Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Emotional Whiz Kids

I have two amazing little boys who teach me so much about the world. I am learning that they are also excellent mirrors for me and sort of a litmus test for my own inadequacies.

You see, if you don't already know, parenting is a humbling experience. Imagine with me...

  • Realizing you've left the house with no makeup or appreciable hairstyle, but plenty of drool and/or snot on your collar.
  • Talking down a child who is insisting on a balloon from the party store, when you only wanted to run in and return a $2.99 item. He plunks his bottom on the sidewalk and refuses to walk to the car.
  • Having your nursing babe grab at your shirt in front of complete strangers, only to have them return a smirky smile.
  • Holding out your hands, imploring your child to just, "throw up here" so he doesn't get it all over the carpet at the library during storytime.
A wise person said, "I was the perfect parent until I had children." We think we know a lot about how children should be reared until we are in the trenches, dealing with tantrums, sickness and just plain immature behavior.

I've long said that if my boys have the basics--enough rest, food and opportunity to eliminate--life is swell. However, after some recent experimentation and contemplation, I have two more items to add to the list:


Eye Contact
When I was growing up, my Mom (a cat fanatic) explained to me that if you want to bond with a cat, you should look it in the eyes and slowly blink at it. I'm still of the opinion that cats tend to choose one favorite person in the house, but it's commonly agreed that emotionally healthy people like eye contact.

I realized how often I was expecting my kids to "just play quietly for a minute" so I could tidy the kitchen, put away groceries, or pack the diaper bag to go somewhere. They were supposed to be happy on the floor while I was quickly walking back and forth. So when I read part of this book and realized that I wasn't giving much focused eye contact, I tried it out on my kids. So far, it really seems to be making a difference, not only in them, but in me. I find some very maternal feelings welling up when I take just a few seconds to gaze into their precious blue eyes.

Free Play
I really do think that my kids would be happiest if I just laid on the floor with them all day long while they played next to, or on top, of me.

That idea just about bores me to death. I thrive on accomplishing things.

These kiddos, they are smart. They know when Mommy is rammy* and can't just BE. This is something I'm really trying to work on, mostly for their sakes. Being present in the moment and lingering a little too long on the couch is not a bad thing.

The bad Mommy police will not come after me if we are a few minutes late to storytime, but the kids will remember if there was yelling and a battle to get dressed. The more exasperated I become, the more irritated they become, and the spiral begins. I'm the parent and I need to choose to go more slowly.

It's also really important not to overschedule their day. They want to wrestle and play trains and rearrange every.single.toy. in the house. And slowly, gradually, I am able to fold laundry or knit or even clean nearby while they do their "work."

What are you learning about the needs of others in your life?

*Sorry if you aren't PA Dutch. This means agitated, wiggly, a little anxious and eager to get a move on.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Deja Vu

It's déjà vu all over again. -Yogi Berra

It seems like this house has been on an every-other-week cycle of sick-recovering-sick-recovering. And most amazingly, it's been Mommy who's been down for the count more than anyone else. (And we aren't talking sniffling, sneezing, etc. We are talking full-out stomach sickness, twice.)

I am totally learning how to ask for help from others. Getting over the guilt of having to call family members home from work to do "my job"...not so much. 

There are a number of growing edges for me in this situation: 
  • There is no choice but to let the housework go.
  • I must accept help from others without being able to quickly reciprocate. It's fascinating how I display this pattern of having to "even the score" with those who assist me. Like I'm afraid they will reject me if I need too much.
  • My boys really can rise to the occasion when Mommy struggles to do more than lay on the floor. I was so impressed with their emotional IQ on this. (More in a future post.)
  • I've been reminded again that I cannot keep running on fumes, and maybe a 9pm bedtime isn't cool, but it's what I need right now.
  • We must wield the bottle of hand sanitizer as a mighty anti-germ-warfare weapon every time we get in the car from an errand or play date.
Allow me to share with you my new triage plan for personal sanity in times following illness:

Deal with the dishes
I get really grossed out thinking about what grows on the dishes that accumulate on the counter during these spells of illness. The first thing I tackle is unloading and reloading the dishwasher (washing hands often) and cleaning the counters and table.

Gather laundry
More heebie-jeebies lurk on towels, dishcloths and clothing (especially if your kids are snotting on your shirt...and don't pretend that never happens in your house!) I at least try and wash everything on hot and dry it, even if it sits in baskets for a few days before being put away.

Finally I wipe down all the bathrooms and any surfaces that we tend to neglect--doorknobs, light switches, remotes, etc. because heaven knows you've been stumbling around and watching more TV than usual.

Just step over the clutter and go to bed. It will be there in the morning!
(And for whatever reason, it's just easier to clean when there's daylight.)

So what's your game plan when sickness has thrown your household into chaos and confusion?

Today's disclaimer: For those of you familiar with the roots of déjà vu, I do not believe in reincarnation.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A New Theme

As promised, some changes are underway, though please don't expect them to be fast or furious.

You may have noticed at the top of your page that I have a much-shortened "mission statement": Musings on managing the stuff of life.

When I was a young girl, there were times when I'd lament to my mother, "I'm bored." She explained (warned) me that someday I would not be bored. In fact, during this season of mothering three and one-year old boys, there's not much I wouldn't give to find myself bored for an afternoon!

While I was driving the other day, I reflected on some of the technological changes that I've seen in my 32 years. (I heard a radio report about seminars for seniors who wanted to text their grandkids and learn to use iPads which started this line of thought.) I remember playing Duck Hunt on the neighbors' Nintendo, which was so much more advanced than our Atari--you know, color and all. Someone handed down their electric typewriter. My family bought our first PC--a Gateway 2000--when I was a freshman in high school. I received my first cell phone right before I got my driver's license; it rang from my Christmas stocking. Then came my own first desktop computer, my laptop, my netbook, etc., etc. It's just amazing, really.

The first clothing that I bought with my own money was purchased in order to fit in. Then it was a uniform for my first job, then career clothing for my first real job. A wedding dress followed, then maternity clothes, then baby clothing, and now I'm buying clothing that fits a woman with a "new" shape, if you know what I mean.

 With life seems to come the accumulation of stuff. Some of it--no, a lot of it--is material possessions, but there are also friendships, memories, ideas, hopes. There are things we need, things we want, things we hate to part with. Things we have no idea we had (more on that at the end).

We have infinitely more choices than men and women in previous generations. Yet, with so many products, devices and amusements available to us, we must work hard to squelch the clutter and reclaim the important and meaningful aspects of life.

So here, in this blog corner, is a place to make conversation about how to manage the stuff and find balance.

A Do and Don't for Today

Do: Think about subliminal messages. A quote from this article was so pointed that it really got my attention today: "The entire point of broadcast TV is to make you dissatisfied with your life so that you'll buy more stuff."

Don't: A retired couple I worked with during a downsize was going through their attic and figuring out what had to go. Amongst the memorabilia they found a life-sized statue that their son had created in a college art course!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Stuff (Almost) No One Tells You About

I think this devotional was written just for me today. Maybe it will encourage you, too.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Reality Check

Hi, everyone. I'm sorry it's been over a month since I last wrote.

I assure you there is a good reason. Also, I assure you some positive changes are coming to my little corner of the blog world. (Hang with me for a few paragraphs).

Since the Internet is a big place, I don't want to put too many specifics out there. What you need to know is that everyone in my family is safe and managing for the most part.

When I was a working-outside-the-home gal, I worked in a retirement community and we learned about this group of folks called the "sandwich generation." Those are people who are caring for an elder in their family, often a parent, in addition to trying to raise their kids. Now I'm standing in the same shoes. Once again, I've had an a-ha moment, realizing how lightly I took this role. (I had the same kind of a-ha experience when my Mom passed away. I didn't really understand HOW hard it was or what was helpful to say to people.)

As I write this, I realize how petty this may sound, but this is the first time in my life that I'm just plain unable to see the bottom of my to-do list. And forget tackling those fun ideas I'm just starting to find on Pinterest, or the books I want to read, or keeping the amount of white space in my inbox that I want. I've found the outer limits of my "capability."

I'm sure many of you have lived or are living in this zone, treading water or just putting out fires. I'm trusting that it's going to be for a finite period of time, but I don't know. I've actually huffed around in weak moments saying, "I guess my life just isn't ever going to be about anything I want to do." Then I proceeded to go on and fantasize about maybe doing fun stuff in retirement.

It's disgusting the nasty stuff that lies dormant in your heart, isn't it? Clear countertops and decluttered closets don't mean pure thoughts, no sirree! Maybe I should have a t-shirt like the neighbor boy's that has a picture of a lobster and says "I'm a little bit shellfish."

So what does this mean for the blog?

For starters, I'm going to talk a little bit more about bringing balance into your life.

One of my goals right now is to be "present" wherever I find myself. That means not worrying about the dishes when I'm out in the yard with my kids. It also means not worrying about my kids when I'm listening to a healthcare provider giving me caregiving instructions. It means gazing into my husband's eyes and asking after him even when we're ready to collapse after the kids go to bed.

I'm also going to continue to try and allow myself to receive more help from others who love and care about me. Some of them read this blog, and I want them to know how grateful I am for them.

Finally, the blog might become a bit more about me. I purposefully kept it sterile in the beginning, and I still want to maintain professionalism and privacy. Still, we are all human, we are all growing during this journey of life, and we can't exist in a vacuum (...although my son thought it would be funny to go inside the dishwasher when I started it up tonight).

Are you feeling the tension between necessary responsibilities and time for self-expression and self-care? What kind of changes would you like to see from the blog? Thanks in advance for your comments!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Keeping Short Accounts

I thought my life was pretty full: a husband, two active little boys, church involvement, playdates, etc.Now some changes have happened in our family and I'm finding myself caregiving for family beyond those who live under the same roof.

Life can change in the blink of an eye. Or at least an ambulance ride.

This experience caused an important thought to resurface in my mind: it's so important to keep short accounts.

Don't put off making that phone call to say "I Love You" or "I'm Sorry" or whatever you want to share. Put a date on the calendar to get together with friends. Even if you have to reschedule later, commit to being present with those you care about.

Along the same lines, but in a more nuts-and-bolts application, I really try not to put off until tomorrow the things I can quickly do today. I'm in the middle of reading Getting More Done: 10 Steps for Outperforming Busy People by Chris Crouch. He suggests that you immediately address anything which can be done in under two minutes. He also has a great quote about maintaining white space in your mail program:

"Most problems related to email center around one issue: how long you typically allow an email to sit in your inbox."   --Chris Crouch
I pay my bills when they come in. I read the mail every day. I return voicemails as soon as possible. Not only does it keep the clutter down, I exert less mental energy remembering it for another time.

When I worked, I often looked through my files and papers making sure that someone else could easily find stuff if one day I didn't come back (due to going into labor or winning the lottery, of course... :)

I guess it boils down to this: If you've got "to-do" items that will affect others if they go undone, it's time to make them a priority. We never know what tomorrow holds.

The dusting, eh, not so much...

Disclaimer: I downloaded Chris Crouch's book on my own, with no financial incentive. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

For a Smile

A quote from the famous Erma Bombeck:

"My theory on housework is, if the item doesn't multiply, smell, catch fire, or block the refrigerator, let it be."

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Make the Most of Your Meals (Part 7)

Well, I've decided to spare you the rundown this week on my grocery purchases and menu, largely because of some family matters that made for helter-skelter meals. I'm not sure I have the mental clarity to recall what all we ate.

I've been waiting to talk about couponing. I've been so tempted to reference it in previous posts, but have restrained myself. There is so much talk about extreme couponing and the drugstore game (just Google those if you need more info; you'll be overwhelmed), and then there are just a bunch of plain Janes like me who clip coupons to save a few bucks here and there.

As an aside, I saw the aftermath of a little extreme couponing gone wrong this spring. I was out at yard sales and saw at least 30 cans of air freshener on one table. Really? I can get on my soapbox and rant about non-chemical ways to conceal unpleasant smells, but perhaps we should just move along.

So, here's how couponing works for me.
(Disclaimer: It may not work for you. It may infuriate you. I am not you. It's okay.)

Using only "free" coupons. This means coupons that arrive in my mailbox, or those which can be printed online. I've chosen to cancel my newspaper subscription because as much as I love the idea of sprawling on the bed or couch and reading the paper, it's not my stage of life. And while I love the funny pages, magazine and coupons, I'm not saving as much as I am paying for the Sunday edition.

Clipping/printing coupons just for things I already use AND know I'll be purchasing again soon. This is really important when it comes to keeping costs down. There is a reason companies issue coupons: they want you to buy their product. They want you to be brand loyal. Okay, that's all well and good, but just because I use an item doesn't mean I must clip every coupon for it. So, even if I save $1.00 on each jar, I simply don't need to buy a jar of mayonnaise each month.

Resist the temptation to use every coupon clipped. Why is this so hard for me to do? I look at that pile of coupons like a "to-do" list. Must. Redeem. Every. Coupon. Not a good choice. That food item must fit into a menu or realistically be usable within a few months.

Stack the savings. If, like me, you buy a lot of groceries at Target, you need to stack coupons by matching Target coupons and manufacturer's coupons. I'm sure other stores do this as well. (Do tell, if you know about it.)

Abandoning the coupon when the house brand is cheaper. It always pays to do the math. So often, the generic brand is cheaper than the name brand even with a double coupon.

Consider what you are buying. There just aren't many coupons for produce, fresh meat or nutritious cereals. There are, however, a LOT of coupons for junk food, personal care products and other "non-necessities." Just consider that a deal isn't really a deal unless you will use and benefit from the product, in addition to saving money.

So, there you have it. My musings on how to cut the grocery bill in seven installments.

On a personal note, let me say that this experiment has made me more accountable and conscious of my food purchasing and disposing. At the same time, it's not worth stressing yourself out as you strive to pinch every penny. Life must go on and it's okay to have takeout or buy a frozen pizza at full price every now and again. Time is money, too.

Have a great week!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Make the Most of Your Meals (Part 6)

Hi again! Hopefully you are still hanging in with me and finding some ways to reduce your grocery spending and/or food waste.

One of the things I've really been "chewing on" (in the mental sense) is eating less. One almost-too-obvious way to cut down your grocery spending is to eat less food. And let's be honest: there are very few Americans who struggle to achieve a minimum weight.

Perhaps it's the back-to-school season that brings this subject to the forefront, but in the past weeks, I've read half a dozen articles that reference the importance of eating a nutritious breakfast. I remember skipping breakfasts back in my junior high days, but I could never do that now. I love breakfast!

Have you ever heard this proverb?

Eat breakfast like a king,
Eat lunch like a queen, and
Eat dinner like a pauper.

(As an aside, I also read a reference to a study which found that people who had cake with breakfast lost more weight than those who had cake after dinner. With as much as I love a good coffee cake, shoo fly pie or funny cake*, that did my heart good!)

Anyway, weren't we talking about eating less?

I realize that my son has a better day when he has some protein with breakfast. He also needs crunchy food sometime during the day, and I can't say what that does, but I find myself feeling fuller (more full?) when I have to chew more. There is something satisfying about dense foods, be it granola, baby carrots, steak, oatmeal, etc. Those certainly fill you up more than a bag of chips, wouldn't you say?

My menu this week was as follows:

Monday: Skillet Chicken Fried Rice and green beans
Tuesday: Broiled Salmon with cranberry-almond salad
Wednesday: Ham and Broccoli Ring and side salad
Thursday: Dinner out with family using a Groupon deal
Friday: Leftovers
Saturday: Dinner with friends

I imagine you find the idea of leftovers on Friday to be a very tantalizing idea! Especially when a lot of families have pizza on Fridays.

Well, it may seem be exciting, but leftovers are a must if you are trying to save money and reduce food waste. Repurposing your food for a second round is possible, especially since some cookbooks are dedicated to a "cook once, serve twice" technique.

At our house, most recipes make a little more than we need for two adults, a preschooler and an infant just getting into solid foods. It's a natural choice to heat leftovers for lunches. We also usually have another noon or evening meal sometime during the week for a "leftover smorgasbord" where I pull out all the containers and we assemble our plates from the "buffet"!

Finally, if your freezer isn't as stuffed as mine, consider making a double batch of your next casserole, soup, or pasta dish and freezing it for a future meal. This really saves time.

Next week we conclude with my thoughts on couponing.

*I love that even wikipedia doesn't have funny cake. Maybe I'll write that in my spare time! This is a local treat that consists of a pie crust topped with chocolate syrup and a white cake-like batter. Some recipes call for the chocolate syrup on top, but it sinks as it bakes. Really no one outside the area thinks it's any good! Learn more crazy stuff here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Make the Most of Your Meals (Part 5)

We're more than halfway through this series on meal planning. Is anyone doing this along with me, or are you enjoying watching me suffer?!?

One very positive aspect of this project is that I'm not running to the store for just one or two ingredients. Plus, I can start working on dinner any time during the day that I have a few minutes to thaw, chop, or mix.

On the other hand, it's becoming tough to find the line between stocking up because of good deals, keeping the spending down, and having a manageable level of food in the house, so none is wasted. I am feeling very humbled looking at the bottom line each week.

On that note, I spent $89.71 on groceries at Target this week. I think this is where I've been having some trouble, because while I get a lot of food at Target, it's also mixed in with other household items like diapers, health and beauty items and other legitimate stuff. I had to open up a spreadsheet to figure out what exactly I spent on food items.My purchases included multiple packages of the following: peanut butter, snacks for the kids, cereal, and coffee, plus OJ, eggs, and frozen salmon filets. My hubby also stocked up on frozen lunches and crackers for the office, for when he's not taking in leftovers for lunch or being treated by vendors.

At the grocery store, I spent $50.22. What you see pictured here is from the first trip; we returned the same day for the absolutely necessary bread, butter, sugar, and $1.88 bottle of Hershey's syrup that didn't make it the first time. I was distracted...big time, but I did stick to the list for the second trip.

The refrigerated biscuits were on sale for $1 apiece and the krimpets were on sale, too, and just had to come home with me :)

The menu this week

Monday: A "hash" of sausage, pepper, onion, tomato and pasta with side salad.
Tuesday: BLT sandwiches and zucchini-corn fritters (you really must try these) to use up more produce and most of a carton of buttermilk
Wednesday: Texas Roadhouse!
Thursday: Salad with chicken
Friday: Homemade pizza and salad
Saturday: Dinner with friends
Sunday: Panini and hand-cut fries

So, let's talk a little bit about freezing. I am still learning this, because it seems that as soon as I have room in there, it gets filled back up. Sometimes we can't find things without a little "discussion" between me and the freezer, or between me and my wonderful hubby.

[Again, not my real house, but fun to dream!]

Here are some items I typically keep on hand:
  • A variety of meats: ground beef, chicken breasts/tenders, venison, hamburgers, bacon, pulled pork, salmon filets, often salmon burgers, fish filets or fish sticks
  • Boxed lunches (e.g. Lean Cuisine) for my husband
  • Bags of shredded cheese purchased on sale
  • Breads: I stock up during buy-one-get-one sales and freeze bread inside a zip-top bag in its original package. I also freeze hamburger buns and hot dog rolls, sometimes bagels and English muffins purchased on sale.
  • Baked goods like banana bread or zucchini bread. It's much easier to make several loaves at once and pull them out of the freezer as needed.
  • Frozen vegetables, including green beans from the garden (ours or my in-laws)
  • Herbs like basil and parsley
  • Yeast purchased in bulk
  • Applesauce that we make each October
  • Ice cream, sometimes popsicles, and dessert ingredients like cool whip, pie crust or puff pastry.
As I'm typing this list, I see a lot of non-essential things, but I also see a lot of common ingredients that are nice to have around. Except for prepped food like the baked goods, I can buy anything at the store anytime, though not necessarily at the best price.

I think this is where I need to focus: buying only at the best price and preferably with coupons. Also, it seems that I need to start treating my freezer a bit more like my counter top and organize it regularly. Part of the problem comes from quickly throwing in groceries after a shopping trip without finding a place for the items. (This usually has something to do with hungry or tired kids, but that's a whole other post.)

I think I'll revise my cleaning schedule to include a regular freezer "straightening" session.

Am I the only one with things falling out of my freezer?

Next week: Leftovers

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Make the Most of Your Meals (Part 4)

Let's start with some accountability, shall we?

This week, I lost a number of produce items: half an apricot, half a red pepper that was generating its own slime pool, and a red onion. I must keep working to have regular turnover in the fridge, and make it a point to look in the fruit and vegetable drawers on a daily basis.

On a high note, going shopping this week gave me an opportunity to use my new produce bags. I am so thrilled to be done with those wispy plastic bags that are questionably recyclable. One small step on my way to less plastic in the house.

I didn't get a photo of my groceries this week because of hungry kids and jumping into evening meal prep right away. It was mostly produce and dairy, but I did some stocking up because of ridiculously good deals. Counting a dozen ears of bicolor corn from a local farm stand, and a beautiful basket of peaches ($18), I paid $60.59 for food this week.

Photo credit Jonathan Alderfer

Using a store coupon, I bought 5 packs of shredded cheese for $1.48 apiece. I don't think I've ever gotten such a good deal. Now that finally realized I can freeze that cheese, look out! I won't pay $3 a bag again.

Also, by combining an ice cream sale with a coupon, I paid $1.38 each for two 1.5qt containers of summery refreshment!

This week's menu:
Monday: Zucchini Deep Dish Pie to use up a huge zucchini from the garden. I'll add more onion next time.
Tuesday: Stuffed Shells to use up my semi-homemade pasta sauce. I set some aside to give away.
Wednesday: Popcorn chicken from the freezer, corn on the cob, and broccoli.
Thursday: Chicken Parmesan using some prepared breaded chicken breasts and salad.
Friday: Pulled pork sandwiches (meat and buns from freezer) with chips and cut up veggies
Saturday: Dijon-Lime chicken, rice, and leftover veggies. Also chocolate zucchini cake!
Sunday: Waffles and peaches, breakfast casserole

This week I want to give you some suggestions for maintaining a well-supplied--yet not overflowing--pantry. And by pantry, I mean wherever you keep unopened packages of non-perishable foods.

(Wow, look at this picture from an earlier post...I really have gotten a bit overzealous because there hasn't been any empty shelf space in my pantry for a long time. Plus the kids food has it's own cabinet now.)

I'm very pleased to present you with this Pantry Inventory list.  I developed this list after looking through my recipes and what's currently in my pantry. It's a great jumping-off point; please feel free to download it and customize to your heart's content.

A few other thoughts:
  • Consult your pantry every time you are planning your menu for the week. If you are getting sick of seeing something in the pantry, or there are more than three containers of the same thing, you need to find a way to use that ingredient. 
  • One exception to the above rule pertains to seasonal items. I stock up on a lot of things around Thanksgiving, like flour, canned green beans, french fried onions, pumpkin, and baking chips (chocolate, cinnamon, etc.), because the price will not be that low again until next Thanksgiving. I am also noticing a lot of good deals on PB&J and other lunch ingredients since we are in back-to-school season.
  • Some items don't have a very long shelf life. Be sure to check the "best by" dates and rotate your inventory by using up the oldest item first.
  • As you review what you have on hand, don't be afraid to admit you overbought. Find a food bank or worthy organization that can use your donations. They will be grateful.
  • A note about condiments: I have become aware of a condiment force field at my house. For two adults, we have about15 bottles of salad dressing, several BBQ and steak sauces, a ridiculous amount of jellies, and enough peanut butter to keep us fed during a month-long power outage. With this type of food, you can anticipate the need to replace the container with several weeks of wiggle room. There really is no reason to fill your pantry with condiments and sauces unless you hit a great sale.
Next week, we'll talk about stocking the freezer.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Make the Most of Your Meals (Part 3)

Mission: Reduce My Grocery Budget

I looked back through my expenses thus far during 2012, and we've been spending an average of $100-150 a week. Less than $100 per week at the grocery store, the rest is mostly from Target. That means some is non-food, like cleaning supplies and toiletries. I definitely can reduce those numbers. 

I'm pretty pleased with week number one of trying to pare down my grocery expenses and reduce food waste. My grocery expenditures this week came in under $30.

The orange pepper and green grapes were not on my list, but when my three-year-old asks for produce, it's really hard to turn him down!

My menu revolved around using up food that was already on hand. We were fortunate to have two very special nights with no cooking :)

Mon: Leftover pork from last week, leftover rice and veggies from a birthday dinner on Saturday
Tue: Mini meatloaves with tater tots (beef, tots and sauce were hanging out in freezer) and green beans
Wed: Salmon from the freezer, more leftover rice, and broccoli that badly needed to be used
Thur: Enchiladas from the freezer, salad
Fri: My Dad brought Dominos!
Sat: Date night at Red Lobster, using a coupon
Sun: Burgers and rolls from the freezer, leftover vegetables

You might wonder why I am working so hard to use up my freezer food.

Well, this is what my freezer looked like about two months ago. Aside from some wiping and an attempt to straighten up the stuff in there, it hasn't looked much different since. We had some frosting issues because there was so much stuff that the drawer couldn't close properly. Not to mention the full chest freezer in the basement...

Incorporating things on hand will help bring costs down for the meantime. And, more freezer space will give me the option of stocking up when food goes on sale. I bought the two blocks of cheese today (2/$4) to experiment and see if I can make my own snack size pieces of cheese for cheap and with less packaging.

I've posted before about some of the pitfalls of grocery shopping and why it's not necessarily bad to be loyal to a specific store.

A few things that I'd like to reinforce:

Plan your trip
Look at the weekly circular and see if there are any bargains. Consider planning your meals around meats or produce that is on sale in a given week. Review any paper coupons that you have before you get to the store, and/or look for online coupons that correspond to needed items and sales.

Make a list and stick to it
If possible, take the time to make the list in the order that you travel through the store. Buy only what you knew you needed at home. It's healthier if you stick to the perimeter of the store.

Don't shop at five different stores
Not only do I view this as a huge hassle and time-waster, I think it becomes a financial mistake. If you frequent one or two stores, you know exactly where to find things. You'll browse less, and you'll remember prices for sake of comparison. How much money do you really save by making a special trip for that really good deal on blueberries?

Don't be ashamed to buy the "house brand"
I find myself doing this all the time recently. Over and over, the price of the store brand comes in lower than the sale price for the name brand. There are so many things that you can buy without the name brand price--crisp rice cereal for those marshmallow treats, frozen spinach, macaroni, baking soda, vegetable oil, salt, etc. Plus, those are things you rarely see coupons for. Take the extra 5-10 seconds to find the house brand instead of grabbing the trademarked packaging that you instantly recognize (because that seems to be the only reason for the higher price).

Try to know your prices, at least on the bigger stuff
I know not everyone is a stay at home mom like me, and time is often more important than money. If you have the luxury of doing some price-comparison shopping, do it. I love shopping at Target and have found that I can get a lot of my dry goods there for a lot less (sugar, coffee, cereal, granola bars). It's very, very rare that I can get a better deal on cereal at the supermarket.

Next week, we'll talk about building a good pantry stash without going overboard.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Make the Most of Your Meals (Part 2)

Meal Planning 101

I love to cook, but I know that's not the case for everyone.

It's easy to find yourself in a rut, uninspired and out of time when dinner rolls around. Even though I love to cook, there's often not enough time, energy, or food available. I stay at home, and still find it challenging to put a nice, reasonably healthy meal on the table each night.

The only thing that works for me is to create a (flexible) meal plan for the week. There are myriad reasons to consider making your own plan:
  • avoid multiple trips to the store for just a handful of items
  • save money you might be tempted to spend on going out to eat or ordering takeout
  • using all the food you buy, versus letting it spoil or throwing it out because you are sick of it
  • attempting to eat a balanced diet

Of course, if you like wasting food, you'll enjoy the tongue-in-cheek suggestions here.

So, how exactly does someone go about making a meal plan or weekly menu? I'm sure there are other ways, but this is what I do.

Step 1: Pick a day
Choose a day (or night) each week that you have time to look around for ingredients and recipes. It's very important to do this when the fridge is getting on the empty side and before you go grocery shopping. For some reason, Sunday afternoons work best for me.

Step 2: Grab a piece of paper and a pen
Or a whiteboard and dry erase marker. Whatever works for you. If it's reused or recycled, even better! You're going to be making a list of what you already have that needs to be used.

Step 3: Open your fridge
List what you have in your fridge that is an ingredient. This includes meats, leftovers not already re-purposed into soup or casserole form, vegetables, starches, cheeses or other dairy items, etc. At the same time, make note (maybe in another column) of the stuff that you are running low on. We always try to have baby carrots, onion, celery and apples around. If something is missing, I am sure to add it to the shopping list.

Step 4: Look on your counter, in your freezer, and in your pantry
See what kind of produce, breads, or desserts might be hanging around and need to be eaten. Even though these things are in plain view (like the three large zucchini I had on the counter the other day), I might end up losing them if they don't make it to the menu. Likewise, see if you over-bought on pasta or have way too many pieces of frozen chicken in the freezer.

Step 5: Generate 5-6 dinner ideas
This is the hardest step, since it's kind of like playing chess. Look at the ingredients you have and consider how they might be arranged into main dishes. It really helps if you can look at all your recipes to generate ideas. It's okay if you don't have every ingredient for every entree; you can add things to your grocery list. Just make sure you are using up everything already on hand when you make your list. If you are motivated, you can plan out lunches and breakfast, too. Make a new list with the meal ideas (and side dishes if you want) and hang that on your fridge or even put it on your calendar somewhere.

Step 6: Stuck? Don't limit yourself.
Remember that cooking is not a "chemically dependent" process like baking. Proportions do not have to be exact and you can swap out ingredients. Stir-frys, soups and casseroles can be made from any combination of things. I recently tweaked a chicken lasagna recipe to use up bowtie pasta, chicken sausage and some turkey lunch meat. It was still delicious!

Step 7: Go shopping
I'll talk more about this next week, but this is where you purchase the additional ingredients that you need for the meals in the coming week, plus your regular staples of milk, eggs, etc.

Step 8: Review the list and Cook
When I first began menu planning, I tried to designate a specific entree for each day, rotating chicken, beef, pork, meatless, etc. I found that only worked if I had a set schedule for the day and could plan the more involved recipes for days with more time. Now I just look at the list and cook what I feel like I have time for.

Yes, there will be days that you still can't stick to the list. I call my husband from time to time and ask him to pick something up on the way home (using coupons, of course!). Also, with it being so hot, I don't always want to bake something for an hour and heat up my kitchen, so I pick the recipe that fits the day, switch to leftovers, or make something from the freezer. (We'll talk more about having quick meals on hand in a future post.)

Next week, we'll talk more about shopping strategically.

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Light Bulb Went On!

Sometimes you have an idea so good that you can't stop grinning.

I solved two problems at once attaching my son's bibs to his high chair. I don't have to designate a drawer or counter space for the bibs, and they are right where I need them. Yay for brainstorms!

(Sorry the picture is not as good as the idea...)

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Make the Most of Your Meals (Part 1)

Welcome to part one of a new series of posts on meal planning, grocery shopping, and generally saving your sanity in the kitchen and at the food store.

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you might wonder what else is new in blog land. Lots of frugal women are posting about the need to plan your meals and trim your grocery budget to $50, even $30 a week.

Huh? In what non-Montgomery County, PA, area do they reside?

Maybe it's doable. I'm going to ask you to come along with me on a several week experiment and see if I can improve my spending, reduce the amount of food that I waste* and increase the quality of my diet.

Posts over the next few weeks will cover a number of topics:
  • Creating a meal plan
  • Shopping smart
  • Stocking your pantry
  • Using your freezer
  • Making the most of leftovers
  • Couponing
  • Reducing prepackaged and processed foods

So, let's get started. I invite you to leave me a comment; let me know if there is a specific topic or question you want to see me address, or go ahead and challenge me to get down to the dollar amount of your weekly grocery budget.

*Look for another post about a FASCINATING book that I just finished reading. Did you know that the average American throws away about 15% of their groceries?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Simplify Your File Management

It's just another one of those silly things that you will do later. When there's time.

But there never is.

Or, at least, you never take the time.

What in the world am I talking about? The file system on your computer.

How much time do you waste skimming, searching, and double-clicking in a day? It all depends on the quality of your file system.

Back when I was a working girl, I shared a lot of network files, and I saw the good, the bad and the ugly. The worst offenders were the unfiled files hanging out at the end of the network folder, where you could have scrolled horizontally for about five minutes. (For all the policies and procedures, there never was one about saving files to the main folder. Ugh.)

Here is a great article from a techie perspective that really hits the no-no's of file management. Warning: it's a very complete post.

The system on my home computer got a little loose, especially after I stopped working from home. In general, I try very hard to use basic common sense with the folder structure and file names. I'm doing a little better now, but when my desktop looked like this, the 17 items started making me a bit crazy and I knew it was time to do a little cleanup.

Though I am no computer geek, I'd like to share my own two cents about file management.
  • Ask yourself if you really need a shortcut on the desktop for things that you can easily find on the Start Menu. (Remember you can customize this as well as the task bar.)
  • Try to limit the number of folders or files to what fits on your screen without scrolling. If there are more than 10-15, see what you can group and make more folders or sub-folders.
  • Group files by project, rather than format. Think twice before you make a high-level folder called "labels" or "letters." (This may be okay if it's a subfolder under a project with date information.)
  • Use a YYYY/MM/DD format in file names (as appropriate) so that you can easily sort correspondence such as memos, invoices, quotes, etc.
  • If you use Outlook or another task-management software, schedule a meeting or make yourself a monthly task to take 15-20 minutes to review your file system. Use this time to find a home for stray files, delete unnecessary drafts, and do other tune-ups. You will make up for that time later when you can quickly put your cursor on information that others wasted time looking for.
  • Remember that any organizational system should grow and adapt as the way you work grows and adapts. If your company just changed from a team-based organizational structure to a function-based structure, your file system needs to change, too.
Do you have some other advice to share? Please do.

p.s. If you are looking to improve the way you use your time in a day, check out this idea.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Recipe Roundup, Reprised (Part 3)

I just can't help but say it...


The recipe project is finished! The dessert binder (containing 120+ recipes) is compiled and in the kitchen cabinet!*

(If you missed what the fuss is about, click here and here.)

So, now it's onto the maintenance phase, where I make new recipes that appealed to me and see if they are good enough to type up and add to the binder.

In case you are interested, here are some that I just added:

Chicken and Pineapple Skewers
Chocolate Fudge Cookies (they really satisfy that girl's-gotta-have-chocolate craving)

*A very special thank you to my Mother-in-Law, who made it possible for me to spend several hours alone at the library so I could make a final push and get the remaining recipes typed up. You're a blessing to me, Mom.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Boxes, Boxes, Everywhere (Moving)

I was asked (somewhat recently) about how to pack for a move.

It's shameful, really, because I think the customer who asked me has already completed her move. Still, I'm going to share a few thoughts, because it seems the housing market is getting back on track and people are moving. At least, I am seeing more real estate signage in my neighborhood than I have in a long time.

My disclaimer: I have only moved twice in my post-preschool life, not counting college. The first time I was too young to really help and the second time was to my current "married" home. However, I spent nearly a decade working with senior citizens downsizing to a retirement community, so I have watched a lot of moving decisions taking place.

In no particular order, here is my advice:

Toss, Sell or Donate
This one is a no-brainer. There are some things that are simply not worth the work of packing and moving. There is no better time than the present to Freecycle, have a yard sale (if you have the energy), list things on eBay or Craigslist, or leave them at the curb. However, do not toss old linens until after the move; you can use them as free packing material.

Least to Most Used
Begin by packing the things you use least often, but still need at the new house. This includes holiday decorations, fancy dishes, infrequently used kitchen appliances, out-of-season clothing, spare linens, or guest room items.

Deplete Supplies
Once you have a settlement date nailed down, start working down supplies of pantry items, frozen food, toiletries, paper products, etc. It will be less to pack and less to arrange in the new home. Plus, it will give you time to establish a workflow in your new kitchen or bath before you commit to an exact place for everything.

Hit Up Your Family
Yes, you may want their help on moving day, but perhaps you can borrow a corner of their basement or garage to store some things for a few months. This will cut down on the work of moving day and will get some boxes out of the way so you aren't tripping over them while you are still trying to live your life.

If possible, try to obtain a floor plan of your new home. If that's not possible, sketch one on graph paper or somehow get the rough dimensions of your rooms. This will help you map out furniture placement and give you a rough sense of what will need to go where. A general idea is helpful; planning this out to the square inch is not a good use of your time. It's unrealistic to think you can know exactly where you will want things from day one.

Set Aside Essentials
Pack a suitcase for each family member. The suitcases should contain clothing, toiletries, towels, bedding, medication, toys/games, etc. that will be needed in the first 24-72 hours at the new house. This will eliminate scanning dozens of boxes when you are so tired you can't see straight.

Likewise, plan simple meals or arrange to order takeout for the first few days. You may even want to freeze meals ahead of time so you can just pop something in the oven for dinner. Don't forget to have beverages (and snacks!) on hand; all the extra trips up and down, in and out, will make everyone thirsty.

Label and Date
Of course you will label the boxes by room, so that the movers can put the boxes in the right rooms. May I suggest buying some shipping labels and printing them out with large, clearly legible text? Put them in the same general location on the box (or both top and side) for quick reference. Have a box with really important items that you'll need almost immediately? Mark that with a star, yellow dot, etc. so that you can quickly distinguish it's important.

Also, I'd like to challenge you to put a date on each box. Yes, they will all have approximately the same date as your moving day. But, if you happen to stumble across one of those boxes--still unpacked--three years from now, you WILL think twice about whether you really need the items inside.

Create a Staging Area
This is not always possible, but if you have a large garage, entryway or enclosed porch, use it as a staging area. The movers should still take furniture to designated rooms, but the rest comes to the staging area first. This way, you have a bit more control over the influx of items. This is a great place to leave some of the decor items that you will want to decide on long after the first day. 

Go through your current home one final time. Snap pictures of the family out front if you want a sentimental photo. Keep your eyes open; it's almost inevitable that something will have been missed in packing or moving. When my family moved during my elementary school years, the movers had somehow missed an ENTIRE ROOM of furniture. Glad my Dad checked that before signing off. And, you won't hear the end of it if a favorite stuffed animal somehow gets left behind.

If you are buying from someone who is downsizing, while you are upsizing, see if you can buy any furniture from the seller. It will be a win-win situation.

Do any remodeling, painting, cleaning, or appliance installation possible before you move in.

If you really need some extra time, talk to your bank about a bridge or swing loan. This type of financing fronts you money to settle on your new home before settling on your current home. It affords you a time overlap and cuts down on stress.

Readers, and more experienced movers, have I missed anything?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Visual Clutter = Emotional Zap

When I was little, I wanted to be an architect.

Like many of you, I played Legos for hours and hours, probably several months' worth of my childhood. My patient mother vacuumed around the pieces spread across the living room floor. Every time I built a house, it was comprised of rows in the same repeating color pattern--red, yellow, white, blue, black.

What can I say? Order is in my DNA.

Now that I am (supposedly) a grown-up with my own home, I still like to look around and see order: clear counters, clear floorspace, and clean lines. Somehow it gives me a little boost to look around and see that order.
[Not my actual house, but it's nice to dream.]

When my home doesn't have much visible counter or floor space, I notice my pulse quickening as I pigeon step over toys, shoes, dishes, or, like today, swim accessories.

I'm learning that I just have to take the five or ten minutes to clean up before we do the next thing. And, unfortunately, this means forcing the issue with younger ones. I want to have the kind of house where we pick up before we leave for an errand, or go outside, or go up for naps. If we do this, Mommy will be more emotionally prepared to play and less emotionally distracted.

Maybe you can get on my case and ask about my progress...thanks!

As a side note, we had our carpets professionally cleaned a few months ago. I am still wishing I could have kept the special carpet comb that the gentleman used to make all the fibers stand up and look so tidy. But, on second, thought, it might become a very unhealthy obsession.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Making the Most of Spare Moments

Have you ever found yourself with a few spare minutes, but you weren't sure how to use them?

For instance, do you ever sit around and twiddle your thumbs when...
  • the wash or dry cycle is nearly done, and you hate to just walk away?
  • you are stuck waiting at the doctor's office or in the carpool line?
  • your computer is updating or restarting (for the zillionth time)?
  • you are waiting for a phone call or a friend to arrive and don't want to get involved in something new?
  • the timer on the oven or microwave is just about at zero?
  • naptime should be over by now, but somehow you have a few more precious minutes?
  • your favorite show is just about to come on?
I imagine you could add at least a dozen more things to that list.

We all have things that steal our time. How can we make some of that time more useful, or dare I say, even meaningful?

I present to you ten things that will brighten your day in the blah moments of life.
  1. Hug, cuddle, tickle or kiss the person or pet nearest you. (Just don't do this at the doctor's office!)
  2. Call or text a family member you haven't talked to in a while.
  3. Make a list of things you are grateful for.
  4. Brainstorm a way to make someone smile.
  5. Look through your datebook or calendar and see who is having a birthday soon.
  6. Strike up a conversation with a stranger.
  7. Mentally plan a special breakfast, outing or activity for the coming week(end).
  8. Write a thank you note or text.
  9. Make list of movies to see or books to read.
  10. Pay a compliment to someone near you.

ps--This post was originally going to be about having a centralized to-do list (on paper, a dry-erase board, on your phone, etc.) so that you could quickly review it and find a task that fit the timeframe available. I was also going to suggest you could always look around and find something to throw away, give away, or put back where it belongs. But that's just not as fun. Weren't you doing that already, anyway?

Monday, June 11, 2012

No Moping Allowed

Sometimes it's good to eat a slice of humble pie.

This morning, I read a post from Sarah Mae about the motivation behind why she cleans her house (mainly, an atmosphere of peace).

And I want to apologize if I ever seem like one of those super-energized, perfectly together people. I most certainly am not. I hope my blog inspires you and gives you good ideas, but by no means do I want it to make you feel bad about yourself or how you keep your home.

Believe me, some days I fantasize about what it would be like to be an empty nester who can keep the house in order for more than 15 minutes. You know...clean the whole house and then sit with my feet up, reading a book while sipping a glass of lemonade. Not gonna happen!

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Well, once again I am posting with a confession. I had no idea just how gross my kitchen sink had become.

Here's the back story: My very gracious mother-in-law had my boys the other morning so that I could run errands. I didn't intend to stop at Lowe's, but it's a lovely store, AND it opens before 9:00. I had 15 minutes to kill, and I saw they had hanging baskets. I needed grandmother gifts for Mother's Day.

Can I just say that it's amazing what I can accomplish when I don't have to get little people in and out of the car all the time? Especially at stores without carts where I shop for a maximum of 5-10 minutes. On the other hand, it's also amazing how much money I can spend so quickly, even when I have a list that I'm supposed to stick to? (Honey, if you're reading this, it really wasn't THAT much...)

Anyhow, back to my story. I still had some time after looking through the flower display, so I went to the cleaning aisle. I have been struggling for months to find a solution for my poor stainless steel tea kettle. You see, a certain woman in my house boiled water and forgot about it right up until the water was evaporated and the house began to acquire an odd smell. The kettle survived, but it acquired a yellowy hue and the previously-not-that-noticeable grease splatters turned black.

So, I was in the market for a stainless steel cleaner. I came across Hope's Perfect Sink. $4? Okay!

Here is how my kettle turned out. I'm not exactly sure what the yellowing is in the picture, but I assure you that's what the camera sees and not what I see.

I am blessed with some lovely sunlight in my kitchen during the early afternoon, which inspires me to clean for some reason, so I decided to see what this stuff could do for the sink.

Here's a shot midway through the process. You can see that I started at the upper left.
Now here's the embarrassing photo. This is only one of the nasty paper towels that cleaned up the mess. (Yes, I probably should have used rags, but I had no idea it would require so many paper towels.)

Ah, look at the way the water beads now!

And, the finished product. Drum roll, please!

Oh, wait, there's more! I couldn't help myself, so I cleaned the final piece of stainless steel in my kitchen--the center part of my toaster. It was quite dull and yellowed. Now check it out!

No, I didn't clean the tray inside with the polish, but I did make an effort to empty out the crumbs. That probably is a year overdue. (You did know your toaster had a tray in the bottom to catch crumbs, right? If not, you better go empty yours right away!)

Thus ends a long post about chain-reaction shopping and cleaning. From 15 minutes to kill clear through to a clean toaster.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

No More Cooking Spray Buildup!

I want to give a shout-out to the friendly, frugal and helpful community over at

The other week, Kristen posted my question about how to clean cooking spray buildup off my Pyrex bakeware. I received several helpful answers from her and her readers. You can check out the original post here, but here are the suggestions:
  1. Use good old-fashioned elbow grease and an SOS pad.
  2. Make a paste of baking soda, salt and water as a mild abrasive to clean off the residue.
  3. Soak the dish in boiling hot water with a squirt of Dawn dish soap.
Though I didn't use an SOS pad, I did use the hand-sewn nylon "scrubbie" from the talented ladies at the Mennonite retirement home. If that didn't work, I'm not sure another scrubbing pad will.

The hot water and Dawn worked quite well, though I was awfully nervous about burning myself or breaking the glass. There are so many warnings about extreme temperature changes with Pyrex that I don't want to risk it.

So, I choose option #2. Now, if only I knew about that paper cut on my finger and had put on a pair of gloves BEFORE the searing pain. What they say about rubbing salt in a wound is no joke!

Hopefully this post is helpful if you're an over-zealous cooking spray user like myself. If not, I'd love to hear what you grease your pans with, and why.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Take That, Nasty Laundry Stains!

I am so excited to share some cheap and easy stain-busting tips with you today!

But first, a question: If you are over the age of 25, do you still own any clothing that you wore in high school? I'd love to hear what you've saved!

I am officially 10 years out of college (ack!), and I have discovered a handful of items that have stuck around through years of thrift store cast-off sessions. I owe this in large part, I believe, to our front-loading washer. I'm amazed at how gently it treats my clothing.

Now I'm finding that other issues arise besides clothing that wears out. I (ahem) have outgrown a few things, others go out of style, and many others develop stains. I am not a graceful athlete and apparently, not a graceful eater, either.

And just why is it that stains never seem to show up until after they've been stored for awhile?

Well, without further ado, here are some stain remedies that have successfully rescued my family's clothing*:

Baby Spit-Up Stains
Soak the afflicted items overnight in a mixture of oxi-clean and water. If there are kids or pets around, be sure you soak in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Wash as usual, then hang in the sun to dry.

Berry Smush Stains
Boil a kettle of water. Turn the article of clothing inside out and pour the hot water over the stain from back to front. Launder as usual. Yes, I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but it does work.

Grease and Food-Based Stains
In this case, the sooner you treat, the better. Don't even bother to pre-treat if you are dealing with kids' clothing. Just take the item to the kitchen sink and hand wash with liquid dish soap. This got ketchup out of my son's ivory shirt sleeve just the other night. Wash as usual. The ingredients in the soap that get rid of grease on your pans also get rid of grease on your clothes. (Which is a good thing when you stand too close frying bacon.)

Sweaty Armpit Stains
Eww, gross, right? How many men's undershirts get tossed because of this? Well, this is actually a problem because of deodorant buildup more than sweat. I just tried this on a white linen shirt that's been in storage (last summer I was wearing maternity clothing). It was not only yellowed but had sparkly grit in the seam.

Lay the shirt on a white towel or countertop that will not stain or bleach. I used my cultured marble bathroom sink. Combine equal parts baking soda, water and hydrogen peroxide. Brush into the stain with a clean toothbrush and let sit for 15 minutes. Consider brushing from the inside and outside of the shirt, and getting into all the creases of the seams. Wash as usual and tumble dry or hang in the sun for additional bleaching.

Well, there you have it. I hope you can save some of your favorite items with these inexpensive and green stain-treaters! And what you can't salvage, maybe you can make into rags.

*These were all attempted on regular wash-and-wear clothing. I make no claims about special fabrics like silk and suede. If you have kids, are you really wearing that anyway?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Decluttering Friendships

Today I have a slightly off-topic post for you.

I'm seeing articles everywhere about people trying to get rid of excess stuff in their house. I agree that too much stuff in your house can be a problem. Junk takes on a life of it's own. But what about clutter in other areas of our lives?

Let's begin with some quotes from people I don't normally seek advice from:

"I just wanna throw my phone away/Find out who is really there for me" - Katy Perry, Part of Me

"The friend who holds your hand and says the wrong thing is made of dearer stuff than the one who stays away." - Barbara Kingsolver

In this day and age we are busy and hyper-connected. Outside of meetings for work, there are meetups, fundraisers, kids' sporting events, church commitments, etc. With social media providing constant updates, people can develop anxiety about missing out on the latest news. (Ever see the episode of The Office where Ryan can't bring himself to turn his phone off and has to leave the trivia contest?)

What really annoys me is when people purposefully schedule a time to be together, and then all they do is sit around and check their phones. Constantly.

Call me old-fashioned, but when I take the time to get dressed (with kids "helping"), go out, possibly find a babysitter, and spend money on coffee or food, I want to have a real, in-depth conversation.

A lot of people ask why I don't have a Facebook account. No, I'm not one of those people who thinks Facebook is the devil. I'm just not sure that having 200 "friends" would really connect me with people in more meaningful ways. At least, not in ways that are worth the time sifting through the unnecessary info. Yes, you know what's on their mind, what their kids just did that's cute, and see pictures of it all, but then what do you talk about when you're together in person? And really, I'm not that interested in what you had for lunch.

Someday I'll be on Facebook, so I can monitor what my kids are doing there and (maybe) catch up with people from the past. But while my boys are in this precious, small stage, I just don't want to take time away from them (or my peace and quiet while they sleep) to add this into my life.

Don't worry, I still have friends. They are the ones who come over for dinner, who I meet at the park, who email, call or text because they want to know how I'm doing.

On a set day each month, I get together with one of my friends. We schedule ahead because our friendship is a priority and we know not planning means time slips away all too quickly. She and I have grown so much closer as a result.

I don't want to stand on a soapbox today, but I do want to encourage you, if you are feeling overwhelmed with trying to keep up with everyone and everything, to consider who is really there for you (of course, you need to be there for them, too). As an only child, my parents lovingly told me "it's about quality, not quantity." Whatever you think about only children, I believe quality is especially important with friendships.

Invest in the friendships that you want to last. Don't just figure you are busy and will do it sometime. Focus your time and energy on the relationships that are fun, rewarding and challenging. Share tough stuff, laugh together, and get together face-to-face.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Recipe Roundup, Reprised (Part 2)

Hooray! About half of my recipe project is complete, and I'm excited to share it with you.

I decided to go with a three-ring binder approach--one for desserts and one for everything else. I started with "everything else." Here's my super-cute binder from Target. Oh, if I had all the money in the world, I would spend most of it there...

One of the things I'll never forget my Mom teaching me was that you could easily identify the "good" recipes in family cookbooks by finding the pages with food splatters and stains on them. The sheet protectors will prevent this (hopefully) but then again, no bad recipes will make it into the book, either.

The binder dividers that I got on Amazon just arrived and I'm so pleased. It took some searching to find attractive ones that also were wide enough to stick out past the sheet protectors, but I found them. Bonus: the dividers also hold loose pages! Now I have a place other than the fridge-clip to put the recipes I want to try. Love this!

Since the photo isn't so hot (I really need to learn some tips from my amateur-turning-pretty-darn-professional photographer hubby), here are the categories I decided on:
  • Appetizers, Drinks and Snacks
  • Beef and Pork
  • Breads and Breakfast
  • Chicken and Seafood
  • Meatless Meals
  • Side Dishes
  • Soups and Salads
  • Desserts...for binder #2
I typed the recipes using separate Word files for each category, and alphabetized the recipes within the document. Based on the number of sheet protectors that I used, I have about 200 recipes. I can't wait to expand that amount!

I had a lot of fun making the template and rewriting the instructions to be as close as possible to my work style in the kitchen. I also wanted to make them a little more explicit so they make sense when my boys start helping prepare meals in a few years, and add recipes for more obvious stuff like roast beef, sandwiches, etc. I'm excited that someday I can just re-print this information and hand them a cookbook from Mom!

What do you think? I'll let you know how many dessert recipes find their way to the binder. :)

Here is a sample recipe for your enjoyment, from my dear Mom. I will never again pay $7 and up for Creme Brulee at a restaurant now that I know how stinking easy it is (and without the blow torch)!


2 c       heavy cream (one pint)
5          egg yolks
½ c      sugar
1 T       vanilla
            brown sugar


1.      Preheat oven to 275.
2.      Set four ramekins inside a 9x13 baking pan.
3.      Whisk together cream, egg yolks, sugar and vanilla.
4.      Divide the egg mixture among the ramekins.
5.      Using a liquid measuring cup, carefully fill the pan with hot water so that ramekins are about two-thirds submerged in water.
6.      Bake at 275 for 45-60 minutes or until set.
7.      Refrigerate overnight, or to serve warm, go to next step.
8.      Just prior to serving, preheat the broiler. Spread a thin layer of brown sugar across the top of each ramekin. Smooth with the back of a spoon.
9.      Place under the broiler for 3-5 minutes or until sugar has caramelized. Keep a close watch on the progress!