Thursday, January 7, 2016

Slice and Bake Oatmeal Crispies


make ahead slice and bake oatmeal cookies

My mother and grandmother used to make these cookies for me when I was a little girl, and I love them just as much now as I did then.  When I was a child, I appreciated them for their yummy taste and for the fact that the cookie dough is THE most delicious cookie dough of all time.

Now that I'm a mom, I appreciate the fact that the dough is made ahead, kept in the fridge or freezer, and quickly sliced when I'm ready to serve up some nice warm cookies. Read more about how and why to make food ahead of time here in my post "When NOT to Make Dinner."   I'm also deeply thankful that if I want to sneak some of the dough out of the fridge, I won't get in trouble!  These are a real favorite with everyone who tries them - they are crispy, buttery, and light unlike traditional dense chewy oatmeal cookies.

For a cookie, these crisp little wonders are relatively healthy.  Butter and sugar make an appearance of course, but so do oatmeal and raisins and nuts.  You can sub out some of the white flour with white whole wheat to up the nutritional value even more.

Slice and Bake Oatmeal Crispies
Click HERE for a printer-friendly version.

1 C butter, softened
1 C brown sugar
1 C white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 C all purpose flour (or mix of all purpose and white whole wheat)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
3 C quick or old fashioned oatmeal
1/2 C chopped pecans
1/2 C raisins - golden raisins are prettier, but use regular if that's what you have!


1.  Cream butter and sugars.

2. Add eggs and vanilla.  Mix well.

3. Combine flour, salt, and soda.  Add to dough and mix well.

4. Mix oatmeal, pecans, and raisins into the dough.

5.  Taste the cookie dough.  I am NOT even kidding.  This cookie dough is amazing.  (If you are firmly in the anti-cookie-dough camp, you can skip this step and step six!)

6.  Call your children into the kitchen and let THEM taste the cookie dough.  They will think you are the best baker on earth.

7.  Place three large sheets of parchment paper or waxed paper on the counter and divide the dough into three equal portions, one on each sheet of paper. 

8.  Shape each portion of dough into a log about as big around as a silver dollar.  Wrap each log in the paper.  You may need to ignore children who are trying to persuade you to give them more cookie dough.  If needed, dismiss the children from the kitchen and help yourself to a bit more dough.

9.  At this point you need to decide if you'd like to refrigerate the dough and use it within the next several days or if you'd like to freeze it for later use.  You can always refrigerate some and freeze some.  If you are going to refrigerate it, just be sure that it's wrapped well with the ends of the paper tucked under.  The logs will fit nicely into a 2 gallon Ziplock but not a smaller one, but if you don't have a bag that big, don't worry.  If you are going to freeze the dough, wrap each log well in aluminum foil over the paper, then pop into the freezer.  The dough has to be refrigerated at least 6-8 hours before use.

10.  To bake, slice one or more logs into slices about 1/4" thick and place on a cookie sheet.  If the dough was frozen, allow it to thaw at least partially at room temp.  The cookies will spread to about double the size of the dough, so space them accordingly.   Bake 10-12 minutes at 375, remove to a rack to cool, and enjoy!!!

This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled, but if you increase the recipe, you'll want to increase the number of logs of dough you form or the logs will be unmanageable.  I usually put at least two of three logs in the fridge even if I freeze some, then just bake one log at a time.  This makes enough for everyone to have one or two warm cookies for dessert or a snack.  You can also bake part of a log at a time if you prefer.

I hope making this recipe (and sneaking into the dough) becomes as much of a tradition at your house as it has at mine!!


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

When NOT to Make Dinner


freezer meals

Two things:

First, this is a post about when NOT to cook dinner, in the sense that there is a good time to make dinner and a bad time to make dinner.  It's not a post about when NOT to cook dinner in the sense of suggesting that you make reservations instead.  Sorry.

Second, it might interest you to know that I cannot type "When NOT to cook dinner" without hearing it in my head in a British accent.  My mind immediately follows it with "How NOT to be seen."  If you don't know what I mean (or even if you do), I suggest that take 3 minutes to watch this video.  (NOTE:  I don't endorse or watch Monty Python as a whole.  Having said that, there are a couple of their sketches on YouTube that appeal to the deranged side of my sense of humor.  This is one of them!)

There.  Are't you glad you watched that?!  In the interest of always keeping things real on this blog, I guess I should say that I find this particular sketch almost endlessly amusing.  It makes me laugh every single time!

On to when NOT to make dinner . . .

I very strongly suggest that whenever possible, you refrain from making dinner at dinner time.  The hour or two before dinner should be served is often the hardest time of the day.

Little ones are bouncing off the walls, or cranky, or both.  Big kids and teens are extra-energized and the house is getting loud.

There is a last minute push to finish homeschool work (or in the case of my friends whose children go to school, there's that craziness of picking up kids, getting homework done, and possibly dealing with after school activities.)

The house has quite possibly descended into a bit of chaos and there's a push to try to get it tidied back up so that the evening can be enjoyed more.

I'm tired, sometimes frazzled, and just plain DONE.

The things on my to-do list that did not get done are nipping at my heels as I realize the day is ending and they'll need to stay on that list for another day.

The errands that I saved to run after the bulk of our school day was over are all taking longer than I planned and I find myself zooming around town instead of getting dinner prepared.

Moms who work outside the home may be walking in the door exhausted right at dinner time.

All in all, it's not an optimal time to dig in and tackle the kind of big homemade family dinner that I like to serve.

It's clear that the many families have a hard time dealing with the challenges of making and sharing a meal at night.  Despite the undeniable importance of having regular family dinners, many families end up frequently grabbing something on the road or leaving each family member to just "grab something to eat."  In fact, according to the Food Marketing Institute, only 40% of families eat dinner together even 2 or 3 times a week!  There are many widespread societal issues that can impact the ability of families to eat together, and it's not the intent of this post to address these issues; but if you are looking for practical tips to reduce evening stress and get a great meal on the table, then these tips should help!!

Rather than tackling all of your meal prep immediately before meal time, I suggest you implement one or more of these ideas for as many meals as possible.  They fall into three broad categories.

1. Choose main dishes and side dishes that can be made ahead of time.  This would include food that is fixed far in advance of serving: freezer meals, pressure canned soups and stews, frozen breads/cookie doughs/muffins, etc.  In these cases, the meal prep is done days or weeks in advance, leaving you only to thaw and heat.  You can make these meals in huge batches in a big cooking session, or add to your stash by making a few freezer meals each weekend.

This also includes food that is prepared the day before or earlier in the day - a casserole put together when the children are in bed and popped into the fridge to cook the next day, salad veggies washed and chopped and ready to assemble, bread baked earlier in the day ready to warm and serve at dinner time, a dessert made ahead of time, fruit washed and prepped and waiting in the fridge, your chicken or roast seasoned and waiting in the pan in the fridge to pop into the oven, soup ingredients put into the pot and waiting in the fridge, or even large parts of the entree pre-prepped - the veggies sauteed, cheese shredded, meat cooked and ready to add to the entree, etc.

2. Choose main dishes and side dishes that can be started early in the day.  This would include crock pot meals, long-simmering soups, dry beans, and slow-cooked oven meals that are put together in the morning or the night before and set to cooking by late morning so they are hot and ready to eat at mealtime.  It would also include homemade breads that are started in advance of the meal so that rising times are completed for them to simply be baked at meal time. Even putting a chicken, ham, turkey, or roast in the oven a few hours before dinner can be a huge help! These foods often also fall into the first category - as I write, I have about 2 dozen crockpot meals in my freezer - I pull one out at night, put in the crockpot or roaster in the morning, and try to be sure that all sides are put together or baked by early afternoon.

3. Utilize a number of ways for dinner to be made very quickly.  If you can't make your meal ahead of time as in #1 or start it earlier in the day as in #2, your best bet is to choose an option that is very fast to make.  This would include:

-- Super simple meals like scrambled eggs, toast, bacon, and fruit; spaghetti and garlic bread; grilled chicken or burgers or hot dots; hearty sandwiches; simply prepared fish (we love to heavily season salmon fillets with dill and seasoning salt, then saute over medium high heat in lots of butter), etc.  Leftovers also fall into this category.

-- Quick cooking convenience foods like canned soup, breaded chicken patties for chicken sandwiches, battered fish fillets, chicken nugget or strips, frozen chicken cordon bleu, and the ultimate fast meal of ramen noodles with some cheese and leftover meat and/or veggies tossed in!   While I prefer to serve as many "from scratch" foods as possible for health and budget reasons, there's certainly nothing at all wrong with prepared convenience foods in moderation!!

--Meals that rely on pre-prepped ingredients or homemade or store bought convenience ingredients.  I keep a supply of homemade pancake mixes, muffin mixes, corn bread mixes, etc. on hand for super quick breakfasts, side dishes, or "breakfast for dinners."  Having cooked chicken, ground beef, and rice in the freezer allows me to throw many meals together very quickly.  (Having pressure canned chicken, ground beef, and roast beef makes it even faster since I don't even need to thaw the meat!)

Home or purchased canned fruit, steam in bag frozen veggies, brown minute-style rice, pasta that can be quickly cooked and tossed with sauce or butter and parmesan for a quick side dish, canned sloppy joe sauce, precooked bacon, pre-washed bagged salads, frozen bread dough, seasoned and frozen taco meat, canned tuna and salmon (and chicken if you don't pressure can chicken yourself), all natural macaroni and cheese, purchased or home canned jarred sauces (red pasta sauce, alfredo sauce, and sauces for Indian recipes like tikka masala), frozen meatballs, and canned beans can all be big time savers.

I'd be remiss if I neglected to quickly mention the fact that no matter when you cook dinner, children from preschool on up can be a big help at mealtime, and one of the best ways not to make dinner at mealtime is to have an older child or teen who can make it for you!  If you are a parent, you should keep the end in sight from the beginning and be sure that you are teaching the skills your children will need in adulthood - and food preparation is something every adult needs to know!  I'll cover age-appropriate cooking skills in detail in a different post but felt it had to be mentioned here as well.

I plan to share a lot of recipes on this blog, and most of them will fall into one of these categories.  I'm also going to share tips and ideas for bulk cooking sessions and techniques.

I'd LOVE your feedback - what are your favorite stress relievers and time savers at mealtimes?  What works for you?  What are your biggest obstacles to getting homemade dinners on the table?  Are there any specific kitchen or cooking topics you'd love to see covered here?  Leave a comment and let me know!!


Monday, January 4, 2016

Wooden Peg Doll Tutorial - Part One: Materials and Supplies


wooden peg doll diy tutorial materials and supplies

I’ve just recently started making wooden peg dolls for my younger children and I’ve been amazed at how much fun they are to make and how well they are turning out.  I am absolutely not an artist and I read every tutorial I could find before I was brave enough to make my first doll!  Before I knew it, I was hooked and now painting these is one of my favorite ways to relax and unwind.

While you can buy painted peg dolls on Etsy, I’d encourage you to try making your own.  Here is a compilation of tips that have helped me.  Like I said, I am not an artist, so some of these are very basic!!  (Note - this post contains affliate links.  If you shop using these links, I receive a small commission but your price and user experience are unchanged.)


It’s very important to use good quality paint.  Most of mine are Americana, Folk Art, or Martha Stewart.  The Martha Stewart is the most expensive but it covers beautifully - my one gripe with this line of paint is that the color names are odd.  I needed some plain bright red and had a hard time figuring out which fancy-named-bottle contained a plain, not-too-orange, not-too-pink, RED.  I’ve also been mostly happy with the other two brands listed.  Every now and then I find that a color won’t cover well but most of them are great.

These types of paint are widely available at big-box craft stores.  We have a Michaels and a Hobby Lobby in town and they both have a nice selection.  I watch for sales and use coupons to get the best prices on paint.

Store your paints in a box upside down.  Seriously, this is one of the most brilliant things ever - it makes it easy to see what color you are using and it keeps the paint near the cap instead of at the bottom.  When I’m ready to paint, I shake the bottle well and remove the cap and just use the bit of paint that's in the cap.  Since the dolls are so small, there’s usually enough paint right in the cap.  If I need more, I just pour a tiny bit from the bottle into the cap.  The Martha Stewart paints have a tiny inner opening under the cap which means that this won't work - if I only need a wee bit, I remove the cap, gently squeeze the bottle until the paint is at the top of the bottle, and dip my brush in.  If I need more, I squeeze some into a little disposable plastic condiment cup.

Martha Stewart has a nice line of glitter paints which I've enjoyed using.  It's important to know that even though the glitter paints appear colored, they are basically clear paints with colored glitter.  They are beautiful over a couple of coats of regular paint but they won't replace regular paint.


When I started painting peg dolls, most of our brushes were very well loved from lots of use by children.  I bought an inexpensive set of Golden Taklon brushes similar to this one (my assortment was a little smaller). I've been quite happy with it.  I also got a brush that is flat and cut at an angle (I think they are called angle brushes?) which has been very helpful in painting edges like the edges of hair or clothing.   The key is to get good quality brushes in a variety of styles with several that are REALLY tiny.  Other then the teeny tiny detail brushes, you'll find that flat brushes work better than round brushes.  Sets similar to the one I linked to can be found at craft stores - just be sure to get artist brushes not children's brushes or cheap craft brushes.  $10 seems to be an average price point for a decent little set.

Now that I've painted a lot of dolls and know just what works well for me personally, I want to slowly invest in higher quality individual brushes.  Our Hobby Lobby has some that are very nice and my plan is to pick up one now and then with coupons until I have a set of professional quality brushes.  Some of the tiniest brushes in my first set seem to be wearing out a little and I think it would be better to move to higher end brushes since I've found that I really love this hobby!  I'd still suggest starting with a less expensive set so you can learn which brushes really work best for you.


The dolls I paint are small wooden dolls.  The variety of sizes and assortments was a little overwhelming at first!  The first set of dolls I made was a large set of Thanksgiving dolls.  I got the idea about a week and half before Thanksgiving (of course) and talked one of my best friends into painting with me.  After lots of comparison shopping, we settled on these sets:


For us, the big question was how big we wanted our largest dolls to be.  We were both very glad that we went with the large dolls.  The men are 3 9/16" and the women are 3 1/2" tall.  This size is easier to paint and it gives a lot more options for sizes of child dolls.  The assortment pictured is not the assortment we bought - if you click the link above, the page has an option for 50 dolls for just over $14 instead of the 40 dolls pictured.  It's the same types of dolls but there are more dolls for just about a dollar more.  This assortment gave us lots of different child and baby options.  I've used the tiniest ones for a baby Pilgrim, a baby Native American small enough to fit in a papoose sack on the large woman doll, a baby Jesus, some mice, and a couple of baby fairies.  We did NOT use the "curvy girl" dolls but this was still the best deal even with setting them aside.  I think I'm going to paint some of them black and use them as bodies for butterflies for Mary Faith.

The other option for buying dolls is to get them in bulk from Casey's Wood Parts.  These sizes and styles are identical to the ones from Amazon.  We did the math and it worked out better with free Prime shipping for us to order the assortments linked above.  Once we realized that we were both hopelessly hooked on these dolls, we went in on a large order of a couple hundred assorted dolls from Casey's.  With that quantity and free shipping, it made sense to do it that way but I'm glad I started with the smaller packages.  If I hadn't split them with a friend, they would have gone much farther.

I read online that the dolls were available in craft stores.  The only ones I've seen have been at Hobby Lobby and they are the largest boy dolls in the assortment linked above.  That's a high use size for me and it's nice to know that I can grab an extra package with a coupon if I need to.  The straight dolls can be painted to look like girls but both my friend and I are glad we got the dress-shaped women and girls in addition to straight pegs.


1.  You need some kind of clear finish for your dolls.  Our favorites have been glossy Mod Podge  if I need to brush the finish on, and Krylon Triple Thick Crystal Clear Spray Coat.  The Krylon is gorgeous and just two coats is enough.  I'm completely and utterly incapable of using any kind of spray paint without messing up my projects, so I count on Jeff The Wonder Painter to spray the finish on my dolls.  If I can't wait for him for some reason, or if part of a project needs to remain gloss-free, I use the brush on Mod Podge.

2. Pencils - regular and mechanical.  Just cheap ones will do.  I'll get into how to use these when I get into painting details.

3.  A nice eraser for erasing lines on the dolls.

4.  Something to protect your work surface.

5. A blowdrier comes in handy to help dry dolls quickly.

6.  A few emory boards (like you use for your nails) to sand off mistakes.

7.  An empty cardboard egg carton to stand dolls on their heads when they dry.

8.  You may want a few assorted odds and ends based on the design you are doing - silk flower petals, bits of felt, scraps of heavy paper, etc.

Stay tuned for Part Two in a few days!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

How Year Round Schooling is Working for Us {Half Way Through!}


We live in a state that requires 180 days of school for homeschooling.  In the past, our approach has been to do a light, highly flexible school schedule during the summer with the primary goal of "banking" some days so that we'd have greater flexibility during the traditional school year.  On paper, this worked pretty well - if we had a sick day, a snow day (snow is so rare here that it warrants a day off!) or just wanted to take a day off for some reason, we could do so secure in the knowledge that we had started our school year 15 or 20 days ahead.

Even though the math made perfect sense and we never had any trouble completing our 180 days, I was always stressed when we took a day off.  "Mom guilt" would kick into hyperdrive and I would feel like I wasn't doing a good job if I wasn't schooling every week Monday-Friday.  On the flip side, our summer break never really felt like time off because we were trying to fit in a day or two of schoolwork a week.

I found myself looking towards this school year (2015 - 2016) with a bit of dread and weariness.  I realized that it had been a very long time since I'd really felt like I had a break - between schooling during the summer and feeling guilty if I took a day off during the year, I'd been on duty non stop for years!

I began looking into different ways of planning our year and hit on something that is working really, really well so far!  We are exactly halfway through our school year and it's been one of our best so far!

Here's what we are doing:

6 weeks on, 1 week off
6 weeks on, 1 week off
6 weeks on, 6 weeks off (!!!!)
6 weeks on, 1 week off
6 weeks on, 1 week off
6 weeks on, 6 weeks off . . . and done!

I printed out a year at a glance calendar and began trying to figure out how to schedule this.  It worked out best for us to start the first week of July which put our first 6 week break starting the week of Thanksgiving and going through the first weekend in January.  Our year will end mid-May, giving us half of May and all of June for our summer break.

Here is what I love about this.

1.  We are never more than 6 weeks away from a break.  This makes the year feel like a series of sprints rather than a marathon.

2.  Those breaks are scheduled in advance which gives me permission to really embrace them.  It also makes it easy to schedule doctor's or dentists appointments and other things that I'd prefer not to deal with during school days.

3.  It's highly motivating for all of us - the teens know that if they fall behind, they are going to miss all or part of a break!!

4.  It helps me manage my home so much better.  Like most of you, I wear a lot of hats and it's challenging (impossible?) to feel like I'm on top of everything all of the time.  With this schedule, it's OK to let certain things fall by the wayside during our 6 week terms because I know I'll be able to dedicate a solid week or more to building up our freezer meal stash, catching up on sewing projects, getting ahead on work-related projects, deep cleaning and organizing, etc.  I used to try to cram these things in after school was done each day, during the weekends, etc. and it was really stressful.  This isn't to say that I can ignore all of those things during our school terms, but the pressure isn't nearly so great because I'm able to get a LOT done during our weeks off.

5.  Somehow this has helped us get more done than ever before.  We use Sonlight and I broke up everyone's IG's into 6 binders.  When I'm looking at such a short time period, it's easier to see the big picture of what needs to be done during those six weeks and somehow that's translated into more hands-on projects, more field trips, and all sorts of other extras.  I think that when I was trying to look at a year at a time, it was harder for me to know if I really had time for as many extras.  When my sights are set on where we need to be in 6 weeks, it all seems much more manageable.

6.  One reason I tried to keep at least a little bit of schoolwork going during the summer is because I was trying to avoid "summer slide" - the dreaded loss of skills from lack of practice.  Our one week breaks are long enough to refresh without any risk of children forgetting things, and I think the same will be true for our 6 week winter break.  (I'm writing this on the last day of winter break, so I guess tomorrow will tell!)  I did encourage everyone to play educational apps during break and had them do XtraMath at least a few days a week to stay sharp.  Add to that the fact that I read outloud at least an hour most days and they all had quiet reading time most days, and I'm pretty confident about how tomorrow will go!

7.  Even though we are dedicated to sticking to this schedule so we won't miss our breaks, there's still room for flexibility.  After starting, we realized that we needed to take a week off on what would have been the first week of a term.  We adjusted by doing a 7 week term, taking off the week we needed, then doing a 5 week term. It kept us on track while giving us the flexibility we needed.

At this point I can't imagine doing things differently.  I wasn't sure how the children would react to starting full time school in July when all of their friends were still out, but they were enthusiastic when they saw all of the weeks off on the calender - and they LOVED being off for so long during winter break!  We've had several of their friends ask their moms to do the same schedule and a couple of my graduates laughingly asked if they could have another year of school with this schedule.

Even though it's January, it's not too late to switch to a schedule like this if it appeals to you.  If you are halfway through the year, you can go ahead and pick up with the last 3 terms of 6/1, 6/1, and 6/6. Start your next year when it works best for you, even if it means summer break ends up being a little longer or a little shorter than 6 weeks.

How about you?  What scheduling tips work best for your family?