Monday, January 17, 2011

Convenience Food at it's Best

Today was a wonderful exhausting day. A friend of mine told me a few weeks ago that she would come over today and help me make freezer meals. Whoot! After mega planning and a phenomenal grocery store trip by the marvelous husband yesterday we had all the ingredients necessary to put together 20 meals that serve at least 8 people each! Thankfully a couple of stores had meats on sale so I didn’t have to spend my entire life savings (which really amounts to about 24 cents in my wallet) on the food. It was a little more than regular shopping, but in the end the convenience is totally worth it!
I like to think of these meals as almost ready meals. They aren’t your regular casseroles and such. Several years ago my sister in law gave me a couple of “Mega Menu” kits from I tried them and absolutely love them and have purchase and made some of their other kits as well. The one I did today was a Low Carb Menu for 20 meals. Basically you put all the ingredients together for each meal, but it isn’t cooked yet. These are a good balance to killing yourself all in one day to make meals, and having something easy to prepare. I also get to eat healthier since these are main dishes that avoid things like creamed soups and incorporate more items like fresh veggies, spices, and whole grains, etc. Just in case you like this idea, they have plans for 10 meals or you can just make 5 all chicken or 5 all beef.
Anyway, we had a grand day of chopping, dicing, squeezing, measuring, pounding, and running around changing dirty diapers. We made things like Italian Chicken Skillet- with loads of zucchini, red bell pepper, onions, chicken, and tomatoes, and Mini Meatloaves- which is about half beef, half shredded zucchini, and Nutty Fish- a cod dipped in egg and then dredged in ground pecans and paprika. Of course, after the main dishes are prepared and frozen, then I just have to pull them out and cook them. There are also whole menu suggestions of side dishes and salad ideas to have with it to keep it in the “Low Carb” category. I love it!
One of my favorite discoveries recently has been mashed cauliflower. I really should stay away from that big heaping pile of buttery mashed potatoes and this menu suggested using cooked, mashed cauliflower with a little cream cheese, salt and pepper instead. Does it taste like potatoes? No. However, it makes for a yummy creamy substitute that I can enjoy and even put a little gravy on if I choose.
So, now I have preassembled meals for a month in my chest freezer. I couldn’t be happier! Our family can all eat the same thing at dinner and I can rest easy knowing that I’m being “good”. For anyone that has struggled to stay on some sort of diet while feeding your family, who is not on a diet, you know it gets old trying to figure out two meals every single day. This combines things so that if I want to add bread for them I can, but if they just eat what I’m serving for myself, then I can be confident that they are consuming something that is good for them too. And it helps me keep from slacking off as much on what I’m eating.
Bottom line: we had a good time and it’s all done and in the freezer waiting, or perhaps begging to be pulled out in a couple of days.

I’m now off duty, the children are in bed, and I’m putting my feet up. I just might go to sleep a wee bit early- smiling all the way.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Life in the Tundra

Yesterday was a delightful day of watching snow swirl around and blow. In fact the last couple of days have been good for that. It inspired me to clean the slime and snot off the windows so I could actually see through them and out to that gorgeous white lawn. We received about 20 inches- or first good solid dumping of the season.

Today we needed a change, and so ventured out of the house to the store, not in the tradition of the my Southern heritage, "oh I need something from the store or I'll starve cause it's snowing outside" but in the Northern heritage of, "Oh, the Bible School is out of milk and the husband volunteered for the job but doesn't have time to do it." I must say for ya'll down in warmer climates I'm sure 20 inches would have kept you in for weeks, but this morning, my driveway had been plowed for the second time and the main roads had zero snow on them. Oh...and we have car inspections, so my tires have tread and so do everyone else's. I get it.

So, I bundled up the kids- actually they mostly bundled themselves, ate breakfast, and found all the appropriate boots and coats. Then I made them all go back and change clothes because 4 out of 6 were wearing the same clothes as they were on Monday and the rest of the week. We finally got everyone properly dressed and loaded into the van where I discovered that Joseph still didn't put a jacket on. Back into the house to get a jacket in case we got stranded in our car on the side of the road buried under a pile of snow 8 feet tall (cause that's how much it would take to bury our van) and then off to town. It only took us one hour and 15 min. to get ready and most of that really was spent with me going to the bathroom and trying to reach my shoes...after all, I am pregnant. We had three goals: get milk, pick up some ingredients for a pot luck offering for the weekend, and go to the library to pick out books. Oh...and don't kill the kids.

Our first stop was the grocery store where we normally shop. Really, I'm not sure why the other three grocery stores even stay in business. There is such a difference in prices between this one and the others. I estimated one time that a list of groceries that cost me $160 at store A would have cost $200 at least at any of the other stores! Anyway, we were there. I pulled into the only proper spot for a pregnant woman with 6 kids and a large bus- the spot in between the plow's snow hill and the buggy return. Actually it was pretty sweet cause there weren't two complete spots plowed there, only about 1 1/2. So we gladly took up the entire space. Ah...if you don't use a large van on a regular basis you have no idea how glorious it is to have space on BOTH sides of the vehicle to exit AND not have to squeeze into a shape similar to a diet size slice of cucumber to get out of the car. I opened my door all the way stepped my big preggo self out onto the ground and then spaciously walked around and opened both side doors to let the ants out of the hill to mill around and scavenge for food.

We'll say this was one of the better trips to the store. People stopped and stared. They always do. And really, I think I would too, but it was mostly happy stares. I grabbed a buggy from the stall, plopped Renna in her light pink poofy coat in the baby seat and then shoved it through the slush to the door. My train followed faithfully behind. If we didn't look like a circus parade, we'd be a cute family. The older three boys each have jackets of a different bright color. That way when I want to point them out to someone I can say, "Hey! Can you swat the one in the blue? Thanks!" So red, green, blue marched forward. Then came Rachel in her purple striped shirt, light pink quilted handmade skirt (which I sewed for her back when I magically was able to create time for something like that), brown leggings, white footies, white sneakers, and a fuchsia sweater jacket. This was not one of her better coordinated days. Joseph tramped along behind her with his jacket unzipped, freezing, sucking his fingers and...THAT BOY put on the pants he wet yesterday! GREAT...I still missed one back at the dressing ordeal- oh well. So our train went into the store, up and down the isles, stopping at the few items we needed to pick up.
I really must apologize to all the other customers in the store. I know we made their shopping experience take ever so much longer due to the stare factor. I actually started looking around to see if there was a sign posted saying: Make way for the big lady with all the kids...and don't shop when she's on your isle. Cause, really every time we turned down an isle to get milk or white chocolate chips or other food item, life completely stopped all around us. Whether there were 2 or 20 other people on that isle, as soon as we got there they all froze and maintained complete silence as we walked by, got our stuff and moved on. Once I actually went back to the previous isle just to be sure the people started moving again. I mean I would hate to cause a permanent frozen state in others. Sure enough they were back to their business. It was a handy thing for us. I mean...if no one else is shopping then it's easier to get stuff and get out. The store clerks on the other hand ran the other direction. The one I tried to get to find some blueberries acted like he was deaf. And another when he saw me coming actually pulled out a newspaper and began reading while walking the other way as if he wasn't a sales clerk! They weren't mean, just careful to avoid all possible interaction with that crazy woman who brought the day care out for a field trip.
The kids were a big help though. We needed 13 gallons of milk and I didn't have to lift a single one. They didn't play bumper cars too many times, and Renna only unloaded my purse once. We even made it out without having to visit the bathroom- which is the first time I think since #3 has been potty trained that we have NOT had to use the facilities in the grocery store. Perhaps we should have cake for dinner and celebrate this small accomplishment.
Anyway, they loaded the belt at the cashier, loaded the cart with the bagged groceries, AND managed to stay together all the way back to the car. Since I was button-popping proud of their behavior I handed them all a chocolate cupcake with valentines frosting on top as a snack when we got in. That was a big hit and I'm now, for the time being on the "awesome mama" list. At least until I tell them to clean up their rooms today. That was a great distraction for the second store I went to where I left them all in the car for about 5 minutes to buy one item and come back. So glad I can trust them for a little while! It's unbelievably freeing!
Stop number three was the library- by far the most exhausting one. For starters the parking isn't nearly as divine. We ended up parallel parked on the street where the snow hadn't been cleared away completely. So, too bad I couldn't get to that parking meter to put my change in...I would have, you know. As it was, I had to step one foot into the plowed line of snow to get out of the car- only up to my knee of course. And then I hung on to the rear view mirror to get around the front without toppling over into the bank. The kids got out into the street and I discovered Renna had really enjoyed her cupcake. Jonathon appropriately warned me, "Mama, Renna looks like she's had 15 lunches and no manners at any of them." Now her coat is in the washer and I hope it comes out without plastered chocolate and red sprinkles on it. Fortunately I scrounged around and located a sad roll of paper towels and used water from my water bottle to smear around the cake mess. At least it was more like a facial glow than polka dots then. We trotted into the library with our purple book crate, 6 kids, and the cake crumbs trailing behind. It's actually good that we had to walk a ways to the door cause that way most of the crumbs were knocked off before we got to the quiet, clean, always act like adults library. In we went and up two flights of stairs to the children's section. They have an elevator, but the kids were in front and far be it from me to make them come back to ride it, so I limped up the stairs as well with Renna on my hip like some old woman that should have come in her wheelchair. We picked out books and played with the library toys- this place has AWESOME toys. In fact, the kids really never want to come for the books. They just want to play with the 4 foot dollhouse and the trains- which we have at home and they get bored of! I called a bit of the adventure there "school" because I did technically explain the numbering system to Jonathon while he was trying to find the non fiction sections relating to pirates, boats, vikings, and dragons. Totally counts!
After about 3 seconds Jeff had his required 3 books and went to play. The rest of the kids followed suit eventually, but after each child gets 3 books and Mama finds a small stack she thinks they will like that purple crate is heavy! I think we had almost 30 books picked time to go.
Somewhere in there, I took one child to the bathroom and made the other wait. Why can't they want to go at the same time? I don't know...but there is a law- I'm convinced.
Down the stairs we stomped. Really, I'm not sure if there is any hope of us not distracting all the other patrons in the library- ever. While we checked out, I added another to the bathroom list, Renna tried to slam her fingers in the door and wailed, Joseph used the chair cushions in the lobby as trampolines, and Rachel attempted to read the words on the welcome sign at the top of her lungs to all who would listen. I bet the librarians had a party of silence when we finally left.
Now we are home, everything is inside and mostly put away, Renna is busy unfolding all the paper napkins, some of the kids have been outside to play, and the bathroom is available to all who want to use it. Oh, and I think Joseph did eventually change his pants. I did ask him to anyway- at least twice. Same shirt, but you know...some battles just aren't worth it.
So...from 8:30 to 12:30 our entire focus was one stop at the grocery store and a 30 minute stay at the library, with a quick grab at another place. It probably wouldn't have taken that long by myself, but it wouldn't have been nearly as interesting and I wouldn't have bothered to share it with you.

Now off to figure out dinner...mac n' cheese anyone?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sweet Peace

Today started off sort of late. Mostly because last night ended late- for everyone. Yesterday the kids and I bravely attended an evening ice skating party. I wasn't completely convinced I had energy for such things. There is all the frozenness, the skate tying and immediate untying, the trotting from house to pond, the forgotten gloves or diaper bag, and the child with big eyes begging no one but Mama to pull them on the sled around the ice- at 6 1/2 months pregnant. Of course 3 year olds don't generally factor the tummy issue into their decision matrix. But I wanted so badly to get out of the house and take the kids to do something fun that it was worth the risk of running out of steam or falling down once to try to make it work. It was an exercise in throwing out the schedule and routine to watch them smile and experience something different. We had an exhausting fabulous time.

It appears as though I'm paying for it this morning, but I'm not so sure that's the case either. Sure there are some heightened emotions, and school is a little slower- actually with several firm stand stills mixed in. But right now I have a precious baby asleep snuggled up in my arms, another child laying in bed taking some extra time with Jesus, another sitting in a rocking chair with my maternity sweater on rocking back and forth alternately reading his Bible and calmly talking to the kid on the floor building block towers about what he is reading. Rachel and Joseph are playing house kindly upstairs, happy that I finally took the two minutes this morning to tie a string to the end of the bedroom light switch cord so they can turn it on and off themselves. My tummy is wildly wiggling around as I sit here with my feet propped up and thus it appears that the one yet born is the only one capable of expressing massive amounts of energy right now.

This is a precious moment and I wouldn't miss it for all the world checked off a list.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

New Comes around Again

With each new year I find myself thinking about where I want to be at the end of this period of months. I seem start off with similar goals each time: eat healthier, exercise more, be kinder to my family, read my Bible more faithfully, etc. I believe if I engraved this list of aspirations on a golden plaque and mounted it on my bedroom wall I could probably only change the years from one year to the next and never really alter my goals the least bit. It's not the most inspiring way to begin and this year I found myself discouraged at the thought of just erasing the "10", replacing it with "11" and attempting another round of vague feel good ideas.

It has taken me over a week to wade through my lofty ideas and ambitions for the new year. Some are reasonable like: have the baby. Others are more on the ridiculous side: after having the baby and possibly foot surgery and 6 months of recovery reach my prepregnancy weight from before Jonathon. Maybe in Heaven...

One of the things I did accomplish last year- which was not on my goal list- was to read a book about goal setting and thus, I'm strongly considering scrapping the old mantra and replacing it with a new concept to me.

This idea I read about was creating "S.M.A.R.T. Goals".
S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym for:
Measurable(capable of measuring success)
Attainable(not dependent on another person's attitudes or actions)
Realistic(small enough chunk to actually be successful with)
Time Oriented (have a deadline).

With this in mind, I scrapped the old generalities and added some S.M.A.R.T. to brighten up my dusty list.

I changed "Eat Healthier" to:
For the first three months: keep a food journal, come up with 3 healthy snacks I enjoy, replace evening snacks with water or herbal tea, and note in my journal when I am really hungry or "emotionally hungry". Reevaluate at the beginning of April.

For "Exercise more":
Set a goal to walk for 20 minutes, 3 times a week until the end of March. Reevaluate then.

Instead of "Be kinder to my family":
Develop 2 new ideas for ways to show love during discipline and practice them for 2 months to see how they work. Set aside time at least once a week for a longer one on one time with a child to talk to them, listen to them or focus on their interests. Show kindness to Brandon by picking one of his pet peeves and working to change that habit- write it down and check back each month to evaluate.

To replace "Read my Bible more faithfully":
Purpose to read the New Testament through this year along with my oldest two boys(not depending on them, just doing the same thing) using a Bible reading chart set up for this amount of reading. Use time on Saturday to catch up on any reading missed during the week.

I'm convinced an entire year is way too long for me to make a goal and not check on it between now and then. Since I have always tended towards three month phases (or so I'm told) that seems like a good amount of time to work and then check on my progress. At that point, I can make it harder or easier depending on how I'm doing in a particular area. Three months will be a good transition point anyway because I will have a new little boy to care for by the end of March and that will change a number of things in my life for a while.

The other thing that I'd like to focus on this year is to find ways to build up encouragement in my life and put away despair and discouragement. I'm going to look for inspiring thoughts to print out and put on my walls in places where I'll see them. Write notes and put them in drawers or books that I read. Change my desktop to be something that builds me up each time I look at it. And look for other ways to be encouraged and press on. My hope is that I can bounce some cheerfulness off onto my family rather than throwing grouchy at them so often. We'll see. It's all got to be written down but I'm already working on it.

And to end on a lighter note, Jeff has declared that he wants to be a Daddy when he grows up- which apparently includes checking email, cooking, cutting grass, and making fires. This is one of the best goals I can think of!