Friday, February 27, 2009

Jane Austen contest blog post

I'm just messing up my url addresses all over the place. If you came here from the Barefoot Mama to read my attempt at writing like Jane Austen, please click this link.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Eggs, Eggs! 2/26 b

Katie has a lovely suggestion for preparing eggs:

A very nice, fairly easy egg presentation goes by the names of framed eggs, bird-in-a-nest, or toad-in-the-hole: whatever you call it, it's a slice of bread with the center cut out and an egg fried in the middle. The egg ends up as "over-easy" (Sunny-side down or "flopped") when you cook both sides of the bread. This must be done on a large griddle if you don't want to keep your family waiting!

My note: If you happen to live near a Cracker Barrel restaurant, look for these on the menu. If you have never eaten this wonderful treat, try theirs to see how it turns out.

If anyone else has egg suggestions, please send them to sunnyheart31atyahoodotcom


Finishing Up Apron -- February 26

Waistband sewn across apron

I am down with a cold and not up for much deep cleaning, so I decided to finish the apron project. I will go back and do a little seam ripping and re-sewing of seams and pressing and string trimming, but this should give you an idea of how to finish your own apron. Someone once quipped, "As you sew, so shall you rip." That's definitely true for me!

In our last step, we sewed the bodice to the hem of the skirt. Now, iron in a small hem on all sides of both of your waist band pieces. With right sides together, sew along the long sides of your waist band. Turn the waist band inside out. Insert the ends of the waist straps and hand or machine stitch into place.

Next, topstitch this little packet into place all along the edge where your bodice meets your hem.

There you go. That was easy; wasn't it.

Here's a tutorial that describes a similar way of making a waistband and straps.

Those were our original directions, but I actually ended up making mine by a slightly different method. I decided to use a wider piece for my waistband and cut only one piece. Then, I sewed the straps along the bottom of this piece. I turned the waistband upside down and pinned it along the edge where the skirt meets the waistband. I stitched in the ditch all the way across. Then, I flipped the whole thing up, straps and all, folded the waistband down to the size I wanted it to be and stitched it all the way across, including across the bodice. I topstitched the bottom edge for continuity.

Happy Homemaking in your new apron.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Art of Baking -- II


It's possible to make a bread or cake without any kind of leaven. Certainly, unleavened bread figures prominently in the Bible. An interesting study to do is to examine passages which talk about unleavened bread and also passages that mention yeast or leavening.

Why use leavening, then? When used in a dough or batter, leaven softens and lightens the finished product. By chemical processes, the dough rises and becomes lighter and more airy, with little holes left by gas bubbles. There are two main kinds of leaven: biological agents (living organisms) and chemical agents.

The most common biological agent used in the home is yeast. Some other home substances that can provide yeast to dough are beer, buttermilk, sourdough starter, and yogurt. The most common chemical agents used by home bakers are salt and baking powder or baking soda.

When you buy yeast, you'll find it comes in two forms: cake yeast (also called compressed or fresh yeast) and dry yeast. Most of us at home use dry yeast. If you do use a cake yeast, make sure it is soft and moist and that it crumbles easily. Make sure it is fresh smelling and that there are no dark or dried places on the cake of yeast. Remember that cake yeast must be used very quickly.

Dry yeast, on the other hand, has a longer shelf life, and that is why most of us who are home bakers use dry yeast. Dry yeast is the same yeast as cake yeast, but it has been dried and compressed until it has much less moisture than cake yeast. The dry yeast is actually dormant.

Dry yeast comes in two forms: regular active dry and rapid-rise. They work about the same, except that rapid rise obviously rises faster. This is an advantage if you want speed, but some feel that it doesn't give the dough the time to develop that wonderful yeast bread taste that slower acting yeast does.

You can buy dry yeast in foil packages or in a jar. I use either one, depending on how much baking I will be doing at any one time.

Yeast, as a leavening, must have three things in order to grow: moisture, warmth, and food. In order to active dried yeast, which is dormant, you need to proof it. You do this by mixing the yeast in a warm liquid. (Note: When using bread makers, it's seldom necessary to do this, as you add the ingredients and the bread maker allows the time for the yeast to activate.)

Dry yeast has a sweet tooth, and many recipes call for white granulated sugars, which the yeast will break down into a simpler form. Some recipes work by adding a bit of flour to the liquid, instead, and the yeast will also break the flour down instead.

After proofing, you mix the ingredients of the bread together. Then, you knead it. Kneading aerates the dough and also develops the gluten in the wheat. In aerating the dough, that means that the kneading introduces little air pockets into the dough.

Then, you allow the dough to rise or, in other words, you allow the yeast to ferment. In rising, the yeast feeds on the sugar and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide stretches the existing air pockets, and the dough visibly rises and expands. The flavor of the bread is developed, and the bread becomes lighter in texture.

Chemical leavenings usually are used in combination and provide an acid and a weak base to form carbon dioxide or other gases when exposed to moisture and heat. They are used in cakes, cookies, and quick breads. They are used when the longer process of biological fermentation is not practical or desirable. As we know from high school chemistry, when an acid and a base combine, they form a salt. Thus, these leaveners add a little salt to a baked product.

It takes some knowledge of chemistry to determine how much of each chemical leavener to use when baking. For one thing, an improper forumulation could leave a bad taste in the food. Therefore, many recipes call for the use of premixed baking powders, which have been formulated by experts.

Aside from biological and chemical leavenings, creaming sugar and fat together in a mixer introduces air bubbles which provide a little leavening effect. Usually, this is not enough leavening, so creaming is usually supplemented with a little chemical leavening. Similarly whipping cream, eggs, or certain other liquids also introduces air, which causes these liquids to foam. Folding the foam into a batter leavens the product by making it lighter and fluffier. A sponge cake, for example, owes its delicate texture to the effect of whipping egg whites. Creaming and whipping are called mechanical leavening techniques.

Finally, steam can produce a leavening effect. When steam is infused into a batter, it causes it to expand. To achieve this, you have to bake the item at a high enough temperature to make water steam into the item you are baking. Steamed puddings and popovers are "leavened" in this way.

Many home keepers do not think about the fact that so many of the things they do in the home are related to the sciences -- particularly to chemistry. There is an art to doing these things, as well. If you follow basic directions, you can keep a home without any knowledge of the science behind your activities, and that is just fine. However, if you would like to challenge yourself, it's good to dig a little deeper and learn why things in the home work the way they do. This can make your tasks seem more interesting to you. Also, if you have a knowledge of why things work the way they do, you are better equipped to improvise or to come up with creative new methods and recipes on your own. Not only that, but if you face cultural pressure to think of home keeping as something beneath an educated woman, you can answer that with the inner knowledge that your mind is being challenged by your work.

If you are home schooling your children, you can use household activities -- especially cooking -- to teach them about subjects like chemistry.

Soon, we'll bake some things together.

Until then,

Happy homemaking!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Art of Baking

Baking is cooking by dry heat. It can be done in brick ovens, over hot stones, in hot ashes, and underneath hot coals. Usually, however, baking refers to cooking something in a regular oven, with the dry heat coming from underneath the item. We most often refer to cakes, pastries, and breads as baked goods. Yet, other things -- such as apples, baked beans, and casseroles -- can be baked, as well.

The dry heat of baking alters the starch in a food. Partly through caramelization of the sugars, it pleasantly browns the surface of the food, as well. Baking partially seals the moisture in the food, but not completely. Thus, many baked foods must be eaten before they completely dry and turn stale.

Braising, which is more commonly used for meats, is similar to baking, except that it employs moisture along with the source of dry heat. The item to be braised is placed in a closed pan into which liquid is added. The item is cooked slowly, allowing the moisture to steam up and infuse the food.

Many baked goods use flour, which is a powder made by grinding cereal grains. Wheat flour, the most commonly used flour, is made from hard wheat, soft wheat, or both. Hard wheat is high in protein. Soft wheat is lower in protein.

Hard wheat is higher in gluten than is soft wheat. There is a botannical definition of gluten, which you can look up if you would like to do some deeper study. This botannical definition is more exact. For purposes of baking, though, it's easier to just say that gluten is an elastic substance formed by the proteins in wheat. The gluten in a bread gives the bread formation and shape. It's usually safe to say that the protein content of a flour and the gluten content of the flour are pretty much the same.

Since differing amounts of protein/gluten affect the texture of a baked good, different formulations of wheat flour are good for baking different things.

All-purpose flour (known as plain flour in Great Britain) is made from a blend of hard wheat and soft wheat. You might find some variation in the ratio of hard to soft according to brand. Depending on the type of baking you do, this difference might even be enough to affect the outcome somewhat. You may discover that you prefer one brand over another.

For various reasons, all-purpose flour is usually "bleached" using certain chemicals. The chemicals are approved for human consumption. However, the process does remove some nutrients, just as refining white flour from whole wheat does. Thus, the American FDA requires that certain nutrients be re-added to the flour. This produces "enriched" flour.

Flour that is allowed to bleach naturally, rather than by chemical process, is called "unbleached" flour.

Technically, bleached flour is better for certain things. Some people think it produces better pie crusts, cookies, quick cakes, and pancakes, while unbleached flour is good for yeast bread, Danish pastry, and puffed pastry. Personally, I use bleached and unbleached interchangeably and actually prefer the idea of using unbleached flour. A serious baker might disagree with me, though.

Bleached flour has less protein than unbleached.

Whatever you are baking, you won't go too wrong using all-purpose flour. You may decide that this is the only type of flour you need, particularly if you don't do a lot of baking. If you want the best results or if you bake a lot, however, you will probably want to add bread flour and cake flour to your pantry.

Bread flour is made from hard, high-protein wheat. It has more gluten strength and protein content than all-purpose flour. It is unbleached. Sometimes, it is conditioned with ascorbic acid. The ascorbic acid increases the volume and creates better texture. Bread flour is the best flour to use when baking yeast products.

Cake flour has a fine-texture. It is a soft-wheat flour, and it has the lowest protein content of any flour. As you might guess, it also has a high starch content. It is bleached by chlorination, which leaves the flour slightly acidic. This makes a cake set faster and also distributes the fat in a batter more evenly. This improves the texture. When you are making baked goods with a high ratio of sugar to flour, this flour will hold its rise better than other flours. This means that your cake or other baked product will be less likely to collapse. This flour is obviously excellent for baking fine-textured cakes with greater volume. It's also used for some quick breads, muffins, and cookies. If you don't have cake flour on hand, you can get way with substituting all-purpose flour if you remember to subtract two tablespoons of flour for each cup used in the recipe.

Pastry Flour, like cake flour, is made with soft wheat. It falls somewhere between all-purpose flour and cake flour in its protein content and in its baking qualities. It is used for making biscuits, pie crusts, brownies, cookies, and quick breads. Pastry flour produces a tender, but crumbly pastry. It is not suitable for yeast breads. You can find whole wheat pastry flour. Personally, I use whole-wheat flour for biscuits and pie crusts, but if you make a lot of pie crusts or pastries, you may want to experiment with pastry flour in order to obtain the best results.

Self-rising flour, sometimes called phosphated flour, is a low-protein flour. It has salt and leavning already added. It's a great product for making biscuits and quick breads. Never use it with yeast, however. Also, if you substitute it in a recipe that calls for all-purpose or bread flour, don't forget to leave out the salt or other leavning agents in the recipe. If you would like to make your own self-rising flour, you can find recipes on the Internet.

Durum flour and Semolina flour are made from durum wheat, and they are the hardest flours. They are used primarily for making Italian pastas.

Gluten flour is made from spring wheat and has a high protein content, as the name would suggest. It is often used in breaks made for people with diabetes or mixed with non-wheat or low-protein wheat flours to produce a stronger product.

Whole wheat flour (called whole meal flour in Great Britain) is made from the whole kernel of wheat. As we all know, whole wheat provides more fiber and nutrient content than white flours do. However, it does not have as high a gluten level was white flour, so many whole-wheat yeast bread recipes recipes call for the cook to mix the whole-wheat with all-purpose or bread flour. You can convert many recipes that call for white flour to a more whole-wheat based product if you keep this rule of thumb in mind. There are also formulas that you can find on the Internet that tell you the best way to substitute whole wheat for white.

Breads and cakes made with whole wheat are usually denser and heartier than those made with white flours. Don't expect a whole wheat bread or cake to rise as high as one made with white flour. Enjoy the hearty texture and taste.

Whole wheat may be very finely ground or it may be more coarsely ground. In graham flour, which is a special grind of whole wheat flour, different parts of the wheat kernel are ground differently. One part is ground very finely and other parts are ground more coarsely. Then, the ground parts are mixed back together. This produces a whole-grain product that bakes well and keeps well.

Whatever type of flour you use, remember that it is perishable. Check how long the flour can be stored and buy only the quantity that you will use in that time period.

Baking tip: Place a bay leaf in a canister of flour. Bay leaves are natural insect repellents and will help keep away pests like flour weevils.

Happy Home Keeping!

Friday, February 20, 2009

February 20 b -- Eggtraoridnary Tales -- "class participation"

Wenonah4th, one of our readers, suggested that we all contribute our favorite technique for cooking eggs or a favorite egg recipe.

If you will send a story of your experiences with eggs to sunnyheart31atyahoodotcom, I'll post them. You can share a recipe, a technique for cooking eggs, a photo related to eggs, a story or tips about keeping hens, etc. -- anything egg related will do!

Happy homemaking!

February 20 apron, cooking and baking, eggs

Hi everyone!

Sorry I haven't posted much lately. I've been in a short stretch of time in which other things besides blogging have had to take precedence in my schedule. At any rate, let's move along in our course.

For those of you who are sewing the apron with us, the next step is to pin the bodice to the skirt. Place the right sides together. Sew a hem along the very, very top, being sure to catch all the layers of fabric. You can baste this hem if you like. When through, you should be able to turn the bodice upward so that the front of the bodice is above the front of the skirt. Don't worry if the fabric rolls a little bit at the top. We will hem the top of the skirt later on and everything will fall into place.

The sewing in my photos is a little rough. I went back and re-sewed the bodice to the top to create a neater hem. But, you should be able to get the basic idea from the pictures. A good pressing every time you sew a seam is always a good thing.


Great cooking and baking begins with great ingredients. We all admire the Proverbs 31 woman because she is like merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She selects the best ingredients for her family and prepares nourishing and adequate meals for her entire household. Since so many of the verses in Proverbs 31 refer to her thrift, we can assume that she is a frugal shopper. She also plants a vineyard and buys a field, signs that she may have grown or had servants grow food for her own table.

There was a reason why the Proverbs 31 woman was interested in a vineyard. Remember, she couldn't run to her local grocery store for juices or tea or drinks. She had little means by which to preserve foods at hand. She lived in a fairly dry climate where clean and sanitary drinks were not always so easy to come by. She also didn't have access to a drugstore stocked with ointments to clean and protect wounds or fever reducers or mild pain killers. Thus, the people of her day prized the grape, for it provided a sustaining juice, tasty fruit, and wine and vinegar that, in addition to being consumed, could be used as medicines and food preservatives.

The Proverbs 31 woman would have been astonished to walk into a modern supermarket and see all the meats, produce, dairy products, juices, teas, baking goods, etc., that are available to us today. She would think we are blessed indeed to have such a bountiful stock of items to choose from. We, too, need to be grateful to live in a world where abundance is, for many of us, just a short drive away. Perhaps, our gratitude can show itself in thanking the Lord, preparing creative menus and meals, in using our food dollars as wisely as possible, and in sending aid to those who live in countries that lack the abundance of the first world lands.

Not only do we have stores available, we have access to garden centers and Internet garden supplies If we choose to grow our own food, we can easily find the materials we need.

Moreover, there are many fine blogs on the Internet that are devoted to the subject of frugal shopping and cooking, to recipes, etc.

Truly, while there is much heartbreaking poverty and famine in the world, most of us in the blog-o-sphere have been blessed with so many resources to feed our families. Yes, our budgets are getting tighter and the economy is shaky. Even so, most of us have many reasons to rejoice when it comes to cooking and baking for our loved ones.


Many of you may keep poultry and have fresh eggs at your disposal. That is the loveliest option of all, I think. However, for the rest of us, it's important to know how to shop for eggs in the store.

Up to the 1960's or 1970's people assumed that eggs were a healthy food. Then, eggs got a bad rap because they contain cholesterol. Some time later, doctors decided that one egg or so a day is probably ok for healthy people. Now, there's some re-thinking of this matter yet again, and the final jury's still out regarding whether eggs are good for you or not. I tend to believe that they are a little powerhouse packed with good nutrition for a reasonable price -- provided that you do exercise moderation. For only 75 to 81 calories in an egg (not counting calories added by cooking oils), you do receive a comparatively lot of complete protein, as well as a good number of vitamins and minerals.

Here are a couple of articles you can read to help you decide what is right for your family. Eggs1 Eggs2 These are just two of many articles related to this subject. Do your own research, and ask your doctor if you have any questions.

One way to reduce the cholesterol and fat in eggs is to use egg whites only. This is probably a good idea if you are cooking for a middle-aged man with risk factors for heart disease. However, other than protein, most of the nutritional factors in an egg are only in the yolk.

Eggs are important ingredients in baking, though there are ways to get around the use of eggs if you have allergies to eggs or are concerned about the possible drawbacks of eggs. Eggs also can serve as binders to hold certain dishes together.

When shopping for eggs, look for grade AA or A eggs with uncracked, clean shells. The eggs should be stored in a refrigeration unit Make sure that they are cold to the touch. Check the package for a sell-by or use-by date. (Did you know that you can use paper or cardboard egg cartons in your compost pile? Tear the cartons into little pieces. Styfrofoam cartons are not suitable for this purpose.)

You can probably get away with storing eggs in your fridge for three to five weeks from your date of purchase. When you bring eggs home, don't rush to wash the eggs right then. If you do so, you will remove a natural protective coating from the shell. Keep eggs in the store carton and put them at the back of your coldest shelf in the fridge. Keep the egg cartons closed to protect the eggs from odors and from the drying effects of refrigerated air.

You can freeze eggs, though I've never tried, myself. First, you beat the yolk and white teogther if you intend to freeze them as the whole egg. You can also freeze the whites alone. Place in a freezer safe container for up to six months.

For more detailed information about shopping for eggs, read Eggsentials and What's cooking America? Eggs.

Happy homemaking!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

February 17 Spring cleaning/attic cleaning/baking and cooking

I hope everyone had a great Valentine's Day!

The results of our last poll show that many of us garden and/or care of indoor plants. We've got a new poll about your favorite area of home keeping. I'm interested to see what everyone loves the most.

How's everyone's spring cleaning coming? I'm still working on the storage areas of my home. I'm also re-evaluating my wardrobe. See the blog PHE: The Home Manager's Health and Beauty for a discussion of those all-important foundation garments, as our grandmothers called them. As with most everything, a great foundation is the key!

Basement, Garage, Attic -- wondering what goes where? Check out this article from Real Simple.


Some basics for all of us to review:

1) When cooking for our families' health, we need to remember the following: Good digestion is essential.

When we sit down to a meal, the food on our plates is not yet in a form that our body can use. It is the job of our alimentary canals (digestive tracts) to break the food down into smaller molecules that make up the nutrients our bodies use. Only then, can the blood absorb the nutrients and carry them to all the cells in our body. The liver, gall bladder, and pancreas also play a part in the digestive process, as do parts of our nervous and circulatory systems.

2) Did you know that the digestive process can actually begin before you take your first bite? The aroma, sight, or thought of food can prompt your body to begin salivating in preparation for eating. This readies your mouth to receive and process food.

3) Once you do take a bite into your mouth, the process of chewing breaks the food down into a form that can be swallowed. Also, the saliva in our mouths helps moisten the food, which also aids swallowing. There is a digestive enzyme called amylase in saliva that starts converting carbohydrates into a usable form even before they leave the mouth.

4) Obviously, once we have chewed and swallowed our food, it proceeds down the esophagus and into the stomach. Without going into any more detail about the process of digestion right now, it's worth noting that all parts of our digestive system are sensitive to emotion. Think how much of our language refers to this: "I have butteflies in my stomach." "I have a gut feeling about that." "I just can't swallow what he said to me." "My stomach's all tied up in knots."

Also, in every culture that I know of, eating together is a bonding experience. Friendships are formed over meals. Business deals are finalized at meals. Much of the fellowship of the church involves meals. Holidays are marked by meals. Food is eaten at showers, weddings, and birthdays. The Bible is filled with verses about people eating together. In fact, one of the loveliest images given to help us understand the kingdom of heaven is as a great banquet prepared by a king.

5) Our bodies extract proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, fats, and water from our foods. All of these are necessary to provide our bodies with the fuel they need in order to operate. Fats have gotten a bad rap in the last few decades, but scientists are learning that there are healthy fats. While some people who have or are at risk for cardiovascular disease or diabetes may benefit from exremely lowfat diets, most of us need a little fat in our diet to be at our healthiest. Even though we do need some fats, we still do well to avoid an excess. Our bodies cannot break down fiber, but it has a cleansing role in our systems. For that reason, it is also an important substance in our foods.

So, what do these facts about the digestive system have to do with cooking and baking? One important thing is to remind ourselves of how important it is to provide -- as far as it's possible with us -- pleasant meals for our families. An unhurried and loving atmosphere, along with pleasing sights and aromas and good conversation, foster good digestion. Positive emotions at the table will enable our bodies and our families' bodies to get the most nutrition out of what is eaten. It takes some time and patience to train children how to behave at the table, and it takes self-disicpline on our part to encourage a happy family meals. It's worth the effort, though, because it adds to our family's health and enjoyment now, and it builds memories that your children will look back on with joy later on in life. It also prepares your children for an important part of adult life.

It's especially important to form the habit ourselves and to teach our children to chew their food thoroughly during mealtime. Hurriedly swallowing large pieces that haven't been chewed thorouhly can create pain in the esophagus. Also, if we swallow before the digestive enzymes in the mouth have done their work, we are cheating ourselves of the best nutrition. Moreover, if we eat too quickly, we do not give our bodies enough time to sense fullness or to signal that sense of fullness to our brains. If we eat too quickly, we will likely overeat.

If we must grab a bite to eat on the way to a ballgame or a Wednesday night service, it's better to eat a smaller portion, chewed thoroughly and slowly, rather than to gulp down a full plate. If you get hungry later, you can always supplement with a snack.

Not only is it important to provide a pleasant eating experience, it's good to consider the nutritional needs of our bodies when preparing meals. People naturally enjoy a meal that has a variety of colors, textures, tastes, and temperatures. There's probably a reason why this is so instincitvely pleasing to us. Such variety of foods in one meal offers many different nutrients. At the very least, a well-rounded meal includes a protein, a grain, and a fruit or vegetable -- thus, giving us the protein, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, water, and fiber that we need.

Proteins are comprised of a number of amino acids. Our bodies need a certain number of these acids to function. Our bodies can take certain building blocks and create out of them some amino acids. There are other amino acids that we cannot make and must get from our diets. These are called essential amino acids. Complete proteins contain all of the essential amino acids we need. Complete proteins are generally animal products.

Incomplete proteins provide only some of the essential amino acids we need. These incomplete proteins are generally plant based. Because meat has not always been plentiful, most cultures have instinctively come up with some combinations of incomplete proteins that work together to make a complete protein. For example, rice and beans is a traditional meal in many cultures. So, too, is cheese and bread or cheese and a noodle. Also, many cultures have developed ways of using a little bit of meat along with a grain or bean to provide protein.

It used to be thought that people who eat a vegetarian diet must combine incomplete proteins properly at every meal to make complete proteins. It was suggested that vegetarian cooks put much thought into this to insure that they provided all of the essential amino acids in one meal. Now, some nutritionsits think that vegetarian cooks need not be quite so exact when planning meals. They believe that by consuming a variety of incomplete proteins over the course of seveal meals, you will naturally eat enough amino acids for the body to combine them into complete proteins. Even so, it makes sense for the vegetarian cook to become familiar with the traditional ways of combining proteins. It's a sure-fire way to make sure that you are providing complete proteins. These hearty combinations are a boon not only to the vegetarian diet, but also to anyone's diet.

Happy Homemaking!


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Thursday 2/12 part B -- spring cleaning/books

In my previous post, I outlined general tips for spring cleaning. I forgot to mention how important it is to dust books and bookshelves. Dust and mold can collect in books, which can, in turn, cause many health problems for you and your loved ones. Not the least of these problems are allergies, asthma and lung problems. Not only does book dust endanger your health, but keeping books clean obviously makes them nicer to use.

We notice the musty smell of book dust whenever we visit the library or used bookstore. If you're a book lover like me, you may even have come to love that peculiar "library" scent. However, we are less likely to recognize that our own bookshelves may be equally musty and, therefore, not healthful for us. Unless we work in a library, our exposure to book dust there is generally for a short time once a week or so. We live with our own books day in and day out, and we may not realize how many allergens and irritants are accumulating in their pages.

According to Cheryl Mendelson, author of Home Comforts, the best way to preserve a book is to read it! The simple act of taking it down from the bookshelf shakes dust off of it, and reading it airs it out. I'm all for this fun bit of home keeping! However, most modern homes have more books and Bibles than are read and re-read in a six month period of time. That means we will need to do a little more work to keep those books clean and ready for use.

In this article, we're not talking about antique or valuable books or books of sentimental value. Those need to be cared for by special methods. For other books, however, give them a once or twice a year dusting with a soft cotton cloth or vacuum once a year with the attachment of a vacuum with a HEPA filter. You can even put cheesecloth or something across the opening of the attachment to provide extra protection if you like. You can buy special tools for cleaning books. There is also a special cleaning pad for books. However, you can do a good job just with a clean cotton cloth that you have on hand.

Make sure your hands are clean as you work. Otherwise, skin acids can hurt the paper in books. Start with the top of a bookshelf and work your way down. Have a small waste basket underneath you to catch dust that falls as you work. Be gentle as you dust. Open the book, flip the pages a little, and take out any objects -- such as bookmarks -- that have been stuck in a book and inadvertently left there. Check the pages for mold and dust. In the early stages, mold can be dusted away; mold that has set in requires professional advice to determine if the book can or cannot be saved.

After you have tended to the pages, close the book. Dust the top and bottom of the book, as well as the cover and spine. Hold the book very carefully.

When you return the book to your shelves, line it up at the front of the shelf. Leave some room in the back for air to circulate around the books.

As with any cleaning, wear a dust mask if you are ultra-sensitive to dust or mold.

Watch for any signs of a pest infestation, such as silverfish, rodents, etc. This could indicate a more serious cleaning problem that must be dealt with.

Happy Home Keeping!

Spring Cleaning -- On to the Attic/Garage

How's everyone's cleaning system going? Last week, I worked especially on my dining room. When I pulled things down to clean, I decided not to put a few of them back. I also weeded through some table linens and made a give away bag of a few things I don't need.

For this week, I'm going where I fear to tread: into our family's storage areas! I need to re-box some things and decide what to do with others, but I also need to do a lot of dusting and sweeping. This is an area that you don't go into as often as you do other areas of the home, but a good cleaning in these areas helps to make for an overall clean home.

Who will join me in making storage areas cleaner, neater, and more healthful?

It's been a lot warmer here, lately, so I got out and pruned a rose bush, as well as turned over some of the dirt in our very small veggie garden.

Here are some general spring cleaning tips:

1) Chart your plan for your cleaning. Will you attack this by setting aside one or two weeks and devote them entirely to a deep cleaning? Or, will you tackle one room a week for as many weeks as it takes to move through your home? Do you need to stretch out your tasks over an even longer period due to illness or time constraints? Whatever you do, make sure that you have a plan for moving through your home methodically.

2) Wear comfortable, feminine, and suitable attire during spring cleaning. Comfortable doesn't have to mean torn sweats or clothing that you wouldn't want even the mail person to see. In fact, our great-grandmothers knew what they were doing when they attired themselves in pretty day dresses and a dusting cap. Even if you wear jeans, as I sometimes do, you can pair them with a feminine looking shirt. Don't forget to wear an apron if you don't want your clothing to be ruined when you're cleaning.

If you decide to bathe in the evenings during spring cleaning, do some basic grooming in the morning. You may or may not want to put on make up. If you don't, you can at least clean your face and put on your favorite light moisturizer. Or, use a paired own version of your daily makeup. The exertion of cleaning is likely to bring roses to your cheeks, so perhaps all you will need is some lip gloss and a little mascara.

Also, you may want to cover your hair with a pretty scarf when dusting ceilings, walls, and high furniture. If your hair is long, you might also want to put it up. During spring cleaning, dust and sweat can collect in the hair. This not only make you feel less than fresh, it can actually make you sneeze! Again, our foremothers knew what they were doing when they donned scarves and caps to tackle heavy chores.

2) Assemble the tools you will need. You won't need a huge array of cleaning products, but do think through what you do need. Remember to change filters and be prepared to change light bulbs.

Also, consider taking around a little notebook with you to jot down things you realize need doing when you are deep cleaning. You may want to save some projects for after spring cleaning is done. If so, jotting them down will help you remember.

3) Make a plan. Will you blitz through the house in a couple of weeks. This is the traditional method and has the advantage of getting your house ready in a shorter period of time. However, you might not be able to devote this concentrated time to cleaning. If so, stretch your work out by tackling one room a week. If you need to, you can even spread your work out over six months time by working in a heavy chore here and there among your regular home keeping. If you choose to work over a longer period of time, you will need to have a good plan and take good notes so that you do eventually get to everything that needs doing. Many homemakers today do not observe spring and fall cleaning, but work in their deep cleaning chores throughout the year. They may do one or two deep cleaning chores a month, for example. Since we have more methods at our disposal for keeping our houses clean year round than women of yesteryear did, this can work. The only drawback is that you never get to experience that wonderful spring clean feeling and your deep cleaning chores are always hanging over your head.

4) If you are doing the traditional concentrated spring cleaning, think through your meals. You will have less time for cooking than usual. Make use of your crock pot; fix a few things ahead of time and freeze them to be used during your cleaning week; and keep your menus simple, but tasty.

5) Walls and ceilings will need a good dusting, perhaps also a thorough cleaning, or, at the least, a spot cleaning. Curtains will also need tending to. Furniture will need a good polishing. In the process of doing these things, you will be moving things around and even taking things out of a room. You will be pulling pictures off of the walls and taking knickknacks off of surfaces. While you have these items out of the way for a moment, pause and take a good look at your walls and surfaces. How many pictures, knickknacks, and pieces of furniture do you really want to put back in a room? You may be happy with the way things were arranged, and that's fine. However, you may find that you would like a fresher, cleaner look, and you may decide to edit the amount of things you put back in place.

6) The change from cooler to warmer weather and from warmer to cooler weather have traditionally been times to clean out closets and, if need be, to store out of season clothing. Use this time to evaluate your family's wardrobe. Give away items that are no longer needed. Jot down items that you do need to buy or sew. Jot down any mending projects that need to be done.

Spring is a good time to have coats cleaned and to clean other winter gear.

7) Don't forget your baseboards! After you clean them, you can polish them with a good wax, like paste wax, if you like. Test a small spot to make sure that it works on your baseboards.

8) Clean and wax shower doors to cut down on soap film.

9) If you live in the Southern U.S., be careful when cleaning out garages and attics. Every spring, when people begin to tackle their storage areas, the number of brown recluse bites goes up. These spiders do not build webs, but like to hide in dark corners or in boxes. So, you can see why people are often bitten during spring cleaning. Wear gloves and look carefully before reaching into something, and you'll be fine.

10) Treat yourself to a bubble bath each night. This will make you feel fresh after a day of heavy work and may head off any sore muscles.

Happy Home Keeping!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Ideas to Make your Book of Days an Heirloom

Ideas for your Book for Days...

In the past, people often kept books that described their gardens, their farm work, or their household life. For the purpose of this course, we are keeping a homemaking notebook, in which we record homemaking information, what we are learning, and our joys and struggles in learning to be a better manager of our homes. Be sure to include even your frustrations or sorrows -- or at least pray about them -- for life on earth is a mixture of happy and sad, and we all need outlets where we can express both emotions.

We are also keeping a Book of Days, which is more a record of the joys of managing our Home. It is, as we've talked about, the kind of book you can flip through when you need some inspiration or when you wonder if what you are doing is making a difference in life. It is a record of thankfulness to help us stay thankful in our everyday lives. You may want to record some of your frustrations or sorrows here, too, but do it once you have passed through them. Look back and record what lessons you learned, who or what helped you, etc.

Here are some ideas to make this book special:

1) Include dried and pressed flowers from your own yard or garden. Make a note of when they were blooming, what type of flower they are, and any little happy note you'd like to record with it.
2) Record milestones in your marriage and in the lives of your children. Jot down cute things your children say or something loving that your dear hubby does for you.
3) Include little snippets of fabrics from quilts you are making, dresses you are sewing, or from some other project. Record what you were doing and why. Include a photograph of the finished project.
4) Jot down the steps involved in a new skill that you have learned -- such as crochet. Take a photo of your first accomplishment in this new area.
5) Take photos of your favorite places in your home -- the places where you feel most happy and restful.
6) Write down a new recipe you tried that you and your family loved. Jot down who was at the table when you ate it, what was going on in your household at the time, etc. Focus on the positive.
7) When you learn something new from a home keeper whom you admire, write that down in your book.
8) Take photos to illustrate your favorite quotes and scriptures and put those in your book, along with the quote or verse.
9) Journal about the seasons. Notice when the days begin to lengthen or shorten, when the trees begin to bud, when the leaves begin to turn, the sounds of birds, the colors of the sky, etc.
Press fall leaves and spring buds for your book.
10) Keep a list of what you served when company came to dinner, who came, something lovely from that time together, etc. (The main idea is to remember a special time with friends. This has a practical benefit, as well. I unwittingly served the same meal to out of town company for three of their visits. These visits were stretched out over long periods of time, and I didn't think about it until the guest remarked about it. If you have a record of what you served to whom, you can refer back to it and choose something that is appropriate for your guests.)
11) Keep a record of the sounds in your home -- wind chimes outside, favorite music playing, the sounds of pets, and most of all, the sounds of your children playing.
12) Describe your family traditions and how they got started.
13) Write down beautiful memories of your parents and when you were growing up.
14) Keep a list of things for which you are grateful. A long time ago, when I was sitting in a doctor's office, I read an article by a woman who had been taught by her mother to think of 50 things each day -- fifty! -- for which she was grateful. That habit stood her in good stead as an adult. When she was in a battle with cancer, being thankful came so naturally to her that she was able to see so many blessings, even in her trial. For example, she was thankful for supportive friends. Though I'm sure she suffered during her bout with cancer, her habit of gratitude took much of the distress and fear away.
15) Get your children to suggest things for which they are thankful and record those, too. Ask your husband what his favorite memories of your life together are and jot those down in your book.
16) Once you've come through a hard or frustrating time, record what got you through it and how you overcame it. Keep a record of your perseverance so that you can look back and say, "If I got through that, I can get through this, too.
17) Attack some little memento or heirloom you have, such as an antique broach.
18) Spray a page with your favorite scent or slip in one of those perfumed cards that come out of magazines.
19) Write a poem -- You can do it!
20) Ask older people what they remember from their home life or how they came through the Depression and World War II, and write those memories down.
21) Write your thoughts about words like the following: Love, family, children, joy, garden, scent, smell, taste, sound, heaven, flower, cooking, kitchen, spring, summer, fall, winter, simplicity, peace, hope, faith.
22) Write down an inventory of sentimental or valuable objects in your home. Give some history about them. Take photos. (You might want to devote a whole book to this for insurance reasons and so that your children and grandchildren and so forth will know the history behind things that are sentimental to you.)
23) Draw garden plans. Put in the times and dates you plant things. Record when they sprout, bloom, bear fruit, etc.
24) Include paint chips, samples of fabric, etc. for a redecorating project.
25) Take notes about some favorite subject related to homemaking -- gardening, fabrics, sewing, antique linens, painting, music, etc. Make sure it's something you're really passionate about.

Well, you get the idea. As we've said, you can make this as fancy or as simple as you desire. Later on, your children may view this book as an heirloom. It may inspire them, just as it will inspire you.

P.S. The Victorians kept locks of hair to remember people by. They made jewelry out of them and pressed them in books. I imagine that if a Victorian mother were keeping a journal like this, she might include one of her baby's curls. My father has an old atlas that was written during the Civil War. Inside, I found a clip of someone's hair. (I also found a newspaper clipping about Lincoln's assassination.) I have no idea whose hair it was, except that it must have been some ancestor's of mine as it was about the same color as mine -- albeit a bit faded. When I found the lock of hair, I was fascinated and curious about who it came from, but also a little squeamish to be holding a lock of hair form someone long gone. So, the question of the day is, what do you think? Is keeping a lock of someone's hair a sweet memento or not?

Also, what are your creative ideas for keeping a Homemaker's Book of Days


Thursday, February 5, 2009

February 5th, guest post about thrift, new memory verse

If you're memorizing along with me, here's a new verse:

The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.
Isaiah 32:17-18

Hadias has written us a lovely post about how to be a thrifty manager of our homes. Since the home is the basic unit of any economy, we need to be mindful of financial stewardship as we manage our households. For some of us, that comes easier than it does to others. I know that even after 28 years of marriage, I still have so much to learn in this area, and I appreciate the examples and teachings of thrifty home managers like Hadias. I've highlighted her words in blue:

Hadias is the wife to a wonderful man whom she’s lovingly dubbed “the next best thing to Jesus in her life”. Hadias has 4 beautiful children whom she homeschools. She has devoted her life to being a example of humility, peacefulness and to living a life fully surrendered to God. You can visit her blog and for more tips on homemaking and simple living.

The words thrift and frugality have once again become household names. The decline in the economy has brought to light what a small group of individuals have already known which is, that living below your means is the the key to true financial freedom.

When we build our lives based upon the principles of “buy now pay later” we soon come to realize that each purchase slowly constructs a financial prison. Once built it is not easy to escape. The steps to releasing yourself from this prison are not easily accomplished, however once taken; your life will never be the same.

Are you tired of feeling that if you or your spouse were to lose your job, you may lose everything you own? Well, below are just a few of the steps that some of the steps that that can put you on the road to having a greater sense of financial peace during tough economic times.

::Trust in the Lord. Begin reading your Bible daily searching the scripture for chapters concerning the Lord promise to take care of you. Begin to be obedient to all that God says concerning your finances and way of life. Build your new life fully dependent upon the Lord versus your job, income, investments, etc.

::Reacquaint yourself with your money by keeping a detailed log for 30 days of everything you spend. The ending total will give you a indisputable picture of where your money is going. (My note: This could be something you jot down in your home economics notebook.)

::Divide the list into wants versus needs. For those who want to dive in head first, you’ll need to freeze spending on those wants. For those who like to stick their toes in first in order to test the water, reduce spending on wants down to one item from the list.

:: Make the call to all of the companies you pay each month and ask if there is any way in which your bill can be reduced. Consider switching companies or canceling certain services. Many people today have switched to cell phone only and get along just fine without cable television.

::Reduce electric cost by lowering your thermostat a few degrees or installing an automatic thermostat. Automatic thermostats can be set to heat the home at the times when you are home and set at a lower temperature when the family is away.

::Plan before you spend another penny. Plan your menus and shopping trips. Plan out your monthly expenses with a budget. Plan for expected and unexpected expenses.

::Pay down debt with a vengeance. Any money freed up from the previous steps should be used to increase minimum payments toward debt. A great resource and financial investment is in using Dave Ramsey’s, Total Money Makeover products and services.

::Put a short term and long term emergency fund in place. The short term should be a minimum of $1,000 and no more than $5,000. Your long term emergency fund should be a minimum of 3-6 months worth of income.

::Small things add up so don’t overlook them. Small spending adds up annually the same way that small saving does. No amount is too little to save. In addition, small thing such as unplugging appliances when not in use and turning down the thermostat a few degrees will shave $$ off your monthly bill.

::Cook meals at home versus eating out. My rule is that we only eat out if something is free. Whether it be kids eat free or a free $5 restaurant gift card with the purchase of a $25 restaurant gift card. Look for ways that will allow you to still enjoy recreational activities, just at a lower out of pocket cost.

I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I did. If you have something you'd like to share about being a frugal home manager, please leave a comment or a link following this post.

Happy Homemaking!


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Deep Clean Dining Room/apron/homemaking books

It's after Thanksgiving and Christmas and before Easter. Now's a great time to deep clean our dining rooms. Here are some ideas for things we can do to make our dining rooms fresh and inviting. If you do not have a dining room, concentrate on your kitchen eat-in area or whatever space in your house serves as the family meal area.

1) If you have metals in your dining area or serving area that need polishing, now's a good time to do that. Think of silverware, metal cooking utensils, lamps, etc.
2) If you have furniture that needs a good polishing, polish that, too. Think of the exercise you're getting!
3) Why not take down curtains, wash and dry them, and rehang them or vacuum ones that cannot be taken down. Some curtains may need to be taken to the dry cleaners.
4) A good vacuuming can never hurt. Use your crevice tools to get down into the cracks. Move what furniture you can out of the way and vacuum behind them.
5) Are drawers in your hutch or other serving pieces of furniture clean?
6) What are the condition of your tablecloths and napkins, place mats and runners? Do any need to be washed and ironed? Are any past their usefulness? Do you have too few? Too many? This is an area where I am inclined to be sentimental and to keep too many old linens, so a good cleaning out will be a good thing for me.
7) Have you checked the ceilings and walls for cobwebs? Do your walls need a good dusting and/or a good cleaning?
8) Now's a good time to clean dining room light switches and doorknobs and the areas around them. Spot clean away any fingerprints. Rejoice in the fact that you are also cleaning away germs that can be easily transmitted when many different people use a light switch.
9) Dust behind pictures and other objects that hang on the wall. Take them down and clean behind them. When they are down, ask yourself if you want to put all of them back up. You may decide to put back only some of the pieces and live with a cleaner look for a while. This may be affected by your decorating style. The Victorian look can handle more things on the wall than a modern look, for example. However, with any look, it's good to evaluate from time to time. Placing fewer items on the wall can make the room look and feel more open.
10) Does your dining room end up being a catch all for other clutter? In the ideal situation, the dining room is for dining only. It is a place where your family (and guests) can enjoy a leisurely meal and good conversation. Meals together are such an important part of family life, and it's lovely to create a little space where the family can enjoy them fully. This should be a relaxing place. This should be a place where many lovely family memories are created. However, we don't all live in ideal situations. Some people may depend on the dining room as an area for children to do schoolwork or crafts. Others may use the dining room table as a place for their own sewing and hobbies, as well as a place to take care of paperwork. If this is your situation, that's OK. Train your children and yourself to put projects and materials away as soon as they are completed. Provide storage areas and containers in your home for these materials. If you store some in your dining room area, make sure that these things don't overwhelm the dining room, but present a neat picture. If you are in the middle of preparing taxes, and the dining room table is the only place where you can spread them, be sure to clean up after April 15th arrives. Also, don't let your dining room become an area where you stash things simply because you haven't organized suitable places for them.
11) Once you've deep cleaned your dining room, use it! Perhaps you have an eating nook in the kitchen as well as a dining room. If so, remember to use your dining room for several occasions. Don't make your family wait for a holiday or for special company to come over in order to enjoy a pretty meal served in the dining room. Also, don't be afraid to use your best china and your best linens from time to time. Yes, they will suffer wear and tear and may even be damaged. But, they are only things, and your family is more important than they are. Be creative. Serve Sunday dinners in your dining room. Or, once a week or once a month, treat the family to a candlelit dinner in the dining room. Or, start a tradition of serving Saturday brunch in the dining room once a week or once a month.
12) Even if your dining area is a corner of a one-room apartment, be sure to set a special meal now and again.

Dining room windows: In some parts of the country, now may not be the best time to clean the outside of your windows. You may have many more weeks of snow and rain to come. However, do clean the inside of your windows, if you can. Raise the windows and clean the ledge up to the screen.

Now that we've discussed coffee and tea and have cleaned our dining room, you're all set to give a tea or coffee if you like!

For the apron project: Hem the bottom of your apron skirt. Hem the sides of your skirt (narrow 1/4 to 1/2 inch hem). Do not hem the top yet.

For your home making book: Jot down your schedules: daily, weekly, monthly, bi-annually. Keep tweaking them so that they work for you. By the end of our year together, we will have honed our routines so that they truly work for us in the stage of life we're in right now. Keep track of any deep cleaning that you do so that you won't repeat yourself too quickly on some things and neglect others.

For some inspiration, here are dining room decorating ideas from HGTV.

Do you do the family taxes or do you help your husband do the taxes? Do you have all the forms you need? Are your papers organized and where you can find them? Some of you may already be finished with your taxes, while others may just be getting started. Either way, keep track of what is or was frustrating for you this year and what went or is going smoothly. Do you need to change anything about your financial record keeping to make tax season more pleasant?

For your Book of Days: Look at Phil. 4:4-8. Jot down five things in each category it says to think about: 5 things that are true, five things that are pure; five things that are lovely, etc. Use a concordance like Strong's (It's online at Bible crosswalk) if you need clarification about what a word such as noble or lovely really means.

Happy Homemaking!