Thursday, December 13, 2012

My Holiday Wrapping Station

Dear friends,

I've seen several posts recently on organizing holiday wrapping supplies.  Here is my simple solution.

I needed a place to put this vintage tea cart to make room for the Christmas tree in the living room.  The master bedroom is the usual place to stash extra stuff in a time like this, so I decided to take advantage of it and use it as my bedside table and as my wrapping supply station.  I do all of the wrapping in my room so I can lock the door to keep out prying eyes.  I spread everything out on the floor or the bed to work.  Usually one of the kids at a time helps me wrap presents for brothers and sisters.

The rolled papers go on the bottom shelf,
along with a small bin with rolls of ribbons.
To keep the paper from unrolling,
you can use a rubber band around each roll,
or a small piece of tape at the very end of the roll.
I do have a tall bin especially designed for wrapping paper.
I'll store the leftover paper in it at after Christmas,
but it's hard to get things in and out
without squishing the paper.

Scissors, tapes, bows, tags and pens
are hidden in the drawer.
It's always best to have extras for when
two or more people are wrapping at once!
Small scraps of paper are in a vinyl folder
which goes down with the rolled papers.

Larger scraps of paper go in
the same big bin as the unwrapped gifts,
which are in bags labeled
for each member of the family.
The bin stays in my closet except
when we get it out to wrap another pile.
I also keep a stash of Christmas gift bags
in my closet, because I don't want them out
for anyone to grab.
(I buy the my bags at the dollar store -- best deal!)

The end result for now
is present piles growing taller under the tree --
at least until we unwrap them
on Christmas morning!
And let me tell you that with eight kids
still living at home and two married daughters
coming over later with husbands and children,
unwrapping is quite the spectacle at our house!

How does your family organize wrapping supplies and other holiday items?
Virginia Knowles

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Holiday Desserts (Aldi & Albertsons)

Dear friends,

Lots of sweets on Monday 
for a home school co-op Christmas program
and my fourth daughter's 20th birthday!

Christmas cookies made from Aldi ingredients:
sugar cookie mix
vanilla frosting
red and green frosting tubes
canister of a variety of sprinkles

(My 11 year old daughter made these!)
This canister of holiday sprinkles 
will last us all season!
It has one of those neat rotating lids
where you can choose which kind you want.

Candy cane pie about $6 from Aldi -
a decent sized pie
with a chocolate cookie crust,
a layer of chocolate french silk
a white layer with crushed candy canes
and whipped cream with crushed candies on top

A Hanukkah cake about $5 from Albertsons
for my oldest daughter and my grandson
who celebrate the Jewish holidays.
Yes, we love saving money and eating well with groceries from Aldi!

Virginia Knowles

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas Red

Life in a huge family is chaotic.

Especially in the holiday bustle,

you have to claim your calm 

where you can find it.

A flutter and glow and jingle

of Christmas red here and there.

Red's not usually 

the calming color, 

like a soothing blue.

But cheerful cherry 

has a certain charm. 

See: Easy Christmas Decorating on a Dime

Crimson grace,

Virginia Knowles

P52 with Kent Weakley
 P52 Photo Project 
A weekly photo post
See all of my entries here:
P52 Photo Posts
P.S. This week's P52 theme is "Oh the Rush!"   This post is the counterpoint: what I do to relax in between the rushing.

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Friday, November 30, 2012

Old Faithful Egg Whisk

4:30 in the morning.

That's when I woke up.  And that's when I remembered that I hadn't washed my son's clothes yet, and he'd be leaving in a mere two hours and 15 minutes for a fourth grade  field trip to St. Augustine.  Oops.

He wouldn't mind so much.  Left to himself, he'll wear the same pair of jeans, with a hole in the knee that he doesn't want me to repair, day and night.  But I care.  So I heaved myself out of bed and hobbled my creaking joints down the hall, snuck into the room that all three of my boys share, rummaged around in the dark to make sure I had the right clothes, and started a load.  Then I had to stay up for another half hour to put them in the dryer.  I savored the quiet.

Though I crawled back under my covers again, I never did go back to sleep.

I woke him at 6:20 and whispered about the clean clothes, warm from the dryer, at the end of his bed.  Oh yes, that was the shirt they were supposed to wear, the special one with his school's name on it that they passed out for the 50th anniversary celebration.  Good thing I washed it.

He usually eats breakfast at school, but this morning I wanted to send him off with a hearty meal since I figured his class would be leaving before the cafeteria opened.  Eggs, sausage, buttered toast -- enough for him and Daddy and me, along with a cup of tea for Daddy, who would be driving him to school.

As I grabbed the egg whisk, I mused that I can't even remember how long I've had it.  I've been married 27 years and I must acquired it even before that.  My mom probably passed it along to me to equip my college apartment.  All of my other whisks have been replaced many times over, but this one, that one that bounces and boings, is still going strong.

Good for it.

I want to be just as faithful.  Just as strong.  Just as resilient, with a spring in my step and a smile on my face.  Ready for service again.

How about you?

Virginia Knowles

You may also like to read My Glorious Dish Towel, a reader favorite on a similar theme.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Prepping Your Kitchen to Fix a Feast

Dear friends,

Thanksgiving is in just three days!  We're getting ready for a big feast for 17 people.   My married daughters are bringing over some of the food, but I know that my kitchen will still be in quite a frenzy this week. I'm trying to plan ahead to reduce the stress.  Five things are extra helpful in the days leading up to a holiday meal...

Clear off your work areas.  Check your kitchen counters. If you aren't going to use an appliance or other item to fix the feast, put it in a cupboard or even in another room for now.  Banish any clutter that doesn't belong there at all.  While you're at it, you might want to organize your dish cupboards.

Clean out the refrigerator and pantry cupboards before you shop.  Make room for all of the extra produce, your turkey, and all the fixings.  You can also clear out old food from some of your plastic storage containers to use for Thanksgiving leftovers.  

I take everything out of the main part of the refrigerator and put it on my nice cleared off counters.  Then I scrub down the shelves and drawers and the inside of the fridge.  After I wipe off the jars, I put everything back in, hopefully more organized than it was before.   Then I do the same thing with the fridge door and my pantry cupboards.  Now everything is ready for adding in the rest of the food we need.  Plus, I can keep track of what food we still have before I shop, so I can know if we need more butter, sour cream, or other food items. 

Plan the meal and consider cooking ahead of time. I actually write out the menu weeks ahead of time so my kids can claim which recipes they want to fix.  They all want to do something!   I'm only doing the turkey this year, if my husband doesn't get to it before I do.  We'll roast and carve it the day before and then reheat it in the broth. 

I have to think of how we are going to cook each menu item so there will be room in the oven and on the stove top so everything can be hot when we're ready to serve.  We will use a crock pot for our traditional wassail.  We'll bake the pumpkin pie and the brownies (for a trifle) ahead of time because the braided egg bread, apple pie, biscuits, roasted vegetables, and scalloped potatoes will need oven time on Thanksgiving Day.  I'm sure our big electric skillet will also be put to hard labor.

Beautiful multi-color peppers
from Fancy Fruit produce market
I wrote out a detailed grocery list and decided where I would buy each food item -- Aldi, Walmart, Sam's Club, or the produce market.  I have actually been gathering some of the non-perishable items over the past few weeks when I've seen good prices.  I set aside a bin in the pantry cupboard for all of my white potatoes, sweet potatoes, and onions.  I will also group all of the packaged goods in one bin so I can find them easily when I need them.

Take inventory of equipment and supplies.  Do you need aluminum foil or holiday themed paper products?   Do you need to iron a table cloth?  What about your cooking or baking equipment, like serving platters or cookie sheets?  I knew we needed some new sharp knives since we'll be cutting a lot of veggies and fruits.  I just bought a set of Farberware steak knives and hope they'll make good paring knives!   I like the larger Farberware knives I already have.  I also picked up a new Pyrex 9"x13" casserole since one of ours broke (we will need at least three), but I'm going to have to return it since it was chipped when I took it out of the bag.

So that's what I'm up to this week!  Oh, and cleaning the rest of the house!   I also have to make squash and 

homemade cranberry sauce for one of my sons to take to school tomorrow for his class's party.

As a side note, my policy is we that always have holiday meals at our house and invite our kids and other local family members.  We usually have an early meal around 2 PM because my married daughters usually celebrate with their in-laws or friends in the evening.  There is no pressure if they can't make it to our meal for some reason.  I believe in no-guilt holidays!

I'm glad everyone is coming this year since we'll be able to get a new family picture!

Mother's Day 2012

What do you do to prepare for Thanksgiving?  Leave a comment!

Bon appetit!

Virginia Knowles

P.S. Of course there is more to Thanksgiving than food!  Read here:

Wednesday, November 14, 2012



Have you tried pomegranates yet?  They are red round fruits filled with yummy pulpy seeds.  Years ago, I found some in the local produce store run by a family from the Middle East.  Since then, we have probably bought them about once or twice a year.  We also frequently buy juice blends with pomegranate in it.  I love the flavor that it adds.  

We saw fresh pomegranates in Aldi the other day for about 69 cents and my son picked out the one in the bowl above. 

Observing the shape, I see that it is a curvy pentagon.  When I cut it open, that geometric shape is confirmed.  I can clearly see five sections that remind me of a star, an asterisk or a snowflake.

The inside of the rind has little curvy indentations which nestle the seeds.  There are also thin membranes which keep them in place.  What a package!

I extracted the seeds by hand and removed all of the membrane pieces from the bowl.

Just how do you eat one?  Check out this web site (which has lots of other “how to” tips on gazoodles of weird and not-so-weird topics!)  How to Eat a Pomegranate at eHow   (For the record, you can swallow the seeds.  A little extra fiber for your diet!)

You can find recipes using pomegranates here at Simply Recipes.  Also check out the nutritional data.  Pomegranates have antioxidant properties, and are a great source of  potassium and Vitamin C.  (These web links are great sites for other foods, too.)

Then read the Greek myth of Persephone and the pomegranate, which attempts to explain why we have seasons, especially spring!   Peresphone at History for Kids 

Pomegranates are mentioned numerous times in the Bible, usually in reference to their decorative motif use on the temple columns and on the robe hems of the high priest.  Click here for the verses:  Pomegranates in the Bible Jews eat pomegranates during Rosh Hashanah.  Many Torah scrolls are stored with silver pomegranates (rimmonim) over the two upper scroll handles.   Pomegranates are also used to decorate the Sukkah hut during the Feast of Tabernacles, the Jewish festival of thanksgiving for the fall fruit harvest.  A pomegranate is said to symbolize righteousness, fertility and everlasting life, and often appears in religious paintings. 

"Madonna of the Pomegranate"

I hope you've enjoyed a little background information about pomegranates!

This post will be linked at...

The top photo in this post is for this week's Autumn Harvest theme at:

P52 with Kent Weakley
 P52 Photo Project 
A weekly photo post
See all of my entries here:
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Whole-Hearted Home
Ann Kroeker's Food on Fridays

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Pumpkin Apple Crisp {Budget Version with Aldi Ingredients}

Dear friends,

Last week, on, I posted a recipe from my sister-in-law Dana for  Super Easy Pumpkin Apple Crisp.
I noticed that two of the ingredients, pumpkin butter and cookie butter, were not standard pantry items, and that the cookie butter (Trader Joes' Speculoos) cost about $10 plus shipping for one jar. So...  Being the budget minded mother of 10 that I am, I decided to come up with a knock-off recipe using less expensive ingredients from our neighborhood Aldi store.  

Since I have arthritis, one of my teenage sons cut all of the apples with our apple corer/slicer.  I peeled them, and since I made a double batch, this kept me quite busy!  Everything else went really fast.
  • 8 apples 
  • 1-1/2 cups white sugar
Peel the apples and cut into six segments each. Toss the apples with the sugar in a large bowl. 

Cookie Butter / Pumpkin Butter Mixture:

  • 16 oz can pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 14 graham crackers, finely crushed
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 Tbs. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. all spice
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. ginger
  • 8 oz evaporated milk or vegetable oil (We tried it both ways.  They both worked fine, but the evaporated milk has less fat.)
Mix these in a sauce pan and heat until well-mixed.  Then pour into the apple mixture and stir until the apples are well coated.  Grease a 9"x13" baking dish and spoon the mixture in.

Crunchy Topping:
  • 1/2 cup pecans crushed
  • 7 oz.  granola
Mix the pecans and granola, and spread on top of the wet mixture.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until apples are fork tender.  Serve with whipped topping.

While you're here, I wanted to show you the pumpkin I bought at Aldi!  It's a big one (maybe 16" tall?), and since they received the shipment after Halloween, they marked them down to 25 cents -- for the whole pumpkin! 

Maybe in a few days, I'll carve it and use it for baking, but for now, it's adorning my front hallway.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Organizing First Aid Supplies, Medicines and Supplements

Dear friends,

Falling off the shelves and scattered around the house - that's the best way to describe the status of my health supplies this morning.  Something had to be done, especially since I had just replenished some of our medicines. (Why yes, I did find Claritin non-drowsy children's allergy chewables for $4.50 a box on the clearance shelf at Walmart -- a day after spending $11 on the exact same thing at Walgreens.  We go through the stuff pretty fast, so I bought two more boxes.)

My first step: gather up everything
and bring it to the dining room table.

I sorted it all out into the bins I already had labeled
for different types of supplies.

In my main medicine bin,
I keep respiratory meds (for allergies and colds) on the left,
digestion and stomach meds in the middle,
and pain meds on the right.
This makes it easier to find what I need.
I labeled the edges of the boxes and the tops of lids.
I also clearly wrote the expiration dates.
I got rid of a lot of items that were past due.
I divvied up the adhesive bandages by size and shape,
and put them in labeled boxes and zip bags.
A pouch with a real zipper holds antibiotic ointment,
disinfectant wipe packets, small scissors, and other supplies
like medical tape and steri-strips.

Here is everything ready to be put back in the cupboards.
Front left: stuff to go back into the bathroom.
Middle left: supplements to be sorted into daily bags.
Back left: ear and eye care, plus thermometer supplies.
Front: first aid bin.
Middle right: medicines in bin.
Back right: herbs and vitamins bin.

Most of our medicines and first aid supplies
are stored in the kitchen on a top cupboard shelf.

The box with herbs, adult vitamins and other supplements
is behind the medicine box.
After I took this picture, I put the kids' vitamins 
in front of the first aid box for easy access.

Extras and items that I need handy at nighttime
(like chewable antacid tablets)
are in the bathroom medicine chest.
We always keep chewable aspirin close by.
Taken quickly after symptoms start,
chewable aspirin can greatly reduce the severity
of a heart attack or stroke!
Yes, my husband and I are both at risk for that
due to age and family history!

For quite a while, I hadn't been taking my nutritional supplements
like vitamins, evening primrose oil, and thyroid boosters.
I portioned out daily amounts onto two divided styrofoam plates 
and stored them in baggies labeled for each day of the week.

(While looking at this picture in the blog post,
I just realized that I forgot the little white round ones!)

Later, I bought a nice roomy pill box
and put it on my desk with a water bottle
so I can remember to take them
when I sit down to work on my computer.

So anyway, I'm so glad I organized the first aid box this morning, because we sure needed it after dinner!  I'm relieved I could find what I needed so quickly because...

My little girl rode her scooter in bare feet, and got her big toe stuck between the wheel and the frame.

The first thing I saw, after hearing her piercing screams, was the trail of blood down the hallway.

Big sister Rachel (in nursing school) attempted to calm Mely's little girl hysterics and apply pressure to stop the bleeding, while I held her foot still and muttered under my breath about the virtues of chloroform.  Rachel cleaned off the wound as best she could (under the circumstances), closed it with steri-strips, and wrapped it in gauze.  (I sure do love steri-strips! They are a thin strip of reinforced gauze with adhesive on the back.  You cut off the length you need and stretch it across the wound, pinching it shut a little and securing on each side.  They stay on until the cut is healed, acting like stitches. We've saved lots of trips to the doctor with those.)  Unfortunately, this cut looked a little intense, so we decided "better safe than sorry" and hauled her off to the urgent care clinic. (The CentraCare at Aloma and SR 436 in Winter Park is open until midnight.)  Another big sister, who is great for consolation and amusement, came along to help.  What a godsend they both are.  Big sisters don't fit in my first aid box though!

What did the nurse and doctor do?  Pretty much what Rachel did: cleaned it off as best they could, closed it with steri-strips, and wrapped it in gauze.  They did add betadine with liquid adhesive to the routine, to simultaneously disinfect the wound and glue the steri-strips on more securely.  I gotta get me some of that stuff for my first aid box!  They also gave me the scissors and tweezers they had used, since they discard them after each use.  I needed some good pointy scissors to cut gauze and steri-strips, so I was pretty happy about that.  I'm also happy that Mel'y calmed down and cooperated.  I guess it helped that she didn't need needle-and-thread stitches!  And maybe she'll remember to wear her socks and sneakers the next time she rides her scooter!

Mel'y with her nurse and doctor,
blankie and bear
How do you organize your medicines and first aid supplies?  Share your ideas in a comment!

To your family's health!
Virginia Knowles

P.S. I just bought more stuff at Walmart: Bactine and New Skin for the first aid kit, since Betadine was really expensive.  New Skin is a sort of liquid bandage that you brush on to protect a wound.  It smells like nail polish!  I also stocked up on Loratidine for my own allergies, as well as other OTC meds from Walmart's 88 cents bin.  They also had simple elastic ankle, wrist, and knee braces (2 per package) for the same price.  

P.P.S. In this post, I forgot to mention that in our storage room, I keep a large labeled bin of assorted splints, sturdy reinforced braces (knee, ankle, wrist), slings, a cervical collar, etc.  We've collected these from various sports injuries and car accidents that my kids have been in, and they come in quite handy when someone else needs a little extra support.

P.P.P.S. I found out that a friend is ministering in a migrant worker community with 20+ families, and I thought it would be pretty neat to assemble simple first aid kits: bandages, anti-bacterial wipes, antibiotic ointment and pain reliever packaged in gallon size slider bags.  I'll have to talk to her about that and see if I can enlist some friends to help with the cost!

Other organization posts on my blogs: