7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 231)

September 6, 2013 | 58 comments

— 1 —

Hello and welcome! If you haven’t stopped by since last Friday, you may notice that the site has a new look! (Thanks again to my awesome designer, John Flynn.)

Quite a few folks offered the constructive criticism that the picture of me at the top looks too much like “hunchback in scrubs” (I’m summarizing lots of comments/emails for brevity). I hear what you’re saying, and I tried showing more of my arms in the picture, but then it just looked like “puppetmaster with man-arms in scrubs.”

I think the way it is now is the best I can do. Aside from the possibly-Quasimodo-esque picture, I’m still thrilled with John’s design!

— 2 —

September. Wow. This is shaping up to be quite a month, and we’re, what, six days in? This week I reached a level of busy-ness that I didn’t even know existed. There were days when I ran around frantically, jumping from one task to the next, from the moment I woke up in the morning until the moment I locked myself in the bathroom to scream went to bed at night. No checking email, no glancing at Twitter, just craziness and toil, all. day. long.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that the systems I’ve created for homeschooling and house management are pretty good, and with a little tweaking, I think we can get things under control over here.

— 3 —

In trying to get my house organized for Fall, I came to a seemingly obvious realization that has eluded me in all my years of parenting: that creating schedules and systems to keep your house running smoothly is an ongoing process, not a one-shot deal. Here’s what I mean by that:

I used to spend lots of time thinking up elaborate plans and schedules to keep the house running smoothly. When I’d put them into practice they inevitably wouldn’t work quite as well as I thought they would, so I would promptly give up and declare that I fail at everything always. I don’t know how it took me eight years to get this, but in the past couple of weeks I realized that it’s unrealistic to think that you can dream up a system in your head and have it play out perfectly in real life. Of course you’re going to need to make a few adjustments once it’s actually put into practice.

Now I see the process more like this:

  • I design a new system for some area of life (for example, a plan for the flow of our homeschool days).
  • I try it out, and make notes as I go along of what works and what doesn’t (i.e. I do not shake my fist at the heavens and cry “I SUCK AT EVERYTHING!!!!” just because one aspect of it fell apart).
  • Each weekend, I think of what adjustments I’ll make so that things will flow more smoothly next week.
  • I keep doing this over and over again until we have a system that works for us.

Just a little wisdom for you from the “things that are obvious to other people but are revelations to Jen” files.

— 4 —

This week the kids and I set out to find which kinds of coffee cups keep coffee warmest. We put our homeschool to the service of humanity and tested the temperature of boiling water poured into four different types of cups: a regular ceramic coffee mug; a tall, insulated travel coffee mug; a regular ceramic coffee mug with a lid; a tall, insulated travel coffee mug with a lid. Here’s what we found (click to enlarge):


What we discovered was:

  • Putting your coffee in a tall, insulated mug significantly impacts how warm it will stay.
  • If it’s in one of the insulated mugs, it doesn’t really matter if the mug is covered.
  • If you must drink your coffee from a regular ceramic mug, covering it will keep it about 15 degrees warmer.

— 5 —

I recently discovered the blog Harvard Homemaker, and I’m addicted. Her post about managing laundry actually had tips I’d never encountered before (which is amazing since I read a lot of laundry management advice), and her 100 ideas for organizing your home post makes me think I’m ready to win at life. A must-read for moms who love analysis and efficiency.

— 6 —

I am currently trying to resist the temptation to make myself a multimillionaire by implementing this idea I have for a kids’ foreign language program. I’ve been trying to get my kids to learn Spanish, which has been about as fun and successful as trying to get them to develop a taste for raw onions, and it occurred to me the other day that this would be no problem if I just taught them what they really wanted to know. If I skipped over all this “How are you today?” garbage and started teaching them how to say “You’re a poopy butt, ” or “Someone farted, ” they would be fluent by the end of the week.

I realize that this is a completely crass suggestion that no person of character would ever put into practice. I’m merely noting that, if getting your kids fluent in a foreign language quickly were important, it would work.

— 7 —

This week I pulled some random container out of the freezer and served it for dinner. All I knew was that it was a beef dish, but when I tried it I was blown away by the amazing flavors. My dad, Joe and all the kids were raving about how delicious it was. It took some inspection of the ingredients to figure out the name of this dish, and I finally realized that it was Slow Cooker Pepper Steak, which is as easy as it is delectable. Here’s the recipe if you’d like to try it!

— P.S. —

Don’t forget that Pope Francis has asked us to dedicate Saturday, September 7 as a day of prayer and fasting for Syria.



  1. Amy @ Consecrated Housewife

    My high school Spanish teacher taught our class one Spanish cuss word after we begged and begged him. He said it would be a non issue because you have to be pretty fluent in the language to swear in it. His comment was you always revert to your native language when swearing because it is too habitual. And he would know because he was married to a native Spanish speaker!

  2. Scott

    Jennifer, have you heard of the “Getting Things Done” phenomenon? It’s becoming pretty widely used in various arenas of society, especially business, I think. At any rate it is a “big picture” sort of way of looking at your whole life and organizing things for the best possible effectiveness at “getting things done.” It makes a lot of sense, and actually was devised similar to what you described above, but on major steroids.

    At any rate, you may find it helpful along with what you already are doing/learning. The creator of this is David Allen. He wrote a book (naturally) called “Getting Things Done.” He has other books and of course a whole plethora of things (web site, consulting business, merchandise, etc.). People who are aficionados call this system, GTD. I think the basic approach and method behind it is extremely helpful and very common-sense based, realistic, flexible, and practical. And, it can be set up with Evernote.

    • elizabethe

      seconded. It’s a great book.

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      Yes, I love that book! I read it a while back but I should pull it out and read it again. Thanks for the suggestion!

  3. Dorian Speed

    I am the same way about designing “the perfect” system and then wallowing in despair when I neglect to follow the system or it needs revising. Trying to modify my all-or-nothing way of thinking about this. You shall be my role model NO PRESSURE.

  4. Meghan

    Your coffee research is really quite interesting.

    Here is a helpful hint for those who add milk to their coffee. Adding milk to your coffee right away (as opposed to letting your coffee sit in the mug for some minutes first) will keep your coffee hottest in the long run. (This is not a myth that I read on fb, I did the calculation.)

    Also, I noticed that the greatest difference between the ceramic mug and an insulated mug is in the first five minutes. Have you ever tried heating a ceramic mug first? Sometimes I like to fill my mug with boiling water, wait until the mug is hot to the touch on the outside, and then dump the water and replace with coffee.

    • Judy

      I am also a fan of pre-heating the ceramic mug. I do the same: pour boiling water into the mug for a few minutes then dump and replace with coffee. We do french press coffee at home so this is no extra trouble. We just use some of the hot water we make for brewing coffee, then let the mugs warm up while the coffee steeps. Perfect!

  5. Hanne

    You are so right about plans… I have a schedule for my work day every day (as we have a hundred-and-one things to do each day), and there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t have to adjust it. It’s life I suppose!

    (But yes, sometimes it does make me panic)

  6. Claire @ Everything is Grace

    #1 – what?! If there was anything quasimodo-esque about you or that picture, I’m pretty sure they would not have forced you to live in the bell tower!!

    #5 – the organisational freak present deep deep down inside me got very excited at the prospect of organisational tips!! Shall be checking out Harvard Homemaker immediately!

  7. elizabethe

    Your picture looks great! gobsmacked that anyone would come up with that particular criticism.

    Anyway, thanks for the Harvard Homemaker link. I love the blog. I just read the post on laundry and I want to know this:

    Am I the only person in the world who doesn’t sort by whites, darks, and colors but instead by temperature? I have some whites that I have to wash in cold and some in hot, and some colors that I wash in cold and some in warm. I was almost, but not all, darks in cold as well. I usually have four loads. A hot whites (for towels and undershirts and gym socks), a cold lights, a cold darks, and a warm colors. And frankly, I merge the two colds with no issues if it is a small load.

    I feel like those sort by colors rules were made when people were most worried about colorfastness and clothes bleeding, but frankly, those are not just big issues anymore with most clothes and it’s easy to just make a load of clothes that bleed and tackle those separately. The biggest issue with today’s laundry is minimizing shrinking and disinfecting.

    Am I seriously the only person who has this problem? It’s so frustrating. I would love to delegate this chore to the kids but it’s too complicated to explain to them what needs to be cold and what needs to be hot. Even my husband can’t get past the idea of sorting by whites, darks, and colors.

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      You’re way ahead of me, Elizabeth! I tend to do towels and sheets on warm, then just wash all the clothes together on cold (unless there’s something particularly dirty). Most of our clothes are so old that there’s no issue of bleeding. 🙂

  8. elizabethe

    Oh. My laundry started working when I implemented the following system.

    Do one load every day. Fold and put it away before the day is over. Once you get over 3 kids, you might HAVE to do two loads every day. The key is to put them away before the day is over.

    TADA! 0 laundry problems.

    Usually the biggest problem with clothes is not having sufficient space in your drawers and closets so that it’s difficult to put things away easily. Then you procrastinate the task and never put everything away. You have to focus your laundry organization energy on making it easy to put things away. That usually means seriously assessing your actual space to store clothing and ruthlessly limiting the amount of clothing each person needs to have based on their space. Space is like money — it’s finite. You would never go overbudget on your spending? Yet people go over budget on their space all the time and suffer just as badly.

    You really don’t need as many clothes as you think you do. If you’re like me there are probably about 5 or 7 outfits/items you really like, and wear as soon as they are clean, and about 10 outfits/items you have to force yourself to wear and only will wear if all of the laundry is dirty. And they just languish in your closet/drawer. Just get rid of those 10 items.
    If you can’t do it, store that stuff in a box for a month instead of in your drawers and see how much easier it is to laundry.
    The same for kids.

    • sara McD

      Yes to this! Only exception I make is that there should be lots of underwear, socks, and washcloths. Underwear and socks because young kids are messy. And washcloths because no one should ever have to re-use a washcloth that has been used on really dirty places to wash his face the next day – fresh cloth every day.

    • Christie Martin @ Garden of Holiness

      We are completely on the same page when it comes to the laundry. I’ve got six kids and if I don’t do my 2 loads a day and get them put away before the end of the day, I’m staring down a laundry MONSTER before I know it.

      I cope with laundry mainly by being ruthless about outfits. I go through the kids clothes every season to be sure the sizes are correct and to weed out the unused and unusable clothing. I go with the saint who said that if you hang onto something you don’t use, you are depriving the poor. Three piles: keep, trash, and donate. Done!

  9. Pat J

    Thank the kiddos for the coffee mug research. It will change my life.

  10. Kathleen Basi

    I will never, ever understand why people feel compelled to make disparaging comments online (or elsewhere, but it seems worst online) that are a) not helpful at all, and b) none of their business. Your picture looks just fine.

  11. Kathleen Basi

    The other thing about any procedure that works with kids is that they change all the time, so it’s temporary anyway!

  12. Ashley Anderson

    Have you read A Mother’s Rule of Life? That, combined with what I learned from Seven Habits, helped me form my systems around the house. Oh, and Getting Things Done…are you familiar with that one? You could just grab their flow chart (crazy awesome-you would really, really love it!) Man, I read a lot of books in an attempt to improve my life. Maybe I should put down the books and work a little harder at keeping up.. 🙂

  13. Sheryl

    My best laundry tip is to own very few clothes. Seriously, my kids always wear jeans during the week, they don’t need 87 pairs. They don’t need that many shirts either. And my husband and I have very few clothes either. That way I can keep laundry to a load a day (and even get to skip a day now and then, but of course I only have 3 kids).

  14. Julie

    First of all, I am a part-time educational content developer, which basically means that I write and edit lesson plans for a living, and your coffee experiment is seriously brilliant! I’m pinning the idea as inspiration to my “math,” board… there is so much GOOD STUFF there!

    Secondly, and on a related note, have you heard of Coffee Joules? I saw them on Shark Tank and am completely fascinated, but have not yet tried them… you could take your lesson to a whole new level with these!! http://www.joulies.com

    Finally, I always thought that I was just not “good” at laundry and as much as I tried to devise a good system, nothing ever worked and I was stuck with piles of laundry on my basement floor and baskets of clean and/ or dirty laundry, everywhere else. Then, I moved into a house with a laundry room IN the kitchen. LIFE CHANGING. I didn’t have a laundry problem, I had a laundry room location problem! I now see the washer and dryer all day long, so I can’t forget, and I can switch a load while I wait for water to boil, etc. Plus, since I’m not doing laundry in a dirty basement, I fold the laundry as it comes out of the dryer and put it away immediately (no baskets!! baskets are my downfall!!)

  15. mary

    I like the picture. that is all

  16. sara McD

    I like your idea for foreign language study. I know people who can say “kiss my (tushy)” in seven languages, so it makes sense to me.

  17. the other Becky

    I read a while ago that in theory, theory and practice are the same, but in practice they are not. So when we make a good theoretical plan, it will not turn out exactly the same in practice. Also, be prepared for the fact that just as adding another baby to the mix necessitates some changes, you will need to make changes frequently just because your kids are growing up and going through different stages of development. If at all possible talk to parents with slightly older kids to anticipate.

  18. Barbara C.

    I find there are some systems that will more or less work long-term…like laundry or grocery. But when it comes to daily rhythms and routines, I often have to over-haul them at the beginning of each school semester, depending on the ages/grades of the kids, if I’m pregnant, or what other insanity we have coming up.

  19. Valeire

    The company that I worked for before I had kids had “continuous improvement” as one of its core values. I’ve incorporated that into my Stay at Home Mom philosophy. It helps me remember that I don’t have to have the perfect system or be the perfect person today. I just have to work at continuously trying to get there.

  20. Dwija {House Unseen}

    re #6: that’s precisely how I got my son interested in learning to read…and am just now realizing that maybe everyone doesn’t do it that way? Oops.

    • Lynne

      Oh, yes–Captain Underpants, may you live forever!!

  21. Denise

    Uuuhhhh… I did not think that of your picture, at all. If I go look at it and specifically try to “see” hunchback, I guess I can picture it, but it is not obvious to me. Just my opinion, but I think you look friendly, casual, and relaxed.

    Wonderful post, as always. Thanks for the recipe in particular!

  22. Emily Davis

    Jen, I love your blog. And your picture is fine girl.
    I am organized by nature. But please please do not think you have to be so organized all the time. Sure you don’t want to lose a child or anything, but it is way to stressful to beat yourself up (not that you do, but just in case) because your master plan is not followed to a T. Seriously – life is to be lived and everything can’t be organized.
    I’m coming from the opposite end though – where I had to learn to tame the inner OCD/Organized beast. I was a trade show manager/director of special events in my career – details and organization were EVERYTHING. But that doesn’t translate into the happiest of families.
    Again I say – organization is great. But know that it is ok not to do everything you plan. It’s about perspective and balance.
    I’m not sure why I am telling you this. God has put it on my heart I guess.

  23. A Hopeful Pessimist

    (Adding to Megan’s comment above) I like the little science experiment. As an addition to your science experiment with the coffee: how does adding cream/sugar affect the rate at which it cools? Is there a relationship between coffee:cream ratio and rate of cooling?

    Also, you can teach your kids about controlled variables: did the mugs have equal volumes and surface areas, or at least an equal volume: surface area ratio? Maybe a little advanced for them for now (re-phrase: did we pour the same amount of coffee into each cup? etc.).

  24. JoAnna

    Or you just use a cup warmer for a ceramic coffee cup and it’s still warm when you forget about it and go to take a sip two hours later. 🙂

  25. Kaitlin @ More LIke Mary

    Your picture is perfect. Dont listen to them!

  26. Will

    If you don’t mind mortgaging the cat, you can get a Dewar flask converted into a coffee mug/beer stein for the low, low price of $235. I am ever so tempted to buy one, but can’t really bring myself to spend that kind of dough for something that’s not dishwasher-safe.

  27. Tacy@ Picture a Skyline

    Oh my goodness, I like Harvard Homemaker! Thanks for the recommendation. Wow I have never seen such a thorough post on Laundry….. off to read more.

    • Harvard Homemaker

      Thank you so much! What a fun surprise to be mentioned here on this great site! 🙂 And thanks for stopping by mine. I hope you find some ideas that work for you!

  28. Renee

    Love today’s quick takes and wouldn’t mind an entire post of your family favorite recipes! : )

  29. Rakhi

    I think you are on to something with the language videos. There are only so many times Juan and Maria can have the same boring conversation. At some point, Maria will in fact call Juan a poopyface, and Juan will pull her hair eliciting far more colorful language than “Hola, soy Maria.”

    I’m intrigued by the potential for organizational brilliance, but I fear that I would only covet it from afar, whilst sitting on the couch being buried in an avalanche of unfolded laundry and dirty clothes. What I might be interested in is a robot monkey butler that would do the laundry, fold it and put it away without flinging poop. We have enough of that with two in diapers.

    As for the new design, I don’t see the quasimodo, and am rather shocked anyone would actually say that in polite company. Then again, perhaps they did not see the beautiful photo from which it was cropped in your earlier post. Peeps are cray cray, and that is why I shy away from having my picture on anything. 🙂

  30. Maia

    #4 = homeschooling mom genius

  31. TheReluctantWidow

    #6 – genius. My oldest son wouldn’t go for it because he’s so very proper and modest, and he’s signed up for Mandarin next quarter. But my younger two boys and my daughter (horrors) delight in any and all bathroom humor/language, so it would be a “go” for them. Let me know when you have that software developed. They are currently learning Spanish in 3rd grade, but hate it. I think they’d like it more if they could learn to call each other “poopy head” and “fart face.”

  32. Christine Johnson

    About learning a language: I have found this to be true for all ages. Even in ASL, the dirty words were among the first I learned. Of course, as an interpreter I actually HAD to know bad words, but not so much as a high schooler.

  33. Melanie

    #3! I too just realized this (literally, it dawned on me last night!). I need a clean house to be peaceful (clean…messy is fine, just not dirty!), but have struggled and struggled with implementing an efficient way to accomplish one cleaning task each weekday with my three little ones underfoot (a preschooler, a toddler, and a newborn).

    I realized last night that if I just did each day’s task at 8 pm after the children went to bed, I’d be able to accomplish it in about 20 minutes. That way, I don’t have to be stressed all day long about the messy kitchen or the dirty toilets, which in turn make me irritable with the kids. I always end up cleaning while they are napping/resting and shrugging off prayer time, scripture reading, spiritual reading, etc.

    You are so right – a mom’s schedule/routine is going to continually change as her family grows and her children grow up. I have often found myself thinking “I suck!!!” when my perfect schedule doesn’t pan out. So, from now on you’ll find me happily scrubbing toilets and mopping floors at 8 pm each night…happy because I can spend my day loving on my babies and giving quiet moments to God. Thank you for your inspiring words, Jennifer!

  34. Harvard Homemaker

    What a fun surprise to see that you mentioned my blog! Thanks so much for your kind words. I’m glad you were feeling inspired, and I really appreciate the fact that you passed along my website to your readers! 🙂 Thanks again!

  35. Katherine

    #1: no humpback there. love the new look 🙂
    #4: your kids are awesome. and homeschooling is definitely the way to go 😉
    #5: wow. she floors me. wow.

  36. Amanda Paige

    Do you remember there was a learn Spanish system sold on talk radio where the commercial went like this “Whats that on your feet?” “Socks” okay spell it S-O-C-K-S and they would say you are now speaking Spanish? Okay I am missing some from that but lol. Your comment regarding Spanish reminded me of that commerical.

  37. Jocelyn

    Oh, I thought it was a great picture when I first saw it! I just thought, “Wow, she has such beautiful hair! And that’s a cute little smile!!” You really do look awesome.

  38. Kira

    I love the picture because it looks like you’re leaning in towards someone you like, to say something interesting. It looks like you’re talking to me as my real-life friend, instead of my make-believe computer friend.

  39. Seth

    I disagree! Your posture looks relaxed but poised, like someone sitting at an information booth waiting for me to come over and ask a question. So, it’s pretty much EXACTly the photo to use for a weblog.

  40. Lynne

    Oh my: too many things to say. 1) my only comment on the pic: I do like it better with the natural background than in the sterile white environment. TMaybe that’s what suggests scrubs. 2) YES! Yes, yes, yes, yes, yesssssssssss! Knickles for you, friend. All day craziness. I get it. 3) Ditto. I once printed off a sign that said, “MOM IS A SCREW-UP”. In case everyone didn’t already know, and know that I know, too. 4) You come out with a chart like that and shatter all my “we are soul sisters” karma. In 14 years of homeschool we’ve never made a chart like that. And I can’t see it in the future. Yesterday we studied a grasshopper under a magnifying glass and I patted myself on the back for THAT. 5) I’ll look at her tips. My one useful laundry tip developed after 23 years is this: do all socks last. Wash darks, towels, everything else, first. In the final load throw in all socks. Somehow it keeps the laundry flowing all day if I don’t have to mess with socks in order to get the load out the dryer. When I open the dryer and see socks, I just have to turn away. (I known you don’t do socks, but this is all I have to offer.) 6) I’m all for self-seeking profiteering. 7) Just clipped with Evernote!!! Hahaha! Score small victory in life. 8) Thank you for the p.s. I only heard this yesterday, at the same time I heard that yesterday was supposed to be a day of fasting against pornography. I promptly forgot both. 9) My p.s. I just got the coolest pair of day-glo-green knee-high running socks. I love them! And they keep flashing me on your blog ads now. I know you don’t control this, but it creeps me out…while at the same time, making me wish I had a pair in hot pink.

  41. J.R. Baldwin

    I love your reminder than chore lists are a process, not a finish line. As a very new sahm, the curving slope seems steeper because I make it so!

    Love all your points, blood sugar too low to fully comment. Thanks for doing these every week, even when I don’t join in! Love!

  42. Mary

    I tried the beef dish last night and IT WAS AMAZING. My husband and kids loved it, and best of all I think it took me twenty minutes to make. It was so good I am even considering making a quadruple batch and inviting my husband’s huge family to dinner, something I’ve been too scared to do until now. Thanks!

  43. alison

    Your Spanish idea is genius! And I can say from experience that it will in fact work! I learned mandarin from the girl that sat next to me in algebra II in high school and I learned how to say “I wold like to pinch your butt” and “I am the best person in the whole world.” Years later, after taking college Chinese and even moving to Tianjin for a summer, I had a great story to tell about what were the first words I learned! “Ni hao” just wouldn’t have been as enticing!!

  44. Tamie

    Looking forward to hearing more about those systems!!!

  45. Heather

    As a homeschooling Mom (just starting) and a Biologist I love the graph! What a great idea. This fall we want to track daily temperatures and rainfall and make a graph. I think it will be fun. We live in the Northwest so plenty of rain up here. 🙂

  46. JaninVA


    I love the new blog format. Regarding #6, I recommend you look into TPR, Total Physical Response or TPR-Storytelling. Here is a link to resources: http://www.tpr-world.com/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&Category_Code=1000-10-05

    I have used the Instructor’s manual in high school (public) but you could easily adapt the commands for your children. It starts with “stand up/sit down…” And moves into ‘Simon says”-type activities. Eventually, they learn to perform several commands, e.g., “Stand up, go to the blue box on the table and remove 1 piece of paper. Write your name with a green marker and then jump 4 times, clap your hands and return to your seat.” Slowly incorporating basic daily commands into your vocabulary would be far more effective than sitting down to conjugate verbs or the dreaded ‘listen and repeat.’. Keep it natural and you can make it fun/silly/challenging. You could combine P.E. and Spanish! 🙂 !Buena suerte!

  47. Becky Castle Miller

    What mom takes long enough to drink her coffee that it gets cold???

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