4/4/20

Brilliant Time-Saving Kitchen Tips For Busy Mamas


Keeping your kitchen spotless is tough enough when you are single or living with a partner. But once you throw kids into the mix, it’s almost impossible. You will spend endless hours in the kitchen, cooking, cleaning, and washing, and every second spent in the kitchen takes you away from your little ones, your job, and your free time. But it doesn’t have to be this way - and we’re going to take a look at some solutions right now.
clean, organized kitchen

Take a Weekend and De-Clutter
OK, so every good plan has to have a starting point. And in this case, it means decluttering your entire kitchen and starting again from scratch. Depending on the size of your kitchen, a day or two over the weekend is all you really need, so set aside some time, get out the cleaning equipment, and invest in a few tough plastic bags and durable boxes to categorize the items you should throw away, donate or plan to keep. The first task is to empty all your cupboards, drawers and remove everything from the surfaces of your units. Don’t forget your pantry, either. Next, arrange all your pots and pans, cutlery, and kitchen gadgets into different categories. You’ll need to create a category for regular use, medium use, and rarely used. If you rarely use a gadget--you may look for an alternative storage location like the basement or the attic since those items may not need your valuable kitchen space! Look through all your food, too, checking for anything that might have gone out of date and is taking up valuable space on the shelves. 

Deep Clean the Kitchen while it is Empty!
You don’t have to give your kitchen a deep clean, but it is advisable. Let’s be honest - the kitchen is never this empty, so it’s an ideal opportunity, and getting down with the dirt now is going to save you plenty of time in the future. A little bit of elbow grease and some excellent cleaning products is all you need to turn your kitchen from a dingy nightmare into a super clean, good-as-new dream.

pinnable image for a post about time saving kitchen organization tips

Look at Minimalist Design Ideas
Next, if you want to save time in your kitchen, always think ‘minimal.’ This kind of thinking worlds in two ways. First of all, a minimal design - you can browse here for some inspiration - is super simple and quick to clean. And secondly, being minimal with your regular kitchen utensils will help you keep on top of the dishes. For example, by allotting each family member with a single cup, player, bowl, knife, fork, etc., there are fewer things to get dirty. Obviously, this will cut down on your cleaning time by a significant amount and stop dishes piling up by the side of the sink.

Everything else? Well, kitchen and dining equipment that is only used every now and again or when guests come round can be stored well out of the way, saving you the time you normally spend scrabbling around cupboards for items you use every day.  Also--search for the best microwave carts and make sure your storage areas offer loads of organized space and even perform double duties!

Create Well-Organized Pantry Spaces
If you have a pantry - or cupboards - for your food, make sure that you create some kind of order for them. Small storage boxes are ideal for grouping similar products together - your herbs in one, pasta in another, baking products in another, for example. Again, any products you use daily or weekly should be within easy reach, while anything that doesn’t get used a lot should be well out of the way at the back of your cupboards. Finally, it’s also a good idea to create a list of everything you keep in the pantry. A good, updated list will mean you won’t have to look through your cupboards every time you need to go shopping - and it’s the same principle for the fridge and freezer.  I use dry erase boards for this so that I can make notes and grocery shopping reminders!

row of fruits, vegetables and grains on a counter top
Photo Credit

Organize and Catalog the Fridge and Freezer.
How many times have you been looking for frozen produce, only to discover after 5-10 minutes of searching that you have actually run out? Keeping a list of items in your fridge and freezer is a sensible, time-saving solution to ensure you never waste a second looking for something that isn’t there. Not only that, but you will also save a little money on your energy bills. Every time you open the fridge or freezer, the device has to work a lot harder to keep it cool. It might not be much, but when you consider how many times you would normally search for freezer items over the course of a year, it’s a lot more than you might think.

Create a Kid-Friendly Kitchen
Lots of parents are scared stiff of their kids playing with cooking gear in the kitchen, and, therefore, spend a huge amount of time ensuring the little ones are safe. However, with a little clever thinking, you can save a considerable amount of time. Make sure that all your dangerous equipment - mixers, chopper, kettles and sharp knives - are stored well out of harm’s way. Once that is done, you’ll find that you are much more relaxed about your kids being in the kitchen, and as a result, you will work faster--and include the kids in more hands-on cooking with kids projects!

Make Sunday a Meal Prep Day
In households all over the country, both parents have to work to earn the money that helps them make ends meet. And often, this results in a rather haphazard approach to meals, particularly throughout the week. So, if you want to free up as much time as possible - and still provide healthy meals for your kids - you’ll need to do some planning. The weekends are ideal for making a meal schedule for the rest of the week, and you can easily batch cook a few options, split them up into portions, and freeze the rest for a later date. It’s a lot cheaper to cook in big batches, too - just make sure you bag and date all products to be frozen and consume it before that date runs out.

As you can see, there is plenty you can do to free up time in the kitchen when you are a busy parent. Life can be tough when you are juggling running a home with childcare and, perhaps, a job. And the reality is that the kitchen is often the biggest time drain. If you have any further ideas on how to save time in the kitchen, please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts in the comments section below!

4/3/20

Tips for Chaperoning a Trip to a Working Farm or a Living Historical Farm


Historical farms and working farms are popular spots for educational school field trips. The historical farm, void of electricity and modern conveniences, offers teachers an excellent opportunity to introduce students first hand to many historical facts and details taught in the classroom but not often seen or experienced in modern life. Modern working farms teach food science, environmental lessons, and much more! As with any field trip, chaperones are always much appreciated—and parents are on call for the task. What should you know about chaperoning a field trip to a working farm or a living historical farm?  We are also submitting this post as our Letter C in the Blogging from A to Z challenge.  C is for chaperone tips!

costumed characters at the Conner Prairie historical farm site
Dress for the weather. Class field trips typically tour the entire farm—including a trek to the barn and outbuildings for historical presentations. Comfortable, farm-friendly, walking shoes are a must—as are appropriate outdoor jackets and rain gear as many schools do not cancel field trips for rain. It may be beneficial to pack along a few extra umbrellas in case children in your touring group are less than prepared for the day's weather! Our Ohio fall trips may bring rain--or even snow--, and spring trips may bring snow early in the season or rain during later months! Bring an umbrella--and waterproof boots or old shoes no matter the season! You are likely to leave wet and muddy during a fall/spring tour of the farm!

Be prepared for close quarters.  If your group is touring a historical farmhouse, expect to be ushered tightly into the small house rooms—depending, of course, on the size of your group. While the rooms are relatively child friendly, it is still important to closely watch the group—especially in the farmhouse kitchen where the stove is likely to be in use (and HOT)! If you have more rambunctious children--I would suggest that you shuttle them to the rear/edges of the rooms for close-quarter presentations.

Remember that you are visiting a working farm.  Your group will likely see the farm working and in action during your visit.  Farm machinery, animals and equipment pose risks to curious (rambunctious) children.  Keep your eyes out for risks and keep a closer eye on the kids in your group who are more likely to wander or explore more hands-on!  

The presenters leave no doubt as to the origins of breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the farm. Be prepared that during certain parts of the trip, it may become suddenly and maybe painfully apparent to the kids—sometimes for the first time—that the cute baby pig that they just met grows up to be farm breakfast sausage. Some children may have some tough questions for you after learning this—so, either be prepared to think quick on your feet or pre-plan your explanations. You should also be ready to face vegetarian and vegan questions. Farms are real. They represent fresh meat and dairy production in many cases. Historical farms represent the actions and activities of the 1800's--and they did not practice a vegan/vegetarian existence as some of the students in your field trip group may today! 

pinnable image for a list of farm trip chaperone tips

Get your Group Talking.  Share some knowledge with the kids if you have any rural, farm knowledge to share! If you do not have your experience to share, step up, and engage the farm presenters! They will be more than happy to answer questions--or ask a few to get quieter groups learning and engaging in the surroundings.

Locate the restrooms upon entering the farm area.  Locating restrooms is truly a #1 Chaperone issue. There is nothing worse than chaperoning a "potty-dancing" 5-year-old with no known bathroom in sight--and nobody to really ask! Most farms open to visitors and tour groups will have available restroom facilities—but, it helps to know where to find them before you need one! So discuss this issue with your tour guide or your lead teachers as soon as you arrive!

Plan ahead for "take-home" items. Sometimes, children receive small items, papers, crafts, even produce as they tour a farm. There is nothing worse than keeping track of loose gourds or wooden whistle crafts for an hour before the kids make it to the bus! Be aware of the items expected as take home extras--and bring along plastic grocery bags or zippered bags labeled with the children's names. Containing things also keeps these extra items out of sight and out of mind for easily distracted little ones as you continue the tour!   Also remember the items that you don't want to take home like extra dirt and germs!  Pack along a small bottle of hand sanitizer and some moist wipes to help clean those hands as you switch between presenters and activities.

Pay attention to the field trip schedule.  Will you be rotating between presentation stations as small groups or as full classrooms at the sound of a farm bell—or will you be merely exploring the farm with your small group? If you are on your own, and new to the farm, try to pay attention to the location of the parked transportation buses—and be sure to adhere to the trip schedule. Teachers are usually on a set schedule to return students to school and awaiting parents or busing. So it is imperative that you remain responsible for ensuring that your group isn't holding up the trip by losing sight of the bus or by not considering the time needed for a lengthy walk!


A post similar to this one was initially published on the Columbus Stay At Home Moms Examiner Website. That site is no longer live, and publication rights returned to me, allowing me to use this article as I wish. A reprint of the original article has been used by Friends of Slate Run Farm on their site for many years. This post has been edited and updated to share "new" knowledge based on a few more trips as a chaperone to the farm!


4/2/20

Recipe for Healthy Banana Oatmeal Muffins


With everyone home from school and work for the past several weeks, we have been doing a lot of cooking and too much eating!  To balance donuts and lasagna--my youngest daughter has taken to baking something a little healthier at least once a week!  This week, she made this recipe for Healthy Banana Oatmeal Muffins--and they have been a hit for breakfast and snacks!  I am sharing her recipe today as our Letter B entry for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge! B is for Banana today!
banana oatmeal muffins on a plate
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Ingredients for Healthy Banana Oatmeal Muffins

1 1/2 c. Oat Flour
1/2 c. Peanut Butter
1/4 c. Maple Syrup or Honey
1 Egg
2 tsp. Baking Powder
3 Bananas, Smashed
 
Instructions for Healthy Banana Oatmeal Muffins

Preheat Oven and Prepare Muffin Tin.  Preheat oven to 350F.  Either lightly grease 10 spots on a standard muffin tin or use cupcake liners to line the spots. I prefer foil liners--but, paper ones work fine for these muffins too!
banana oatmeal muffin cut in half on plate with other muffins

Mix the Muffin Ingredients.  In a small mixing bowl, combine the oat flour and the baking powder until completely mixed. I always combine my dry ingredients first so that baking powder gets well blended into the mixture! In a large mixing bowl, combine the bananas, peanut butter, maple syrup and egg until well blended.  Stir in the dry ingredients until moistened.   

Bake and Serve.   Bake the muffins 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly.  Serve warm or store away into a tightly lidded container.  

Looking for some other banana recipes?  

Try some of our favorites! Some of these are not quite so healthy--but, we still love them!

Banana Bread Pudding with Butter Rum Sauce
Old Fashioned Banana Bread
Banana Bread French Toast Sticks
Healthy Banana Nut Pancakes without Flour
Strawberry Banana Smoothie
Warm Banana Nut Quinoa


4/1/20

Tips for Helping your Child Prepare for the ACT


What did you get on the ACT? Whether you like taking tests or hate them, if you plan to go to most colleges or universities, an acceptable score on the ACT or SAT are necessary evils. When I was in high school, we took the ACT our junior year--and, if we wanted a better result, we retook it our senior year. Today, with the availability of college coursework beginning as early as 7th grade.  Many students are taking these tests earlier (and many more times) in hopes of getting accepted for college coursework during high school or of getting that tremendous final score for THE college after high school. Today, I wanted to share a few tips to help you help your child prepare successfully for the ACT.
girl studying with electronic devices We are participating in the #AtoZChallenge this year--and this post is our submission for Letter A in the Challenge.  
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Should you purchase an item via our links--we may receive slight compensation from an affiliate partner.

Get those ACT Prep Books. 
Whether you opt to buy them, rent them or borrow them from the local library--those ACT Prep Books really do help students prepare. You can get the Official ACT Prep Guide, created by actual ACT test-makers, that comes with review material, practice tests, and online resources--or a buy a prep book from a host of other companies. We also like the prep book offered by The Princeton Review and the ACT prep book from Kaplan. All of these books provide test-taking strategies, reviews of the more common test material--and lots of practice tests. If you don't want to buy the books--check out your local library. You may have to pick up older versions of these guides--and you won't likely gain access to online resources--but recent books are still quite useful resources.

Set Aside Time to USE those ACT Prep Books
While your child won't likely read these prep books from cover to cover--they still need to use the books to help them prepare. Help your child set aside study time to work through each section of the book--and make sure that they stick to the plan. Reading the book the day before the test isn't going to be helpful. Your child needs to review material, develop some recommended test-taking strategies, and take some practice tests. 

Take a lot of Practice Tests. Early.  
My youngest daughter had the opportunity to take a full length, ACT practice test through a local tutoring club--when she was in the 7th grade. This "real" practice test let her experience the test-taking environment, practice pacing herself through the questions--and get a graded test score by section. The tutoring club even offered feedback and suggestions for areas of study to help her improve her score as she prepares now to take the actual ACT. To be successful on this test--students MUST become excellent test-takers in general. The more tests that you take, the more practice questions you answer, and the more practice results you receive! Practicing helps the student better prepare for the actual test. Even those "old" practice tests in those "older" books at the library are great resources to practice answering questions and determine strengths and weaknesses in each subject.

Take an Actual ACT Prep Class.  
Whether you sign up for an online class, a class at a local tutoring center, or participate in one at your school--these classes offer busy teens a scheduled time to focus on the ACT. Prep classes cover test-taking strategies and common areas to review. Some are short in length, while others last for several hours. In reality--I found these classes very useful for my kids toward the final couple of months of test prep as a forced study time/review session.

pinnable image for a post about helping prepare for an ACT test

Don't Over-Study What you Already Know. 
This tip was always tough for my kids! Generally, bright kids don't like things that don't come easily for them. It is so, so, so vital that you make sure that your student focuses the most time on their weaker subject areas. Boost those weaker areas with other study aids (like the Math and Science Workout from Princeton Review) or spend extra time with workbooks and study materials devoted to those individual sections.

Get a Tutor.  
If your child needs a little extra help--or a little more scheduled, devoted time dedicated to ACT study activities--it may be time to enlist the help of an outside tutor. There are a lot of tutoring classes out there charging fees for group tutoring or individual sessions. If paid instruction is challenging on your budget--check with your local library or college to see if they have tutors offering one-on-one tutoring sessions. Often these tutors are free or low cost. 

Relax.  
Unless your child is past the end of his senior year--he has time to retake the ACT for a better score. Encourage your child to study and prepare--but remember that this is a stressful experience for most students! In addition to helping your child prepare academically--be sure to help him prepare emotionally too! Brush up on some tips for overcoming test-taking anxiety and spend some time helping your child put those suggestions to use. 

While every test is different and every student is different--these tips help many students achieve their best scores and their goals. Try these suggestions as your students move into the long summer months to prepare for the next school year and fall ACT tests!

Ready for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge 2020?


In 2012, we completed the entire #AtoZChallenge that April with a month's worth of food posts! Those 26 posts helped launch this website and helped us to create a pattern and habit of posting daily. We tried participating the following year--and couldn't seem to get into sync with the letters--and then, we took a few years off. Well, hindsight is 20/20...and we are back for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge this year! If you don't know what I am talking about--this challenge encourages bloggers to complete a new blog post every day with topics beginning with the letter A of the Alphabet on April 1--and following (every day), letter by letter, through to letter Z.





Bloggers participating in the A to Z Challenge are free to choose a theme or select a topic beginning with the given letter of the day.  Here in A Mama's Corner of the World--our A to Z Challenge theme will be Family Life. During April, we'll (try to) post parenting tips, home improvement and recipe ideas, money-saving (and making!) ideas, suggestions for relationships, family fun, homework help, and family entertainment. Really--anything related to family life is fair game as long as the theme begins with the letter of the day!

Want to try your keyboard at the blogging to the letters of the alphabet?  Check out the Blogging from A to Z Challenge website and sign up to give it a try.  Even if you don't make it all the way through the alphabet this April, it's a great opportunity to discover lots of great blogs, get inspired and motivated to write more and share yourself with the world!

Later today--we'll share our first #AtoZChallenge post for 2020!  If you miss it, you will be able to find them all by clicking the link on the side bar for visiting our 2020 A to Z Challenge Page where we will add each of our daily posts!

Did you know that we launched a book blog a few months ago?  We are planning to sign up to post daily from that blog, Book Corner News and Reviews, throughout April too!

AND--very much later today--we will share our very first post on our brand new blog, Balancing Life Peace by Piece Right now--this one is a work in progress! But--feel free to follow along there too!

Happy blogging!  We look forward to hearing from you--and reading your posts this month too!


3/30/20

Old Fashioned Zucchini Bread Recipe


I bake a lot of zucchini bread in our little corner of the world!  Toward the end of the summer, when zucchini is in season, I bake and freeze a ton of mini-loaves for quick, back to school breakfasts and after school snacks.  Throughout the year, there always seems to be a random couple of zucchini in the vegetable drawer that nobody wants to turn into zoodles or another veggie saute--and those get transformed into bread too as the freezer stash dwindles!  Today, I wanted to share our favorite zucchini bread recipe. It is based on an old Amish recipe that I've tweaked a bit over the years.  I love to make this recipe in mini loaves since they thaw faster than full sized loaves.  What is my go-to recipe for Zucchini Bread?
Zucchini bread sliced on a plate and loaves cooling on a rack
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Should you purchase an item via our links--we may receive slight compensation from an
affiliate partner. 
 
Ingredients for Old Fashioned Zucchini Bread 

3 Large Eggs
1 c. Vegetable Oil
1 c. Light Brown Sugar
1 c. Sugar
2 c. Grated Zucchini, with skin
2 c. All-Purpose Flour
1/2 tsp. Salt
2 tsp. Baking Soda
1/4 tsp. Baking Powder
1 tsp. Ground Cinnamon
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract

1 c. Walnuts or Chocolate Chips (Optional)

Instructions for Old Fashioned Zucchini Bread 

Preheat the Oven and Prepare the Baking Pans.  Preheat oven to 325F.  Grease the loaf pans and set aside.  This recipe makes to standard sized loaves of zucchini bread.  I generally make one standard loaf and three mini loaves from the recipe instead.  I grease even nonstick loaf pans with vegetable shortening

Combine the Dry Ingredients.  In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon--stirring until well blended.  (There is nothing worse than tasting baking powder in a quick bread--so I always mix my dry ingredients very well from the start!)

Blend all Ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Add the beaten egg, oil, sugars, and shredded zucchini to a large mixing bowl. I grate the zucchini on the large size of a box grater. Mix in the dry ingredients until moistened and well combined.  I rarely add nuts or chocolate chips--but, if you do want to add those, simply fold them in once the other ingredients are well mixed.

Pinnable Image for basic, old fashioned zucchini bread


Pour into Loaf Pans and Bake.  Fill the loaf pans about 3/4 full of batter.  Standard loaf pans take about 45 minutes to an hour to bake while the mini loaf pans take about 40-50 minutes.  They are done when a toothpick inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean.

Cool, Cut & Serve (or Freeze).  Cool the bread in the loaf pans on cooling racks for about 10 minutes before removing the loaves from the pans.  Transfer to a cutting board or plate, slice into desired slices and serve.  We often serve with butter and/or spreadable cream cheese.  If freezing, I wrap each cooled loaf in freezer paper or plastic wrap and place the wrapped loaves inside zippered freezer bags.

Check out our recipe for Zucchini Bread Cake with Chocolate Drizzle and our recipe for Chocolate Zucchini Cake from a Cake Mix too!