Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Alphabet Wall

I am not a decorator.  Even after spending hours online, and many trips to the fabric store, I still could not come up with a color scheme for the baby girls' room.  I finally committed to go to the fabric store and buy the first fabric that I liked.  I settled on a gray and coral/red.  I made matching quilts, and painted the walls.  Much to my husbands surprise (NOT), I hate it.  I end up disliking most of my DIY decorating projects, so when I told him that I thought it was ugly he just laughed at me.  But not the 'oh that's so funny' kind of laugh, it was more like 'I'm laughing because she makes me crazy'.  It's too bright, it hurts my eyes.  But, I don't have the energy to change it, so I'm trying to make the best of it.  I want need to add some wall stuff to break up gray.  I had a bunch of fabric scraps left from the I hit Pinterest for some ideas.  (I'm an addict, right along with the rest of America)
I found several alphabet wall hangings.  Bingo.  Then I remembered THIS post I saw a while back.  Apparently, you can iron fabric to your walls using Wonder-Under.  Double bingo.
I set out to create my simple, fabric alphabet wall art.  Holy Moly it was so hard.  First, I decided on my layout.  (using inspiration from one of the wall hangings I had found)  I measured, multiplied, chose fonts, and created each letter in Photoshop.  IT TOOK ALL DAY.  Half way through, I regretted my decision...but it was too late to turn back.  I had already put so much work into it, now I just had to cut the letters out & put them on the wall.  Easy peasy?  WRONG.  That part took another 3 hours.  
But, after all that hard work, it did turn out pretty cute.  Here's the reason for the post:  after all the hours it took to create the files of letters, it would be a waste not to share.'s the tutorial, along with the files you need to create the letters yourself.

Wonder-Under (iron-on sticky stuff that makes your material stick to other's magical)
Material scraps  (if you are buying new, get 7" of 4 different fabrics)
Letter Patterns:  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 (click each one & print them out at 100%)

Trace all of the letters onto the Wonder-Under.  Each document has several letters, overlapping.
Trace them individually, NOT OVERLAPPED.  Only mark on the paper side.  The shiny stuff is the glue, and you don't want marker or pencil on that part.

Cut out the letters, but leave space...don't cut them out on the lines yet.

Divide them up into baggies like this:

#1:  A, K, e, o, i, r, X  (this was my main color)
#2: B, g, m, n, P, S 
#3:  d, f, L, H, U, Y, v, Z
#4:  c, j, Q, w  (this should be an accent color...I used white 'cause I'm creative like that.)

Divide them up even more if you are using a bigger variety of material.

Each baggie is meant to be used on a different material.  Iron onto the WRONG side.  (Now you see why the letters are flipped backward.)  Don't remove the paper backing yet!

I cut them out as I needed them, I thought that was easier than shuffling through a stack of letters.  Cut each letter out along the lines, THEN remove the paper.  I adjusted the letters quite a bit, but kept the height & width the same.  I added thickness to certain lines, and adjusted the curve of some.  I took a little off my Q's tail because I thought it looked funny.

I drew a square on my wall that was 24" X 32".  I wanted the subway art look.  You can arrange them however you want, of course.  It's your house.

Iron them onto the wall.  I didn't take a picture of the actual ironing...I'm not that talented.  However, I did take some nice, grainy iPhone pictures for you as I went:

I started with the corners, and made sure they were touching the lines to give it a nice squared-up look.  Or, technically, a rectangled-up look.

Then I filled in the top & bottom:

I held up surrounding letters to make sure I spaced them correctly before ironing each letter.  For example: I held up the P & K with the L, before I ironed the L into place.

By now it was 5:45pm and we usually eat at 5:30.  The kids were ornery and neglected...Jake was working late.  But, I pressed on...(no pun intended)


So, what do you think?  Was it worth my WHOLE stinking day?  I think not.  But, I actually do like how this project turned out...and that's saying a lot.

On a side note, I am also loving the shelves that Abby & I built for their room too.  I followed the tutorial found here.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Freezer Meals

Most people I run into or talk to on the phone have one question for me:  How are you surviving?  The truth is:  somedays we I barely make it through the day.  Then there are days when I think, "Wow, I'm doing great at this 3 babies-at-once-thing."  There are many variables, and occasionally they all line up nicely and I find myself in bed at night with a clean house, trying to figure out why today worked when the day before hadn't.  Someone gets sick or I'm sick or it's that time of the month or I run a single errand, or I get talking to a friend and the girls tear into my bathroom cupboards, or any one of a number of things that can kink my day just so, and all hell breaks loose.  I've spent the past few months trying to anticipate the disasters and plan for them so that they don't destroy all of my hard work in one fell swoop, setting me back days or even a full week.  I've set several rules for myself, like I try not to take phone calls from 3:30-8:30 and I do as much laundry as I can everyday.  My favorite time saver, though, is freezer meals.

I've made/used freezer meals quite often over the years.  I've had some successes, and lots of fails.  Last November I was feeling like I was always running behind, so my friend Erika suggested we get together and assemble a bunch.  I learned a lot from her, and now I'm hooked.  I re-stocked my stash this week.  As I stared at the 42 meals stacked in my freezer I decided I need to share this awesome-ness.    If you have ever wanted to try your hand at pre-cooking your family's dinners, here's how I do it:

1.  Choose your meals.
  For your first time, choose 2-3 of your family favorites.  Once you get comfortable, you can make more.  (I did 13 different dinners this time, 3 or 4 of each)  Don't try a new recipe.  It's very frustrating to find out that your family hates a dish...and there's 3 more of the same waiting in your freezer.  Make a list of the meals you want to make, and how many of each.  I have found that the best recipes are the ones with sauce on them.  If your noodles/rice/tortillas aren't covered with something, they tend to become freezer burned quickly.  There is a plethora of freezer meal recipes out there.  You can probably find a freezer meal version of any favorite recipe.  If you aren't on Pinterest yet, now would be a good time to open an account.  Make a variety:  once I had 15 different Italian pasta dishes in my freezer.  Oops.  We love Italian, but not 5 times a week!  Do one chicken, one beef, one vegetarian dish.  Or one Italian, one Mexican, one Chinese/Japanese dish.  Variety will keep you from getting bored with your freezer meals.

2.  Make a Chart
  Start listing your ingredients.  I made a chart that lists common ingredients by store section, with extra space for writing in the uncommon stuff.  Break each recipe down, and times it by the number you are making.  Next to each ingredient, I make tally marks.  For example, if I was making 3 recipes of meatballs:  it calls for 2lbs ground beef, 1 onion, 1c. quick oats.  I would put 6 marks by beef, 3 by onions, 3 by oats.  Do that for each recipe, and you have your grocery list ready to go.  Make sure your marks can transfer to shopping quantity.  When I mark something like green onions, I know I'm marking for each individual onion, not the # of packages, so then I count the onions in the bag when I get to the store.  If it calls for 10 oz. frozen spinach, I write that down with 3 marks by it.  Then I buy the 30 oz. bag to save money.  For the oats in my meatballs, I would have to figure out how many cups are in each can & then do some math.  You get the idea.  **Write down all of the ingredients.**  You won't believe how fast a bottle of soy sauce disappears when you triple the recipe.  If it calls for more than a dash of anything, buy a new bottle or at least double check what you have on hand.

3.  Shop the sales
  If it doesn't save you money, it's not worth it!  If you can, spend a week or two gathering your ingredients.  Watch the ads.  Wait for chicken to go on sale. Buy in bulk!  Be careful about the big-box stores like Sam's or Costco.  Some of their stuff is a great price, but a lot of it just seems like a good deal.  It's usually cheaper to wait for a sale at a smaller grocery store. will be a lot of food.  Jake and I filled 2 carts at Sam's, and that didn't include the stuff I had found cheaper elsewhere!

4.  Invest in the right supplies
  Get a really big 13 qt. bowl (I found mine at Sam's), and a really big stock pot.  Mixing huge quantities in a bowl that's too small is frustrating and messy.  With a large stock pot you can cook all of your chicken at once, and it comes in handy for big stove-top recipes like chicken curry.  Buy Ziploc gallon size freezer bags for soups.  Cheap bags will leak and get freezer-burn.  I recommend disposable pans for casseroles or anything you would cook in a 9X13.  Sam's sells a package of 30 aluminum pans for $6.  I recommend getting the lids too, which are another $6.  (they are on the restaurant supply aisle)  Even with the pans & lids, I average only $7-8 per meal total.  It's worth the added expense to have your hard work properly stored.  One of the biggest bonuses of freezer meals is no dishes, and aluminum pans go from your freezer to the oven to the garbage.  Definitely worth it.

5.  Prep work
  I have found that I like it better when I only do 5 or 6 recipes per day.  (Remember, that still adds up to 15-20 meals in one day)  It goes without saying, but start with a clean kitchen & an empty sink.  This makes an insane mess.  Don't start out behind.  On my list of meals, I note the prep work I need to do next to each recipe, as well as the quantities.  Then I can spot the similarities at a glance.  Like this:  9u means it calls for 9 uncooked chicken breasts, 4c means it calls for 4 cups cooked chicken.  (1 chicken breast=1 cup cooked, roughly)  I also note the cups of chopped onions, etc.  That way I can count & dump the chicken for all the meals in the pot at once to boil (I always cook extra!), and chop the onions all at once for all my meals.  I can also count out and begin defrosting all the chicken for the 'raw' recipes.  I set out my canned goods in rows so that I can grab what I need quickly.

6.  Start cooking!
  While the chicken boils, I start assembling the recipes that are my 'dump in a bag' recipes.  These are generally crock pot recipes.  Like chicken tacos, or soups, or sandwich fixings like BBQ pork.  Set your freezer bags in a tall bowl to fill them, it will keep them from tipping over and spilling.  I leave out the water & write the amount to add on the bag.  If the recipe calls for broth, I use better-than-bouillon.  Ex:  if it calls for 24 oz. chicken stock/broth, I add 3 t. better than bouillon and write 'add 3 c. water' on the bag.  You can even buy dry vegetable broth seasoning.  It saves freezer space & money.
  You can shred the chicken in your stand-mixer with the paddle attachment.  Shred as much as will fit in your mixer at once, then you can add it by the cup as you need it.  Mix each recipe one at a time, & clean up between recipes. Besides avoiding cross-contamination, it will also prevent a disastrous kitchen at the end of a very long day.  Spray the pans with cooking spray.  You can almost always prepare the meal as directed, but then when it says to put it in the oven...put it in the freezer instead.  If the recipe calls for cooked chicken, cook the chicken first.  Otherwise, add it raw and freeze it raw.  (ex:  I use cooked chicken in most of my casseroles, but I assemble my chicken cordon bleu with raw chicken and freeze it that way.  Also, most crock-pot recipes call for raw meat, since they cook all day.)  When I make meatballs or meatloaf, I wear clean rubber gloves and mix it with my hands.  It will mix quicker & more evenly.  When you label the pans, put the sticker on the side if you have an upright freezer, or on the top if you have a chest freezer.  I write the directions for cooking on another label, as well as what I plan to serve with it.  (ex:  350 for 30 minutes, serve with rice or on buns)  When you've finished assembling, if you have leftover shredded cooked chicken dump it in a bag, add a jar of salsa, black beans, and corn.  Voila, Tortilla soup.  Add water when you cook it, until it is the consistency you like.

7.  Enjoy your easy dinners
  Make a list of what you have so you can keep track of what you use.  If you can, thaw your meal by putting it in your fridge the night before, so it's ready to go by dinnertime.  I almost never remember to do this!  I have found that almost all of my recipes will cook in about 2 hours from frozen.  Even a crock pot meal cooks up fast on the stove, but requires stirring.  We use paper plates & utensils, so we don't have much of a clean-up after dinner.  You can't even imagine how awesome this is until you try prep-work, no dishes...our evenings are so much smoother.  I also love not wasting time coming up with something for dinner, just to find out I'm missing a key ingredient half way through the prep.

Here's a pic of my hard work this week:
(see why you label the side of the pan for storage in an upright freezer?)

I cannot tell you how rewarding it is to look at this.  I went back downstairs three times today just so I could stand with the freezer door open and admire how pretty they look.  FORTY-TWO dinners!  That will last our family 6-8 weeks, since we just use them on week days.

Let me know if you decide to try it, and how it goes.  I promise that once you work out the kinks and adjust this plan to fit your family, you will be so happy with the results.  Anything that gives me more daily time with my kids is a welcome addition to our routine!

And...just in case you are's what's stacked in there:
All-day Chicken Tacos
Chicken Curry
Ham & Cheese Braid
Sloppy Chicken (for sandwiches)
Chicken Cordon Bleu
Chicken Florentine Puffs
Chicken & Spinach Pasta
French Dip
Mexican Soup
Chicken Enchiladas
Meatballs 3 ways:  teriyaki, marinara, BBQ
Chicken & Spinach Loaf
Italian Meatloaf

Happy Freezing!