Monday, July 14, 2014

Building Cathedrals

Sometimes, when I'm out in public, someone asks me what I do for a living.

It's an innocent question, really. 

After all, much of who we are stems from what we do, and if nothing else, it allows for some polite chitchat.

So, I answer. 

"I watch children in my home and stay home with my kids."

And then comes the look.

Glazed eyes, head nodding gently, benign smile.

I can practically see the wheels turning.

And for many people in this world that continues to value jobs outside the home so strongly, the idea of staying home and caring for children is truly mind-numbing.

And sometimes, it can be.

After all, the majority of my days are spent in the mundane.

Pack and unpack the travel bag. Change diapers. Start laundry. Wash dishes. Correct behavior. Read stories. Arrange play dates. Prepare meals.

And the craziest thing of all?

All of these mundane tasks must be repeated ad nauseam. Many times a day. Everyday. For years.

But, friends, there is joy to be found in the everyday.

Buried in that soil are beautiful flowers and vegetables that need just a little tending to flourish.

Hidden in those stories read time and time again is a child on the verge of discovering the world of books.

Unearthed below the piles of dishes and laundry and dirty floors and endless meal preparation is a family walking in the door and finding peace at home despite the chaos of the world.

There is value here.

Have you heard this story?

"A man came across three masons who were working at chipping chunks of granite from large blocks.

The first seemed unhappy at his job, chipping away and frequently looking at his watch. When the man asked what it was that he was doing, the first mason responded, rather curtly, “I’m hammering this stupid rock, and I can’t wait ’til 5 when I can go home."

A second mason, seemingly more interested in his work, was hammering diligently and when asked what it was that he was doing, answered, “Well, I’m molding this block of rock so that it can be used with others to construct a wall. It’s not bad work, but I’ll sure be glad when it’s done.”

A third mason was hammering at his block fervently, taking time to stand back and admire his work. He chipped off small pieces until he was satisfied that it was the best he could do. When he was questioned about his work he stopped, gazed skyward and proudly proclaimed, “I…am building a cathedral!"

Is the work boring, repetitive, anti-climactic?

At times, it sure is.

Some days, we crave a new project, a meal with friends, an evening among adults.

But what we do in our homes is life-giving in the most basic, literal sense.

We are giving life.

Perhaps I should respond differently the next time someone asks me what I do for a living.

"Me?  Oh, nothing much.  I'm just building a cathedral."

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Weekly Menu (4.6.14)

My goal for each week is to make a menu and do my grocery shopping based on that menu.

I sit down with some past menu successes and a couple of favorite cookbooks and my computer and go at it.  I do a check on our schedule for the week, and also do a quick run by the Meat Man in case there's anything in particular he's wanting.

I have some sites that I will typically search when I'm looking for a recipe of a familiar food (Pioneer Woman or Annie's Eats), and other times I use general search sites (AllRecipes) or even a search engine.  I've gotten pretty good over the years at gauging whether or not something will be successful in our home just by looking at the ingredients, but every once in awhile I'm surprised by the result.

I don't have a lot of patience for recipes that don't come together smoothly (who has time for that!?) and you can read more about how I choose recipes and plan our menu here.

I am probably successful at menu planning about fifty percent of the time, and when I keep up with it, it helps SO much with our grocery bill and how smoothly our home runs in the evenings.  My goal is to be a little better about doing it more often--maybe a consistent eighty percent or so.

I can pretty much guarantee that I will not be able to keep up with sharing our menu each week, but I am going to try to do it at least every so often.  So, without further ado, here is our menu with links included.

(And a note--remember that I watch kids at home too, and even the Meat Man takes leftovers to work, so our leftovers disappear quickly around here!)

Sunday
Lunch:
* Reuben sandwiches (toasted deli corned beef, swiss cheese--I actually used a horseradish cheese this time and we loved it, thousand island dressing, and sauerkraut on rye or pumpernickel)
* Chips and pickles

Dinner:
* Certified Angus Beef t-bone steak on the grill
* Salad--greens, crumbled gorgonzola, walnuts, craisins, balsamic vinaigrette
* Slices of rye bread
( Helpful hint: I had two meals I was making and delivering for friends who've just had babies, so I just tripled the meal tonight and doled it out into separate containers.  LOVE doing that.)

Monday
Lunch:
* Leftover steak or chicken, salad, bread


Dinner:
* BBQ Pulled Pork (literally throw a big old pork roast--butt or shoulder--in the crockpot with a bottle of BBQ and let it go low and slow all day--couldn't be easier)
* Cilantro Lime Coleslaw (Cabbage, carrots, cilantro, lime zest thrown together with dressing made of olive oil mayo, a little sugar, grainy mustard and lime juice)

Tuesday
Lunch:
* Leftover pulled pork and coleslaw


Dinner:
* Honey Mustard Chicken (this is one of those unexpected recipes that really blew me away.  I use chicken thighs, which are cheaper and more flavorful than chicken breasts, but I do pull off the skin before cooking.)
* Sauteed veggies (I grab a bag of frozen stir fry veggies and saute these in a little coconut oil to go along with the chicken)
* Rice (Just plain old, slow-cookin' white rice with a little lime zest and juice added)

Wednesday
Lunch:
* Leftover chicken, veggies and rice


Dinner:
* Falafel pitas
* Strawberries and mangoes (chop and combine, add a touch of honey and some lime zest or juice)

Thursday
Lunch:
* Leftover falafel


* Plantains (cut plantains in chunks, sprinkle with a tiny bit of sugar, and sear in a skillet that has a tiny bit of coconut oil)

Friday
Lunch:
* Leftover tacos


Dinner:
* Probably pizza or pbj something--the hubs and I have a date, but we'll do something simple for the kids.

Desserts for the week (I make one, and when it disappears in a few days, I make the second.  We have desserts as small, after-meal treats only, unless it's a special occasion, so they usually last the week.)

Do you meal plan?  Any tips or tricks you can share?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

No wimps allowed.

Apparently, I needed a reminder today.

Because I obviously must've forgotten how big life can be in the moments of raising our littles. (Sarcasm font, anyone?)

But, I guess that in the day-to-day, I do forget at times.

And some days, the moments are clicking snapshots in my mind.

A huge squeeze from small, pajama-clad arms thrown around my neck.

Click.

Nursery rhymes sung loudly and off-key, complete with hand motions.

Click.

Gentle discussions on how to handle real life situations.

Click.

Raucous giggles from conspiratorial boys.

Click.

Kisses and hugs and reading and laughing and crying and yelling and whispering.

Click. Click. Click.

And I look back on the day and sigh a great, exhausted sigh of contentment, and I think to myself, these are humans we're raising.

These little people are learning in every look, every gesture, every reaction.

And we, hopelessly flawed people that we are, are teaching them in all that we do.  

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: this parenting thing is not for wimps.

Man, am I thankful we only have to live each minute one at a time.

And we get a chance to teach all over again tomorrow.






Monday, March 24, 2014

Avocado Chicken Salad Sandwiches with Strawberry Mango Salad

Today is March 24th.

This morning, it was 17 degrees and we had snow flurries.

Today is March 24th.

We've been preparing for spring a bit around here.

I've been in a crazy purging/organizing frame of mind for about a month now and even the Meat Man is getting into the spirit by spending all of Saturday raking and disposing of the layer of leaves that blanketed our grass through the winter.

So, even if the weather won't cooperate quite yet, I'm pretending spring is here.

I saw this recipe on a girlfriend's facebook page the other day, and with a couple of minor tweaks, I knew it would be a keeper.



Avocado Chicken Salad

Ingredients:
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 avocados, chunked
1/4 sweet onion, diced
4 T mayo (I love the mayo made with olive oil)
zest and juice of 1/2 lime
handful of cilantro, chopped fine
*salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Cook the chicken breasts thoroughly.  For this recipe, I just boiled mine for 15-20 minutes and they came out perfectly.  Plus, in the meantime, I was able to chop the other ingredients.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl.  When chicken is cooked, let cool for a few minutes and then tear apart with a fork.

*I didn't actually add salt and pepper this time, and we thought it let the ingredients themselves come through really well.



If you have the coolest Craig's List find stove on the planet, you can put some butter on one side of the bread and use your fantastic griddle.  If not, just put a pan on medium low and do the same thing--then go scour Craig's List for an awesome stove!

And this recipe had cilantro and lime and avocado.

Which totally means Mexican food to me.  Is that normal?

So, I also had some mangoes on hand (which also scream Mexican to me, so I knew they would go together) and I decided to make an easy little fruit salad goodness.



Strawberry and Mango Salad

Ingredients:
1 pt. strawberries, chunked
2 mangoes, peeled and chunked
Zest and juice of 1/2 lime
1 T honey

Directions:
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and stir!

The perfect dish for pretending spring is here.

And a hit with the kiddos and the Meat Man.

Enjoy!







Saturday, March 8, 2014

A story.

I want to share a story.

A story about a child.


He came in to the world in no unusual way--sweet smelling and happy and infinitely loved by those around him.

His parents spent a lot of time loving him and in the process, made a bazillion mistakes.

Daily.

But, they tried.

They worked with him to talk, walk, hold a fork, use the potty.

They laid with him in bed during bad dreams and allowed him to snuggle in their bed when he was sick.

They were lucky enough to be surrounded by great friends and family and mentors.

And overall, they did a pretty good job.

But again, they messed up.

A lot.

Sometimes, they pushed him to do things he wasn't ready to do.

Sometimes, they held him back when he was ready to move forward.

Sometimes, they were too hard on him.

Sometimes, they were too soft on him.

Sometimes, they got angry when they should've been understanding.

Sometimes, they let him get by with something they shouldn't have.

And the years passed.

And the boy began to grow up.

He began to have his own interests and his own friends and his own agenda.

Some days, the parents thought they had gotten it wrong.

Some days, the parents knew they had gotten it right.

One day, the boy started pre-school.

And as he walked with his daddy into school each morning, he met an older gentlemen; Mr. Norm by name.

Mr. Norm began to say 'hello' as he passed the boy each day.

The boy answered back and would ask Mr. Norm how he was doing.

Everyday, they talked a little, and then, over time, a little more.

The boy told Mr. Norm about superheroes and the team he cheered for and his baby sister.

Mr. Norm told the boy about driving a train in Hiroshima during World War II and his wife and the team he cheered for.

Some mornings, they just chatted, and some mornings were special--like the one when Mr. Norm (at age 86) agreed to "scare" the boy by racing him around the hallways at church and 'surprising' him on the other side.

They became friends.

One day, the boy, who was just learning to write and spell, made a card for Mr. Norm, all on his own.  The card had 3 simple words: the boy's name, "Mr. Norm" and the letters of Mr. Norm's favorite team.

The boy was thrilled to deliver it to Mr. Norm later that week.

Mr. Norm exclaimed over receiving the card and thanked the boy.

A few weeks later, the boy and his daddy saw Mr. Norm having coffee at a local store.

Mr. Norm introduced the boy to his friends.

And then, he reached into his pocket, and pulled out the card.

He was still carrying it with him after all that time.

And the parents knew that they had nothing to do with this beautiful moment.

It was all the boy's and Mr. Norm's.

If you haven't guessed, this boy is my son.

And I am his mother.

One of those who keeps messing up.

But, I have learned that he is good, in spite of me, in spite of bad days, in spite of a messed-up world.

In fact, he is a being totally apart from me.

I have influence, but his heart originates in him.

In fact, in trying to teach for so many years, I often forget how much I still have to learn.

And how much he can teach me.

Like, remembering that true love isn't based on discipline and achievement on which we parents often focus our energies.

Love is so much simpler than that.

A heart willing to connect with others.

It's a little person looking up at an 86 year old man and seeing a kindred spirit.

Love is in these little people, if only we have the eyes to see it and the wisdom to stay out of the way.

Happy 5th Birthday to a little boy who is funny, smart, musical, persistent, ambitious and oh-so-full-of-love.  I am truly lucky to be your mom.

I can't wait to see what else you have to teach me.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

I'm February.

I hate February.

I really do.

Every other month of the year has something to offer.  Lovely scenery or holidays or wonderful occasions.

The change of seasons.  Campfire to fireplace, garden to harvest.

Except for February.  

Nothing happens in February.  No anticipation, no holidays of note, no new beginnings.  February just marks the continuation of a winter that isn't likely to abate for another solid month, at least in my part of the world.

It's the month of sameness.  Where January is the tired, happy sigh after the holiday meal, February is the leftovers.

February is a hard month for me.

I realized recently that maybe February is hard because its sameness lays bare my sameness.  These days of being a mother of young ones and a caregiver to even more young ones are marked with a startling amount of sameness.  

Sometimes, I think of my days as an infinite series of the tiniest steps.  

There are no brain surgeries or gigantic acquisitions or profitable mergers.  There are no project presentations or meetings with the president or conferences to attend.  There aren't even any commutes or hour-long lunch breaks or chats at the water cooler.

No, my friend, those are big steps.  And my steps are small.

Pick up clothing, change laundry, unload dishwasher, load dishwasher, wash dishes, prepare food, clean mouths, wipe noses, change diapers, read stories, sing songs, fold laundry, buy groceries, sort, clean, sweep, bathe, pick up toys.

Repeat.  Then repeat again.  And again.

Sometimes, I feel like February.

And I find myself, a person who typically can find the happiness in the mundane tasks I perform, frustrated and ungrateful and sometimes just plain bored.  I'm tired of sickness and the inside of my house and the routinized daily grind. I'm February.

I start to second guess everything--am I doing the right thing being home?  I mean, I do have a degree!  I am a capable human being!  Shouldn't I get more education/start a business/find a high-paying job?  

I mean, ANYONE can do this, right!?  Is it really that important that I'm here to build the four hundredth lego plane or have the sixtieth sword fight or tell her for the three hundredth time not to stand on the couch?

And then, I pause. I pull out some cardboard and watch my son as he draws the planets he's so fascinated with and asks me lots of questions and smiles with pride as he puts the rings on Saturn. I watch my daughter carry her little baby around, patting her head when she 'cries' and tells me her baby needs a nap now.  I curl up anywhere that's comfortable to read stories that I've loved since I was a child to eager little ears hearing these beautiful words for the first time.

"When the days drag on monotonous; when the mundane tasks veil the miracle of your calling—this incredible privilege of raising little humans to know Him and serve Him—God is there in the midst of it all, hearing, seeing YOU."

And I read words like these that are uplifting and true and remind me that there is glory in the mundane.

I am lucky to be here, in the trenches, doing the hard, dirty, exhausting work.

Because I was given these children, this family.  They are gifts.

And I am given the gift of pouring out love.

Over and over again. 

Everyday.

Even in February.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Family meals: the how-to

Let's talk food for a bit.

I like food.

My family likes food.

We try and eat a lot of homemade meals that the kids will also enjoy. 

But, this takes time.  And energy.  And money.

Three things that all families seem to be a bit short on these days.

So, I've been reading the Clover Lane blog for awhile.

This mom has six children ranging in age from 19 months to 19 years.  Yup.  Busy lady.

She is awesome.  She has a plethora of sage advice on child rearing and family time and simplicity, but she also shares some recipes and some amazing ideas for organizing and paring down.

Which gives this mommy hoarder collector some great ideas.

She is my blog crush.  You know, the ones you read and want to post a link to EVERY post??  

Yup.

Anyway, she's been sharing some very simple ideas about menu planning and grocery lists using--gasp!!--pen and paper!!  (Do people even own pens and paper anymore!?)  

I've adopted some of her ideas and a few of my own, and it has helped our family immensely.  I thought I'd share some of these things in case they may help other families dealing with similar frustrations.

First, all weekly menus in our home must follow these rules:
  • Healthy, fresh, homemade. If a meal seems a little off, I try and balance it with a fresher side and healthier meals the night before and after.
  • Ingredients that we know, love, and can use more than once.  I don't bother with ingredients that cost $15 for 1 tsp. I substitute or choose another recipe.  I also have no qualms about substituting something similar or something I just have on hand.  So, it's not perfect.  It'll be ok.
  • Recipes cannot be all-day experiences. I love to cook.  Really.  But I also love to sleep.  And I watch 6 kids everyday.  I do not have time to be in the kitchen all day everyday.  If I have a meal that is a long-prep, I try to balance with a short prep on the day before and after.  My life is more important than only being in the kitchen.
  • Ingredients on sale and on-hand = $ in my pocket.  I am learning to coupon, and I do look at the sale ads and adjust my menu accordingly.  I can always push back a recipe another week!
  • Go-to's and newbies.  I have a number of recipes and websites that I have used over time and consistently get great results.  Those are my 'go-to's' and I usually have several of those in a week.  I also like to try a 'newbie' or two to keep things fresh.
  • Happy kids. Extra benefit to all of this?  Less whining!  Really.  When I'm asked what's for dinner, I can say it with certainty, and sometimes fewer choices = fewer arguments.  
  • Left. Overs.  Yes.  This word exists in our house.  Lunch is dinner from the night before except for rare occasions when I don't overcook and there's not enough.  Husband takes leftovers to work and we all eat them here.  Also, we dub one night "leftover night" and you basically find whatever you can in the fridge and make yourself happy.  This night, I'm more flexible with the kids, too, if they want something like a PBJ, too.
  • Flexibility.  Ok, if you know me, you may laugh at this one, but it's true.  I actually am flexible at times.  If I'm exhausted or we get a snowstorm or baby girl won't be put down or today everyone hates everything, we might just order pizza.  It happens.  I bump everything back, and we just push one of the meals to next week.  Just breathe, we're all well-fed here.
I'll work on sharing some weekly meal plans soon.  I know that reading them from others (especially my blog bff) really helps me to get some inspiration in the kitchen.





Friday, January 3, 2014

Pea and Mint Soup

Ok.  If you're looking for a soup where you read the name and it sounds lovely and inviting, this isn't it.

And, if you're looking for a soup that isn't a serious color of green when it's ready, this probably isn't the one you want, either.

However, it's serious goodness in a bowl.

Honestly.  Mr. Meat-eater loved it and so did picky young man.

They ate it for dinner last night.

And lunch today.

And for dinner again.

For me, any meal that's a hit for several meals in a row is a keeper.  We will be making this again.

I love that it's heavy enough to warm us up on snowy days like this one, but the flavor is light and fresh enough, I could see us making this in the spring, too.

Here is the recipe (and like any good, experienced blogger, I took absolutely NO pictures...sigh...)  A friend passed it on to me after I was oohing and aahing over eating it at her house.  I couldn't find anything like it online, and that is too bad because people are missing out!

Try it--I promise you won't be sorry.

And for the record, I tend to use recipes loosely.  Cooking is supposed to be enjoyable, and I don't stress about the details so most of my recipes can be adjusted as needed!

Pea and Mint Soup

Ingredients:
3 T butter
4 stalks celery, cleaned and diced
1 medium sweet onion, diced
6 medium potatoes, peeled and chunked
2 c stock
2 c water
2 bags frozen peas
fresh mint, chopped
1 can coconut milk

Ingredient notes:

  • When you chop the celery, keep the leaves in there--they give lots of good flavor.
  • I had red potatoes on hand, so I probably used about 10 of those.
  • I know that "chunked" is not a type of cut, but it can best be described by sort of coarsely cutting.  Doesn't need to be super small and doesn't need to be uniform and pretty.  See? Chunked.
  • Veggie or chicken stock is probably best, but I had beef stock on hand, and that worked just fine and didn't hurt the flavor at all.
  • I like fresh mint and used it liberally, but if you can't find it (or don't want to pay for it during the winter), dried mint works just as well--use about 2 T dried instead.
  • Thanks to my helpful friends, I learned that there is coconut milk to drink and coconut milk to cook with.  I used "Taste of Thai" brand found in a regular can in the ethnic food section in our grocery stores.
Directions:

  • In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat.  Add in celery and onion and turn up to medium high.  Cook until veggies get some color on them and are soft.
  • Add potatoes to the pot and about 2 cups of broth.  Add water until it covers the potatoes.  Turn the stove to high until the soup boils, then immediately back down to a medium low.  Let it cook until the potatoes are soft, but not mushy, about 15 minutes.
  • After potatoes are soft, add in frozen peas and cook until they soften, about 10 minutes.
  • Add fresh mint and coconut milk.
  • Finally, use your fancy new immersion blender that you got for Christmas (or a food processor or blender, in batches) to mix the whole thing up--you want it almost smooth in texture.
  • Let it simmer as long as you like on low (be careful to keep it low with the coconut milk in it) and break off some pieces of good, thick bread to dip in it.

Enjoy!!