Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Memory of Home

It's sad to admit but, I spent the first half of my adult life trying to leave behind the "country girl" label, somehow thinking it a bad thing that I grew up in the country. As if growing up in a small rural community made me less intelligent or sheltered. I know this sounds completely crazy, but I was embarrassed to be from a small town.

Thing is, I long for those days back so much more these days. I don't know if it's due to the raw emotions of being nearly 8 months pregnant and the nesting instinct is in full force, but I would LOVE to raise our children with the freedom and creativity I had as a child. While this change of heart isn't really all that new (growing stronger over the past 3 years), it sure is beating me up this morning (or maybe that is just Maggie's kicks:).

When I think of "home" I can see clearly our simple, well treed land of 5 acres, 1 mile west of Anola, MB. I remember the long thin driveway, a huge front yard with two enormous trees off to one side that would drop acorns for the squirrels (a pain on bare feet). The other side of the drive was lined with evergreens that began just as small as I, but grew quickly to reach far above my head. Nestled in them, my Father had built a playhouse that was never really appreciated properly for it's great craftsmanship. The sandbox he built had a roof so we could even play in the rain (and tan upon as a teen). We had a large garden full of all the fresh veggies we could eat (corn, carrots, rhubarb, beets, cucumbers, onions and more I'm sure). There was a really neat swing set and animals (pets only); horses, dogs, cats, rabbits that kept us busy as well. What more could a child really ask for to stimulate their creative side?

A typical summer day would start with a quick breakfast (cereal with fresh milk from a nearby farm) before heading out into the crisp, yet warm summer day. We would spend the whole day outside. Usually the sandbox was the first stop. It was a large one and my younger brother and I would spend the morning building the city (well I would build and he would play, but I didn't mind). We built tunnels and roads that led to great castles where battles would take out entire sections of a city. Morning snack time would take us to front of the house where Mom was filling the kiddie pool (if it wasn't full already) and we would watch the water ripple, excited that we would soon need to get refreshed in it's coolness. Then off to the swings. I enjoyed the swinging monkey bar the best and spent a lot of time upside down. We would swing as high as we could until the posts would bump out of the ground a bit and startle us into slowing.

Before long lunch was ready (simple sandwiches, cheese and crackers mostly) and our swimsuits were brought out. We ate quickly, excited to jump in the pool at last! After cooling off my brother and I would go on our adventures or (if he was napping, then I would get to help Mom with the garden or yard work). Together, Darren and I would make up outrageous stories as we traveled through our yard into imaginary lands of wonder. The surrounding trees and swamp made for even more exciting stories as we grew old enough to explore further. I tell these same stories to Owen from time to time. He loves them and I can see that he wishes he could have been there with us. Then there was bike riding; racing up and down the driveway until we were breathless and then back to the garden for a snack of rhubarb and sugar for dipping (yum).

We would have a blast (no wonder Mom was able to get us into bed so early)! As we grew older and were allowed to stay up later, we would run around the yard and catch fireflies in the darkness or hang out with the adults at by the fire pit, mesmerized by the licking flames. It was truly a blessed life and I had no idea how good it was. It's no wonder my heart longs to have this life for our children.

The family is off again to Richer for a few days. So we are praying for warm days and cool nights and safety for the children as they embark on their own rural life adventures. For now it will have to be at Grandma's but maybe, someday, as God guides our lives, they can have their own special memories of country living. I wonder what my Mom remembers of those days. I'll have to ask...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Meal Planning

As previously promised, here is a sample of how I do our meal planning. This week is a little off the normal routine because I am in Richer, MB for a few days visiting and relaxing at my Mom’s. So “Why meal plan?” you ask; well most importantly, it helps to keep me on budget and it takes the guess work out of “What’s for supper?”. Besides that, I really do have a passion for cooking and presenting to my family, healthy, diverse meals we can all enjoy. Supper is family time and even as a child I cherished this with my family above all others.

Here’s how I do it. I plan to make five different meals every week, which leaves one or two nights for eating leftovers. When the budget allows, I plan for meals with two different kinds of meat (beef, chicken or pork), one fish and finally, one vegetarian based. We like to leave one of these nights open for “breakfast for supper” night (especially when Deryk works nights).

Come Friday (the day of or before I do my shopping), I pull out some of my cookbooks and take a look for inspiration (there are some really beautiful cookbooks out there). I pick out a few recipes I think my family would enjoy. I try to keep some similar ingredients between a few of them to ensure I won’t need to buy too many different things. When the budget is the most tight, I will first look at the flyers on-line for the sales and then consult my favorite recipe web sites (bettycrocker.com being the most likely) and cookbooks. From there I make my list. Remember to “shop in your cupboards” first. Most of the grocery budget wasting comes from buying what you already have.

Here’s an example of what our meals look like for this week: (sometimes I assign days to the meal and others I don’t)

Menu for the week of: July 25-31

Sunday: Leftover night (not a fan of cooking on our Sabbath)
Monday: Orange, Ginger Beef Stir-fry with Udon Noodles (yummy)
Tuesday: Twisted Corn Dogs and Vegetable Kabobs
Wednesday: South of the Border Orzo Pasta and Pork
Thursday: Hamburgers and Macaroni Salad
Friday: Leftovers (or take out if budget allows)
Saturday: Orange Glazed Chicken Drumsticks with Rice and Green Beans

I can post any recipes, should you want (or if I have), just let me know.

Another element I add to the meal planning is the meal preparation done earlier in the week. Things like pre-cutting vegetables, separating meats and marinating them before freezing are done the same day as the shopping. Other things like precooking the meat to be used in multiple recipes can really help on those days you know you’re going to be too busy. Those are usually done Monday mornings for me because (as I’ve mentioned in the past) that is my most productive day. Take this week for example. Knowing that we are going to be at Grandma’s, I knew I would have to do some prep work before packing up and taking the meals out with us. I cut the beef and bagged it to marinade before freezing it. The chicken used a similar marinade, so when I split the big pack, I just did that marinade as well. As you can see Thursday is a simple meal, because I know I have an appointment and we’ll most likely be just getting back from Grandma’s with dirty laundry and tired children (and Mommy).

Any of those days could, in theory, be interchanged and for us they often are. I recently went a few weeks with little to no meal planning and it made for a much more difficult week, with the temptation to eat out so much greater. I strongly encourage those of you who are having trouble sticking to a meal budget and still juggle the meal time to try this. It’s kind of fun once you get going and you'll find that your family will eat a much wider vatiety of meals in a month.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Learning to STOP!

I am always going; if not physically, then at the very least, mentally. In my younger years (prior to husband and children) this was exciting and a lot of fun. For example, I never lived in any one place for more than a year (actually a year was doing quite well) and my furniture moved around in said location at least quarterly. You can ask my Mom and Dad because even as a pre-teen I was constantly moving things. I called it cleaning; most people call it re-organizing or re-decorating.

While I do still move my furniture around about quarterly, my location has been pleasantly fixed for the last 7 years. I do get the itch to move from time to time, but I am coping. The itch I've had most recently is to move out of the city into much more spacious places. This will be itchy for a while because there are too many details still brewing in my brain (more on those to come) that God isn't finished with just yet. For now I have learned to be very content with what I have and where I am, after all there is still so much to keep me "going" here. It's also where God wants us to be right now, so this journey is made much more fun knowing we are walking through it with His guidance.

With three children in the home and the 4th child on the way, slowing isn't always an option. Children and a home do keep me busy. It's this busyness that I am learning to control, delegate and quite frankly just stop. A good example of this is when Owen was a baby I found it hard, like many young moms, to nap. There was so much to do; I had no time to nap (never mind the guilt) so I would push through, often exhausted by the end of the day. Slowly I learned to cat nap (10 -20 minutes at a time). Then there were two... and we all had a nap (even if it was just 20 minutes for me and a few hours for them). I learned that it was okay to get refreshed and I wasn't being selfish or lazy.

Did you know that planes don't fall from the sky if your kitchen is a mess all day? I didn't and even now my messy kitchen makes me crazy from time to time, but I am much better equipped to handle things after a nap or at least a proper break to rest my feet. This is where I am learning to STOP. No one is going to die if my dishes aren't clean, or the vacuuming is a few days behind, but my family will suffer if I don't rest. I will be miserable, short tempered and quite frankly a nasty little thing (just ask my husband). Just stopping everything I do in a day isn't the answer either and this is no easy task when you're used to doing it all (and more).

Here are some of the things I do to STOP the busyness:

1) Prioritize: What is really important and what can wait?
This is different for everyone. I used to be able to do it all, but the all that needs doing can grow too large for just one person. The biggest lesson I could encourage all married couples (or anyone really) to learn would be that, your way isn't the only way if the job still gets done. Sure, it takes my husband longer to do some things, but the end result is I didn't have to do it! No, the kitchen isn't as clean after he cleans it, than when I do it, but I didn't have to clean it; I got to play a game with my sons or just tickle them silly. That is way better than a "perfect" kitchen any day.

2) Organize: A good routine always helps.
It helped me to write down everything I did in a day on the calendar for one month. I got a visual picture of how busy our home was and to see where things could be adjusted. I found that Mondays can often be my most productive days of the week. The children have usually had the full attention of their parents (mostly Daddy) and their "love tanks" are at their most full. When they were itty-bitty I was able to get in little chores like emptying the dishwasher if I spend a solid hour playing or filling their "love tanks" first. They will now play very nicely on their own for the longer periods of time. By Friday this is the exact opposite. They are feeling deprived of affection or attention and just need me to be available to their every whine or cry. I don't plan much for Fridays.

Mondays, I will do a really good kitchen cleaning and prepare the meals/baking for the week (more on this in the future). The children have already learned that they can go play outside when Mommy is done in the kitchen and the toys are cleaned up.

Tuesdays and Wednesdays, are the best then for play dates and appointments outside the home. The children are just as eager as I am to get out and are therefor much better behaved! Because the babies nap, I will often go out in the AM so they can nap well in the PM. I can then do the "easy" little chores like folding laundry or dusting, while enjoying some quiet time.

Thursday, is for heavier cleaning (vacuuming, kitchen clean) and playing outside if we can. We often have friends with children over this night so a bigger clean is sometimes needed. I will usually need a bigger rest by this day myself, but sometimes the heavier cleaning will give me enough of an aerobic workout that I will get a boost instead.

Friday, as I mentioned earlier, is just a day of maintaining order and since the children are to bed early, tired from a busy week, it's also the best night for a date.

Weekends, are often unplanned or left open for yard work, family & friends.

While these aren't routines I've written on my calendar and follow exactly, this is a routine that just seems to work well for our home, planned intentionally or not.

3) Delegate: My husband is an amazing man who will gladly help around the house (even before children). We have always shared the big household responsibilities. Since staying home, more of the daily ones fall to my plate, but that's only natural, it's my workplace now. He will wash laundry, clean bathrooms (all 3 of them, minus the main bathtub), wash floors and clean up after supper. The biggest help thus far is that he will tend to the children's needs from super to bedtime, freeing me to enjoy them in play or take some time to myself.

Owen, being 5 years old, can also help out more. He will clear the table after meals and use the hand held vacuum to clean under the dining table as needed (so I don't have to vacuum as often during the week). I can even get him to put away his laundry or empty the dishwasher (on a good day). He is always an extra pair of eyes to keep watch over the two troublesome 2 year old boys when Mommy is out of the room. He might not always be the most eager to help, but truth be told he is a huge help.

If ever I am feeling overwhelmed, we sit down as a couple (and Owen as well if needed) and see where we can better distribute the responsibilities, even if for a short time.

4) Say "NO": This one is still the most difficult of all for me. I love serving others. Seeing someone blessed fills me with immeasurably joy. It is also much easier to know when you have taken on too much than it is to say no in the 1st place. My calendar can get so full with doctor appointments, play dates, babysitting, swimming and church commitments that it leaves less room for the daily stuff that needs doing and before long, my husband and I are looking around saying "grrr arrrg" because we haven't left enough time for things.

To break this bad cycle, we purposefully went through a season where we committed to nothing extra outside the home and even kept as many things inside the home to a minimum as possible. I call it my busyness detox. It really helped. Once I had a nice clean slate I found I was able to add things back slowly. I started with one thing per week and then lived with it for a month before I was able to add more. The idea was to see where was the limit (not just for me, but my whole family). It also allowed me the time I needed to ask God what He wanted me doing. His plans are always better than my own. For us, 3 extra activities inside or out of the home a week was enough (swimming lessons, crafting or parenting groups). These days (7 mo. pregnant) I would say 1-2 things, but I need to have a nap on those days or forget it!

Ultimately, you can't get anywhere with an empty tank of gas. I can guarantee you, no one is blessed by a burnt out mother. It's an ongoing process that involves a lot of planning and prayer to make it work and since each household has such unique needs, only you can know when the fit is right. I know it's right when each new day feels more like a joy than a chore. Let me know if any of this helps you out and feel free to post some of your ideas, I would love to know what others do to reduce their busyness.