Monday, February 27, 2012

I Didn't Plan for Chaos

copyright Moms In Need of Mercy

Today was just a day. I didn't plan for it to be the way it was. But then again, I didn't really plan for success, either. Going to bed with nothing more than a vague plan for the coming day allowed a whole lot of chaos to enter in. Just the general structure of: "I'll get up, make some breakfast, throw in a load of laundry, start homeschool stuff, and maybe run some errands" just left way too much free time for everything to fall apart. And it did.

Although I have a homeschool routine down for my oldest son (he's six; it doesn't take that long), I didn't really have any structured activities for my other two boys, 3 and almost 5. So they made up their own. Really creative play with manipulatives, like dumping out our small crock that sits on the kitchen counter and holds spare change, keys, and other random items. Now this was all over the kitchen floor. Since baby sister is starting to crawl, and since I would like to avoid another coin-swallowing event, we had to get the change off the floor.

Today's obedience department was closed. But the disobedience section was full of customers. The sole clerk (Mom) grew tired meeting the back-to-back demand for attention and correction.

Really, it's the phone's fault. It rang way too much today. Despite my requests to please let the answering machine get it, sometimes, one of the boys just allowed his desire to be friendly to outweigh his desire to obey Mom--although today, I'm not sure there even was a desire to obey Mom...

So I'd get on the phone, and the boys would get into the cereal--even though they had just eaten lunch. I'd get off the phone, clean up more food messes, and the phone would ring again. And the boys would do their own thing while I was on the phone, which wasn't necessarily a good thing, and usually incurred fighting, whereby one boy would start crying and trying to talk to me while I was still trying to talk to someone else on the other end of the phone. (This is a good way to get off the phone, though, if you're looking for an excuse to cut a call short...)

Nearing the end of the day, we decided to take a walk. Which would have been fine, except for the fact that when we reached the nearby playground, one son came running up to me and announced, "I have to poop!" Yet, off he went to play for a few more seconds, until he would run up to me again and make the same announcement, and then go play again. This happened several times. It was time to go, but no one would go (for reasons above), even though one really had to go.

Finally, everyone decided to obey and home we went. Just a little way from the house, one of the boys decided to top it all off by taking a mud bath. He wasn't trying to. He was only trying to copy his brothers who were climbing snow drifts piled up in our high school's parking lot. He climbed, then climbed down...into mud, and got stuck. As in quick-sand stuck. Me, wearing my new white Marmot parka my husband got me for Christmas, wanted no part of the rescue. But he was totally stuck. So I reached out to him from the curb, and told him he was absolutely not to touch my coat (he obeyed on this one), and I grabbed his arm and pulled him out of the mud. Somewhere in the rescue, he face-planted. But the coat made it out unscathed.

What all this taught me today is that by not more clearly planning for success, I did in fact, plan for chaos.
My next post will address planning for a successful day. I just have to plan one.

(If you like this post, can I humbly ask you to take a second to vote for it here?)
(linked to Raising Homemakers)
Part 2: Planning for a Good Day

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Please Come Out of the Kitchen With Your Hands Up

Somewhere during the week of my last fairly labor-intensive menu plan (on the night I was making coconut shrimp from scratch, as in grating my own coconut, which just happened to be Valentine's Day), my husband glanced around at the giant mess of food prep covering our kitchen counter and not so much asked as suggested that we just have easy meals for awhile. "That's why my mom made Hamburger Helper so much, because it was easy," he said.

My husband may just as well have said, "Please come out of the kitchen with your hands up." I was under arrest for making too elaborate of meals. Actually, I think it was really for making too much of a mess during those meals!

Yet, with children all under six--while they can help a little in the kitchen (like shredding lettuce for tacos and putting out silverware and cups)--almost all of the food prep, cooking, and cleanup falls on my shoulders. Executing three meals a day, seven days a week, does become a little burdensome at times.

I truly enjoy cooking. To me, it's not only fun; it's my labor of love for my family. Sitting at the table as a family for dinner is like the crescendo of the orchestra: it's the point when all the work pays off and is celebrated. Or, at least, it should be.

So when your husband suggests you start making...ahem...Hamburger Helper instead "because it's easy," it feels like someone's asking Chopin to dumb it down and play Chopsticks instead of one of his masterpieces (not that I am drawing a comparison between myself in the kitchen and Chopin on the piano...). It kind of takes the wind out of your sails. But then you realize: he's right. Night after night, it is a lot of work. Let's find a way--in this season with a six-month old baby--to make it a little easier. It can still be healthy; it just doesn't have to be so labor intensive.

So this is the start of the week of easy meals.

In her book, Created to Be His Help Meet: Discover How God Can Make Your Marriage Glorious, Debi Pearl has a great section on making meals manageable, largely utilizing the crockpot, and sticking to the same basic meals each week.

She suggests peanut butter toast served on paper towels for breakfast, burritos from beans in the crockpot plus veggies for lunch, and a rotating list of simple evening meals.

Because I just can't bring myself to fully remove creativity from menu planning (and because I like to try new recipes), here is my list of more simple, but still enjoyable, recipes for the week:

  • Oatmeal with a little butter and brown sugar, fruit salad of blackberries/kiwi fruit/strawberries/clementines 
  • Fried eggs, toast, clementines
  • Applesauce bread, smoothies
  • Yogurt, granola, blackberries
  • French toast or waffles, orange juice
  • Cold cereal and juice
  • Pancakes, bacon
  • Veggie scramble and toast
  • Taco salad
  • Leftover beef stew
  • Southwest salad (corn, black beans, cheddar cheese over romaine. Dressing: mix Ranch with salsa) and tortilla chips
  • Homemade macaroni and cheese, mixed vegetables
  • Beans and rice on tortillas (like tacos)

  • Crockpot beef stew, salad, crescent rolls (in the can--that's easy)
  • Crockpot creamy chicken and mushroom pasta, asparagus, garlic parmesan bread (from Walmart)
  • Creamy shells with tuna and spinach (from the latest issue of Everyday Food,but here is the closest recipe link), cooked carrots
  • Cuban black beans, rice, tortillas (again from Everyday Food,--I could not find the recipe online)
  • Skillet ziti with chicken and broccoli (but probably making it in the crockpot instead) over pasta with salad and bread
  • Pizza, carrot and celery sticks
  • Sausage Rigatoni, salad, garlic bread 
I'd love to hear your easiest, go-to meals, and ways you streamline weeknight meals! Do you make the same things every week? Do you often use your crockpot?

(linked up with Menu Plan Monday)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Change Clothes Several Times a Day

When you feel a bad mood coming on, you don't have to give in to it. It's as simple as changing clothes.

In her devotional book for mothers, Nancy Campbell writes about "putting on the new man" as Ephesians 4:22-24 describes.
"...Put off your old be made new in the attitude of your minds; ...put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."
We receive a whole new wardrobe once we become believers in Christ! What kind of clothes do we have in our made-over closet? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control (Galatians 5:22).

If you feel like your day is getting a little too chaotic and you can sense you're close to losing your cool and raising your voice, run into your closet and change clothes. Take off the impatience and stress. Find the peace and patience and put it on instead.

Your toddler has done something really upsetting. You're very frustrated. You're wearing your old shirt of harshness. Stop and change into gentleness with some self-control as an important accessory.

Perhaps you have a teenager who's being real testy. Don't meet the attitude wearing your snide shirt with your cool skirt. Try an outfit of love and faithfulness instead. Maybe your change of clothes will cause your child to change clothes eventually, too.

No matter what emotion you feel in your old self, there's a makeover waiting to happen. You just have to put it on. You can change clothes multiple times a day, and the best part is--in this system, there's no laundry to do!

(Sharing with Finding Heaven, Graceful, and Raising Homemakers)

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Coconut Cake and Febreeze: Spring Renewal

Last week, I made this coconut cake using a recipe in The Coupon Mom's Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half: The Strategic Shopping Method Proven to Slash Food and Drugstore Costs. It's a pretty easy recipe, using a white cake mix, sour cream mixed with sugar and coconut, and then topped with Cool-Whip mixed with more coconut and grated coconut on top. Easy, that is, if you purchase already dried and flaked coconut. Not quite as easy if you start from scratch with the coconut.

But since we received a coconut in our Bountiful Basket, I thought that making this cake would be a good way to put some of that coconut to use.  My boys were super excited to crack it open. First step, drill holes (it's a guy thing) and drain the water.
Next, wrap the coconut in a towel and prepare to crack it open. Super excited little boys at this point, if they weren't already. (Even our dog was licking her tongue in anticipation in the background).

Study coconut. Interesting....

Now walk away and leave Mom to do all the rest...the hard part, like peeling and then grating (although my husband did help with one section).

So since I had all this coconut on my hands, I decided to grate some and make that cake. Grating the amount needed for the cake was no small matter. It took awhile and worked my triceps like I haven't done in quite some time. 

We each enjoyed a piece of the finished cake. A few days later, we enjoyed another piece. Then, while it was sitting on the counter, looking pretty and beckoning me to come grab a bite, I snitched a little section.

"Yuck," I thought. "This tastes strangely like the Febreeze the boys have been spraying way too much of lately." 

I did some investigating. Sure enough, the cake did smell distinctly like Febreeze: Spring Renewal.  
So I did some asking around. One son admitted to spraying Febreeze on the cake. "Why?" I asked.
 "I wanted to make it smell good," he responded.
So glad I at least got that second piece of cake before I had to throw the rest of it away.  Who knew you had to add "Don't spray Febreeze on the food" to the list of manners you're trying to teach your kids?

But what I want to add on here is--
The very next question my son asked was, "Are you mad at me?"
This was an instant heart check to me, because yes, in fact, I was kind of mad. I realized, then, though, that how I responded to him would make all the difference. I can make another cake. It wasn't that hard, after all. Besides, all that coconut grating is good for my upper arms. What I can't replace is my son's heart.
As one of our friends says, "Do no harm."
This Valentine's Day, may we remember to always hold our children's hearts carefully--even as we correct--and fill their hearts with the security of our love, even if they spray Febreeze on our food.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Menu Plan: Bountiful Baskets Ideas

This week in our Bountiful Basket, we received (as you can see) pears, apples, oranges, bananas, a pineapple, two lemons, romaine lettuce, broccoli, eggplant, mushrooms, corn on the cob, two bunches of celery, and asparagus. I also ordered organic nine-grain bread.
In what seems like perfect timing, a friend of mine told me about and let me borrow her Colorado Collage cookbook. It's wonderful! There are so many unique recipes, using ingredients that you'll find from time to time in your Bountiful Basket (like fresh mint) or any grocery store. Here are a few new ideas from the cookbook using the asparagus, eggplant, and limes and mint I still need to use up:
  • Roasted eggplant soup
  • Chilled asparagus soup
  • Chilled minted pea soup (uses limes and mint)
Other recipes to try from this cookbook this week or next:
  • Spiced Pear muffins
  • Baked pears
  • Oatmeal banana waffles
There are over 300 pages in this cookbook. I ordered one used on Amazon and am really excited to receive my own copy!

In other news, yesterday I made egg rolls using the recipe a good friend from church gave me. I used the cabbage I had leftover, along with the some of the 25 pound bag of carrots I bought last time, water chestnuts, green pepper, green onion, and ground beef.  I plan to do a tutorial post sometime this week on how to make egg rolls. They were yummy! (Leftover filling made great fried rice tonight).

Last week, I ordered a box of apples. I plan to make applesauce this week, and an apple pie or apple crisp. We juiced a few before our juicer stopped working in the middle of juicing. The juice was delicious! Tasted like cider. (We have/had this juicer: Breville JE98XL Juice Fountain Plus 850-Watt Juicing Machine)

  • Oatmeal, grapefruit
  • Applesauce bread, yogurt (maybe smoothies) 
  • Scrambled eggs, toast, pineapple
  • Spiced pear muffins, yogurt, granola
  • Coco-Wheats (the boys always ask for this on Fridays) with a spoonful of peanut butter swirled in
  • Banana Oatmeal waffles
  • Pancakes, freshly squeezed orange juice (or if we can get our juicer working...)
  • Chicken strips, applesauce, broccoli, carrots, celery and ranch dip
  • Carrot soup, breadsticks from Master mix
  • Broccoli-cheese quiche, carrot sticks
  • Bow-tie pasta carbonara (using bacon and asparagus), salad
  • Chili, cornbread
  • Roasted eggplant soup, or one of the others from the list above
  • Dinner leftovers
  • Steak (probably pan-seared, since using the broiler smoked up the whole house last time)
  • sauteed mushrooms, corn on the cob, salad, maybe baked pears for dessert
  • Coconut shrimp with pineapple dipping sauce, Ginger lime carrots, strawberry cake or cupcakes with buttercream frosting
  • Sloppy joes, oven fries, orange wedges
  • Enchiladas, salad, pineapple
  • Tilapia with asparagus gremolata, tossed salad with lime vinaigrette, homemade applesauce
  • Italian shell pasta (with sauteed eggplant)
  • possibly eggplant parmigiana (if I can talk the guys around here into eating it)
I still have lots of limes to use up, so here are some snacks and desserts to try, time permitting:
Lime muffins
Lime mousse
Lime bars

What are some of your favorite ways/recipes to use the produce I have on hand right now (pictured above)?

(sharing with Menu Plan Monday)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Living in Your Anointing

It's late. I'm tired. I was not even going to blog. If I did, I was going to write a post and call it "I Can't Think Straight." I was going to share with you why I felt like a ping-pong ball all day today.

But I couldn't think of anything encouraging to say, so I wasn't even going to write. I was just going to do a little reading for our Bible study tomorrow morning (I wrote here why I haven't always gone in the past), leave the clean dishes in the sink to dry, forget about the three sprawling laundry baskets full of clothes to put away, forget about the three to four loads that still need to be washed, forget about the messes that abound everywhere I look, forget about the stuff that still needs to be cleared off the table...forget about it until 7AM when I see it again, and go to bed.

But then I did my Bible study, and amazingly, it spoke to everything I'm feeling today. Now I have something encouraging to say, so I'll do my best to say it.
Today was just one of those days that I'm sure we all experience more often that not as moms. Days when multiple demands from multiple children are flying at us, leaving us whiplashed. The chaos overwhelms us, and we feel like we just can't think straight.

Yesterday was busy and I didn't take the time to plan for the week ahead that I normally do. That was my first and biggest mistake, truly. With no semblance of a plan, the day was a messy, gooey blob.

If I got a spare second, the phone rang. My kids are going through a phase where they love to answer the phone and hate for the answering machine to get it, because it's just so much fun to say hello to the voice on the other end, and they don't understand it's inconvenient for Mom to talk to the voice on the other end right then. So I'd politely get off the phone, get started with something, then the phone would ring again. Today, some of the calls were actually dealing with big stuff, like a neighbor telling me the latest on the school district's plans to purchase our homes, and some family stuff.

I'd get off the phone, head reeling, look at the wake of things my children had done while on the phone. My head would reel again. The baby would cry (when will those teeth break through finally?), one child would ask me something, another child would simultaneously ask me something, and another child would ask me something before I could answer any of the questions. As I sat down to read with our oldest, the youngest wanted a snack, the baby needed a nap, and on and on. A ping pong ball.

I kept reminding myself that it's not their fault I feel this way. Individually, they are each a pretty sweet child (usually). Collectively, it just gets a little (or a lot) chaotic sometimes.

After all the kids were in bed, I sat down to start on my Bible study, and this is what I read:
"Being directed, comforted, and empowered by His Spirit within us is the only sure way to live with supernatural success when we encounter natural events that seek to derail us. We must be annointed."--Anointed, Transformed, Redeemed: A Study of David
I've been planning to blog on being anointed for motherhood...just haven't had the time or the full inspiration until now. Priscilla Shirer defines anointing as a "divine empowerment or a divine enablement to accomplish God's purposes for your life." Although in the Old Testament days, anointing priests, prophets and kings was usually accompanied with oil, as believers in Christ, we are "anointed with the indwelling [Holy] Spirit's presence from the day of our salvation." (Anointed, Transformed, Redeemed: A Study of David). (Scriptural support: 2 Corinthians 1:21-22).
I love what Priscilla Shirer writes in the study:
"The anointing on [King] David's life was essential to accomplish God's purposes, and we must have it to accomplish His plans for us. Without it, everything we do will only be a shell of activity that will leave us breathless from a series of frustrated efforts, amounting to little. With God's anointing, we can face life's circumstances with courage, joy, and inner peace." (bold mine).
Here are some other fabulous quotes from the study:
  • "David accomplished supernatural kingdom purposes because God's Spirit equipped him for the tasks...As believers, God calls us to accomplish divine tasks for His glory. We must have the anointing of God's Spirit."
  • As believers in Christ, "the Spirit lives in us, and we are sealed and anointed by Him to accomplish God's preplanned purposes. So, if you are a believer, you are anointed--right now. Your task is to rely on the power of God who indwells you so you can be empowered to do what you cannot do on your own." (bold mine).
  • "The anointed life engages daily and normal activities in a supernatural way. When you have patience in your mothering...gentleness in your response, contentment in your circumstances, and empowerment in the face of your challenges, you are experiencing the greatest miracle of all. God's presence appearing in your life."
So even on the days when it seems like nothing great was accomplished as you bounced around from task to task and child to child, remember that if you are daily seeking to model what a relationship with Christ looks like in the real world, you are doing the most important and eternally significant work...even if the laundry, dishes, papers and clutter are waiting for you in the morning.

We are empowered by God to do everything we need to do for our families. We may not live in monasteries. Maybe we live in messes! Faithful service, with a kind heart, of the daily tasks we have before us is what helps us grow in holiness.

Step into the anointing and walk in it!

(Sharing with Finding Heaven, Gratituesday, Graceful, and Raising Homemakers)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

It Matters to Them

Ever since he was a toddler, my oldest son loved playing with airplanes. He loves everything about them--flying them, studying each plane, learning about military jets and how they fly.  Right now, he really enjoys making paper airplanes out of his Fun with Paper Planes book and flying them. He also loves studying various RC planes, buying them when he has some money, and flying them. Here's his current one:

Many times, he brings me a paper airplane he's just made and says, "Watch this, Mom. It flies really good." Almost always, I'm busy with something else, like washing dishes, and I give him my half-hearted attention, along with a patronizing comment like, "Yeah, that's really good." He walks away, and I return to what I was doing.
But the other day, I decided to give him my full attention (and praise). I stopped what I was doing, watched his paper airplane flight, and found something encouraging (and sincere) to say about it. It really glided through the air quite well for a few seconds. So I said, "Wow, Gann, that was a really good flight! It stayed up for a few seconds and glided really well--probably because you're such a great pilot." Then I gave him a hug. As he walked away, I noticed he had a little shy smile on his face, revealing a full heart. He knew he had received Mom's full attention and wholehearted praise. And it meant everything to him.
See, it may not matter to us. But it matters to them. Because they matter to us, let's make sure that the little things they bring to us throughout the day, desiring to show us--because they crave our attention and praise--matter to us. 
If we don't take time for them, they'll end up feeling like the dishes (or whatever it is that occupies our attention at any given time) were always more important to us than them. Sure, there's a place for saying, "Honey, Mommy's got to finish this up, and then I can watch what you want to show me in five minutes." But that shouldn't always be our response, and certainly not, "I'm too busy right now" (end of story).
As Sally Clarkson spoke about at the MomHeart conference and writes about in The Mission of Motherhood: Touching Your Child's Heart for Eternity, children require our time to feel loved. What if the only thing on our to-do list each day was to show the love of Christ to our husband and children? Although we obviously have practical stuff to do, I think that philosophy should undergird all of our choices and actions through each day of our lives.

I encourage us to think of a practical way today that we can show each of our children that they matter to us by giving each of them a few minutes of our time to show an interest in something that matters to them.

"Love is patient." (1 Corinthians 13: 4).

(photo credit)


Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Roll of Toilet Paper a Day: How to Make it Last Longer

With little boys who are learning to do things themselves--including taking care of themselves in the bathroom--there are both pros and cons. The upside is there are fewer, "Mommy, I'm done!" calls to respond to. This in itself is a huge milestone in motherhood. I would just get one taken care of, and wash my hands, and then another little boy would run in the bathroom. Repeat. Wash. Repeat. Wash. It's no wonder my hands are so dry in the winter, from all that handwashing!

The downside, however, is I've noticed we are going through a lot of toilet paper, as in a roll a day (or two days max). Is that normal? I don't know. I remember a few years ago when Sheryl Crow tried to tell everyone to use only one square of toilet paper, and more for those "pesky jobs." I know that's also not normal.

What I do know is I've come up with a plan to try to stretch it out a little and save some money.

1) Train the boys to take no more than five to six sheets at a time. Die-hard frugal zealots recommend three to four sheets, but sorry, I prefer things a little more cushy.
2) Train them to fold it in half, then in half again. Then there is still enough area to fold in half again before having to start over with new toilet paper.
3) I found this idea here. It's kind of interesting. "Separate two-ply paper into two rolls. A friend of mine swears this works. When she gets home from the store, she and the kids go to work separating out the two ply roll so that there is a layer or 'ply' per roll. She uses empty toilet paper tubes to roll the separated toilet paper and keep things neat."
I'm sure you could save money this way but I'd prefer to save time and just buy the toilet paper.
4) I know some people use newspaper and other items (like cut flannel). Yet, there are just some places where I draw the line. We are not in a third world country. I can afford to buy toilet paper. I prefer to.
5) I really like the Charmin brand best. So I watch for good sales, use coupons when I can, and stock up when it's on sale. A few weeks ago, our Kroger-affiliate, Smith's, had 12 double rolls of Charmin for $5.99.

A few weeks before that there were $2 off coupons in the blinkie by the toilet paper. I took a couple. The coupons were gone during the sale, but I had saved mine for such a time as this. I think I bought four packs. We're on our last one now, hoping to stretch it until the next decent sale.

It is a bit tongue-in-cheek that I ask this, but still, I'm curious to know--
How quickly does toilet paper disappear in your house and what have you done to conserve?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Lessons From The Farmhouse, Revisited

Today I am revisiting one of the first posts I ever published, called "Lessons from the Farmhouse."
Here's an excerpt:

Driving through the Midwest, there is something very quaint about the rolling acres of cornfields, the neatly-painted red barns and the tidy and well-kept farmhouses that dot the land. The farmhouses seem to beckon visitors in, and I imagine them to be as spic and span, crisp and clean on the inside as they appear on the outside. This may not be the case, but as one drives past, the pride of ownership is so visible, it would be hard to imagine the inside of the home would be sloppy when the outside is so neat...
 From outside appearances, I picture them shipshape inside, smelling of fresh air and sunshine. Beds are made neatly and crisply, a breeze blows through the windows, there are fresh flowers in glass vases decorating various rooms of the house. Thinking about what it could be like inside conjures up a peaceful feeling that I would like to recreate in my home.

But creating this idyllic image begs the question--how do you do it when you have young children underfoot? What lessons can we learn from farmhouse wives?
Go here to read the rest.