Thursday, September 30, 2010

In the Refiner's Fire - Redeeming the Time

I have no idea who this house belongs to, but I love the colors and the architecture.  I love Victorian houses!  Or, I should say, I love the look of Victorian houses.  The upkeep is another story and I doubt I'll ever own one for that very reason. 

The thing that makes me sad about them is that there once was a great story regarding who built them and who lived there.  They had families and dreams and hopes and wishes.  And now it's reduced to a house.  A house that hopefully has found a loving new owner.  More often than, not that isnt' the case.  And I wonder if they owner left another legacy - family and friends who were touched by their lives in ways we can only dream of.  A legacy that will live on past the wood and paint and plaster and lath of the house.

Time is fleeting and precious.

I read 4 different blog posts in the last week on time management and another 3 about using time wisely.  It seems to be the hot topic lately.

I have always struggled with time management.  I tend to daydream (very literally), potter around, and tackle things that really don't need to be done now rather than the important and sometimes immediate tasks that I need to do.  Couple that with having constant interruptions at work (part of being a college teacher!) and two small children at home, and I am faced with many small chunks of time rather than large bocks where I can really concentrate on something. 

My natural make up is to need large blocks of time.  I have times during the day when I have larger blocks of time so I save my bigger, more intellectually focused tasks for those times and do things that don't require quite as much mind power or length of concentration for times when I have short amounts of time or likely interruptions (like right before or after office hours - I do things like file papers during office hours so I can be very easily interrupted without problems). 

This phrase "redeeming the time" is used frequently in Christian circles as a reminder to use our time wisely.

So what exactly does redeeming the time mean?

"Redeeming the time, because the days are evil." Ephesians 5:16 KJV

The NIV version says this: "Making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil." And the NLT says "Making the most of every opportunity in these evil days."

I think it's even simpler than that.

We tend to do what we want to do rather than what we should do.  We waste our time doing things like watching random shows on TV or net surfing (sometimes hours at a shot) and fill our hours with things that might be fun or nice to do but not necessarily things we should be doing.  Then we complain that we don't have time.  The reality is that we do have time - we're just using it for something else.

I think that redeeming the time simply means doing what God would have us do and leaving the rest behind.

Since I realized that I just need to do and not fret, I have gotten better at redeeming the time.  I have gotten better at using my time wisely to complete the tasks I need to do and some that I want to do.  Good all the way around. 

I'm tired of wasting my time.
I'm tired of fretting and worrying.
I'm tired of trying to do it all by myself.

God is much bigger, stronger, wiser and able than I can ever be.

He has given me only so much time on this earth.  I want to use that time wisely. I want to leave more of a legacy than a house or my possessions or my money.

It's time I started letting Him worry about the big picture and do what I can to do the things He has called me to do.  Not what I want or what would be nice or what sounds fun.  What He wants me to do.  Nothing more. Nothing less.

Then I will be redeeming my time to the best of my ability.
With Him in the driver's seat and leading the way.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Wednesday, September 29, 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 (such as the salad with bread in the photo above) 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 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.   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, September 28, 2010

Healthy Habits in 2010 - Just Get Moving!

Since my new job started at the beginning of the month, I've been on my feet 8 1/2 more hours per week than I had been before.

Now that's teaching, not running, biking, jogging, swimming, or anything else 'active'.  Just being on my feet, ambling around my classroom, occasionally playing with toys and waving my arms in large gestures and that kind of thing, but mostly just standing or walking.  Nothing fancy.

I read a study recently that said if you have a sedentary job (anything at a desk for 5+ hours per day) you still need to watch your health because that constant sitting is what takes the toll. The study showed that people who had desk jobs were less healthy overall, even if they spent an hour a day working out.  There were still a ton of questions that needed to be answered that weren't, but it is intriguing.

My Mom and I were talking about how she felt her rear got bigger, even though her weight didn't change, when she had a desk job.  I get that thought. 

I feel like even though my weight has pretty much stayed the same (give or take 2lbs either way depending on the day) since I had my kids, my rear and thighs have definitely gotten bigger.  When my kids were 1 year old, I went back to school. And have spent the bulk of my time sitting.

Since I started teaching this fall, I have lost an inch off my waist.  And my pants fit looser though the thighs, though I haven't measured them exactly. 

It's hard to eat when you're teaching a class - and my class falls right over my 'snack time'.  I've also tried to incorporate relatively healthy snacks into my afternoon so I don't fall over in class from low blood sugar or fatigue or something like that.  I'm sure that eliminating that snacking time and watching what I eat is helping too.

I do know that being on your feet requires more calories than sitting.  That means I'm burning more calories than I was sitting at my desk before.  And that helps my overall health.

It's nice to know those little things really do make a difference - and I don't have to bust it to make a difference.  Every little bit of moving really does make a difference - even if it is just being on your feet for more of your day than before.

Try it!  You might find it makes a difference for you too....

Monday, September 27, 2010

Goals - Going AWOL but Making Progress

Well, as I said in our menu post, things were absolutely crazy this past week!  The kids brought home colds the tail end of last week.  Then hubby got the flu - and Buddy too.  Then Missy caught the cold. Then I caught the cold which turned into a sinus infection.  Yee haw!  That means no blogging and very little else besides the absolute musts on the list.

Life happens and not much you can do about it except survive sometimes. (And thank God for antibiotics for sinus infections!) :)

It's been a crazy week in other ways too. 

Figuring out exactly how this insane schedule of mine is going to work out has been a challenge.
Having a student with particular difficulties that is going to take more of my time as a teacher has been a challenge. 
Finding out that I have problems with my academic transcript at school has been a challenge. 
Not to mention finding out that I have to re-do several things that I though were completely off my plate simply because I changed a committee member (which apparently put them back on my plate) added yet another challenge.

All that is enough to make me want to tear my hair out.  And that means I have to focus on what is working, not what isn't.

What has been working?

Conference abstract submitted for a side project I'm working on with our research group's post-doc - and accepted. (He's attending the conference, I'm not.)

All of my preliminary data stuff for my dissertation is completely done - and does not need to be repeated. Whoo hoo.

I finally got the living room cleaned  out (nothing like 'important' company to make that happen!). And now it only takes 5 minutes to set it to rights.  Love that!

Kindergarten is going extremely well.

Sunday School is going extremely well.

John's new Bible Study is going extremely well.

The freezer cooking is finally done!  (Look for a post on that later this week.)

My students' first test went well overall.

We had a really nice visit with John's supervisors for his seminary internship (the 'important' company mentioned above).

We all managed to not get really sick until 24-48 hours after the company came. (Whew!)

I managed to get to sleep by 10pm every night last week!  That means I got roughly 8 1/2 hours of sleep each night last week.  Can you believe that? (I usually average about 7 hours per night.)

And, I actually started the week prepared - not completely, but my schedule is organized, my lecture notes for today were done before I went to bed last night, not at noon this morning, and my grading was done and ready to  go too.  I like all of that!

I still have a LOT to work on - I feel like my teaching job is pretty well organized at this point and that means I still have to fit everything in around it or juggle it or something like that.  Since figuring out that I just need to do and not fret, life has become a whole lot easier.  Oh, I still have a ton to do and most likely more than I really should be doing in any 24 hour time span (sigh) , but at least I'm not adding heaping tomorrow's troubles on top of it too.

How are you goals coming along? Making progress? Care to share?

Menu Plan Monday - Week of September 26th

What a week we had last week - colds, flu and a million other things!  Yikes!  It seems like everyone I talked to has had a crazy fall, up to this point at least.  And this week is no exception - at least for us.  John is out of town for part of this week, so the kids and I get to "fly solo".  Including having a family friend pick the kids up from school for a couple of days.  Haven't tried that with my 'new' schedule, so we'll see how it goes.  Freezer cooking is finally done - I had to take a break with the colds and flu.  I did 'scratch' the M&M Oatmeal cookies and totally forgot to take photos of almost everything. At least the food is in the freezer and ready to be made into full meals!  Hurray!  That makes weeks like these so much easier!  Here's what we're eating this week:

Sunday, September 26:
Breakfast: Cold Cereal
Lunch: Baked Eggs, Cinnamon Biscuit Twists, Fruit
Dinner: Roasted Root Vegetables, Homemade Bread, Fruit

Monday, September 27:
Breakfast: Oatmeal with Bananas
Bag Lunches: Apples with Peanut Butter, Cheese Stick, Animal Crackers, Juice Box
Snack for Mom: Yogurt with Granola
Dinner: Shrimp Stir Fry, Rice, Fruit

Tuesday, September 28:
Breakfast: Waffles with Strawberries
Dinner: Chicken Nuggets, Carrots, Strawberries and Grapes

Wednesday, September 29:
Breakfast: Chai Spiced Oatmeal
Bag Lunches: Turkey Wrap Sandwiches, Applesauce, Animal Crackers, Juice Box.
Snack for Mom: Yogurt with Strawberries
Dinner: Beef Roast, Baked Squash, Homemade Bread, Fruit

Thursday, September 30:
Breakfast: Oatmeal Muffins with Applesauce
Dinner: Chicken Noodle Soup, Homemade Bread, Fruit

Friday, October 1:
Breakfast: Oatmeal with Cinnamon and Walnuts
Bag Lunches: Turkey Sandwiches, Mandarin Oranges or Apples, Animal Crackers, Juice Box
Snack for Mom: Apples with Peanut Butter
Dinner: Macaroni and Cheese, Apples and Melon

Saturday, October 2:
Breakfast: Cold Cereal with Bananas
Lunch: Turkey Sandwiches, Carrot and Celery Sticks, Fruit
Dinner: Homemade Pizza and Bread sticks, Salad, Fruit

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

Sunday, September 26, 2010

These Are A Few of My Favorite Things - My Children's Friends

I have to say we are very, very blessed.

I have two healthy, active and intelligent (in my humble opinion!) children.  These children have the ability to make friends easily and play well with others in almost every setting they've been in.  And now we are entering the age with constant play-dates.

My husband and I have great neighbors - both with children.  And those children are friends of our children.

My children have been blessed with good classmates at preschool. And good peers at daycare.  And even more good classmates at kindergarten. 

We have had 3 birthday parties in  a month here.  And we have had more play dates than you can shake a stick at as well.  Having neighbors with children means knocks on the door asking for someone (or someones) to play.  And we have had little feet tramping in and out of our house every evening for the last 2 weeks and all afternoon yesterday and today. 

I love it.

I love that my children have friends close by.  That helps to make up for our family living states away.

I love that my children's friends feel welcome enough in our home to want to come and play - often.

I love that my children have had some friends since they were babies and want to keep those friendships alive even though they are getting older.

I love even more that my children are learning to share and play well and be friends to others.

The best part?  That the children they spend time with have parents who have similar values to ours, whose homes I don't have to worry about, and who I trust with my children.

Yesterday, they played with the neighbor across the street.  Our street is a 30 MPH street, and many times people go faster than that.  They are definitely not allowed to cross the street without holding the hand of an adult.  When it was time to come home, their friend's 17-year-old brother walked them home - holding two little hands in his big teen-age ones.  His Mom was busy and he didn't want to bother her, so he brought them home himself.  This is the same kid who brought over Halloween candy for the kids 4 years ago because we were at a funeral and they missed trick-or-treating.  And mowed our other neighbor's yard without being asked because he knew she was taking care of her very ill husband and didn't have time (he refused to let her pay him too).  And who now walks his little sister's friends home so his mom won't have to.  If his little sister turns out half as good as her big brother, my children will be blessed to call her their friend.

Yes, my children's friends are one of my favorite things.

And I feel truly blessed.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Frugal Friday - Jumping Off the Consumer Bandwagon

I guess you can say that we aren't on the consumer bandwagon anymore. 

I had that realization as I was filling out my Swagbucks profiles for their "trusted survey" section a while back. I had that realization again while taking to a friend.  And then again while talking to the cashier at the grocery store.

All of these things were talking or asking about purchases that I've made in the last year in some form or another. 

On Swagbucks it was things like:
Which restaurants have you frequented in the last year?
What electronics have your bought in the last year? (Or are planning to buy in the future.)
Where do you typically buy ....(typically followed by something I've never bought in my life)?

My friend was talking about:
The cell phones they had bought recently.
The concerts they've seen recently.
How much dressing trendy is these days.
How much groceries cost.

The cashier was talking about:
How he'd had to replace his cell phone Smart Phone (or iPhone or something like that) 3 times this year already.
How his big screen TV had gone belly up at the same time.

It made me realize that we really don't have the same spending habits as a lot of people. 

We have a radio station here that encourages people to buy lunch, a drink, etc. for someone at the drive thru one Friday a month.  They play phone conversations from people who have called in talking about how great it is.   I'm always impressed when someone down on their luck or out of a job or going through something awful, like cancer or a terminal illness, pays for someone and they call to talk about how God prompted them to go buy something for someone else just to bless them.

I'm always completely puzzled by the people who call in and say "Money is so tight now" or "I was down to my last $5" and then proceed to gush about how someone totally surprised them by paying for their meal. 

Now, I don't doubt that God speaks to some of these people - there's usually someone who says something like "I haven't been to church in a while because I've been so angry with God over something or another and that really made me think that God cares" Or I never really got what this whole "God thing" was about and now I want to know more. 

I still wonder why someone who has $5 to their name is going through the drive through. 

I wonder why the cashier at the grocery store thinks its necessary to have an iPhone (or whatever it was) and a big screen TV.
I wonder why my friend, who wears a uniform to work and has enormous medical and legal bills currently, has to buy the latest trends and see the latest concerts and buy a new cell phone.

I wonder why I need to buy a particular product, as suggested by today's marketing strategies.

Then I go home, to my small home filled with furnishings I mostly love and that have lasted me many years and I know why I don't do those things too.

Because a home is not a home without the people inside it.
Because we have things that are more important to spend our money on (at least in our estimation).
Because we really want to share our bounty with those in need.
Because we're trying to become debt free so we can follow God's call after Seminary.
Because it just doesn't pay to keep up with the Jones.

What have you jumped off the consumer bandwagon?  I'd love to hear.

For more Frugal Friday, check out Life as Mom!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

In the Refiner's Fire - The Days Own Troubles

I had a bit of a breakthrough this last weekend as I was panicking about all that I have to do right now. 

[Jesus said,] "...Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."  Matthew 6:34

I've always struggled with this verse. 

I had always thought it meant to think only about the immediate - what needed to be done or taken care of or what you are doing right now.  No planning ahead.  No thinking about the future.  No decision making past the immediate things, such as what to work on this minute or what to wear when you get out of the shower in 10 minutes or what to make for dinner in 5 hours.

As someone who has always been taught to plan ahead and think about the big picture, I struggled mightily with the idea of  just thinking about right now.  As a result, I always disliked that verse because it made me feel guilty about thinking about the future and planning ahead. 

My breakthrough this weekend was this:

This verse doesn't mean that we don't plan ahead.  What it means is this:
Do what needs to be done. 
Don't fret about perhaps not finishing something by a future date or what will happen "if". 

For example:

Instead of fretting about getting all my work done on time, I need to do my work.

Instead of fretting about what will happen if we had a fire or a severe accident, I need to have insurance, keep maintenance up to date, have money in my savings account and have an evacuation plan with meeting place for my home (things that I can do now). 

Instead of fretting about what will happen if I don't finish my schoolwork by the prescribed deadlines, I need to work on research and writing.

Instead of fretting about what will happen if I don't lose the weight I would like to, I need to figure out the smarter choices I can make with my food and exercise more.

Basically, it means that I need to focus on what I can do now rather than what I can't control about tomorrow.

In reality this plays out like this:

Instead of worrying constantly about how I will lose the weight I want, I'm working about what types of food I'm eating and why I'm eating.  I can't exercise the way I'd like to, but I can watch what I eat.  I don't need to imagine myself as an obese person who can't function - that's paralyzing for me.

Instead of getting anxious about my dissertation, I put together a detailed plan with my advisor and then personally broke those things down into pieces I can do in the pieces of time I have.  Instead of surfing the net for 20 minutes between meetings and worrying, I read 2 papers.  Waiting in the car to pick up the kids I read a section in a book on research methods.  I spent 2 hours while I was totally wiped out and too tired to think organizing my data into a pre-determined format (all I had to do was cut-and-paste).

Instead of twiddling my thumbs and getting anxious to get going while waiting for my kids to get out of school (I have about a 20-30 minute wait to pick them up), I made an outline of notes for my next lecture.  Another day I cleaned out the car. Another day I stopped at the gas station and bought gas.  Another day I took care of paperwork in the school office.   

 Instead of getting frustrated with the state of my house and wondering when I'd ever find the time to clean, I wiped the sink out after brushing my teeth and the scrubbed the shower down while I was in there and waiting for my conditioner to work.  I picked up three things that had been sitting out and put them away - right now, because I could.  I remind the kids to pick up and put their stuff away when they forget.  I kindly ask John to put his things away too. :)

I realized that if I stuck to my cleaning schedule, which is doing one big cleaning thing each day, I wouldn't have to scramble all the time when company comes.

If I just put things away right away, it takes a minute or two and keeps the house neat. 

If I just do that thing right now, I don't have to pay catchup later.

And I save a ton of worrying for today in the process.

Many of these things are things I have known for a long time in my head.  And I even practice some of them on a daily basis - like my daily cleaning chore or putting things away.

My farming ancestors knew this.  When the wheat needed to be harvested, you harvested.  When the garden came in, you canned.  When the cows needed to be milked, you milked them.  When something broke, you repaired it.  And as long as they did these things, they rarely wanted for anything of value.  They had food on the table and cash in the bank for clothing and the roof over their head.  They couldn't change if a hail storm came or the rain didn't come, so they didn't worry about it. They did what they could, and were just fine.

My head knows it works. 

Sometimes it takes a long time for my heart to catch up.

Jesus is right, we certainly have enough trouble for the day without adding tomorrow to it too. 

Soli Deo Gloria.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Freezer Cooking Update #1

It's officially Wednesday and that means I am halfway through my week of "Freezer Cooking."

Have a I made progress? Yep, at least some!  Not quite what I had planned, but I have made progress, so that's a good thing.

So...What's gotten done?

My mixes: 2 cornbread, 4 baking powder biscuits, and 4 oatmeal muffins.

Stir Fry Packets: 3 Pork

Tomato Sauce (cooking as we speak in my crock pot at home).

1 gallon Turkey Stock (my 'chicken' carcass was actually a turkey!)

1 gallon Ham Stock

What still needs to be done?

chicken stir fry packets
pork stir fry packets
shrimp stir fry packets
16 bean soup (which will use part of the ham stock)
pancake mixes
oatmeal m&m cookies
grilled and diced chicken

The stir fry packets are on the agenda for tonight after I get home.  The bean soup will be made for dinner tomorrow night, and the chicken on Friday night.  I have the pizzas and calzones on the agenda for tomorrow afternoon and the granola and cookies will get fit in where I have time.

The final game plan is to have everything done by Saturday night and I still think that's very do-able.

How's your freezer cooking coming?  Check out Money Saving Mom to share.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Work Home and Family - Busy Mom Tips Part One: Meal Planning

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.  Tonight 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 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!   

Healthy Habits in 2010 - Doing What I Can

I realized this weekend that I just can't squeeze another minute out of my schedule without sacrificing sleep or family time, both of which I consider essential.

So, I'm making changes where I can:  What I eat.

More specifically: How much I eat.

I eat too much for my activity level.  That's why I'm overweight.

Never mind that I'm not obese.  I don't have to be.  I've gained about 1 to 1 1/2 pounds per year since I graduated from high school.  Enough that I'm about 18 pounds over the weight I was when I graduated from high school.  The medical community recommends not gaining more than about 5 over your high school graduation rate (assuming you stopped growing by then and weren't under-weight at that point) in your adult lifetime.  I certainly passed that up a LONG time ago!

Now I'd be happy with losing 5-10 pounds. 

I think that's a good goal for me - roughly a pound a week until the end of the year.  I can do that.  And, more importantly, I can maintain that once I reach it.  I like that part of it.

Since I can't get in more exercise, I need to eat less.

So this week it's back to watching what I eat and how many calories it affords me.  You can eat an awful lot for not very many calories.  And that's what I'm trying to do.

Along with tweaking my schedule yet again, I'll let you know how that goes next week.

Until then, what are you doing to be healthy in 2010?

Goals - Taking Harder Look at the Schedule Yet Again

I've been feeling seriously overloaded ever since my new job started last week - and no wonder!  I am teaching 3 classes a week and I need to spend about 8 hours in prep for each of them each week (including grading), plus my regular office hours with my students.    That comes out to about 32 hours a week just with that job!

Then I have my dissertation work, which I need to spend a minimum of 18 hours a week on in order to make the type of progress that I need to for graduating any time in the next 12 months, much less May, as I would like.   

If you're doing the math that's 50 hours a week right there with just those two things! 

That doesn't include sleeping, eating, worship, church activities.

Not to mention my children and my husband.

So, I'm taking a good hard look at my schedule again and trying to figure out the best way to make the most efficient use of my time.  I started writing a detailed daily to-do list - including things like getting dressed and having the kids brush their teeth before getting out the door in the morning.    I realized that since each day is different in a lot of ways having a general schedule, more like an outline, is a good idea.  And then I use my to-do list to fill in the details. 
So far, so good - I only have 1 thing on my to-do list that I haven't gotten done (Bake the Oatmeal M&M cookies!) but I also just found 3 more things this morning that I need to add to today, so we'll see how that goes!  I'll let you know next week how things work out with this new schedule this week.

How are your goals progressing?  Care to share?

Freezer Cooking - Homemade Baking Mixes

A while ago I read about making homemade baking mixes on both LifeAsMom and Money Saving Mom.  I was intrigued.  "Would it really save me time?" I wondered.  I mean, I don't feel that it takes a particularly long time to whip up a batch of muffins, a pan of cornbread or a batch of biscuits or pancakes anyway. 

Well, I thought I'd give it a shot.  And I was hooked!  Since the recipes I use are fairly simple and I have managed by trial and error over time to streamline the baking process, I don't have tons of time.  An extra 10 minutes saved is 10 minutes - and I'll take it!

My "Freezer Cooking" Plan this month included making 13 baking mix packets - 2 cornbread, 3 pancake, 4 each baking powder biscuits and oatmeal muffins.

I put these 10 packets (everything but the pancakes) together in about 15 minutes, and that included running downstairs to our pantry in our laundry room to get the oatmeal for the muffins.  Part of the reason it went so fast was because all of these take similar ingredients and I didn't have to shuffle through my cupboards to find things multiple times.  I didn't do the pancakes because I didn't have the cards with the remainder of the recipe typed up and I ran out of heavy-duty zip-top baggies (I use Ziploc).  So much for advance planning there! :)

These mixes are easy to make: simply mix together the dry ingredients for your recipe and stick in a baggie.  Fishmama writes the recipe on the bag with a Sharpie.  Since I'm a nerd when it comes to re-using my Ziplocs, I put in a typed note card or piece of paper.  Either way works just fine.

Deb asked if I could post my cornbread mix recipe, so here it is!

Dry Mix:
    1 c white flour
    1 c yellow cornmeal
    1 tbsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp salt

Instructions for mixing;
    Add 2-4 tbsp sugar and stir dry mixture until well mixed. (I use 3 table spoons).

    In a separate bowl or 2 c glass measuring cup beat together 2 eggs, 1 c milk, 1/4 c oil.  Pour into a well in the middle of the dry mixture and stir until mixed (batter should be lumpy).

Pour into a greased 9x9x2 pan or 9" round pan.  Bake at 425F for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

* Add one 12oz can whole kernel corn or whole kernel corn with chilis or sweet peppers to batter before baking.
*Add 1 c shredded Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese before baking.  Bake as directed. 
* For "Confetti Corn Bread" stir in 1/2 c Cheddar cheese, 1/4 c finely shredded carrot and 1/4 c finely shredded zucchini before baking. Bake as directed.

Note: You can add the sugar to your mix if you like.  I don't, since it gives the mix a slightly longer shelf life and I think the sugar tastes funny after its been in the mix for a while. :)

How's your freezer cooking doing? 

Monday, September 13, 2010

Menu Plan Monday - Week of September 12

Wow, it's another whole week today.  Sheesh, I think the time flies faster as I get older (or something like that anyway!).  I did a 'freeze cooking' grocery run this weekend and then a trip to the farmer's market to round out what I needed.  I got a great deal on flour - 99 cents for a bag with coupon (limit 1) and then $1.50 for the next.  So I got my 2 bags of flour for about $2.50!  Hurray!  That means I have enough for all my freezer cooking this week.

Since time is at a premium for me, I built my freezer cooking into this menu plan.  Here it is:

Sunday, September 12:
Breakfast: Cereal with milk
Lunch: At Church (Fall Kickoff)
Dinner: Birthday Party
Baking: Cookies and Dry Mixes

Monday, September 13:
Breakfast: Oatmeal with pecans and cinnamon
Bag Lunches: PB&J Wraps, Applesauce or Mandarin Oranges, Carrot Sticks, Goldfish Crackers, Juice Box
Snack for Mom: Yogurt with granola and fruit
Dinner: Chicken Noodle Soup (from freezer), Bread, Fruit
Freezer Cooking: Chicken Stock in the Crock pot

Tuesday, September 14:
Breakfast: Oatmeal Muffins and Apple Slices
Dinner: Crab Cakes, Rice, Broccoli, Fruit
Freezer Cooking: Ham Stock in Crock pot; Stir Fry Packets (chop veggies for pizza too)

Wednesday, September 15:
Breakfast: Oatmeal with Apples
Bag Lunch: Apples with Peanut Butter, Cheese Stick, Carrots or Tomatoes, Cookie, Juice Box
Snack for Mom: Cheese Stick, Peanut-Butter-Banana Smoothie
Dinner; Spaghetti with Meat Sauce, Lettuce Salad, Fruit (Cook Tomato Sauce in Crock Pot during the day)
Freezer Cooking: Soak Beans for Thursday

Thursday, September 16:
Breakfast: Pancakes with Almonds and Apples
Dinner: 16 Bean Soup, Bread, Cut Veggies, Fruit
Freezer Cooking: Pizza and Calzones

Friday, September 17:
Breakfast: Oatmeal with Bananas and Pecans
Bag Lunches: Ham Wrap Sandwiches, Cheese Stick, Applesauce or Mandarin Oranges, Juice Box
Snack for Mom: Yogurt with Granola and Fruit
Dinner: Chicken-Onion-Tomato-Potato Kabobs, Lettuce Salad, Fruit (Grill Extra Chicken)

Saturday, September 18:
Breakfast: Out for All
Lunch: Turkey Tortilla Soup, Bread, Fruit
Dinner: Pork Loin, Roasted Potatoes, Carrots, Fruit

Yes, that's a lot of soup this week, but that's okay - it's amost fall and cool outside here already.  Perfect soup weather!

What are you eating this week? Check out I'm an Organizing Junkie to share.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things - The St. Paul Farmer's Market

One of the things that I really enjoy about living in the Twin Cities is the St. Paul Farmer's Market.  If I remember correctly, it's the oldest continuous farmer's market in the same location in the country.  And, boy, can you find just about anything!

From produce to plants, from meat to sauces, from soap to snacks, it's all there!  And it's a heap of fun to attend.  There is so much  to look at and taste. There's balloon twisters and live music.  Handicrafts as well - sewed and woven and embroidered items.  Homemade bread.  Egg rolls and wan tons.  Kettle corn and beef jerky.

The biggest reason that I don't even try to have a large vegetable garden of my own is because I can purchase things inexpensively at the market.  I spent about $12 for everything you see above - 13 corn, 4 patty pan squash, 5 golden beats and all those baby red and full size golden tomatoes.  I love that the prices are great and the items are local.

It's our Sunday ritual to go to the farmer's market every Sunday after church.  I buy herbs there each spring - tiny plants waiting for a place to grow.  I buy meat there a few times a year.  Vegetables for the week and for blanching.  The kids beg for kettle corn and flower bouquets and balloons shaped like monkeys or flowers or hippos. 

We could spend hours, but we do try to limit ourselves to an hour or so.  And then we head home, ready to make the most of the bounty we have partaken of.

Truly, it's one of my favorite things!
Disclosure: I have not been compensated in any way to say these things.  In fact, I highly doubt the St. Paul Farmer's Market has any idea of who I am or that I have a blog.  These opinions are truly mine and I have written this because I truly enjoy the St. Paul Farmer's Market and attend most weeks April through November.  They do run year-round, but I have yet to brave the cold!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Freezer Cooking - My First Shot at This!

What are these you ask?  My first attempt at freezer cooking, that's what!

Those, my friends, are three pork stir fry packets, meat on top and then veggies.  All frozen and ready to cook up on our stir fry pan for a quick easy meal with some rice and fruit.

Now that school is in full swing for all 4 of us, life is officially Busy (yes, with a capital B!).  And since John is doing the cooking 3 nights a week now, I wanted to make it easy on him, since he's working 40+ hours a week (usually it's 50+) and taking 3 classes this semester!  So I decided we needed some things that we can just pull out of the freezer and cook.

Now, I don't care much for 'freezer' foods - casseroles, meatloaf and things like that are just not typically on the menu. Oh, they're okay once in a while, but not on a daily basis.  Also, I really dislike the texture of bread that has been frozen, so baking my bread in advance is out (though that would have saved me a LOT of time!). 

So what's a girl to do? 

Here's the game plan:

  • Three packets of pork stir fry mix (meat and veggies) Done! (pictured above!)

  • Four packs of chicken stir fry mix (meat and veggies)

  • Two packets of beef stir fry mix (meat and veggies)

  • Two packets of shrimp stir fry mix (shrimp and veggies)

  • Leftover veggies into veggie stir fry packets (number to come...)

  • 3 whole pizzas to freeze (half cheese and half veggie/chicken)

  • 4 small cheese pizzas

  • 4 BBQ chicken, broccoli and onion calzones

  • 4 veggie calzones

  • chicken broth

  • 16 bean soup with ham stock

  • 6 packets diced grilled chicken (for salads and such)

  • tomato sauce (in the crock pot)

  • granola

  • 4 packets oatmeal muffin mix

  • 4 packets baking powder biscuit mix

  • 2 packets cornbread mix

  • 3 packets pancake mix

  • Oatmeal M&M Cookies
A very ambitious list I do realize.  I think it's manageable. 

The stir fry packets only require cutting and bagging, not actual cooking. 
Similarly, the pizzas and calzones require making the dough, cutting the toppings and assembling, not actual cooking. 
The dry mixes just require bagging and adding a typed card (which I already have) with the remainder of the recipe on it. 
The broth, soup and tomato sauce are done in the crock pot (and I can let that run overnight if I need to). 
And I actually like making the granola - and it's easy, something that is easy to mix, just long to cook.

The cookies are the only real 'cooking' I have to do and they really aren't for the freezer - just a nice treat for the kids and John for lunch next week.

My plan is to work on this little bit by little bit over the next week in my snippets of time (and after I buy another 2 5lb bags of flour and hit the farmer's market for some more veggies).  I'll update at the end of the week so you can see what all got done!

Are you trying out or an old pro at freezer cooking?  You can share your Freezer Cooking Plan at Money Saving Mom!

Frugal Friday - Very Easy Way to Save on Food

Ahh yes, grocery shopping!  Everybody needs to do it or at least everybody has to buy food.  And the Internet, magazines, and newspapers abound with articles with headlines such as "25 Ways to Slash Your Grocery Bill" and "Easy Ways to Save Money at the Grocery Store."   There's also articles like "Ways to Save Big on Food!" that encourage people to eat at home rather than out and cook from scratch rather than buying pre-made.

Seriously - you probably know many of the 'rules' (especially those of you who popped over from Frugal Friday at LifeAsMom): shop the sales, match the sales with coupons, check the pricing per ounce, buy in season...

And the list goes on and on.

After doing all of that, many get frustrated that their grocery budget just won't budget any further - me included. I hit $75 per week for two adults and 2 toddlers and couldn't budge it down from there.  I got frustrated. And, frankly, a little upset.  If the proverbial "they" could do it, why couldn't I? After all, I cook at home, live in a metropolitan area with all kinds of stores, and don't mind clipping coupons and matching sales.

Then I realized something: If we started watching our serving sizes, we'd have to purchase less.

Most people in the US, eat way too much - myself included.  I have gotten better.  And watching my serving sizes helped.  I have a long way to go, but that's another story entirely!

For example:  a single serving of meat is 4 ounces.  Therefore, a single 20oz package of boneless and skinless chicken breasts is 5 servings.  Since there are usually 3 breasts per package, most people use that as 3 servings.  That's fine if you're assuming it gives you the recommended 2 servings of protein needed per day for the average person.  However, most of us get protein in other places during the day, so we really only need 4 ounces, rather than the approximately 6 2/3 ounces that the single chicken breast gives us.

And children need even less than we do - especially small children.  Making a full size adult serving for a small child can mean that half the meal (or more) is thrown away at the end and wasted.  Yes, my 5-year-old son can out-eat me or my husband in the middle of a growth spurt, but that doesn't happen every day! (Thankfully!)  :)

Watching the amount we eat means we buy less in our household and I've been able to slash our grocery budget as low as an average of $25/week!  Right now we're between $40 and $60 per week for our average, and trying to figure out where the best dollar amount is for our family at this point in our lives.  It's certainly better than $75 per week and we're saving a minimum of $60 per month from where we were!

Just by watching how much we eat!  How cool is that? 

And it's the easiest way I know to save money.  For a busy Mom like me, that's priceless!
For more Frugal Friday, check out LifeAsMom!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Work Home and Family - How Loudly Can You Say UGH?!

** I actually wrote this on Wednesday, September 8, and then saved it instead of posting it!  Ugh. So, here it is! Enjoy! **

Can I officially tear my hair out now?  Or scream?  Or cry?

I thought all the bumpy stuff with my dissertation was over. 

Oh no.

I was told today that we're just going to wait to get some things 'pushed through' the system.  Which means my graduation is being pushed back YET AGAIN to AUGUST 2011 (from May 2011). 

I am really, really erked.  Did I say erked?  Yep, erked.

And I found out that I need to have some kind of a pin code/access number to get into my records for my new job. 

And I need that to get my parking permit.

I've been running in circles trying to get things in place so I can actually be ready for teaching class today. And so that I can actually get something more done on this darn dissertation before the end of this semester.
And so that I don't strangle anyone in the process.  :)


At least I can now say this:
I have a parking permit (never mind that it's at the Parking Services Office - they promised to not give me a ticket since I'm registered in their system).
I have my ducks in a row to teach my first two classes (and hope to have more by the end of the day).
I have access to my records.

And I managed to not strangle the ding-a-ling who misspelled both my first and last name on my new faculty ID, not once, but twice.

And I managed to not strangle my dissertation advisor ... or my office partner who always wants to talk about nothing when I had to get something done and he wouldn't go away.

Bumps happen.
Life happens.

God is bigger than all of that.

And  I am so grateful.

I could never do this on my own!

What more can I ask for?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Healthy Habits in 2010 - Slowly Getting Back on Track

So, now that this broken toe thing is getting healed - I have about 2 weeks before I can wear 'regular' shoes and get back to exercising - I'm slowly starting to get back on track with exercising.

I dropped the majority of my snacking when I broke the toe, thinking that would help me cut calories and not gain weight.  I'm not sure it worked in terms of cutting calories - I'm wondering if I ate more at meal times due to cutting out the snacks.  However, I think I did break the mindless eating habit for the most part. 

Last week, I started back to doing Jazzercise.  I thought about doing no-impact, but I enjoy the music so much I wasn't sure I could keep it no-impact as class went on.  So, I decided to Jazz in a chair!  We've had others do that before (after foot surgery), so I decided I would try it.   My butt hurt from sitting (and moving a bit) after class and I realized that I have to work at good posture during the kicks (I tended to slouch and lean).  Other than that, it seemed to work.  And I did get a bit of a workout.  I'm able to do the whole 'floor' section - weights, targeted abdominals and stretching - so that part is fine.  The best part? The stress knots that build up in my shoulders when I get stressed out were gone! I love that!

Now, I just have to come up with something for at least 3 other days during the week, since I can't attend class any other day during the week except the two days I work as a class coordinator.  I have some tapes and DVDs and I'm thinking of doing those at home first thing when I get up (530am).  I'm also breaking out my pedometer again - it's gotten awful dusty!  Hopefully I won't be too pathetic with the steps to begin with and can take a brisk walk around campus on my Monday, Wednesday and Friday, even if it's just for 15 minutes. 

John kindly offered to go for a walk with me (and the kids) when I get home.  I declined since I won't be getting home until after dark most nights.  We don't have sidewalks and the park near our house with the nice walking paths isn't necessarily safe at night.  Maybe we'll have to turn on some music and dance or something like that instead!

I'm hoping with my busy schedule this fall I won't be able to snack as much (it's hard to type with food in your hand!).  I also know that being on my feet for an extra 2 1/2 hours three times a week will add steps to my pedometer count!  I like that.   I just have to remember to walk around the classroom as I teach! :)

I'm glad to be getting back into the swing of things, even if it isn't exactly what I'd like. 

How are you doing? Care to share?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Goals Update - Big Plans!

Oh, my, oh my, do I have big plans for this fall!  Big plans!

And they all start this week.

I 'officially' start my new job on Wednesday - though I've been working on things for over a month now.  I have my keys, I have my desk, I have my ID (with both my first and last name misspelled!), I have my parking permit and my copy code. Even more important, I have my first two weeks' worth of lesson plans done and an outline done for the rest of the semester.  My goal for tomorrow is to get my labs and my homework assignments for the first unit all set so I can just roll in and keep going.  Being ahead is important - especially when I have other "jobs" on my plate.

I have my new committee member and my next deadline is fast coming up.  This week I need to get more paperwork in this week and schedule my next "exam."  If I don't have that in place by the 17th, I need to come up with a plan B - something I really don't want to do because that pushes me back yet another semester.

The kids have a 4-day week this week and we have their first homework assignment to get done this week too.  A collage each on a particular letter.  We're having fun on this so far.  The kids are really enjoying kindergarten, which I am just plain excited about.

I have the two quilt tops I signed out for Lutheran World Relief sewn too.  Yee haw!  Especially with a broken toe and having totally forgotten about them (oops!) until I cleaned off my sewing table a month ago (right before I broke my toe).

I still have all those things on my side bar that I want to finish this fall too. And I'm working on a plan for that - a plan where I have some time to get things done.  There are two garage sales at churches John has been working at coming up in the next 3 weeks, so I have some extra incentive to do at least some of that in the next week also.  We'll see if I have time and my tummy cooperates. 

I'll get back to all of those things soon enough...God willing, of course.

It's been a productive week and weekend, in spite of the stomach bug I've had the last few days.
God is good.

Menu Plan Monday - Week of September 5

Another weekend, started off by Labor Day!  I'm having a hard time believing that summer is just a memory and another school year is upon us.  Where does that time go?

We're starting something new this week since I start teaching on Wednesday - John is making dinner Wednesday and Friday this week, since I won't get home until about 830pm on Wednesday and 730pm on Friday. Now, he's made dinner on Fridays for a long time and did most of the cooking the first 10 years of our marriage, so it really isn't that big of a deal.  Right now he's in school 2/3 time and working full time, so to me it feels like a big deal.  So I'm making a small step into freezer cooking.  I'll post more about that later since for right now, I need to post what we're eating this week!

Sunday, September 5
Breakfast: Cold Cereal
Lunch: Ham Wrap Sandwiches, Tomatoes and Grapes
Dinner: Leftovers

Monday, September 6 (Labor Day)
Breakfast: Waffles with Strawberries and Pecans
Lunch: Hot Dogs on the Grill, Potato Salad, Strawberry-Blueberry-Apple Salad
Dinner: Chicken Noodle Soup, Homemade Rolls, Grapes

Tuesday, September 7 (Company for Dinner)
Breakfast: Oatmeal with Pecans and Bananas
Dinner: Beef Stew, Homemade Rolls, Lettuce Salad, Strawberry-Melon-Blueberry-Grape Salad
Desert: Rhubarb Crisp and Vanilla Ice Cream

Wednesday, September 8
Breakfast: Chai Spiced Oatmeal, Bananas
Bag Lunch: Turkey and Cheese Sandwich, Grapes, Tomatoes or Carrots, Juice Box
Snack for Mom: Turkey Lettuce Wrap, Grapes
Dinner: Pork Stir Fry, Rice, Watermelon and Cantaloupe

Thursday, September 9
Breakfast: Oatmeal Muffins, Strawberries
Dinner: Homemade Pizza and Bread sticks, Lettuce Salad, Watermelon

Friday, September 10
Breakfast: Oatmeal with Walnuts and Raisins
Bag Lunch: Hot Lunch at School
Snack for mom: Yogurt with Blueberries and Granola
Dinner: Soft Shell Beef Tacos, Watermelon and Cantaloupe

Saturday, September 11 (Patriot Day)
Breakfast: Cinnamon Coffee Cake, Orange Wedges
Lunch: Turkey Tortilla Soup, Tortilla Chips, Apple Slices
Dinner: Tilapia, Wild Rice, Sauteed Squash, Apple-Melon Salad

For more cooking inspiration, see I'm an Organizing Junkie!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

These are A Few of My Favorite Things - My Children's Laughter

This picture is a favorite one of mine - not because it's particularly a good picture, but because it does a good job of capturing my children. 

My children love each other and they love John and I.  Buddy is so open and honest and everyone is his friend.  He is constantly thinking of others.  Missy is more reserved and far more temperamental, but she too, thinks of others more than herself, constantly making things for others (usually pictures involving glitter glue and pom-poms).  In this picture, they had turned around to see John and I walking down the trail at a State Park holding hands.  They decided that they needed to hold hands too - and set off down the trail holding hands and singing songs.  Very sweet!  My cousin suggested blowing this photo up to 11x14, turning it black and white and hanging it in our living room.  I may just have to do that - though I kind of like Missy's purple striped socks with her pink outfit!
The thing I love the most about my children is their ability to laugh. 

They giggle often and long.  They make up jokes and tell funny stories just to make each other laugh.  They often see the humor in things that we grown-ups are too busy to see. 

I love it!

Buddy in particular has the most contagious laugh. It's a deep belly laugh and his grin is irresistible.  Anyone who hears him, just has to laugh right along with him.  Even my Missy when she's grumpy. 

And often Buddy will find something funny to laugh about just to make her laugh when she's grumpy.

The sheer abandon of their laughter brightens my day and makes me wonder why we as adults don't laugh more often. 

I've got great help in getting me to laugh more often.  And I hope you do too.

What more can I ask for?

These are a Few of My Favorite Things - John's Love of Our Children

I've been down and out with a stomach bug the last two days.  It's been icky and I've spent more time just laying on the couch and in the bathroom than I have ever wanted too.  The good news is that John has been home, the kids have been good and I've been able to get some reading and computer work done.

The best part? (And, yes, there is a best part to this!) Yesterday afternoon, as I snoozed on the couch upstairs in the living room John and the kids were playing in the family room downstairs.

We got several board games for the kids' birthday in May and one of them is Giraffe-a-laff Limbo.  Hysterical!  Especially when mom and dad play.

John and the kids were playing their own version yesterday afternoon.  John was having them crab-walk, slither like a snake and dance their way under the bar in addition to the good ol' limbo! 

And on my the giggles!
Those contagious giggles floating up the stairs and into my heart!  Buddy's contagious laugh and Missy's exuberant giggle.  John's hearty chuckles thrown in to boot.

It made me giggle in spite of my sore tummy.  And left me with a smile on my face the whole afternoon.

You see, John grew up with a dad whose idea of playing with the kids was being the adult in the house to handle major emergencies.  Interaction meant watching TV together.  He never read them a book, or played a game or tossed a ball.  He has read to the grand kids - ours and our niece and nephews - which is a huge improvement, but never to his own kids.  He rarely speaks to anyone and spends most of his time either at his coaching job, watching TV or having dinner at his favorite restaurant with his older boys. 

John love kids.  He always has. 

One of my first 'dating' memories of him was him walking down the hallway at our church with his little sister, then age 1, on his arm.  I remember thinking "I'm going to marry that man!" (if 19 can be considered a man!). 

And he especially loves our kids. 
And he spends tons of time with them.

He always has.

He's the one our children want when they're sick. 
He's the one they want to rough-house with. 
He's the one who sings silly songs and comes up with silly games and has the kids crab-walk under the limbo stick.

I love it.

And he loves it too.

Truly, it's one of my favorite things.

What more can I ask for?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Frugal Friday - Being Productive and Staying Content (Financially)

I tend to be a rather discontented person.  I spend a lot of time wandering in the land of the "If only...".  If only I had finished this PhD before we had kids... If only I hadn't gotten so sick...  If only I had a cleaner house... If only I had a different figure...or weight...or hair type...or dissertation topic...or food for dinner...or...

You get the drift.

The reality of the matter is that dwelling in the land of the "if only..." just makes a person more discontent.  I can't change things in the past - like doing this PhD thing earlier in my life or that I have two chronic medical conditions or that it took 18 months to get diagnosed properly.  I can't change the body type I was born with or the food that's already in my refrigerator. 

The only thing I can do is make the most of what God has given to me - as imperfect as they may be and as imperfect as I am.

I realized a long time ago that having time makes me content.  Time to do things like play with the kids, and watch a sunrise (or sunset).  Time to spend on my work and time to spend with my husband.  Time to finish a project or two or three or four. 

In examining my life over the last year, I've discovered that I tend toward laziness. I spend time analyzing a situation to death and not acting.  I spend time frittering away time doing things that aren't necessary (net surfing, pottering around the house not accomplishing things, chatting with a coworker about nothing reasonably important). 

I realized that when I am not productive I tend toward discontent as well.  And I often look for 'better' ways to do things.  And that usually involves buying something.

If I just had that shelving unit, my books would be organized. 
If I just had that electronic gadget I would be able to do (Fill in the blank here).
If I just had that day planner (or other organizational widget) I could get a handle on my time.
If I just had that set of storage boxes my house would be uncluttered.
If I just had ....

And I go shopping to fill my discontent and come home with more things to declutter my house, organize my time, or assist me in some other way. 

When in reality if I were just productive I wouldn't be so discontent.  I wouldn't be wondering where my time went.  And I certainly wouldn't be prowling the isles at Target looking for yet another little organizational widget to help me be content with my life.

The reality is, if I took care of some of the things that take up so much of my time (cleaning out my house, writing my dissertation) they would be off my plate and I would have more time.

And time is what I'm looking for. 

Not widgets or gizmos or pretty storage boxes, though the storage boxes are lovely indeed.

My 20-year-old pink and green Rubbermaid totes work just fine, thank you very much. 
My computer has all the external devices it needs and then some (I have 2 mouses - mice? - for my laptop in addition to the touch pad!).
My research group has the audio and video equipment I need for my research, I only need index cards. I purchased those very pleasantly on back-to-school sale a few weeks ago, thank you very much.
My refrigerator and cupboards are full of food to make tasty meals without adding much from the store.
 My plain Mead spiral-bound day planner works just fine.
And I have more household, craft and work projects than I can possibly finish in a year - the list in my side bar is just the beginning, by the way. 

I just need to be productive with the time I have.
I have more than enough to keep me 'busy'.  But being busy isn't the same as productive.  And the more productive I am, the more time I have and the more content I am.

Without spending a precious penny.

What more can I ask for?

For more Frugal Friday, check out Jessica's blog at Life As Mom!