Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Window and Door Coverings

As we shiver through an extended cold snap through most of the north in the U.S., people have been talking about how to stay warm. Cranking up the thermostat can lead to high gas bills, not to mention can be ineffective if you have sources for cold air to come into your house. We live in an old house and our windows (and some doors) can be a huge problem. In a perfect world we would go and buy new windows or do massive insulating to block any drafts. But, it's not a perfect world, and money and circumstances just don't warrant. So, for the past several years we have depended on the alternative: utilizing quilts and comforters as window coverings. Now, I realize this post might seem a bit late considering most of the U.S. is in the dead of winter, but honestly I ended up having to do this project again just last week as the temperatures dipped into the negative numbers and we found that one of our doors was literally pouring cold air into our house.

For this project, you can use any quilt or heavy covering. I've also done this using heavy flannel material I found at the fabric store. As we get into the post-holiday season and into January white sales, now is a good time to find inexpensive blankets. A few years back, I found down throws on sale after Christmas. They are smaller than regular quilts and were the perfect size for my windows, which meant I didn't have to do any cutting. Granted, the patterns are a bit wintery/holiday, which I admit does feel a bit odd when they are still hanging in March, but I did try to get something without Santa or anything.

To use quilts over your windows, you can simply throw them over a rod and secure with safety pins or clips. That was how I did things initially, but quickly found that my kids were apt to pull the coverings down. I also wanted something that looked more formal. So, I decided that since the quilts in question were going to be used yearly for the same purpose and nothing else, I would make them permanent by using grommets. I should note, when you are using grommets for window coverings, be sure to get the heavy-duty type. There are 2 types: ones that use a hand tool to secure the grommets and is meant for lighter fabric, and ones that utilizes a tool you pound with a hammer which is meant to be used for heavier fabric and layered fabric. The latter, extra-large grommets, is what I have used for these particular projects. I do want to note that you will probably see that I use grommets in a lot of my "curtain" projects. For curtains, a pocket can work just as well, but I like the smooth movement grommets give me, as well as the fact that I can take the curtain down for washing (or storage) without having to remove the rod.

Getting back to the project. As I mentioned, we had this door that was an add-on to our home when they converted it from a single family to a 2-flat (we actually converted the home back to a 1-family after we bought it). Since the door was not in the original design, it wasn't hung well. Because it was a structural design problem, simply hanging a new door would not help. There was the idea of actually sealing the door off with plastic, but we didn't like that because we do use the door. So, we decided to go with the same premise as the window coverings. I set out to get the most inexpensive quilt I could find. While I like quilts better for windows, I decided to go with a comforter for the door since it was thicker and would give better insulation when doubled over. The material was polyester and a bit scratchy--I wouldn't use this on one of our beds. But, since I was hanging it on the door, it was perfect...and the $20 price tag was within our budget.

The first step was to decide how to hang the quilt. Most people already have curtain rods hanging, but since we didn't, we made inexpensive ones using simple dowel rods hung on dollar store plastic coat hooks. We then used plastic shower curtain rings to hang them on the rod. This has worked out well. Quilts tend to be heavier than typical window coverings and thus can be harder to pull open. Using the grommets and rings allowed more free movement and helps us to easily pull them aside on those warm days when we want the sunlight and can open the window a crack. For the door, however, the rod wouldn't work. I still wanted to utilize the grommets, so we decided to use regular cup hooks and mount them above the door. Then using those hooks as measurement, I marked the quilt and attached the grommets. The quilt was deliberately purchased with the idea it would be doubled over. So, I made the marks on one half, attached the grommets, then folded the quilt over the mark and attach the second set. This assured proper spacing.

Now, I realize some people may not like the idea of putting hooks up into a door frame or wall. All I can say is that there are ways around it. You could mount the hooks on a board and then mount the board with 2 simple screws, over the top. The thing is, this project is about saving money, and sometimes that means foregoing beauty for function. In this case, the door we covered is in a utility hallway, thus the panelling and choppy paint. However, I have used this idea in our main foyer (with a heavy flannel blanket) and it not only works well, but can look nice too. Holes can be filled and painted over in the future if resale is a consideration. It's a small price to pay for the savings in heating dollars, as well as family comfort.



Window covering in my bedroom.

Hanging door quilt-side view.

Heavy duty grommet.

Hook mounting.

Extension!

We've gotten a few emails from people about our current Household challenge. Because people are now just getting caught up from the holidays, they were asking if they could have additional time to participate in this month's "chore challenge." Since we would like everyone to join in as possible, we have extended the deadline to February 14 (Valentine's Day)! So, if you wanted to be a part of it but didn't think you had the time, now is your chance.

We also want to note that we have some announcements about the Lotsofkids sites. Be sure to check out this post over at our 4orMore blog for details.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Time for a new menu plan

It's the first of the year, and for me, that means making goals, revising chore charts, cleaning out junk, organizing, and in general, hoping that somehow, this year I can keep the chaos to a minimum. This is the year I plan on being the perfect wife, homemaker, mother, and friend. I'm going to exercise, stick to my own cleaning schedule, lose weight, serve healthy meals, keep a clean house, read scriptures daily, serve others, speak kindly, read with my kids more, and bring about world peace.

Of course, I won't actually be perfect at any of those things, but one can always try, right? My first plan of attack is revising my basic menu plan. I've used a system for several years now that I was introduced to by Marie Ricks. I've tried regular scheduled menus in the past, but her system was simpler and easier. As she put it at the beginning of the class, "Today I'm going to teach you how to know what to cook for the rest of your life." It was what I needed. Cooking is my least-favorite chore, but there's just no avoiding it when you're the mom of a big family -- unless, of course, you have a husband who likes to cook. Mine does, so he cooks on the weekends, leaving me just four or five days a week. He used to cook during the week more, way back when he had a low-stress job and we just had a couple of kids. But his job now is pretty intense and so it's best for me to do the weekly cooking.

My hardest problem used to be the panicked, crazy dinner hour, when I'd lean on the cupboard door wondering what in the world I should cook. Inevitably, I'd go back to one of my old stand-bys, something I'd made way too often. So this concept of knowing in advance and sticking to my plan worked wonders for me.

Marie's Menu Plan introduces a rotating four-week menu of meals. I'd done that before, but I found the key to success was that Marie suggests you have a one-week rotation of side dishes and that you have a consistent theme for each weekday. She does Mexican on Tuesdays, Quick Meals on Mondays, and then she suggests a fruit and a veggie for Tuesdays that goes with Mexican food, etc. I took that idea and ran with it, though I don't have a nightly theme for my menus. Mine, instead, are divided by how much time it takes to cook. In my old menu plan, I had 40-60 minute (from start to finish, including cooking time) meals on Mondays, 20-30 minute meals on Tuesdays, crockpot meals on Wednesdays, and so on. I chose the fruits and vegetables my family eats the most, though we do substitute other things now and then. It has been wonderful to have the side dishes planned, particularly as the two older kids (ages 9 and 8) are now old enough to help with meals. It's easy when you're working so hard on the main dish to forget about fruits and vegetables, but this introduces the concept to the kids that the meal isn't complete without a fruit and a vegetable. We also have a type of bread on the menu, but we usually only put that out once or twice a week (another thing to work on this year, right?).

I don't stick to the schedule rigorously -- if I know we'll be out all afternoon on Tuesday, for example, I might switch the Wednesday crockpot meal with the Tuesday meal. And every so often, I'll go to make the scheduled dinner and realize that we're out of sour cream or peppers and I need to make another change. Usually, I choose another meal from the four meals for that day.

I've used basically the same menu plan for the last two years, with some minor modifications. I'm finding lately, though, that several of the meals are just not getting made, whether because I get to that day and don't feel like making it, the ingredients are too expensive to keep on hand, or too many members of my family dislike it. So a few days ago, I tackled the menu plan, dropping some meals and adding some others, and changing crockpot day to Tuesdays.

Another thing that's made this system work for me is my recipe card file. I find there's no better way to keep my recipes organized. I have all the regular categories (Cookies, Cakes, Playdough, etc.), but I added 7 dividers at the beginning of the card file, one for each day of the week. In Monday's, I put the four cards for my Monday meals, Tuesdays hold my four Tuesday meals, and so on. When it's time to make dinner, I can either consult my calendar posted in the pantry or I can just grab the first card for that day's meals. When I'm done making the meal, I put the card to the back so the next week's meal is first in rotation.

So here's my new schedule. I ended up adding an extra week of meals because as I discussed the plan with DH, we kept coming up with meals we just couldn't do without. So later this week, I will be writing down a few new recipes and re-arranging my card files.

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Salad

Seasonal Fruit

Bread

Green Beans

Peaches

Rolls

Corn

Seasonal Fruit

Bread

Carrots

Pears

Bread

Pizza

1 Hour

Sweet & Sour Chicken

Crockpot/1 Hour

Mexican Salad

30 Minutes

Spaghetti & Sausages

25 Minutes

Herbed Chicken & Potatoes

50 Minutes

Tater Tot Casserole

Crockpot

Fettuccine Alfredo

25 Minutes

Tortilla Soup

25 Minutes

Lasagna

1 Hour 15 Minutes

Taco Soup

Crockpot

Company Chicken

60 minutes

Stroganoff

30 Minutes

Porcupine Balls

1 Hour

Creamy Cooker Chicken

Crockpot

Rice & Sausage Casserole

1 hour 30 minutes

Enchiladas or Tacos

30-60 Minutes

Chicken Curry with Rice

45 Minutes – use Precooked Chicken

Cowboy Casserole

Crockpot

Baked Potato Bar

60 minutes

Grilled Cheese & Soup

30 minutes



What have you found to make menu planning easier?


Edited to Add: Friday night is (*supposed to be*) date night, so either we have leftovers or something simple the babysitter can feed the kids. When DH & I don't go out, we'll either do leftovers, or DH will cook. I'll try to post my recipes later.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Years Resolutions



The new year is upon us, and with that comes resolutions. One of the main goals I have at Lotsofkids.com is to get more organized. Yes, I know that seems to be a never-ending task, but it is something I am really committed to. Not only for the benefit of the site, but to ease my stress level.

That said, I have talked to a lot of people over the past year about this blog, and the overwhelming consensus is that people want to read more postings about organization, household management, and creating a peaceful household environment. We are taking those thoughts to heart and will be doing our best to give you more of what you are looking for...as well as some other goodies.

All of us here at The Full House and Lotsofkids.com wish you and your families a wonderful, peaceful, safe, and organized New Year!