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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

January 2013 Goals Update & February Goals

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As promised, here is an update on my monthly goals for January. I came up with 25 goals for 2013 and have broken them down into more manageable monthly goals.

I think I did pretty well this month. I am still working incredibly hard at getting up before the kids, but there have been some hiccups with that one! My two year old was getting up at the crack of dawn for the first week of the month. I did really great during the middle of the month, then I ended up getting a nasty cold and desperately needed my sleep. I'm not going to give up, though. It makes such a huge difference in my day to get up early and "start the day" instead of letting the day "start me".

I have not really done ANY exercise. (Hanging my head in shame...) Isn't that terrible? However, I was able to read a bunch of books this month, including a few more after I posted my January reading list.

I have a long way to go with my blogging goals. I have so many DIY projects, recipes and activities I want to blog about if I can just find the time to squeeze them all in! Hang in there with me--I will try to get more variety in my posts in the very near future.

My 2013 theme is: DISCIPLINE

January Goals

Personal Goals
  • Sign up for Beth Moore Bible Study that starts Feb. 5
  • Get up by 6 am Monday through Friday - Making progress but still not quite there!
  • Exercise a minimum of 3 days a week for 30 minutes - Umm...this is not happening right now. Oops!
  • Read a min. of 2 books--paperback, e-book or other
  • Focus on January's habit-of-the-month ~ Get up early
Marriage Goals
  • Have one date night out and one day-long date - Went out for dinner one night and to Hollywood Casino!
  • Book hotel for overnight trip in April
  • Sign up for Follower's Life (church membership) class
Mothering Goals
  • Sign Charlotte up for story time at the library
  • Sign Jackson up for swimming and soccer lessons
  • Read the chapter book Mr. Popper's Penguins to Jackson
  • Take children out individually for a date/activity with one or both parents - Took Charlotte shopping and Jackson to the movies!
Family/Friends/Ministry Goals
  • Spend time with parents & grandparents on both sides of the family at least three times a month
  • Have one playdate with friends or coffee date - See pictures of our playdate HERE.
  • Continue being involved in our church, Mom2Mom and homeschool group on a regular basis
  • Send two handwritten notes of encouragement
Financial Goals
  • Continue tithing 10% of our income
  • Save money for new windows
Blogging Goals
  • Plan out blog posts a month in advance (at least 10 per month) - Many posts on my to-write list never made it to the blog!
  • Write blog posts a week ahead of time - Hahaha!
  • Stick to strict blogging hours that do not interfere with homemaking responsibilities or quality time with family


February Goals

Personal Goals
  • Attend Beth Moore bible study on Tuesday nights and complete required homework
  • Get up by 6 am Monday through Friday
  • Go to bed no later than 11 pm Sunday through Thursday
  • Exercise a minimum of 3 days a week for 30 minutes
  • Read a min. of 2 books--paperback, e-book or other
  • Focus on February's habit-of-the-month ~ Go to bed early
Marriage Goals
  • Have one date night out and one day-long date
  • Book hotel for overnight trip in April
  • Continue taking Follower's Life (church membership) class
  • Read one book on marriage
Mothering Goals
  • Take Charlotte to weekly story time at the library
  • Take Jackson to weekly swimming lessons
  • Finish reading Mr. Popper's Penguins with Jackson and plan a Mr. Popper's Penguins movie night
  • Start a new chapter book with Jackson
  • Take children out individually for a date/activity with one or both parents 
Family/Friends/Ministry Goals
  • Spend time with parents & grandparents on both sides of the family at least three times a month
  • Invite friends over for a playdate
  • Continue being involved in our church, Mom2Mom and homeschool group on a regular basis
  • Send two handwritten notes of encouragement
  • Research lodging for Myrtle Beach vacation in May
Financial Goals
  • Continue tithing 10% of our income
  • Save money for new windows
  • Sort and tag/price too-small spring & summer kids' clothes and outgrown baby gear for the Kids' Avenue Sale at Ginghamsburg Church.
Blogging Goals
  • Plan out blog posts a month in advance (at least 10 per month)
  • Write blog posts a week ahead of time
  • Stick to strict blogging hours that do not interfere with homemaking responsibilities or quality time with family

What tips do you have for helping this night owl get to bed at a decent time? I need all the advice I can get!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Living the Lutz Life: Hollywood Casino and a Date with a Princess

This is a new weekend feature for 2013, giving you a peek into our day-to-day life and serving as a digital journal for me and my family. Take time to savor these precious days and don't forget to take LOTS of pictures!

Last Friday, my husband and I took a trip over to the new Hollywood Casino in Columbus, Ohio for our first daylong date of the new year. (One of my 25 Goals for 2013.) Let me start out by saying that for us, gambling means seeing how long we can make $20 last playing penny slot machines! We are fully aware that we are not "in it to win it". It is merely a form of entertainment...much like going to the movies or a concert. It is a blast for us to see just how long we can hang onto our money!

Imagine our surprise when we arrived at the brand spanking new casino, only 75 minutes from home, and found out that they were giving away $10 in free slot play with their players' card. Ummm....free money?? Heck yeah, sign us up! We got the hang of this "free slot play" deal when we went to Las Vegas a couple years ago. How it works is that you must play the $10 they give you on the slots--you cannot cash out and keep the money. However, anything you win on the free slot promo money (any. little. thing.) is yours to keep. For real! :)

As you can see in the bottom picture above, at one point I was up $84. Sure, I could have walked away with all that cash...but it was only an hour into our trip and it wasn't my $10 to begin with! Want to know how long it took me to lose the free slot play money that the Hollywood Casino gave me? Almost 3 hours! Ha ha ha! My hubby, on the other hand, went through his in about 15 minutes and then played on approximately $15 for the remainder of the time we were there. $15 for 2 people and 3 hours of fun is pretty good, don't you think? It's cheaper than a movie at the theater--that's for sure!

Our two-year-old, Charlotte, got some special attention from Mommy and Daddy on Saturday morning. Both kids stayed with my parents on Friday afternoon and evening while we were in Columbus, but Jackson also spent the night. He and two of his cousins had a great time at Grammy and PaPa's sleepover. In the meantime, Bill and I took advantage of Saturday morning to take Charlotte out shopping. First, we stopped for Timbits at Tim Hortons, then onto look for new shoes. Our attempts to buy "princess shoes" turned up fruitless, but she did wind up with a new Cinderella shirt. Lesson learned--parenting one child at a time is sooo much easier!

We finished up our "W" unit and learning about water this week. Jackson was learning the words, "Jesus gives my spirit living water to drink." Some of the highlights of the week included an art project where the kids used paintbrushes to brush crushed up Tub Tints (colored tablets for the bath) on their umbrella shapes and then used a spray bottle to add water for the "rain". The end result was a really neat design that appeared when the droplets of water hit the dry, colored powder.

The second fun activity we did this week was with the concept of dissolving. We used jars of lukewarm water and into each jar put a different item from the kitchen. Jackson stirred them up to see which ones would dissolve or "disappear" as he called it. He determined that the sugar and salt would dissolve, but not the chocolate chips, popcorn kernels, cereal, or raisins. I'm thinking if the cereal and chocolate chips were left in the water long enough, though, they would probably dissolve eventually.

Have you ever been to a casino? Do you play the penny slots or are you more of a blackjack or roulette kind of person? Maybe going to a casino would bore you silly. Tell me about it in the comments below!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Sparkly Snow Dough

I have been watching the weather report for the week and I saw that snow was in the forecast for today and I saved this post especially for your wintery Friday. This is the basic recipe that I use for all of our playdough, but this time I thought I would add a bunch of the forbidden glitter that no one in my house is allowed to touch. Ha ha! Seriously, glitter is so attractive to kids but man what a mess! This dough is perfect because you get all of the sparkle and none of it sticks to the table or your kiddos' hands. I also added a couple drops of peppermint oil to this dough and it smelled amazing and reminiscent of wintertime.
My 2 year old is obsessed with making snow families with this sparkly snow dough. She plays with it for 30 minutes to an hour at a time. Throw some googly eyes and cut up pipe cleaners on the table with the dough and let 'em have at it! Did I mention how great the clean-up is with this dough? Just take a hunk of it and pat it on the table or floor to pick up the other little loose pieces. Easy peasy!

My kindergartner and I got a little creative with the dough and decided to use items found in nature to make "snowflakes" in our sparkly snow dough. We used a couple pieces of pine tree branch and the top and bottom of a pine cone. He decided the top of the pine cone made the best "snowflake". However, the pieces of branch were fascinating to look at, in my opinion.

Another fun idea that incorporates your sparkly snow dough is making "tracks" in the snow. This could go along with a real walk outside in the snow to look for animal tracks (such as squirrels, cats, dogs, rabbits, birds, etc.). If you have Barbies, action figures, toy animals or anything else with plastic feet--make them walk across your sparkly snow dough and leave their tracks.

If you want to make it into a game, choose one person to close their eyes while the other makes the tracks. Then, let the first person guess which animal/figure made those tracks by examining their foot and matching it up with the tracks left behind. This is also a great opportunity to teach counting by 2s.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Sparkly Snow Dough

3 c. flour + up to 1 c. extra (bleached all-purpose is best for white dough)
1/2 c. salt
1 T. cream of tartar
2 c. boiling water
5 T. cooking oil (the cheap stuff is just fine!)
several drops of essential oil or extract, such as peppermint (optional)
food coloring (optional)
1/4 c. glitter**

1. Boil 2 c. of water in a microwave-safe bowl or on the stove. Add oil and food coloring (not for the snow dough, but if you were going to make colored dough).

2. In a large bowl, add 3 c. of flour, salt and cream of tartar. Pour in the water/oil mixture and stir well. Add the glitter** and stir until well mixed.

3. After the ingredients are well-combined, pour the still warm and sticky dough onto a piece of foil or parchment paper and allow to cool completely. Wait no more than 2 hours or it will begin to dry out on the surface.
4. I have found it is best to wait until the dough is completely cool to do this step. Using up to an additional cup of reserved flour, knead dough well until it is soft and pliable with no lumps. It should not stick to your hands or table, but it is MUCH softer than Play-doh brand dough. You may need slightly more or less flour. Feel free to add extra glitter at this point if yours does not have enough "bling".

5. Store dough in a sealed container or plastic zippered bag for up to 3 months.

**The first time I made this sparkly snow dough, I used iridescent glitter mixed with silver and we loved it. Unfortunately, I ran out and had to use gold for this blog post and it wasn't my favorite. Feel free to use what you have on hand, but if you are buying it especially to use for this project, I would go with something that looked like actual sparkling snow. :)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Simple Solutions for Kitchen Organization: 7 Creative Spice Storage Ideas

Join me for the next few weeks as we look at simple solutions for kitchen organization. I will show you some inexpensive and creative ways to deal with those annoying kitchen areas--such as the Tupperware avalanche, the stuffed-into-a-box-in-no-apparent-order recipes and finding that one spice jar that you know is in there somewhere. Wait...maybe that is only going on at my house! ;)

Week #2 ~ 7 Creative Storage Ideas for Spices and Seasoning Mixes

Note the "shelf extension" and the air
freshener! LOL
Last January I set out to overhaul my entire house and whip it into shape. I started in the kitchen, naturally, because I spend a good portion of my time there. I quickly realized one of the areas that was sorely in need of a good old-fashioned organizational system was my spices. I use a TON of spices. I'm not talking little grocery store jars of spices...I buy salt, cinnamon, chili powder, dried onions and other seasonings a half-pound at a time! When you cook from scratch as often as I do, you go through spices in a hurry. Last week I counted up the various spices I used in dishes on my meal plan and came up with 13 different spices--not including the previously blended taco seasoning mix and ranch seasoning/dip mix. (Links for my recipes can be found by clicking HERE.)

spice organization--perfect!  I don't think I'd do the crafty part, but label the tops of my jars and put them in a drawer.  It would be so much easier!
Photo Credit
I was having to dig through my hefty spice collection frequently to find the ones I needed, not to mention having to open all those dumb little plastic shaker lids to measure out the needed amounts. I stumbled across an idea on Pinterest for storing spices in cute labeled jars in a dedicated spice drawer. Sadly, I do not have a spare drawer available in my kitchen. The two small shelves next to my stove were the next best thing. Labeling the tops of the jars wasn't going to work for me since they were above eye level, therefore I opted to place my labels on the sides.

Organizing spices alphabetically
makes them easier to find.
Voila! Here is the end result of my project. I purchased my 4 oz. Ball jelly jars in a case of 12 at my local they-have-everything-under-the-sun store. The entire project cost me around $15. The jars came with the little oval labels, which I simply wrote on using my best teacher handwriting and a fine point Sharpie. I find that measuring out spices from big open jars like this is much easier than those tiny little containers. You know...the ones that measuring spoons don't even fit inside. Yeah, those. Ha ha!

Other Creative Spice Storage Ideas
Hang clear shoe holder on pantry door for spice storage.
Photo Credit
This was my good idea for the year!  :O)  I have an empty wall in my pantry.  I used the see through shoe holders (about $9).  I can see all of my soup mixes, spice envelopes, and warm drinks!  It saved a TON of space in my pantry!
Photo Credit
I don't have any seasoning packets anymore because I cook most everything from scratch. However, if you happen to have a collection of packets and mixes, an inexpensive over-the-door shoe holder might just work for you. Or you could use the shoe holder has a convenient way to organize spice jars, as shown in the picture above.

SpiceStor Organizer Rack ~ 20 Cabinet Door Spice Clips
Another creative solution for the occasional spice user (whose collection is much smaller than mine) would be this back-of-the-pantry-door spice holder you can buy on Amazon.

Turn baby food jars into magnetic spice containers. #diy #organization #kitchen
Photo Credit

Organize your spices with magnets. Another option for the kitchen! could use another magnetic knife rack!
Photo Credit
What about using magnetic jars to organize your spices? I absolutely love these two solutions--especially the one using recycled baby food jars! I believe the photo on the bottom uses a magnetic knife bar, mounted under the cabinets, to hold spice jars with magnetized lids. Cool, huh? Perfect for those spices you use most frequently.

OH my gosh. Auto-measure spice rack. You click it to dispense 1/4 t increments! Brilliant! $29. I NEED this!!
KitchenArt Pro Auto-Measure Spice Carousel
Last, but not least, imagine a world where no measuring spoons are needed and you can merely push a button to have the correct amount of spice dispensed. Dream no more! Get 1/4 teaspoon of spice with every push of the button. This gadget, pictured above, really exists! You can purchase your own HERE.
The only pitfall I have run into with my spice jar shelves is being diligent in returning the spices to their proper location. I put the less frequently used spices on the top shelf and the ones I use all the time on the bottom shelf. If I put them back in the proper order, they are very easy to find when I need them. In fact, when I walk into my kitchen and see my well organized spice shelves...I can't help but smile from ear to ear.

Did you miss Week #1--Taming the Tupperware? You can find the post HERE. Be sure to sign up for e-mail updates and never miss a new blog post. Just add your e-mail address to the box on the upper right side of the home page to subscribe to These Precious Days.

Do any of these spice storage ideas appeal to you? How are your spices looking? The new year is the perfect time to toss outdated seasonings and give your spices a make-over!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Living the Lutz Life: Fun with Friends, Sparkly Snow Dough & Our Jumpy House

This is a new weekend feature for 2013, giving you a peek into our day-to-day life and serving as a digital journal for me and my family. Take time to savor these precious days and don't forget to take LOTS of pictures!
We had a really great time playing with some of our homeschooling friends on Wednesday. Jackson and his buddy, Noah, always have a blast! My friend, Emily, has such sweet kiddos and my gang loves to hang out and play with them. I was thinking about it the other day and between the two of us, we have kids who are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 9. Pretty cool, huh?! Of course by the time Jackson's birthday rolls around in March that will all change--but it's certainly fun for the moment.
For school this past week (and the week ahead), we are talking about Water and the letter "W". Our words to remember this week are, "Jesus gives my spirit living water to drink." So far, we have talked about the three states of water--solid, liquid and gas--and created a list of items that fit into those categories. We made some Sparkly Snow Dough (new blog post coming on Wednesday!) and filled balloons with air, water and ice. To create the ice balloon, I just filled with water the night before and stuck it in the freezer.
We invited my parents over for lasagna on Thursday night, which we haven't done in forever. Bill and I are really not the world's most hospitable people. Hahaha! One of my goals in 2013 is to be more intentional about inviting family over for meals and to just spend time together. My parents had a great evening and really enjoyed seeing the kids' bedrooms, our school room, etc.
Friday night we busted out the inflatable jumpy house in the living room to burn off some post-dinner energy. I bought the inflatable, used, as a gift for Charlotte's 2nd birthday in August and it has been worth every penny. They LOVE it!

Bill's grandma had a mild stroke right after Christmas and has been in a rehab center for the past couple weeks. On Saturdays, between soccer practice and church, we have been going to visit her. We let the kids take their new Sparkly Snow Dough and build snowmen (and snow cakes!) with Great-Grandma this week.
The next few days are supposed to be downright frigid! Any plans for fun indoor activities with your favorite people?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Books I am Reading in January

Reach; How to Use Your Social Media Influence for the Glory of God was a free e-book that I downloaded to my Kindle a couple weeks ago. It must have been a limited time offer, because it is $4.99 on Amazon right now. I can't say that I would pay $4.99 for it, even though it seems to have amazing reviews. I am only about 1/3 of the way finished, but it is a decent book so far and I hope to wrap it up by the end of the weekend.

How to Make Homemade Bread is another e-book I got for free on my Kindle. It is regularly a $2.99 download and well worth the $3 in my opinion. If you have never made your own bread, are looking for some great tips for improving your bread baking skills (with or without a bread machine) or you just want some fabulous recipes for cinnamon rolls, sticky buns, dinner rolls, etc.--this is the book for you! Jill Cooper and Tawra Kellam's e-book is under 50 pages and easy to read in one sitting. I will certainly be coming back to it over and over, simply to try out some of the recipes.

Carolyn Slaughter, the wife of our church's lead pastor, is the author of Following Jesus: Steps to a Passionate Faith and the teacher of a class my husband and I are taking at church called A Follower's Life. This class will allow us to become members of Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church, where we have attended regularly for over 11 years. This is a 12 chapter book that coincides with our 12 week course. So far I have only read the first two chapters, but each have involved scripture verses to look up along with questions to answer and prayer.

To be totally honest, I have not really started this book yet. I downloaded 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life on the 31st of December and intended to start it right after the New Year. Good intentions never panned out, unfortunately, and I have not made it past the table of contents. My plan is to start this book on Monday, after finishing Reach over the weekend. I will have to continue into February to finish up all 21 days, but I suppose that's okay. :)

I have not read a fiction book in well over two years. Before children (and the distraction of social media!), I used to read an entire novel in a weekend--sometimes in a day if it was really captivating. I have liked Karen Kingsbury for a long time and when I saw this book of hers at a local used book store, I picked it up for half of the retail. It is hardback, a bit shorter than her typical novels, but I can appreciate that as a busy mom with barely any time to get caught up in the world of Christian Fiction. I haven't started this one quite yet, but it's on my list for January. Seeing as how January is half over already, I best get started soon! If you are interested in The Bridge, you can order it in print or for Kindle by clicking on the book's cover, above.

Last, but not least, I am reading Mr. Popper's Penguins to my kindergarten son, Jackson. I have read Mr. Popper's Penguins before, when I was doing my student teaching back in 2000, but after 13 years I might as well be reading it for the first time because I don't remember a single thing! This is a humorous book, written at about a 3rd grade level, that provides for wonderful discussion of vocabulary, geography, and much more. The chapters are extremely short, which is perfect for a bedtime read-aloud. It also keeps my five year old asking for "just one more chapter". I try to pick out chapter books that have been made into movies, as I know that is a selling point for Jackson. He likes to compare the book and the movie--plus, it gives us an incentive to get through the book in a shorter amount of time. We have also read Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little this school year. We really loved both of them, along with their movie counterparts. 

I am still on the hunt for a couple of really good books on the topic of marriage, if you have one to recommend! Are you reading anything right now? I'd love to hear about it! :)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Living the Lutz Life: Swimming in January and Octopus Hot Dogs

This is a new weekend feature for 2013, giving you a peek into our day-to-day life and serving as a digital journal for me and my family. Take time to savor these precious days and don't forget to take LOTS of pictures! 
This was our first full week with a regular school routine since before Christmas. It was nice to have a sense of order back to the day and I feel like we made a lot of great progress with Jackson's reading this week. I take so much joy in listening to him read and decode new words. I wouldn't trade this job for anything. :)
On Wednesday, the kids and I headed to the Vandalia Recreation Center for this month's homeschool gym day. (Next month is roller skating! Fun!!) Charlotte had been wearing her new swimsuit around the house since Monday, and asking 100 times a day if we "go 'wimming now". Needless to say, by the time Wednesday rolled around she was one excited little girl!
Jackson had so much fun visiting with his buddies at the pool and it was great to talk to some mom friends I hadn't seen since before the holidays. There was a big turnout for our outing even though it looks as if we are at the pool alone. Haha! I try very hard when taking pics of my kids to omit other children who are in the background--especially when I know I will be sharing pictures on the web. I think that's only fair. I wouldn't want pictures of my kids (in their swimsuits) on the Internet without my knowledge, would you?

For school this week, we worked on the letter O and did some research on oceans and octopuses. Yes, "octopuses" is an acceptable plural of "octopus"...it sounded strange to me but I looked it up! Our words to remember this week were, "Even the octopus praises the Lord." All week long, Charlotte referred to any octopus she saw in books, ocean DVDs, etc. as "applesauce". Jackson and I got a big kick out of hearing her say it, so we kept pointing to pictures and asking her to say what it was. It was always an "applesauce"!
We learned many interesting facts about octopuses this week, including what they eat (fish, crabs, shrimp, etc.), where they live (caves mainly), how they protect themselves from enemies (squirting ink to hide) and even how they can regrow tentacles. We did an experiment, seen on the bottom row of the photo above, showing how an octopus uses its ink (black food coloring) to hide from a "wolf eel"--or snake finger puppet, because that's all we could find! :)
The kids enjoyed making and eating octopus hot dogs in a ketchup ocean. Leaving the top 1/3 of the hot dog uncut, slice the bottom portion lengthwise into 8 sections and place into boiling water. The legs will curl up and create an edible "octopus". (In case you are wondering what kind of hot dogs we buy, I prefer the Applegate Farms variety because they are grass-fed, all beef and made without added hormones or nitrates.)
The weather this week was completely wacky! Here's a picture of the kids with a snowman at my grandparents' house on Thursday. The other pictures below are from Friday and Saturday, when it got up to 60+ degrees--in January!! Weather that warm makes me begin thinking about planting our garden. Jackson is still talking about the sledding we did a couple weeks ago, so I think he's itching for more winter weather. I'm pretty sure he will be getting his wish for more snow.

What kinds of exciting things did your family do to enjoy this unseasonably warm week? I look forward to reading about your adventures in the comments below!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Simple Solutions for Kitchen Organization: Plastic Storage Containers

Join me for the next 4 weeks as we look at simple solutions for kitchen organization. I will show you some inexpensive and creative ways to deal with those annoying kitchen areas--such as the Tupperware avalanche, the stuffed-into-a-box-in-no-apparent-order recipes and finding that one spice jar that you know is in there somewhere. Wait...maybe that is only going on at my house! ;)
Week #1 ~ Tackling the Tupperware (and other plastic storage containers)
I am going to venture a guess, that I am not the only one who gets assaulted by a Tupperware avalanche every time I open my cupboard doors. Heaven forbid this cupboard be in a location in your kitchen that is over your head! (What are you thinking anyway?!) This is a picture of what my plastic storage cupboard looked like last January. Okay...not really! This is what it looked like AFTER I straightened it up enough that I was comfortable taking a picture of its disarray. Just being honest with you, friends! :)
I was completely sick of having to hunt through the back of the cupboard to find the lid that matched the container I was using,multiple times a day. I attempted at one point to keep all the containers on one shelf and the lids on another, but when my husband unloaded the dishwasher he would just throw them in there any which way....completely negating my pathetic organizational system (if you could call it that!). I would let my toddler play in there with all the containers and when she was done, I'd just shove it all in and close the doors. This, of course, leading to the avalanche the next time I opened the cupboard.
I knew there had to be an EASY (as in everyone in my family can figure it out) and not terribly expensive solution to this Tupperware trouble. My solution was to purchase under the bed storage containers, creating a "drawer" of sorts in which to hold the containers and lids. I chose to keep them separate, because I liked the idea of being able to nest the containers and use up less space. The clear "drawers" I created, prevented items from being lost in the back of the cupboard. Locating the matching lid was fairly simple after first finding the right size container I wished to use.
I have pared down my plastic storage containers quite a bit over the last few years, because I have read so much about the potential dangers of eating from plastic, due to the toxic chemicals it can leech into food. I choose to store much more in glass jars these days and keep those in a basket on top of my refrigerator. (See more on BPA in plastic containers below.)

3 Simple Steps to Organizing Plastic Storage Containers
Step 1 ~ Take Inventory
  • Take every container and lid you own out of the cupboard and place them on the table or on the floor. (If yours isn't clean enough to eat off of, use a clean sheet or blanket!)
  • Sort through all of your containers, matching each lid to the appropriate bottom.
  • Throw out or recycle any container or lid that is cracked, badly stained, etc. You could opt to donate mismatched pieces if you like.
  • Be realistic about how many containers you actually need. If you have lots and lots of those cheapo Glad or Ziploc containers that are meant to be tossed after several uses, then either donate them or store them in a separate location for sending leftovers home with guests, giving away cookies at Christmas, etc.
Step 2 ~ Get Rid of What Isn't Safe for Food
  • Many types of plastic, including those sold to us for food storage, are made with a chemical called Bisphenol A (BPA for short). A piece of plastic containing BPA will release the toxic substance when it is heated. (Think microwaving certain plastic containers--a big no-no or even putting them in the dishwasher.)
"Bisphenol A is a chemical used to make some plastics. It may be an endocrine disruptor, which means it acts like hormones in a human’s system. “More than 100 studies have been published “rais[ing] health concerns” about the chemical (from Wikipedia).” It’s possible that it’s carcinogenic, a term you’ll see around a lot. Read it as “cancer causing“. Big bummer. It’s possible that BPA may cause breast cancer. It’s possible that BPA may cause signs of early puberty. It’s possible that BPA may lower sperm count. Anyone notice any of that around our world?  
There isn’t conclusive proof that BPA is toxic, and the government still thinks there are acceptable levels. However…anything that messes with our hormones is not something I want to expose my children to. I look around and see rampant infertility, cancer, sexual disfunction and disorder, and I wonder why. If I can avoid something as easy as a plastic water bottle, I’m going to. It’s just a small step: over 90% of the general population carries residues of BPA in their bodies."

Read more at http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2009/03/18/food-for-thought-plastic-safety-for-people-and-earth/#cdCf3lXQg8G6oAqw.99
  • Look for the recycling symbol (triangle made of arrows) on the bottom of your containers. If it has a 4, 5, 1 or 2 it should be safe to use as long as you cool food before putting it into the container and use it to store, but never reheat your food. (For reheating, use a glass or ceramic bowl/plate in the microwave or heat leftovers in a pan on the stove.)
  • Remember the rhyme, "4, 5, 1 or 2...all the rest are bad for you!" and get rid of any containers that do not have one of those numbers on the inside of the recycling symbol or worse yet--no number at all. Your better option would be to use glass to store your cooled off leftovers and then you can reheat in the same container!
Step 3 ~ Shop for a Large Shallow "Drawer" and Organize Your Containers
  • The last step is by far the easiest! Measure the inside dimensions of your cupboard (including the height) and head to your local superstore or discount store to find a large under-the-bed storage box. I found mine at Wal-Mart for under $6 each. I would recommend a clear one, but that is totally up to you.
  • Store the lids for your under-the-bed boxes in a closet, next to the fridge, or in another out of the way location in case you need them down the line.
  • Neatly place all of the lids in one box, flat or on their side, whichever you prefer. Place the container bottoms, nested, in the other box. I like to have a stack of square ones, a stack of round bowls, etc. Hint: If you have too many to fit in the box--you may have kept more than you actually need for an average size family.
  • Wipe out your cupboard, replace any old shelf paper (optional) and place your new organized "drawers" inside. Stand back and breathe a sigh of relief the next time you open the doors.
And there you have it! A relatively simple and inexpensive solution to that avalanche of Tupperware that you have to shove back in every time you open the cupboard. I have been working with this organizational idea for about a year now, and I can honestly say I like it as well now as I did in the beginning. It is easy to maintain and still fits our needs well. I love pulling out my "drawers" to find what I need instead of getting on my hands and knees, digging around in the back of the dark cupboard for that one certain lid that I want. Not that I had to do that often....ha ha!
What areas of your kitchen are driving you nuts? Is there a specific location that needs to be tackled in the new year, in order to save your sanity? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Living the Lutz Life: Boonshoft Museum, Mario Preschool & Milk Art

This is a new weekend feature for 2013, giving you a peek into our day-to-day life and serving as a digital journal for me and my family. Take time to savor these precious days and don't forget to take LOTS of pictures!

We started back in with some low-key homeschooling on Wednesday this week. Getting back into a routine again is proving to be a bit challenging. A friend tipped me off to this cool milk art activity and the kids LOVED it! You pour a thin layer of milk into a shallow dish and add several drops of food coloring. Then you carefully put a couple drops of dish soap into the dish and watch the magic happen. Jackson and Charlotte were fascinated with watching the colors mix together and Charlotte even needed the magnifying glass to get a closer look. We dumped these out and did it again because they had so much fun.

Later that day we went outdoors to look for animal tracks in the snow. We have a family of cardinals living in our side yard and have a great view of the birds and squirrels from our side window, where we do school. The kids and I put birdseed out in the only snowless patch of ground and had a blast watching the critters snack on it. As we were looking at tracks, I asked Jackson what kind of animal he thought left the "hopping" sort of tracks that led to the tree. "Well, probably a kangaroo!" he replied! Hahaha!

On Thursday, my sister and niece joined us on a trip to the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery in Dayton, OH. We packed a lunch and stayed for a few hours in hopes of burning off some of their boundless energy. The kids had a great time, as usual. Some of the highlights included Jackson and his cousin dressing as police officers and putting Charlotte in "jail", and watching the river otters. They got the biggest kick out of the otters running right over to the glass and standing on their hind legs! We are so thankful to my mother-in-law for our museum membership and look forward to using it at many area museums throughout the coming year.
Jackson and Bill have resurrected an old "game" that they used to play called "Cars Preschool", except the cars have been replaced by stuffed Mario characters. This new thing they play is now called, of course, "Mario Preschool". It is highly entertaining (well, not to Charlotte!) and Jackson would play for hours if Bill would go along with it for that long. Mario is usually the teacher and the rest of the cast of characters are the students. Bowser typically gets into trouble and Mario puts him in time out or calls his mom to come get him from school. Haha!
Charlotte has quickly become a little fashion plate and strives to make each day memorable by dressing up in the wackiest outfits possible for a princess to wear. She received a boatload of dress-up clothes for Christmas and has endless fun mixing and matching the dresses and accessories. Be prepared for multiple photos each week of Charlotte's entertaining ensembles! One night this week, after putting her to bed, she yelled for me to come back to her room. When I got there, she insisted that she needed a "princess sleeper" to wear to bed. Oh my goodness, she is such a diva!

I took a stab at making some homemade thin mint cookies this week, after seeing the 346 Facebook posts from friends who have daughters taking orders for Girl Scout cookies. They turned out fab.u.lous and I can't wait to share the recipe with all of you! I made some pretty stellar gluten free cookies and hope to make some less healthy ones this coming week to compare. As you can see from Charlotte's face, she was a fan! My husband gave the healthy version an 8 out of 10, so I can only imagine what the ones made with plain ol' white flour and regular sugar would earn. You will be seeing this recipe very soon...promise!

Did your family do anything exciting this week? Any big plans, new recipes, or fun kids' activities in the works for the upcoming week? I'd love to hear from you!