Simplifying Home Life – Miscellaneous Edition

Ahh, the little things that make life easier….I sure can’t get enough of these products and shortcuts, and I hope that me sharing some of my recent favorites helps you out, too!

  1. Slow Cooker Bags

If you aren’t using slow cooker bags to cook some of your crock-pot meals in, you’re missing out on some ease of cleanup. I don’t use slow  cooker bags for every meal, but for things that are likely to burn, like some BBQ pork chops or crockpot mac&cheese, slow cooker bags are invaluable. Lighten your after dinner dishes with some of these bad boys today: Slow Cooker Bags

Photo Credit: Amazon.com

2. Coat Closet Overflow

Buying certain items in bulk has saved money and my sanity. Having a surplus of things like toilet paper, napkins and paper towels is convenient, but storing those items, in my home, isn’t. Since it’s difficult to find a spot to store 12 large rolls of paper towels, I’ve created a spot for additional storage of paper products in our coat closet. A hanging shoe rack helps store individual rolls of paper towels, zipper bags and napkin stacks. You can find a similar version here:  Hanging Shoe Organizer.  A sliding basket organizer from Ikea holds additional units of these items and some other random tidbits like our family picnic blanket, some dog toys, my spare purse, umbrellas, and my husband’s camera case. I have this sliding organizer positioned in the back corner of the closet, still not too difficult to get to but out of the way of the everyday items we reach for, like our coats and the vacuum cleaner. You can find the version that I have here: Ikea Frame and Wire Baskets.  So even if all of your bulk purchases won’t fit in your pantry or kitchen cabinets, keep in mind that you can create some smart alternative storage for those items to work for you.

 

 

3. Mini-Hamper in Laundry Room

My laundry room is right off of our kitchen, so for things that get dirty downstairs, it doesn’t make sense to haul them upstairs to our laundry hampers there. So, for things like dirty dish towels, scrubby cloths and cleaning towels, I purchased a fabric tote to use on the wire shelving in our laundry room to use as a hamper. That way, the dirty items are self contained, and I can run everything that goes into that laundry basket on the ‘sanitize’ cycle in my washer once it’s full.

Next to this, I have a durable plastic bin with lid that fits clean scrubby cloths and cleaning cloths. Most of these are the remnants of worn out washcloths or hand towels, but some are microfiber cleaning cloths. We keep all of these in the same place and then once used, can throw them in the mini-hamper next to the bin. This system works out pretty well!

 

4. Museum Putty

I stumbled across this product after seeing Alejandra from Alejandra.tv rave about it. Museum Putty is essentially a tacky putty that you can use to attach one item to another. This revolutionized both our kitchen silverware drawer and utensil drawer. Both drawers had inserts that didn’t fit perfectly, and so the inserts would slide around with the drawers were opened or closed. I stuck a generous wad of museum putty underneath all four corners, and those drawer inserts aren’t going anywhere now. I’ve also used this in the bathroom, where I’ve secured a magnetic paper clip holder containing my bobby pins, to the bottom of the drawer so that it didn’t slide around. Essentially, you can use this product to help items on a shelf stay put or secure items within a drawer, and it’s easily removable and non-damaging to your surfaces. Plus, for 5 bucks, you can’t really go wrong. Get some here: Museum Putty.

Photo Credit: Amazon.com

Simplifying Home Life – Chore Edition

Chores…they’re never ending! It seems that there is always something needing to be done, whether that’s the laundry, bathrooms, kitchens, you name it. I’ve struggled for a long time to find a routine that’s worked for me, for our family, and for our household. And lo and behold, that means that there isn’t a “routine” at all!

Allow me to explain. Over the years, with changing schedules, houses, family size and circumstances, (I’m looking at you, pup!) a set cleaning routine has either changed drastically, or, the chores that comprised that cleaning routine have evolved into things we do on an as-needed basis. There are things that we do on a regular basis to keep up on our household cleanliness, and some of those tasks are done daily, so I don’t really consider them “cleaning”. I’m referring to the general maintenance things that have to be done so that they don’t pile up on you and wreck havoc on, say, your cooking area for tonight’s dinner because you didn’t do the dishes from last night’s meal. The dishes, kitchen cleanup, and general household tidiness are things that we do on a daily basis, often without even thinking about them.

So if I don’t consider those tasks true cleaning–you know, the things like dishes and picking up the living room–how do I tackle everything else? Here’s a few rules of thumb that I go by:

Analyze Your High Traffic Areas. Here’s the thing. Those ickier tasks, like scrubbing down the showers, do take a little planning, time and effort. Yet, we feel amazing when they are done. Showering in a clean shower is pretty much the equivalent of sleeping in fresh clean sheets! But keep in mind that each family and household are very different. The high traffic areas of your house and my house are going to differ, and perhaps by a lot. Your hall bathroom might need cleaning on a more regular basis if you have three children sharing it, versus my guest bathroom only being used by our four year old. If you have carpet and wear shoes inside the house, or have children or pets, your carpet will be a high traffic area. Analyze what gets used in your house the most, and that will be where you want to concentrate your cleaning efforts.

For us, that means vacuuming at least once a week, giving the bathrooms a light spiff in between deep cleanings, and keeping up on our kitchen counter clutter. Trash and recycling is dealt with on a daily basis, and dishes are loaded into the dishwasher or hand washed as needed. Those are our high traffic areas.

My husband and I decided long ago on a standard for how tidy and clean we want our home, and because of that, forcing ourselves into a box for when we do certain chores just didn’t seem to make sense. We’ve adopted an approach of doing something when it needs to be done. That’s not to say that I stop everything I’m doing to give the bathroom a cleaning during a hectic weekday morning. More or less I’m saying that I’ll take the 20 minutes to clean the downstairs powder room in the upcoming days once I see that it needs to be done.

Divide and Conquer What’s Left. As for who does what in our household, there’s not a rule of thumb for that. Whoever gets to it, gets to it. There are certain things that my husband generally takes care of, such as lawn mowing and maintenance. It’s just not my strong suit, you guys. I can’t even start the lawn mower! So he handles that area of household maintenance. By default, since he’s usually out there doing lawn stuffs anyway, he also tends to get to things like weeding and mulching before I do as well. In turn, I typically am the first to get to the bathrooms. There are not labels in our house of who’s got which duty, rather, everyone is participating, which lightens the loan on everyone.

As our son gets older and likes to “help” with chores too, we have certain things that we ask him to do each day. We feel that this helps serve several purposes. One, we’re teaching him that loafing while everyone else does chores is not okay in our family. Everyone contributes. Everyone is a part of the household. Secondly, he gets to take pride in contributing, and for some of these chores, he earns a little money for his children’s envelope system. The key is finding age-appropriate chores that are well within his abilities. The main chores that he does daily include picking up his toys, placing dirty clothes in his hamper, setting the table, feeding our dog, and weekly, he helps us fold and put away his laundry. In the spring, summer, and fall, he helps us water our outdoor plants and flowers and he also assists with weeding. He also likes to try to operate the vacuum and sweep the floors, though mom and dad help him out with these.

In the end, every family and household is different, and you have to find what works for yours. I’ve read a lot of household cleaning routines from bloggers online, and some of them are very ambitious–vacuuming their floors every.single.day(!?)–for instance. That’s just not something that’s needed or is going to work in my household, and I’m okay with that, at this stage of my life.

 

Simple Holiday Gifts

Happy Days-After-The-Holidays! Did you survive?

We had a nice relaxing Christmas and stayed close to home, visiting family that lives in our town. I took a different approach with some gift giving this year, and made some homemade gifts, which I wanted to share with you.

I always do some holiday baking, and make a few different kinds of cookies for gifting to friends and family members that we will see during the time around Christmas. This year, I had a little extra time on my hands and decided to make some biscotti for our neighbors as well. I kept this very simple by placing about half a dozen biscotti cookies on a holiday themed paper plate and sealing the plate within a gallon size freezer bag. It wasn’t a super pretty presentation, but it was practical and inexpensive, and the neighbors were thankful for the little gift. I stuck to about a half dozen per family as I know that families are typically inundated with holiday treats this time of year, so it was just a small sampling, not an overwhelming amount. I also chose to gift biscotti because they aren’t super sweet and can even be enjoyed with a cup of coffee or tea. I kept the flavors neutral by making one batch with orange zest and another with lemon zest. They were tasty but not overpowering.

Citrus Zested Biscotti

adapted from The Kitchn
Makes approximately 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

1/4 cup mild olive oil
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon lemon or orange zest

Instructions

  1. Prep: Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment.
  2. Mix the wet ingredients: In a stand mixer, mix the olive oil and sugar on medium speed until blended. Switch the machine to low, and add the vanilla extract, almond extract, and eggs, and continue to mix until well blended.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients: In small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder. With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture and mix until blended. Add in the citrus zest and mix until distributed throughout dough. The dough will be sticky.
  4. Shape into logs: Using a spatula, give the mixture a final stir to be sure that everything is incorporated from the bottom of the bowl and well blended. Scoop out roughly half the dough and place it in a rough log shape lengthwise on the cookie sheet, leaving enough room next to it for the second log of dough. Dampen your hands and quickly shape the dough into a long, thin log, about 12 inches long and 2 inches wide. Repeat with the remaining dough.
  5. Par-bake the logs: Place the logs of biscotti in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes, or until the dough is just cooked through and very lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, turn the oven down to 275°F.
  6. Cut into cookies: Carefully pick up a log (or use two spatulas) and place on a cutting board. Using a sharp, thin, preferably serrated knife, cut the log into 1/2-inch slices. Repeat with the second log.
  7. Bake until lightly browned: Return the slices to the baking sheet, arranging them cut side down. Bake for another 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned.
  8. Cool and store: Cool biscotti on a rack. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks or freeze for several months.

Some other homemade gifts I made this year included jars of biscotti mixes for the family members we would see. I took a recipe I had found on Pinterest from Girl Versus Dough, and my son and I whipped up these biscotti mixes on a rainy afternoon. Good project for the kiddos to help with, as he had fun using my canning funnel to put my pre-measured ingredients into the jars, and then gently pound the jars to level the ingredients.

It took only about a half an hour to make five jars of mix. I crumpled up waxed paper to place in the space at the top of the jars so that there wasn’t too much room for the ingredients to shift around and the pretty layers to get messed up. Then, I used 3×5″ photo paper to print the additional ingredients and baking instructions on, and punched a hole in the corner and tied the card to the jar with kitchen twine, ending in a bow. It was a cute gift that the recipients can make sometime down the road when the hustle and bustle of the holidays are over. My dairy-free BFF appreciated that there was no dairy in this biscotti recipe, also!

Cranberry Crunch Biscotti

adapted from Girl Versus Dough

Makes approximately 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

For the gift jars:
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup dried cherries or cranberries
For the recipe:
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • Zest of 1 small lemon

Instructions:

  1. To make the gift jar: In a small bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt. Add mixture to a large (at least 1 quart) mason jar. Top with cornmeal, sugar, then dried cranberries. Seal jar and gift to a friend with recipe instructions.
  2. To make the biscotti: Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Pour all ingredients from mason jar into a large bowl. In a separate medium bowl, whisk eggs, oil and lemon zest until combined. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients; stir thoroughly to combine.
  4. Shape and pat dough into a roughly 14-by-4-inch log on prepared baking sheet. Bake 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown and set. Cool completely.
  5. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees F. Use a serrated knife to slice log diagonally into ½-inch slices. Place biscotti cut-side down on parchment-lined baking sheet, spaced at least a ½-inch apart. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, rotating sheet and flipping biscotti over halfway through, until biscotti are golden around the edges. Cool completely.

 

I had just enough of the cornmeal and other ingredients to make my household a ‘base’ recipe of the jarred biscotti mix. I had used all the cranberries for the other mixes, but when I do make this for us, I plan to add some more dried berries and pistachios to ours, as the original recipe had intended.

My mother in law is diabetic, and wouldn’t be able to eat biscotti or holiday cookies. I decided to come up with an idea for another jarred gift that I could give her in lieu. Enter Definitely Not Martha‘s recipe for lentil soup mixes. I used her variation ideas to make one southwest flavored soup mix and one Italian flavored soup mix. I had just enough lentils to make a small batch of soup for our household for dinner one night, and it was really tasty! I’ll now be adding lentil soup to our regular dinner rotation.

Southwest Lentil Soup in a Jar

adapted from Definitely Not Martha

(this will perfectly fill a 500 mL mason jar)

6 oz green lentils
3 tablespoons dried minced onion
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon dried cilantro
1 teaspoon kosher salt
5 oz red lentils

Include a card tied to the jar or a label that reads:

“Southwest Lentil Soup. Add contents of jar and six jars of water to a pot and simmer 30 minutes”.

Italian Lentil Soup in a Jar

adapted from Definitely Not Martha

(this will perfectly fill a 500 mL mason jar)

6 oz green lentils
3 tablespoons dried minced onion
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon italian seasoning or a mixture of rosemary, thyme and basil
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon kosher salt
5 oz red lentils

Include a card tied to the jar or a label that reads:

“Italian Lentil Soup. Add contents of jar and six jars of water to a pot and simmer 30 minutes”.

Finally, the gift I was most excited to make was crema di limoncello. For our tenth anniversary this past September, my husband took me to dinner at this wonderful Italian bistro in downtown Portland. When he made the reservation he apparently dropped that it was our anniversary, so after dinner the waitress presented us with two icy glasses of crema di limoncello, on the house. I’d never tasted anything like it–it was smooth, creamy, sweet, and absolutely delicious. It’s also made with Everclear, a 151-proof grain alcohol, so it’ll knock you on your butt if you have too much (we joke that it’s a “hire an Uber” drink). When I find something that amazing, I usually research it and find out if it’s possible to duplicate, and came across several recipes to make a variation that seemed similar to what the restaurant served. In November, I had the bright idea to make a large batch of this and bottle it in smaller portions as Christmas gifts, so I set out preparing to do so. In my research, I’d found that the longer you can allow the lemon peels to infuse into the alcohol, the better the flavor, so I purchased the Everclear and lemons and set to work before Thanksgiving. I used mason jars to hold my concoction, and stored it in my kitchen until the week leading up to Christmas, where I used milk, cream, and vanilla beans to create the final product. The recipe I used was adapted from Simply Recipes, and the only real change I made was extending the time I’d soaked the lemon peels. The final product was aahhhhmazing. Because I’d made such a big batch, we have some leftover for ourselves, and we’ll be enjoying this for some time to come.

Crema di Limoncello

adapted from Simply Recipes

Yield: Makes a little more than 3 quarts.

Ingredients

10 lemons
1 (750-ml) bottle Everclear (a quality vodka will do if you can’t find it)
8 cups  whole milk
5 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, seeds and pod

Additional Supplies you will need:
cheesecloth
bottles

Method

1. Zest the lemons using a lemon zester or peel them using a sharp paring knife. Make sure that you do not include the white pith into your peels, or at least ensure that your peels do not have very much of the pith as it will make your limoncello bitter.  Place the zest and the Everclear in containers and allow to infuse in a dark, cool place for a month.

After the infusion time has passed strain the liquid through the cheesecloth into a very large glass, stainless steel, or ceramic bowl.

2. In a large stockpot, warm the milk, sugar, and vanilla bean seeds and pod over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until dissolved.

Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature (this will take a few hours). Discard the vanilla bean and strain the mixture through the cheesecloth.

3. Combine the Everclear infusion with the sweet milk and stir together. Pass through a colander lined with cheesecloth to catch any solids. Funnel into bottles and store in the freezer.

Be sure to leave room in the bottles for the mixture to expand if it freezes to avoid an explosion. Use within six months. Serve small amounts in chilled glasses.

I hope my homemade holiday foodie gifts have given you some ideas of simple things you can present your friends and family at your next gift-giving opportunity!

Happy Holidays!

With Christmas right around the corner, everyone I know is in a wrapping and baking frenzy. I hope that the holidays don’t find you too overwhelmed and that you have a chance to spend some time with loved ones, opportunities to relax and unwind, and peace in your lives this season.

At my household, our four-year old son is abuzz with the Christmas spirit. He’s diligently counting down the days until Santa comes with our Melissa and Doug Christmas Countdown Calendar and constantly reorganizing the ornaments on the tree. As for me, I’ve been working on some baked goods for our neighbors and family members, as well as a few homemade food and drink gifts this year.  I don’t want to spoil anyone’s surprises just yet, but stay tuned for a post on my homemade gifts coming soon!

I want to wish all of you Happy Holidays and an exciting 2017.

Allie

Simplifying Home Life – Food & Meal Planning

Years ago, I was the type of girl who’d arrive home from work somewhere between 6-8pm, stare into the black hole that was our refrigerator, and figure out what we were going to eat for dinner based on whatever was inside. There wasn’t a plan in place, no thought had been given to the meal beforehand, and it resulted in a lot of “I dunno, what do you want to eat?” “I don’t care, let’s order pizza!” – conversations in my household.

As life became busier and there were more considerations to work around, such as when both my husband and I began college while still working full-time, I started to realize the value of a meal plan. We then had both of our work schedules to schedule around, plus study groups and night classes, and I had zero desire to resort to takeout or fast food every time we needed to eat quickly. A rough meal plan began to take shape, and I tried to become more organized by keeping a running shopping list as the week progressed, and finding new inspiration for meals. I had always loved to cook, but in the hustle and bustle of life while we were building our careers, dinner became getting something yummy on the table as soon as possible.

When I began making a meal plan, I noticed some improvements immediately. I began shopping more purposefully, instead of throwing whatever sounded good or was on sale into my cart and trying to make meals out of whatever I had purchased. We also began spending less money on takeout and pizza.

In the years thereafter, our life changed even more. We moved to a new state, started over with new jobs and schedules, changed schools, had a child. The meal plan became even more essential — it grounded our family time, finances, and eating habits. It allowed me to make the nights that we would actually eat dinner together special, as my husband and I were attending school different nights of the week and wouldn’t be together each weeknight. It allowed me to stock our freezer with meals before having our son, which became invaluable after an unplanned C-section and the subsequent recovery.

A meal plan needn’t be super complicated, but sketching out an idea of what your family is doing each week and therefore, planning meals that work into that schedule, is smart to do. For instance, if your child has soccer practice on Tuesday nights, don’t plan a meal that involves lengthy prep time. Save your sanity and plan a slow cooker meal that can cook all day and be ready to serve when you get home. These are the considerations to take into account when making your meal plan.

Shopping in bulk is a good way to save some time and money as well. For items used frequently, you may be better off getting those foods in large quantities at a place like Costco, Sam’s Club, Amazon, or Jet. Find what works for you, shop around for the best prices, and divide out your purchases accordingly. I have a list of things that I purchase frequently from Costco, and if I always have some chicken and ground beef on hand, I have a nice basis for some meal planning.

My last tip is in regards to the frequency of your meal planning. I’ve tried a lot of different methods over the years, and have had ultimate success with weekly meal planning. For time, sanity, and productivity reasons, I don’t want to be at the grocery store several times a week. But, when I made a meal plan and grocery shopped for more than a week, I had less success with keeping fresh foods fresh, and throwing out a bunch of produce that’s gone bad is not conducive to my meal planning and budgeting efforts. A week is the magic ticket for our family to restock on fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, possibly eggs, other pantry staples, bread, lunchmeat, and cheeses. I tend to shop at Costco once a month or so, to restock on bulk purchases there, such as chicken, beef, butter, cereal, applesauce, and eggs. When deciding what to purchase in bulk for your family, compare cost per unit, price, and take into consideration how quickly you’ll use the item. We go through a lot of eggs in my household, for instance, so purchasing the two dozen organic cage free egg pack at Costco for $6.99 is a good buy.

Good luck with your meal planning endeavors!

 

Food Prep

Simplifying Home Life – Beauty Edition

While we’re on the topic of productivity, an item I have streamlined in an effort to simplify my beauty routine is my makeup products and storage. As an Ipsy subscriber, there’s not a lot of specialty makeup I actually purchase any longer, as I get samples of eye shadows, blushes, mascaras, highlighters, and eyeliners pretty frequently. What I do purchase are things like foundations, tinted moisturizers, and skincare, and because I buy quality products in those areas and make them last, these are infrequent purchases, and ones that I do a ton of research on (and try to obtain samples for!) before using.

The Ipsy subscription is helpful in the way that it gets me trying new products without breaking the bank and I get to try a wide range of colors and formulas that I may not have otherwise spent my own money on. However, it is easy to accumulate the products over time and so with that in mind, I am ruthless when trying products and try not to have any qualms about getting rid of something that I don’t love. Sometimes I receive a product that just doesn’t work for me, and that’s okay – I did only spend $10 on the subscription and received five (or sometimes more) products to try out. If it truly doesn’t work for me, I see if a friend of relative can use it.

Since Ipsy sends their monthly products in a cosmetic bag that’s yours to keep, those are easy to accumulate as well. I keep my favorite ones that seem to function the best, as they do come in several sizes and configurations. Ones that are more “pouchy” like an actual makeup case are great for travel or storing some spare toiletries or cosmetics in your car, work-bag, or locker. I’ve used envelope-type bags that are thinner to store small items like pens and pencils in my purse or some feminine products. I set aside the ones I won’t be using and my sister goes through them every so often and takes the ones off my hands that she wants, and I donate the rest. The ones that I do keep get put to use organizing some of my more infrequently used beauty products.

I’m not a super glam girl, and it’s rare for me to do a full face of makeup, including foundations, highlighters, powder, eyeliner…the works. I tend to do a quick five or ten minute beauty routine for most situations. But, I do like the option of having some of these products accessible, even if I’m not going to be using them all the time. That’s where my surplus of Ipsy bags comes into play. I’ve taken a few of them and used my label maker to label them simply with “eye products”, or “face products”, and then categorized those rarely used pieces that I won’t be using daily. These are stored under my bathroom sink, but a ways in the back, so that they aren’t clogging up my everyday rotation. When I do want to glam up, they are there and easy to find.

For my everyday makeup, I keep this all in a makeup train case I got on clearance at Sephora many years ago, and it’s still going strong. While the train cases that Sephora carries now are quite expensive, here’s a similar version that’s quite a bit less and is the same format as the case that I have: Amazon Makeup Case. I appreciate my makeup case so much, and I can tell you that I definitely would have some troubles getting ready every morning if I was wading through all of my products in my main makeup case, and I just didn’t want to set myself up that way. So if you find that you don’t use all of your makeup products on the daily, perhaps try a sorting solution to what I’ve implemented above, and keep your favorite and most frequently used products front and center.

 

 

Simplifying My Home Life – Kitchen Edition!

In an effort to minimize my life’s headaches, I’ve been focusing on paring down my kitchen gadgets, utensils, and serving-ware. I didn’t do a big purge all at once in the kitchen; rather as I come across things that I’ve not used recently, or retire items that are worn out, I decide what to do with it. There’s a few different decisions to make depending on the item and what the circumstances are. For instance, I recently tossed out a rubber spatula that the edge had burned down on, but this item doesn’t need to be replaced, because I already have another similar and better quality spatula. Most items that I come across and haven’t used recently, I add to my donation box.

For everything that’s left, it’s worth it to develop an organized system for storing what is accessed frequently. Here are a few areas that I’ve chosen to focus my attention:

  1. Medication Storage

I picked up hinged-top boxes at the dollar store, and with a Sharpie marker, labeled the end of each box. The first one is Cold & Flu Medications, another is Tummy & Allergy Medications, and the third, Vitamins & Supplements. Medications are sorted and placed into the containers, and stored on a high shelf (way out of the reach of our son) with the writing facing out of the cabinet for easy viability. Once every few months, while my coffee is brewing, I reach for the boxes and shuffle through the contents briefly to toss anything that’s expired or add anything we’re in need of to my grocery list.

2. Streamline Coffee Products

I’ve learned a long time ago how I prefer my coffee, and so I’ve done away with the fancy paraphernalia that I used to collect for coffee preparation. I used to have all sorts of gadgets and different coffee beans and syrups, but now I just have my Keurig, (for daily coffees that are quick) and my French Press. I keep one kind of K-Cup at a time, and a small stash of whole bean coffee for when I do bust out the French Press. My espresso maker, milk frother, etc. have all departed.

3.Purging Duplicates

I mentioned above how a damaged spatula recently found its way into my garbage can, and I was just fine with that. I’ll bet your kitchen might have a duplicate or two that isn’t necessary either – and as you find these items, feel free to pick your favorite and donate the dupe! Nobody needs two turkey basters or gravy boats. There’s some exceptions to this rule – I do have two potato peelers in case someone wants to help me peel a large batch of potatoes come holiday meal time – but I’ve since gotten rid of my excess whisks, platters and utensils.

4. Serving Dishes

The best advice I can offer regarding serving dishes and specialty items is to store them apart from your everyday kitchenware. If you’re fortunate enough to have a kitchen hutch or storage buffet, consider keeping your large platters, crystal bowls, and cake stands in there, to be accessed when needed but away from what you need to get dinner on the table on a nightly basis. I don’t have room for specialty storage in my kitchen, but I take advantage of the highest shelves in my cabinets for all of those items. I’m short, so I need to use a step-stool to get to anything on the third shelf or higher in our cabinets. Therefore I try to place all of the infrequently used items up there, and the kitchen things I need on a regular basis are on the bottom two shelves in my upper cabinets.

5. Food Storage Containers

It’s all too easy for food storage containers to get worn out, lose their lids or become a jumbled mess in your cabinets. I’ve tried a few different storage solutions for organizing them, but in the end none of those options worked great. What I’ve resorted to now is storing the container with it’s lid resting on top of it. For multiples of the same size, I nest all of the containers inside one another with all of the matching lids stacked on top of the stack of containers. That way I always have a matching lid for a container. I’m also not afraid to retire food storage containers when they’re past their prime.

 

Top 5 Series – 5 Habits to Incorporate Into Your Evening Routine to Make Your Mornings Run Better

In an effort to improve productivity, I’d like to think there are always little habits and tweaks we can make to our everyday lives in order to make things easier on ourselves. Maybe you have to put a little planning and effort into doing preparation upfront, but if it makes a more stressful time-frame, like the mad-dash of early mornings, work more efficiently for you, then why not spend 5 or 10 minutes the night before to get some of these things done?

  1. Prepare coffee pot/smoothie ingredients

There’s a few advantages to doing this. Depending on how you prepare your coffee, the ‘art’ of making a really good cup might take a little time. Perhaps you prefer the french press method, in which case, you’ll be using fresh, coarsely ground beans, hot boiling water, and letting it all steep for about four minutes, giving you a deliciously robust cup of coffee ready to plunk into your travel mug. So do yourself a favor and prepare the beans, measure your water, and make sure your french press and travel mug are clean and ready to go. When you come into the kitchen in the morning, simply start your water kettle and get your coffee going, without fumbling around for the other supplies and grinding your beans.

As for smoothies, one of the best suggestions I’ve seen out there is to prepare your own smoothie packs, with your choice of ingredients in individual baggies. Pop these into the freezer to pull out as needed or prepare a week’s worth upfront and store in the fridge. You’ll save yourself a heck of a lot of time in the morning rush if you’re not getting out ingredients, and peeling and chopping them everyday. Then you can add it to your blender or bullet contraption, pour in your liquid ingredients or ice, and blend away.

2. Prepare lunches/snacks for yourself or your spouse and children

Trust me – doing this the night before will save you a morning headache for certain. I usually begin all this while I’m cleaning up after dinner – leftovers get packed into individual portions in food storage containers for lunches. I line up the lunch boxes on the counter and toss in what I know will be needed (and can stay out overnight, of course). Things like napkins, utensils, juice boxes, and dry goods can go in the lunchbox now. In the morning, fill water bottles or thermoses, put in your lunch containers, and you’re ready to go. Streamlining this task assembly line style for each member of your family saves you time because you’re performing the same duties, just in bulk.

3. Do dishes and load dishwasher

There’s nothing worse than coming into the kitchen in the morning and you have a sink full of dirty dishes and stuff all over your counter-tops. By having to wade through the mess in order to get your other morning kitchen tasks completed, you’re using up valuable time and increasing your stress level, all before you’ve even left the house. I recommend taking care of those dirty dishes the night before, setting your dishwasher to run overnight and making sure your counter-tops are cleared of anything that needs to be put away or stored elsewhere. This tip sounds so simple, but has big impact into setting yourself and your family up for successful mornings.

4. Lay out or plan breakfast items

By knowing what everyone is eating in the morning, you can make sure to have those things setup best you can the night before. Maybe you’re low on milk, but stopping by the store after you get off work. If there’s not enough milk for everyone’s cereal, that means we need to plan for alternative breakfasts like oatmeal, muffins, fruit, hard-boiled eggs, or waffles. Having a game plan avoids some last-minute freak outs from kids, too–I give my son two choices (that are available) and let him choose which one he has. He gets to have a say, and I get to give him choices that work for us as his parents.

5.Clear off bathroom sink area

If your mornings are a mad-dash to the finish line, take two minutes while your brushing your teeth before bed to straighten up the bathroom counters. My bathroom usually has the hairdryer out, with cord fallen on the floor, some hair products, makeup brushes, and hand lotion spread all around… By placing it all back in an orderly fashion, where it goes, you can find things easier in the morning to get ready again, and you don’t have to wake up with the feeling that you’re walking into a messy space and creating more chaos.

So, Do I Have Hashimoto’s, or What?

My answer at this time: Beats me!

I’ve had the runaround these past few months from the medical profession. To re-cap, in my post about being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease, I discussed being diagnosed with the hypothyroid and autoimmune disease and the treatments I was working through at that time. I detailed the Autoimmune Protocol Plan (AIP) eating that I completed earlier in the year in my post here.

The diagnosis of hypothyroidism was completed by a naturopathic doctor that I was seeing due to being unhappy with my prognosis from my primary and OB at my major medical HMO. The HMO’s prognosis had mostly consisted of “you’ll probably always feel this way” and “there’s not much you can do about it”. I wasn’t ready to settle for that. The insurance plan we had at the time covered alternative care like naturopathic medicine so I sought out a doctor that specialized in women’s hormonal diseases and disorders and saw her for several appointments in 2015.

She, right off the bat, was adamant that I definitely had something more going on that the vague diagnosis of PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) that our HMO had given me years ago. She dove into a lengthy medical questionnaire and ran some tests. By the middle of the year, it was determined by lab work that my body was attacking my thyroid in a pattern that revealed an auto-immune disease.

So, at this point I was told that I didn’t just have hypothyroidism, I was told that my body was attacking itself and that I would always have this disease that needed to be managed.

It was my naturopath doctor that recommended the AIP eating plan because it was one of the things that I could control and actually help my own healing. I completed this in January and February of this year. While I did rush food re-introductions per the protocol’s recommendations, I also knew that I didn’t have any of the chronic stomach upset and problems that many auto-immune sufferers have, so I knew that re-introductions would go quite smoothly for me, and I was right. My symptoms have always been more hormonal in nature and are the dull underlying reminder that I always feel off, but haven’t been the type that knock me out and keep me in bed for a week, like someone with say, Celiac’s might experience.

Late last year, I received the startling news that a change in my insurance coverage meant that naturopathic services weren’t covered any longer. I had gone to the naturopathic doctor four times during the time that I wasn’t covered, and hadn’t even known that the visits wouldn’t be covered at the time I had gone to see her. The cash patient price was more than I could afford to continue seeing the naturopathic doctor. Sadly, I’ve had much trouble settling final bills and found that the doctors office’s business practices have been quite poor throughout this time, and decided that even if I could afford her astronomical rate to continue seeing her, that I wasn’t going to.

I decided that since I pay a nice chunk of money out of my paycheck each month for our family to have health insurance, that I would go back to my major medical insurance and demand treatment for the thyroid disorder through them. In the past, I had had trouble with my health organization recognizing the thyroid disorder. They stated that Eastern doctors (naturopathic) and Western medicine doctors (pretty much everyone else) practice medicine quite differently, and that just because an Eastern medicine doctor said I had a thyroid disease, they didn’t necessarily think I did too. But, I now had test results that showed the thyroid antibodies present, and I thought that this was absolute proof that I now had a solid diagnosis of a thyroid disorder and that there was no way that my primary doctor could not recognize that.

In February, I met with a young doctor filling in for my primary, who was on maternity leave. I showed him the lab results, discussed my problems with him, and stated that I wished to now receive treatment from their organization for the issue, so that it would be covered. I explained that I was no longer going to seek out the naturopathic services and that since the lab results PROVED a thyroid disorder, there should be no reason why they should not treat me for it, continue prescribing the thyroid medication and help me manage the disease ongoing.

The doctor listened intently, asked follow up questions, and reviewed the nautopath’s lab results I had brought with me. I told him about the AIP plan and the supplements the naturopath had had me taking. He hadn’t heard of any of the supplements or the AIP plan. He then told me that lab results of my nature aren’t necessarily evident of a thyroid disorder or autoimmune disease.

I was speechless at that point. Here I had been told that I, without a doubt, had Hashimoto’s disease. That I most certainly had hypothyroidism. This guy, who was more or less my age, so possibly very recently out of medical school, was telling me that recent studies on thyroid disorders mean that many patients testing positive for thyroid antibodies don’t necessarily have the disease.

This shocked me. I felt like everything I knew and was working towards on my health at that time was quite possibly for nothing. Was it true that I didn’t have a thyroid disease? I felt so confused.

 

He proceeded to tell me that everything I was describing was indicative of PCOS and that he had reviewed my chart before my appointment and felt that a diagnosis of PCOS was more likely than that of an autoimmune disease. He told me that people with Hashimoto’s disease had thyroid antibody levels in the 800-1000 range or higher. Mine were 258.

I asked him if those people with those antibody levels of 800-1000 were quite sick, and he said yes. I then explained that I was trying to address what I could, head on, before I got to that point.

He then offered to review my chart more thoroughly after my appointment and see if there was anything that was missed in the PCOS diagnosis that he might be able to test for. He ordered labs for my TSH level to be completed that day. I asked him what to do about the thyroid medication that I was nearly out of. He said, based on what we had discussed and depending on what my lab results were after having the blood drawn, that he was not comfortable prescribing further thyroid medication to me. I had about 10 days worth of my current supply left, and then I would be out.

I left his exam room shell shocked and exhausted. I was tired of the fight. The fight that I felt that I shouldn’t have to just accept that I would always feel off, that the symptoms I had were normal and that there wasn’t anything I could do about it. And just when I thought I had found someone to understand and figure out what I was going through, I was back at square one.

I went and had the blood drawn before I left the building. The thyroid results later in the day were in the “normal” range, but I expected this – I had been on thyroid medication by eight months or so by that time. If the dosage was fairly correct, of course my thyroid was in a normal range, because it was being managed. Because the result was normal, he did not prescribe the medication.

The doctor stayed true to his word. He called me about a week later. I’m pretty sure that’s the first time a doctor from that organization had called me after an appointment to follow up, so I thanked him for this. He said he had reviewed the labs, reviewed my chart once more. He said he felt that everything had been done properly in previous years to correctly diagnose what he thought I had: PCOS, and nothing more. Therefore, he explained, this was just a hormonal disorder I would always have. No, there wasn’t medication I could take for it. No, there weren’t supplements that would help. He said he had researched the AIP plan and decided it sounded pretty good, and that I should continue it if I felt like it.

So, since mid-February, I have been off of thyroid medication. I still have low energy levels. I know I have to give myself credit for the busy lifestyle, but I definitely used to have more energy than I do now. For about the past month, I’ve been losing hair as well, quite a bit of hair. I have thick hair, and have always lost some while shampooing or brushing, but the hair loss as of late is quite startling. I got a haircut recently and, although I warned the stylist before she shampooed me, she admitted later that it was an abnormal amount of loss and asked if I’ve ever had my thyroid tested.

“In my experience, most hair problems or changes have to do with a women’s thyroid. We learned that in cosmetology school.”

I quickly changed the subject, not wanting to get into it. The poor girl didn’t need my life story.

So friends, I sit here stumped and confused. The frustration I feel from all of this is disheartening.  I don’t know who to believe as far as a diagnosis, or should I say, lack thereof.

So, right now, I’m coasting. I haven’t been following the AIP Plan as diligently as I should. Once I had reintroduced the foods that were important to me and helped create rounder and more satisfying meals, ones that didn’t leave me feeling deprived, I got sloppy. Between spending time with friends and family, a little traveling and two weddings in these past months, I got in the bad habit of eating whatever looked good at the time again. It sure has been nice to partake in those special occasions, such as when my now four year old son requested spaghetti, meatballs, garlic bread and broccoli for his birthday dinner. Three months ago, I would have watched longingly as my husband and son ate it alone, and I ate a salad. But I ate the damn spaghetti. Life is short. But going back to the more diligent AIP plan with my re-introductions would not be a bad thing. And again, it’s sort of the one thing I can control in all of this.

Friends, have you ever had this happen to you? Finally gotten some answers to medical problems, only for another medical professional to disagree? I’m at a loss of what more I should pursue, if anything. Several people have recommended switching medical insurance providers when I’m able to. That maybe it’s just this particular organization who is being less than helpful. That’s something that we as a family might consider, during the open enrollment time offered by my employer.

Simplifying Home Life – Laundry Routine

Years ago, when my husband and I first moved in together, we lived in the 450 square foot middle unit of a triplex. Besides going to work and taking care of our little house, we had few responsibilities at that time – life sure was simpler! Therefore, I used to reserve our laundry for Saturday mornings. I’d wake up, turn on some Food Network, and start laundry and housecleaning. With such a small house, the cleaning certainly didn’t take long. And we even shared the laundry room with the other triplex tenants, and so I couldn’t always get the laundry done as quickly as if we had an in-unit washer/dryer, but it still didn’t take that long.

Fast forward fifteen (!!?? Fifteen!?) years, and until recent months, I was dealing with laundry mountain every Saturday and sometimes carrying into Sunday. NOT how I wanted to spend my weekend.

With our now 4 year old son, and my husband working as a machinist, we have quite a bit of laundry each week. Toddler laundry is still much like infant laundry is – one big load a week, but we also have upgraded him to a full sized bed, with a full load of full sized bedding to be washed to boot.

My husband and I have several loads of darks each week, mostly due to his work as a machinist. His shirt and his heavy duty jeans are dirty each day, as is sometimes a jacket or flannel if he wore that depending on weather. We also have a load of lights and whites, and our bedding as well.

So, several months ago, after being fed up on a Sunday night still dealing with the laundry, I decided to not reserve all of the laundry for the weekends.

Now, I am usually doing a load every other night. We don’t have quite enough laundry to need to do it every night at this time. More often than not, that load being done on a weeknight is either our son’s or our darks. I gather the laundry in our basket from the hamper in the morning, and bring it downstairs once we are all dressed and ready to gather up breakfasts and lunches to go. I throw the clothes in the washer with the laundry pod and fabric softener, and then I use the delay wash setting on our washer, to have it start about the time I get off work.

When I get home at night, the washer is usually finished or on the last leg of its cycle. I flip the clothes over to the dryer while I’m in between the dinner routine, and then I fold and put away sometime during the remainder of the evening.

This routine takes a little more diligence on my part to ensure a load is started so that Laundry Mountain isn’t waiting for me on Saturday, but I’ve been happier since. That’s not to say I never have laundry by the time the weekend rolls around, because I certainly do, even if it’s only bed linens. If you are dealing with Laundry Mountain at your house and are tired of it, maybe start getting in the habit of trying the method of knocking out a few loads during the weeknights. I hope it helps you as it has helped me!

*Toddler tip! As discussed in my previous post of getting toddlers to help around the house, switching laundry loads and even helping to fold the clean clothes is a great way to get your eager toddler to help out 🙂