Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Menu Planning Monday on Tuesday

I have to be honest.  Sometimes, even when the menu is done, I want to write about something else.  Yesterday, the story of my morning with Elizabeth felt far more important than what we were planning to eat.  So, if you are following the meal planning, please be patient.  It is coming... but I want to be sensitive to first things first.  

And lest you think all is wonderful here after our Sunday morning discipline, let me say once again that my home is much like yours.  We walk together, stumble together and sometimes get it right.  And sometimes not.  Oh how my sweet girlie is struggling with putting aside what she wants most in order to be obedient.  Last night, the struggle continued and I worked very hard to be patient as I retaught the lesson we had learned the day before.  Even when we are intentional... even when we are loving... even when we are consistent... sometimes our children miss what we are teaching them.  After a frustrating afternoon, and likely too much conversation, EB was off and laughing and playing again.  I am glad we can work through these difficult patches but I am eager to see her remember the lesson.  Watching our children learn to choose well can be agonizing but I am trying (trying!) to focus on how amazing it will be when she realizes that working for what she wants is the best way to get that thing...

And, I am straying from the topic at hand!  Menu planning continues to work well for us and I am finding that if I do not post the menu on Sunday night, nearly everyone will come to me wondering what we are doing.  In this way, I think it may be helping us to organize our meals and plan ahead.

I am continuing to create the menu based on what I am finding on sale.  This week, whole chickens were on sale so I bought two.  Both are on the stove boiling right now (the house smells amazing!) and the meat will be used in many upcoming recipes.

Here are our dinners for the week:

Monday:  We ordered pizza.  A local restaurant offers half-off pizza on Mondays so we spent only $9.00 to feed us all.  I love that!  (As an aside, Monday morning, we tried a new breakfast... pumpkin oatmeal.  I loved it.  Some of the kids liked it.  It got mixed reviews.  I think we will try it again... healthy, fast, filling... worth another shot!)

Tuesday:  It is nearly 60 degrees in Chicago today... bizarrely warm for January.  To make the most of this spring-like weather, we will be grilling Italian sausage with veggies tonight!  Yum!

Wednesday:  In an effort to broaden the foods my kids will eat, we are going to try Peanut Noodles with chicken and veggies.  One of my kiddos will not eat peanut butter so I may be setting myself up for a fail here... though the same child does eat Scotcheroos.  :)  So... we will see how this meal goes.

Thursday:  My family is not big on salads though I have had good luck with Taco Salad.  With less fat and calories than traditional tacos, I feel good about making this meal.

Friday:  We are going to try letting the kids choose this meal.  I have no idea what will sound good to them!  Tonight, we take a vote!  Keeping meal planning fun has been working for us, so far.

Saturday:  For lunch, I making chicken soup using the broth and chicken I am cooking today.  I will serve fresh bread with this which always makes a meal so cozy.  For dinner, we will make chicken quesadillas... a recipe so easy I can throw it together in minutes.

Sunday:  While I normally make a huge meal for lunch, this week is the Super Bowl!  :)  We will eat lighter in the afternoon and then have a great time with snacks during the game.  I will be choosing our snacks from the following list (most of which I found on Pinterest!):

-apples and dip
-garlic chicken crescent rolls
-coconut chicken strips
-chips and cheese
-veggies and dip
-pizza muffins
-ham and cheese sliders
-buffalo chicken balls
-buffalo chicken tacos
-vanilla cupcakes

No, I will not be making all of these things... though I would love to!  I am excited though to find a couple of new favorites to add to our Sunday snack list.

So, there ya go!  A brand new menu for a brand new(ish) week!  What about you?  What are you looking forward to eating this week?

Blessings on your day!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Wanting a Bath and Learning a Lesson

My kids love a bath.  From the time they were babies, we have set aside time for them to lounge in the tub everyday.  As our life became fuller, and we had more children, baths turned to showers for the sake of time.  Since then, baths have become things of luxury... times of playing... extended, soapy, soaking, solace.

Before church yesterday, the older boys rose early and took quick showers.  Mark drove them both to an indoor soccer game they were to referee together.  This left me home with the little ones and a bit of extra time.  Josiah woke just after I did and grabbed a book he was eager to read. I made coffee and thought that the slower schedule with two kids home might allow some time for them to have a bath.

I went upstairs, started the water and added the things they love best.  Lavender soap.  Epsom salts.  LOTS and lots of bubbles.  By the time it was ready, Josiah was too.  Having reached the end of his chapter, he called the dog and headed in to have a soak.

I could smell the relaxing scent downstairs by now and loved the pace of the day.  As a mom of four, I should know that thinking a morning will go smoothly and well is almost as powerful as a verbal curse.

I could hear Elizabeth beginning to wake up and went in to say good morning.  In the darkness, I very nearly tripped on mounds of Legos left strewn about the floor.  As I pulled up the shade, the light revealed several worn outfits needing to be taken to the laundry room, dolls suspended in imaginary play, a baby bed turned tiger home and boots thrown here and there.

"I thought I heard the bathtub, momma..." Elizabeth began.

"You did..." I answered.  "I thought today we might have time before church for a bath."

Her face lit up and she clambered down from her top bunk.  Grabbing a towel, she made a break for the bathroom before I called her name.

"Elizabeth, Josiah is in there now.  How about you straighten up this room a minute and you can have a bath too, once he is done."

She looked around.  Nobody likes to clean their room.  Especially at 8.  She checked my face.  Were there options?  A way around?  She put her towel down and started tossing the Legos into their box.

I headed to the closet in search of Sunday clothes.  The job was getting done.  The morning was going smoothly.  I relaxed and thought through our day.  Not a bad start.  Not a bad start at all.

A few minutes later, Josiah came out of the bathroom red-cheeked and squeaky clean.  As he brushed his hair and got dressed for church, Elizabeth made her way to the tub.... running into me in the hall.

"Did you finish straightening up, EB?"

Her eyes darted quickly to the floor.

"No."  she whispered.

Coming down to her level, I looked her in the eye.

"It will take you just a few minutes, maybe only 5... and then you can take your bath.  Finish this job and then get in.  Deal?"

Her shoulders dropped.  She sighed.

"Deal."  she said and headed back to her room.

I came downstairs, gave Josiah a job, and went to the kitchen to begin Sunday dinner.  I prepared to make bread.  I got out the roast. It was then that I realized I could hear no cleaning sounds from the bedrooms upstairs.  This time my shoulders dropped.  Our Sunday Utopia was about to end.  How I hate that realization...

I called to Elizabeth upstairs.  No answer.  I listened again.  No cleaning.  I had no option but head on up.

The door to the bathroom was closed.  My daughter was in the tub.  Hoping against hope to find a clean room, I turned and glanced inside.

Boots strewn.

Clothes tossed.

Dolls stopped in mid-play.

The room was not even somewhat clean.

I want to say that I love these moments because they are teaching times with my kids.  This would be a lie.  I do not love these opportunities. I love pouring a bath.... I love hearing them laugh... I love the times when I am more fun momma, than detail momma.  But the reality of this work is that I have only a short time to teach.  The reality of this work is that without the details, without the lessons, without the discipline that was to come, I am not being momma at all.  This life must have both.

I opened the bathroom door to find my girl relaxed and at peace in the tub.  Laying in water, ears submerged, bubbles everywhere... a smile on her face... she was having fun.

I motioned for her to sit up.

"Did you finish straightening up?"  I asked.

Eyes down.

"Yes?" she responded quietly.

"Is that the truth?"  I countered.


I reached for the shampoo and for the plug to the tub.  Tears welled in her eyes.

She rubbed the soap in her hair.

"Elizabeth, I was very clear.  You needed to straighten up your room before you got in the tub.  It was not a long job... but it needed to be done.  Then, you could spend some time playing in the tub before church.  I was excited for you to have that time.  I planned that for you. "

Her tears spilled over.

"But, I really wanted a bath, right now." she tried...

I splashed water over her long, brown hair, rinsing the shampoo out.

"How did that work out for you?"

"Bad..." she cried.

I held up a towel and she climbed out of the tub.  My girl had lost her bath.

We went into her room together.  We both looked around.

"Tell me," I began, "what still needed to be done."

"I needed to put away my boots.  I needed to put the dolls to bed.  I needed to take my laundry down to the laundry room so you can get it washed."  The list was not long.  But it was undone.

"Elizabeth, why did you leave these things and take a bath?  Why didn't you finish first?"

"I didn't want to finish.  I wanted to take a bath."

"Did you get the nice, long, relaxing bath you hoped for?  I asked.

"No."  More tears.

"If you had finished in your room, where would you be right now?"

She was crying now.  "In the tub!"

"Elizabeth.  Honey.  You lost what you wanted by lying to mom and disobeying what I asked you to do.  You lost what you wanted.  Sometimes, we have to wait for what we want because other things must be done."

I rubbed the towel on her wet head and then headed downstairs to the work I needed to do.  As I prepared our Sunday meal, I could hear her crying upstairs. It is a sound I truly hate.  As I moved around the kitchen, the weight of this work sat heavily upon my shoulders.  Because really, I wanted to leave her in the tub.  I wanted to ignore the room and play and laugh and have a peaceful morning...


But, what does that really mean?  What does it really mean if I want to overlook her disobedience?  Today, my daughter is 8.  The day will come when she is 18.  My days of teaching and these times of opportunity are more limited than I care to admit.  Today, her lie was small.  But, if she is not held accountable right now... if she is not corrected in this tiny thing... what does that say and what will she try tomorrow, next week or next month?

Sometimes, I wish it was easier.  Sometimes, I wish that I could set aside the big picture and not worry about what she is learning.  What they are all learning.  Maybe that day will come.  But it is not today.

About 10 minutes after I left her upstairs, she called to me and I went back up.  She stood in her room, dressed for church, hair brushed out, room very nice and neat.  A smile spread across her lips.

"I did it." she said.  "I did what you told me to do.  Can I come downstairs and help?"

I smiled.  I nodded.  I relaxed my shoulders and realized we made it through.  I know we will visit this lesson again... but for this moment, we are done.  And maybe she understands.

There is no end to this momma-work and I cannot set it aside.  Even in fatigue and frustration, we need to battle on.  Finding the lessons to give our kids is very important work.  It is another way to love them, another way to prepare them, another way to get ready for all that is to come.

Blessings on your day.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Something to Try for the Weekend!

Some weeks are just so busy!  I often feel like we come crawling into the weekend with a tremendous need for rest.  Every now and then, we plan a calm and cozy movie night!  Pick a movie that is appropriate for your whole family.  Work together to make some favorite snacks.  Clear away coffee tables and let your kids bring down a blanket and a pillow and get settled on the floor.  Snuggle with your family while you enjoy the movie and the downtime.  When the movie is over, take a few minutes to talk it through, recall favorite parts and uncover hidden lessons, good or bad.  :)

Blessings on your weekend!  

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Lessons of Trust on a Treacherous Drive

He sat next to me in the van.  The snow had finally come and was covering everything, everywhere, as far as we could see.  We would be together, he and I, for hours as we tried to find our way back home.  The roads were icy, visibility limited... but it was beautiful.

Driving home from his middle school basketball game, I had to remind myself to make the most of the time we had.  It was easy to become frustrated.  Easy to lose my focus and fuss about messy driving, completely missing the gift of time I had been given with my boy.

By the time we found the highway, the muscles in my shoulders ached and I was fighting a headache from focusing so hard on the road ahead.  I was thrilled to see the snow... but had totally missed what it would do to the roads.  Driving slowly, I glanced around and saw many cars in ditches, many spinning out of control.  I rolled my shoulders, sat up straighter, and glanced again at my sweet boy.

He was looking out the window, a smile on his face, watching the wonder that was outside.  He tilted his head and pointed for me to see the outline of a hawk on the tree nearby.

"Look, momma!  Do you see him?  He is so majestic there... "  he said.

I smiled and nodded, fighting the distraction of the road ahead.  I was worried.  Would we be able to make the 45 minute drive home?  How do I keep us safe?  Should we stop or keep pressing forward?

I glanced at him again... the back of his head toward me... and remembered hours and hours of time spent holding him, nursing him, studying the hairs on his head.  I remembered him tiny, remembered him running, remembered him jumping through sprinklers with his face lit up in the summer sun.

How do I keep him safe?

"Will it take us long, do you think?" he asked me.  "I have homework to do tonight..."

I looked at him again.  "Take out your study guide and talk to me about it, bud.  Let's work on it out loud."

After digging through his backpack, he finds the sheets and starts talking to me about a test that is coming up soon.  I placed my hands firmly on the wheel, sat up straight again and took a quick peek at his seat belt to be sure he was buckled in.  Worry washed over me again.

He kicked off a shoe and tilted the chair back a bit, smiling and talking about the class and the test.  And then it hit me, all of sudden, that he was not worried at all.  He was not stressed by road and the dangerous ice.  He was not wondering if we would ever get home.  He was calm and peaceful and talking and trusting... even in the midst of such turmoil and tension.

And for a quick minute I could see something clearer... a reminder... a truth... a picture... that comforted me then and comforts me now and reminds me of how life is supposed to be.  Because my boy sitting next to me felt totally safe because he trusted me to handle what was happening around us.  My boy knew he could do what he needed to do and that someone was keeping him safe.

And maybe you never forget.  Sometimes though, I do.  Sometimes, I think I have to handle it all... and sometimes I believe that the person who is keeping me safe and watching the road is me.

But, on that snowy and slippery drive home from his game, my son reminded me that if I trust, if I believe, if I release my need to handle it myself, I can relax and remember that The One in control needs be The One who loves me best.  I can be free then to do what I need to do knowing that I am safe.

I need to trust Him, to trust God, with my family, my work, my worries, my safety... I need to trust Him to work in and for my life... and trust Him to do it better than I ever could.

And if I do that... if I trust Our God... then I can tilt my head, look carefully about, and see all that is majestic around.  His hand of mercy creating beauty in nature, in His people, in my family, in...

I miss so much trying to manage the drive...

Blessings on your day.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Menu Planning Mondays

For the past several years, we have tried and tried to eat out less.  It is not that we do so very often... but when  we can easily drop $35.00 on a trip through the Golden Arches, every time matters.  With careful meal planning, I can make a complete family dinner for around $10.00.  With this in mind, I am overwhelmed by how wasteful it is for me to spend the equivalent of 3.5 dinners at home on food that is not even good for us!  Since we have started meal planning, we have eaten out one time... and it was planned and budgeted for as a special event.  I am thrilled that my planning is making a difference!

Maybe you are stuck on that $10.00 amount above.  How can we feed our family of 6 for $10.00 or less?  A lot of things come into play when I am trying to figure out what we will eat this week.  It is important for you to know that I also love to use coupons.  A couple of years ago, we began couponing in a way that really impacted our family budget.  We planned meals around those things that I could buy with coupons, at a greatly reduced cost.  When those items came around, I bought a bunch and stored them up to be used over time.  Unfortunately, the way coupons work seems to have been impacted by recent TV shows that depict people (often, though not always) abusing coupons and store policies.  Because of this, my couponing has been somewhat curtailed.  If you are interested in learning more about how to make the most of your grocery shopping, I recommend Jill Cataldo's Coupon blog.  I have learned so much from this site and hope it will be useful to you, too.

Now, onto my menu for the week!  I will be posting only dinners, as our breakfast and lunches are basically the same.  My children carry a lunch to school and they pack them with things I have on hand.  There is always a healthy snack in their lunches so I keep these things available.  Looking for an easy, inexpensive, healthy lunch item?  Pick up a bag of clementines!  Kids usually love them and they are easy to peel!  Our breakfasts rotate between eggs and toast, cereal, whole wheat waffles and oatmeal.  I assign each of these items a day of the week and most often my kids can help with the preparation.

Dinners this week:

Monday:  Meatballs, mashed potatoes and corn from our packing last summer.  I will be making the easy meatballs using chili sauce and grape jelly tossed with meatballs in the crock pot.  I always love these when we have them elsewhere but rarely remember to make them!

Tuesday:  Ham and potato casserole with veggies.  I still have cooked, diced ham in my freezer from Christmas which I will add to the recipe for Party Potatoes.  My kids love this meal and it makes use of things I have on hand.

Wednesday:  Sloppy Joes with carrots and french fries.  I was able to find ground beef on sale last week so I have this on hand in my freezer.  I found Sloppy Joe mix on sale and had a coupon for it a while back so this will be a very inexpensive meal!  Love that.  I have been slowly cutting back on chips and french fries for my family  so I know they will love this treat.

Thursday:  Meatloaf with spinach and noodles.  I have a great recipe for Pizza meatloaf and since I have the meat from last week's sale, this will make good use of that!  To make spinach, I buy a large container of baby spinach and rinse it very well.  I drain it out, shaking away any extra water and then add it to a very hot pan with a bit of heated olive oil.  It wilts quickly.  I add two cloves of chopped, fresh garlic and stir it around.  Once the wilting begins, I am almost done!  I put a lid on the pan, turn off the heat and let it steam away for a few.  Sometimes, I will drain it before serving.  All of kids love spinach made this way and it is quick, easy and healthy, too!

Friday:  Bubble pizza, again?  I am thinking so!  This is a great option when my kids have friends over for dinner... inexpensive and feeds a crowd!

Saturday:  Beef and barley soup.  I have a dear friend who makes this for our Supper Swap and I love this easy recipe.  I can use a lot of ingredients I have on hand and will, once again, use the beef I bought on sale and froze.  The recipe I use is similar to one I found on AllRecipes.com 

Sunday:  Roast, mashed potatoes, bread, gravy, corn casserole and applesauce.  :)  I love Sundays.

So, this week is heavy on beef... which I wish was not so.  But, here is what I am beginning to learn:  I have a great responsibility to feed my family each day.  And, in the grand scheme of things, we are overwhelmingly blessed with an abundant table.  I want to make the most of the things we have and the things we can afford... and this week, that plan was effected by a great sale on ground beef.  We have taken to browning and rinsing our ground beef to remove as much fat as possible.  While I know these meals are far from gourmet, I also know that gourmet is not the standard to live by today.  Today, I have four kiddos with grumbly tummies and palates that prefer mac and cheese to most other foods.  So... this menu is realistic.  Realistic to my family.  Realistic to my finances.  Realistic to me.  My days for gourmet dinners is yet to come... and when that happens, I will be thrilled.  But this week?  Simple and affordable will guide our  meals.

What are you making this week?  What guides your meal planning?  I would love to hear from you!

Blessings on your day!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Something to Try for the Weekend!

Sometimes when I am cooking in the kitchen alone, it is easy to feel a little left out or taken for granted.  This weekend, make a meal together.  Think of something kid friendly and easy that you all can participate in creating.  Want an idea?  Pick up a package of pita breads and some pizza sauce and cheese and top the pitas as you would a pizza.  Add veggies, sausage, pepperoni, etc... Each of you can make a personal pizza to your liking!

Blessings on your weekend!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Managing Media and Raising my Kids: Part One

My sweet boy called me upstairs with a question.  He needed to talk.  So up I went into what might be better described as a gentle confrontation... but one that was necessary at the time.  With all his tween-y confidence, he put his hand on my shoulder and told me we needed to talk about media... TV, movies, video games and the like... and our boundaries with such things.  I held my breath.

When my babies were born, I remember feeling this need to protect them.  I remember seeing the world from a whole new view and wondering about things I had never considered before.  I remember wanting to keep them safe... not just in body but in heart, mind, spirit.  I remember feeling overwhelmed with the task and wondering how we could protect and teach our children so that they would be ready to meet the world.

At first, the choices were easy.  Given the choice of Rugrats or Little Bear, we chose Little Bear.  Then, they got a bit harder... We noticed things that had not previously mattered to us and wondered if they would matter to our children.  In the Lion King, the dad dies a horrible death.  How old would they need to be before they saw that scene?  Scooby-Doo has scary themes.  Some shows were just dumb.  Some were so mouthy.  Some were amazing...

We wrestled with the same ideas when it came to reading books.  Reading Goodnight, Moon was classic.  Sharing The Lion, The Witch and Wardrobe was necessary.  Walking with tears through the end of Charlotte's Web was wonderful.  But what about other books?  Books made from tv shows or current movies... books that had little to offer... books that had difficult themes?

All of it was hard.  Parenting with intentionality can be like that. The issue was not that we wanted to shelter them.  It was, instead, a deep desire to expose them to what the world would offer at a time that was appropriate for them.  The truth is that I know my babies best.  And I have always tried to have a sense of what would make them laugh or break their hearts or make them wonder so that I can meet them in that place.  Not to stop it.  Not to prevent it.  But to walk with them through it, if need be.  To think together, to laugh together, to discern together... I wanted to be there to teach them what they needed to learn... and I wanted media to support that desire.

But, how is that really done?  When my kids are exposed to so many things all day long... at school, on the internet, in commercials, in print... the whole thing is really difficult.

One of the things I would love to do this year, is think about this together.  I would love to throw out some things we have tried and hear about what works for you.  Because in the world today, kids see an awful lot. And some it changes who they are... sometimes in a way that is beautiful and good... and sometimes in a way that is broken and hard.  So what can we do to help direct our families through this ever-growing media maze?  How can we protect their hearts without sheltering them from reality?

From the time my kids could understand, we have told them we would be careful.  We have regularly said that we want to choose mindfully what they see, hear, read, watch because once an image or concept goes into their sweet little selves, we cannot get it back out.  Does this mean we want to keep them from all things current culture?  Not at all.  It simply means I want us all, even Mark and I, to think through this things carefully and not just follow whatever is hot and whatever is new in media today.

What about you?  How do you choose what your kids can see, read, play, listen to?  Throughout this year, let's process through this together.  Let's look at movies, at choices, at books and video games and talk together about how we choose what we release to our children and when.  Because, that part... the when... it matters an awful lot.  What we thought was okay for our kiddos at 8 cannot be where we stop.  Our managing of media is constantly in flux because our kids are growing up.  Makes this a tricky topic...

The truth is, we are constantly working this through.  And sometimes I think we are doing okay... and sometimes, my tween calls me upstairs because I am totally missing the mark.  So, for today... share a bit of direction here.  How do you choose what is okay for your kids?  Do you have a site you rely on for direction?  A rule for your kids to remember?

Leave a comment and let's start thinking.  The next post on media will focus on movies!

Blessings on your day!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Menu Planning Monday... On Wednesday!

You probably thought I forgot all about you, didn't you?  Oh, how crazy the weeks can be!  With my kids off of school on Monday, my time was spent with them... and then I found myself behind on Tuesday!  So, today is my day for catching up.  While I wrote the menu for this week on Sunday, this is my first opportunity to post it here.

The menu planning has been a huge hit with my family.  I am finding that it is helpful to me in planning... but also that it is helpful to the kids.  For those who are particularly picky, it can be so helpful for them to know what is coming up.  We have a lot less complaining and fussing over food!  Love that.  On Sunday, I post the menu on the fridge so they can look it over and so they can help with meal prep., too!

The breakfasts and lunches will be very similar to last week.  If you missed that post, you can find it here.  I had considered not assigning breakfast foods but changed my mind.  The menu seems to be encouraging all the kids to try new foods and to eat a greater variety of items throughout the week.  This is great for my budget, too!  I am able to spread out more expensive items and encourage more fruits and veggies... a bonus I did not anticipate when we began.

Dinners this week:

Monday- The kids were out of school and we "splurged" on our favorite burger place!  Eating at home saves money on costly beverages and the kids were thrilled for the treat!

Tuesday-Hot pork sandwiches with veggies and dip.  This simple recipe uses my crock pot, leftover Sunday roast and canned good I keep on hand.  We use:  one can of beef broth, one envelope Italian dressing seasoning, one jar mild pepper rings, one jar mild giardiniera.  Simply throw all of this in the crock pot and let it simmer all day.  Serve on crusty rolls with cheese.  So easy, so good!

Wednesday-Chicken taquitos with dips and rice.  I use the recipe found here and make extras to freeze.  The dips are mainly healthy... homemade salsa, homemade guacamole, taco dip and one cheese dip.  These are served with the taquitos and can personalize the meal. The last time we made these, my kids went nuts for them!  Very family friendly!

Thursday-Spaghetti with sauteed spinach and homemade garlic bread.  The last time I made spaghetti sauce, I froze a bunch so I am set for this meal.  The recipe for spaghetti sauce and meatballs found here is the very best I have ever had... totally worth the time spent making it.  Try it.  I dare ya!

Friday-Bubble Pizza with fruit.  Friday, we are hoping to have friends over so fun food is a perfect fit!  Bubble pizza is fast and easy and most kids love it.  Have you tried it?  Here is a recipe you can peruse but feel free to personalize it with the toppings your family loves the most.  (We use Italian sausage instead of ground beef.)

Saturday-Chili dogs with veggies.  Last week's chili dogs got replaced with something else so the supplies are still here and the meal can be used.  Saturday afternoons are perfect for this!

Sunday Dinner-We always make a big, traditional dinner on Sundays after church.  This week, I will make a beef roast in the crock pot (my kids call this "the meat that falls apart when you touch it"... catchy, huh?) and with that we will have mashed potatoes, gravy, homemade bread, corn we froze last summer and applesauce (I throw in some Red Hots to make our special family recipe!).  The leftovers from this meal will make lunches for Mark for next week and be used in, at least, one meal to come.

So, there it is.  One week of meals using a bunch of things I had on hand!  What are you making this week? I would love some new ideas!  The traffic on last week's menu post was amazing. As long as you are here, please leave a quick message below about what you are cooking or what you would like to try.  Your thoughts can encourage so many others to try new things!  Thanks so much!

Blessings on your day!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Something to Try for the Weekend

We find that so much family time is lost to technology... computers, TVs, video-games, texting.  This weekend, try to schedule a Tech Free Time.  Maybe a morning, maybe an hour, maybe an entire day!  What can you do with your family if the distractions are taken away?

Blessings on your weekend!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Snow, Expectations and Trust...

If you ask anyone in the Midwest about the weather, you are sure to hear a strong opinion.  Living here, we  have little option but to embrace the seasons find something to look forward to in whatever is coming next.  While I know plenty of folks who detest Chicago winters,  I am not among them.  Once the leaves have fallen from the trees in the woods near my home, I know it is time for snow.  Having lived in this area forever, the ebb and flow of warm and cold is a rhythm that lends familiarity to my life.  I rarely complain about whatever the season... until this year.

This weather is driving me nuts.  To date, we have had less than 2 inches of snow total and most days the temperature hovers around 40 degrees... most definitely not normal for a Chicago winter! There was news coverage yesterday of people golfing and playing tennis outdoors.  In January.  In the Midwest.  The lack of precipitation was most evident during the holidays when the grass in my yard was actually beginning to green!  In an effort to offer a feeling of winter to my family, I sprayed "snow" from a can on all our windows on Christmas Eve so we awoke to seasonal scene!  Yep, it is just plain driving me nuts.

I think so much of my frustration has to do with expectations.  In September, we decorated with apples and pumpkins.  In November, we added turkeys and cornucopias.  As fall progressed, I used my crock-pot more, made heartier meals and watched the world outside blossom into reds, oranges and browns.  The leaves fell away and I knew what would come next.  It is a gift, really... the beauty of snow blanketing the drab brown of trees gone dormant and leaves blown away.  I held my breath.  I could do nothing.  And what I expected never actually occurred.

Sometimes, expectations are like that.  We know what is supposed to happen next.  We anxiously expect that arrival.  And sometimes things go according to plan.  And sometimes they do not.

Sounds a lot like parenting, doesn't it?  As we walk through the seasons of raising our family, we live with the pressure of what is expected.  A smooth labor.  A healthy baby.  An easy adjustment to nursing.  Milestones met on time.  A peaceful family. An organized adoption.  Children who grow in faith.  Patience in parenting.  Time for your spouse.  Supportive family and friends.  Sufficient resources.  Great education.  Healthy friendships for our kids.  Kids who grow up.  Kids who go to college.  Kids who get married.  Grand-kids.

We expect the path to follow the way we think it should go.  We believe that the expecting is what will make it so.  Except, parenting... and life... rarely follows the path we expect.  And, I don't know about you... but in all honesty, it can drive me a little nuts.  Because no matter how hard we work, no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we strive, life doesn't usually work out that way.

So, here is the point where you think I will tie this up... neatly with a little bow.  But, how honest would that be, really?  Because disappointment from lost expectations is nothing that anyone should make neat.  When your family is broken, you lose a child, you struggle with parenting, your marriage is rocky, your finances are a mess, your extended family is absent, your kids are ill, or you are lost in the missing of what you thought would come your way, it hurts.  It leaves questions, frustration, confusion and sadness.  At least it does for me.  There are no words that can make that right...

There are a lot of things that I do not know... but this I have found to be true.  Sometimes... not always... but sometimes, the-thing-that-comes-instead can be awfully sweet, too.  Unexpected.  Hard-won.  Beautiful.  And without the loss, we would have missed it altogether.  It may not make it better... but I think it makes it different.  And different is not all bad.

For the first time this season, we are expecting a snow storm in Chicago.  I don't know if it will actually come but maybe it will.  I will wait to wash the spray-snow off the windows... but somewhere deep inside me, I am harboring a bit of hope.  Not hope in the snow.  Hope in the One who makes it.  Hope in the One who holds this crazy weather, and my sweet family, smack in the palm of His hand.  Because I can expect whatever I want, but maybe I need to learn to trust... trust that it might not look like I thought... trust that my kids will all be okay... trust that my family will find it's way... trust.

Letting go of expectations is hard. Learning to trust is too.  But, I am grateful to know that we can be blanketed in beauty even in the midst of the battle.

Blessings on your day.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Menu Planning Monday

One of the goals I am working with for the new year is to do a better job of planning our meals.  When I plan meals, we make better use of the food we have on hand and spend less on grocery shopping.  I love to use coupons and planning a menu helps me to use the coupons we have on hand to further reduce our food costs.  All of that is good!  I also post our menu on the fridge which gives my kids a chance to get excited about the meals they love and to prepare themselves for the meals they loathe.  :)

Another bonus?  Maybe this doesn't happen to you, but when we work without a plan, healthy meals can fall by the wayside and we eat out more than we would like.  I have also noticed that encouraging my kids to try new foods is important but often neglected.  When we eat the same meals often, I find myself feeling bored with meal preparation which is no good for anyone!  So, it is time for me to take the initiative and start planning!  Want to know what's cooking here this week?

The kids went back to school today so we are back in routine mode.  Breakfast is important to us but it also matters that the kids can make breakfast, most days, on their own.  With kids leaving in shifts and being driven to two different campuses, I am not always available to cook a hot breakfast.  So this week, the kids are given choices of cereal, toast and eggs or oatmeal.  My older boys know how to quickly scramble an egg so this works well!  In addition to these items, we have yogurt and string cheese and fruit on hand to round out the morning meal.  For days when I am available to cook, we will have eggs and sausage, waffles and sausage or pumpkin muffins.

My kids carry a lunch to school daily.  They enjoy a wide variety of foods for this, though not all are as healthy as I would like.  On the menu this week for packed lunches are:  sandwiches supplies (peanut butter, honey, ham and cheese), mac and cheese, canned soups, pizza rolls, lean pockets, whole wheat crackers, fruit snacks, fresh fruit, chips, oatmeal cookies, etc...

Now for dinner!  I began this week's menu based on what I had gotten on sale last week.  With the holidays over, we picked up a turkey on a great sale.  Even though that will make a lot of work for me today, roasting a turkey this afternoon will help to feed us for several meals.  So here are our dinners for this week:

Monday:  Roasted turkey dinner with all the fixings!  I will make mashed potatoes, fresh bread, gravy, sweet potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts and stuffing.

Tuesday:  Turkey soup!  I have a speaking engagement on Tuesday so using my crock pot will be really helpful.  We have a shortcut for making soup... When tight on time, try picking out some cans of a healthy soup and using them as a base for a home-made version you can personalize.  Add fresh or frozen veggies, roasted meat and spices to taste.  We have also thrown a bit of gravy into our soup which makes the broth much richer.  We will serve rolls or fresh bread with this.

Wednesday:  Smoked sausage, mac and cheese and veggies!  After two days of turkey, I know we won't want another!  :)  I am planning here for an easy meal that the kids can help with.  I have a coupon for smoked sausage and have mac and cheese on hand.  Roasted broccoli or kale chips will round this out.

Thursday:  Lasagna, garlic bread and roasted veggies!  I have a speaking engagement on Thursday, too.  An easy meal will help a ton!  I have a frozen lasagna to use so that is great for this week!  Are you noticing a trend here with our veggies?  My kids will eat almost anything we roast.  :)  If you ask them about their favorite veggies, they will quickly say broccoli and Brussels sprouts but we serve both roasted.  It is easy to do!  A little olive oil and a hot oven and veggies taste amazing!

Friday:  Turkey enchiladas!  Using the last of our turkey, I will make enchiladas.  I have tortillas, enchilada sauce and black beans on hand.  I only need to pick up some cheese and mix this one up!  We will serve this dinner with Mexican rice and corn we froze last summer.

Saturday:  Fun and easy dinner... Chili dogs!  This was one of the new meals I began introducing to my kids.  I know it could be healthier so I will serve it with pita chips and hummus.  My kids are still not sold on hummus but we are chipping away at that a bit at a time.

Sunday:  Pork roast and all the fixings!  We make a big Sunday dinner every week but try to make enough to help my menu for the next week.  On Sunday, we will have pork roast, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn casserole, roasted broccoli, homemade applesauce and homemade bread.  Next week, our leftover pork roast will make for hot sandwiches from the crock pot!

So, that is what we are eating this week.  What about you?  What is on your menu?  What do you do to help your kids try new (and healthier?) foods?  How do you save on your dinner menu?  I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas about menu planning at home!

Blessings on your day!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Something to Try for the Weekend

Letting our kids see the silly side can help us to build helpful connections.  Take time this weekend to play with abandon, even for a few minutes, with those you love so well!

Blessings on your weekend!  

Thursday, January 5, 2012

What if?

The new year has come and I find myself surrounded by resolutions, many of which flow naturally from questions that must be asked...

What if... I finished this book and published it one way or another?

What if... I was less motivated by selfish desires and more by a servant's heart?

What if... I stopped stressing out about where we are all headed and enjoyed more of where we are?

What if... I trusted God with those things that worry me instead of trying to handle them myself?

What if... I reached out in my speaking ministry and let it blossom in that way?

What if... I found an agent who has knowledge and experience to direct my speaking and writing?

What if... I looked for daily sources of joy and helped my family do the same?

What if... I remembered the importance of following God's lead and helped my children to follow, too?

What if... I focused less on having and more on releasing things?  

What if... I took my health a lot more seriously and started feeling stronger?

What if... I worked on friendships the way I did when I was young?

What if... I put the amount of energy into my marriage that I know our marriage demands?

And lastly... What if I did not find excuses, did not manufacture excuses... but instead sought to do and be those things I know I need to do and be?  What does that mean for me?  For my family?  For my speaking? For my writing?  

It is a brand new year.  There are things about my humble life that I love... and things I know could use some change.  But, I cannot change what I do not see... So, it is time to see.  It is time for me, time for my family, time for you, as well.  

Because, really.  Think about it.  

What if... 

Blessings on your day.