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.