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?

Goals - Long Overdue Freezer Cooking Update

That's my homemade granola from my freezer cooking week, which actually ended up being a 2-week stint.

Do you remember my colossal list? 

I got almost everything done:  I skipped the calzones and cheese pizzas because I ran out of room in my freezer and ditched making the cookies and the pancake mixes since we rarely have pancakes and I ran out of time.
It was a good experiment and I'm so glad I did it!   I totally resonated with Crystal when she talked about adding things to her regular cooking rather than having a big, single cooking day.  That's the only way I could do it, certainly.

Amazingly, I got the rest done and I still have a LOT in my freezer and my cupboard:
* several of the stir fry packets
* turkey stock
* 16 bean and ham soup
* 1 frozen pizza (half cheese and half veggie)
* tomato sauce
*  1 cornbread mix
* 3 of my baking powder biscuit mixes
* half a batch of granola

This month I've done mini-apple-crisps (apple crisp in foil muffin tins frozen before cooking - I'll bake these from the freezer in a muffin tin later - recipe to come!) and I need to add a few muffin and another cornbread mix.

The flops?  The pizza for sure.  It was tough and had a weird texture when we cooked it. That's why we still have one in our freezer. :) Not sure what happened, but since it takes very little time to make the pizza anyway, I don't think I'll do that again.  The 16-bean and ham soup is okay  but not great and we'll keep it for a soup potluck at John's work rather than eating it all ourselves.

I love having the mixes, the stir fry packets, tomato sauce, granola, and turkey/chicken stock and will continue to make those!

How did your freezer cooking go?  Care to share?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Oh My Word!

I think Trick-or-Treating was successful!

What do you think?

I am completely shocked at the amount of candy we got - but I have ideas for much of it and the kids do get the chips in their lunch boxes today along with some of the fruit snacks.  What a treat for them!

If I got 1/5 of this when I was a kid, it was a really successful night.

I guess times have changed.

How was your Halloween?