Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Work Home and Familly - Household Goals from 2010

Ahh, yes.  That was a pile of stuff that lived under one of the two desks in our home office.

One of my goals for 2010 was to clean out my house.

I didn't get the house completely cleaned out but I did make significant progress. I cleaned out the following rooms:
the kitchen, the living room, the kids' room, the guest room, the laundry room, and parts of the office, family room and our bedroom. 

The office is actually usable, though it still has a long way to go, our bedroom might actually greet the New Year as a haven rather than something that looks like a giant mouse nest, and the family room TV cabinet needs to be cleaned out for that room to be done.  

The two rooms I didn't get to at all were my sewing/craft room and the furnace room. Both are a disaster of colossal proportion.  I have to have at least part of the furnace room cleaned out next week so that they can install a new computer in our thermostat stuff and then add a humidifier to our furnace as well. Nothing like an incentive! They can't even get into the room to work the way it is right now! :)

I am definitely a pack rat.  And, yes, I hate admitting that.

Getting rid of things has been freeing.  And we've donated about 4 van fulls of things this year so far.  And we have at least another van full sitting downstairs waiting to go.   We have so much that we don't need and that others can use as well as a lot of things that can be recycled or just thrown away. 

We also keep finding that we have a lot of things that don't have home.  As a consequence they end up being shuffled from one place to another and make up most of the clutter around the house.  We have a list and are hoping to redo our storage in the house to accommodate those items.

I got a lot done but there's still more to do in this area to get the whole house cleaned out.

Another project was to revamp our front flower beds.

This project out of all my projects barely got touched. 

I did transplant a few hostas this summer and we spray painted the planter boxes out there so they match the trim on the house (for the first time in 10 years!).  

We still need to add some new plants, transplant so many things, get new edging and remove all the old rock that was put in by a previous owner and is now making a huge mess of the flower beds out there. 

That one just fell by the wayside but we plan to pick it up this year along with a couple of really big projects around our house and garage.

All in all, I'm definitely pleased to have made so much progress on the cleaning out.  It makes me feel physically lighter, even though it's really mental clutter! 

And that's a good thing all the way around!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Goals Update - What I Did Today - December 28th

I'm working on knocking off some of these 2010 goals before the end of the year - a whole 3 days away!  That means I have to kick it into high gear during those next three days.   With the kids at daycare (I had to pay for it whether we used it or not) and my folks here, I have a kid-free house and extra hands.  I love being able to really knock some things off the to-do list and getting to spend some time with my folks to boot!

So what did I do today?

I installed another closet system.  This time in the kids' closet.  Again with the help of my Dad (thanks Dad!).

BOY, what a difference did that make!  I was able to clean out an entire 2-shelf bookshelf in there and it went into the closet and out of the room completely.  I also cleaned out another three-shelf bookcase and took it out of that room too!  Extra space, a closet rod that the kids can actually reach, and less junk to dig through daily!  Love that!

I also worked out for a hour, comforted my neighbor who has lost 3 family members in the last 2 weeks (one on Christmas day), did 3 loads of laundry, ran an errand, and washed the sticky residue from the pictures that the kids had hung with tape off the walls in their room.  Lefse and krumkaka have been made as well.

On the agenda for tonight are going through the remainder of the stuff junk from our bedroom and maybe making a run to Target to get the get the Roman Shades that we want to install in our bedroom.  Hmmm - maybe I'll do that run first and then dig through some of the junk. 

But first, off to dinner - Dad made his Seafood Chowder and it's yummy!  I'm going to enjoy that and my lefse!

Are you doing anything special to knock off some of those 2010 goals before the new year?  Care to share?

Healthy Habits in 2010 - Reaching My Target Weight

Oh boy.

This is the biggie.  My weight loss goal for the year - reaching my target weight of 165lbs.

Did I make it?


The good news?

I stayed exactly the same weight!  Not a single pound gained from the beginning of January 2010 to the end of the year.

And I lost 1 1/2 inches off my waist.
And I worked out more this year than I have since 2004. 
And I learned a LOT about my eating and snacking and nibbling habits.

My thigh measurements stayed the same as did my hip measurements.

I'm okay with that. 

As I said yesterday, I didn't realize how many things I would have on my plate and how hard it would be juggle them.  After all I did it all the time 'before.' 

The fact that I didn't gain a ton of weight says quite a lot actually.

I used to eat to pacify myself when I was stressed.  Now I try to do something physical and/or productive. 

I made it to Jazzercise 4 times during Christmas week. 
And I managed to make it through the holidays without gaining weight. 

And I got asked to become a Jazzercise instructor. (And I had 4 more people ask me to become one in the last week.)

I think that's all doing pretty well.
In fact, I think those are pretty big reasons to celebrate all that I've managed to do during a crazy-busy year with way too many things on my plate.

Do I need to ramp it up?  Yes. 
Do I need to get to that target weight before I try to qualify as a Jazzercise instructor?  Yes.
Do I need to watch my snacking more and still? Yes.

And I have 2011 to do it in!

How did you do this year? I'd love to hear.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Goals Update - How did I do in 2010?

Boy, did I start out this year with ambitious plans.   In retrospect, they were way to ambitious.

I had no idea how difficult it was going to be to teach and work on my PhD and an additional research project as well as juggle my children and my husband and my home and church responsibilities. 

I used to do this all the time!   How could I do this before and not today?

I pushed myself to the point where I was sick - ending up chronically sick, and I will now never fully recover.  Sleeping 3 hours a night, drinking way more coffee than I should, eating poorly and then relying on John to pick up the slack and the pieces. 

I can't get 3 hours of sleep a night and function anymore.
I can't drink that much coffee anymore (and no, you really don't want to know how much coffee that was!).
I can't eat that way anymore.
And John is just way too busy with school and work and the kids and his own responsibilities to pick up everything else.

So how did I do with my goals this year?

Well, my Biggest goal was to finish my PhD.

My original plan was to be done in December - right about now.

Well, that didn't happen due to a very problematic committee member, and transcript and exam issues that were all beyond my control.

I can't tell you how frustrating it is to not be done. 

I had planned on being done.
John had planned on me being done.
My extended family had planned on me being done.
My employer had planned on me being done.

Uff da.

As frustrating as it is, in the long run it doesn't really matter if I graduate now or in August.
And since everything that has happened was way beyond my control. Which is better than if I was the one pottering around with the whole thing.  I'm not quite all the way ABD - I have one more thing to do and it has to wait until January due to a committee member's wife needed huge and unplanned surgery.  I can definitely live with that.

In short, I've reconciled myself to this whole thing and I'm now okay with graduating next year.

As for the sewing and scrapbooking goals:

I have made progress on all of it, though there are very few things I've really completed. 

I'm the queen of unfinished projects. 

And my goal for "Christmas Break" (i.e. now until the 4th of January) is to finish as many of my partially finish projects as I possibly can! (With two five-year-olds and my parents in the house!) :) 

That includes: two more baby quilts, recovering my kitchen chairs, and sewing slipcovers for the pillows and cushions in the living room.   I also hope to get my scrapbook memorabilia sorted into years for 2005 to the present - it's a truly colossal mess right now and is preventing me from making much progress. 

I am disappointed that I didn't complete all these things.  I am happy that I did make some progress on all of them.

Now I just have to complete them! :)

What I did today:
I installed a closet system in my bedroom closet with the help of my Dad (Thanks Dad!).  And cleaned out from the closet and my dresser three tall kitchen garbage bags of clothes to be donated!  I also cleaned out a large stack of memorabilia from my bedroom (recycled half of it!) and recycled an enormous stack of stuff that had been hanging out in various places, but mostly on my dresser.  The floor in there is clean again, and so is my cedar chest!  The dresser is half-cleaned off and I have another stack of things on my bed that I need to go through before I go to bed tonight.  The memorabilia that was in my bedroom was sorted into years as it was put away - big relief there.  Now I just have to find a place for all the 'stuff' that doesn't have a 'home.'

I'm excited about the progress I've made this year overall and today in particular.

Stay tuned this week to see how I did in other areas of my goals this year!

In the meantime, how did you do with your goals?  Care to share? I'd love to hear!

This week on In the Refiner's Fire....

I can't believe this year has flown by so fast already.  It's really hard for me to believe that January 2011 is almost here and with it a whole new year! 

This week I'll be running down all the goals that I had in 2010 and how I did with them.  Some I did very well and others...well...let's just say there is another year right around the corner!  :)

Here's the scoop:
* Monday (today): General overview of the year and how I did on goals not included in other categories.
* Tuesday: How I did with my goal to reach my target weight.
* Wednesday: Household goals and their successes and failures.
* Thursday: Spiritual revelations and a few other things.
* Friday: Frugal Friday: My $25 OCC boxes and my financial goals review.
* Saturday: Super Savings Saturday: I'll be kicking off my personal January Pantry Challenge!
* Sunday: These are a few of my favorite things: My favorite things that happened in 2010.

So there you have it!  My upcoming week in the bloggy world.
I'm so glad you're here to join me. 

Check back later to see my year in review!

Menu Plan Monday - Week of the 26th of December

Can you believe it's the week of New Year's already? I think I live in a time warp. 

My folks are here for part of the week and then head back home on Thursday.  Someone has had the flu or food poisoning  (and yes, we know they are two different things!) in this house for the last week and 2 days - I hope we're finally over it!   We're actually back to eating well again so hopefully that means we're done with it all!
Anyway, here's what we're eating this week:

Sunday, December 26th:
    Breakfast: Cereal and Milk
    Lunch:  Turkey Sandwiches, Oranges
    Dinner:  Chicken Noodle Soup, French Bread, Apple Wedges

Monday, December 27th:
   Breakfast: Oatmeal with Cinnamon
   Lunch: Spit Pea Soup with Ham, French Bread with Cheese
   Dinner: Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash, French, Salad, Orange and Grapefruit Wedges

Tuesday, December 28th:
   Breakfast: Oatmeal with Apples and Raisins
   Lunch: Minestrone Soup, French Bread, Fruit Salad
   Baking: Lefse, Krumkaka
   Dinner:  Seafood Chowder, Lefse, Fruit Salad

Wednesday, December 29th:
  Breakfast: Pumpkin Baked Oatmeal
  Lunch: Leftovers
  Baking: Pumpkin Bread, Whole Wheat Bread
  Dinner:  Out for All

Thursday, December 30th:
  Breakfast: Banana Muffins and Orange Wedges
  Lunch: Macaroni and Cheese, Orange Wedges, Carrots and Tomatoes
  Dinner:  Homemade Pizza and Bread sticks, Salad, Fruit

Friday, December 31st, New Year's Eve!:
  Breakfast: Apple Braided Bread
  Lunch:  Salad with Chicken, Homemade Bread, Orange Wedges
  Dinner:  Pork Loin, Green Beans, Roasted Potatoes, Fruit
  Countdown Desert: Chocolate Fondue with Strawberries, Oranges, Bananas, and Angel Food Cake

Saturday, January 1st, New Year's Day!
  Breakfast: Homemade Cinnamon Rolls, Orange Wedges, Bananas
  Lunch:  Turkey Sandwiches, Chicken Noodle Soup, Apple Slices
  Dinner:  Beef Stir Fry, Rice, Orange and Grapefruit Wedges

What are you eating this week?  Check out I'm an Organizing Junkie! to share and be inspired!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

In The Refiner's Fire - Dealing with Grief

I've lost a lot of family in my short life.  So many that I'm fast running out of relatives.  John is in the opposite situation, just starting to lose his relatives.  In both cases it means that I have experienced a lot of death, a lot of funerals and a lot of grief.

This last week was no exception, we had the death of a family member and the death of a friend.  Another family member and a friend (who is a shirt-tail family member) have received very, very serious medical diagnoses.  Another friend has surgery for a serious injury - she already has a life-threatening, progressive illness on top of that. 

Death is part of life.  If we have contact with other people at all in any way, shape or form, we deal with death. 

And it usually ain't very pretty.

I read an article yesterday on "Walking through the shadow of death".  It spoke about worshipping God and rejoicing in Him even in the tough times.

Overall the article was very good but there was something that bothered me very much about it.

The author spoke about how she didn't cry - that she 'rejoiced' instead. 

I found this very misleading.  And disturbing.  The wording of the article made it sound like we need to squash our emotions (implied to be inferior because they are human emotions) and replace them with the joy of Jesus.  No crying allowed.  No sorrowing allowed.  No 'what ifs' allowed.


I don't believe for two seconds that God wants us to do that.

I don't believe that God doesn't want us to grieve.
I don't believe that God wants us to squash emotions that we have.
I don't believe that joy is something that needs to replace our 'human' emotions.

Walking through death as much as I have in my short life I have learned something and it is so very valuable to me:

God love us.  And He wants to carry us through the valley.  He wants us to grieve and cry and use the 'what if's' to change us.  To make us aware of our relationships with others and build them into the strongest strongholds we can have on this earth.  More than that, He wants us to build the strongest stronghold of all - our relationship with Him through these times of trial and grief and sorrow.

Sixteen months ago I took my cousin, the Godmother of my children, off of life support.  Then I had to call her mother and tell her that she had died.  It was, without a doubt, the toughest thing I have had to do in my life. 

And I grieved.
And I cried.
And I ranted and raved and shouted.

Yet I knew something else: my cousin was one of the strongest Christians I know.  She was now sitting at the feet of Jesus, her broken, non-working earthly body gone and living a life I cannot even begin to imagine.  How can I wish her back here?  To a life with a broken body and total dependence on others?  To a life filled with sorrow and hurt and heartache?

I can't.

It's been sixteen months and I still miss her dearly.  My children ask about her regularly.  They want to know what her new body looks like and if she'll come again to earth when Jesus comes.  I don't have answers to those questions.  When they see someone in a wheelchair they say, "That person walks with wheels, just like Auntie!" and it truly is no big deal to them.  When they see someone who can't talk, that too is no big deal and they talk to them like they can answer back without a problem.  I don't have a way to explain to my children what is happening with their dear Auntie now.  I don't have a way to quit missing my dear cousin.  I don't have a way to comfort my Aunt on the loss of her only child.  I don't have a way to comfort her friends and family who also miss her dearly.

What I do have is desire to make every moment of every relationship I have - a way to make up for the failings in my relationship with her. 
What I do have is the remnants of the relationship my children had with her and their perfect acceptance of those with different abilities.
What I do have is the knowledge that I will see her again in paradise.
What I do have is a joy in the Lord that cannot be moved due to circumstances or failings or faults or trials.

It doesn't mean that I don't cry. Or yell. Or think about things I could have done. 

It means I am able to let go of the past and move on toward the prize our Heavenly Father has waiting for me at the end.

A Pastor I had often said, "Happiness is an attitude. Joy is an altitude. Both are a choice."

And I choose to believe and follow and grow and learn.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Work Home and Family - Busy Mom Tips: General Kitchen Tips

Now that we've covered all the basic stuff that goes along specifically with meals, here are some general kitchen tips that make my life so much easier.  I can always tell when I don't follow them - life gets a wee bit more chaotic and chaos is something I just plain don't need!

* Eat breakfast in your pajamas.  Or at least have the kids do that.  That way you don't have to worry about spilling milk, coffee, cereal, syrup, oatmeal, jam or whatever on your work or school outfit.  Even if you don't leave your house that day, it's nice not to have to change clothes again or worry about looking weird if someone stops by unexpectedly.  It's usually right after I spill coffee down my shirt that the doorbell rings.  I currently get dressed way before breakfast, but the kids eat in their pajamas.  That means school clothes are clean at least until they get to school!

* Wear an apron.   There's a million cute aprons out there and, man, are they practical!  I love to bake and usually end up with flour all over me.  Then I have to change clothes.  The other night I was reheating chili - and sploot! it went all over my apron.  No clothes causalities involved!  Since I get dressed in the morning before breakfast (our schedule just works better that way), I wear an apron while I eat.  It keeps me from having to change clothes one more time before I leave the house.  I can use it as an emergency hand towel if needed or an emergency pot holder too.

* Wash those dishes right away.  I don't have a dish washer.  And I have a tiny kitchen with 9ft 1 inch of counter space, including the space taken up by the sink.  If I let the dishes pile up, the kitchen gets to be a mess fast.  Washing the dishes right away means I don't have to hunt for something and my kitchen stays relatively neat and tidy.  It also means things scrub off so much easier than if I let them sit overnight.  If you can't wash them right away, fill your sink with soapy water and soak until you can get to them.

* Add water to your pans after cooking.  Unless you've really burned something on (which has never happened to me, of course!), putting water in the pan keeps it soft and easy to scrub during washing.  I usually put the pan back on the hot though turned off burner to heat the water a little bit.  This makes cleaning the those pans a breeze!  Burned on food?  Add a bit of baking soda and bring to boil.  You will still need some elbow grease, but those pans do come clean a lot easier.

* Wipe it off right then.  Every night when I'm done with the dishes, I wipe off the table, counter, stove top and front and wipe out the microwave.  I also wipe off the refrigerator door and the door knob to the basement door.  It takes a grand total of 10 minutes unless I really have to scrub something and keeps my kitchen from looking dirty and dingy.  I hit any other obvious spots (on the cabinets or floor) at this time too.

* Sweep it right then.  I won't tell you how often I mop my floor because it's truly pathetic (let's just say my Mom does come visit twice a year!) but I do sweep every single night.  I hate stepping on bits of bread, extra rice and run-away grapes.  So every night I sweep.  And it does make a difference.

That's it that I can think of right now for the kitchen!

Next week, I'll talk about holiday planning and executing - a little bit late for this year, but there's always next year! Right?

Do you have any good Busy Mom Kitchen tips?  I'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Healthy Habits in 2010 - Ramping It Up!

After eating all this junk for a few weeks, I decided that it's time to really work on my eating.  And, yes, while I'm going into the land of Christmas baking!  Yee haw!  Nothing like a challenge, right?

This past week I did pretty well with working out. Since I didn't put it in yesterday's post here it is:

Number of times I worked out: 4

Yep 4!  With a sinus infection, and a whole host of other things going on to boot.  Was I sore? Yes.  Did my legs scream? Yes.  Did I move up to level two in the 30 Day Shred? Yes.   :)

This week is even easier!  Since the semester is almost done, my teaching requirements have 'calmed down' (though grading has ramped way up!) and I am able to attend Jazzercise more than I have for a while.  So I'm attending Jazzercise 4 times this week!  And I'm hoping to get in at least one more workout with Jillian.    I'm gunning for 2, but I'll settle for one.

Can you believe I'm actually excited about ramping up the exercise?  Love that!

Now it's time to tackle what I eat.

I was raised with the idea that nothing is 'off limits'.  Foods that aren't as healthy mean you get a taste rather than a ton. A cookie with your afternoon coffee for example rather than eating a whole plate mindlessly while watching a TV show.  Or a handful of chips with a sandwich for a picnic lunch rather than eating a whole bag while reading a book.  And yes, I've been guilty of both of those!  

My food goal this week?

Stopping and thinking before I eat.  And if I'm not hungry, replacing eating with doing something.

Nothing like ramping up the 'food thing' while heading into baking season.  And I love to bake.  But I'm baking with a plan this year and am able to share most of my baking with others.  So that means I'll have enough for a cookie with my coffee or to stick in my lunch as a treat.  I'm hoping that means I won't be as tempted to eat so many of them!  And I've found it's awfully hard to eat when your hands are full of doing something else. 
It's not like I don't have anything to do around here....

What are you up to this week?  Care to share?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Menu Plan Monday - Week of December 12th

Okay, I almost wrote "November" in that title... is that wishful thinking or what?!

Anyway, we're busy this week and my folks fly in from down south (and the warmth!) on Saturday!  Picked up more 'stuff' at the sales this last week when I went shopping in a full-fledged blizzard (note to self: don't do that again!).  Anyway, we're eating well this week!

Here's what we're having:

Sunday, December 12th:
   Breakfast: Oatmeal Muffins and Oranges
   Lunch: Out after Christmas Programs
   Dinner: Crackers with cheese and sausage, Oranges

Monday, December 13th:
   Breakfast: Cold Cereal, Bananas, and Milk
   Lunch: Hot at school for kids; Leftovers for Mom
   Snack for Mom: Yogurt with Blackberries
   Dinner:  Easy Black Bean Soup, Cornbread, Salad, Fruit

Tuesday, December 14th:
   Breakfast: Oatmeal with Cinnamon and Apples
   Dinner:  Chicken Flavored White and Wild Rice, Broccoli and Cauliflower, Fruit

Wednesday, December 15th:
   Breakfast:  Chai Spiced Oatmeal
   Bag Lunches:  Turkey Wrap Sandwiches, Oranges, Carrots or Tomatoes, Cookie, Juice Box
   Snack for Mom: Crackers and Cheese
   Dinner: BBQ Chicken Legs, Potato Salad, Fruit

Thursday, December 16th:
   Breakfast: Peanut Butter Pancakes with Strawberry Jam
   Dinner:  Turkey, Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans, Fruit

Friday, December 17th:
   Breakfast: Oatmeal with Pecans and Cinnamon
   Lunch: Hot at school for the kids; Leftovers for Mom
   Dinner:  Beef Stir Fry, Rice, Orange and Grapefruit Wedges

Saturday, December 18th:
   Breakfast:  Out for All (Bible Studies)
   Lunch: Minestrone Soup, Turkey Wrap Sandwiches, Fruit
   Dinner:  Pork Loin, Roasted Rosemary Potatoes, Golden Beets, Fruit

What are you eating this week?  For more inspiration or to share visit I'm an Organizing Junkie!

My Last Week in Numbers...

This last week has been quite the week - it seems like ever since we got back from Thanksgiving it's been crazy and I just can't dig myself out.  So here's what I've been up to for my silent week (since last Tuesday):

Number of classes taught: 3
Number of assignments graded: 220
Number of quizzes graded: 22
Number of labs graded: 22
Number of tests written: 2
Number of transcripts analyzed: 14
Number of hours spent in the car: 32
Number of hours spent sewing for the Christmas program this past weekend: 2
Number of hours spent sewing Christmas presents: 1 1/2
Number of Christmas program practices attended: 2
Number of Christmas program practices canceled due to snow: 2
Number of Christmas program performances canceled due to snow: 1
Number of Christmas program performances held: 3
Number of times I had to re-pin Missy's skirt because it almost fell off: 6
Number of times I had to retie Buddy's shoes: 3
Number of Christmas presents wrapped and delivered: 10
Inches of snow we received this weekend: 19
Hours John spent shoveling: 8
Amount of time it took to hit two stores during the snowstorm: 3 1/2 hours
Extra number of hours I spent sleeping since last Wednesday in an attempt to get rid of a sinus infection: 23
Number of days our Internet connection has been down at work: 4
Number of cookies baked this past weekend: 4 dozen
Number of solution sets written up: 3
Loads of laundry washed: 9
Amount of time I spent with my Mother-in-law: 16 hours
Number of deaths of family and friends: 2
Number of serious medical diagnoses among family and friends: 2
Friends who had surgery: 1
Trips to the ER: 1
Number of visits with our kids' school principal: 1
Number of visits with our kids' teacher: 3
Number of emails from our kids' teacher: 5
Number of clandestine ice cream sandwiches Missy ate at a friends' house on Saturday: 3
Height of the snow piles on either side of our driveway: 5 1/4 ft
Christmas decorations put on display: 1
Dozens of muffins made: 3
Rooms completely cleaned out: 1
Prescriptions I'm currently taking: 2
Accidents due to road conditions that I managed to avoid: 9
Number of 12 c pots of coffee I brewed: 14
Hours I spent helping students outside of class: 8
Bills paid: 9
Hours spent balancing the checkbook: 2 1/2
Ginger bread houses made: 1

No wonder I'm tired!

I will try to get back to blogging regularly this week. No guarantees though - kicking this sinus infection comes first! And since the school semester is coming to an end, that means things wind up for a short time here too.  Thanks for hanging with me while I try to sort this all out.  I do appreciate it.

How did your week go?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Healthy Habits in 2010 - Six Plus Two

I was so proud of myself the week of Thanksgiving - I worked out six time!  Yes, I even worked out on Thanksgiving day (and at 745am mind you!). :)  I think that balanced out the TON of deserts we had at my in-laws - literally a whole table of them (all pumpkin-related!).

This last week?  Not so much.

I worked out a whole whopping two times this last week.
If I average them, that's 4 time a week over the last two weeks! :) Does that count?

I won't even talk about what I ate because, boy did I eat a LOT more than I should have during thanksgiving week.  I have been better during the last week, and I'm liking that!

I'll tell you something though:

Something changed in my thinking the beginning of Thanksgiving week.  Something that has made me work on cleaning out, watching what I eat, and exercising more than ever before.  My house shows it and my waists fit better and someone even commented on it at Jazzercise last week! 

I'm lovin' that!

How are you doing?  Making progress? Care to Share?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Goals Update - The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men....

...or something like that!

After my wild and crazy week last week, I was ready for a weekend complete with not one but TWO dates with John and some time to get a few things done around the house.   Plus, I had a Super Savings Saturday post half done and my thoughts all aligned for my These are a Few of My Favorite Things for Sunday too! 

So, Friday I ended up with a super duper sinus infection courtesy of one of my co-workers and spent the rest of the weekend SLEEPING.  Then, when I was all ready to go and post on Sunday evening, Comcast had our Internet down. 

I think I'm officially ready for Christmas break!  **SIGH**

What have I accomplished over the last week or so?
* Cleaned out our guest room (my MIL is coming tomorrow so she needed a place to sleep!)
* Finished Christmas clothes for my daughter (mom had started them)
* Made homemade tree ornaments with my kids
* Made Chocolate Dipped marshmallows
* Made Hot Cocoa mix to go with the marshmallows
* Got the Advent wreath and the Advent calendar out
* Managed to mend John's scrub top with a ripped out seam
* Finished a Christmas present for my daughter
* Found a perfect "experience" present for my daughter (very reasonably priced, I might add)
* Grades almost done for the semester for my teaching (1 more test and lab still coming up!)
* Finished a paper
* Sewed a baby quilt
* Started two of the comforter covers I need to get done ASAP

Never mind that I'm still on my to-do list from 2 weeks ago!  At least forward progress is being made. 

And I like that!

How are you doing?  Care to share?

Menu Plan Monday - Week of December 5th

My Goodness! 

With Christmas right around the corner, we have a busy, busy week around the corner and that means easy meals this week!

I did some stockpiling this week with the grocery shopping thanks to some fabulous store coupons, so we're eating well this week.  Here's what we're eating:

Sunday, December 5:
     Breakfast: Cereal and Milk
     Lunch: Pumpkin Spice Pancakes with Pecans, Orange Wedges
     Dinner: Salad with Chicken, Pomegranate Seeds and Mandarin Oranges

Monday, December 6:
     Breakfast: Oatmeal with pecans and cinnamon
     Bag Lunches:  Apples with Peanut Butter, Cheez-Its, Carrots or Tomatoes, Cookie, Juice Box
     Snack for Mom: Yogurt with Granola
     Dinner: Beef Tacos, Fruit

Tuesday, December 7:
    Breakfast: Oatmeal Muffins with Bananas
    Snack:  Apples with Peanut Butter
    Late Dinner: Out After Christmas Program with Friends and Family

Wednesday, December 8:
    Breakfast: Oatmeal with Apples and Cinnamon
    Bag Lunches: Ham Roll Ups, Cheez-Its, Carrots or Tomatoes, Oranges, Cookie, Juice Box
    Snack for Mom: Crackers and Cheese
    Dinner:  BBQ Pulled Chicken, Rolls, Potato Salad, Fruit

Thursday, December 9:
    Breakfast: Pancakes with Bananas and Pecans
    Dinner:  Chicken Flavored White and Wild Rice with Broccoli and Cauliflower, Fruit

Friday, December 10:
   Breakfast: Chai Spiced Oatmeal
   Bag Lunches: PB&J Sandwiches, Carrots or Tomatoes, Oranges, Cookie, Juice Box
   Snack for Mom: Crackers and an Orange
   Dinner:  Beef Stir Fry, Rice, Fruit

Saturday, December 11:
    Breakfast: Oatmeal Muffins and Orange Wedges
    Lunch:  Baked Eggs, Homemade Cinnamon Rolls, Bacon, Fruit
    Dinner: Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup, Homemade Bread, Salad, Fruit

That's it for this week folks! 

What are you eating this week?  Go to I'm an Organizing Junkie! to share!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Frugal Friday - My Favorite (Easy and Cheap!) Gifts

For Frugal Friday this week FishMama is hosting a $10 or less present carnival!  Love that!

Since my camera took a bath this last weekend (quite literally), I don't have pictures (sniff) to go with this.  I can give you ideas though!

* Homemade Ornaments!  If you're even remotely crafty, have the kids make ornaments for their teachers, grandparents and friends.  Last year we made ornaments using painted TP tubes (you could color them if you don't have paint), pipe cleaners and beads. This year, we made "cupcake" ornaments using cupcake liners, giant and mini pompoms, glue and curling ribbon.  They are adorable and the kids had a great time making gifts!  All of these things were items we already had (since we're a wee bit crafty at our house!), so they were free to make.  Total Cost for Us: Free; Roughly between $5 and $10 depending on what supplies you have to buy ($4 for a giant bag of pompoms, $1 for cupcake liners, and $2 for a bottle of glue at our craft store here).

* Homemade Baby Quilts!  I love to sew quilts - especially baby quits - and use material left over from other projects to make both the front and the back.  One of my most recent projects was to finish some quilts that I had started way long ago using leftover bridesmaid's dress fabric from my two brother-in-law's weddings.  The material was free.  The backing calico was left over from another project.  And I bought the batting on sale for $4.   I bought a 1 lb skein of white yarn for $2.99 to tie the quilts with, and after 3 quilts have plenty left for several more.  Total Cost for Us: $6.99 including yarn that can be used for other projects. (This would be over $10 if you had to buy the material too, even on sale.)

* Homemade Jean Quilts!  My favorite high school graduation gift is a queen size patchwork quilt made from worn-out jeans or twill pants. I cut out the too-worn parts from the jeans or pants and then use the rest to cut squares for the quilt. I don't line these since they're so heavy and I buy corduroy or denim on clearance to back them with.  A few years ago, my Aunt cleaned out her house in preparation for a move, and gave me about 25 yards of 60" wide denim.  I haven't had to buy denim for backing in years! These would be great for someone with a new place or newlyweds or someone who has lost things due to a disaster. Total Cost for Us: Free  (Roughly $10 if you bought the backing material and yarn on clearance sale.)

* Homemade Jam!  I bought 6 lbs of strawberries on sale for a $1 a pound at the end of summer.  With freezer jam pectin on sale for $1.50 a package, I spend $6 on strawberries and $3 on pectin and have 6 pints of freezer jam to give away plus jam for all of us for a year. I'll bake loaves of homemade whole-wheat bread and tuck these into a basket with the bread for our Pastors and their families for Christmas this year. Total cost for us: $9 for 6 gift pints and 5 quarts for ourselves.

* Gift Baskets!  I love, love, love putting together gift baskets for friends and family!  I buy baskets at our local thrift store for 25 cents each.  Then I fill them with things that are either free or close to free after coupons and sales.  I fill them with things like sample size body lotion (50 cents to $1 each), theater candy (free after sale and coupons), candles (5 to 50 cents each after sale and/or coupons), homemade rose petal potpourri (free from my own rose bushes  and other flowers and a gift of rose oil I got for my birthday one year), and hair accessories, school supplies, and small toys bought on sale with coupons.  In my MIL's gift basket I include coffee - bought on clearance sale for about $2 a bag.  I really had to laugh the first year I started doing these, because my MIL kept admonishing me not to spend so much money on gifts! Total cost for us: Maximum of $10 depending on what goes inside the basket.

* Rice Bags!  This is my dad's favorite gift ever!  I made him a pretty cover for a rice bag with leftover fabric this last year for his birthday and then made a filler bag slightly smaller out of plain white material I had and filled it with uncooked rice that I already had.  He is cold all.the.time. so this is wonderful for him - heat it briefly in the microwave and then placed around his neck to keep him warm.  He uses it on his knee when his knee aches too.  My current plan is to make him a new 'neck pillow' shaped one for Christmas.  Since I had everything to make this it was free to make.  Total Cost for us: Free; Roughly $3 for remnant fabric and $3 for the rice.

* Coupon Books!  Every year for John's birthday I print out a coupon book for various things: foot rubs, date nights, quiet study time either at the library or with me and the kids out of the house, having me do one of this chores, back rubs, and a variety of other things.  He loves it and the cost is only a few pennies for the paper and ink and a bit of ribbon to tie it. A friend made one of these for her Mom for 24 coffee dates at different shops throughout the year (her treat, of course).  And another made one for her elderly neighbor for household chores such as leaf raking, gutter cleaning, and snow shoveling.  Both were a huge hit! Total Cost for us: Free since we have all the 'stuff", roughly $5 if you don't.

* Fancy Bath Products and Make Up Gift Sets!  I think these are a great idea too - our Target has small size bottles of bath jell and lotion packaged with a bath "poof" for $2.99 right now.  I buy a ton of them (I bought 10 last week!) and use them for those "token gifts" for people all year long.  Kohl's had a make-up set for $6.99 that was perfect for our 12-year-old niece, who is just starting to wear make-up.  Both are less than $10 and make great gifts.  I've also been known to buy the multi-packs of bath jell on sale for around $5 for 10 small-size bottles, open the thing up and add them individually to the gift baskets mentioned above.

Okay, I think those are my favorites! 

I usually also make hot cocoa mix and chocolate covered marshmallows with sprinkles or colored sugar for my kids' teachers (to go with the ornaments).  I put these in a basket with a mug bought at the thrift store for about 25 cents each.  Last year I made red and green caramel corn and chocolate dipped pretzels to go with them.  This year, I'm skipping the caramel corn and I'm not sure yet about the dipped pretzels yet. We'll see.  Either way, we're good to go with gifts - at very little cost to us!

How about you? What are you making this year?

Check our Life as Mom to share your own $10 or less gift ideas and to be inspired!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Brief Note This Week

We were at my in-laws out of state for Thanksgiving and this weekend has been one of those weeks where I wish I could hit "Rewind" and start over! 

Really! I managed not to blow up at anyone, but it was really tough - especially since the person I wanted to blow up at the most was ME!  ***SIGH*** I hate it when that happens!  :)

Anyway, the short story is we took nothing in terms of productive school/teaching-type tasks down to my in laws with us and I am still working on things that needed to be done early this week! Uff da.  We also had a ton of other little things happen that if they had happened individually would have been no big deal at all, but combined and with the mountain of missed work to catch up on, sleep has been a rare and treasured treat around here!  My final crown of the day was forgetting the kids backpacks for school today right next to our front door and not having any time to go back and get them before school let out today. Ugh.

Thus, the absence from blogging this week.

I have a Frugal Friday post all ready to go and I've been working on my Super Savings Saturday post since we went shopping when we got back on Sunday, rather than Saturday, so that counts for this week, not last.  (Did you follow that?) 

My camera litterlly took a bath over the weekend so I won't have pictures to add to posts until we get a new camera.

So, I'll be back tomorrow with a mostly pictureless Frugal Friday. Until then, have a wonderful evening.

And thanks for your patience!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

In the Refiner's Fire - So Very Thankful!

It's Thanksgiving Day.

And I have so very much to be thankful for... health.... husband.... children... home... education... career... parents.... husband's parents... husband's parents... husband's 8 siblings and their spouses...
...four lively nephews...
...a lovely niece...
...the addition of a new brother-in-law and his two daughters as nieces in the next year... vehicles to travel in...
...plenty to eat...
...plenty to wear... for things I need and desire... insurance...
...access to good medical care when needed...

...with all of this glorious bounty the thing I am the most grateful for this Thanksgiving is by far and away this...

...the Grace of God Almighty...

...who gives abundantly beyond all things we could ever hope or dream of...
...who cares for us in our time of need...
...and carries us when we'd fall...
...and continues to refine me into the person He would have me be...
...which is far better than anything I could have imagined on my own.

Happy Thanksgiving!
And safe travels, to those of you traveling.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Work Home and Family - Busy Mom TIps #3: Holiday Trips, Gatherings and Meals

Turkey day is TOMORROW!  Are you ready? 

We head out of state to the in-laws this weekend.  John's wonderful, huge family.  His parents, 8 siblings, 3-in-laws, 4 nephews, 1 niece, 5 dogs, and random cousins, aunts, uncles and friends as well. 

It's a super busy time and we enjoy it.  Most of the time.

We're heading out after I get done teaching today - which means we won't get on the road until about 8pm.  We'll get in around midnight and hit the ground running tomorrow morning. 

Here are some of the busy mom tips I use to keep us sane and happy while running around like the proverbial chicken with it's head cut off:

Get a hotel room.  Seriously.  If it is at all within your budget and you have to travel, stay at a hotel.  While Aunt Matilda may be terribly mortified that you are, it gives you a place to 'recover' in peace and you don't have to worry about offending sister Sue because you stayed with brother Joe (our original reason for getting a room).  And you don't have to worry about your kids keeping your in-laws up all night (you won't ever see those people next door again, really - ask me how I know!).  We've also found that hotels are relatively empty over a holiday and you can always ask to be put in a room away from the bulk of the other guests.

Cater that meal.  When the 5th and 6th grand kids arrived, my sister-in-law had a brilliant idea - rent a room at a hall and cater the meal!  She found a community room in city hall for a very reasonable price and then had a grocery store cater the meal for an even more reasonable price.  Total cost about $200 for the whole thing!  Including turkey, ham, corn, carrots, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy plus 2 pumpkin pies.  Paper plates, silverware and napkins included.  We had to supply drinks and anything additional we wanted.   We (the collective we) brought fruit salad and sugar cookies.  And with 5 'sets' of adults, the cost per family came to about $40.  With the teenagers contributing $10 each, we ended up paying about $30 each.  Not bad at all.  And no dishes to wash. Love that!

Or at least have a potluck.  Seriously.  With a family as big as ours, who has room in their kitchen to cook everything?  Mom and Dad used to do the turkey and a ham.  Everyone else brought something.  Those of us coming in from out of town picked up a fruit tray, a veggie tray or bread at a local grocery store.  Worked well and no one had too much work to do!  Now we just get it catered. :)

Make it casual.  Wear jeans or sweats and t-shirts or sweatshirts.  Seriously.  You're eating for crying out loud!  And you're going to eat more than you should (come on, you know it!).  Why be uncomfortable to boot?

Plan for your trip.  John has a standing appointment for getting our car serviced the week before Thanksgiving. We stock up on bottled water, pretzels, juice boxes, and popcorn on sale, starting in mid-October.  We have our stops pre-planned (3 - one each hour).  We have our alternative route for bad weather or really late night driving - when two of our stops are closed.

Pack light.  My MIL has a washer and dryer and she loves to do laundry.  The hotel we stay at has a coin laundry as well.  I don't need to pack 20 changes of clothes.  I pack one outfit for each day for each of us and one extra each for the kids.  We re-wear our jeans anyway, so that means I usually bring one pair and wear one pair.  I double my workout wear as pajamas (bonus, I can just roll out of bed and go!). I wear one set of earrings and a necklace and that's it.  Yes, I know the other necklace would look better with this sweater, but who cares?  We do bring 2 sets of swimsuits each since the kids love to swim because who wants to wear a cold and previously wet swimsuit?

Make sure you're all on the same page.  Dinner on Thursday or Friday or Saturday?  Everyone going to a movie on Saturday afternoon?  Grandma taking the kids to the city tree lighting on Friday night?  A rousing game of spoons on Thursday?  A trip to the water park?  Whatever it is, make sure that everyone has an idea of what's going on.  It avoids hurt feelings, extra craziness and the "I left my swimsuit in Minnesota" trip to the department store. 

Know what to expect.  Aunt Gurdie always make a comment about your weight?  Uncle Joe always tell the same joke over and over again?  Sister Lou always insist that everyone come to her house for mediocre pie?  Expect it.  Plan for it.  Come up with a witty comeback in advance.  Or offer to help make the pie (or at least offer to bring ice cream!).  I come from the world's most organized family when it comes to family gatherings (we're not organized for anything else), and John's family is, well, not.  Now that I've come to expect that, life is much better! 

Finally - remember what this holiday is about.
Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful. 
It is a time to be thankful for our families - no matter how difficult it is to be with them, there are many in this world with no one. 
It is a time to be thankful for being able to travel - there are those who wish they could and can't.
It is a time to be thankful for our health - if you are even rrelatively healthy, you're better off than many.
It is a time to be thankful for food on the table (whatever it is) - my husband and children packed 384 baskets full of food for those without last Saturday.
It is a time to be thankful for the Grace of God - without which we would be lost.

My in-laws are not always easy to get along with but the time with them is precious and my children need a relationship with John's side of the family. My in-laws are a family that is rich in unconditional love and that means I can enjoy the time with my MIL taking my kids to McDonald's for 3 meals a day for 4 days, my SIL's rude remarks about this that or the other, and the constant chaos that comes with having 28 people in the same (small) space for 4 days. 

How do you plan for the holidays?  I'd love to hear!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Healthy Habits in 2010 - Mixing Times Up a Bit and that Food Journal

My goal for the month so far has been to get up with John at 530am and do the 30 Day Shred on the days when I don't go to Jazzercise (i.e. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and possibly Saturday).  That wasn't working out well.  John and I have a short devotional time before he leaves in the morning and my working out at that time meant that we didn't get to do that.  It may sound trivial, but since that time is an integral and meaningful part of our day we decided that wasn't working well.

So, I decided to work out to Ms. Jillian after the kids go to bed at night on those nights - about 830pm.  I realize that people recommend working out first thing in the morning but I have always preferred working out in the evening (usually 6pm-ish rather than later) and I have been just completely beat when I get home and want to crawl into bed right after the kids do.  By working out at that time, I have the energy to get my evening schedule actually completed rather than falling into bed (or on the couch) a useless lump at 845pm.  It also means I've pushed my get up time to 6am from 530am and my go-to-sleep time 'officially' back from 1030pm to 11pm.  Every one's happy all the way around and I'm getting more done in the evenings, which is making me very happy!

Now, on to the pesky food journal.

Ahh - I hate that thing!  Or, excuse me, I highly dislike it. :)

I keep forgetting to write things down first of all. 
Second of all, I haven't written down sizes of things, which is probably the most important part of all.

I eat pretty well - lots of whole foods and few 'junkie' things.  I just eat too much. 

Though I have gotten better about things, I do need to watch my portions - I do not need to eat three helpings of couscous, no matter how nutritious couscous is (I don't make it with oil or butter).   I also do not need the three cookies I ate with my afternoon coffee today - one would have been more than sufficient. 

The good news is I have more muscle than I did two weeks ago - I am stronger than I was and can do more things when I'm working out.  I still don't prefer Jillian for my workout, but it is helping!

And I'll take that any day of the week!
How are you doing? Care to share?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Goals Update - What do you do...?

We have an ice storm in Minnesota currently and I hit the pavement this weekend - my back patio.  On Sunday, I went sailing off the back step and landed in the middle of my patio, bruising my back end and my right arm in the process.  Today my whole body feels like it's been beaten with a stick. 

While sitting around on the couch with an icepack on my arm, lamenting that I didn't make it to church and reading random articles on the 'net, I had a bit of a revelation.

I have a huge problem with procrastination (no, that wasn't the revelation!).  A huge problem.  And I have had it for a long time.  I know that.  And I've been working on it.  And I've made huge strides in the last year or two - especially after my surgery in fall 2009.  I'm proud of that.

(Yes, you did know that was coming!)
I have a long, long way to go.  Not only to be where I want to be but to get myself out of the hole I'm in and get moving forward toward that somewhere I want to be.

I can find a million ways to 'use' my time that aren't truly productive.
Analyzing a problem to death before starting working on it is my favorite.
There's also starting a new project.  That's my second favorite.
There's the "Gee, I need to clean thus and such." technique too.
Or it's cousin, "I just have to look up one more thing."

Then I beat myself up for it too.

Reading the article I was reading, I realized that  my motivation for procrastination is fear.

Fear of failure. 
Fear of disappointing others.
Fear of not being where I want to be where I want to be when I'm 'done.'
Fear of the unknown.

The disappointment, failure and not being where I want to be are all related to each other.
I have a huge fear of disappointing my husband, my children, my parents, myself.

Myself being the biggest one there.

Because, you see, I don't like myself very much.
I don't like how I look.
I don't like how I physically feel.
I don't like how I do my job.
I don't like how I am doing on my research for my dissertation.
I don't like how I keep my home.
I don't like how I care for my children.
I dont' like how I care for my husband.

In short I don't like much of anything I do.

I realize that part of it is a tendency toward perfection and a desire to be all things to all people.
The bigger part is that I had bigger and better plans for myself at this stage of my life.

Heading toward 40, I was going to be physically fit, stylish, a full professor (or at least tenure track), known for my teaching (and possibly my research), and a doting wife and mother to boot with a well cared for home to come home to.

I don't really care about the tenure track thing anymore, but the rest still haunt me. 

I want to be someone different than I am and I don't feel like I'm getting there.
Oh, I have my days where I make progress.  But they aren't enough.

I realized that I'm also afraid of success.
I remember telling John when I got this job "What if dreams really do come true?"
He replied, "Count yourself very, very blessed."

I do. 
And I am.

But I still struggle.

And until I like myself more, I know it will continue to be a struggle.

So my question for you all today, is what do you do?

Thanks for listening today.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

In the Refiner's Fire - Holding Myself Accountable

I realized something a little better than a week ago.

I have a terribly hard time holding myself accountable.

So does John.

Boy are we a pair!
Where there's outside accountability we do great - at our jobs, school (with grades or other 'incentives'), outside commitments where other people are counting on us to get our jobs done!  At home and personally it's a completely different story.

We had a huge "discussion" last week and it came down to this: neither one of us holds ourselves or the other accountable for anything worthwhile (at least in our estimation).  John commented that he didn't know how to hold me accountable without being a drill Sargent.  I don't know how to hold him accountable without being a drill Sargent either.  Being a drill Sargent isn't good for either one of us. 

Yet, I grew up in a house where expectations were high, and people were held accountable without resorting to drill Sargent tactics.  You were expected to do certain things, so you did them.  That was it.  Beds were made, chores and homework completed, job obligations met, health taken care of, property maintained without so much as a blink.

I have really struggled with myself and in my marriage because John grew up in a family where having things done was a miracle.  Dinner on the table each night? Only super woman did that.  Carpet vacuumed?  It's too much work.  Spills wiped and items put away? Are you kidding me? If I ignore it, it will go away.  Work obligations were met because otherwise you didn't have a paycheck.  Doing more than necessary, never. 

I started to question everything that I was taught.  Am I being unreasonable?  It this really a realistic expectation?

Then as time went on, it became, "Am I crazy?", "Am I just stupid?", "Am I ridiculous?"  And then it became "I am crazy."  "I am stupid."  "I am ridiculous" for having these expectations of myself.

I felt worthless and I quit doing things that I *know* should be done and let myself get overwhelmed with all that I wasn't doing.  Why should I pick up the living room when the kids never have to pick up their toys and John never puts his things away?  Why should I take the time to set the table nice, when no one else would?  Why should I clean out the junk when no one else seems to even see it?

John and I had this discussion. He knows that all of this has been weighing on me for a very long time.  We started to pray for God to show us how to have the accountability and to guide us in this.

Tuesday night we got a shock.
A huge shock.

John had been asked to come and speak about his seminary experience at a small group community meeting that we are part of.  We were all there - me, the kids, John, our fruit salad that I brought as part of the pot luck meal before the 'main event.'  John did a great job and I snapped a couple of photos to keep as a remembrance and stick in a scrapbook. 

After John was done, he was presented with a card. 
A card containing a check for a semester's worth of tuition.
And seminary is expensive.

We were (and still are) shocked.  And amazed.  And speechless.  And, yes, I cried.

God has provided us with this priceless community that has carried us through so much. A community that brought food, gifts and did shopping when I was pregnant and after the kids were born.  A community that has let us know in so many ways that we are loved, cared for, prayed for daily and deeply loved.  A community that has expectations of us - our own expectation as well as God's and theirs. A way for indirect accountability.

Ultimately, though, it is not ourselves, or each other or even this wonderful community we are accountable towards.  We are to do what we can, our very best, no matter what.  Because no matter who else knows or cares or is paying attention, God knows.  And He cares.  He cares immensely.

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward." Colossians 3:23-4

God has cared for us so abundantly - beyond what we could ask, wish for or dream of - to the point of financial assistance that certainly wasn't asked for.  The only response we can have is to work for Him and not for any other reason under the sun.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Work Home and Family - Busy Mom Tips Part 2: Cooking that Meal

Last time on Busy Mom Tips, I talked about menu planning. Today's topic, Cooking that Meal, is intimately linked to planning your menu. Busy nights mean that dinner either needs to be something that can be made quickly or something that can be made ahead of time and just eaten. Slower nights mean that more time can be taken to make dinner. Freezer cooking or simply planning ahead can aid on any night for making cooking dinner (or any meal) quick and easy. Here are some tips that help me make dinner quickly and easily, especially on busy nights!

Learn your timing. It takes 20 minutes to cook the brand of rice we buy. So if I'm making stir fry, I start the rice and then brown the meat at the same time, then cook everything else. That way everything gets done at the same time. No time wasted waiting for certain things to cook and no overdone food with others. This does take some trial and error but just looking at the recommended cooking times can help. If you have something that doesn't have a cooking time, time it once to see how long it will take. You'll get the hang of it pretty quick!

Make things 'while'. Let your oven or stove top (or microwave!) cook things while you set the table and make a salad. Use your crock pot to cook things while you are at work or otherwise occupied. Anything that can be done while something else is happening - use it! I usually bake things in the oven while I set the table, make a salad, pour drinks, wash dishes, and that kind of thing. Busy nights it's very nice to come home, slice bread and fruit and set the table in a few minutes and be able to savor a stew, soup or roast that's been cooking in my crock pot all day while I was at work.

Chop ahead. When I freeze peppers, onions and fruit I chop them first. That's how I use them, so it's easier for me to do that than chop after I thaw. I will chop all my veggies and fruit for the night at the same time rather than going back and forth. Additionally I might chop for the next night, if, say, I'm using green peppers in a salad tonight and on a pizza tomorrow night. That saves me time later. I usually don't chop fruit ahead if it will turn brown. Things like melon I will chop the whole thing at once, rather than as we need it.

Try freezer cooking. While I don't do casseroles, I have to say I'm loving this 'freezer cooking' stuff! I totally get why everyone is hooked now. My stir fry packets are especially nice - open packet, dump in pan, cook. Add rice and fruit and we have a full and balanced meal. I have pizzas and calzones in the freezer too - take out, stick in oven cook for 30 minutes while I make a salad and cut up some fruit. Though, the pizzas are a bit tough, the calzones are keepers.  This is something that I could definitely get used to!

Enlist help. My kids help set the table, toss salad, mix fruit, or butter bread. They take 'drink orders' so cups can be filled before dinner starts. And they love to put things from the fridge to the table and back. We're working on slicing softer things and using the peeler to help even more. John is willing to slice bread, make dinner and set the table if needed too. That takes a load off my mind and saves me lots of time!

Keep it simple! We basically eat whole food - meat, veggie, starch and fruit at each meal. I don't use sauces or spreads or creams or anything like that. I leave the peals on potatoes when I cook them - even if I cut them up and roast them (yes, I do wash them first!). Baking 4 servings of meat and something like potatoes or asparagus or something like that takes between 30 and 45 minutes in my oven set to 375F. That's enough time to steam veggies, make rice, cut up fruit, slice bread and do whatever else I need to do. I can set the table, light the candles and have everything set and ready to eat in that time. Sometimes I even have time read my kids story while we're waiting for the oven to get done! Keeping it simple saves me so much time! I do have nights when I make pot pie or something that requires more time, but usually it's 30-40 minutes total from start to eating. Love that.

What do you do to save time when making dinner? I'd love to hear!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Healthy Habits in 2010 - How Loud Can You Say OUCH?

I started the 30 Day Shred a week ago last Wednesday - two weeks ago tomorrow. 


Jillian does pack quite the punch.   The workout is a real workout - no ifs, ands or 'butts' about it!  I can feel it. And I really felt it the first week - so much so I ended up with a knot in my left calf the size of a ping pong ball ( you could actually see it!).  Jillian combined with a new killer leg routine at Jazzercise was apparently just too much for my little legs to contend with.

Anyway, I'm plugging away at it - so far it's been Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  I haven't hit a Saturday yet, though part of me would like to.  I go to Jazzercise Tuesday and Thursday. That gives me 5 workouts a week.  And since I'm not trying to "Shred" myself, just get more fit and add in extra workout time, I'm expecting to see "Shred" results at the end of the month.

So here's the run down according to me of the 30 Day Shred (all opinions are 100% mine and completely unsolicited!):

Things I like about the 30 Day Shred:
* It's a real workout!  For 20 minutes, that's pretty impressive.
* The moves are familiar to me - we do almost all of them at Jazzercise!
* That there are 3 different difficulty levels.
* I was noticeably sore after doing this workout. It means I'm using muscles in ways I normally don't. And that's a good thing.

Things I don't like about the 30 Day Shred:
* Jumping Jacks and Butt Kicks (and other high impact activities!).  Seriously Jillian, if you're goal is to get our heart rate up (which I believe it is) there are 1000 other ways to do it - without the impact!  You can't modify these without losing the heart rate increase and they are terrible for your knees and hips if you're overweight!  Please pick something else!
* Jillian herself. Sorry Jillian.  Your attitude bothers me. Maybe I'm too used to perky, upbeat and encouraging people - not "Kick your butt because your big rear needs it" kind of people. Beating me up is not the way to motivate me.  And I don't think it is for many other people either.  I get that you were once huge yourself and have no sympathy for 'fat' people.  I just don't think it's necessary to treat people like they're in boot camp to get results. 
* That I have to watch the little "Here's how this DVD works" intro every single time.  My DVD player won't let me skip it (I think it's the DVD, not my player).

Overall, it's a good workout and I'm sticking with it.   Though I am looking forward to meeting my goal in November and being able to order my Jazzercise DVD with a 30 minute workout on it.  :)

Have you tried the 30 Day Shred?  What do you think?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Goals Update - One Word: Slow!

I have two words on the tip of my tongue lately when people ask how things are: "busy" and "slow."

That seems to be a contradiction in terms, but the pace is busy and the progress is slow. So I guess they go to together.

Or something like that.

I have had a number of set backs with this darn degree this semester and I only have one left to clear out and then I can begin rapid forward progress again. My goal is to get that one knocked off by Thanksgiving next week so I can go into the holiday without quite as much on my plate.

Teaching is going well, but it is keeping me busy - as it usually does.  New preps (as in preparing for a course I haven't taught recently or at all before) are time consuming.  So that is a problem.  I am having a difficult time with a few things and I have a few students who have been a real blessing as well as a real challenge.

I have pretty much relegated myself to not getting much of anything on my giant home to-do list done other than the bare necessities - laundry, meals, dishes, and a clean bathroom (or at least one where I'm not embarrassed to let company in).  Everything else is getting squeezed into the minute bits of time I have.  If I have them.  I find that terribly frustrating because I am longing for progress.  I am longing to cross long time things off my to-do list and move on to something new.  And I definitely need something creative and non-academic to do from time to time.

The one thing that is going well is cleaning out.  I have been taking 15 minutes 4 days a week to clean out.  I have long-admired the Fly Lady but thought that I was just too hopeless to spend 15 minutes per day. Surely I need more time than that!  I have such a mess to dig myself out of, after all. 

Since most of our main rooms are pretty good or even better than good, I decided I was going to tackle our hugely messy office - it really and truly is/was a single pile of junk with a path to the unusable desk from the doorway.  It had become the catch all for the house and it was unusable.  I did not even take 'before' pictures because I am so embarrassed! 

Well, guess where I'm currently sitting.  At the desk, in the office. 
Yes, I really am. 
And I'm not tripping over things to get here.
And I can open and close the closet door (where our fancy/dressy clothes and collection of gift wrap abide) without having to shovel a ton of stuff out of the way first! 

The second desk in here is almost usable as well. 

Quite frankly, I'm impressed with it all.  And it has given me great incentive to keep at it.  The part I'm dredding is next - the filing cabinet and the surrounding pile of 'stuff'.  Hopefully next week I can post that I've made progress there too.  We'll see.

In the meantime, I'll take any progress I make, however slow.  Progress is progress after all.

And that darn turtle did beat the hare in the end!

How are you doing? Care to share?

Menu Plan Monday - Week of November 14th

Another week!  Wow!  I think I officially live in  a time warp or something - either that or I'm officially getting "old".  Who knows?  Anyway, we have another busy week ahead of us.

Here's the menu for the week:
Sunday, November 14:
Breakfast: Cold Cereal
Lunch: Breakfast Tacos, Fruit
Dinner: Baked Chicken, Roasted Potatoes, Broccoli and Cauliflower, Fruit

Monday, November 15:
Breakfast: Oatmeal with Cinnamon and Apples
Bag Lunches: Apples with Peanut Butter, Carrots or Tomatoes, Fruit Snacks, Juice Box
Snack for Mom: Yogurt with Granola
Dinner: Easy Black Bean Soup, Cornbread, Fruit

Tuesday, November 16:
Breakfast: Oatmeal Muffins with Orange Wedges
Dinner: Potluck at Church: Bring Fruit Salad

Wednesday, November 17:
Breakfast: Oatmeal with Cinnamon and Raisins
Bag Lunches: PB&J Sandwiches, Carrots or Tomatoes, Orange Wedges, Juice Box
Snack for Mom: Yogurt with Granola
Dinner: Harris Pizza, Salad, Fruit

Thursday, November 18:
Breakfast: Waffles with Strawberry Banana Smoothies
Dinner: Chicken Pot Pie, Salad, Fruit

Friday, November 19:
Breakfast: Oatmeal with Bananas
Bag Lunches: Turkey Wrap Sandwiches, Apples, Cookie, Juice Box
Snack for Mom: Yogurt with Granola
Dinner: Spaghetti with Meat Sauce, Salad, Fruit

Saturday, November 20:
Breakfast: Out for All (Bible Studies)
Lunch:  Soup and Sandwiches, Fruit
Dinner: Tilapia, Couscous, Carrots, Fruit

What are you eating this week? Check out I'm an Organizing Junkie! to share or find inspiration!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

These are a Few of My Favorite Things - Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!

We woke up yesterday morning to this - a winter wonderland.  Now it's sleeting outside but as long as I stay inside, I can ignore that. :)

 This is my very excited little man who wanted to go out and play in the snow in his pajamas!

I love the look of snow.
I love sledding.
I love Christmas lights.
And Christmas Carols.
And hot cocoa with big marshmallows.

Most of all, I love the excitement on my children's faces and the light in their eyes when the snow comes!

What more can I ask for?

(BTW, the orange 'dots' on the door are pumpkin stickers.  Buddy thought that the house needed a little extra 'decorating' this year!)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Frugal Friday - Using Leftover Candy

We got a ton of candy this Halloween and there was no way we were going to eat it all.  I froze some of the chocolate pieces (kisses, peanut butter cups, 4 full size Hershey bars, crunch and nut bars, etc) for baking at Christmas time and pulled out more hard candy than I've seen outside of a store for our Operation Christmas Child boxes. 

But we still had a ton left.

So what do I do?

Well, I got asked to bake for the Church bazaar the week after Halloween. Since I'd scored several boxes of cake mix at 88 cents a box plus 50 cents of two coupons for a grand total of 63 cents a box and some frosting for the same price.  I decided to bake 4 cakes and decorate them using candy. 

Here's how it goes:

Start with this:
Then pick these:

Add these, which I had bought for another 'project' with the kids:

Then use the candy to decorate the cakes so that you end up with these:

Skittle flowers with fruit slice 'leaves' and Pixy Stix colored sugar.

Smarties grass and flowers with licorice stems, fruit slice butterfly with licorice antennae and Pixy Stix sky.

Smarty and Sweet Tart Bouquet with licorice stems, Fruit slice and licorice butterfly. Bow is fruit slices and fruit leather.  (Sorry for the sideways pic - I can't seem to rotate it!)

This one is my favorite!  Fruit slice and licorice butterflies with Nerds an Pixy Stix accents.

All total, it took about 20 minutes to frost and decorate all 4 cakes.  Easy and lovely.

How do you use your extra candy?  I'd love to hear!

For more Frugal Friday, Check out Life as Mom!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Work, Home and Family - Busy Mom Tips - Part 1

Busy Mom Tips Part One: Meal Planning

The thing I get asked about the most when people find out we eat dinner at home about 28 nights (or more) a month and that we cook dinner, rather than buying pre-made is "How on earth do you do it!?"

For me this is normal. I grew up with a working outside-of-the home Mom and a homemade dinner on the table almost every night. Take-out or pizza was a rare treat, meaning either a special occasion or Mom was out of state visiting Grandma and Dad got to "cook". :) So, making dinner at night each night is just what's normal for me. And, yes, I've put certain meals on the table at night and thought "Ack! I'm turning into my mother!" That's okay. Really. My mom is a lovely person and she's an excellent cook. Plus, she taught me all she knows! Well, except how to milk a cow and butcher chickens. And unless I actually need those skills in my daily life at some point, I don't plan on learning!

Anyway.... back to menu planning....

Here are some of the tips I have when people want to know the nitty-gritty details:

Have a menu plan. Seriously. Nothing makes making dinner harder than endless rounds of "What are we gonna have to eat tonight?" "I donno." "What do you want?" "I donno, what do you want?" We've done both picking 7 dinners and just picking which one we want on the fly each night and writing out a detailed plan per day. Right now the detailed plan works better. When the twins were babies, the other way worked better. Find a way that works for you and stick to it!

Make sure you have everything for the menu plan in the house. Ever go to make dinner and find you're out of an ingredient? Yep, me too. And it derails the best laid plans we can have. Make that list, check it twice and make sure you have everything you need on that list before you go to the grocery store.

Keep it simple. For me, simple means a something that requires little chopping, assembly or other preparation. John also can't eat cheese. So most casseroles and skillet dishes are out. We usually have a baked meat, a starch, a veggie and cut up fruit. And most of these meals can be made in half an hour or 45 minutes, including cooking time. My SIL loves to make casseroles, so for her simple means a casserole. Another friend loves freezer cooking. Another raves about once a month cooking. Figure out what 'simple' means to you and stick with it!

Have a backup plan. Keep some quick and easy things on hand if you are running late, out of an ingredient or just plain don't feel like what you have on the menu. We always have salad makings, chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, and soup around. One night we had crab cakes on the menu and we ended up having salads with chicken nuggets because I was stuck at the office until 6pm (with a 30+ minute commute) and John had to be out the door at for a 7pm meeting.

Decide what's most important. Is a dietary restriction or your overall diet most important? Sitting down at the table together as a family most important? Is sticking to the grocery budget most important? Decide what's most important for you and make that your focus when planning dinner. For us it's a combination of sitting down together and what we eat. 

Plan for evening activities. Do you need to get out the door by 7pm three nights a week? Plan dinner for eating at 6pm (or earlier) so you don't have to rush. People eating in shifts? Use your crock pot or make something that can easily be re-heated. Need something on the go? Pack a sack lunch or a hand-held meal.

Plan for picky kids. Our kids put a capital P on "Picky". We're at an age where even foods they used to love are off limits! I plan one food item per meal (in our house it's usually fruit) that they like. We don't force them to eat anything they don't want - when we pass the bowl they are to politely say "No thank you." or they get one bite on their plate that they have to eat. They know the rule and usually remember. Missy did find out she likes spinach one night when she forgot! :) Bonus perk: we find out after a while they usually try something. The only meat that we eat with any regularity that they won't eat is ground beef and they eat just about any fruit and starch. Now if we can just get the veggies!

Grocery shop only once a week. Plan one trip and do it all in one swoop. I spend roughly 1- 1 1/2 hours per week hitting up to four stores for groceries and toiletries. And yes, I use coupons. And yes, John and the kids go with me. It's a fun outing and the list means we can get in and get out in a hurry. We shop at a relatively slow time (930am Saturday), which helps too. This way I don't have to take the time to run to the store multiple times each week and I don't waste time because I forgot things either. For me, this saves a TON of time!

Do you have any meal planning tips for a busy mom? I'd love to hear them!

**I started this series a while ago and then missed a few days so I'm starting over again.  Thanks for hanging with me!  This was my first post and it has been updated just a hair. I will be running my second  installment again next week and then continuing after that.**

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Healthy Habits in 2010 - Setting New Goals

Well, it's NOVEMBER already.  Can you believe it?  Where on earth has the year gone?  I have no idea and I'm really pretty shocked that it's already November.  It just blows my mind how fast this year has flown!

Way back in January, I set a goal to reach my target weight (165lbs) by the end of 2010. 

The short answer to whether I made progress is that I really haven't budged in weight since way back then.  I weighed in on January 12 at 175 lbs.  And guess what?  I weighed in today 174 lbs.  At least I'm holding steady! **cringe**  I know I have lost inches, and that makes me happy.  I do have a bit of a roll of fat around my hips and thighs that needs to go and hasn't budged. 

I was convinced by several people at Jazzercise to be licensed as an instructor and I will do that - after I finish this darn PhD, which won't happen until sometime next summer. 

In the mean time I need to lose that extra weight - how much credibility does a flabby and unfit aerobics instructor have after all?  Not much, in my humble opinion - especially when it comes to myself; I have a lot more leeway for other people! :)

Anyway, so I now have a new goal:

A pound a week until the end of the year, or roughly 8lbs to lose before the end of 2010.

My plan is to re-start my food journal for the umpteenth time and then buy Jillian Michael's 30 Day Shred, doing that on 3-4 of the days I don't have Jazzercise (purposefully exercising 5-6 times a week).  If I hit that goal in November, then I purchase both the cute tank top in the Jazzertogs catalog that I'm drooling over and the Dancin' Abs DVD from Jazzercise as well.  That will give me incentive and I get to mix in another workout with 30 Day Shred when I'm at home. 

So, yesterday I started the journal. Waaay too much Halloween candy. I guess that's expected, seeing how much we have in our house at the moment. (Check back on Friday for one of my ideas of how to use some of it up!) That is changing.  I also bought myself a bag of snack crackers one day instead of fruit or veggies.  Can't do that again either!

Tonight, a quick run to Target to buy 30 Day Shred.  That starts tomorrow AM.  I hope my legs are not completely screaming all day tomorrow after the leg workout we did today at Jazzercise.  But then again, maybe that's what they should be doing! 

How are you doing on your weight loss and healthy living goals?  Care to share?