Tip Tuesdays

A random assortment of things I've learned about lately and enjoy sharing with you....

Tip Tuesday: Cooking Beans For Later

So, I was having another one of those exciting homemaker-type conversations the other day... discussing the best and cheapest way to eat beans.  Everybody knows that they're a cheap and good-for-you and everything.  The problem is that canned beans are overpriced and you've got to plan waaaay ahead in order to cook dry beans for dinner.  Since I'm more of a thirty minute style cook, that just won't do.

 We were discussing the possibility of cooking them and then canning them into serving size jars.  That would be convenient, all right.  But I decided that I'm waaaay too lazy for that.

So, here's what I do....


I cook a ginormous pot, usually two pots full of two different kinds of beans.  I just do the quick soak method directions on the bag.

Drain them.  Let them cool.  Bag them up.  Freeze.  Easy.

They defrost perfectly in the microwave, or can be added frozen to chili or other long cooking soups.

They're good for your heart.
That's what they say.
So there's my tip.
Have a nice day.

Dealing With Germ Season

It's that time of year again...everyone's sniffling and sneezing, we're passing around the hand sanitizer in the van with more enthusiasm than usual, and I actually remember to pass out vitamins on most days. Honestly, though, we are rarely ever sick. Our pediatrician didn't even know who we were when we all went in for check ups!  I guess that's unusual for a family of NINE.  I know lots of people want to chalk that up to our kids not being at public school, and that DEFINITELY helps, but here's something else that has made a real difference...

Some good advice.
Years ago, back when I had about three kids, I was at the doctor's office as often as most moms.  We used to deal with ear infections on a regular basis, and strep, and the list goes on.  Enter antibiotics, and you've got a whole new bunch of digestive problems and ongoing issues. Right?  So I finally got the bright idea to ask for a really old, experienced doctor and then proceeded to drill him on how in the world to keep these kids healthy.

Here's his sage advice:

*Never medicate for cold symptoms or coughs, unless the cough is preventing much needed sleep.  In that case use Delsym cough suppressant, only if it's an unproductive cough--you know, the dry, tickle cough.

*Use straight Robitussin (guaifenison syrup) to loosen things up--it doesn't really have side effects, and is helpful for sinus and chest congestion. (It makes snot runnier)

*Advil or Tylenol are good for fever, but only use them if the fever is especially high, because fevers kill bad germs.  This one's hard to do, since you feel so terrible with chills, aches, etc, but as long as you can stand it... just let it do its thing.

You will get better faster, with less secondary problems if you just help the body along with lots of rest and fluids, rather than shutting down its natural germ killing defenses or trying to dry up snot by using cold medications.  This old doc told me that the only time to dry up a runny nose is when it is caused by seasonal allergies, in that case...

*Use plain Benadryll.  Or one of the more modern allergy meds like Claritin.  All that snot is a great place for new germs to grow, that's why an allergic kid catches more colds, thus the whole reason I found this wise old doctor in the first place.

A few tips that we've added over the years... Consider these "an old mom's advice":

*Keep hand sanitizer in the van and use it EVERY time you get in after being in public--Wal-mart and church, especially.  This goes for everybody, except baby who isn't touching anything yet.  It took a while for my husband to join us on this, so be persistent!

*Use a few drops of eucalyptus oil in a pot of near simmering water, cover your head with a towel, close your eyes, and breathe.  Beware, this stuff is strong, but works!

*We use lots of herbal tea.  Nothing fancy, it's just for comfort mostly, but there are lots of good teas for sinus congestion and stomach upset that really seem to help.  Again, with no side effects.  Just read the box.

Our favorite comfort teas

*Use a humidifier in the bedroom at night when somebody's stuffy.  This helps with easier breathing.
Vick's Vapor Rub helps with that too.  It seems to loosen up head and chest congestion when rubbed on the chest.

****Almost forgot... Vitamin C!  Lots of C!

These are just a few ideas off the top of my head.  I'll add more as I think of it and we fight our way through "cold and flu season."
Keep in mind, I AM NOT A DOCTOR. (duh) These methods have worked great for us, but should not be considered professional medical advice.  Just professional mommy advice.  : )

Happy health,

How to Make an Onion Poultice

Onions for ear aches???  OK, get ready.  This sounds really weird.  But I wouldn't tell you about it unless we tried it first and it really does work.  I'm sure there's a good scientific reason... but it's just one of those old-timey things that you've got to see... um...feel to believe.

This really helps an ear ache.

Making an Onion Poultice:
Just peel an onion and cut it in half.  Then heat it up some way til it's hot.  You can bake it, fry it, whatever.  It doesn't need to be brown like this, it just so happened to get that way.  The second time we tried it in the microwave and that worked just fine, too.
 Then wrap it up in a soft, thin, old cloth.  It looks really gross, but if you have a terrible ear ache, you'll try just about anything!

Hold it on your ear for 15 min. or so.  It helps to tilt your head.  Think happy thoughts and
 Prepare to be amazed!

Once it cools, it won't work anymore.  You can re-heat the same onion and use it again, for about 15 min. each hour.  But it might just fix your ear ache on the first try...

 and save you a trip to the doc.

And a round of antibiotics.

Gotta love that! 


Taking Good Portraits with an Average Camera

Today's tip comes to you from my 17 year old daughter, Graci.  She is a total snapaholic.  She brings a camera everywhere and a good number of the pics on my blog come from her.  She doesn't have a fancy camera, so she spends a lot of time messing around with lighting and shooting angles to see what works best.  And she's gotten pretty darn good with her photography, if I do say so myself.

Today she's gonna show you how to use zoom to take a better portrait.

Take it away, Graci!

First...Here's an example of what NOT to do...
In this picture I'm standing close to Patie's face with no zooming, and I'm also in direct sunlight. Note the dark around her eyes and the awkward shape of her face.  It makes her nose look bigger.
In this one she's standing in the same exact spot, but I stepped back and zoomed up on her face. She still has the shadows around her face, but she isn't nearly as awkward as in the last one!
In this one I had her stand with the sun to her back.  Note how the shadows are really strong and you can hardly make out her face/features.
  OK, so here's my tip...
I positioned her in the soft sunlight under a tree (my fav place to take a picture of somebody) and I stood far away (no zooming). It's still pretty shadowy, but look at the next picture...

In this one I zoomed up!  We have hardly any shadows and she has a soft glow. :)
This one's Patie's favorite.
This is Mom's.  If you stand in the shade under a tree, you'll be able to open your eyes all the way even on a sunny day.  I also love it when the background goes out of focus... something that you can do on purpose with a fancy camera.  I actually don't mind the subject being just a little out of focus, either, because it softens skin tones so nicely.

Well, there ya go!   This technique also works well for wrinkle reduction, which I (jen) greatly appreciate.
Go try it and tell me what you think!

How to Turn Flare Into Skinny Jeans

Do you have any perfectly good, great-fitting jeans packed away in the back of your closet... hiding there just because the fashionistas declared flare on its way out???  We do.  Lots of them!

Never fear!  With only a few simple steps and just a little bit of sewing know how, you'll be back up to fashion par in no time!

 All you really need for this easy project is a pen, pins, thread, scissors and your old faithful sewing machine.

And just so you know how really easy this was...This post took me longer than the sewing job!

The easiest way to do this is to use a pair of skinny jeans that you already wear to mark the jeans that you want to modify.  I'll show you how to do that later, but for now I'll show you how we fixed an old pair of cords into a spiffy new look.  It's easier to show you the stitching in a weird color combo (and I didn't have any matching thread).

Ruthie didn't have any skinnies that fit her, so we just made the markings while she was wearing the pants...

These pants are kindof wide-leg the whole way, so there's a little more sewing involved than if they were just tight-fitting flare style.

Make sure the butt and waist fit good though, since that's complicated to fix.

The first step is to try them on inside out.

Next, use pins to carefully mark how far you want to take in the sides.  On wide leg pants, you'll want to take a little from both sides... but on most jeans, you'll just take in the outside seam.

After you've marked the seams with pins, go over the line with a marker or chalk.

I just did one leg to see if we liked the fit.

Here, I'm marking the sewing line with a pen.

Take all the pins out before you try to take them off!

OK, now it's time to sew...

Re-pin the seam, with the pins perpendicular to your seam.

Set your machine on the longest stitch... just in case they fit too tight, the stitches will be easier to remove.

Turn them right side out and try them on. (Don't cut yet!)

*Be sure to fade your new seam into the existing pants seam so that the transition looks smooth.

If you want to take more in, turn them inside out again and go back to the pinning step.

It may take a few tries to get a fit you like.  Be patient.  : )

Keep in mind that they'll be a little looser once you cut off that extra fabric.

If you like the fit, turn them inside out again and stitch the seam again with a smaller stitch right on top of the first seam.  Cut the extra fabric close to the seam.  Then finish the edge with a zig-zag stitch. (or serger)

You could repeat that whole process on the other leg or do what I did and use the cut off pieces to mark the cutting lines on the other leg.

Just to be on the safe side, use the long stitch and check fit before you cut!

That's all there is to it!

It was so easy....Patience got a new pair, too!

Have fun experimenting with what works for you.  The best thing about this project is that you really have nothing to lose... since those jeans were just gonna waste away in the back of your closet anyways.  And if you mess 'em up, you can always just cut them off for next summer!  : )

Now that's some serious "up cycling!"

Two Unusual Cleaning Products

Have you ever heard of this?
 I have my sister-in-law's mom to thank for this tip!

You know that weird, black grime that accumulates on the plastic floor of your walk in shower stall?  Well, this is the stuff that will get rid of it!


It's sortof an old-fashioned cleaning product that you can still find at most stores.  Just pour a little on that grime and scrub it with a scrub brush in small circles.  You'll be amazed what happens and you'll be thanking my sister-in-law's mom for her help.

And speaking of old-fashioned cleaning products....

Fels-Naptha soap costs less than a buck.

It will remove stains in clothing.

Annnnnnddd.... it will also remove poison ivy oils from your skin if you use it after being out in the poison ivy patch.  Take it camping.  Send it with your kids to camp (probably a little late for that one).  Keep a bar in the shower for really dirty people.

Buy a bunch and stick them in your pantry.  Just in case they decide to stop making it.  Which would be a bummer!  This is the soap you use to make your own laundry detergent, too.  If you want to do that, go here.  It's really easy.  But it smells a little like paint thinner...which takes some getting used to.

OK, that's all I can think of at the moment.

What old-fashioned cleaning tips or products do you guys like?

Making Homemade Laundry Soap

I mostly made this stuff out to curiosity.  I'm pretty happy with my cheap laundry detergent that smells good.  But since this is the trendy thing to do these days, I had to join the club.  I'm still not convinced.  But I do love saving money and this was SUPER easy to make.  It turns out a lot like Nickelodeon slime.  Or worse.  I'm still not sure how that happened.  It's a chemistry thing, I guess.

Anyways, here's how you make it, if you are curious like me:

Only three ingredients.  They're all in the laundry aisle at Wally World.
Grate the soap.  Make sure nobody walks by and eats it.

Cook and stir the soap in 4 cups of hot water until melted.
Fill a 5 gallon bucket half full with hot water.  Add melted soap.
Add in 1 cup of washing soda and 1/2 cup of borax.  Stir to dissolve.
Fill the bucket the rest of the way with hot water.  Stir.
Now cover it and let it sit overnight to thicken.  It will get extremely weird and everyone will want to touch it when you exclaim, "Oh Wow!  Look how weird this stuff is!"

Now you can stir it and put it in an old used laundry soap container.  Fill it half way and then fill the rest of the way with water.  Shake before each use.

It will make 10 gallons. The directions say to use 5/8 cup per load.  (Approx. 180 loads)  It costs about a penny per load.  I haven't washed anything with it yet.  It smells pretty normal.  I'll let you know how it works... I'm off to do some laundry.

And speaking of laundry....

Big Family Laundry Logistics...

 How To Get It All Done

Here's a question that's come up recently... Should kids do their own laundry?

Now that's a subject near and dear to my heart.  Let me explain...

 I actually enjoy doing laundry.  I know it's sortof weird.  But it's a peaceful, mindless task that makes me feel productive.  However, with a large family, it might just be a little too much peaceful, mindless task for my taste.
So, yes, in our family kids do laundry!

Here's Graci hanging out jeans.  Noah just rigged up a clothes prop.  Patience is playing limbo.

I was talking with a mom the other day who said she would be horrified by the thought of sharing her laundry room with a kid.  I told her that I only do a few loads a week and the kids do the rest.  I think she was horrified by that, too.  But she also does all the cooking.  Imagine that!

I'd have to say that I agree with her completely about kids in the laundry room being annoying.  They are messy and rarely follow through.  It's kindof like the old college roommate days, where someone's stuff was always in there when you needed the machine.  And then you had to either fold their stuff, or deal with a guilt trip for dumping it in the basket and drying your own.  At least all my roommates are home most of the time these days, so I can just call them to come get their stuff.  But what seems to work even better than that is assigned laundry days.

Big families are forced to do weird things like this.  Assigned towels.  Assigned shower times.  Assigned seats.  And assigned laundry days.  Don't worry, it's not really that bad once you get used to it.  So, on Monday I usually do all mine and Captain's laundry, combined with the little boys.  And a load of towels and whites that get bleached. Tuesday, Noah does his and sometimes Jacob's (even though he refuses to fold it). Wednesday, Graci does hers, usually combined with the younger girls. Thursday's off.  Then I wash sheets or other random household stuff on Friday.  It's usually about eight or nine loads total.  And all the laundry is done every week. That's about one load per person, but I only do a few of them.

Now, I must warn you, the only way to make this work is to lower your standards.  Seriously lower.  I mean, my teenage son washes everything in cold together.  I don't know why.  That's a crime in my mind.  But he always looks fine.  And he doesn't smell.  And he appreciates having control of what's clean, when.  I appreciate not having to reach down into their disgusting clothes hamper to sort things out.  Gross!

I don't usually assign laundry to a kid younger than 12 or 13, but the younger ones always help the olders who are in charge of it.  Even Ben is responsible to fold kitchen towels and put them away.  He's been doing that since he was three.  And it actually makes him feel really important!

It's sometimes hard to give up your control of the house as your kids get older.  But that's how they learn, so it's actually good for them.  And good for YOU!  Once you get used to it, you'll wonder how you ever got along without all their help!


And another freebie...

A mom of four wanted to know how I keep my kids looking so un-wrinkly.  She said she irons for an hour before they all go out in public....

Oh Yikes!  I absolutely hate to iron.

  I’m not sure why, since I enjoy doing laundry.  But ironing, well, let’s just say, don’t wait for me to iron it!

So, here’s my tip.  20 minutes before you need to leave, after everyone has scrounged their shoved clothes out of drawers and crevices, (These should be clean, or mostly clean, but just wrinkly) just toss them in the dryer.  Yep, that’s it.  If they are really bad, I mean super wrinkly, you may need to toss in a damp clean towel or just use something from the clean washer side that’s been waiting to go in the dryer anyways.  It usually takes less than 10 minutes. Voila!

disclaimer: I know this is a waste of electricity, but it is a savings in sanity, so therefore it is still a good deal.

p.s. It also can't hurt to lower your standards a little more... : )

And another... 
I love this picture. 

Since the weather has been so beautiful, I've started hanging the clothes out to dry.  Now THAT'S something that's worth the trouble.  Yesterday I did nine loads before 4:00.  I decided to take over laundry for the week since it's Spring break and everybody's cleaning out their rooms and putting away the winter clothes. I only hang out towels, jeans and other big, hard-to-dry stuff.  Although you could obviously hang it all out.  That way the dryer gets done much quicker.  When the stuff on the line is almost dry, I toss it in the dryer to finish (less than ten minutes).  That way the jeans don't feel like cardboard and the towels aren't so, um, abrasive.  Eventually, we'll get used to that feeling, but for now I guess we're wimps.

So, there's my big family/city slicker/country woman approach.

Oh, and I've been using that weird homemade laundry detergent for a few gallons now, and it seems to work just fine.  Just in case you were wondering.  : )


Amazing Vinegar

I've been meaning to tell you guys about my various vinegar experiments for quite a while now.  But I was concerned that you might think I'm weirder than I actually am.  Which would be hard for me to handle.  Since I'm already realllly weird.

Clause.  Clause.  Clause.  How can I ever hope to teach my children proper grammar when I'm such a sorry example??  Oh well.  I guess I'll just hope that they do all their writing on blogs and not English textbooks.  And, yes, I'm about to tell you about the vinegar experiment...

So, I was doing lots of research several months ago about how your body is supposed to be in an alkaline state to be healthy.  Unfortunately, thanks to our modern diet, we are often in an acidic state called "acidosis."  What that means is that germs and other otherwise harmless bacteria grow better in an acidic environment and are making us feel bad and be sick more often than we should be.  Now if you remember your chemistry lessons, you'll know all about the pH scale and how it is a base on one end, acid on the other and neutral in the middle.  If you don't, that's fine, because all this really confused me at first.  Anyways, if your body is too acidic... get this... what you need to do is DRINK VINEGAR.  Totally weird, right?  And somehow, unbeknownst to me, it will balance things out and make you feel better.  

  But right now all I'll say is that it works.  You can use the Bragg's brand organic apple cider vinegar or just any other brand.  Put a couple spoonfuls in a glass of water.  And try not to gag while drinking it.  It's super weird!  I guess you're supposed to do that at least two times a day.  You can drink it straight, but you definitely WILL gag, and it's hard on your teeth.

So, why would you want to do such a thing?  Well, it can't hurt.  And it might just help.  I have a friend whose husband does this for weight loss.  And he swears by it.  My oldest son says that it makes him feel better and clears up his acne.  I can get a UTI to go away within hours by drinking it.  And I'm sure there's a hundred other things that it helps.  Just google it!

Also, and I know this is strange, I've even tried it ON my skin.  It was a total random experiment that I wasn't gonna tell you about.  But last night I saw a post about it by somebody else and thought she seemed pretty normal, so I'll direct you over to her for the lowdown.  All I can say is that ACV (apple cider vinegar) is extremely cheap and works every bit as good as all the other fancy-dancy alpha hydroxy wonder creams that are out there.  It's just kindof hard to get used to the smell.  It has such a strong association with dying Easter eggs!  So, here's the link to the website that I promise you're gonna like. Even if you don't like the vinegar.  OK, that's my bonus tip.  : )

 Homemade Cream of Anything Soup Mix

Ooh, you guys are gonna love this one!  How many times have you planned out the meal & gathered up the ingredients only to find that you're one can short of a casserole?

Never again!  Just mix up a batch of this super easy instant mix and you'll be back in business in no time.

Here's what you need :

(except not as big, of course)
 Cream of Anything Soup Mix
 4 C powdered milk (not pictured)
1 1/2 C cornstarch
1/2 C chicken bouillon granules
4 t dried onion flakes
2 t basil
1 t pepper

Mix it all up and store it in an airtight container in the pantry.

 The trickiest part is making bouillon cubes into granules.  Here's my improv method...

 There, that worked just fine.  1/2 cup equals about 20 cubes.

When it's mixed up, it looks like this:

To make one can of soup, mix 1/3 cup of mix with one cup of water.  Easy as that!

I've also tried mixing it directly into the hot noodle mixture, kindof like hamburger helper.  Then just pour in some more milk or water until it's nice and creamy.  It totally works!

 Canned soup used to be so cheap that I always had a case of each kind handy in my pantry.  I just don't think it's worth the price anymore, so I found this mix to take its place.  I found the recipe a long time ago at Hillbilly Housewife.  But I always end up modifying things in some way, usually for lack of ingredients...  Anyways, if you want to check her out, here's the link.  She's a pretty handy lady!

Saving Money By Using Less

We're always trying to figure out ways of saving money for our family.  Most of the time we first think of how to spend less on the things we need.  How to get a better deal.  But one often overlooked method of saving money is to use less.  Here's where a little thrifty thinking comes in.  Did you know that a whole scoop full of detergent is enough for at least four loads?

 It says so right there on the directions!


Actually, all you really need is 1/4 cup.  Which would make this box of detergent last four time longer.  Which would cost 75% less than if you were using a full scoop for each load.

Since I often have wasteful teenagers doing laundry around my house, I usually throw away the original scoop and put in a 1/4 cup measure instead.  The clothes get clean just fine!

And speaking of teenagers...  And using less...

Get some of these!

My water bill went down 15 bucks the first month!

This principle applies to soooooo many things around the house that we take for granted.  Like shampoo and toothpaste and paper towels.  By just using less, we automatically save money... and save trips to the store... which also saves money.  And saves lots of aggravation from running out so often.

Use less, now that's one useful tip.  ; )

Traveling With the Fam

 Here's ten tips that my kids wanted to share with you about road trips with the family.  They just rattled these off for me as I typed.

I have no idea what is going on here...

1.  Always bring a barf can.  Coffee cans are our favorite for this (and we've tried lots of different things, sadly).  Even if you never actually need it, it gives a sense of comfort just knowing that if you do, it's there.  Keep a big zip-lock bag in the can, so you can zip it up and dispose of it at the next convenient stop.  Trust me on this one.

2.  Good stories on CD are a lifesaver!  The library has tons or buy them on itunes.  Some of my kid's favorites are:  Around the World in 80 Days, Little Britches, Johnny Tremain, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and of course... The Narnia Series!  We wear those things out and still looooove them!

3.  Keep a case of waters or each kid bring their own water bottles in the van.  No other sweet drinks, because everybody chugs them and then has to stop in 20 minutes.

4.  Snacks.  Keep it simple, but keep them in the car at all times... not just on a long trip.  We like peanut butter crackers, granola bars, pretzels, nuts or dry cereal.  Apples are great, too, if your kids are older... That way we don't need to stop nearly as often and we avoid fast food like the plague.

5.  Baby wipes Even if you don't have a baby.

6.  Hand sanitizer in a handy pump.  Pass it around after every stop.

7.  Keep a roll of paper towels in the car.  You'll know why when you need them.

8.  Make up a family sound off...no child left behind!

9.  Liquid Benadryll.  But you didn't hear that from me.

10.   Lower your expectations.  Kids make everything take longer.  But once you get there, you'll be glad you brought them along.  Have Fun!


2 o'clock :  Because Everybody Deserves a Break!

About a year ago we came up with this idea and it's been a real life saver.
 I know, 2:00 has been around for a very long time.  I just figured out what to do at 2:00.

 Back in the baby days, that was nap time.  I got peace and quiet and a chance to think.  I could do chores or read a book or take a nap... undisturbed.  But then some of my kids grew out of naps.  Then what???  I was always hushing them and trying to let the babies and toddlers sleep.  Well, these days EVERYBODY in our house must be absolutely quiet for one hour, starting at 2 o'clock.  They've all gotten so used to it that they usually call out, "Two O'clock!"  and that means go to your bed and read/sleep.  No talking.  No getting a drink.  No going to the bathroom.  For ONE blessed hour!!!

Even the teenagers cooperate.  I think they really enjoy it, actually.  Sometimes they use that time to take a hard test that requires total concentration.  Sometimes they sit out on the porch swing and read.  In the winter they just read in their beds.  Sometimes they take a snooze.  They know that I won't call them for anything, so it's really their own time to not be disturbed, also.

And I get to do whatever I want.  I get the whole downstairs all to myself.  I can clean the kitchen or follow a recipe without distraction, pay bills, check emails, write a blog, eat a cookie.... you get the idea.

It really only took a few days to get this routine going, believe it or not.  I think it's amazing.

Yay! for two o'clock!

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