Changing up your Meals with the Season

Summer, we will miss you. We'll miss handing off part of the meal prep to the Grill Master. We'll miss simple salads, and fresh fruit when it's almost too hot to eat. We welcome Fall and we await, if not with some trepidation, Winter. 

When the seasons change how I cook naturally changes along with it. Preparing meals for our family is serious work and it's easy to fall into a rut of offering them the same dinners week to week. One way I try to keep the meal planning fresh is to spend a little time with my cookbooks and my family. 


Pictured are: Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond,
Sandra Lee, and Taste of Home

I'm not a collector of cookbooks. Too many are counter-productive for me. I pulled 7 of my favorite cookbooks this morning and I'll spend some time browsing them today. Tonight my husband and kids will spend time perusing them and finding tasty new adventures they want me to tackle. 

My goal is to have about 45 - 60 meals in my bullpen at all times to work from in planning my monthly menu. There are at least 20 to 30 which are standard fare and family favorites, leaving about 30 new and seasonal recipes for trial. 

I'll ask each member of my family to choose at least 5 meals, they would like to give a go. I'll sort through them and create a new roster for the upcoming season. 

Keep it Fresh


As the primary meal maker for a family you have all the work of running a kitchen, planning a menu with very few of the rewards an actual chef would enjoy. It doesn't have to be this way. Changing up our menu and staying excited about food, meals and techniques can help relieve the feeling of drudgery. We know these folks we live with are going to insist on eating, probably 3 times a day! We can either create a system we can be excited about to get the job done or we can eat worms. Not literally, don't eat worms. But you get the idea.

If you aren't sure where to begin in the cookbook world, if you aren't a foodie per se, figuring out where to begin is a tough call. There are hundreds of meal planning websites, recipe websites, and more cookbooks than you can count. Just start simple. I love the internet but when I am looking for new meals, I almost always turn to the cookbook. I like flipping actual pages and seeing the photos. I use the recipe websites for times when I know what I want to make, but I'm not sure how I want to make it.

With my goal clear: Feed the people in my house. 
My standards clear: Healthy, economical, and not complicated


I spent a few nights at the bookstore some years ago sipping a latte and browsing cookbooks. I found a few that resonated with me - Pioneer Woman, Sandra Lee and Taste of Home and I ran with them. I'm a home cook. Not a fancy cook. I can't feed my kids squid, though my husband adores it. I need meals that work for me. I used to joke that I work in shades of Velvetta as my true medium. I'm making healthier choices for my family these days.

Make some time ever so often to explore new meals. Keep it interesting for yourself and your family. The change in season is an excellent excuse to take this on. 

Bon Appetit




Manage the Mail

Have you ever opened your cupboard to get a coffee cup and found a water bill? I have. 


The stacks of mail around my house was at one time the bane of my existence. I didn't have a separate home office. I had a computer desk which seemed like a reasonable place for mail. I even purchased matching sorter thingys from Office Depot. So then I had a giant stack on the counter, a small stack on the table, and a couple smaller stacks wedged into my little sorters. About every 2 weeks, around payday, I would start searching for my monthly bills and spend a Saturday morning and half with a pot of Columbian Roast opening the dreaded mail. Once I found what I needed I'd declare victory and leave the rest for another day, a day probably two weeks away.

As more of our bills became available online it was less necessary to look at more pieces of the mail; not sure if I needed to keep it or toss it, I stacked them unopened. 

And my tale of woe over the mail continued...

The truth was, sometimes I ended up missing due dates because I couldn't find the bills. When I began to take an active approach to the business of our family, I did a wee bit of math. Turns out all those little late fees, a few dollars here and there, add up over the course of a year. Finally I decided to tackle the problem. I checked in with Flylady and read a few excerpts from my favorite Mom Organizing books and created a system that worked for me. 

First Rule: Junk mail never, ever comes inside. 

In all honesty about 50% on most days is junk mail and at least 3 days a week it's all junk mail. This step alone made life much easier.


Next Step: I created a binder system.


At a central location in my home. It's not sexy, it's not hi-tech. But it works for me. I have 3 binders, one bin, and a shredder. Every piece of mail belongs in one of these categories. 


First Binder: Monthly Budget

Every monthly expense goes in this binder: utility bills, credit card bills, bank statements, and debts or other bills. This binder also has the following components:
  • A list off all my acct ID's and passwords so I can go online to pay bills and have everything in one place
  • A calendar for the month with all income and bills marked due
  • Tithing Envelopes
  • It has a section for our Debt Snowball or Savings Goal (thanks Dave Ramsey)
  • Stamps

Second Binder: To Do

Church things, scouts, fundraisers, fun events, invitations, anything that I will need to remember, mark on the calendar or follow up on goes in this binder. This binder has the following additional components:
  • An annual and month by month calendar large enough for writing.
  • Contact information for all our local things, Scout Leader, Youth Group Leader, etc.

Third Binder: Coupon Binder

I love me some coupons. Virtually all our date nights and outings involve a coupon or a Groupon. A few good coupons and ads still come in the mail. Pizza, Frozen Yogurt, our favorite local restaurants advertise this way too. They need a home because I do not like my fridge covered in paper and magnets.

Everyone needs a Shredder. Credit Card offers and other sensitive items which are not being kept, must be shredded.


The other pieces of mail fit in the Filing Category. Pieces to be filed go into a bin.

My bin looks like this:
(Don't use a basket. Baskets are really just putting walls around the stack on the counter. Baskets are not a system - sorry.)


Filing

Filing is my husband's department. It's good to divide the labor. I handle the monthly stuff and he handles the long term. We sit down each week and go over it all. 

Our family is not unlike a business, we have assets, "employees" sort of to care for, goals, liabilities, and someone has to drive the train. Weekly business meetings are essential.

Files are divided into 3 categories


First Filing Cabinet: Short-term. 

These are things we need for a year. This years current health insurance policy, car insurance policy. All items for our taxes for the year go in this file.

Second Filing Cabinet: Long Term

These are items we are keeping for up to five years. Previous taxes, investments, account statements. ur kids college documents are another good example.

Third Filing Cabinet: Safe

After hurricane Katrina we learned a fire and waterproof safe is essential. So all our important papers are in a safe. Life insurance, health directives, wills, banking information, copies of our drivers licenses and credit cards, car titles, birth certificates, social security cards. 


It's all about having a system

All business run on systems. The flow of paper, from permission slips, obligations and invitations to  bills need a system. You can fight it but the paper will win. The papers always win. 

Everyday the mail is sorted into a pocket/divider in each binder. Most days it's opened and sorted by category immediately, but if not, every Saturday I spend a few minutes making sure it's current and sorted and balancing the budget for the past week as well as looking at the coming week.

Whether you model my system, tweak it or find your own, just take the time and put a system in place.


A Housewife Returns


An inspector was inspecting my home once, back in the days when I operated a licensed home childcare on the Air Force base.

She wrote on my evaluation and said to me, "You have the cleanest home I've ever seen. Your refrigerator is spotless."

I cling to those words right now as I scrape the sludge that is pooled in my fridge at the bottom in the back. I wish I would have framed the paper. I wish I had taken that comment to a tattoo parlor and had it transferred to my arm and permanently tatted it into my flesh.

Why?

For the last 2 years I have been working from home recreating furniture to help support our two oldest children through college. Tirelessly honestly, I've been working tirelessly, mostly because of my illness, everything is taxing on my body, on my energy, on my state of mind. I am so glad I have work I love. Work which pays me well, and affords me the freedom to still be in my home with my children and homeschooling.

But even though I love the work, even though I was just working in the garage, I was working. My full time work as a housewife fell many notches on the priority list. In the last year my home has just fallen apart. I say this and I realize that it's not fallen apart in a physical way certainly. It's certainly at a level of acceptability but it has fallen very far indeed from what I love, from what I need, from what I strive to create. The dust bunnies have colonized and formed a representative government. The CDC is wondering if the antidote to ebola might be growing in my fridge. UGH!

I continue to reclaim my home. Recreate all the systems and checklists that I relied upon but which have changed with my now almost grown up family.

As I slowly, very slowly reclaim each little piece, I fall in love all over again with my vocation as a housewife. This is the work I love, creating a clean, lovely, happy home, where we are well fed, and well nourished in body and soul.

Thank you again, Steve for providing for our family to allow me to be here doing the work I love. I am still working a little bit, because I enjoy it now. But my full time work is without a doubt back in my home.


priorities


This is an actual 4D photograph of an 11 week old baby in utero. I saw this posted this morning on Abby Johnson's facebook page. Abby is a former abortion industry worker/manager who left the industry, changed sides, converted and is now a powerful agent of change in the cause for life. Her book is excellent and tragic all at the same time, if you haven't read it, you should.

This photo stirs in me such emotions.

Loss. The babies I have lost, were never older than this child. Seeing this reminds me again, how very real the losses were. They tug at an ache in my abdomen that will never leave me.

Love. The babies I have joyfully carried into the world bless me everyday. I see this and recall all the moments of my pregnancies, where I rejoiced and adored the growing person within me.

Anger. In this country, our priorities are so disordered. More people care about trees than human life. The environment? Really? I refuse to care one whit about the environment until we stop the infanticide of our children. If we are saving the planet so that we can kill babies, disabled, elderly... well I don't think it should be saved.

Hope. I know there will always be those who do not value human life, it's a product of sin. But technology like this makes it harder for the liars who profit from the slaughter to earn. Abortion is only about money. These undeniable truths in living color, refute all the tales they spin. There is always hope in truth.

I know a lot of folks don't like to be controversial on their facebook walls. We like to keep it neutral, not offend anyone. I have to challenge you on this.

Who are you? The world is in dangerous times on every front. We can't sit on fences and hope we just  slip by unnoticed. Uncounted. We have to stand up and be counted. We will be counted, like it or not.

How will we respond to our Creator when He calls us to account for how we lived our life? What did we stand for? On which side were we counted? Did we stand for anything at all?

I can think of no worse use of my life, than to have lived it and have stood for nothing of value, nothing of truth, nothing of purpose, nothing of God.