Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Come and get it...

Oh dinnertime...my friend and my nemesis. I really don't mind cooking, and I thought by being a mostly-at-home mom I'd have more time to prepare healthy, tasty meals for my family. But the truth of the matter is that at the end of the day, I'm still just as tired and with little time to prepare something...and I hate cleaning up a messy kitchen. Pretty much since the start of our marriage I have made a weekly menu plan and generally stick to it. I've seldom had to wonder "what will we have for dinner?", but I often don't really want to make what is on the menu because of the time involved.

Recently a few friends were posting that they were making meals for a month. Whoa. I know my limitations and making that many meals in one block of time would surely not be good for the emotional health of my home. BUT, why can't I make the meals for the coming week? So I got out a month-long calendar and planned the meals for the first two weeks. Then I set out with the first day and made as many meals as I could handle in a 2 hour time block. The awesome thing? When I made spaghetti casserole I was able to split it into two dishes and put one in the freezer. Same with the veggie soup. Then I was able to write those meals in a later date in the month. So I got 5 days worth of meals done in about 90 minute time block, plus cooked up some chicken so it is ready for the next bulk cooking day.

So I started the week with three meals in the fridge and two in the freezer. Slowly I may get a freezer stash built up. Later this week we'll be picking up our deep freeze to help in the process. It will also house the pastured pork and grass-fed beef what we'll soon be getting from Meadow Oaks Farm Angus Grass Fed Beef (yum). All the better to be able to prepare a bunch of meals at one time. One block of time. Many meals. One clean up. Glorious.

Another tactic I just employed in my battle against the hungry mob I feed (okay, admittedly, it's a small mob, but they do get hungry) is to assign each day of the week a particular genre of food. It is really helping in my meal planning. When you look at 7 days a week and try to figure out 7 meals, sometimes it is overwhelming. But this time I assigned each day like this:

Monday: Pasta night
Tuesday: Soup night
Wednesday: Casserole night
Thursday: Crockpot night
Friday: Fast & fun night (grilling, tacos, pizza, wings)
Saturday noon: Brunch (this week was spiced peach french toast strata)
Saturday night: ???
Sunday noon: Leftovers
Sunday night: Cereal Sunday Night (a family fave with no prep and little clean up!)

So far it is working for me. My next step is to take all of the recipes my family likes and put them in one of the categories, then I can easily use my lists to help with meal planning. It will help remind me of "forgotten" recipes and give me a place to add new ones.

So you want the organization of meal plans but don't want to do the work? For a while I used www.e-mealz.com, which not only gives you a menu plan, but gives you the weekly shopping list. Can we say time-saver? I loved it, and when I get bored with my current system I may try it again. They have menu plans for Aldi's, which is my new favorite grocery store.

It doesn't matter how you plan it or how you prepare it, family meal time can be one of the best times of the day...especially if the preparer isn't a frazzled mess when they sit down to dine.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Former Things...

It's been almost 3 years and 3 months since we moved back to Watseka. For those of you who were with us during that journey you're thinking "wow, time flies." For those of you who weren't with us, well, you missed quite the adventurous time in our life. Just a quick recap: Andrew wanted to move back to Illinois to work for his dad's company. I had no desire to move back. I loved my life in Iowa: close to my family, job I loved, friends, a church that had cared for us through a difficult time...but I also felt that I needed to follow if he had strong feelings about moving. So we made a compromise. We would put our house on the market, and if it sold we would move. I thought the housing market was in my corner, so I felt confident we'd be able to stay in Orange City one more year and maybe by then Andrew would change his mind. God laughed at my plans. Two days after our house was on the market we had an offer for full asking price. Because I was 30 weeks pregnant with Aaron at that time we decided to move right away rather than move in my parents basement until after baby was born. So at 32 weeks pregnant, we loaded up the truck and moved to...well, not Beverly.

I have two verses marked in my Bible that really hit me in that week that we put our house on the market, Isaiah 43:18-19: "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." 

I would like to say that as soon as we moved here I was able to let go of the past and praise God for the new thing He was doing, but I was far from being joyful about the situation. Aaron was born about 6 weeks after we moved there and I remember rocking him in a chair, reading those verses, and weeping that I felt like I was in the wasteland. I kept trusting that God was doing a new thing, but I didn't see it. And as time went on I continued to dwell on the past, holding on to the dreams I had wanted. 

But God is so good. He was doing a new thing, He does provide streams in the wasteland. Three years after moving I can see where He was working. He has provided in so many ways. But part of what I needed to do was forget the former things. Not a literal amnesia (although that might have been less painful), but to let go of what I had wanted. It was a process. It didn't happen overnight or with one prayer. It was a process of making a new life and relying on God even when I would have rather taken life in my own hands. Trust me, there were plenty of times I had thought about packing the van back up and moving back to Iowa.

Don't we all hold on to parts of our past that we really need to let go? Some things were good things, some not so good. We want to look how we did at 18, be the athlete we once were, have an old relationship back, have a chance at a do-over in our career, to have taken a different fork in the road at some point. There are some losses in our lives that we do need to grieve and allow time and God to heal that pain. But we also need to forget some former things and look to the new thing that God is doing. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The quest for a "better butter"

I frequently have little moral dilemmas with food. For example, iceberg lettuce lacks anything nutritional and has no taste, so on that basis I'm morally opposed. Oh, to be nice as a guest I will eat it and I'm not mad about it, I just feel that unless you need an excuse to ingest large amounts of ranch dressing, it's pretty much pointless. One of my other dilemmas with food comes with deciding on a spread for my bread.

So the world's most tasty spread, butter, has saturated fat which contributes to heart disease. So then, enter margarine, which had less calories/fat and spreads oh-so-nicely on your morning toast. But wait!! After years of downing the cheaper spread we find out that the hydrogenated oils that are used are actually worse than the saturated fat. So then we go back to butter. And for most things I love butter. But all you toast lovers out there can agree with me on this. There is nothing worse than trying to spread cold butter on toast and suddenly having a big hole in the middle of your toast and little chunks of butter in various places. I know there are people that use olive oil or flax, but I just can't figure out how to work that (or the fact that it just doesn't taste as good).

So that's my dilemma. Butter is my favorite choice because it is closest to the source. In my book, the more chemical processes have to go through to get to my mouth, the more likely it is that it won't be good for me. But it lacks the ability to spread (you can buy spreadable butter, but don't rain on my parade here). So enter a recipe for "better butter". I found it in "Healthy Foods" by Leanne Ely. And it's simple. Here's the recipe is it appears in the book:

1 stick butter
1/2 c. safflower oil (or other mild-tasting, cold pressed oil)

Let butter soften at room temperature. Mix oil and butter together. Refrigerate.

So I tried it...but I used canola oil instead. And you know what? Success. Next time I'll mix the two together a little better and probably double the recipe...but in my fridge is a good tasting spread made from natural ingredients that won't put a hole in my toast.

So if you'll excuse me, my morning toast is waiting.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Top 5 things I took for granted

After this past week of 2 kids with strep throat while hubby was out of town, I have a new appreciation for some things I take for granted...

1. Clorox wipes...even though I feel environmentally guilty, when trying to keep the house clean and (mostly) free of germs, they were a sanity saver. I already had enough laundry piling up...

2. My oldschool 2 cup coffeemaker...I'm not trendy enough and definitely too frugal to get a Keurig. But being able to make a small amount quickly and easily helped me make it through the days after the sleepless nights.

3. Netflix...say what you will about them upping their price or their lack of options on the instant viewing, for us watching endless episodes of Spiderman, Backyardigans, and Glee helped us make it through with sanity in check. And we didn't have to watch the same Dora DVD's over and over again!

4. Email...I know, now it's almost a dinosaur. My college students never seem to check theirs. But for a few mamas stuck in the house with sick kiddos, it was a lifeline. Sure, texting is great and was utilized by yours truly, but to truly express the exasperation of ANOTHER sleepless night, more than 160 characters are needed.

5. My husband...please say I'm not the only one guilty of this. When he was going to be gone this past week I figured it would be no big deal. I had cleared my work schedule and had visions of a field trip or evenings watching movies after the kids went to bed. Instead our field trips were to the doctor and the only reason I was up watching movies was to rock a feverish 3 year old. Life would have been a bit more bearable had my better half been home to give me an hour of respite to get to the store without sick kids...and he's just good company in general.

So here's to a week I never want to repeat and to the 5 things I hugged an extra time or two this weekend.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Reason #1 I changed my career path...

Any working parent can relate to the problems that arise when your offspring are sick and you have to make decisions on who will stay with the sick child and the potential consequences at work. A year ago we went through a lot of that when my son was sick with respiratory issues. I have to say that my co-workers were always understanding and the kids' daycare provider was always extra helpful, but it was still a strain. So this spring when we were considering if I was going to keep working, this was one of the top issues that brought me home. Not the only one by far, but a big one.

So I am three weeks into my new role as "mostly at home" mom (has that term been coined yet?) and our first sickness hit...and it has been a doozy. It started about 5 days ago with my daughter's fever. Both kids have strep. It has been hard. The past 5 nights have been limited in sleeping and daytime hours are taken up with continually cleaning, doing laundry, handing out popsicles. rocking crying kids, and trying not to eat the oreo stuffed peanut butter cookies in the freezer (that's a topic for another day). And on top of it the better half of me is 13 hours away for business.

But you know what? I have been blessed. First and foremost by our decision that I be mostly at home. I didn't have to coordinate work and grandma and days off. I was just here. And I could stay in my sweats all day with no guilt (this isn't my normal attire, but justifiable in this case...ready for a nap at anytime). Especially with my husband gone, my availability for the kids has been so much less hectic. And each time that I am woken up in the middle of the night to rock a feverish or hurting child (8 times last night), I think of friends who have lost children and would give anything to have one of those sleepless nights back if it meant holding their kids.

For our family, at this time, bringing mama home more has been the best decision.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The pain of exercising??

So I have a confession to make...I love exercise. No really, I do. I love doing it, I love how it  makes me feel. I'll pretty much try anything and give 110%. But recently I fell into the trap of punishing myself with exercise. Not in an exercise bulimia sort of way, but in a "no pain, no gain" sort of way. Now I know that you need to push yourself outside of your current fitness level to see gains. But I was pushing way outside of the envelope. Partly due to exercising with videos by Jillian Michaels and in the spirit of P90x and similar programs. I have seen so many people end up with injuries from these, yet I had told myself if I wasn't killing myself with some crazy exercise, I wasn't doing myself any good.

So then it happened. About 3 weeks ago I had an 80 minute workout on the agenda to make up for a missed workout earlier in the week. So I went for a run, a hard run. I really enjoyed it. Then I decided I would try out my new Bob Harper kettlebell workout. By the time all was said and done I had exercised hard for over 90 minutes and had a hurting hip. When I looked back over my exercise log I hadn't taken a rest day in several weeks. But no bother, I figured I was tough and would exercise through it. I was sure it wasn't that bad. Until it got worse and worse. So after Tuesday's miserable walk (hello, a 20 minute walk killed me), I decided I needed time away from exercising. I gave myself a week off...I lasted 3 days. Last night I just had to do something, so I did pilates. Tonight I did yoga. Both felt good. Tonight as I was reflecting I thought back to a little less than 3 years ago...

I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in both knees (I was 30 at the time). The pain was so bad I couldn't sit down or stand up without significant pain. I could not walk (slowly) more than 5 minutes without pain. So I figured I had to do what I could. That's when I started doing pilates again as well as doing some gentle therapeutic yoga. I was about 25 pounds heavier than I am now, and just doing those two things, I started losing weight. I slowly added in walking, stopping as soon as my knee pain started. I started by walking 2.5 mph for 5 minutes and over a few months(!) built up to 20 minutes. But you know what, my knee pain decreased and my weight was coming off. Then once I was better I started doing crazy working out and do you know what I realized tonight...that's when my weight loss slowed.

I think what I do is allow myself to eat more when I'm exercising hard. So for the next week I'm only doing pilates and yoga...and focusing on my eating. Then I'll slowly add back in walking, jogging, biking, and strength training in healthy amounts. I'm seriously considering getting rid of the exercise DVD's that cause me to harm myself:) I really do want to be able to exercise for the long haul.

And to remind myself...you can't outwork a bad diet.