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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): October 2007

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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Location: United States

After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What to do with all that Halloween Candy

I know it hasn't happened yet, but if you have kids who trick-or-treat, you're going to have a stash of candy come this evening. Believe it or not, we are not big candy eaters, so inevitably, by Easter, we still have a bucketful of candy. You know, mostly the less desirable stuff, like Tootsie Rolls and those nasty, pasty Bit-O-Honeys. Looking for more ingenious ways to deal with the candy, while also teaching your kid a thing or two?

You can let your kids stuff themselves to the point of feeling sick, or you can try these other options:

  • Set up shop. Offer each child 10 cents for each piece of candy they want to give up. Do this right on Halloween night. Since you are running a business. tomorrow's rate will be 9 cents and so on. The longer they wait, the less cash they'll get. You might as well teach them something while you have their attention. Plus, you should get at least a few pieces for yourself out of it to enjoy later...when the kids are in bed.
  • Portion out the candy. Let them keep 20 (or 15 or 10) pieces, and that is supposed to last them through next week. This will teach them, hopefully, to show restraint and how to portion things out (let's say, not more than x candies a day). When it's gone it's gone. Do they want more now? Sorry, they have to wait until the next replenishment next week.
  • Practice counting and sorting. Keep the candy stash out of reach and out of sight. Everyday, sit down and do some simple counting exercises, adding and subtracting candy, so they get some good practice in. You can also sort by type, shape and color. For the older ones, if they got a lot of candy, you can even do a Venn Diagram.
  • Do the candy fairy thing. This works great for the little ones who can't count yet. Have them pick out a few candies to keep. The rest get put outside their bedroom door Halloween night and are replaced with a few inexpensive toy items from the dollar store.
  • Make unique wrapping paper. This only works if no one in your house is a candy eater, so I hesitate to even include this in the list! But, if you want to do something unusual, use plain butcher paper or solid color wrapping paper, and wrap your gift. Now you are going to hot glue candies all over the package!
  • Take it to work. If you just have too much candy and don't want to deal with portioning it out in the next few weeks and months, depending on your candy consumption rate, put it in a bowl and take it to work.
What do you do with all your candy, besides eat it?


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Art of the Thank-you Note

Alas, "honest to goodness paper and pen with nice penmanship thank-you notes" are so hard to find these days. With the advent of email, text messaging and everything else electronic, many are finding it hard to stop....and say thank-you like they really mean it. Why should you be concerned with thank-you notes in writing? Here's why.

You send thank-you notes because:

  • It's the right thing to do.
  • It sets you apart from everyone else, in a good way.
  • You make someone's day just a little bit brighter.
  • You actually feel good after doing it, and I'm all for feeling good.
  • You are setting a good example for your children.
  • It shows you are well mannered and sets you apart from others who are not.
  • It lets the gift giver know you received the gift. Don't keep Aunt Edna wondering if the gift ever arrived. She'll also be disinclined to send you or the kids something next year (and yes, my children write their own thank-you notes and know it is expected of them).

When do you send a thank-you note?

  • If someone takes the time to give you a gift, you take the time to thank them in writing
  • When someone makes an extra effort on your behalf (this is CRUCIAL in the business world and will get you noticed, again in a good way)
  • After you've been invited to someone's home for an event or meal
  • If someone has afforded you an opportunity you would otherwise not have been given
  • After a job interview
What does your thank-you note look like?

  • Personalized stationery is nice but not necessary. I use those small thank-you notecards that are blank inside. Sometimes we also make our own. If your handwriting is halfway legible, use it rather than printing something out on your computer. Research shows that handwritten envelopes are opened first. In business situations, those are typically forwarded to the actual addressee, rather than some nameless office staff.
What do I write?

  • Address them in person "Dear Person's Name"; if it is someone older than you or a business note, use Mr. or Mrs.
  • Thank the giver for what was given or done for you.
  • Add another sentence saying something nice about the gift, event, or thing that was done for you.
So really, I've given you plenty of reasons why this is something you MUST do, and as soon as you approach it like that, you will stop making excuses for yourself. As I said, you'll find it actually makes you feel good too. Writing thank-you notes will also make you more successful in life. Yes, it really will. You will now be seen as a caring, thoughtful individual who, yes, has a busy life, but you acknowledge others who also have busy lives along the way. Who do you think your boss will remember, way down the road? You who sent the note or the other guy who did nothing? How will you be remembered by your family and friends? Not as someone selfish and uncultured, but someone everyone else wants to be like...all because of a simple thank-you note.

How do you write your thank-you notes and when? Please share your ideas? There is always room for improvement and insight!

See this article and many others like it at the Make It From Scratch Carnival #38.


Monday, October 29, 2007

Monday Mayhem

Oh, it's going to be another one of those days. I guess I shouldn't be's Monday. One of my sons walked out the door without his lunch, and the other one forgot his project. Now I have to make a quick run to the school before I get to the gym to run all my other errands. Not to mention, it's back to the school later for an afternoon dental appointment for both of them. What a day...already! I am reminded about a little story a friend once printed out for me. I still have it in my desk, and thought I would share it....what if I didn't do what I am supposed to do today?

Here's the story:

One day a man comes home from work to find total mayhem at
home. The kids were outside still in their pajamas playing in the
mud and muck. There were empty food boxes and wrappers all
around. As he proceeded into the house, he found an even
bigger mess--dishes on the counter, dog food spilled on the floor,
a broken glass under the table, and a small pile of sand by the
back door. The family room was strewn with toys and various
items of clothing, and a lamp had been knocked over.

He headed up the stairs, stepping over toys, to look for his wife.
He was becoming worried that she may be ill, or that something
had happened to her. He found her in the bedroom, still in
bed with her pajamas on, reading a book. She looked up at him,
smiled, and asked how his day went. He looked at her bewildered
and asked "What happened here today?"

She again smiled and answered, "You know everyday when you
come home from work and ask me what I did today?"

"Yes", was his reply."

She answered, "Well, today I didn't do it!"
Hope your Monday is better than mine! What do you do to get a handle on your Mondays?

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Ready, Set...Carve Your Pumpkins

Arrgghh...I haven't had the chance to take the kids to get their pumpkins yet! Well, last year, we got them too early and down here in Florida, if you do're pumpkin will not be "alive" by the time Halloween rolls around a week later. We have the added task this year of making sure our German exchange student really gets a good taste, in all aspects, of Halloween and all the yipdedoo that surrounds it.

If you've already gotten your holiday decorations out, kudos to you. Be sure to read Get Your Holiday Assortment in Order , so you are ready to go for next year. For the last few years, I've been using the mounting tabs with hooks to hang up lights around my front window. I actually found a set of orange lights on sale a few years ago, and they give the front porch a nice eerie glow. Be sure to check the craft and home decoration stores every year AFTER Halloween to find your best decorating deals. I've also found a few items at Goodwill in the month leading up to Halloween. They must stash holiday items in one place somewhere, and then pull them out for the appropriate holiday. It's a great place to go for Halloween costume ideas too.

Of course, you're gonna want to carve some pumpkins. It's always fun to take the kids to a local pumpkin patch. Check your newspaper or ask around for recommendations. Many places also have festivals, corn mazes and spooky houses. For the actual task of carving, I like to use the pumpkin carving kits. Not only can you be more intricate (and the kids too) in your carving, but some have actual templates you can tape to your pumpkin. Kids as young as 6 can manage the special little knife (which is pretty safe), and then mom or dad can punch out and refine the holes. Long ago, I graduated from using candles to using those battery operated pumpkin lights. You can get some that change color, others that flicker and some even make noise! Check your craft store for these. They work great and take the fear out of worrying about burning something down.

Click here for some pumpkin carving advice and patterns

Now, I have been told many times over the years...the canned pumpkin is just not as good as the fresh kind. So this year, when I make my pumpkin pie, I am going to take a leap of faith and bake it with fresh pumpkin. I had no clue how to get the pulp out of the pumpkin and then get rid of those stringy things, nor did I know how to cook the darn thing. Now I do.

Visit "And Miles to Go Before We Sleep" to get step-by-step instructions with cute photos

What about the seeds? Do those end up in the garbage too when you dig out your pumpkin? How about roasting them this year? They're actually very nutritious, and you may get your picky eater to eat some if you get him in on the act of preparing them for consumption.

You are halfway there...have you asked your kids what they want to be for Halloween? Please don't go and spend your hard earned $$$ on store bought costumes that every kid is going to be wearing. Talk your kids into being unique and have them come up with some cool ideas on their own...with your help of course. Many ideas require no sewing for those of you who think sewing has to be involved. Help yourself along by checking the sites below:

That about sums it up! For those of you planning a party or are going to one, please take the time to share your ideas. What will you be doing with the little ones this year? Will you be trick or treating or going to a carnival? I know high schools, churches and some communities host free and safe events. Trick or treating down here is going the way of the Dodo bird...not much interest in it...but we have plenty of carnivals and festivals planned as I glance through the newspaper this morning. Anyway, I would love to hear how you celebrate the holiday!

Read this article and others like it in this week's edition of the Carnival of Family Life.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Get Your Holiday Assortment in Order

It's about that time again. Or have you already gotten out your Halloween stash and are already thinking about the next thing? Are you one of the ones still looking where you stashed your holiday assortment? Did you have a hard time getting all your Halloween things together this year? Is that scarecrow pumpkin thingy missing in action this year? There is an easier way to keep track of your holiday decorations, to include your kid's artwork and store bought items.

You know...I love bins, so here goes...

  • Purchase 2-5 heavy duty Rubbermaid-type bins (check for sales, as these things frequently go on sale; I've also found good deals at Big Lots on these)
  • Purchase a roll of bubble wrap (I've seen the best prices locally at Sam's Club; I've also bought them on eBay at rock bottom's always good to have a roll if you do a lot of shipping anyway)
  • As you get out your holiday assortment from the various hiding places throughout your house, sort the items by holiday, such as Christmas, Halloween, Patriotic (4th of July), Easter, etc
  • Keep the breakable items together in each holiday assortment
  • Now that everything is sorted in neat piles on your floor, it's time to start packing it in
  • Try to keep like items and breakable items together; use plenty of bubble wrap for the breakable items; I also try to keep the original boxes for these breakable items
  • I try to keep all wall hangings in one box, books in another (for children's Christmas books, I keep them all in a colorful holiday rectangular basket that goes all in one swoop, into the bin); put the holiday pillows in with the breakables; all the foliage and faux plants together; keep all the Christmas tree ornaments in one bin (this has the added benefit in our mobile life, if we ever don't have the time or the effort in us to decorate our home, we can just get out the tree decorating bin and still have a nice Christmas)
  • The kids' artwork can be put in the appropriate bin too; at holiday time, I take out the artwork, put double sided tape on the back of each piece and make a collage of the artwork over the top of a window or around a doorway
  • I label the outside of the bin, on both short sides and on top, with the holiday; instead of 4th of July, use "Patriotic" as there may be more than one holiday that uses such items
  • Since I don't have a lot of Halloween items, I just have a bin labeled "Fall" and this takes care of all my faux Fall foliage too; same goes for "Easter" and "Spring" depending on how many items you have
  • I also take a strip of masking tape, put it on the short side of each bin; label with some key items; this way, you know what's in each bin at a glance plus it makes repacking so much easier
  • Now you are going to set aside a place in the garage, basement or closet (or closets) to stack these items; mine are stacked three high and everything looks "dress right dress" and in order
  • To keep from getting all the bins out, I stack the next holidays coming up on top; that way you can just rotate the items; when a holiday is just completed, that bin goes on the bottom
  • I pack these items so well every year, when we move, the movers just wrap the outside of the bin with wrap, and the packing is already done
What do you do to keep your holiday stuff in order?

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

How to Declutter and Clean a Room the Right Way

Have you ever walked in a room that looked like a windstorm blew through there overnight? I actually had a friend, who didn't even realize she was robbed...for almost a week...because this particular room was so messy! Isn't it disheartening to walk into that room...look around...realize the clean-up would be too overwhelming...and then walk right back out of there. As with anything else, you know I'm going to have an easy to follow system that will make the task less daunting and find you patting yourself on the back in quick order. Here's how.

Step #1: Get two boxes (or laundry baskets) and one LARGE trashbag.

Step #2: Label one box as "Items out of Place" and the next box as "Donations".

Step #3: Start on the floor and then work clock-wise; pick up each item and put it in the appropriate box or bag.

Step #4: Do not stop to admire, read or reminisce...there will be time for that at a later date.

Step #5: If you have many small and loose items, whip out a piece of paper and write down how many storage containers or plastic bins of various sizes you need. For the time being, store those items in grocery bags, and stack them in the corner. Be sure to come back the next day, with the storage containers and put that stuff away!

Step#6: For items you want to keep in this particular room, go ahead and place them where you want them.

Step #7: If your "Items out of Place" box gets to overflowing, it is time to take a break and grab a soda, cup of tea and snack. When you start back up, you are going to put those out of place items where they belong, throughout the house.

Step #8: Now go back to the room. Haul your trashbag (or bags) and "Donate" box into the garage or somewhere near the front door...temporarily. You are going to leave the trashbag there overnight. If you break into cold sweats at the thought of something you put in the trash, go take it out, and put it in the "Donate" box.

Step #9: Two days later (or on the next trashday), throw out the trashbag or bags.

Step #10: Get a big black marker and put the date on the "Donate" box. Get it out of the way somewhere, and let it sit for at least a week. If you are really unsure of yourself, then keep it for 6 months. If you haven't used anything in that box, donate it and get rid of it. Read A One for One Closet Exchange . If you have no problem getting rid of things, just carry the box to your car and drop it off at Goodwill or any other donation place the next time you are out. If you itemize your taxes, be sure to get a receipt for your goods.

Step #11: If you still have time, go ahead and dust and then vacuum. If not, do this the first thing the next day.

That's're done...and it didn't even take as long as you thought! Even though I do my nightly ritual of Before You Go to Bed Tonight, I still frequently complete this exercise every few months per room. I just pick a room and have at it! Do this on a regular basis, and your home won't become a disaster area.

What tips do you have to keep your house and clutter under control?


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Look 'Em Up

I just read an article that really got me thinking. I had really planned on visiting this pizza place run by an ex-marine after I read about it in the local newspaper. It sounded like a fun place, and the guy was hands on...seemed like a family place to go. Well, turns out he is a registered s.e.x. offender. So, that got me thinking...

S.e.x. offenders and pedophiles typically go where the children are. I'm not passing judgment on this Marine and what he did, but it just got me thinking about where we live, where we do our business and where we take our children.

Pedophiles can be found in so many places and jobs where children are, we would probably keel over if we knew every offender around us! You will find them as teachers, coaches, in the church, Scout leaders and supposed pillars of our community. We've all been warned about people watching our kids at the playground and around town, but let's face it, we have to do a bit more.

Before even moving into our neighborhood, I checked a few online databases to see what the situation looked like. We were lucky in that we only had one registered offender in a two mile radius. That's not too bad. Here are some websites where you can look this stuff up:

Criminal Check

Florida Database

National Offender Registry

Keep in mind, your state may have additional resources and not all offenders show up in all the databases. Be sure to google "s.e.x. offender and YOUR STATE" to find more databases.

Don't get your kids imagining the boogeyman, but do tell them there are people out there, both men and women, who are doing things with little kids they shouldn't be doing. Touching you "down there", asking to see "down there" and having you touch them "down there" are red flags, and for young children, that's the most you should elaborate on the subject.

Let your kids know it is acceptable to say "NO" to an adult with such requests and regardless of what that adult threatens them with, they must go tell their mom or dad. The kids must know they will not get in trouble, and that their parents will protect them. Stress the safety aspects and nothing else.

How do you go about protecting your children?

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Shortcuts in the Kitchen

Have you ever watched the chefs on TV doing their thing? They make everything look so smooth and effortless. They don't have bowls and things all over the counters, and their clothes are spotless with not a hint of ketchup or food stains anywhere. How do they get away with it...I mean really? They get away with it, because they have a pocketful of "hidden secrets", keeping their kitchen and workplace pretty darn orderly and clean. Here's how you can share in the magic.

  • Run the full dishwasher before you go to bed at night. When it's breakfast time, you'll at least be able to use the breakfast dishes right out of there. Now there's less to put away! An added benefit is that your counters and sink stay clear throughout the day as you guy about your dish dirtying business.
  • Turn on the fan when you fry food. This will actually grab the superfine mist of oils coming from your frying pan and settling on your walls, floors, lights...just about every surface in your kitchen and sometimes beyond. Didn't you ever wonder why your cabinets and surfaces get that sticky, dusty film? This is why.
  • Get a larger size trashcan with a lid. One word....sanitary! You don't want to touch the trashcan during food prep.
  • Make a pile. With that being said about the trashcan, when I cut up vegetables or use things out of a package, I dump peelings, trimmings and wrappers in one big pile, then wrap it up and throw it away. No back and forth walking to the trashcan.
  • Clean as you go. This almost doesn't need an explanation. As you dirty a dish or utensil, clean it with soapy water and put it in the dish strainer. You'll be amazed how this cuts down on your work and mess. Who wants to clean a sink full of dirty dishes after slaving over a baked cake?
  • Pick one day a week to go through the refrigerator tossing out spoiled items and leftovers that have overstayed their welcome. How many times have you found that errant dish...weeks later? It's enough to spoil your appetite for a day!
  • Don't use serving dishes. Why dirty more dishes? Either fill everyone's plates from the stove, or use pretty casserole dishes to cook in. Dishes that can go from oven/stove to table and then to refrigerator if there are any leftovers are one of the best investments you can make.
  • Don't marinate meats in a dish. You'll have easier clean up by using a large Ziploc bag. Afraid of leakage? Put the bag into a shallow bowl in the refrigerator.
  • Line the bottom of your oven with tinfoil. No more drips turning into petrified and burned blobs. Just replace the foil when it gets yucky.
  • When baking a pie, put the pieshell onto a cookie sheet covered in tinfoil. Again, you are cutting down on clean-ups.
  • When you run out of a food item, immediately write it on a sheet attached to the side of your refrigerator. I have a paper pad with a magnet glued to the back. You can do this yourself with any pad of paper. Get magnets from your local craft store.
  • Aprons actually do have a real purpose and aren't just for show. Since I don't have a closet per se in my kitchen, I found some hooks, attached magnets on the back and stuck them on the side of my refrigerator beside the wall. It's a very handy, out of sight, but close place to put an apron.
  • Use a piece of waxpaper as your spoon holding area. If you don't have a fancy spoon holder, you don't need one. Whenever I cook, I get out a sheet of wax paper and lay it on the counter to catch my messes.
  • Cover microwave dishes with a piece of waxpaper. No splatters and no need to clean and rinse one of those plastic covers I see people never using anyway!
  • For baked-on food, I put the dish on a burner with some water and a few squirts of dish liquid. Especially if I am frying something, I leave the burner on for a minute, refill the pan with water and a squirt of dish soap and let it bubble up a bit. I have also heard you can put a used dryer sheet in there, and let it soak up the grease and residue.
  • Use a new sponge or kitchen rag everyday. I won't go into the science of what kind of germs...and just how many are in your rag the next morning. It's enough to make you sick...literally. Every evening, our rag goes into the laundry room, where it dries out and gets thrown into the next wash. Some folks also like to run their sponges through the dishwasher.
  • Teach your kids early on, to rinse a dish and then put it in the dishwasher. My kids have done this ever since they could reach the sink. It is so ingrained, they wouldn't think of leaving a dish on the table or sink. Less work for mom! If you don't have a dishwasher, you can actually store a dishpan under the sink to collect dirty dishes. Just rinse them well before putting them in there. Then, after dinner, run your very hot water into the sink, and let them soak for a bit before you clean them.
What nifty tips are you willing to share?


Friday, October 19, 2007

Prepare the Future for You and Your Children

As I suspect, if you have children, you recognize the world is a much brighter place. I wrote yesterday about preparing yourself and your parents (and grandparents) for the inevitable. From the many responses I received, I can see these issues are on all our minds. I thought I would take the time to add to what I wrote.

If you haven't already, please read yesterday's blog article. The tips I recommended for your parents also apply to you. You should also have a will (or living trust), advanced healthcare directives and powers of attorney in place. There are no guarantees in life, when your time will come. As I said yesterday, preparing yourself now buys peace of mind and the ability to focus on other things in life!

Here are some other points you need to consider:

  • Have a plan for your children should you become unable to care for them. Again, no one likes to talk about it, but if you plan now, you won't have to think about it again. Think about who could raise your children in the best possible way. Start with your relatives first. Be sure to talk with your chosen relative and get their thoughts and opinions. No surprises! Please read, "Who will take care of my children".
  • Do plan for college. I realize not all children will go to college. But let's be positive and plan for it! Read up on 529 college plans, by far the best way to save. The money grows tax free. Obviously, there are some disadvantages but I think the advantages far outweigh them and any other options out there right now.
  • If your employer offers a savings plan, use it. I see too many people who bypass this step. It would be crazy, especially if your employer matches your contributions. This is free money! If you find you don't have the money, then you are spending beyond your means. "Pay yourself first". I like David Bach's series of books, a real eye-opener in seeing what money we throw away on a daily basis, to the point of costing us hundreds of thousands of dollars for retirement and our savings.
  • Do invest a portion of your monthly income for your retirement. Social Security and your husband's military pension won't be enough. Inflation will cut into everything, and believe it or not, by the time we retire, a million dollars will barely be enough, even if you live modestly. There are many financial advisors out there, so let's take a look at what's available.
    • Commission based. I have had good luck myself with Edward Jones. Even though they are commission based, as long as our holdings return a certain interest rate level, we are happy with that arrangement.
    • Fee/percentage based. I know a few folks who go with the maverick Edelman Financial. Ric Edelman does have some great advice, read some of his books to get some insight and to get smart. Ric is a fee based financial planner, charging 1-2% of your holdings to be with him (on a sliding scale). He even has a retirement fund for your children. Invest $5,000 and it will grow tax free to $1 million, by the time your child retires. I think he is the only one who has this type of savings plan. If you totally want to be completely "hands off", he would be a good choice.
    • Fee based/hourly. You can also visit a certified and licensed independent financial planner who charges by the hour. If you are already familiar with mutual funds, investing and the stock market, maybe all you need is a plan that you will update every few years, depending on your investment goals.
    • On your own. Perhaps you are pretty well read on investing and retirement funding. You can either use the plan from the fee based planner above, or use one of the tools online to come up with your own plan. You will need to divide up your plan into stocks, bonds, cash, etc (and further into large cap, small cap and such), depending on your age, investments and goals. Try this Portfolio Asset Allocator or this Portfolio Allocation Spreadsheet. If you have trouble understanding these concepts, please see this easy diversification explanation from Ric Edelman on Oprah. I am personably familiar with T Rowe Price and their funds, as we have done business with them for many years, even before we were married. Their funds have had consistently high returns and high ratings, and they even have a few funds geared specifically towards your retirement years. Their site also has so many planning tools and calculators, as well as free CDs and videos to help you in your planning. If you are hesitant to spend money on financial planning (even though it could be money well spent), T Rowe Price is your best "low cost" but "high value" bet.
Would you like to share some of your ideas?

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Talking the Talk with Your Almost Elderly Parents

You are probably at the age, or soon to be, where your parents are getting up there in age. Hey, I feel like I am getting up there myself...especially noted when I get up in the morning and actually hear the creaking of my bones! As far as your parents, there is just no happy way to do this, but at some point, you are going to have to sit down with them and discuss the future, and to make sure they are prepared the best they can be. Do not wait until an emergency happens or you are forced to make last minute rash decisions....which are typically the wrong ones!

This is best done in person. It's more personable and friendly that way. I had to do it myself over the phone, and it worked out okay, so don't use "I haven't seen my parents in awhile, so I can't do it just yet" as an excuse! Starting the conversation in itself, is the hardest step! Get the dialogue going by talking about yourself and your husband. Talk about what your plans are as far as your will, plans for your children and the future. You can use this to lead into talking about their plans. The key is to be non-threatening, and you don't want to come across as being bullying or self-serving. This is supposed to be for your parents' benefit and well-being and not yours. Follow the steps below, and make sure you hit all the key points.

  • Make a list of important people in your parents' lives. Keep a list of their insurance agent, banker, attorney, stockbroker, financial advisor and anyone they do business with. Also include poor Aunt Gladys who would be devastated not to find out something happened to your parents and wasn't able to come because no one knew how to reach her.
  • Consider being on their checking account so you can write checks. Some parents may resist this, but you want to be able to pay their bills if something should happen to either of them. Most of the older generations consider finances to be taboo as discussion topics. Again, share about yourself to make it easier for them to open up and stress this is all for their benefit.
  • Each parent should have a durable power of attorney done. Have them list a responsible child (hopefully you) to have the authority to make financial decisions on their behalf. Your parents can revoke this power at any time. Make sure they do a durable POA and not a regular one. Only the durable POA remains in effect when a person becomes incapacitated. You and your husband should each have one too!
  • A health care power of attorney also needs to be done for each parent. This will allow a designated person to make medical decisions for them if they are unable to. Don't forget to show them yours.
  • Each parent needs a living will or medical directive specifying how much and what type of care he or she would like to receive should their condition become terminal, or they get into a coma. Use the sample here. When my mother became incapacitated, we knew exactly what her wishes were and didn't hesitate in dealing with the doctor's recommendations. My husband and I each have one for ourselves. Their is no guarantee that things won't be reversed, and it's our parents having to decide what our wishes are.
  • Have your parents make a list of their assets and income. They may not want to share this with you, so have them seal it in an envelope and either give it to you to put away or tell you where you they are keeping it. You need to be able to find this document should something happen. Have them note the location of their non-tangible assets too, such as stock and bond certificates, bank CDs, insurance policies and other financial documents.
  • Have your parents write up a "letter of instruction". I got around this touchy subject by doing one for myself first and reading it, then giving it to my parents. Talk about the sentimental stuff that means something to you around the house, where you want to be buried, the location of your important papers, even what music you'd like played at your funeral! This site should give you some ideas of things to include.
  • Make sure your parents have a will or living trust. Again, I gave them copies of our paperwork first. It is pretty expensive to see an attorney, and there are other options. If you are military, you can get a will done for free on post through the legal office. There are also kits available to do it yourself. We used "We the People", where setting up a living trust is fairly inexpensive at around $500. I liked that they were local and were familiar with my state's laws. They are located in every state, so check where your nearest one is located. The only catch is that you have to do the funding of your trust yourself (which took us about two months). Another option is Legal Zoom, an on-line legal document service. Read more about the differences, advantages and disadvantages of wills vs living trusts. The bottom line, is that you do need something.
  • Get familiar with Medicare and Medicaid. You need to find out what programs and services your parents are eligible for. Know what your parents' rights are. It can be daunting navigating these programs, so wouldn't it be nice if you, as their child, could help them in that task?
  • Have a long term care plan. I have a friend whose father died and then her mother became incapacitated shortly thereafter. My friend worked and could not care for her mother. She had to put her mom in a nursing home, where she quickly went through her life savings, had to sell the family home and then started in on her daughter's life savings. Long term care insurance is generally best for those who feel it's unlikely they will qualify for Medicaid but don't have enough assets to completely pay for nursing home care. As much as you love your parents, do not go into your retirement savings to pay for their nursing home stay. It is my understanding that once accepted into a nursing home, and if your parents were to run out of money, the nursing home is obligated to keep them, as long as it is a Medicaid certified nursing home.
  • Check your state or city for eldercare resources. For example, the Illinois Department of Aging has numerous FREE and extremely lowcost services from errand running services, cleaning services, medical alert devices ("help, I've fallen and I can't get up") and a variety of other programs and support for the elderly.
If you are looking for more resources to check out, follow the links below:

Senior Resource site

Aging with Dignity

National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys


Obviously, this is not a fun topic, but it is a necessary one. By following the steps above and getting smart on eldercare, you are buying peace of mind for you AND your parents. I can't tell you the YEARS I stressed over my aging grandparents in Germany. My mother had already passed away, so I knew, being the oldest child, I was the right choice to be the responsible one. I finally got off my butt, and did what I was obligated to do, and in a foreign country no less. When the time came, I was totally ready and knew exactly what to do. Everything was in place and already planned out, and it was just a matter of going through the motions, allowing me to totally focus on my grandparents and the grieving process.

What have you done to prepare yourself and your family?

Read this article and many more like it in this week's Carnival of Personal Finance at "The Dough Roller".


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I Collect Things

We've talked about clutter before in the past. We all have it to some degree. One thing we haven't talked about is collecting stuff...the stuff you like to display. If you have more than three of something, you've got a collection. Find out how to showcase your collection and make it look like it belongs...right where it is.

Wrong way to display a collection:

  • Scattered throughout the house
  • Your collection is overflowing its space and taking over other areas
  • Your shelf, cabinet or table is sagging with the weight of your stuff

Right way to display your collection:

  • Grouped together by some theme (rather than scattered all over)
  • If you have too much stuff in your collection, rotate the items (it's always nice to pull out an item you haven't seen in awhile; you can enjoy it all over again)
  • For flat items, consider getting a piece of cut glass to cover a table and display the items underneath the glass; again, a great dust deterrent; you can measure the space and check the yellow pages for a local glass company that can do this
  • If the items can be hung on a wall, do that to free up table space; don't overload the wall where it will look too busy; "S" hooks on wooden or metal dowels can be used to hang a variety of items (such as a rolling pin collection); look at this antique baby rattle collection
  • You can use baskets to display "moldable items" such as stuffed animals or needlepoint pillows
  • If you have deep shelves, you can create risers out of small boxes; just cover them with artfully arranged linens (napkins, table cloths or sheets); your display will look like something out of a department store
  • If you have pins or jewelry, get a fancy scarf or other item, pin your jewelry there and either display it in a cabinet, hang it from a hook or attach it to a wall; a quilt also works great for this; if only this guy had used a nice scarf or wrap
  • If you have a large collection of small items that look okay in a pile (such as rocks or non-precious gemstones), put them in a decorative glass vase or bowl
  • If you have an item and want to see the front and back and it is fairly flat, you can get two pieces of cut glass, put the items(s) between the glass and get it framed; you can then hang this from a location in your house where you can see the front and back (such as between two rooms where there is an opening); if you have more than one item, stagger them, displaying one low and the other high and so on; use pretty ribbon or decorative chains to hang the frames; here are some samples of some floating picture frames if you don't want to do it yourself
  • I sometimes use those plate stands to display other items that are fairly flat
  • If you're looking for something premade, how about large shadowboxes

Purchasing resources to help you with your display ideas:

  • your local hardware or craft store

Books to check out:

How do you display your collections?


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Why You Shouldn't Make Your Bed This Morning

I'll never forget that episode of 60 Minutes I saw about 20 years ago. Yes, it's been that long, and I have never forgotten! There seems to be something Americans do that no one else in the world does, and we are doing it wrong. Here's why.

Remember when you first learned how to make your bed the "American way"? You had your fitted sheet, and then on top you smoothed out your top sheet? Remember the hospital corners you're supposed to be doing at the foot of the bed? Then you threw on either a blanket or a comforter, plumped up your pillows, and you were done. I don't know about you, but it would always take me an inordinate amount of time doing all that. Even after my stint in the Army, it still wasn't a simple task for me. Well, how about making your bed like 90% of the other Westernized countries do it. What would you say if I told you it was not only easier but more sanitary to boot!

Go to any hotel or home in Europe, and you'll see they sleep with a featherbed or comforter covered in a duvet. What's a duvet? It looks like a monster-sized pillowcase encasing your comforter. When they make their bed over there, they just fluff up their pillow and comforter, and they're done. I know the Germans and the French even hang their featherbeds out the window for a few hours every morning to "freshen it up". This also has the added benefit of letting the mattress itself air out a bit. Just think about it. You've been tossing and turning and rolling around in there all night, sweating and secreting....things. Yuck!

This is where the bedbugs and dust mites come in, and this is where the episode of 60 Minutes will never be forgotten. Just about everyone has some kind of bug..actually many bugs...crawling all over their mattress, sheets and comforter..oh and in your pillow too. Put them under a microscope, and there is no need to ever see a horror movie again, they are that ugly and imposing. When you immediately make your bed, you are in effect, sealing in the moisture and "stuff" these bugs thrive on! Now you can go tell your mom you were right in not making your bed all those years!

Follow these tips to have a cleaner and happier sleepy place:

  • Do not make your bed right after you get up; Fluff everything up and fold down your comforter to the lower part of your bed (I realize it is unrealistic to air it out the window, but hey, why don't you give it a try if you live somewhere you can do that and the weather cooperates); if you must, come back later to make your bed the pretty way
  • Get rid of your topsheet; use it for something else where it'll be more useful; it serves no purpose on your bed; you'll have one less thing to wash; you'll also make your bed so much faster
  • If you already have a comforter, get a duvet for it; don't go by the sizes on the package; I would go ahead and measure to make sure the duvet will fit your comforter
  • If you live in a cooler climate, go ahead and get a featherbed; you'll never go back; they can last a lifetime, unlike most comforters
  • When you wash your bed linens (I try to do this every other week), wash them in hot water; I like to fluff up my comforter or featherbed and lay it in the sun or in the winters, I go ahead and wash the comforter; in Germany, they actually have these trucks that show up twice a year, a kind of mobile laundry, they launder only featherbeds; you can walk by and see them removing the down and spinning it in a big glass enclosed bin, kind of like the "Build-a-Bear" store
  • I also wash my mattress cover and vacuum the mattress; you'd be surprised at the dust and "things" that get sucked up when you do this; if you get a mattress cover especially made to keep dustmites out of the mattress, you can typically skip this step
  • If you live in a hot climate, and don't want to deal with your featherbed in the summers, after having it dry cleaned or laid out in the sun (make sure it's completely dry), fold it into a trashbag and use your vacuum to suck out all the air; no need to invest in those spacebags, as a trashbag works just as well; just tie the bag off with a twist tie and stack it in your closet or store it under your bed
What is your favorite bed ensemble, and what tips can you share?


Monday, October 15, 2007

Those Dinner Assembly-line Places

I recently saw an ad in our local paper. The ad went something like this:

Do you often end up grabbing fast food, or spending a lot of money going out to eat? Wish that your family sat down for homemade meals more often? Let us help bring dinner home.

Of course this did perk my interest. Even though I like to think of myself as the perfect housewife and mom....there are still things that get in the way of that. Since there was a coupon attached to the ad, I thought I would use it as an excuse to just try it out. I called a friend, and we quickly decided this would be a fun new thing to do together.

These dinner prep places typically require a reservation ahead of time and ask for about two hours of your time. You assemble anywhere from four to 12 meals, so be ready to work with your sleeves rolled up! Come prepared with a large cooler and some cash (or at least a credit card). When I showed up at my local place, I noticed the staff was very friendly and the place looked and smelled pretty clean.

I had picked my eight menu choices ahead of time, so I was handed an apron and disposable gloves and was ready to go. I was ushered from station to station to assemble my meals. All the ingredients were located at each station. Directions for assembly were also at each station. A monkey could follow the directions. The place provided the foil containers, lids, as well as labels and heating instructions. As you finish assembling each dish, you put it away in their big refrigerator until you are completely done and are ready to leave. This is why you need to bring a tote or cooler to carry it all home in.

All the dishes I had chosen were "freezer to oven" meals. They stacked nicely, and it was helpful to have the labels and heating instructions on top of each dish. I did have one dish where I had to tape a baggy of cheese on top, but for the most part, meals were compact and uniform. They stacked very nicely into my freezer. As a sidenote, be sure to eat and clear out the food currently in your freezer or you won't have room!

It was a fun experience, especially because I went with a friend and we joked and laughed as we went along. We were even supplied with a bit of wine and some appetizers. Would I do it again? Probably not on a regular basis, and here's why:

  • Yes, it was a novelty and fun event to do with my friend, but without the coupon, each serving would've cost $3, which is out of my budget; for most meals I make at home, I can beat that price a few times over (remember this is per serving and not per "how much your husband eats in one sitting")
  • Some of the veggies looked a bit tired, and I did wonder how fresh the meat was; they do say they shop every Monday...but still, it means you have no control over the freshness
  • I did see a lady sneeze near one of the foodstations, and the worker who assisted us did run around with one rag and one rag only, when she was cleaning up behind us at each station; so, the true cleanliness factor was a bit suspect to me
  • Even though five of my eight dishes had good flavor and my family liked them, I realized I could easily have made them myself; the key seems to be the sauce; the place seemed to have special sauces for chicken, fish and meat and teamed with fresh veggies, spices and fresh herbs, the sauce made the dish extra special
  • The meals that didn't have pasta mixed in or weren't all encompassing, I still had to come up with a carb to go with the meal (ie, I still had to some cooking) AND a veggie and salad if needed
Wondering what kind of dishes I assembled? See below. I was actually able to find very similar recipes online:

  • Chicken Enchiladas (they made the sauce ahead of time and used flour instead of corn tortillas)
Now I guess I can't mention the downsides without mentioning at least a few upsides, so here goes:

  • It is healthier than McDonalds and it sure beats the money shelled out at any sit down restaurant
  • The experience did give me a renewed energy to go home and go through my old recipes, say "I can do this too" and get motivated all over for cooking again; I frequently get in a rut, so this got me out of it; I would think for someone who doesn't cook or doesn't know how, this could give them the confidence to try it themselves at home
  • It was a nice time to get together with my friend; this could also be a fun event for a group of ladies should you need ideas for get togethers
  • It was nice to pull out a tray and pop it in the oven and just have to make a salad or sidedish rather than stress about what's for dinner and having to plan ahead
Have you tried any of these places? How did it go for you?


Friday, October 12, 2007

Maximize Your Errand Running

I have an aunt who puts an enormous amount of miles on her vehicle by taking multiple trips throughout the day to run her errands...back and forth, back and forth. Not only are you wasting your time if you do this, but you are also throwing away gas money and putting extra wear and tear on your car.

Have a plan and this won't be you. Every evening, sit down and go over your "to do" list for tomorrow and the next few days too while you are sitting there. Use a small day planner that will fit in your purse and check over this week's errands and tasks before you leave the house in the mornings.

I typically have to run errands in three different directions. I try to group all errands in one area together and just drive a loop, or a loop as best I can with the streets that are available! If I don't have to do an errand tomorrow, and it is not in the area I am planning on going that day, I will plan that errand on another day when I am in that area. Plan ahead, and you will never waste time or money again.

How do you keep from wasting your time?


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Nine Reasons to Attend Your Unit's Next Family Readiness Group (FRG) Meeting

If you've been around the Army for any length of time, you've heard of the FRG. FRG, like it's some kind of entity with its own mind. FRG stands for Family Readiness Group. It used to be called the Family Support Group, until the Army decided it wasn't politically correct and that we spouses didn't need all this supportin', the name was changed to go along with the times. Did you already realize there are some benefits to attending the meetings? You may think it's hogwash, or you don't need it, but guess what...every single one of us can come away with something we need (or our husband's need) at that FRG next meeting.

Feel free to align yourself with any one or number of these reasons:

  • When you are in need of help when hubby is gone, they will know who you are. "They" being the soldiers and those in charge left behind. They will be more inclined to jump and help if they remember you were the cute one with the big smile at the last meeting.
  • You will get to know other wives who are literally in the same boat you are. Yes, misery does love company, but with that being said, you have a new opportunity to make friends, share ideas and talk with others going through the same things you are.
  • You'll get to meet who's in charge. This is especially important when your husband is gone. Most leaders left behind will give you a slew of phone numbers, including their personal numbers, and there's nothing like calling the head honcho if you are not getting results (don't overuse it, but it's good to know this is an option).
  • You will learn at least one resource you did not know about before. Even though I consider all this stuff "old hat", do you know I still learn about a new program, phone number or event when I go to one of these things. That's worth it enough for me right there.
  • You attending will reflect positively on your husband and his superiors will remember that. I say this especially at the meetings before deployment. Get involved and your husband's boss will know you are committed to him and his work. In comparing your husband with the next guy, his boss will automatically think highly of your husband versus the other guy whose wife is nowhere to be found.
  • You will support your husband in more ways than you think. Let's face it, the guys face ENORMOUS pressure to encourage their wives to come to these things. If you don't go, your husband may think you don't care or think he can't count on you. People also talk. Everyone knows he's married and the general thinking is that if the other half doesn't show up, then their marriage must not be up to snuff. Just check the block. Perceptions can mean a lot in the military (whether we like it or not, that is military life, life under a magnifying glass).
  • You'll get a night out by yourself. I know you love your husband, BUT there are times when we need our own time, and this is the ticket and perfect excuse. When the guys aren't deployed, go to the meetings then too. He can watch the kids. It's good for him and the kids and good for you to get away and get a breather.
  • You'll build character. I remember back when I was young with zero life experiences. That does something to your resolve, comfort and courage in social situations. The more you "get out there" and become a part of life and these social situations, the better you can handle yourself as you go through life. You may one day end up being the Command Sergeant Major's wife or even the General's wife, and the more experiences you get under your belt, the better.
  • You'll know what the heck and who your husband is talking about. Yep, guys sit around and bullsh*t, especially in the military. When he calls from overseas and starts talking about "so and so's wife" or whatever silly thing this guy did at work or running around, you'll know who he is talking about and can better laugh at the context if it's something funny. They even do this when they are not deployed! In the Army, there is a lot of "hurry up and wait" and what do they do in that downtime? They chat and share stories...just like we do.
Have you been to an FRG meeting lately? How did it go?


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What is Your Personality Dis...I mean Order?

Did you ever wonder why you do the things you do and why you feel comfortable in some situations and not others? If you are married, are you an exact copy of your husband or are you opposites? Did you know there is a scientific method to finding out your personality type? When I was in the Army, we took the Myers-Briggs Personality Test.

They sat us all down with pencils and papers and had us fill out the little dots. We lamented that it was such a waste of our time, but honestly, when we were done and the results were tallied, we were all astounded. Not only did we learn more about ourselves and how we function but also a lot about our fellow lieutenants. Kudos to the Army for making us do it.

What is your personality type? Take the Myers-Briggs personality test, and see what comes out. All you have to do is make sure you answer the questions honestly. My personality type is ISTJ, which was spot on and describes me to the point of being scary! Let me know your results and what you think of them!

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Before You Go to Bed Tonight

Have you ever gone to bed with utter and complete chaos around the house? Sometimes, you just want to close yourself off from the mess and kids fighting and your husband not being home. Well, I think you know as well as I do...the next morning, it looks and feels even worse! Do you know there are some simple steps you can take to take charge of this situation?

A few weeks ago, I found a website by someone who calls herself Flylady. The crux of her mantra, is if you keep your sink shiny and clean, everything else will follow along. She has many followers who she has guided from baby steps to being full fledged superwomen around the house. I felt I already had a handle on things but valued her opinions. I think they are good ones. If you are at a complete standstill, be sure to stop by her website. I didn't want to write about household order without mentioning her.

If you have no need for a major overhaul in the homemaker arena, there is this one small task you can do to keep your life and home in order. I call it the "15 minute pass through". After the kids are in bed and all the lights are down low, I grab the laundry basket and make a pass through the house from room to room. I collect things that are out of place, remnants of trash and straighten up blankets, chairs askew and rugs bunched up. As I go through the room an item belongs in, I just grab it out of the basket and put it away. It's that simple. At this time, I also go over my to do list for tomorrow, as well as my long term to do list. It's pretty amazing how you realize what errands need running and things you have been putting off....all while you are walking around your house.

The first time you do this, if you've never done it before, it is going to take longer than 15 minutes. So don't be disheartened. Give it a chance. There is a certain inner peace the mind thrives on, knowing everything is in its rightful place. I won't go into the mumbo jumbo but suffice it to say you will finally sleep like a baby after doing this.

If you want to get your kids and husband in on it, have them stage their school and work items by the front door. Have their shoes and other items ready to go, including their outfits for tomorrow. Sometimes I even go as far as getting out the cereal bowls and cereal. You have the added benefit of having the morning flow so much easier if you take these additional steps.

What simple things do you do around the house to make your life easier?

Read this article and others on family life at Manicmama!


Monday, October 8, 2007

Useful Uses for your Camera Phone

Do you have a camera phone? When was the last time you really used the camera part of it? I've had one for about three years now and other than the photo I took and uploaded of my kids to use as wallpaper, I haven't been using it....til recently. Be sure to get the most out of your phone! Here are some useful uses for YOUR camera phone.

  • If you are ever in an accident or witness a car accident, take quick pics of the position of the cars, the damage and license plate numbers of those involved
  • I like to drive around my town and get landscaping ideas; sometimes I don't have my regular camera with me, so if I see something nice, I snap a quick photo out the driver's side window with my camera phone
  • Before you drive that rental car out of the lot, take a photo from all angles; you don't want them to come back later and say you did such and such damage; now you'll have immediate proof it wasn't you
  • When you return your rental car with that full tank of gas, take a quick photo of your fuel tank showing it is on "full" and also the mileage noted; you'd be surprised how often they charge you saying you didn't fill the tank up
  • If you frequently lose your vehicle in the parking lot, take a photo of what row and section you are in; I've also done this at the elevators in the airport; some airports use names of animals rather than colors to show what lots their elevators access and for the life of me, I don't see how it's easier to remember an animal rather than a color
  • If you have kids and are going to a place with crowds, snap a photo of your kids after you get out of the car; if for some unlikely reason you lose track of your kids, you will have an instant photo to show security personnel; sometimes you can get so panicked, you can forget what they are wearing and what they had with them; have them wear a bright color while you are at it too
  • For those fashion plates out there, take a photo of that amazing outfit you just happen to see, whether it's in the store or on a person walking by; if you are snapping a photo of a person, it usually works best to ask if you can snap a photo (just gush about their outfit and most times, they will be flattered and pose)
Do you have any useful uses to share?


Friday, October 5, 2007

I'm Having People Over for Dinner...Am I Nuts?

Here I am coming back from being out of town, and one of the first dumb things I do is invite a slew of people over...dumb,'s seems like I just ask for it sometimes! Well, guess what? I am NOT going to stress, because I am going to follow the tips below!

  • I'm going to decide what I'm going to make ahead of time. I am not a masochist and don't have hired help, so only one "difficult" menu item is allowed. The rest have to be easy.
  • I am not going to let myself stress by making any last minute food preparations.
  • I will plan the menu well ahead of time and not go shopping the day of the dinner.
  • If there is anything that can be made the night ahead, I will go ahead and make that dish then.
  • I am not going to make everything the same color.
  • Since again, I don't want to stress and it is a larger group of people, it will be buffet-style. Serving from the kitchen (you filling the plates) is also an option.
  • It's always better to make too much food than too little. I love having leftovers anyway, cause it gives me a break from cooking the next few days.
  • Do have lots of bread, crackers and cheese plus all the ingredients on hand for quickly making another pasta dish (just in case). I also like to have drink mix, such as Country Time Lemonade in case I run out of wine, beer, sodas and drinks.
  • Have a simple appetizer such as cheese and crackers, or bread and dip, or veggies and dip; this will encourage people not to pig out when the meal is served.
  • Have plenty to drink; do it just like the buffet-style restaurants; if people fill up on drink, they won't overload on everything else, and you can enjoy yourself without stressing.
  • Check to make sure no one has any weird tastes or allergies, and if you have a vegetarian in the bunch, plan a dish they can eat too (even if it's a sidedish).
  • If you are buying wine, a general rule is white wine goes with chicken and fish, red wine for read meat; calculate half a bottle per drinker (that's two or three glasses each).
  • Do have some kind of dessert, even if it's store bought; also have coffee and tea available for those who indulge in that.
  • Bribe one of your good friends to act as the hired help (they can replenish food as it disappears and help with the clean up and putting away of things). Do this only if she is a VERY good friend and please realize you owe her big time! I had a battalion commander's wife who used to use her neighbor to do this for her. She obviously had a very good friend to go along with all these dinner parties. When she wasn't available and it was just the ladies, believe it or not, her battalion commander husband did it for her...with apron on and everything!
Now you've gotten an idea of how you want to to this. Of course, a tablecloth and nice bowls and plates make the place look festive. If you don't have a full set, it's okay to mix and match. Just alternate the plates and bowls when you stack or set them.

I see you still staring blankly into space. You say this is all well and good...but WHAT AM I GOING TO MAKE!!!! Okay, okay, see below for some old stand-bys that work very well...and are pretty...for company. I also like to keep the ingredients for a quick pasta dish on hand, just in case the hungry hordes show up who weren't invited or if one of your guests happens to have a bottomless gut.

Here are some appetizer ideas:

Confetti Salsa (serve with tortilla chips)

4 large tomatoes, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
1 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves, chopped
1 can mild green chilies, chopped
1 tsp fresh garlic, minced
juice of two fresh limes
1 tsp salt (optional)
2 cans kernel corn, drained
3 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 tsp cumin
3 TBS Italian dressing

Mix together, cover and chill overnight. Keeps about 1 week in refrigerator.

Party Cheese Ball

2 pks Philadelphia Cream Cheese (8 oz each), softened
1 pk Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese
1 TBS finely chopped onions
1 TBS chopped red bell peppers
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp lemon juice
dash ground pepper
dash salt
1 cup chopped pecans

Beat cream cheese and cheddar cheese in small bowl until blended. Mix in all remaining ingredients except pecans. Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight. Shape into a ball and roll in pecans. Serve with crackers.

Layered Bean Dip (there are many variations of this one out there)

How about some maindishes:

Lasagna (again, many variations! For a switch, how about using bottled white sauce, cooked chicken replacing the ground beef and adding cooked spinach to the ricotta mixture for color?)

Mostaccioli alla Vodka (serve with a green salad)

3 TBS butter
1 TBS olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1/4 cup chopped prosciutto (expensive but you only need a little; get from the deli counter)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into pieces
1/2 cup vodka (or can use chicken broth; the alcohol does evaporate away)
1 TBS chicken broth granules
1/2 cup whipping cream (mixed with 1 TBS flour)
1 TBS fresh parsley
1/2 tsp pepper
1 package penne pasta, 16 oz (I typically use a package and a half)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat butter over med high heat. Cook garlic and onion 5 min til tender. Stir in chicken and cook for about 5 min. Stir in prosciutto. Stir in vodka and chicken granules. Cook until liquid almost evaporates. Stir in whip cream, parsley and pepper. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer uncovered, stir frequently and take off heat when thick and bubbly. Cook pasta al dente, drain, combine with sauce. Toss with Parmesan cheese. I like to put the dish in a 350 deg oven for about 20 min to give it a nice light brown topping.

Chicken Turnovers (serve with wild rice and roasted asparagus; very pretty dish)

Chicken and Bacon Rice Bake; see Easy Pantry Meal Mandishes at this site (serve with a green salad)

Veggies make everything so colorful:

Roasted Asparagus

package of asparagus, olive oil, salt and pepper

Wash asparagus and cut off a small piece from end of each stalk. Preheat oven to 350 deg. Place asparagus in a baking dish long enough to accomondate them laying flat. Sprinkle over olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss a bit to mix. Cover with tinfoil and roast for about 15 min (if you like asparagus a bit crunchy), longer if you want them softer.

Glazed Carrots

bag of mini carrots
brown sugar

Steam carrots (I use one of those steamer inserts and just put it in a pot of water and put carrots on top); otherwise, put carrots in saucepan with a bit of water and cook til tender. Drain water. Add a pat of butter and two tablespoons of brown sugar. Mix. To make it prettier, add fresh chopped parsley, about one tablespoon's worth.

Acorn Squash

1 squash per four people
cinnamon (optional)
brown sugar

Half acorn squash. Use spoon to scoop out seeds. Place facedown in a baking pan about 1/2 inch full of water. Bake at 400 degrees covered with tinfoil for about 30-45 min. Take out. Put each squash into a dish rightside up. Put a pat of butter in each and sprinkle with cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar.

Round out the evening with yummy dessert:

Pearl's Apple Crisp (tastes even better with a scoop of vanilla ice cream)

2 large apples (enough to cover a pieplate)
1/2 cup sugar
2 TBS lemon juice
1 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter (1 stick partially melted)

This dish can be prepped a few hours ahead and kept ready to go in the refrigerator. Put in the oven about an hour before you expect the eating to be over. Preheat oven to 325 deg. Clean and cup up the fruit into the pieplate. Stir in sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon. Combine flour and brown sugar; cut in butter. Place flour mixture over fruit and pat down. Bake until golden brown, about 50 min.

Creme Brulee (I cheat and use Dr. Oetker's Creme Brulee; get two packs and remember milk and whipping cream); you'll need small individual containers to make it fancier.

Mandarin Orange Cake (I use this recipe, except I substitute 1 cup oil for the butter and put the batter into three 8" round cake pans to make a three layer cake; if you use three pans, bake at 325 deg for 25-30 min and make sure you grease and flour the pans first).

Vanilla Strawberry Parfaits (again, you'll need individual containers for each guest or use tall glasses)

1/2 bag (8 oz) frozen strawberries (or use fresh)
1 - 3.4 oz box instant vanilla pudding mix
2 cups milk
Whipped topping

Defrost strawberries. In bowl, whisk pudding mix and milk for 2 minutes. Layer pudding and strawberries in large glass bowl or use individual containers. Serve with whipped topping.

And if you have extra guests, no problem. Here's a dish you can quickly make with ingredients already on hand:

Fettucine Alfredo (can use bottled lemon juice and dried basil instead)

Always have plenty of lettuce and bottled salad dressing on hand too for just such occasions.

For extra dessert, make Brownie Sundaes (use a prepackaged brownie mix and serve each piece with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup and a spritz of whipped topping...again, to make it pretty, have a jar of cherries on hand).

Do you like to entertain? What do you typically make? How do you go about it, and what tips can you give the rest us so we don't panic?

You can find this article and many other "Make it from scratch" articles at Pomoyemu's Party Edition.


Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Maker of Lists

I feel somehow inadequate if I'm not making a list for some thing some where. I really do. I have lists for every kind of situation a mom and manager of the household needs or even wants. The neat part about making lists, is that it's okay that my brain gets a bit fried as I get older...I can just refer back to the list!

Back in college, I used to make lists on any scrap of paper that was available. You can already see, eventually, you'd have a house full of scraps of paper and not know one list from another. In fact, I do have a few purses from my college days, and do you know, I recently found a 22 year old list!

I quickly graduated to the more organized notebook mode. I have a small notebook and a day planner (also small) with a note section in my purse. I have another notebook by our computer and another by our bed...In bed seems to be where most of us do our thinking when we are not otherwise engaged, don't you think?

Just perusing some of my lists, in my dayplanner, I have lists of:

  • Books I want to read/authors I like
  • Movies I want to see
  • Local attractions we still want to try to visit before we leave (with directions/address & sometimes phone number)
  • Cleaning schedule
  • Favorite recipes with ingredients listed (so go ahead and shop last minute if you have to)
  • Project list for around the house
  • Every measurement for every filter, thing or clothing involving my family or our house
  • Grocery shopping list (I do have a paper pad on the side of the refrigerator and as we run out of stuff, it gets put there and later in my planner)
  • "Other stuff" shopping list
In the notebook next to our computer, I have:

  • Homes recently sold in our neighborhood (with price, sq footage, sold date and address)
  • Websites to check out
  • Internet comparison shopping (whenever I want to make a major purchase)
  • Investments I want to compare
  • Longterm planning list (what events are coming up with date noted and other ideas)
  • And a variety of chicken scratch where I go off on some tangent
Of course, the true brainstorming happens late at night, so of course, have to make sure I have a notebook by our bed. Sometimes, more often than not, I can't understand what I wrote the next day but somehow, it does make me feel more productive. Even if I occasionally get something useful out of the exercise, that's good enough for me. I catalogue:

  • Blog ideas (I write these in all the notebooks; I need all the help I can get)
  • Unusual dreams (just the main gist of what was going on; I have a friend who interprets dreams and lots of times I do need a good laugh)
  • Last minute errand or task for the next day
  • The latest dreamed up project for around the house
  • Packing list (if I have a trip coming up)
  • The latest idea in general; I am constantly coming up with inventive ideas, but it's too bad that when I do a patent search, I already find it latest was the two chambered spray bottle...sigh...already invented
What kind of lists do you have? Do you find they help you or do they drive you crazy?