Fall Cleaning

It never ceases to amaze me at how time passes by so quickly!  I was sure it was just yesterday that I put out a few pumpkins, setting up vignettes for the autumn holidays (that I didn’t have time to post about) and today I was throwing them out; already rotten.

fall decor

I took this as a sign that it is time to clean out the fall decor and prep my house for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.  This year we will be here in South Carolina for Thanksgiving and doing a little a lot of entertaining as well, so I want my normally fairly clean house to really sparkle and shine!  With a traveling husband, teenagers and a puppy sharing this space I spend a lot of time doing daily cleaning tasks (and delegating some as well) such as vacuuming, washing dishes, keeping the laundry going, and just making sure when I come in from work at night that I’m not bogged down in chores.

While that is all good and well, my house still manages to collect the clutter as well as the dirt I seem to be the only one to notice.  As I break down the decor from one season preparing for the next it’s a wonderful time to do a little deep cleaning so that I feel my house is truly company ready.  I do this deep clean seasonally (and sometimes when I have a little extra time in-between).  I cannot stand a dirty/messy house.  By cleaning daily and deep cleaning multiple times a year I can be company ready in a very short notice.  Besides, life is so much calmer (and the house smells better) when you can contain the clutter and mess in all aspects!

Before I get started I like to set the mood.  I do this by putting on some great music (‘Tis the season  and Fa-La-La, Y’all!), lighting a few fragrant pumpkin spice ( or other favorite scent of the moment) candles.  Nothing like creating a happy and homey atmosphere to get you in the zone for doing household chores.

Now let’s dive in and get something accomplished!

Fall Cleaning

1. Clear the clutter.  It’s time to go through that stack of mail that occupies space on your desk, coffee table, kitchen counter, or even your dinner table.   It’s also time to clean out those magazines that you have not had time to read or have been hanging onto because you are sure there was something that you wanted to save.  I can assure you that if you have not read the magazines in the three four nine months since you received them it’s safe to say you won’t ever.  Take them to a library, senior citizens center, or if appropriate, donate to a middle or high school.  I feel like such a hoarder when I start this task as I have such a mess to work through.  It’s so easy to come in from work and toss the mail on the table to “Look at later”.   Keep what you need and throw away the rest.  Seriously, don’t hang on to stuff that will just collect dust.

2.  Speaking of dust, it’s time to hit those corners, baseboards, heat/air return vents, and ceiling fan blades that we often miss when doing our everyday run through of the house.  I take advantage of the wand & brush attachment on my vacuum clean and hit those hidden spot sucking the dust right up.  That brush attachment is also great for running along baseboards.  If you still feel they need cleaning, grab a Mr. Clean sponge and give them a quick wipe-down.  When the seasons change is also a perfect time for cleaning fan blades.  We keep ours spinning year around so I don’t always recognize that they are dusty.

vacuuming fans

When you go to reverse them for winter (or turning them back in the spring) works perfectly for cleaning because you might find yourself showered with dust confetti when you turn it back on.

Not that has happened to me or anything.

3.  Wash your windows, inside and out.  Yes, it’s a job we all hate, especially if the temperatures have already dropped, but I love the glow of twinkling lights through clean glass.  And I can assure you that when you sit down to supper for a family meal and look at your French doors, you will be glad you have washed off little (or big) hand prints, puppy nose impressions and kitty cat paws.

Cleaning windows

I like to use Fish Foam when my windows are in need of deep cleaning and I use Honest Window Cleaner (no harsh chemicals) for everyday maintenance.

4.  Deep clean your carpets.  Vacuuming a couple of times a week to clean up after the hubby, kids or pets is grand and all, but believe me, your carpets are not clean!  Transitioning into the holiday season is the perfect time to really clean your carpets as you want your home to look (and smell) perfect once guests arrive for whatever you are hosting.  There are several ways to do this:  hire someone to come in and shampoo (an expensive but easy solution), rent a carpet cleaner from Lowes, Home Depot or your local grocery store (easy but sometimes difficult to find available when it’s convenient of you), spot clean with Resolve (not really effective & extremely tiresome), or invest in your own carpet cleaner.  Having raised four kids, owning cats and dogs and formerly living on a farm, owning our own carpet cleaner is the absolute best investment I have ever made!  The cost of renting three times in a year paid for it, and I have the machine at my convenience for large or small area cleaning.  I usually choose two or three nights (in a row) and hit a couple of spaces before I go to bed and they are nearly dry when we get up int he morning for school and work.  So very easy and convenient.

shampooing carpets

This is an older model of a Hoover Steamvac Agility. We’ve used it for about eight years now and you just can’t beat it!

5.  Take care of the little things.  Change those central heat/air filters, vacuum and flip your mattresses,  check your smile detectors, changing batteries if necessary, and clean out the pantry and refrigerator of expired or open items you have forgotten about.  It’s also the perfect time to wash out the inside of your refrigerator so that it’s clean and ready for all of the food you will fill it with during the holidays.  You don’t want your strawberries to smell of last weeks chicken and taste like lettuce that is slowly rotting in the crisper drawer.  Add fresh boxes of baking soda to your freezer and refrigerator (Arm & Hammer makes a couple of options just for the refrigerator) to help soak up any unwanted orders as well.  Now is also a good time to check your lightbulbs around the house.  Make sure your outside lights work for family and friends coming at night as well as the little chandelier lights in the dining room.  These blow easily if you haven’t switched to LED lights (I LOVE Cree bulbs; you can purchase them at Home Depot), so keep a few extra on hand for last-minute swaps.

Keeping up with the little things seasonally helps prevent a “to-do” list you are struggling to finish the week before company arrives.  Letting the small tedious chores pile up honestly adds so much stress to your life,  Taking care of the little things now leaves nothing but maintenance and general clean-up for you to delegate to the family throughout the season. Take advantage of a weekend now to wipe out the list now and start the holiday season off with a load off of your shoulders.

I tried to include links to many of the products I use throughout the post to make finding some of these great products a bit easier.  Let me know if you have any questions!

Have a fabulous week!

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Summer Travel 101: Packing Tips

 We travel a lot in our family.  Mr. Jones job involves 65% travel so we have become near professionals getting him ready and off, even at a moments notice.  There have been moments he has called me from the office asking me to have a bag ready when he swings by the house or to have bag ready at the airport as he flies in from one meeting or job site only to immediately fly back out to the next safety emergency.

As the for kids and I we love to travel and hit the road continuously throughout the year from the five hour drive to the Grands to a trip to the beach or mountains for a get-away.  In the last six months, we have made 4 trips to Tennessee, taken a Disney cruise, I attended the Kentucky Derby, & just last week Audley & I flew to Colorado (he had a meeting and I happened to be teenager free).

Being on the go this much I have learned a few tips and tricks for making the packing process easier whether we be traveling by car or plane.  Hopefully these will help you be a little more organized the next time you and your family hit the road.

packingtips

**As soon as your plans are made for a trip start your packing list.  I know you can’t actually check weather and won’t have final plans until closer to departure dates, but you can begin a basic list of necessities;  toiletries, underwear, socks, potential outfits, toiletries, etc….

Once you can check the weather and you have decided on activities to include on your trip, you can add to your list making it as detailed as possible.  Checking the weather is actually very important because you don’t want to arrive at the top of Pikes Peak in June and discover it is 37 degrees.

Freezing our bums off on Pikes Peak ... It was a last minute visit, but WOW.....!

Freezing our bums off on Pikes Peak … It was a last minute visit, but WOW…..!

** Try not to pack anything that isn’t essential to your trip.  Look at your plans and pack accordingly.  If you are headed to the beach besides a swim suit you may also want to include cropped pants or shorts, sundresses, and maybe even a pretty dress for a nice meal out.

If you are planning a trip to New York you will want comfortable walking shoes, casual attire and of course a little black dress (a coat and tie for the guys) for a night at the theater!

If your trip involves a golf game, be sure to remember your golf shoes as well as checking with the facility and getting their dress-code.

Also, if you workout, throw in an outfit & shoes for the hotel gym.

Over packing only takes up space that you can use for that antique clock you might find in a shop on a side street in NY or make you suitcase heavier than you can easily manage.

**Before adding clothes to your suitcase, lay out all of your outfits.  Try to match shoes and accessories to more than one outfit to save space for packing.   After you have clothing for each event/activity you have planned,  pack one extra outfit that can be dressed up with strapy heels for dinner or cute sandals for casual stroll in case of emergency.

Matching shoes to my skirt

Matching shoes to my skirt

**Shoes should be the first item packed in your bag.  Since they are the heaviest (and the one item I tend to over pack & then have to remove), you want them on the bottom so that they aren’t wrinkling your clothes.  Use shoe bags (grocery bags also work well) to protect your shoes from scuffs and to keep them from getting our clothes dirty.

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** When you begin packing your clothes, add the heaviest items on the bottom (jeans, sweatshirts, etc), then add your tee-shirts, pajamas, blouses, skirts, & more delicate items to the top. You can also use tissue paper between your layers of delicate items for added protection.

Items like swimsuits, socks, & underwear can be folded (or rolled) and tucked into the sides of your suitcase.

I generally carry any jewelry I am taking in a carry-on bag if I am flying, but if traveling by car use a small travel jewelry box (you can generally find one at TJ Maxx)or ziploc bags separating the items and place them in your shoes for safekeeping.

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**When packing toiletries, I always look at my accommodations.  I know if we are headed to my parents, shampoo & conditioner will be provided.  If we are staying in an Embassy Suites I also plan to use their toiletries as they use Crabtree and Evelyn products which I LOVE.  Most of the time I carry my own toiletries.  I use multi-purpose clear bags no matter how I am traveling.   You can purchase travel size items at Target that will pass for air travel as be convenient for road trippin’ as well.  Also, those gift with purchase items from Lancome, Estee Lauder, Clinique and other cosmetic companies are perfect for travel.  In one of my clear bags is my facial products, the other has other travel necessities from Q-tips to toothpaste and a toothbrush.  My toiletry bags fit easily in my suitcase if I am traveling by car and work just as well for a carry-on bag if I am flying.  If you think you can slip a large can of hairspray, perfume or mousse through airport security in your carry-on, you can’t.  I lost many items before this lesson was learned.

I keep these bags packed at all times so that they are stocked and ready when I am.

When flying I pack my curling iron or straightener in my suitcase (almost all hotels provide a hairdryer), but if I am traveling in a car I carry a separate bag just for my personal items.  If you have daughters traveling with you, share these items.  There is no need for three of each item taking up space.

** Traveling with make-up is a necessity that can also be a pain if you don’t plan ahead.  Those great multifunctional kits that you can purchase at Ulta and Sephora (By Two Faced and Urban Decay) year round or during the holidays from Estee Lauder are perfect for travel.  Many times these kits contain eye shadows & liner, lip glosses, & blush.

esteelauder

All you need to add is foundation (Estee Lauder will do a free 10-day supply for you to try) and mascara. Simple and effective for having you ready at a moments notice.

10-day supply of foundation keeps you from having to carry an entire bottle.

10-day supply of foundation keeps you from having to carry an entire bottle.

Something that will help you out for future trips is before you plan your next trip, make a packing list you can keep on hand at all times that consists of basic outfits, shoes, underwear, etc…. With all the note keeping apps available for our phones you can keep it on hand in case you ever have an emergency and need to throw together a bag.

Here is a small shopping guide to help you organize your next trip:

*Monogrammed Shoe Bag: Miss Lucy’s Monograms, $20.00

*Clear Travel Bags: Set of 24, Exclusive to Neiman Marcus online

*Estee Lauder kit:  Christmas 2014, 39.95 with purchase; these promotions are several times a year

*Lancome travel size facial cleansers:  Gift with purchase $39.50

  With summer vacation in full swing I thought it would be a great time to share a few of my tips for traveling while keeping your sanity, so in the coming weeks I hope to cover air travel as well as traveling by car with the kiddos in tow.

What are some of your no-fail packing tips? I would love to hear them!

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Kitchen Matters: Stocking the Pantry

No matter how long or how short of a time you have been keeping house, stocking the pantry always seems to be a challenge.  After all, these are the items that can get expensive as you work to purchase spices, condiments, and a few extras to keep on hand for emergency.
While I buy groceries weekly, I always have enough necessities on hand that will allow me to change up dinner plans, adjust for unexpected (but always welcomed) guests, or if I’m running short on time, allow for me to wait a few days before I have to go to the grocery.  This is where you can really benefit from using coupons and price matching at the grocery store.  Your cabinet doesn’t have to be overflowing with staples, just the basics for creating quick and easy dishes.  The idea is to be prepared for anything that could happen.  If you have stocked up on some basics, you will be able to whip up a meal quickly.  I try to keep these items on hand at all times to use along side what I have planned on my menu.  You don’t purchase these every time you buy groceries, but gradually build your supply, then replace as necessary.
 

Here is a list of my pantry necessities:

*Pastas (all shapes, sizes and even grains), perfect for a quick dinner accompaniment or even main course

*Rice; brown, white and wild.  Couscous also fits into this category.

*Canned tomatoes, tomato sauce & paste, and tomato juice; for making pasta or pizza sauce

*Beans (Navy, Pinto, Black & Garbanzo); dried & canned. For soups or even a salad topper.

*Assorted stocks (Chicken, beef, vegetable); perfect for making soups or sauces

*Assorted nuts (Pecans, Walnuts, Almonds); can be toasted or eaten as a snack.

*Sugar (Brown, White & Powdered)

*Cornmeal (plain & self-rising)

*Flour (whole wheat, plain & self rising)

*Cornstarch

*Evaporated & Sweetened Condensed milk

*Baking chocolate or chocolate chips (white, milk, semi-sweet) for an easy dessert

*Baking powder & Baking Soda

*Panko (Japanese Bread Crumbs)

*Vanilla or other flavored extracts

*Peanut Butter/Nutella

*Assorted Crackers (a party pack from Costco is perfect to keep on hand)

*Olive Oil, Canola Oil, Truffle Oil (definitely a splurge, but so luscious!)


*Vinegars (Balsamic, Apple Cider, Red Wine, or Rice); perfect for making a salad dressing

*Dijon, Whole grain, & Spicy English Mustards

*Assorted salts (sea, kosher, maybe add a Hawaiian or Black sea salt)

*Section of peppercorns; try a colored mix, each has a different flavor.

*A good mix of herbs and spices.  I prefer using fresh, but dried spices will serve many needs.

*White & Red wine (good quality, but inexpensive for cooking)

*Tea & Coffee (decaf & regular)

Stocking the refrigerator is a little different.  You want to use your ingredients fresh, so keeping all of these always on hand can be a challenge.  I find myself using the following ingredients weekly in a variety of ways, so I always want them in my refrigerator..

Here are my necessities for the refrigerator:

*Salad ingredients (fresh lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onion, etc..).

*Favorite condiments (soy sauce, hot sauce, jams or jellies)

*Fresh fruit; including lemons, limes & seasonal berries

*a dozen eggs

*Bacon

*Potatoes

*Onions (red, sweet, green, & shallots)

*Milk & Butter

*Assortment of drinks (bottled water, soda, tea)

*An assortment of cheeses, including cream cheese (cheddar, feta, blue, Parmesan, brie); some cheese  keeps better than others, so check out your family’s favorites and keep them fresh.

*Whipping cream

And for the Freezer:


*Packaged vegetables

*Whole chickens; from soup to salad to a main course you can do so much with a chicken.

*Homemade stocks (Beef, chicken, seafood)

*Puff pastry for quick and easy appetizers or an adventurous beef wellington.

*Rolls or other favorite bread

*Soups, Stews or chili; over make a recipe from time to time and put some up for a quick meal later on.

*Ice

*Frozen appetizers (sausage rolls, mini quiches, etc)

A couple of suggestions (that work well for me); if you choose to keep wine on hand for cooking, the small bottles that are usually sold in four-packs are perfect for recipes.  Also, don’t be afraid to keep pre-made sauces on hand for meal accents.
I love this foundation sauce for a meal accompaniment when I have fixed a London broil or chicken breast.  I found this at Fresh market, but I believe Publix might carry it.
Compared to some lists, this may seem rather sparse, but look at what you can create from just these ingredients:  a fabulous salad with homemade vinaigrette, any number soups or stews, a delightful pasta dish fit for company, breakfast sandwiches, and even homemade ice cream.  Always keeping your spices and baking products stocked will help with any meal you have planned.
Use a tiered storage system to help organize your spices (Bed, bath Beyond have several varieties that start at $10.  I keep my spices in alphabetical order, for easy access.  If you choose to do this, be sure to instruct your teenage daughters to replace them correctly or you might wind up with cinnamon in you spaghetti sauce instead of basil!
A note of importance in keeping your kitchen stocked; keep up with expiration dates.  If any of your dairy products or mayonnaise is expired, just throw it out.  As for spices,  if you can get a good strong smell of the spice you are using, it’s not even flavoring your meal.  If your baking soda or powder is expired, breads or cakes will not rise.  Using expired products or products that have not been properly stored after opening can really make you sick.  This is especially so for things like milk, cheese, mayo, etc… If you have purchased meats and cannot use them within two days of purchasing, freeze them.  They will keep two-three months (often longer) in the freezer.
I hope you find this list useful.  If you are prepared with your staples, preparing meals will go so much easier and can actually be fun!
Tell me, what is your one item you must have in your kitchen?

Kitchen Matters: What’s for Supper?

There is no worse feeling than to walk into the kitchen to cook supper, only to open and shut the cabinet or refrigerator door several times and not have any idea as to what to prepare.  Nothing turns my evenings into chaos quicker than to not have a clue what I am fixing for supper.

(manystars.com)
Preparing dinner shouldn’t be stressful.
Over the years I have tried several meal planning websites, menu planning for a month, and the always dangerous “fly by the seat of my pants” methods for getting supper on the table.  Between an enormous amount of food waste to dollars spent in restaurants with no plans, I knew something had to be done!  By no means have I perfected the dinner hour, but I have made progress in solving our own dilemma regarding “What’s for Supper?”  It’s nothing fancy, and it may not work for everyone, but when you are juggling four kids and their extra-curricular activities and a husband who travels for work 50% of the time, this solution has really helped my issues.What is it?

Simple enough, I buy groceries one week at a time.  Yep, it’s that simple.  For the most part I don’t grocery store hop to get all I need, I have a destination and off I go.  Occasionally I do pop into Whole Foods or Fresh Market to grab few few specials or fresh veggies.  This usually works well for us (unless the stupid Beagle decides to eat Friday’s dinner plans because I sat down to chill after shopping with my kids instead of putting up groceries.)

Honestly, this plan only works well if you are organized and good at scheduling.  I keep a planner/journal in my purse at all times.  In it is a complete schedule of family activities:  Audley’s business trips, extra-curricular activities, youth group activities, field trips, times, and locations of all that is going on in our lives.  I also keep my to-do list in the planner, and this is where my menu for each day is written as well.  You can invest in a good planner for about $20, although I have seen planners go as high as $150!  I try to be organized, but prefer to do it cheaply.  I purchase mine when the kiddos get their planners for school, so the year goes August to August and the entire family is lined up the same.

Mom Agenda from Swoozies.

Before you can menu plan and shop accordingly, do an inventory of your cabinets and refrigerator.  See what you have, write it down and make use of it!  If you garden and can, be sure to count these items as well.  I discovered before we moved that I had enough food stashed away that I didn’t have to make a trip to the store for the last two weeks we lived in our home!  And here I thought we were starving every week when I went to the store!

Four days before our move all of the ingredients were stashed away to make this delicious creamy tomato sauce to top  mushroom ravioli.
BBQ chicken (a combo of three nearly empty bottles of sauce) and veggies, just two days before we moved.

After you have completed your inventory, make a list of your family’s favorite meals.  Finally, make a list of recipe ideas you have collected from magazines, books or blogs.  This will be those things you have always wanted to try, but not really made the time for, like RuthAnn’s Hillbilly Spaghetti Pie, Pioneer Woman’s Braised Beef Brisket, or even my favorite Cornbread Salad. You want to hang onto all three of these lists; stick them in your planner for reference.

Menu planning one week at a time is a 30/45-minute project or less after you get started.  I like to do it on Sunday afternoon or Monday morning after the kiddos have gone to school.  Sales paper in hand, or internet ads pulled up (from multiple destinations), I jot down the items that are on sale that really appeal to my family.  I am by no means an extreme couponer, but I do use them and match adds.

Using those items, I check my lists and see what ingredients I already have, what appeals to the family, and what makes my own heart sing.  If it is something we had recently, I turn to my cookbooks or recent magazines where I might have marked a recipe or two for inspiration.  I keep a little notebook in the kitchen where I write down anything we keep in stock that I have run out of which I add a list of what I need creating my menu and grocery list for a week.  If there are several great sales and you can fit it into your budget, add a little extra to stock up on or plan a meal or two for the following week.

Writing it down in my planner just as if I were writing down an appointment, allows me to see what I have prepared in the past few weeks so that I am not meal repeating.  It also allows me to coordinate meals to fit activities.  For example, if Madeline has a home track meet on Tuesday, it means we may not eat until 8:30.  For that night we will have something that I can make in the crock-pot, it might be a good night for bacon egg and cheese sandwiches, or I might pack a picnic basket for us to enjoy while sitting at the stadium.  By already knowing the plans for the day, I can plan my meal accordingly.

But, plans do change.  You may get stuck in traffic, something may not thaw out properly, or you may have simply run out of hours in your day.  You can still be prepared for this.  Allow for one to two extra meals in your budget a couple of times a month.  This might include ingredients for homemade pizzas, jarlsburg or brie cheese for a totally amazing grilled cheese sandwich, or fresh vegetables for a filling salad.  I also try to keep a few extra’s on-hand for the days when we have unexpected company, but I’ll get into that more with a stock the pantry list my next post.

If you need inspiration for meals, check out your favorite magazines or the internet for resources.  Pampered Chef offers many quick recipes on their site.  One of my favorite places to find inspiration is the Williams-Sonoma website.  Not only can you find a menu planner here, but ideas for quick and easy recipes.  And seriously, you would be amazed at how inspired you can get reading the latest issue of Southern Living while waiting on track practice to end!  Step out of your box and be creative.  It’ll make everyone look forward to mealtime!Like I mentioned earlier, different things work for different people.  I just find it so much easier and less stressful to shop one week at a time.

What works for you?