!

For the Christian, being a manager of our homes is one manifestation of our love for Christ and of our love for our families. This love for Christ comes from the fact that He first loved us and gave Himself for us. He has given us a command -- to love one another as He loved us.

To love as Christ loved is not an easy calling. It requires taking up our crosses daily and following Him. It means schooling our words and our emotions and our actions, rooting out our selfishness, enduring persecution for Christ's sake, serving to please our Heavenly Father and not to gain the notice of people. It involves repentance for sin, an honest effort to learn from mistakes, and perseverance for the long haul of life. It is a joyful life and it is the only life worth living, but it is not always a comfortable life.

We simply cannot walk as Jesus did (I John 2:1-6), even as managers of our homes, on our own power. Therefore, it's good to recognize and always remember our own poverty of spirit (Matthew 5:5). That is what drives us to our knees in prayer to a gracious God. We trust in Him, who longs to fill our poverty with citizenship in His glorious Kingdom.

We remember that God gives grace to the humble, but He opposes the proud. I Peter 5:8. Therefore, we are not afraid to say to Him (and to others as is appropriate), "I am weak. I need help. I don't know what to do. I need forgiveness. I need strengthening. Without Christ, I can do nothing."

Admitting our need is not the same as complaining about how hard our lot is. When we truly understand our poverty of spirit, we do not whine or murmer. Instead, we pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, and rejoice. We are not defensive when some person or some circumstance points out our imperfections, because we are already aware that we have fallen short of God's glory and are justified freely by his grace. We are excited to learn from our mistakes, to repent of our sins, and to move forward to excellence, because we are committed to growing in Christ for the long haul. Instead of becoming discouraged when comparing our life to another woman's, we will rejoice for her over the blessings in her life.

As Alan Redpath said, "Any battle for victory, power, and deliverance - from ourselves and from sin - which is not based constantly upon the gazing and the beholding of the Lord Jesus, with the heart and life lifted up to Him, is doomed to failure."

On the other hand, as Jesus said to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." 2 Cor. 12:9. Christ also invited all of those who were heavy laden to come to Him, take His yoke upon them, and learn from Him. He promised that He would give us rest. Matthew 11:25-28. When we reach the end of ourselves and cast ourselves upon the Lord, we realize how truly sweet is the rest that Christ provides. Only when we are vitally connected to Him can we bear fruit as keepers of our homes. Only in Him will our labors be sweet and not burdensome. Only in Him will we make progress in both Christlike character and the skillful, loving management of our homes.

Many parents make the mistake of thinking that their teenage children do not need their guidance any longer. To me, this is like playing three innnings of a football game and quitting in the fourth. Even as children move into their adult lives, they still need us.

On the other hand, by the time a child has hit his mid-to-late teens, he or she should have mastered many practical life skills. Here is some food for thought:

1) If you were out of pocket for a few days, could your children take over your tasks until you resumed your duties?
2) Can your child balance a checkbook?
3) Can your child cook a meal? Perhaps, daughters will be more interested in the culinary arts than sons will be(although many chefs are men), but any boy will benefit if he can follow a few basic recipes.
4) Does your child know about car maintenance? Typically, boys may be more interested in this than girls, though this is not necessarily so. Any girl will beneift if she has at least enough knowledge to ask intelligent questions of a car expert.
5) Can your child do laundry? I thought we had this one covered until my son washed white towels with red stripes in hot water and the towels bled in pink streaks on the white. We are thankful that the pink came out in the next washing, and his towels are fine now.
We all live and learn.
6) Does your child know how to organize time? Does your child have a good sense of what needs to be done when?
7) Does your child know how to converse with people at the bank? Does he or she understand the way savings accounts, checking accounts, and 401K's work? Does he understand the principles of giving and other aspects of Biblical stewardship?
8) Could your child fill out a tax form?
9) Has your child ever read a copy of the Constitution of the United States, or, if you do not live in the U.S., is your child familiar with the workings of your country's government? Your child doesn't need to be an expert, but it's good to have a basic acquaintance with your country's foundational operation.
10) Can your child change a diaper, babysit, teach a children's class, or otherwise take care of children for a short time?
11) Can he or she manage his or her emotions well? Can he or she patinetly wait for and work toward some goal, or does he or she always seek instant gratification? Is your child able to demonstrate empathy for another? Can he or she handle trials or setbacks? Can he or she handle success? We aren't looking for perfection or adult maturity here, but the child should be well on his or her way to developing healthy ways of thinking.
12) Can your child navigate his world? Can he or she read a road map? Would he or she feel intimidated to be in a large city? How about in the country? Is he familiar with how to buy plane or train tickets? If your child had to travel alone somewhere, would he or she have the skills necessary to get around?

Of course, it's best not to wait until your child is about to leave the nest to train him or her in these skills. Children can begin to learn many life skills quite young, and they can continue to develop in these skills as they mature. However, if your child is lacking in some skills, it's never too late to help. Do be sure, however, to realize that your teen child needs you to relate to him or her differently than when he or she was younger. He is no longer a child and does not need to be treated as such. However, he still needs to show you respect, and you still need to offer guidance as needed.

I know from experience that there is always some way in which you had better prepared your children for adult life. Sometimes, as our children begin the nest-emptying process as they fly to nests of their own, we can start worrying about how well we did as parents or if our children will be able to function on their own. That's where we have to trust the Lord and trust our children, too. We have to trust the foundation that we laid with our children, even if it wasn't a perfect one. Our children will thrive better if they realize that we are at peace with this stage of life and that we have every confidence that the Lord will guide them.

Happy Homemaking!

Monday, January 19, 2009


Hi Everyone!

Vignettes, Niches, and Nooks:

Not long ago, we talked about making pretty little nooks in your house that you keep neat and clean. These can serve as inspiration points for tidying up the rest of a room. Also, they are restful to the eye.

Above is an antique dresser that sits in our entryway. I continually rearrange things on it, so the look is not always the same. This is my current arrangement. Alas, my cat loves to perch on top of this and look outside, so things on this sometimes get knocked around.

This is a nook I'm working on, but haven't quite gotten to my satisfaction yet. This is in my office/workroom. The wall is set back here. I have the window covered with long white sheers, a Shabby Chic ballon shade from Target, and long rose-colored curtains. Underneath the window, I've set my mother's old hope chest, and I have some cushions and a little throw on top of it. I keep photo albums and scrapbooks inside the chest. I'm going to cushion the top so if can function like a window seat.

Here's a picture shelf with an old lamp, some prints of rainy Paris that we brought back from a trip there, and a little Mary Englebreit card that features the saying, "Live in the Light."

Well, those are just three of my nooks.

For apron project: Cut eight two-by-twenty or twenty and one-half inch strips to make ties and strings. This can be from your basic fabric or from a secondary coordinating or contrasting fabric if you are using one.

Once you've cut those eight strips, we're ready to sew!

First, we will sew the straps. Unfortuanetly, this beginning part is the hardest sewing we will do, so we won't get a chance to do much warm up. If you can get through this, however, the rest of the apron should be easier. First, place two of your two-by-twenty and one-half inch straps right sides together. Start sewing around one end, turn fabric and sew along the edge edge, turn fabric and sew the other end, turn fabric and sew all but about four inches of this side. You are essentially sewing a tube, leaving an opening through which we will turn the tube inside out. Keep the hem very narrow, but do make sure that you catch all of the fabric in your narrow hem. Back stitch a stitch or two to reinforce the end of your sewing.

Gently push the fabric through the opening you have left to turn it right side out. Press the rectangular shape flat. Press in the sides of the open place to make a narrow hem. Top stitch around the entire tie. (To top stitch means to sew a narrow hem on the outer side of the fabric. This reinforces the seam and holds the material in place. It is not necessary for many seams, but we are using it for the top ties and waist ties of the apron.)

Repeat the steps to make the other top tie. Now, we've completed two ties that will go around our neck.

I am using white thread on blue material. You might like to use a thread that matches your material or one that contrasts with your material. Either can be quite pretty. If you are new to sewing, you might want to stick to the matching thread, as any wobbles in your seaming will be less visible. I am using white thread for my whole project for consistency.

Pushing fabric through opening.

Top stitching around tie after fabric has been pushed through and tie has been pressed.

video that explains topstitching

Happy Homemaking!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thursday 1/15 -- preparing for crochet project

A reminder: Next up on our project list is a crochet dish strainer. Yes, you read that right. We're going to crochet a pretty piece of yarn work that you can tuck away into your dish cloth drawer. When you are drying dishes by hand, you simply take it out, place it on your counter, and place dishes or pans on it to dry. When you are ready to clean it, throw it in the washer and dryer, and tuck it away in your drawer again until you need it. Or, you can leave it on your counter to use whenever its needed.

Of course, we will finish sewing our aprons before we begin the crochet work, but I'm providing a little preliminary information just in case you'd like to prepare.

This project will be a little challenging to the beginner, but I'm a beginner and I'm working my way through it. Plus, it's the type of project that doesn't have to turn out looking beautiful in order to perform its function. I'm doing one for myself first in order to practice, and, then, I hope to be able to make the dish strainers as gifts.

To get ready, you will need a size K crochet hook and 2 skeins of 100% acrylic knitting worsted weight yarn -- 4 ply. Be sure that you don't buy yarn with wool or cotton in it. You want a material that will absorb water without losing shape. We will use a different hook and yarn to create a pretty edging, but we'll come to that later.

Note, we will be working with two threads at a time. So, your two skeins of yarn can be identical in color or they can be different in order to create a variegated look. I am using a blue and a white together, which makes a blue and white patterned effect.

If you are accomplished when it comes to crochet, you won't need to practice beforehand. Even if you are a total beginner, it's not necessary, as we will go over every detail very carefully. If you would like to get in some practice before we begin, you can always unravel an old knitted item that you don't want anymore in order to obtain some practice yarn or you can buy some yarn on sale. You can follow the directions in these two links just to practice holding the needle and getting the movements of the stitch down. Our main stitch will be an American half-double crochet. I'll post a careful tutorial about this one -- probably using a video and voice and the help of someone who's more experienced than I am! But, you can begin by watching this:

This page shows you how to chain on stitches. You can practice this. Once we actually begin, we will chain on about 50 stitches using two threads at one time. For now, just practice chaining on about five with one thread, undoing them, and chaining them again.

Lion Brand yarns also has some crochet tutorials you can peruse.

I am left-handed. I had a very difficult time catching on until my sister-in-law sat down and reversed her motions and then showed me how a left-handed person would do it. Usually, I just pick up things the way right-handed people do them, without any problem. I knit as if I were right-handed for example. However, when it came to crochet, I found it much easier to begin from the point of view of a left-hander. If you are left-handed and you are having difficulty with the motions, consider reversing them to a more natural position for you.

Note that if you live in the UK or a place that speaks British English rather than American English, the crochet lingo is a bit different than in the U.S. I don't know why.

Here's a basic chart of the differences:

Slip Stitch Single Crochet
Single Crochet Double Crochet
Half double Half treble
Double Treble
Treble Double treble
Double treble Treble treble

So, if you are following along with us and you speak British English, I'm not sure exactly what a half-double-crochet would be. Perhaps, it's half-treble? Maybe, a crochet expert can help us with this one.

To simplify the differences between British and English terminology, a universal chart of crochet symbols has been created. Once you learn these simple symbols, you can read any pattern, no matter in what part of the world it was created.

Just as there are differences in crochet terminology, there is some difference in the naming of the various sizes of crochet hooks, I believe. So, if you are outside the U.S. and are buying a hook to work along with us, be sure to read the package carefully or ask someone in the store to help you determine if you are buying a size comparable to the one we are using.

A bit of crochet trivia from Wikipedia: "Crochet patterns have an underlying mathematical structure and have been used to illustrate shapes in hyperbolic geometry that are difficult to reproduce using other media or are difficult to understand when viewed two-dimensionally."

The next time someone asks you what you do all day, you can say that one of your activities is producing works with underlying mathematical structures and offer to show them an illustration of hyperbolic geometry!

But, don't let the talk of higher math throw you. Avid crocheters say that it's very easy to do once you learn the few basic stitches, and many are able to design their own patterns. It's a very forgiving yarn work, too. If you mess up, you generally only have to correct your last stitch, rather than ripping everything out and starting over again as you might in knitting.

Other interesting bits of information: There are many theories about how crochet came about, but no one knows for sure. In the U.S., Britain, France, Belgium, Italy, and the Spanish-speaking world, we all all it crochet. However, if you are from Holland, you likely call it haken. It's known as haekling in Denmark, hekling in Norway, and virkning in Sweden.

Crochet can produce very fine work. We've all seen the wonderful lacy doilies that are done in crochet. Crochet is one way to produce a lace effect, and it is considered to be easier than some other forms of lace-work, such as tatting.

You can also knit lace. Kelli has a fascinating article about knitting lace and about some mysterious instructions for knitting lace that were found hidden away in an old attic.

Happy Homemaking!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Wed. 1/14 Weekly Schedules:

Are you evaluating your schedules to see if they work for you? Remember, even if you're a happy-go-lucky, spur of the moment type, scheduling can be your best friend. Without a schedule, you'll never feel that your work is done, because there is always something more that you could do. Yet, if you lay out a day's schedule, and you accomplish what you set out to do on that day, you can be at peace, even if you do spot a few dust bunnies somewhere.

As Denise Schofield says, "Monday's work can be finished, Tuesday's work completed, and so on. Even though some ares of the house are undone, yhou can relax and say, "That's Thursday's work. Without a schedule, you always feel snowed under, trying to catch up. Enjoy the exhilerating feeling you get when something is completed."

Another benefit to scheduling is that it cuts down on the time you need to spend making decisions about what to do next. When I don't schedule well, I often spin my wheels, wondering to what activity I should devote my attention in the moment. Having a schedule that works well eliminates time wasted in indecision.

In addition to the minimum basic daily routine we've already discussed, you need a minimum basic weekly routine.

Some things you might include in your weekly routine are as follows:

1) Time for planning menus, answering correspondence, planning schedules, making calls about business matters related to your home, etc. We already discussed in the posts about organizing our office that it's good to allow for one or two "desk hours" in your weekly schedule. You could have one hour on one day just for menu and schedule planning and another hour on another day for taking care of other matters.
2) Clean fridge
3) Shop for food. Perhaps, you will do a full grocery shopping once a week and maybe pick up a few fresh items at another time. Or, perhaps, you follow a once-a-month meal plan or other plan that means that you do bulk shopping in longer intervals and pick up only a few fresh things each week. Perhaps, you live on a farm and grow most of your own produce -- needing only to buy certain staples at the store. No matter how you plan it, be sure to include time to be like that merchant ship -- bring nourishing, tasty, and budget-friendly ingredients to your kitchen. (Proverbs 31)
4) Minimum basic overall house cleaning: vacuuming, dusting, bathrooms, clean sheets, clean towels, emptying trash cans, sweeping or mopping floors as appropriate, etc.
5) Laundry!
6) Watering or otherwise tending to indoor and outdoor plants
7) Making sure clothing is ready to wear. Some weeks, this might include sewing or buying something new. More often than not, it will involve any basic maintenance of clothing that is not included in laundering and drying. Some examples of this type of maintenance might be ironing clothing, sewing on buttons, patching the ripped knee of a pair of boy's play jeans, polishing shoes or purse. Another type of clothing maintenance is to take a few minutes each night to help children lay out their clothing for the next day. Perhaps, you might benefit from laying out your clothing, as well. Of course, if you keep a wardrobe of well-maintained basics, it takes only a few minutes in the morning to grab an outfit.
If you keep after the little details of clothing maintenance on a weekly basis, they don't build up into an overwhelming pile of things to do. Plus, your clothing will last longer and look nicer. Some clothing takes more maintenance than others, so consider this when buying or sewing something for your wardrobe.
8) Empty trash cans
9) Errands/regular activities

Those are what I see as weekly basics. Here's what Denise Schofield, author of "Confessions of an Organized Housewife" suggests as your priorities:

1) General pick-up of the house
2) Laundry kept current
3) well-balanced meals served regularly
4) Dishes done frequently (This, I consider as a daily chore)
5) Bathrooms cleaned and straightened regularly
6) Entry areas clean and neat, so that you won't be embarrassed to have people see your home.

There are many ways to work your weekly schedule. The simplest is simply to make a list for the week and to jot down when you are going to do what according to the events of your week. On Monday, tackle some items from your list. On Tuesday, tackle some more, and so forth. You can check off each task as you work down the list. This plan is best for the woman who needs a flexible schedule, provided that she has the discipline to work through the list in a consistent and timely fashion.

Most women find it easier to have a more regular schedule. One of the most time-tested methods is to assign a certain task to each day. For example, Monday might be your laundry day, Tuesday might be the day you clean the fridge and go shopping, and so on. You can also spread out the tasks of house cleaning over a week. For example, on Monday, you might clean the bathrooms and tidy-up. On Tuesdays, you could mop the kitchen floor. On Wednesdays, you could dust and vacuum.

Our great-grandmothers generally arranged tasks according to a certain pattern. Nearly all women did their laundry on Monday. This was because laundry was a momentous task in those days, and it was best to tackle it on Monday, right after Sunday's rest. If you would like to follow the certain task on a certain day plan, think through what makes sense for your household. Perhaps, it would make more sense for you to do your basic house cleaning on Monday and do laundry on Tuesday. If you get stuck figuring out what is best, just jot down a schedule and go with it for a while. You'll find out whether that works for you or not.

Most families with small children will not be able to complete all of their laundry in one single day. You might consider having a second laundry day or doing a load each day in addition to your weekly scheduled day.

Make sure that your schedule is a reasonable one for you. Consider your family's current activity level, your health, the size of your home, etc. Many women come up with a routine that is too detailed and too ambitious, only to burn out when they can't keep it up. Work on blocking in your basic priorities first. Then add in things like polishing the silver or cleaning the grout. As we've discussed before, ask your husband what his priorities are and meet those.

For some of us who have chronic health challenges, it may seem daunting to keep to a weekly schedule as we cannot predict how we will feel on any given day. Yet, having a schedule and being thrown off of it now and again is better than not scheduling at all. Let's say that you miss a Tuseday due to illness. On Wednesday, do your regular Wednesday tasks first. Then, as you have time and energy, catch up on what you missed on Tuesday. Other than laundry or grocery shopping, what you missed one day can likely wait until the next week if that's the absolute best you can do. You might crunch along on a carpet that needs vaccuming for several days. Eventually, however, you will get it clean.

In a similar way, you will need to work around babies, unexpected company, holidays, etc. Think through your week on Monday morning. This week, Aunt Marina is coming to stay on Thursday, so I need to have my Thursday shopping done early.

Flylady's daily emails are a popular way to stay on task. Some people really like Flylady's system; others don't. If you would like to check out Flylady, you could try getting her emails for a while and decide if they are for you or not. Or, you could visit her site and jot down ideas for developing your own way of scheduling your home keeping.

Here is Denise Schofield's weekly schedule:

Monday: laundry, iron, mend, clean fireplace if needed.
Tuesday: paperwork
Wednesday -- launrdy, water plants (dust plants if needed) clean telphone
Friday -- laundry, wash sheet and bedding as needed, wash floors, wipe doorknobs and light switches, wash front door, polish kitchen canisters and cupboards, wash trash baskets, dust and empty vacuum bag, shop

Monthly: Clean garage
Straigthen basement

As far as just the tasks of house cleaning are concerned, she aims for two hours of cleaning on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and only does maintenance cleaning on the other days. That is the basis of the schedule you see listed above.

I've included her schedule only as an example. Remember, everyone's schedule is personal. Take some time to evaluate your weekly routine and tweak it so that it works well for you.

If you are just now drawing up a weekly schedule, you will need to refer to it often in the beginning. Eventually, it will become such a part of your thinking that you do it automatically. When you get to that point, you will find that your life at home is probably progressing much more smoothly and orderly. This frees up more time for you to do the extra things in life that you enjoy.

Happy Home Keeping!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tuesday, January 13 -- more on our sewing unit, organization, vignette challenge , home economics notebooks

Challenge for the Week: Create a pretty vignette or two in your home and take a snapshot. Post photos on your blog, and leave us a link. Some of you already have a number of pretty niches or vignettes in your home, and all you will have to do is just dust your existing arrangement. Others might be inspired to set up a pretty corner somewhere.

Ideas for a vignette: a mantel, the top of a piano, a favorite chair with a pretty basket beside it of reading or Bible material; a nook in your kitchen; the top of your dresser; your dressing table, etc.

Now, we're not talking about buying a lot of stuff to fill a space. If you think about the example of Ma Ingalls --at least the TV version of her -- she was thrilled to have one pretty, feminine figurine to set upon her rough mantelpiece. Try to move objects around that you have at home or make a craft item or even use branches or other materials from your yard.

The point of this exercise is to claim some pretty spaces in your home that you will maintain. Even if the rest of your home gets a bit out of order, having pretty spots to look at can inspire you to set the rest to rights.

While you're at it, where is your favorite place to pray, listen to music, or just think? Have you made it pretty? If you can, carve out a spot for you to retreat to to enjoy a few moments. This could be in addition to your desk, so that you have a pretty, organized space devoted to work and a pretty space devoted to rest. If you can't find a space in your home; don't worry. It's said that in days past, there was a woman with many children in her home. In order to find some privacy in which to pray, she just sat in a corner and threw her apron up over her face. If you can, however, it's nice to set up a little personal space for you, even if it's only a chair tucked away in a corner.

As long as we're plunging into this area of home management, let's thino about spaces for our husbands and our children. Do they have places to work and also to spend some quiet time? Setting aside some good space for your husband to work, take care of the family bills and other papers, or to pursue a hobby is one way you could honor him if you can manage it. Training yourself and teaching your children to respect his space and his things is good practice in consideration. (Says I, the notorious pen, tape and scissors thief! I promise to repent!) If you have many children at home, it's not likely that all will be able to have individual spaces. But, you can experiment with setting up the home so that there are places for those who need some quiet time to retreat to for a bit, while those who are interested in more active time can gather somewhere else.

We moved into a home that had a wonderful raised playhouse just at the stage when our children were leaving playhouse days. But, our daughter continued to use that as a place to go and pray and look at the evening sky well into her teenage years.

If you're in summertime now or if you live in a place with many mild winter days, as I do, think also of a space you outside that you can claim as a place to rest and dream. If you like, you can make an outdoor vignette or just enjoy a spot of nature as it is.

In a novel I once read, one of the characters talked about arranging things in your yard that would be attractive when covered with winter snow. She looked for things at thrift sales or made her own things to make pretty winter vignettes. Of course, the snow "prettifies" everything, but I don't have much practice with deliberately arranging landscapes to be beautiful when ice and snow hit. We get only a few snowfalls a year, and they generally aren't very deep. CALM has some beautiful photos on her blog of winter silhouettes from her yard and garden. If you live in snowy country and have some pretty photos of your yard and garden, please leave a link in the comments section. I'd love to see your photos. Or, if you have some advice for arranging things so that your yard will look especially pretty when decorated with wintry precipitation, please pass it on to me!
How's everyone doing on their home economics notebook and on their Book of Days? If you are planning to garden or even grow pots in containers on your deck or patio, have you jotted down some plans in your home economics book? If you are interested in improving your sewing, knitting, or crocheting skills, have you found some basic notes to add to your notebook? Think of your home economics notebook as a place where you work out your own management of your home -- tweak schedules, make long-term plans, jot down areas in which you'd like to improve, etc. -- and as a place to store reference material for future use. Note: this is not your daily planning notebook or calendar, but more of a reference book.

For your Book of Days, keep noting happy moments at home. Along the way, all home managers come across little problems that must be solved or have some unhappy emotions that must be worked through. Take care of those things in prayer first, and in your home economics book, second. Reserve your Book of Days for positive things.

If you get stuck wondering what to write in your book of days, ask yourself some questions: What is the weather like today? What is particularly beautiful about this season? (Even a wintry day has its beauties.) What smells are coming from the kitchen? What is something that I appreciate about each family member? Did my child say or do something today that I always want to remember? Did I accomplish some special cleaning or craft project? If I cleaned today, did I enjoy certain clean smells? Be sure to describe taste, touch, sound, smell, and sight in your vignettes of home. Jot down quotes that inspire you. Include photos of pretty things in your home.

One woman turned a favorite cookbook into a home journal. Every time she used a recipe from it, she jotted down who was at the meal and a little bit about what was going on in the home at the time. So, every time she or one of her children opened the cookbook, they saw happy notes from their home life on its pages. What a treasure that cookbook must have become!

Think of your Book of Days as a treasure that you are storing up for yourself. It can become inspiration to read on a day when you feel blah and unmotivated or even when you wonder if you are making a difference by loving your family. Or, it can be something fun to sit down and peruse when your heart is bursting with joy. Think of it also as something you wouldn't mind your children finding in your things when you are very old. Capture memories for them that they can go back to when they think of their childhood.

Sewing resources:

Have you ever thought about starting your own home based sewing business? Here's a guide from Mississippi State University to help you get started. The person who is ready to start this in the immediate future would probably need to be an advanced seamstress, but even if you are beginning, you can read it and dream.

Here is some reference material for a beginning sewer. Here's more info. for the beginner.

Here's a guide to sewing items for children.

Here's a guide to using a serger.

Are you an intermediate sewer? Here is a page you might want to peruse:

Here's a page that can help you assess your skill of sewing: beginning, intermediate, advanced, and some suggested free projects for each level.

The following notes are from the article for people who want to start a home sewing business. But, it contains good tips about arranging our sewing space, even for those of us who sew just for personal use or fun.

Planning a Home Sewing Center

Where anyone sews often is a very disorganized area. Often it is the exception rather than the rule to have an organized sewing center. A sewing center is usually space adapted from a previous use. It can be temporary or permanent space.

A sewing area can be located in the laundry room, bedroom, kitchen, or even a living room. It can be a closet, a piece of furniture (wardrobe or a chest), or a separate room designed specifically for the center.

When locating your sewing center, it is important to consider the space required for the different activities an efficient sewing center should accommodate. Areas for cutting/marking, sewing at the machine, sewing by hand, pressing, fitting, and storage for all sewing equipment, partially constructed garments, and mending are essential.

Space Requirements

Research has found a cutting surface 28 to 36 inches wide, 56 to 72 inches long, and 34 to 40 inches high is the most desirable. The ranges in width, length, and height are given because the dimensions for a cutting table vary according to the amount of space available as well as your height and arm proportions.

The cutting surface should be at a height that prevents stooping. If you are of average height, a cutting surface 36 inches high will probably be appropriate. This height should be adjusted according to the individual's height.

Since many fabrics are 60 inches or more wide, a surface at least 30 inches wide is necessary. Thirty-six inches is the preferable width. A cutting table 56 inches in length allows you to lay out the longest pattern pieces and leaves room on the surface for the rest of the folded material. A 72-inch length allows more of the pattern pieces to be laid out at one time.

A cutting surface should be accessible from at least two sides. Access from four sides is preferred. Eighteen to 24 inches of clearance on each free side of a cutting/marking surface permits the individual to move without hindrance.

A table may be built for cutting and marking or the surface may be incorporated into some other part of the sewing center. An existing table may be used by raising its height by setting its legs on building blocks.

Space also is needed for hand sewing, assembly of pattern pieces by pinning or basting before machine stitching, and for putting such things as the partially constructed garment.

Surface dimensions of 18 x 36 inches are adequate for all your auxiliary needs. It is desirable for this space to be within easy reach of your sewing machine. A height of 24 to 27 inches will allow you to work at the table while seated.

A sewing machine table should be 28 inches high, 40 inches long, with at least 20 inches to the left of the needle and 15 inches to the right. The sewing machine needle should be 7 inches from the front edge of the table and at least 12 inches from the back edge. This provides a table width of at least 19 inches. At least 3 feet of space should be allowed in front of the sewing machine for a chair.

When selecting a chair to be used at the sewing machine, select one comfortable as well as mobile so you can move from machine to pressing to hand sewing without getting up. A chair 16 inches high will allow you, if you are of average height, to sit and work comfortably. A swivel secretarial chair on casters makes an ideal sewing chair, since it provides maximum mobility.

Space for pressing is also critical since the typical ironing board is 54 inches long and 16 inches wide. This allows you to press garments while seated. If your space is limited, you may prefer to use a tailor's pressing board rather than an ironing board.

A mirror is needed in the sewing center for fitting and viewing. The mirror should be at least 18 x 60 inches with the top 72 inches from the floor and a front clearance of 8 to 10 feet long and 3 to 4 feet wide. This allows space for you to fit another person or for you to use a dress form.

Lighting and Wiring

Twice as much light is needed for sewing as for casual reading. Good lighting, general and local, is essential in the sewing center.

General light is usually provided from a ceiling fixture. General lighting requirements for a room where sewing will be done depends on the size of the room. If your room is less than 8 x 10 feet, you should have a ceiling fixture using 150 watts incandescent or 60 watts fluorescent light. If your room is 10 x 12 feet or larger in size, you will need two watts per square foot incandescent or one watt per square foot of fluorescent.

Lighting experts recommend at least 150 watts incandescent or 60 watts fluorescent local lighting for cutting, marking, and machine sewing. A light such as this should be shaded so it does not shine directly in the eyes of the person sewing. It should be positioned 14 inches above the working surface, 12 inches to the left of the needle, and 7 inches from the wall. The bottom of the shade should be at eye level and the inside of the shade should be white.

An adjustable recessed reflector or recessed eyeball fixture positioned in the ceiling above a point 13 inches to the left of the needle and tilted toward the needle also may be used to provide local lighting for machine sewing. Fluorescent lights shielded by a panel are good under cabinets located above the sewing area.

Three hundred watts of incandescent light are recommended for hand sewing. If you plan to use a floor lamp to provide local lighting, it should be positioned so the center of the shade is 15 inches to the left (or to the right for a left-handed person) of the work center and 12 inches back to the rear of the chair in which you will be seated. A lamp with a base height 40 to 42 inches is recommended. The table lamp should be positioned so the center of the shade is 15 inches to the left (or to the right for the left-handed person) of the work center and 6 inches back toward the rear of the chair.

If there is much detail or if you will be sewing for a prolonged period of time, you need additional light. You can use a 75-watt reflector bulb in an adjustable socket clamped to the stem of a floor lamp. Position it below eye level and about 12 to 18 inches from the sewing.

High-intensity portable lamps may be positioned so the shielded bulb is within 10 to 12 inches of the sewing. Do not use a high-intensity lamp as the sole light for hand sewing.

If you use fluorescent lighting in your sewing center, for local or general lighting, it is best to use deluxe warm white tubes that give flattering light. It does not distort colors any more than incandescent light.

Provisions also must be made for adequate wiring in your sewing center. Locate duplex convenience outlets within easy reach of the sewing machine, iron, and other equipment you may be using. Take care to locate convenience outlets so cords plugged into the outlets will not interfere with traffic patterns. It may be desirable to install outlets 40 to 42 inches above the floor for easy access.