Happy Homemaker, Ph.D.

A novice homemaker's attempts to use her engineering Ph.D. to serve her family

Christmas Cards

Christmas CardsIt’s that time of year, a time when I aspire to share a greeting with everyone in my heart.  The perfectionist in me declares this should include a summary of the past year (or more if I didn’t get cards out the year before…or the year before that), a picture of my family (of course, dated and labeled with names and ages of each person), and a Christmas card that fits the person I’m sending it to in some way (or at least myself or our relationship).

I imagine a snowy, quiet day in which I would carefully select the fountain pen from my collection that has just the right nib size, barrel thickness, and color to fit my mood and size of my handwriting needed for the card.  I’d choose cardinal red, gemstone green, or perhaps cocoa for ink, and let my heart-felt words of thankfulness for our friendship and best wishes for the coming year flow onto the page while my favorite Christmas music played in the background and a peppermint candle flickered.  I could happily pass a day – or more – in such occupation, and there were days in the past when I did just that.

Today was a day with the perfect, gently falling snow.  A peaceful Saturday.  A day with no outside obligations.  Perhaps I could…

But, it was also a normal day with my sweet Four, the five-year-old singing loudly and dancing haphazardly, the toddler crying (for milk, for help opening the baby gate, for justice when big sisters are mean…), the three-year-old unable to nap and needing help with every single paint jar lid when the rest of the house was quiet, and the baby apparently not being satisfied to play alone on the floor nearby.

A couple of years ago, I would have probably felt frustration and loss, perhaps even a sense of being cheated out of something that I delight in.  Today, I knew it was important for me to share some of my words with a few beloved family members that were on my heart.  I hoped to finish six cards (instead of the close to one hundred I’d love to prepare and send)  – without the year’s summary or thoughtfully selected card.  I traded the bliss of my fountain pens for a ballpoint to avoid the fear of an accidental spill and to save the time I’d spend deliberating on a choice.

I finished only two, but didn’t feel cheated.  I think that’s two more than last year.    And, there’s tomorrow to try for another one or two…  Right?

As I remember Christmas seasons past, my heart fills with joy in reliving days with such special people – family, school mates, college friends, roommates, lab mates, church friends, band friends, and new friends.  I long to share with them how I treasure our time together and how dear they still are to me, despite the distance of geography and time.  I sincerely hope I’ll be intentional and focused enough to send some words to many, even if it’s after Christmas.

But, today, I was telling dear ones how much they are loved.  I did so as I read Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs for the third time.  I did so as I admired her painting and served hot chocolate with whipped cream to my sweet, quiet three-year-old daughter while the other three slept.  I snuggled the thumb-sucking, blond-haired two-year-old after her nap.  I rocked my baby, singing Christmas carols to lull him to sleep.  I washed laundry, cleaned dishes, cooked a meal, and watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” with my kids, all things that I didn’t do when I had the time to spend all day with a stack of beautiful cards and my fountain pen.

So, for those of you who are dear to me (I hope you know who you are.), please be patient.  This season of life is demanding and hard and RICH.  Please don’t take my negligence as a personal slight.  As I hear at the grocery store (whether with two kids or with four) on nearly every outing, I’ve got my hands full, and I haven’t yet learned to write with my toes.

And, if someday in the future, you receive a card like I imagine sending, please give me a call, because though I may be delighting in the writing I couldn’t do when the children were small, it will mean that they’re not small anymore, and I, well, I just have a feeling that I’ll be missing these days of slobbery kisses, a full lap, and perhaps even the loud chaos and sticky messes, and I’ll need a hug.

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The Power of Praise (and a Birthday Story)

“Never comes mortal utterance so near to eternity as when a child utters words of loving praise to a  mother!  Every syllable drops into the jewel box of her memory, to be treasured for ever and ever.”

– George B. Lyon

I am beyond blessed, and only one of my three children can talk!

And, that dear daughter’s birthday is today.  Three years ago, I began Saturday as normal (whatever that was before kids.  I’m not sure I remember.).  *Wait a minute, now I remember better.  I had contractions through the night that kept me from sleeping, except for a couple of hours in the morning, which I took to rest.  It’s easy to forget the harder things.* I had been having contractions for about a day and a half, but they were somewhat mild and 10-15 minutes apart.  I was one week past my “due date.”  I was getting frustrated with the waiting but dreaded the thought of having labor induced.

Our neighbor had asked for some help on a spreadsheet, so I was at their house developing a form, I think, on MS Works.  I stayed there while they left to pick up their new little chihuahua, Bella.  As I walked home across the lawn, my water broke.  I calmly told Chad we should probably have some lunch (this was around 12:30 p.m.), repack the hospital bag (I had unpacked it earlier in the week in my frustration.), and start to head that way.  (We live about 5 minutes from the hospital.)  We arrived at the hospital about 1:30, and this time (We’d been in for a false alarm a few days prior), labor was progressing!

That afternoon is a treasured memory for me.  Time passed quickly, it seemed, as I rocked back and forth on a birthing ball with my husband rubbing my back at just the right times.  We sang worship songs together in between contractions.  I got to relax in the “hot tub” our hospital has for a little over an hour in the evening.   As midnight neared, I was fully dilated and pushed for less than thirty minutes to meet our 9 lb. 3 oz. baby girl.

A treasured day

A treasured day

I remember the hard parts of that day – a little.  The doubt I felt as the nurse suggested twice that pitocin would speed labor along (especially when the transition contractions were pretty intense, and I was just fine with the 5-minute break instead of 2-3 minutes between them).  The discomfort of the IV in my hand (which in my memory was worse than the entire rest of the non-medicated childbirth experience!).  The focus I needed through those intense contractions.  The burning as I pushed.  All easily forgettable.

Especially when you’re entrusted with such an incredible gift!

Happy 3rd birthday, Clara!  You are a precious blessing to us!

Such a blessing!

Such a blessing!

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What’s a STEM Woman (at Home) to Do? Part 2

Women can – even at home.

(This was really the post I meant to write last time, but I guess the 2 a.m. hunger call and late-pregnancy insomnia inspired my last post to go a different direction.  This post is more about how I’m using my STEM inclinations at home now.)

I’ll be honest.  I thought staying at home might would probably be boring.  In the months between turning in my resignation and leaving my job, I thought frantically of how I could best remain connected to my profession in some way.  Could I continue to research and publish?  Could I consult companies in the geographic area I’m in?  Could I teach community college or online courses as an adjunct faculty member?  Surely, I must need something, I thought.

I don’t recall ever being exposed to feminist rhetoric directly, but I somehow got the message as I was growing up that domestic duties were, well, boring and unchallenging.  This baffles me now, not because I currently find delight in washing dishes, but because my grandmother was a professional house keeper for others and found joy in that and because my mother stayed home, never complaining, patiently and diligently taking care of our home, meals, clothes, and well-beings.  My other grandmother delighted in cooking (and was EXCELLENT at this).  With such family examples, how was I misled?  I’m not sure.  I even remember, as a child, taking great pride in my work to make the bathroom sink shine and to pull all the crab grass from around Grandma’s iris plants.  But, by the time I reached junior high, my mind was firmly set that home economics classes in cooking and sewing were a waste of my time.  Anyone could cook, right?  And, when someone could choose a class like advanced biology, really, was there any contest?  Did people really major in that (home ec.) in college?  (I mean no disrespect now!  These are my thoughts as a teenager – pretty immature.)  A semester of wood shop and a semester of home economics were required our eighth grade year, though.  My pathetic pair of sweat pants I attempted to construct and the bad taste of our team’s Spanish rice should have told me that there was more to these pursuits than simply following directions.  Perhaps my failures in these areas discouraged me, too.  Besides, I got more attention for excelling in math and science.

Anyway, so it was with very little training and likely less skill (and probably not the best attitude other than a deep love for my children) that I chose full-time domestic life about 18 months ago.  But, God provides.  Without me wearing myself out trying to find ways outside of the home to use my training and interests in the sciences, He’s giving me opportunities.  I want to share these with you.  I believe that, whatever your field or background, there are applications of your skills at home that can keep you interested and occupied.

Science

  • I recently sent an inquiry to a home-school group in my town to see if my background could be useful to homeschooling parents and students as a tutor in STEM fields.  I connected with a woman who teaches high school biology and chemistry to 10-15 students a year.   She needed some help with grading biology lab reports next year, and it even pays a little bit!  This will allow her to take on a few more students without sacrificing as much of her family time, and it gives me a way to help without worrying about the preparation and testing that I know I won’t be up for with the new baby coming this summer.  I get to study biology again!  This is a subject that I loved my two years of study in high school but haven’t been able to return to studying or reviewing it since then due to other priorities (and a very rigid chemical engineering curriculum).
  • I get to see nature in a new, slower way as my almost-three-year-old daughter asks questions and notices things I don’t.  We talk about them.  We talk about how we could find the answers to her questions.  We read books.  I’m learning with her while getting to teach!

Technology

  • This is, admittedly, the area I struggle with the most, I think.  I miss working on the computer.  I am on my computer some, writing, checking Facebook, and checking e-mail, so I don’t mean just opening up the laptop.  I miss analyzing data in Minitab or creating a complex spreadsheet template to solve a problem for someone.  I do have an interesting dataset from my dissertation that I could play around with some more, but I haven’t made time for that.   As statistical software (even MS Office) products go through revisions over time, this is one area I fear losing my “edge” in, but that was happening a bit with my teaching job, too (being out of industry and not getting to use/apply those tools frequently).  
  • This is also an area where I see the most potential for learning as new online resources and tools are developed.  Any time I can learn something new, I’m happy.  🙂   Hey, if I can program in FORTRAN and use SLAM to create a simulation, surely I can learn some of these new tools and use them, as applicable, for my work at home. 

Engineering

  • “Engineers make things.  Industrial Engineers make things better,” is a slogan that I think was chosen by the Institute of Industrial Engineers.  (Now, for any hard-core electrical engineers out there, this might seem a little simplistic.  As a chemical engineering student, I joined the crowd that called IEs “imaginary engineers.”  Give me a chance, though.)  Every day at home, I get to work on continuous improvement in quality of both goods and services.  I am faced with the challenges of optimizing production processes.  Lots of processes.  
  • Optimization goes beyond finding “what works for me” in these processes.  There are actually mathematical formulas that can be created to help determine how many sets of clothes you may need (really need) for each child, how often you should do a load of laundry, and more.  (I plan to write more about these as I explore them myself.)  Perhaps I’ll even come up with some new formulas of my own.  (One of my favorite chemical engineering professors told us, “Never use a formula you can’t derive.”  That advice doesn’t seem so ridiculous to me now.)

Mathematics

  • Think beyond simple price comparisons at the grocery store.  At home, I get to consider the time value of money and think of how we can best try to optimize our savings and spending, balancing investments and debt.  This is an area I need to spend some time on, as it is available, because I think we can do better.
  • One of the greatest blessings of the last year was being able to tutor my friend, Staci, though the quantitative methods courses her Ph.D. in education requires.  These statistics discussions let me use my stats vocabulary (fun!), learn about different applications of various tools (hard sciences are different from behavioral or social sciences), and get some new research ideas.  
  • And, my dear mentor, Linda, suggested I could always practice my calculus during nap times.  🙂  (It’s been a while, so I could use the practice!)

Research

  • You may think being out of academia leaves a person without academic research possibilities.  I’m finding otherwise.  There are still a couple of papers from my dissertation I’m working on revising for submission to journals.  I get new ideas for research possibilities in applied statistics each time I attend the Fall Technical Conference.  
  • There are also classes in research methods being taught in the area, and I was able to help one of my husband’s friends through an accelerated class last fall.  This involvement was encouraging as it showed me some of the “holes” in what was being taught (at least at this particular college), helped me consider new teaching or tutoring possibilities, and affirmed that I know my stuff when it comes to researching and writing research papers.  I wonder if there will be opportunities to help other undergrads at my local university.
  • Also, being immersed in this new life at home, I’m developing other research interests, probably more qualitative in nature, that would explore the longitudinal effects of homeschooling, for example, so my research “pipeline” won’t be completely empty, should I decide to return to an academic position some day.    The only problem is funding.  I wonder if there are grants out there for independent researchers who need new software to explore their ideas…  

So, I encourage you, if you think staying at home with your family looks like career suicide or complete boredom, consider my story.  I was getting bored enough at my first engineering job within the first year or so,  that I applied to grad school to start taking classes again.  I haven’t felt that boredom at all yet.  Not even close.  I do wonder if my gap of outside-the-home work history, lack of continuous publications, or step away from computing software will impact my ability to get a job later in life, but I’m trusting God with that.  He’s building my resume in new ways, helping me develop skills that are oh-so-necessary, while being able to focus on the little lives He’s entrusted me with to care for and teach.

And I’ve never had work that is so rewarding!   

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Experiment of the Week: Toy Organization

A year or two ago, I was taken aback by my mom’s rule of only playing with one set of toys (LEGOs, doll house, etc.) at a time at my parents’ house.  Our toddler also seemed to not have any idea of what she was being asked to do as she was instructed to pick up all the toys and put them away before moving on to the next thing.  I thought the idea seemed unrealistic at the time.

A few weeks ago, I reconsidered.  Toys were everywhere in our house.  Everywhere.  While I had tried various systems for making clean-up easier for us all, none of them had really worked.  Woody’s hat was missing again.  Jessie has been MIA for weeks.  The neat dishes and piggy utensils from a special friend were strung across different rooms.   I decided something had to change.

But, I also decided to start small.  Call it a trial run or a pilot study.  🙂

I took a fabric box I got on sale at K-Mart after Christmas and simply put all the play dishes and cookware in it.  I placed that box in the living room (so Melody could access it easily, too) after picking up all the other toys that were there.  I initiated a new rule that the dishes must be returned to the box.

And for a week or so, it worked!  My two-year-old was excited about the piggy utensils again!  She was “cooking breakfast,” hosting picnics, and teaching the one-year-old how to mix.  Then, I think I slacked off on the accountability of that system.  I’m still a work in progress when it comes to keeping things clean and organized, remember?

Still, I’d seen enough success to start dreaming of going through the toys, clearing the clutter, and going to a container system much like what my mom had.  (Okay, so I should have just known that was a good idea of my mom’s.  She worked with preschoolers for years.  I have not.)

But when?

This week, my husband surprised me by stopping by the house after lunch.  He offered to take the three-year-old with him for a while.  I let him.  In the meantime, I was able to bake a batch of peanut butter cookies and get to start on the toy project.

Now, imagine for a moment, toys and books are scattered everywhere, it seems (even to me with slob vision), and I am trying to bend over to pick up said toys around a basketball-sized belly.  It was hard work for me.  I kept telling our one-year-old that we needed to take a little break from time to time.  She just looked at me, confused.  🙂

I was surprised by the success I had in just a couple of hours (maybe less?)!  I sorted the “baby” toys from the rest and boxed them up to be stored until the newest little one is ready for such entertainment.  I put the toys (even some books, gasp!) in a bag to donate to others.

What was left?

  • Barbies and clothes
  • LEGOs
  • Building blocks
  • Doctor kit
  • Dishes/cookware
  • Favorite stuffed animals
  • Dress-up dresses and costumes
  • Some miscellaneous

These fit well in the number of containers I had, and with a little work, I got the closet cleaned to provide an organized space for them.  The miscellaneous toys are a little larger, and I moved some of them to the old toy boxes that I had tried to utilize before.  One toy box was completely empty!

Our much-better way of keeping toys organized and picked up!

Our much-better way of keeping toys organized and picked up!

The results?  We’ve been relatively mess-free (toy wise, at least) throughout the house (okay, except for that bath squirt toy I stepped on three times last night) for two full days!  Clara, my almost-three-year-old seems to be having more fun as she plays.  Tonight, she even pulled out the blocks and was building towers on her own!  She hasn’t played with the blocks for a VERY long time!  And, she was the one who initiated putting them back in the box before bedtime, then back into the closet.  I think we’re on to something!

Now, if I can just get the clothes gone through and organized soon…

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The Best Kind of Surprise

There have been two main reasons I haven’t been consistent in blogging since Melody was born last spring.  One reason is I’ve been prayerfully seeking how to best spend the limited discretionary time I have, and I wasn’t convinced that blogging was the priority.  The other reason is the fatigue I’ve been feeling the last year.  First, I was busy seeing to my newborn’s needs.   The fatigue didn’t leave me when Melody started sleeping through the night, though, and those necessary early bedtimes continued.  I thought it was because I was using so many calories nursing, and it likely was.  (That, and keeping up with my 2-year-old and sweet infant.)

It was nearly Christmas last year when I became suspicious enough of the strange way I’d been feeling that I took a pregnancy test.  We soon learned that my frequent night-time trips to the bathroom, ongoing exhaustion, and strong need for mid-morning protein were impacted by the new baby growing inside me.

Hello, World! See you soon!  (Our third child at 20 weeks)

Hello, World! See you soon! (Our third child at 20 weeks)

A baby that will be, Lord-willing, joining us at home in mid-July!

(I was nearly 12 weeks along when we found out.  Let me tell you, the first trimester goes very quickly when you don’t find out until after 11 weeks have passed!)

I admit, I was a little freaked out at first.  Clara will be 3 in June.  Melody turned 1 in March.  There will be just under 16 months between Melody and this baby.  That’s a lot of little people to care for!  I was intimidated by the timing.  I was excited, but also scared.  We had hoped for more children, but didn’t think we’d be blessed again so soon.

I knew I just needed to trust God.  This baby was a gift from Him, and I knew that.  My faith was (and is) strong.  Sometimes, it just takes my mind a while to catch up.

The prayer dialog in my head goes something like this:

“Less than sixteen months apart, God?  Really?  Doesn’t Mom say she had twins ‘the hard way’ with my sister and me being just fifteen months apart?  How is this going to work?  I’m often worn out from caring for our two little ones now.  How am I going to do that–while nursing a newborn and being sleep-deprived?”

Okay, so it wasn’t much of a dialog, but after my venting of my worries, I remembered again and again God’s faithfulness to me.  He’s never called me to a task and left me all alone.  He always has my best interest in mind – even if I don’t see it until later.  He’s loved me so obviously and abundantly that I don’t doubt that His will is best.

With just eight weeks to go until we meet Baby (We don’t know if it’s a girl or a boy.  Similar to our other pregnancies, we wanted to be surprised.), I don’t know how this is going to work.  I don’t know who we’ll be able to find to watch our girls while we’re at the hospital.  I don’t know how the birth and recovery will go.  I don’t know how I’ll survive when my dear husband has to return to work, leaving me with three little ones in my charge.  I don’t know if this baby will have colic, like Clara, or be a profoundly happy baby like Melody.  I don’t even know how I’ll be able to even get everyone in and out of the car seats…

But God knows.  He has it all planned out, and I know He’ll take care of me.


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Coffee Breaks (Mocha Cooler Mix Recipe)

I grew up seeing adults drink coffee black or not at all.  One taste, and when I was “of age,” I happily became one of the not-at-all category.  I relied on Mountain Dew for the caffeine necessary for all of that late-night studying in college.

But, over the course of ten years and the encouragement of three persistent friends, I discovered that coffee can be wonderful – with good friends and enough cream and sugar.  🙂  (Thanks to Mary (V.) J. for recommending my first caramel breve at Java in 1996, Anna (L.) J., and Susanna (M.) E.!  I miss you dearly, ladies!)

I tried to explain to my students when I would discuss quality management with them that coffee for me is more of an event than a beverage.  (I was giving an example as we talked about who defines quality.  The customer does.)   For me, I like to go to a coffee shop whose atmosphere fits my mood and purpose.  (Am I meeting a friend, going to reflect and journal, retreating to a quiet place to grade papers, etc.?)  I delight (or am disappointed) in the shape and texture of the cup the drink is served in.  I associate the act of drinking coffee with many, many good memories of wonderful friends, long talks, and blessed times of solitude, primarily from my days between graduating from college and getting married.

Though my trips to the local coffee shops are very rare now, I still try to enjoy coffee as an event at home.  Even my simple Folder’s brew, served in one of my china cups, and a moment of quiet before my little ones are up is a bit of a retreat for me.

But, the weather is warming up, and, remembering fond moments of taking Friday afternoon breaks to get a blended coffee drink while I worked an internship for a semiconductor company near Phoenix, I was eager to try a new recipe I found for Mocha Cooler.

I was not disappointed!  I’ve found which glass at home will hold both servings easily (without whipped cream), and as an afternoon pick-me-up, I’m finding this is an EASY and refreshing treat.  Now I just need to convince myself I don’t need one every afternoon…

A refreshing break with flowers from my dear husband and a mocha cooler.

A refreshing break with flowers from my dear husband and a mocha cooler.

Mocha Cooler (from Taste of Home’s 2002 Quick Cooking Annual Recipes, p. 95)

Make Ahead Mix:
1/4 cup instant coffee granules
1 cup sugar
1 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1 cup powdered nondairy creamer
1/3 cup baking cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
 
Additional ingredients:
1-1/2 cups crushed ice
1/2 cup milk
Whipped topping, if desired

With a rolling pin, crush coffee granules into a fine powder between sheets of waxed paper.  Place in an air-tight container.  Add the sugar, milk powder, creamer, cocoa and salt; mix well.  Sore in a cool dry place for up to 1 year.  Yield:  7 batches (3-1/2 cups total).

To prepare cooler:  In a blender, combine the ice, milk, and 1/2 cup of mocha mix; cover and process on high until smooth.  Pour into glasses.  Top with whipped topping if desired.  Yield:  2 servings per batch.  (Okay, so there’s enough to share, but you may not want to.)

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Retail Therapy and God’s Provision

I’m not much of a shopper, and I tend to be somewhat overwhelmed by the high prices I see when I do browse a little.  I don’t feel I have the time to peruse stores and ads for the best deals.

Last November, I heard that a local church was having a rummage sale.  Last spring, our church had a similar event, and we were amazed and delighted at what we found there.  I had some Christmas gift ideas in mind in the fall, and I hoped I may be able to find some things that someone no longer needed that would be treasures for us.  I wanted to go as soon as they opened Friday evening.

But, that didn’t happen.

The next morning came, and I forgot about the sale until around 11.  They were closing at noon.  I rounded up the girls, knowing that it would be a challenge to take my 2-year-old who seems to say, “I want this for my birthday,” of everything fun-looking at any store.  We made it there around 11:30.

There were plenty of things left, and the prices were fantastic since in 30 minutes, all would be packed up to be donated to Goodwill.  My prize find was a pair of boots that Clara could use for the winter!  That was in the first room.  Next, there were some toys.  I found an old Fisher Price crib toy (no batteries needed) that Melody has been enjoying a lot as she explores the colorful moving parts that make a variety of sounds.  We found a Baby Mickey Mouse doll that Clara latched onto.  I found dress patterns that are sized large enough that I may be able to learn to sew and make them before the girls outgrow them.  🙂  I found a tablecloth that is easy to wipe clean and more sturdy and durable than what I had before.  The yellow color even matches my wallpaper border in the kitchen.  I found learning games that will be fun for Clara as we talk about letters and words.  There was a set (missing “E”) of alphabet magnets.  We got an old flip-top desk with the chair attached, that I think will be perfect for Clara’s learning and “art projects.”  We even found a Disney princess purse that she was super-excited about, another simple baby toy for Melody, a picture frame that will be perfect as a gift for someone this Christmas, and more.  We got some things we needed, many “added bonuses,” and probably some things that I shouldn’t have brought home (but will be easier to part with when we clean out and donate to the church sale in the spring).

All for $7.75.

Less than what I would have spent on even on-sale boots at a store.

I was giddy!

We were blessed with similar luck as we went to a few other neighborhood and church yard sales over the last two weeks. We now have a “new” couch and chair in our living room, increasing our seating capacity and comfort considerably and making the family room downstairs more cozy as we moved the love seat back down there.  Just as I was starting to worry about having summer clothes for Clara, we now have more than we need in her size, including shoes.  I even found a princess dress and a crown for her upcoming birthday.

I’m ever-amazed by God’s great provision for us!  I love how these sales meet our needs, keep our spending low, simplify our shopping, and make me feel so blessed as I see how God knows our needs and takes care of us – down to the special things like a princess crown or a microscope (I’ve always wanted one!).

I may not have found a costume crown in my size at the church yard sale, but I definitely feel like the daughter of the King!  We truly can cast all our cares upon Him and trust Him to supply us as we seek Him first.

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The Quest for the Perfect Oatmeal Scotchie – An Experiment

One day, I baked cookies, and the love of my life chose them as his favorite.  Oatmeal Scotchies.  They were something different and delicious.  He married me.

I tried often to make these cookies again, but they never seemed to turn out “just right” like they had that first time.  When I was working, my baking attempts at these were few, and remembering changes from one baking day to the next was not something that was working for me.  Sometimes, the cookies seemed to come out just right on non-insulated baking sheets, while baking on my regular insulated sheets produced too-crunchy cookies with many voids in them (which made them very crumbly).

I’ve actually avoided making these cookies for quite some time (though they are my dear husband’s favorite and my freezer was well-stocked with butterscotch chips) because I didn’t want the disappointment of another I-followed-the-recipe-perfectly-but-still-failed experience.

I was brave today.

A couple of weeks ago, we visited my parents at the start of our vacation, and Mom had made these cookies.  She had used the recipe from Nestle (printed on the butterscotch chips package) which calls for butter.  The cookies were DELICIOUS, but they also had the small holes in them that I had observed in my baking.  She noted that she never had that trouble with Aunt Viola’s recipe, which uses shortening.  She uses insulated baking sheets, primarily but not exclusively, just like me.

That comment got me to thinking, so today, I combined the recipes.  They are very similar except for the shortening/butter difference – and the flour and oatmeal amounts.  I had previously had a hypothesis (essentially, a hunch, but I’m a scientist, remember) that the oatmeal may have something to do with the voids.  (With one previous batch, I tried mixing by hand instead of using my Kitchen Aid to disperse the oatmeal.  I thought this may minimize air pockets near the oatmeal.  I didn’t notice any change with the results that time.)  I wanted to know if it really was a butter issue or something else.

So, I combined the recipes.  I also baked the cookies on both insulated and non-insulated sheets.  For one sheet, I refrigerated the dough for about an hour before forming the cookies and baking them (on an insulated sheet) to test a suggestion from a friend that all dough that has flour and butter should be refrigerated first before baking to avoid spreading.

Here are my observations:

  1. There were still a few voids in the cookies on both the insulated and the non-insulated cookie sheets, but nothing like what I saw previously.  These were hardly noticeable.
  2. The batch that was in the refrigerator before baking did not spread as much as the others, but I didn’t like this.  The others seemed to look more like “normal” cookies to me, flat and round instead of mounds.
  3. The non-insulated cookie sheet produced crunchier cookies and took less time to bake.  Again, I didn’t observe any significant differences between these and the insulated ones in terms of spreading or voids.

The real results came with my husband’s taste test.  “They’re perfect,” he said.

So, here’s my new family recipe for Perfect Oatmeal Scotchies. (With credit to Aunt Viola for the base recipe.)

Perfect Oatmeal Scotchies

1 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups oatmeal
1 package (11 oz.) Nestle Butterscotch chips

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Cream together butter and sugars.  Add eggs and vanilla.  Mix well.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, soda, salt, and cinnamon.  Gradually add flour mixture.  Stir in oatmeal and butterscotch chips.  Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

If using insulated baking sheets, bake for 9-10 minutes for chewy cookies, or until edges begin to brown.  For crunchier cookies, bake for 1-2 minutes longer.  (If using non-insulated baking sheets, shorten baking times by approximately 2 minutes and watch closely to avoid over-baking.)  Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes.  Remove to wire cooling racks to cool completely.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

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Peanut Butter Fudge Recipe (4 ingredients!)

In case I’ve been losing readers by using the words “Six Sigma” or “DMAIC” in my last few posts, here’s a little break!  Don’t imagine for a minute that I’m spending all my thoughts and time on improving my laundry process.  I’m always thinking of ways to slip making or baking some kind of “treat” into our day, or at least our week.  Here is this week’s experiment that came out WONDERFULLY!  For a simple and delicious fudge, give this one a try.

Peanut Butter Fudge

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup milk
1-1/3 cups peanut butter
1 jar (7 oz.) marshmallow creme

In a saucepan, bring sugar and milk to a boil; boil for 3 minutes.  
Add peanut butter and marshmallow creme.; mix well.  Quickly pour into a buttered 8-in. square pan; chill until set.  Cut into squares.  Yield:  3-4 dozen 

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The Laundry Project – Define Phase – The Voice of the Customer

One of the first things to do in a Six Sigma-type project is try to understand what the problem really is.  Customers speak in the language of emotions.  Process improvement leaders need to be able to take those emotional comments and discern what needs to be fixed.

For example, “I just want a good cup of coffee,” is not very clear.  What temperature should the coffee be?  What should the taste be like (strong, mild, sweetened)?  Does the type or size of cup matter (It does to me.)?  How can a coffee shop owner make sure the customer is satisfied from these types of comments?

And, what does this look like if your “organization” is your home?  You still have customers.  In my family, the customers are my husband, myself, and to a lesser extent right now, my little girls.  (I say lesser extent not because they don’t matter, but my 2-year-old would be happy enough running around without clothes at times, and my 10-month-old can’t tell me if she’s upset that her favorite outfit isn’t washed yet.)

What are the comments, said or unsaid, that come up in our house regarding laundry?

Running out (or almost running out) of clean underwear for me or my daughter makes me feel a little uneasy.  Seeing the hamper start to overflow makes me feel somewhat overwhelmed.  Having the clothes partially folded or fully folded but not put away causes some friction.  A messy, cluttered laundry room can be a problem (though not one I really saw.  I have “slob vision” as Nony at A Slob Comes Clean talks about.), potentially a safety issue even.  And, I don’t know if it’s the engineer in me or what, but I feel I have to wash clothes as directed on the tags, and I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to trying to remove stains.  (That stain-fighting perfectionist part of me is getting more relaxed, thank goodness!)

And, that might be it.  Remember, I told you in the last post, I don’t see the laundry process as my biggest problem right now.

Your annoyances or problems with laundry may be entirely different from mine.  What might be some other laundry-related customer comments?

I’m drowning in laundry!

I’m always finding stains – after the clothes go through the dryer.

There is always a mountain of clean clothes to fold at my house.

I can never find a clean shirt for my son.

I don’t have time for laundry!

If the laundry process is something you feel can be improved at your home, take some time and write down the comments you hear or the thoughts you have regarding any complaints about the process (or lack of a process) you currently employ.  In the next post, I’ll talk about how you can look more closely at those comments to find out what the real problems may be so you can tackle them.

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