Saturday, February 28, 2009

Workin' Out With the Girls

We had Janae's girls (well, 2 of the 9 anyway) over for a sleepover last night. It's been awhile since we had them over, and usually I'm not a big fan of the sleepover, but I have to admit that it went well last night. The little pretties decided to join me this morning during my Billy's Bootcamp workout.

Working out with them kinda made me feel a little better about my lack of spatial skills and clumsiness. They persevered longer than I expected though, and surprisingly no one got kicked in the head.

Notice they all still have bed head. Although, for a change, Zoe Bug's hair is in reasonably good condition. Not the norm, as you may remember.

When Billy started sweating they said "Ew, gross, he's sweating." That happens sometimes. Just wait until they develop sweat glands of their own.

At one point one of them turned around and took a look at me and said "Eeeeeeeew, Jill's sweating now. Look at her face!" I tend to turn beet red when I work out. Chalk it up to good circulation in my head, I guess. Just a little gift I got from my Dad.

When it was time for the Billy Bands I sent them all for jump ropes. They scattered like birds, they were so excited, and each of them came back with a jump rope.

Zoe Bug is such a lightweight, she didn't last long. She's my delicate flower.

I love this picture. Their heads are tilted and they're saying "What is he doing?" I say that a lot when I'm trying to follow a workout like this.

Have you ever watched a kid do jumping jacks? It's hilarious. They can't get their arms and legs in sync and they jump around clapping their hands. 

After Zoe gave up, she started playing around on that nasty chin-up bar, which by the way, I have not conquered yet. I'm working on it though. When the movement exceeds the microscopic stage, I'll get back to you.

Lacey May is the only one that stuck it out with me for the entire workout. Girlfriend's got stamina. Maybe I'll introduce her to Jillian Michaels next time.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Little Lady Agency

I just finished reading the Little Lady Agency series, and I'm happy to report that I loved them. Mattie Cake lent them to me, and before I began reading them she changed her mind and wanted to get them back from me because she wasn't sure that I would like them.

That might have been my fault, because I ripped on the Twilight books that she lent me previously. However, I refused to give these books back without reading them first, so I'm hoping she hasn't been sweating it, waiting for my next scathing review.

This British Chick Lit series is written by author Hester Browne. The main character is Melissa, a shy sensible girl who becomes super confident and sexy Honey when she dons her extra strength undergarments and sexy pencil skirts. Honey taps into Melissa's impeccable social skills and connections, and starts marketing her services to single men through her Little Lady Agency.

Melissa/Honey's services are all on the up and up though, as she provides nothing seedy and will not even allow the illusion of impropriety. Mostly she provides wardrobe consultations, coaches men who need to stop biting their nails, helps them out of awkward social situations, and occasionally accompanies them to dinner or the occasional event when they are in need of a charming date. You could say that she's a social skills coach. A pseudo mom whipping the Cretin-like men into shape.

Mostly, Melissa is just funny. She's fascinating to follow around in her day to day dealings with her clients and friends. She's always proper and she has the cutest British accent. 

And I think I know why Mattie Cake likes this series. Melissa finds love. But there are no smoldering eyes in these books, which is why I found them palatable. They're a fun read, so I think you should check them out.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

How I Organize My Recipes

I used to organize my recipes with the binder system, but I changed my system for two reasons. The first reason being that I wanted something that would be pretty and fun to maintain. Secondly, I found full-sheet recipes cumbersome to deal with in the binder, and when I took out a single recipe page to use instead, I got reeeeel lazy about filing them back in the binder.

Here's my solution:

This is my recipe file box. It's somewhat large (11" wide x 7" deep x 5-1/2" high), and I found it at Michael's. Michael's usually has lots of different sized boxes in their Home Decor section, so I recommend looking there first. You'll want to take one of your recipe cards with you to make sure that it's a good fit, especially if you're planning to keep the lid on. Baskets also work nicely. I recovered my box with scrapbook paper and a little Modge Podge, and I also removed its lid (because of the laziness filing factor--I don't want to have to lift and close the lid, you know). My recipe cards are approximately 8-1/2" x 5-1/2" and they are stored inside these sheet protectors. I made the dividers out of chipboard and just covered them with scrapbook paper and a digitally scrapbooked title for each section. It was all adhered and covered with Modge Podge. I'm not wild about the labels, they're too industrial looking for this pretty box, but I haven't come up with a better solution yet. I'm open to suggestions.

This is what my recipes look like inside their sheet protectors. I digitally scrapbook recipes that are tried and true keepers, and then they end up in this box. I have lots of my digitally scrapbooked recipes on my blog, so be sure to check them out on my right side bar under the Recipes heading. If you want to know how to print and use my digitally scrapbooked recipes, go here.

I always have lots of recipes that I want to try out, and I don't want to keep them with the tried and true recipes because my recipe box would be cumbersome to deal with. When I'm in a hurry, I want to grab something I know is a hit, and I don't want to have to sift through question marks.

This mostly happens when I'm doing my menu planning and making my grocery list. If I have a super busy week, I stick with the tried and trues. If I have a lighter schedule, I'll try a few new recipes and then make recipe cards out of them if I decide they're worth it to me. If not, I just throw them away. Er, recycle them. I have tremendous environmental guilt.

This is an example of my Grocery List, which is double-sided. Peanut Head and I have been using this since we got married nearly 18 years ago, and it's a system that I swear by. Especially since he is in charge of the maintaining of the list. I have a tendency to screw up the columns when I'm trying to be too anal about hyper organizing everything. If you want to give it a go, leave a comment with your e-mail address and I'll send my list to you to customize for yourself.

The list has been updated many times, as we have it organized by the grocery store we do our shopping at. When our grocery store moves things around, we do a bit of grumbling because it means we have to change our list to accommodate it. Grrrr.

However, this list saves loads of time and virtually eliminates the problem of running out of things because we can check items on the list immediately, or simply jog our memories by reading down the list and checking things off.

Once I've planned my menu for the week and made my grocery list, I store the recipes I plan to make that week in a little magnetic pocket on the side of my refrigerator.

I'm also a bit of a messy cook, and can easily lose my recipe, so I keep it on this little magnetic stand while I'm cooking. It's simply a piece of sheet metal, covered in pretty scrapbook paper, and then that metal piece is resting in a wood block with a groove cut down the center at an angle. I love this thing, I can't even tell you how much.

Here it is doing it's job. I just digitally scrapbooked this recipe, so if you want it, and it's to die for by the way, go here. You won't be sorry.

That's it. That's how I organize my recipes. It's an ongoing work in progress for me, and I will probably never be finished. That's okay though, because I love trying new recipes. Thanks for stopping by.

UPDATE: I now laminate my recipe cards instead of using the page protectors. I also made some recipe card dividers to share. Go here to read about that.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I know you all need another goodie recipe from me like you need a hole in your head, but I couldn't resist. I've been wanting to get this recipe up for awhile since people keep asking for it, and I had to make them today anyway for a secretary at Peanut Head's office who is having a birthday this week, so . . . I'm all about killing two birds with one stone.

I'm giving you the recipe right up front because I'm going to refer to it. I cannot stress enough how important it is to follow this recipe exactly. People tell me "My cookies didn't turn out like yours," and that is because they don't follow the recipe EXACTLY. Trust me on this. That means no cutting corners and using margarine (Mattie Cake). Oh the horror. Margarine is a FAKE FAT. Do not use it in your baking. I have the ginormous butt to be able to tell you I know what I'm talking about here.

Okay, step one, dump the sugars, BUTTER, and shortening in your mixing bowl and combine it well. Betty Crocker would say, cream it, so do that.

Now it should look about like this. Not ready to start taste testing yet. Be patient.

Dump in the vanilla, baking soda, and salt and mix again.

Now, pay attention here. I have added my eggs and there are four eggs here because I happen to be doubling this recipe today since cookies will be leaving the house, and I'll have a mutiny on my hands if there aren't any left for us. So, pretend you see only two eggs.

I'm going to yell for a moment, so please excuse me. DO NOT, I REPEAT, DO NOT BEAT THE CRAP OUT OF YOUR EGGS.

It is imperative that you heed this warning. Eggs are fragile. If you beat the crap out of them, your cookies will be fluffy and cake-like. If you want a cake, make a cake. These cookies are intended to be chewy, not cakey.

So, I have made my point and I'm sorry that I got so excited. I get that way sometimes. After you gently mix the eggs into your batter, stirring just enough to combine them, it will look something like the picture above.

Now you are ready to start adding your flour, again being careful to not mix too vigorously. Just enough to incorporate the flour. I tend to make a flour mess because I dump all my flour in at once and repeatedly turn my stand mixer on and off so that it mixes in half turns, thereby expelling a cloud of flour with each turn. It's okay. I mentally prepare myself for the mess, because it's for the good of the cookie.

It's a sacrifice I'm prepared to make.

Now, this is why our cookies look like OCD Chocolate Chip Cookies. We roll the dough into cookie sized balls, about 3/4 of an inch in diameter, and then press them into a bowl full of chocolate chips. Next, gently press down in order to get the chocolate chip hitchhikers.

Then place the cookie ball on your parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Do you see how there's still room for more chips? Flatten the dough ball slightly and then . . .

. . . start adding chocolate chips into all the exposed surface area a quarter of an inch and larger. If you want to add nuts, this is the point where you would do that instead of adding more chips. You want to really cram them on there because the cookie will flatten and you want every bite to have multiple chocolate chips.

You do, right?

They should look something like this.

The time for cooking is quite variable, depending on your oven. Start with 8 minutes and check them every minute until you find your magic number. The cookies are done when they just barely start to brown, like these cookies here.

Here is the bottom of the cooked cookie.

One other important point I'd like to make is that the dark Teflon coated cookie sheets are crap. They will burn the bottom of your cookies every time. Ideally, you want to use Air Bake cookie sheets and line them with parchment paper to eliminate the sticking. They're a tinsy bit more expensive, but worth it in the end and they last close to forever.

So, what do you think?

Are you ready for some cookies?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Crazy Giveaway

I got this little idea from Janiel at Building Our Lives Together.  Here's how it works:

The first FIVE people to comment on this post will get something made by me! 

Wait. You know what, actually I'm going to change this part. Because I'm a cheater. I feel bad for all the people who are at work and won't be seeing this post until tonight. I know y'all never surf the internet at work, because that would be a waste of your employer's productivity and all,  so I'm going to be fair here. I'm going to choose, randomly, five people who respond to this post by Noon Pacific Time, on Tuesday February 24th.

Continuing on, here is my disclaimer:

1) I make no guarantees that you will like what I make. For that matter, you might not even know what the heck it is.

2) What I create will be just for you. If you are a freak, like me of course, you will get something freaky.

3) It'll be done this year (since I'm a procrastinator, I'll probably be sending all of them out on December 31st).

4) You will have no clue what it is going to be until I post it and ask you to contact me with your mailing address.

5) I reserve the right to do something extremely strange. Not that I'm capable of that or anything.

The catch? Oh, the catch is that you must repost this on your blog and offer the same to the first five people who comment on your blog. Or, you can cheat like I'm doing. Plus, if you don't have a blog, you just have to do random acts of kindness for five people. That way, everyone can play. :) Oh, and if you do have a blog, I would love it if you would post your gift when you get it. Or if you don't have a blog, e-mail a picture to your Aunt Edna and tell her how fabulous I am. Yeah, whatever.

 It sounds like fun, doesn't it?

Okay then, Game On!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Halloween Layouts

I know it has been forever since I posted a digi layout, so I sat my butt down and cranked out a few. Sorry about the Halloween theme this time of year, but you know I'm chronologically anal.

You've probably seen all these pictures before, but the layouts are new, I promise.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tackling Our Tax Returns

Today I'm taking the plunge and tackling our tax returns. I have a rare day in which I don't have any commitments and the kids are off at school, so it's the perfect day to tackle our tax returns. The peace and quiet of being alone in the house ensures that my head won't explode in the process.

Yes, I know, what a boring subject to post about. Yes, yes, I agree. However, I have a purpose with this post. I want to share with you how I stay organized all year to make this dreaded day more bearable.

Before I do that though, I want to gush over the invention of tax preparation software. Gone are the days of trekking to the post office or the library for more forms after screwing up the one set of forms sent to us by the IRS. Gone are the days of reading incomprehensible gobbledy goop trying to figure out which number goes where. Enter tax software. Yippee!

Hey, I'm sorry, this is the kind of thing that floats my boat, okay. I'm trying to make this less painful is all.

So, the software that I have been using for the past several years is H&R Block's Tax Cut. I used to use Turbo Tax, but they kept raising their prices, their customer service stank, and they started charging for state returns and e-filing. I made the switch to Tax Cut because the state return is included free as a download, and the cost of one federal e-file is included, plus the software itself is cheaper. The e-filing is usually around $15, so with the cost of the software and one of the e-files included, you can see why I made the switch. I don't mean to diss Turbo Tax, it's a great software and all that, I just don't want to pay more for the same thing. It's not like it's ribbon or something. Come on.

This is my method for staying organized year-long for tax preparation. It's just a three ring binder, and it's nothing pretty, just a view binder with the tax year on the cover and spine, and file pocket dividers inside. Sure, I could make it pretty, but let's be real here, it's going to hold tax returns. Blech.

I have eight binders in all. Seven binders are for holding tax returns and documentation for years past (the recommended length of time for keeping these papers), and one for the current year's accumulation. When I've finished preparing tax returns for a given year, I take the oldest binder out, shred the tax returns and accompanying paper bits inside, and then I begin the new year's accumulation with the dividers already set-up and ready to go. All I have to do is change the tax year on the cover and the spine.

I store these binders in my file cabinet because that's where I have space for them and I keep it locked. The big stack of papers between the binders are customer receipts for my Creative Memories business. I didn't want to make bigger binders for these because this stuff doesn't need to be as accessible as what's inside the binders. I would only need to access these papers if I were audited. [Shudder]

Here's what my pocket dividers look like. I typed the labels based on what our tax returns have looked like in the past. The first pocket divider is always for income--pay stubs, W-2s, 1099s, pimping my plasma, etc.

My deductions divider has a bit more, but I don't necessarily use all these categories every year. It's more of an overview to jog my memory. If you want to make dividers for your binders, I would suggest going down your 1040 form line by line and pulling categories from it based on the lines you have filled out in years past.

I have a section for Schedule C because that's where I keep documents related to my business. This needs to be reported on a separate form, so it needs a separate section.

So, I have all these sections in my binders, and as the year goes on and related items come in, I file them into my binder for the current year so that at the end of the year I don't have the whole gathering-of-the-paperwork-nightmare to deal with. It's all there in the binder already.

If you have someone else prepare your taxes for you, getting organized like this can save you loads of money. Trust me. Once upon a time, I had a little side business in which I did bookkeeping for small businesses and tax return preparation. The first year with a client was always a head exploding experience, getting them all set up with so many scraps of paper all stuffed into a shoe box. People really do store important papers like that.

So, I hope this helps some of you to get more organized and make the process a little less stressful. And if you're one of the shoe box people, May the Force Be With You. Happy Tax Season!

For more Tackle It Tuesday fun, check out 5 Minutes for Mom.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pretty Things

What do you think this looks like? I think it looks like a gorgeous sheet of the prettiest scrapbook paper on the planet.

And it was at Pier I Imports today. Can you believe that?

I don't know what they think they're doing, dabbling in the scrapbooking industry. Aren't they supposed to sell home fashions?

Oh, I guess they still do. This isn't paper, it's a plate.

And it's not at Pier I anymore. It's in my possession. In my house.

Do you want to know how I rationalized this purchase? Well, I'm going to tell you anyway. I had a gift card, I've been looking for pretty dishes to put in my practically empty dinette cabinet, and they're sooooo pretty!

Shallow, I know, but they make me happy.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Waldorf Salad

This recipe for Waldorf Salad is my last unposted recipe from my Winter Crop. I remember eating this as a kid, and I've loved it ever since. I love crunchy salads, and if they have nuts in them, even better. I'm so glad I don't have any nut allergies. I'd have to keep an Epi Pen in my back pocket.

Oh, and if you're on Weight Watcher's you might not want to know the points value for this. This is one case where ignorance is bliss. I'm just sayin' . . . Not that I would know.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

Yes, it's Valentine's Day and I'm struggling to finish the Valentine projects that I planned to do last month. I just finished this apron this morning, to wear it for one day and then put it away until next year.

This is a new pattern for me, although I've actually had it for close to a decade. Hey, some projects are like that.

Anyway, it's a McCall's Home Decorating pattern #2897, and it's out of print. I did find it on eBay though. If you're interested, click on the pattern number. The apron is just one of several items included in the pattern.

Now, since the model in the pattern actually has the body of a Barbie doll, you don't really get the full effect with me wearing it. With all the frills I look more like a Valentine bon bon, than the feminine Domestic Goddess that this pattern intended.

It doesn't matter though, this apron will act as the protective armor I so desperately need from the butter splats in my life.

And if my personal bulk wasn't bad enough, I went and bulked it up even more by making it a reversible apron. This particular pattern wasn't supposed to be reversible, but I like reversible aprons so I just cut all the pieces in two fabrics and then struggled with my topology handicap to put it all together. I ended up with some extra pieces, naturally, because I didn't need double the number of ties, and I'm a bonehead when it comes to visualizing how everything will fit together.

It's done though and I can now cross it off my list. Have a very Happy Valentine's Day my bloggy friends!