Monday, December 2, 2013

The Rules for Regifting

GASP!!!!  A regift!!!  What can we say that hasn't already been said?  There have been Seinfeld episodes about it, jokes at Yankee Swaps about it, discussions in back rooms over whether it's acceptable, heck, the word had been added to the dictionary.  However, based on some regifts I've gotten I think I few things need to be said.
     First off, regifting isn't a bad thing.  I know for a fact Pope John Paul II was a regifter.  So if the vicar of Christ can regift that's good enough for me.  Nearly every teacher I know is a regifter.  I'm a regifter.  So long as you follow a few simple rules to avoid hurt feelings and embarrassment regifting can be a great thing.  Here's how to do it...  

1)  Remove any name tags that would give it away as a regift!  I can't believe that needs to be said but I can't tell you how many gifts I've gotten with someone else's name on the gift tag.  Look all over for tags and stickers.

2)  Make sure it's clean.  This means the package is free of dust, in the original box, seal unbroken, and the box is in good condition.  Rewrap the gift in new paper.  If the gift is in a gift bag or box make sure those are in excellent condition.  Gift bags themselves are often reused so there is a tiny bit of flexibility there.  However, if you've had the item sitting in a gift bag or gift box in a closet somewhere then inspect the bag/box for bugs that may have crawled in there and died.   Yup, that happens.  I once got a glass bowl that was placed in a gift box.  By the time I got it there were a few dead moths in it AND a gift tag that said, "To: Laura".   

3)  Make sure it's something that can be regifted.  Don't regift handmade or personalized things.  Sweaters your crazy aunt knit, books with inscriptions on it, monogrammed items, etc are all ineligible items to regift.

4)  Regift into a different social circles.  Don't regift something a co-worker gave you to another co-worker.  The idea is to give the gift to someone the person who gave it to you probably will never bump into thus avoiding hurt feelings.

5)  Have the regift make sense.  Yes, whatever it is you probably just want out of your house but the idea is for people to not guess it's a regift.  Don't give the bubblebath you got from your neighbor to your 18 year old nephew.   Don't give the wine glasses to someone who doesn't drink.  Think about peoples' interests, otherwise, the item is going to become another regift.  

6)  Use Yankee Swaps.  So long as it's outside of the original gifters circle a Yankee Swap or White Elephant can be a great and fun way to get rid of regift that you just can't find a home for.

 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tuesday Tips

Make a quick pie crust by blending soft bread crumbs in a blender and pressing them down in a pie plate.

Lay adhesive vinyl tile under kitchen and bathroom sinks for some leak protection and to keep it cleaner. These particular tiles were .38 at Lowes.

Apply sunscreen to your kids faces with with a makeup sponge. It gives you more control.

Cover the tops of your cabinets with magazine pages. It will keep the actual cabinet top dust and grease free. Just change the pages every 6-12 months. Much easier than scrubbing.

A spice 'staircase' is a great way to organize your spices. Labeling the top of the jar with a label or paint pen cuts down on constantly picking up each jar to determine the spice.

For the most part, my boys do not like seafood.  My husband and I have had to get creative during lent for meals 4 picky kids will eat.  A lot of my non-Catholic friends do meatless Mondays so this is a good list of ideas for that too. 

Repurpose a crib bumper into a book holder by folding the bumper in half and sewing a seam on one side.  Hang next to the bed or in a reading nook with 3M hooks.

Do you have a big gap in your Christmas tree?  Close it up with cable ties.




Trouble remembering your kids sizes or lots of family and friends asking so they can shop for the holidays?  Print out little business cards with all their info on them; sizes, favorite colors, likes & interests.  Have them handy for your Thanksgiving gathering!

Kids' coats not staying on the hanger?  Slip the end of the hanger through the loop of the tag.

Do your kids get the bathroom floor wet when they take bathes?  Use a clear shower curtain so the water stays in but you can still keep an eye on them.  When they're done, hide the tub with a standard shower curtain.

 


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Get Your Laundry Under Control

     This is what people wanted me to blog about next.  I'm not surprised.  At least once a day I see some angry Facebook status update involving laundry.  Too much to wash, too much to fold, it's everywhere.  I can definitely relate.  There were a few tricks I needed to learn to manage ours to the point where I didn't mind the laundry so much.

     You're going to hate this one but let's just get it out there.  Get a bigger washing machine and dryer.  I know, I know.  It's probably impractical.  Most everyone's budget is insanely tight right now and if your washer is currently fine then it's out of the question.  Once you are in the market, or you get your tax return, focus on washers that can hold a lot.  It can cut the number of loads you need to wash per week in half.  Now the realistic tips...  

     Use your start delay.  People say to me all the time, "Of course, you're laundry is under control. You're home all day."  Ugh, I don't spend all day doing laundry.  I've got some short cuts.  That's all.  I technically start Sunday night and am done by lunch time on Monday.  Typically, I toss in a load of colors Sunday night and put it in the dryer before I go to bed (usually after midnight).  After, I start the dryer I get the whites ready to be started and set the 'delay' button for what ever gets me to 7 a.m.. In the morning, what's in the dryer gets put on my bed, the whites go in the dryer, and I start my second (and sometimes last) load of colors in the wash.  So, yes, my washer is such that I usually wash 3 loads a week for my family of 6.  Sometimes I wash a 4th load of sheets or permanent press. Even if you don't have a high capacity washer you can get 6 loads done in over the weekend and not lose much time.  I'm talking just washed & dried...we'll get to folding later.

      Wash clothes right side out.  This might sound odd but it actually saves you some time when you go to fold because you're not wasting time turning the clothes right side out.  It also gives you a nice chance to pre-treat any stains.  So get the kids into that habit, tell your spouse, start fixing them as you toss them in the hampers.

     When I asked myself what I hated most about doing laundry it was the whites.  Four little boys + 2 adults = 84 socks. 84 SOCKS!!!  Socks that look alike but they're a size off but the naked eye can't tell.  You have to find it's mate in the pile of 84 socks and make sure it's the same size and then you have to pair it to the sizes of the others socks.  See where I'm going?  Socks are a total time suck.  The same is true for the underwear although underwear isn't nearly the pain socks are.  Getting everyone different brands is one solution but still you're going through a pile of socks dividing whose are whose.

      My solution - wash everyone's white socks and underwear in their own lingerie bag.  I have 4 large, zippered lingerie bags hanging on hooks in the laundry room.  The boys put all their socks in there when they take them off.  If your laundry room is far from the bedrooms hang the bags in the closet or on the outside of their hamper.  The key is a large bag so the white aren't crammed in there and are free to move in the dryer and zippered so they don't open up.  If they still feel a little damp after they go through the dryer just run them again with the next load.


     You read in one of the paragraphs above I dump clothes from the dryer on to my bed.  I then divide each family members clothes into their own laundry basket.  I have one extra for miscellaneous things like dish towels, towels, and blankets.  For me folding everything as it came out was a time suck.  I was always folding AND I had piles of folded clothes everywhere because I'd divide it as I folded.  I'd have 6 piles of shirts, 6 piles of pants, 6 piles of underwear, and it was just a matter of time before some kid ran through and scattered the piles.  I found it easier to divide the clothes right out of the dryer into personal laundry baskets.  This is where the white socks being in a lingerie bag is really helpful.  Once all the loads were done I'd start folding and enjoy one of my prime time T.V. shows. OR you can do the next tip....

      A lot of my friends have large families.  Occasionally, someone will complain about all the laundry they have to fold.  Then I think to myself, 'You've got 6 kids.  That shouldn't be the case.'  Have the kids fold their own laundry.  My 9 year old folds his own, my 7 year old folds his own, and my 5 year old fold his own.  I've found it to be a nice family time thing to do.  I put on a movie for them to watch, give the kids their baskets of clean clothes, and they fold them and put them away. Then I'll make them popcorn for the rest of the movie.


     Remember in Ghostbusters II when Peter told Dana in regards to laundry that there wasn't just clean and dirty.  There were many subtle levels.  It was funny but now that I'm a mom trying to cut down on the amount I wash that joke makes perfect sense.  So wash just what needs to be washed. I'm the first to admit I'm a bit of a germaphobe.  Any clothing that goes outside is pretty much branded, DIRTY.  However, if the boys stay inside, eat neatly, and don't do much I give the clothes another day. Jeans might get a few days depending on what they did at school.

      The dreaded laundry chore is mostly about finding your rhythm and some team work.










Thursday, September 26, 2013

Cannoli Cupcakes

     I enjoy Pinterest but dang, some of the pictures that go no where really bum me out.  I spent a few weeks searching for cupcake ideas for a baby shower I was baking for.  After looking at dozens of cupcakes I found a pin for a cannoli cupcake I liked the look of and clicked it.  Turned out it lead to a bakery's website and was just an ad for their cannoli cupcakes.  Well, that was a damn shame but at least I had an idea of what I wanted to do.  Narrowing down the kind of cupcake I wanted didn't make things easier because so many of the cannoli cupcakes recipes weren't like something I would find in the North End of Boston.
     "Real Italian cooking is simple with few ingredients,"  I could hear my Nonni saying.   I'd made every component to the cupcake I pinned that had no recipe.  I'd made yellow cupcakes, I'd made cannoli filling, I'd even fried my own cannoli shells.





The recipeless picture.  Not that I don't love a challenge.  Looking at the picture I did think it was a little too plain but nothing some miniature chocolate chips couldn't fix......maybe a ganache too.   The ganache can always be omitted but honestly it's very simple to make. 

Here we go...
For the cannoli cupcakes you essentially need; yellow cupcakes, ganache, ricotta filling, and mini canolli shells.  Mini cannoli shells can be found in the bakery section of some grocery stores or the frozen dessert section.  I found mine at Wegman's.

Ricotta Filling

30 oz. ricotta cheese, DRAINED
1 2/3 C. powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla

Directions: 

To drain the cheese place ricotta cheese in a bowl and stir to break up its shape.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill for several hours.  Poke some holes in the plastic wrap and pour out the excess liquid.    
In a bowl with electric mixer, beat ricotta until smooth and creamy. Beat in confectioner's sugar, and vanilla, and blend until smooth.  Chill until firm.  Use within 24 hours.

*Note* This is a very basic ricotta filling.  If you'd like to add zest, extracts, almonds, pistachios, liquor, or chocolate chips feel free  Just make sure it can fit through the cake decorating tip.  I've listed this first because it needs time to drain and firm. 

Yellow Cupcakes

2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 C. flour
1 1/2 C. cake flour (not self-rising)
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 3/4 C. sugar
4 eggs
2 t. vanilla
1 1/4 C. milk

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place 24 cupcake liners in two muffin pans. Into a medium bowl, sift together flours, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then beat in vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the flour; beat until combined after each addition.
Divide batter between the prepared pans, filling each cupcake liner 2/3 full of batter.  Bake, rotating the pans halfway through, until cakes are golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Allow cupcakes to cool in pan for 10 minutes. Then place them on cooling racks until they are completely cooled.        
Makes 24-27 cupcakes
Recipe from Martha Stewart, as seen on The Way the Cookie Crumbles

Chocolate Ganache

1/2 C. heavy cream
1/2 T. unsalted butter
6 oz. semisweet  or milk chocolate mini chocolate chips

Directions:

Heat the heavy cream and the butter in a saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil.
Remove from heat and add the chocolate chips.  Stir until smooth.


     Once you've got all your components made it's time to assemble. 

1) Take your finished cupcakes and dip the top in the ganache. 

2)  Fill a 16" frosting bag with your ricotta filling.  I used Wilton tip 2D to frost the cupcakes. 
     I piped some in a circle and some like flowers all over the cupcake

3)  Sprinkle the chocolate chips on the cupcakes.  

4)  Gently insert your cannoli shells into the cupcake.  Don't worry, they won't break.  If you prefer not to do that you can always fill the cannoli shells and lay them horizontally across the cupcake.    

5)  Fill the cannoli logs that are on the cupcakes. 

6)  Sprinkle a few chocolate chips on the ricotta filling in the canolli shell. 

7)  Dust with powdered sugar (optional).

Here's what my finished product looked like



Monday, September 23, 2013

I Said My Stove is Clean, Right?

     My grandmother had an immaculate stove.  My dad, (her son-in-law) would sneak little peeks inside during visits to see if he could spot a hint of whatever she'd last broiled.  No.  Never could.  Now, I was too young to really know what my grandmother's secrets were for keeping it clean.  I just wanted the capellini soup she was making.  She was a cleaner by nature and used a lot of foil in the stove to cover things but that's all I can remember.  This neurotic need of a clean stove might be inherited from her.  It might also be that generation because my own mother-in-law will often see me with my head in the oven, scrubbing the bottom, and say, "You're just like my mother-in-law."

     So one way of keeping it clean is to periodically check it and spot clean it.  Most of you probably aren't there yet.  So let's start at the beginning...

Behold!   


     Here's my stove after all my holiday baking and after the perfect pizza decided it was better to go out kamikaze style rather than be eaten.  Chicken, spinach, creme fresh, ricotta....so sad.  It needs some work but I've seen worse.

    Now I try to be as green as I can.  I reduce, reuse, recycle as much as possible.  I try to use environment friendly products.  I admire other people that go all natural with their cleaning, I have to admit, I want it CLEAN and sometimes vinegar & baking soda don't do anything but make cool fizz. 

     So how do we start cleaning the oven?  Take off the door.  It's easy to procrastinate cleaning the oven when working around the door is a pain.  They come off though!  It's a miracle!  Open your oven door to the point where it will stay open without closing.  Now just slide it off.  Awesome huh?  Maybe I'm just easy to please.  Some doors have a locking mechanism at the hinge so unlock it to slide off the door. 

     My cleaning products of choice for the stove are Bar Keeper's Friend, a few small steel wool pads, and water.  You can use vinegar if you wish.  I like to sprinkle the powder on the bad parts, make a paste with the liquid and then start scrubbing.  Try and do the top first, then the sides for the sake of drips.  When you're finished just give it a nice wipe down with a damp towel.    If you've never heard of Bar Keeper's Friend rest assured, Wal-Mart has it!

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-LqK5HLeVn00/Twt3SMBXmRI/AAAAAAAABJs/Hx7TyGQ5BFI/s1600/Bar+Keepers+Friend+%2528c%2529+nwafoodie.JPG



 The After.....so pretty!


      If you'd like to use the self cleaning feature, feel free.  I've found they aren't great for heavy jobs but once you do the hard spots the self cleaning feature works great.  I sometimes use it for cleaning the top part of the oven because I don't enjoy laying on my back to clean it.  With self cleaning the oven will get insanely hot, you might think it's going to explode, it will smell funny, and it takes about 4 hours to do.  All normal.  When we had a parakeet I was always afraid the smell would hurt him but I just moved them to a different room or put them outside.  Opening windows to keep the air clean and temperature down helps too.

     To help keep it clean, line the bottom of the oven with aluminum foil and cook dishes that might bubble over on a cookie sheet.  Now I can tell you, spot clean it periodically.  

     If you're cleaning the entire appliance it's best to look at the instructions to learn how the oven adapts for cleaning.  My top can be lifted up and held in place with a long pole while I scrub the area under the burners.  I don't have a flat top  :(  so the drip pans have to come off to clean the top thoroughly.  I replaced my aluminum drip pans with black ones to camouflage the burnt stuff I can't get off.  I use Bar Keeper's Friend all over the top too.  If your stove has a bottom drawer, that more than likely slides out with a little lift so you can get all the dust bunnies underneath there.  Some glass cleaner on the front and control panel and you're good to go!   

Good luck and enjoy your clean stove. 
     

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Little Known Baby Items THAT ARE AWESOME...

     My husband and I have had 4 kids in the span of 10 years.  Our youngest is one so I feel like a pretty good source of advice and input on baby products.  I love finding unique items, reading product reviews, and chatting with other parents that remark over my interesting baby item.  In ten years we've found some pretty cool things.  Some of our discoveries have gained popularity and some are still word of mouth advertising.   The latter is a shame because most of these things make life so much easier.  Here are our top 10 favorites...

1)  The Podee

      I've been using this since 2006 and I still get stopped and asked where I got it.  It's a hands free self feeder I found after I had my second child.  He was too young to hold his own bottle and we were going on an 8 hour car trip.  This allowed me to pump and feed him with out constantly pulling over and losing time.  I didn't have to cram myself in the back seat to hold his bottle or sit uncomfortably in the front holding a bottle in some crazy yoga position.  Seven years later we still use it on car rides, when I need to make dinner, when I'm in a rush and/or just can't stop to nurse or hold a bottle.

     I've purchased them for friends having their second child or friends having multiples.  They've all loved it.  We've always found them at Babies R Us and sometimes at Toys R Us.  Be warned that finding the Podee is like a game of Where's Waldo.  On the wall there are dozens of Avents, Dr. Browns, Evenflos, and Tomme Tippys but there is only one, ONE, hook holdings lonely yellow Podee boxes.  You have to hunt for it and half the time the associates at the store have never heard of it.  Amazon has them too.  **It's worth mentioning for younger babies Mom might have to such the straw enough to fill the nipple with milk.  They tend to get frustrated and give up before the milk reaches the nipple.**  


 2) Sock Ons

     YES!  There is something out there to prevent baby socks from falling off, babies pulling them off, and socks shooting off like little missiles.  I swear up and down I saw that once!  Sock Ons come in a variety of colors, styles and sizes.  They are essentially a sort of locking device that goes on over a normal baby sock.  I have yet to see them in stores but they can be found on Amazon.  







3) Onsie Extenders
http://imsdm.scene7.com/is/image/imsdm/030173?$osaMain$     These have been around for a while and they're so handy.  My neighbor just caught sight of the one my one year old was wearing and wished she'd seen them before.  Like everything on my list, I don't know why they aren't more commonly found.  I originally found them at a website called http://www.onestepahead.com but Amazon has them too.  I've also seen directions to make your own with old onsies on Pinterest.  Getting some extra mileage out of clothing is always a plus since they grow so fast. 




4) Carter's Boa Blanket
      You've probably been to shower after shower and seen the poor mom get about 20 blankets or received your own fair share of baby blankets.  The boa blanket, however, is the creme de le creme of blankets.  Even if Mom didn't register for it she probably won't return it because it's so soft and not like the standard receiving blanket.  Another great feature is that it stays soft after a year of washings.  I've got 2 of the same boa blanket for my youngest because the blanket became his lovey.  They've been washed once a week since his birth and are still soft and cozy.  Carter's cranks out lots of these in different styles so they're very easy to find.    


5) The Craftsman Tool Bag
     Sometimes you have to think outside the box.  These tool carriers make fantastic diaper caddies.  Who'd have thunk it?  These are way, way, way, better than the traditional diaper caddies sold in baby stores.  The actual diaper caddies I've seen in stores are flimsy, not that functional, and expensive.  Sears sells these caddies for $11-$13, they have several pockets for lotions, the main compartment perfectly fits wipes and diapers, and it is STRONG.  I'm always catching my 4 year old standing on the handle of ours.  As you can see they come in pink!  This is a great shower gift as is or filled.  I can usually fill one for $20 or so; $13 for the caddy, $4 for a small pack of diapers, and few things from the trial sized section or a dollar store.  Something practical for that great a price?  You can't beat it! 


 6)  Soothies Breast Pads

     Ah, Soothies Gel Pads, just the name brings a wave of comfort.  I got my first pair in that ridiculous incredibly helpful bag of swag all the new moms get at the hospital.  It was buried under a formatted letter of congrats from the governor and life insurance ads.  At first I tossed them aside.  I'd bought the standard disposable, cotton pads.  Plus, I was a nursing pro after my first child so why would I need something like that for the second.  Well, baby #2 tried to kill me through my nipples.  Crazy Lactation Consultant tried to tell me it only hurts if the baby isn't latched on correctly.  That's lie of the devil.  Sometimes nipples just need to be toughened up.  The only one willing to do the job in my house was baby #2 which had me racing for the Soothies. Ah, Soothies.....cool, comforting, and catches the leaks.  


7)  Skidders
     Fairly new and not too hard to find.  These are great for the new walkers in the house because they have the grippy feet and prevent falls.  I've got 4 with no grace on the loose at my house.  Someone is always falling, sliding, skidding, tripping, etc.  I tried puffy paint on the bottom of a pair of socks to make my own non-skid socks but the puffy paint gripped the floor and the kiddos walked out of the sock.  Skidders stay on, help wobbly toddlers stay on their feet and they're easy to clean.  They also give good back massages if you get the feet with the little nubs on it. 



8)  Stroller Handle Extensions

     Did you know the average strollers are designed for people that are 5'5" or shorter?  How tall is the average man?  The average man is 5'10" which is the same as MY height.  Basically, that means not many dads can comfortably push a stroller.  Shopping for our last stroller took more time than shopping for our minivan.  I wanted one that I could push without having to hunch over, without having to take short steps, or steps that had me kicking the back of the stroller.  Did we find one?  Not really.  We came close but ended up settling for the best stroller that let me power walk to some decent degree.  Enter the stroller handle extension.  It gives me the distance I need to avoid kicking the stroller and the height I need to avoid hunching over. 


9)  The Sippy Cup/Bottle Strap

  All four of my kids required this but we didn't have one for all of them.  They've had their own unique way of losing bottles and cups.  #3 would accidentally drop it and keep it a big secret.  #2 would fall asleep holding it and eventually drop it.  #1 had some sort of Houdini thing going on.  Our newest, #4, has a Henry VIII approach and just throws bottles when he's done with them.  If we happen to notice, great.  If not, our fault for being oblivious.  I don't know if you've caught on but bottles and sippy cups can be expensive, plus, I have this condition that make me go crazy when something is lost.  When I launched a massive search for the last Dr. Brown #4 hurled at the state fair I knew it was time to find some preventative gadget to save us money and headaches.     

10)  The Dapper Snapper
    They just don't make belts for infants and those cinches in the pants waist band don't start until the 3T sizes.  I've needed to adjust pants that were too big in the waist on several occasions but was hesitant to use safety pins on my very active kids.  A few times I've lucked out and found a plain dog collar to use as a belt but they usually can't be used on all the pants I have because of the size of the belt loop.  Behold the Dapper Snapper.  Much easier, works on all types of pants with belt loops, and it keeps the front obstacle free.  My boys hated the big belt buckle in the middle of their stomach.       

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Apparently, I need a blog...

     Does that title make me sound unwilling to blog?  I do and I don't want to do this.  Don't get me wrong I love writing and using humor but it seems like everyone has a blog.  I'm not one to do what everyone else is doing.  Secondly, with what people want me to blog about there are seemingly an infinite number of blogs like it and Pinterest.  I'm just another voice in the crowd.  So what's my schtick?  I've got a medium sized family of 6 and a very organized home.  Yup, that's it.   It's not perfect but it's perfectly normal.  I've got 4 boys and any one of them could be swinging from the chandelier, dressed as a superhero, complaining a sibling hit them in a private part at any given moment.  Sound like your house?  It's normal.  Despite the organized chaos of telethons for sick stuffed animal and forts consisting of every pillow and cushion I own, stuff gets done.  The house looks fine, stove is clean, laundry put away, and nothing is lost.  Crazy, huh?  This is where my friends beg me to impart my wisdom and blog.  Okay, I can chat and share.  I love coming up with new ways to organize, inventing recipes to try on my patient & willing family, and making things clean.  Let me clarify, I don't love cleaning but I enjoy the before and after.  There is something about taking a stove that looks like it went through a food fight and making it like new.  I know, I'm weird.  That's the kind of thing I'll be blogging about; making life easier, short cuts, fun recipes, time managing, etc.  So let me iron out the bumps and learn how to 'blog'.  I've got a lot of things to share but I'm willing to post anything you'd like my ideas on.