Friday, November 30, 2012

Kitchen and Other Adventures

My little helper chopping the onions for the stuffing


I was busy last week with family and Thanksgiving and didn't get around to blogging my 52 Weeks of New update.  So this week's blog is a two-fer.  You'll notice that a lot of my new experiences revolve around food.  Can you tell what I have on my mind?

For Thanksgiving my mother-in-law asked me to make stuffing.  I have made stuffing out of a box, but have never attempted to replicate the real thing.  I asked my mom for any magical words of wisdom and plowed forward.  I cut up the celery and onions, dumped the bread crumbs into a bowl, sauteed the veggies in butter, mixed in chicken broth and seasonings and threw it all together.  My stuffing turned out...not so good.  Apparently I do not have the knack for stuffing.  I think MIL will probably ask someone else to make the stuffing next year.

My next cooking experience involved trying to makeover a family favorite dinner into a healthier version.  My kids requested pancakes.  So I searched online for a recipe that used whole wheat to healthify the pancakes a bit.  I used this recipe, substituting the eggs with Ener-G egg replacer due to David's egg allergy.  They were really good--my family declared them the best pancakes I've ever made and declared the recipe a keeper.  David apparently liked them so much that he ate seven.

I also wanted to healthify our standard tater tots and sausage or bacon sides.  I found an eggless hash brown and sausage recipe and gave it a try.  I only used half a package of hash browns which officially was five servings, and one pound of leaner ground breakfast sausage.  I browned the hash browns in the sausage grease (what little there was), and topped it all off with only a quarter cup of cheese.  While not exactly healthy, it was healthier than what we usually eat, so I was pleased.  And it was delicious!  I was so happy that there was just enough leftovers to throw in a pan with an egg for my breakfast the next day.

My biggest accomplishment this week is that today marks the end of my first month of dinner menu planning. I only made a few changes over the entire month but stuck to the menu almost entirely.  It made dinner preparations so much more peaceful and I always knew what to buy at the store so it streamlined my shopping even more than before.  I already have my menu for December written out, I just need to type it up and then post it on my fridge.

And now two silly things that I did for the first time this week.

I slid down a mattress slide on the stairs.  My kids took our old twin mattress and put it on the basement stairs so that it made a slide.  I had to go downstairs for some reason and rather than walk down the mattress, I sat down and slid.  The kids thought that was hilarious.

The last thing I did is that I learned how to use a smart phone.  Mostly.  I can check my email, facebook, search websites, make calls, text, and play games on there.  I know that's just the tip of the iceberg, but I'm getting better at it every day.






This has been week 13 and 14 in the series of 52 Weeks of New


Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Best Toys We Own

Christmas time always makes me think about toys.  The toys the kids want.  The toys the kids actually will play with longer than a few days.  The toys that we end up tossing.  The toys that involve a million tiny pieces that always get lost.  The toys that make so much noise that they are banned from the common area.  And then there are the few toys that are awesome.  These are the toys that transcend time and gender.  The toys that the kids play with year after year and never seem to get bored with.  These are the toys that I like.

Out of the hundreds of toys that have come through our door in the past nine years, I can narrow down the keepers to a very short list of five.

1. Train tracks.  David got a set of these when he was two.  He loved them then, and the kids still play with them seven years later.  I almost gave them away to my nephew a few years back, but the kids raised such a fuss that I let them stay and ended up buying a booster set.




2. Legos.  Just your basic set.  The fancy sets that involve 1000 pieces that all have to go together in an intricate pattern and involve an instruction manual bigger than my phone book?  These are built once and then end up in the general lego bin.  I don't even waste my (or Grandma's) money anymore.

3. Building blocks.  Cheap, basic building blocks that are for ages 18 months+ that were one of David's first presents?  These are the prized toys in our house.  Every day when the kids listen to the latest installment in our read aloud book, they fight over who gets to play with the blocks.  Lucky for them they are getting more for Christmas this year.




4. Dress-up clothes.  David doesn't really go for these, but the girls love their dress-up clothes and regularly show off their latest outfit creations.  The more sparkly and shiny the better.




5. Scooters (and bikes).  David got his first scooter when he was five.  Two years later I bought him a new one after his wheels lost their round shape and became octagons (it was the same price to buy a whole new scooter versus a new set of wheels when purchased on sale).  Lizzy confiscated the old scooter from the trash and played with it for a year before we replaced it.  Joy then rescued it from the trash and has been using it for the last year.  Yesterday her new scooter came in the mail and the old, octagon-wheeled scooter will finally be put out to pasture (or brought to the cottage where they can ride it on the bike path).  They ride their scooters year round outside, in the basement, through my kitchen (until I yell at them to get the scooter out of my kitchen), and have an elaborate game they play called Drive Around City.  It is one of their favorite games and they play it almost every single day.





There are a few toys that deserve an honorable mention.  These toys are played with a lot, but they haven't reached the same status as the top five.  They are squinkies, zoobles, My Little Ponies, and a variety of stuffed animals.  Stuffed animals would have made the top five list except for one thing--they are where my kids show their fickleness.  They have a favorite--until a new one comes along.  Then the old one is tossed and the new one becomes the favorite.  They generally get traded around between the kids until I no longer know whose is whose when the fighting starts.  But they become props in all sorts of games and prove to be indispensable come bedtime.

Over time I have come to learn that the best toys are the ones that are open-ended.  Meaning they don't require batteries, they don't talk or make noise, they can be used to create lots of different things, they can be used as a prop for just about any make believe story, they don't require a masters degree to assemble, they can be used over and over, and they can be shared.  These are the makings of a really good toy.





Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Back To The Land Appeal



I love reading books about people who chuck it all and take off to live off the land.  The latest book I finished is Call of the American Wild by Guy Grieve.  Hailing from Scotland, Grieve is unhappy with the 9 to 5 work life, the three hour commute, the piling up debt, rarely seeing his children and wife.  His dissatisfaction leads to him leaving it all and moving to the Alaskan interior for a year.  He moves out into the bush, builds a cabin, and lives there through the winter living a subsistence life.  Meanwhile, his wife and kids stay behind and move from Edinburgh to Mull, an island off Scotland, and live with her parents for the year.

Upon reentry into his life, his family sells their city house and remains in Mull.  Instead of returning to a desk job, he becomes a writer and a dive-fisherman.

Despite a few moments of bad language, the book was captivating.  I was reading about him slogging through eight feet of snow, and after putting down the book I looked out my window and couldn't understand why there wasn't any snow in my yard.  I read about his encounters with moose, bears, and other wildlife, so when I looked out my back window yesterday and saw something in the yard, my first thought was moose!  But of course, moose don't live in my corner of Michigan, so it turned out to be a doe drinking from a pool of water made from the black plastic covering my new garden.  Then a buck came walking out of the woods and stood their majestically in the yard until David decided he wanted to scare them away and ran out the back door.

I was thinking about the book, wondering what it is about such stories that draw me.  I don't want to chuck my life and move to the Alaskan Yukon.  I don't want to chop down 54 trees, peel off the bark, and then build a 16 foot cabin and live there with my family.  But there is something about these stories--something magical about setting aside all that is known and moving to what is unknown.  Moving from the hustle and bustle of the city to a remote place in the woods.

This quote in the last few pages of the book nailed it home for me.  What specifically about these "back to the land" books appeals to me?

"Even in this day and age, with our sophisticated technology and developed culture, it must still be important, just occasionally, to find a wild place, where the land and the animals that move through it speak loudest, and the sun and the moon dictate the rhythm of our lives.  Only through this can we remember our proper place in the order of things." ~ Guy Grieve Call of the American Wild



Sitting on the beach listening to the waves wash in while watching a gorgeous sunset.  Standing on top of a sand dune in the middle of the woods and looking out on an incredible view of Lake Michigan.  Hiking through the woods and hearing the birds and other animals surrounding you.  Catching that glimpse of a deer in your backyard knowing that you have been blessed to see such a beautiful creature.  Seeing an eagle swoop down and land in the bay outside your door, and then spending the next hour watching her as she does a fancy dance on the sandbar, back and forth, lifting up her feathers as if she's giving a curtsy to a queen.

These simple things--these brushes with nature--this is what draws me to books about moving back to the land.  Reading about someone's opportunity at finding a "wild place, where the land and animals that move through it speak the loudest" instead of the chaos of people and technology and all of the things that compete for our attention on a daily basis, in a place where "the sun and the moon dictate the rhythm of their lives" rather than a clock.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tech UN-Savvy



Hubby and I entered a new era last week--we bought smart phones.  Previously we've had "dumb" phones and were part of a family plan with my inlaws.  Last year Hubby added texting to his plan, but I adamantly refused the feature for my phone.

Our family plan is up for renewal next month and Hubby decided it was time to go out on our own and get our own plan.  Pay for our own cell phone service?  Gasp!  Yes, I have been a bit of a pampered princess when it comes to cell phones.  I got my first cell phone when I was in college from my grandparents who paid for my service and continued to pay for it until I got married and my inlaws decided to give us cell service as our main Christmas present.

I admit I have been ignorant all of these years about how much it actually costs to have a cell phone.  I'm not sure if I've ever even seen a cell phone bill.  Maybe once or twice.  So when Hubby asked if I wanted to continue in my "dumb phone" ways or upgrade to a smart phone, I was shocked and appalled at just how expensive a cell phone and cell service really is.  We contemplated going the prepaid route, but the phones we were looking at, the only phones that were on the cheaper side at $350, sold out within ten minutes of being released.  New phones would not be available until January after our old contract expires--translation: no phone service at all for us if we went that route since we don't have a land line.

Since that was no longer an option, we started pricing out contract service that throws in the phones for free or at a discount versus paying the bigger bucks for an unlocked phone and sticking with the no contract route.  Over two years, the difference worked out to be only $200.  But then we found the contract phones we wanted during Thanksgiving week marked down from $200 to $50.  We jumped at the chance and now I am the proud? owner of my very own smart phone.

Within ten minutes of getting the phone in my hands, I messed it up.  Hubby had to fix it.  After over four hours on the phone with our provider, we found out our old numbers couldn't be ported to our new phones so then Hubby set us up with google voice accounts that would stay the same no matter what our cell numbers are changed to.  I set up my account and was all set to go until Hubby realized I'd set it up under my junk email account.  It took him an hour to undo my mess.  Oops.  He showed me how to take pictures (my one phone requirement was to have a good camera on it) and somehow I ended up taking 50 pictures of a chair and taking a video that ate up all of my storage capacity.  Hubby just shook his head at me and undid it.

All weekend Hubby kept asking me why I was still using my old phone instead of the new one.  I was embarrassed to tell him that I'm scared of my new phone--scared I'll screw it up beyond repair.  I've never even had texting before, so all this "smartness" is a bit overwhelming.  But Hubby is a very patient man and showed me several times how to check my email, facebook, voicemail, how to make a call, answer a call (I don't just push an on button, I have to slide my finger across the screen-who knew?!), do an internet search, and take pictures.

Yesterday I used the internet for the first time while shopping at the grocery store.  I left my printout of my mPerks coupons sitting on my printer, so I just looked up my account on my phone and there were all my coupons.  Amazing!  I sent two emails and responded to facebook statuses last night from my phone.

A week ago the whole concept of smart phones just seemed like a waste of money and another way to suck me further into the digital world.  But I'm figuring out that they're actually kind of cool.  A month ago when my Grandma and I were on our way home from visiting my sister to see her new baby and we hit a major traffic jam that wasn't going anywhere and decided to off-road it and had no clue how to get home so had to call my mom to look it up on mapquest since we also didn't have a map?  Now I can just turn on my phone and use the cool GPS app that will show me the way home.

It may not be frugal living and it's definitely not simple living, though we did get a great deal on our phones, and I'm still rather smart phone dumb, but I have two years to get used to my phone before it's time to get a new one and start all over again.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sometimes It Takes A Scare To Wake You Up

So long my friend


My cell phone rang this morning when I was in the middle of teaching my co-op class.  I glanced at the number and saw that it was the doctor's office so I took the call as I have been waiting to hear the results of my Holter Monitor test.  Instead of being from my doctor's office, it was the hospital calling to set up an echocardiogram test.  What???  I asked her if the test was necessary since I'd already done the 24 hour heart monitoring thing.  She said that it's an ultrasound of my heart, so something different.  I set up an appointment and hung up.

Okay.  I am in the middle of teaching a class.  I can't just stop teaching to sort this all out.  But I must have been rather white when I returned to the living room to finish the class.  All these thoughts were racing through my head.  Why did my doctor order another test?  What did the monitor show?  Is my heart screwed up?  Am I going to have to have heart surgery?  Thank God Hubby talked me out of going with the cheaper but not as good health insurance for next year and instead went for the more expensive, lower copay insurance if I do have to have surgery.

Finally class got over and I immediately called my doctor's office to figure out what was going on.  Turns out my 24 hour results were just as suspected--harmless PVCs.  But since they came on suddenly, my doctor wanted me to do an echocardiogram just to get a baseline measure.  Sure wish the lady who called me in the first place could have told me that and saved me the worry.

All of this drama has made me face the truth--thankfully, my heart is fine.  For now.  But I'm not exactly in the best of shape.  I don't exactly eat a hearth-healthy diet 95% of the time.  In theory, I want to lose weight.  I want to exercise daily.  I want to eat healthy.  But I like junk food, white bread, sitting on the couch, and not exercising.  Doing the right thing for my body is a lot of work and takes a lot of self control and discipline.  So far I've only managed to exercise such discipline for a month or two at a time.  I did the Couch to 5K training, ran the race, and then stopped running.  I eat healthy for a few weeks and then some event happens and I eat bad and then quit.

Today I woke up and decided enough is enough.  My heart is telling me that I can't keep doing this.  I have to take control of my shady discipline now.  No more buying junk at the store, eating junk when we eat out, snitching cookies when I'm at my mom's house.  Over lunch Hubby and I discussed how we can overhaul or breakfasts and lunches--I'm a bagel gal.  I love the sesame seed bagels from Sams Club that are big, soft, and full of calories slathered in butter.  I eat one pretty much every single morning.  Lunches are usually leftovers.

This morning we finished up the last of our bagel supply and I kissed my bagels goodbye and bought eggbeaters (all whites), museli, yogurt and cottage cheese.  I bought lots of salad fixings, whole wheat bread and boneless skinless chicken to grill for sandwiches and as salad toppings.  My produce bins are overflowing.

A friend of mine went in for routine blood work several years ago and came out with a diagnosis of very high cholesterol.  It served as the wake-up call that he needed to totally overhaul his eating habits.  Now his family eats very healthy and his blood work is normal.  I want to be just like him.  For my minor scare to serve as the catalyst I need to prevent me from having a really big scare down the road.

So there's my plan.  Earlier this month I overhauled our dinners and now I'm doing the same to the rest of our meals.  I'm currently working on doing a full menu for the month of December that includes both dinners and a list of breakfast and lunch options so I always have ideas waiting to go when I'm hungry and need inspiration.  I won't go so far as to actually plan specific breakfasts and lunches every day because who knows what I'll be in the mood for at lunch time on December 27.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

5 Steps to Save a Marriage



I was talking to my mom the other day about how things are going between Hubby and me as a side note to a bigger conversation.  I said that things were good, really good.  She asked what had changed to make things better.  I thought about how we got from where we were to where we are now.

I alluded to a few things in this post that I wrote on the occasion of our 10th Anniversary.  That things were not always rosy between Hubby and me.  How at one point I was ready to walk out the door.  I told mom that I knew things were going well since I hadn't thought about running away in a really long time.  She laughed, but the comment was heartfelt.  When times were at their lowest I thought often about loading the kids up and taking off for the cottage just to get away.  Now when I think about the cottage, it's not an escape from my life but a place to enjoy the life that I already have.

Of course I have been thinking about our conversation for days now, trying to decide what changed to bring Hubby and me closer.  Where we love to be together, laugh together, touch each other, cook together, just be together.  Here is my list in no particular order.

1. I stopped blaming Hubby for everything wrong in our marriage.  My Hubby likes to play computer games.  I used to blame every little thing on his gaming.  If Hubby would just stop gaming, we would be okay.  All our problems would magically disappear.  It's funny how I changed in this area.  I was sitting on a park bench up north with my mother-in-law watching my kids play on the playground while discussing the evils of gaming and how if Hubby would just stop playing, all would be well.  And I had this thought...Are all of my marital problems really the fault of this one thing?  Can all of the problems between Hubby and me really be placed solely at Hubby's feet?  Do I have no culpability at all in the situation that I have found myself?  Suddenly it became so clear to me that all was not Hubby's fault.  Gaming was not the problem at all!  It was a smoke screen blinding me from the truth--I'd been blaming him for everything and taking no responsibility at all for my own wrong relating.  Stopping the blame cycle was the beginning of the change.

2. I learned to say "I'm Sorry."  It seems so silly and simple.  To say I'm sorry.  But for me this was not something I was good at.  Hubby could probably count on one hand how many times I said I'm sorry in the first eight years of our marriage.  I've since gotten much better at this and almost always apologize when I do something requiring it.

3. Weekly dates.  I'd been hearing it for years, the importance of date nights to keep a marriage strong.  But I had little kids, a lack of babysitters, and very few free evenings.  In September when I realized I was going to have one day a week kid-free while my kids were at co-op classes, I asked Hubby if he wanted to start meeting me for lunch on those days.  Thus was born our weekly lunch date.  I love it.  LOVE it!  I'm going to be so sad when summer hits and no more co-op.  It's only one hour a week, but it's enough.

4. We laugh together.  Another silly and simple thing.  For a while we forgot to do this together.  Last night I was saying goodnight to Hubby.  He was sitting at his computer and I was standing next to him.  I yawned and stretched my hands over my head and Hubby touched my stomach with his cold cold hands.  I shrieked and laughed, which made Hubby laugh and do it again.  Such a small moment, a blip in time, but I went to bed smiling and thinking how fun it is to laugh with my Hubby.  These days I often say outlandish things just to make Hubby laugh.  I flirt with him to make him smile.  When he's cooking in the kitchen I like to join him because we always end up laughing and having fun.

5. I stopped treating Hubby like a child.  Sometimes it's not a good thing to say everything you think.  A filter is a beautiful thing.  When Hubby is driving us to church and takes the most roundabout way to get there, instead of saying, "Hubby, why are you going this way?" I bite my tongue.  When Hubby is putzing around and it's getting to the time when he has to be out the door if he wants to be on time for work, instead of saying, "Hubby, you're going to be late if you don't get going." I bite my tongue.  Hubby used to say that I treated him like he was one of the kids.  Unfortunately, he was right.  Hubby already has a really wonderful mother.  He doesn't need another one.  It took a lot of tongue biting and a few phone calls to my sister to vent my frustration, but I learned how to curb the "mothery," slightly disrespectful, judgement-questioning comments.  These days I treat Hubby like the man he is instead of like he's one of the kids.


I know there are more changes I've made that have helped save my marriage (not to mention all the things that Hubby has done) but these are the five that I think had the biggest impact and made the most difference.  I just wish I'd figured all of these things out a long time ago and saved myself the heartache of all that floundering.  But, as the saying goes: What doesn't kill us makes us stronger.  Hubby and I now have a trialed and tested marriage that has come out stronger and better.


P.S.--I forgot one small thing.  One day as I was getting out of the shower I glanced at the steam-filled mirror and noticed some writing on it.  A big heart with "I love you" etched across the glass.  Almost two years later and Hubby and I still trade messages on our mirror.  Some are silly, some are sweet, and some make me blush, but it's always fun to see a new message from Hubby on the mirror.


Linking to:
Thriving Thursdays

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Preparing My Grocery List



This morning as I was preparing my shopping list for the week, I got to thinking that maybe other people might be interested in how I go about making up my list.

I prepare my grocery list on Sunday mornings mainly because I can't wait to run to the mail box to get the newspaper to see what coupons and sales await me.  I do get the Meijer ad previews so I can see the ads the Friday before they come out, but there's just something about the actual paper ad that I like better.  I also save the sale ad and put it in my coupon binder so I have it when I'm at the store in case I need to double check a sale.

Here is how I prepare my grocery list:

1. Scan through the sale ad and write down any sale item I need .  Some people make very detailed lists, some make master lists of common purchases and highlight what they need to buy off their master list, and I just divide a paper down the middle and group items by category.  You can see an example here.  This week's purchases are slimmer than normal due to Thanksgiving and eating away from home a lot.  Plus, we took a family outing last night to the farmers market store that I love so we have most of the produce that we need for the week already.  I write down all the sale items that I need, plus any items that are on the list  of things we are out of that I keep on the fridge, and then add anything else I can think of that we need.  I generally also ask Hubby if he has anything to add to the list (toiletries, snacks, something he may need for treat day at work, etc).

2. Check matchups at Bargains to Bounty for any missed deals and coupons.  I always check the matchups over at bargainstobounty.com because she does all the leg work for me by matching up sales to coupons so all I need to do is print off any additional coupons that I may have missed.  She also lists the latest Catelina deals (those deals where if you buy X number of a product, you get X money off instantly or in a checkout coupon), store price drops, and other unadvertised sales.

3. Cut out coupons from the Sunday paper.  I then go through the coupon fliers and clip all the coupons that I may want to use ever and then put them in my coupon binder.  Some people only clip out what they'll use that week, but I like to cut out all the coupons I may ever use and then toss the rest of the flier in the recycle bin.  Less clutter in my house.

4. If I haven't already, make up a menu for the week.  I've just started making a monthly menu, but in the past I've always made a weekly menu so that I know what I need to buy at the store each week.  This keeps me from having to make a second (or third) trip to the store to pick up any missed items.  I only include dinners on my menu because that's what works for me.  Some people plan out all of their meals including snacks but that method just does not work for me.  Once I've made up my menu, I add any ingredients that we don't have onto my list.  I especially make sure to plan out our produce needs so that I don't over or under buy.  

5. Pull coupons for my shopping trip.  I pull all the coupons that I will be using  out of my coupon binder for my trip and put them in an envelop so they are all ready to go when I get to the store.  I also utilize mPerks which is Meijers' digital coupon system.  I log in and clip any coupons I might want and then print the list to put in my coupon binder.  These coupons are almost always so very specific that there's no way I'd remember what I needed to buy without a master list of coupons.

In all, this takes me about an hour, usually less.  After I've done these five steps, I am ready to go shopping. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

It's Open! They're Clean!



When I first noticed the construction sign that said the bridge on the main road I take into town was going to be closed, I figured it'd be for a few days at most.  Wrong!  It has been three months!  Three months of having to stop and think...how am I going to get to where I need to go...every single time I get into my car.  Three months of having to take a detour that adds 6-8 minutes to my commute every time I want to go to the west side of town.  Three months of my Hubby's work commute taking 20 minutes instead of 5 due to the detour, excess traffic, large semis, and short light cycles.

I have been stalking the road commission facebook page looking for news on when the bridge might open.  It was supposed to open November 2, but that was pushed back to the 15th.  Yesterday Hubby drove to the bridge at noon.  Still closed.  My mom checked around 2pm.  Still closed.  I get a call from my mother-in-law around 3pm and the bridge is OPEN!!!


Driving on the bridge for the first time in 3 months--a beautiful moment


And I got to drive over it for the first time this morning.  I even stopped and got out to take a picture of this momentous occasion just to post on my blog.  Yes, I am that excited.  This is one "new experience" that I am very happy about.

And on a less silly note...


Old, useless dishwasher

Last Friday something happened that was beyond awesome in my house.  My new dishwasher was installed!  Woohoo!!!!  My friend over at Jenny Sue Got Married wrote a blog about her dishwasher that made me laugh and say "Amen!" as I knew exactly what she was talking about.  My dishwasher was more of a dishwasherNOT.  I had to load everything just right to try to get the dishes clean.  Even then, I would go to empty the washer and half the dishes would still have crusties on them.  Every time company came over I had to inspect every dish that I set on the table to make sure they were "company" clean.


Bottom rack taken up by the  sprayer
and missing silverware basket



I've been talking about getting a new one for over a year.  I looked through the sale ads every week and ogled the dishwashers, coming just short of breaking the Tenth Commandment--Thou shalt not covet.  And then finally last week I noted in the sale ad that Best Buy was running a sale in conjunction with a deal where they'd deliver and install the new washer for only $19.99 and haul away the old one.  Hot dog!  I was all about that since I knew getting Hubby to install it would not be happening anytime this century.  He did that once in our old house and swore he'd never do it again.








Let's be honest.  I will never like doing dishes, but it is so much nicer now that the dishes actually get clean after the wash cycle is finished.  I don't have to load everything just right and they still come out clean.  It's wonderful!  It makes the chore of doing dishes so much less depressing.


Switching to stainless one appliance at a time

Notice the lack of sprayer in the middle of the rack?


I also had a new experience this week, one that I never thought I'd be adding to my list.  I had my first EKG and am in the middle of my first Holter Monitor test.  Hopefully they will be my last.  It's pretty cool running around with wires and electrodes strapped to my chest.  But if it will prove definitively that I do not have a serious heart problem, then I'm okay with that.  


This is week 12 in the series of 52 Weeks of New





Thursday, November 15, 2012

Downsizing...Again

Overflowing trash pile after purging the basement

I started reading the book, You Can Buy Happiness (And It's Cheap): How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and How You Can Too by Tammy Strobel.  Hubby saw the book sitting on the counter and after reading the title, gave me a look and asked, "Another one???"  Apparently I read too many books on simplifying for his taste.

The book is about the author's journey from living a life of excess--the 2000 sqft apartment, two cars, major debt, all the latest stuff--to her and her husband getting rid of their cars, almost all of their stuff and building a tiny house on wheels (8 ft x 16 ft with a sleeping loft above).


Van load ready for Goodwill


Over breakfast this morning, Lizzy saw the book on the table and asked me what it meant that you can buy happiness for cheap.  I explained the premise of the book, about downsizing, how they moved into a house that's the size of her bedroom.  She thought that was kind of cool and asked if we were going to do that.  Um, no.  We won't be selling our house any time soon, but we can downsize the stuff that we have in our house.  We can make decisions that allow us to spend less money and save more.

While I'm not about to sell my house and move into 128 sqft of living space, the author did give me some things to think about.  Over the last year I have gone through every room, closet, shelf, freezer, and drawer in my entire house and purged.  I questioned what I should do now that I've finished that project and jokingly asked if  this is the point where you start over and do it all again???.


Linen closet purge destined for a garage sale


I can see now that I was right on track.  I pared down our belongings once and it felt good to get rid of all that stuff that we no longer had a use for.  Now it's time to go through the entire house again and get rid of even more things.  To downsize even more.

Yesterday I cleaned out my cookbooks.  I have 2.5 feet of pantry shelf space devoted to cookbooks.  I eliminated an entire foot's worth of books.  I'm debating about getting rid of even more but I'm sort of attached to the ones I have left and actually use them.  I may type up my favorite recipes out of the books where I only use a few recipes and then tossing the books.

I weeded out my craft closet and got rid of some fabric.  Gasp!  I can't believe I did it, either.  But I did have a few pieces of fabric that I've accumulated over the years that I know I will never use, so out they went.

My goal is to go through my entire house and repurge everything between now and June 2013.  One shelf, drawer, closet, cupboard and room at a time until I'm done.  Last time I got rid of maybe twenty percent of our stuff.  This time I hope to get rid of at least another twenty percent, maybe more.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Christmas Shopping

It's something that some people love.  They get a thrill out of the hunt for the perfect gift.  They think nothing of waiting until the last minute to finish their list because they love the crush of the masses at the mall and other shopping centers.  It gives them energy.  It gives them joy.  It gives me...a headache.

Don't get me wrong.  I like giving gifts and seeing my children's eyes light up with joy when they open that brightly wrapped package and discover a hoped for item.  I like picking out something that I know my Hubby would like but wouldn't think of buying for himself.  There's something about putting a pile of wrapped gifts under a sparkly Christmas tree that is almost magical.  

It's the hunt and the masses and the last minuteness of the shopping that I have a problem with.  

As a youth, I loved Black Friday shopping back when stores offered Early Bird specials starting at 8:00 am instead of earlier (and now on Thursday).  We went to Chicago to visit my grandparents every Thanksgiving and it was a tradition to wake up early on Friday, hit up the sales, and then meet for lunch.  It was fun.  

Decorating the Christmas Tree
Even after Grandma moved to Michigan, after getting married, after having kids, I still continued to shop on Black Friday around town.  But as each year passed, I started wondering what the point was in all of this.  Why was I getting up super early to buy things I don't really need, wading through crowds of stressed out people, waiting in endless lines, all to get a "good deal" when I could just stay home?  

Last year that is exactly what I did.  I stopped shopping on Black Friday.  I stayed home.  We pulled out the Christmas tree and the decorations.  We made hot chocolate and popped popcorn.  We turned on Christmas music and the fireplace.  Then we decorated the house as a family.  It was wonderful.  It will become our new family tradition.  

No more Black Friday shopping madness.  The few things I did want last year I bought online and got just as good a deal as I would have gotten at the store.  No crowds.  No lines.  No stress.  Just click, click, done.  

Instead, I try to have all of my main shopping done by Thanksgiving, and almost all of it I do online.  Stocking stuffers I pick up when I am grocery shopping--a pair of sparkly socks here, a small lego set there, candy bought as close to Christmas as possible so I'm not tempted to snitch.  This is my routine that I have developed over the years.  Get the shopping done early, do most of it online.  This is what brings me the most peace.  This is how I am able to relax during the Advent season and just enjoy my family rather than spending every spare minute racing between stores.  
Come Black Friday, you will find me at home, probably still in my pajamas, sipping hot chocolate and eating popcorn, dancing to Christmas music, putting up the Christmas tree with my family.


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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

One Week Of Eating (Mostly) Right Update

It's been a week since Hubby and I decided to revamp our eating habits.  I've been working to cut out the excess fat and carbs while adding in more whole grains and produce.  I made up a menu with meals for most of November (there are still a few holes in my menu because my brain just can't seem to come up with any more dinner ideas--I'll probably make Hubby cook on those days).

It's only been a few days, but so far things are going well.  I have stuck with the menu with only minimal adjustments--different veggie, I used brown rice in the chicken stew rather than barley.  Hubby and I have also tried to cut back on our evening snacking habits--Hubby has been cutting it out completely while I am still eating evening snacks but limiting it to only healthy choices.


Oven fries--tossed in a little EVOO and salt

I have been working to satisfy my snacking habits with mostly fruit.  Rather than grabbing a handful of crackers, I am making myself grab an apple or banana.  When I crave ice cream, I am eating an orange.  Thursday I washed a pound of blackberries and set it on the counter to dry.  I found myself picking away at the pile every time I walked by (so did my girls) until the pile was gone.



Yesterday I washed and cut up a pound of carrots and a bunch of celery so it's in the fridge and ready to go for snacking.  I think I will just set it out on the counter every day so I'll grab some when I walk by.  Last night I made shepherd's pie using ground turkey sausage and sweet potatoes.  It was a little different than the white potato variety, but it still tasted okay.  

I'm finding that having the monthly menu is really helping.  When I made up my menu, I also made a list of all the ingredients I'd need to buy to make the dinners.  It made making my grocery list a lot easier.  Every morning I check the menu and see what we're having for dinner.  Knowing what I'm cooking at 7:00 am in the morning really helps to make my day more peaceful.  No more, "Oh no, it's 4:30 pm.  I need to think about what to make for dinner."


My kitchen helper--yes, all of those accessories are necessary

I am also working on including the kids in dinner prep.  Last night we had shepherd's pie.  I had Joy browning the meat, Lizzy peeling and chopping the onion, David snapping the green beans, while I peeled and chopped the sweet potatoes.  We spent the whole time bumping into each other, but we had a lot of fun.    I like teaching my kids kitchen skills so that one day they can replace me and do the cooking.


Half finished shepherd's pie--more potatoes were added


Today my plan is to sit down with my cookbooks and make a list of all the healthier recipes that we like or that I want to try.  Once I have a master list, it will make it a whole lot easier to put together a monthly menu for December.  If you have any great dinner ideas, leave them in the comments section so we can all benefit from getting more ideas.

Monday, November 12, 2012

I Broke My Heart



Joy has this habit of clinging to me whenever I have to leave for an evening meeting.  She hangs on to my leg, blocks me from walking out of my bedroom door, and begs me to stay home because she will miss me.  The last time I had a meeting she told me that if I left, I would break her heart.

The next morning I asked her if her heart was broken now and she laughed and said no.  That she was fine after all.

While Joy's heart might not be broken, apparently I broke mine.  Last week when I was having those weird heart beats, I thought it was a fluke and would go away.  My heart just kept on beating funny all through the rest of the week.  I called to make a doctor's appointment on Friday and today I went in.

The doctor listened to my heart and said that I have an extra beat that's causing my heart to fill up more than normal which is why I'm getting the booms.  I threw out the fact that I'd had an allergic reaction to salmon last Monday just in case it might be relevant and her eyes light up and she says, Ah!  Her guess is that I somehow threw off my heart with my allergic reaction and I just have to wait for it to right itself.  I had an EKG in the office, where of course my heart didn't cooperate, so I have to get a 24 hour halter monitor to make sure that my heart issue is really what she thinks it is--either a PVC or PAC, both of which are totally harmless.

Prior to going to the doctor, I felt really, really anxious.  I had that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and thought I might throw up.  I know that my internet research led me to believe I was dealing with a PVC and that it was almost positively nothing to worry about, but that's easier said than done when you're talking about your most vital organ.  Every time my heart paused, I found myself holding my breath, waiting for it to beat again.

I had visions of her telling me to cut out all caffeine, to go on a special, horrible diet, or that I needed heart surgery.  I'm not sure which would have been the worst option.  Ha!

I'm very happy that it's nothing.  That my heart will reset itself all on its own and go back to normal.  And I will never, ever eat seafood of any kind again.  Hubby will just have to be content with getting his seafood fix when he goes out for lunch with his coworkers.

I never gave my heart so much thought before it started acting funny.  I just took it for granted.  Yup, it's there and it's still working.  Likewise, I often take my spiritual heart for granted.  I asked Jesus into it a long time ago so I'm all set.  No need to address those other scriptures that tell me to purify my heart, to get a new heart from God, to have a heart that is moldable.  My heart is just fine--until it's not.  That's when God smacks me upside the head and says, "Lisa, your heart is broken.  Lets fix it."  It's not always pleasant rooting out the sin in my life, but my heart is so much better and prettier once He's done.  

Friday, November 9, 2012

Big Accomplishments

I'm eleven weeks into my 52 Weeks of New adventure and I've learned a few things already along the way. I'm not even a quarter of the way into the project, so I can only imagine where I will be when I'm all done.  Here is what I've learned so far.

 1. New things are fun.  I used to avoid doing things I've never done before because I wasn't sure I'd like it or that it'd work out.  I worried about the details of any new outing.  I didn't want to try new foods because what if it was gross?  Well, after eleven weeks of trying new things, I've learned that my fears were unfounded.  Yes, I've sampled some gross food in the last eleven weeks (today I tried a new cereal and gagged--threw that box away).  But I've also discovered some new foods that I actually sort of like--like brussels sprouts (as long as their roasted in lots of olive oil).  And out of all of my new experiences, not one has turned into a dud outing.  I've enjoyed every one.


Grapefruit was not a big hit in our house this week


2. Accomplishing big projects feels really, really good.  Last week I finally cleaned out my entire storage room.  Every time I step into that room to get something from my food storage in there, I feel a huge feeling of accomplishment.  It just looks so good in there!  This week I tackled the jungle in my backyard.  The kids and I cut down all of the weeds, covered the whole 20' x 24' area with cardboard and newspapers, and then covered it all up with a huge sheet of black plastic to hopefully kill all the weeds in preparation for turning the wasteland into a garden next summer.  Every time I glance out the window and see that big sheet of black plastic, I feel happy that I am finally doing something to make my backyard pretty.  


Isn't this how all people do yard work?

All those recyclables being put to good use

Every random thing in my yard is now holding down the plastic


3. New things beget new things.  With each new thing I try, it makes me want to try more things.  I think, "Hey, I did that!  Now I can do anything."  Well, almost anything.  I'm still not about to go pick up a snake any time soon.  Maybe in week 52 I'll consider that.


We all know that David is much braver than me as just seeing this picture
gives me the willies.  Blah....

4. Determining to try new things makes me always on the lookout for new challenges.  When I am at the grocery store, I look at those weird, exotic fruits that I used to bypass and wonder which one we should try this week.  I bought Salmon this week for the second time in ten years and made it.  (Sure, it was a total disaster, but now I know why I've never been a fish person)  When a new opportunity comes my way, rather than dismiss it out of hand, I find myself saying yes.  I volunteered to handle the costumes for the Christmas play that my kids are in without thinking about it for weeks.  I had 24 people over for dinner on Saturday and where I used to stress out over big dinners and considered every meal a direct reflection on me, I just laughed when I realized that miscommunication led to us not having any starches for our dinner.  Before, I would have been mortified.  

If you haven't already, I think every one should start their own year of trying new things.  You'll learn a lot about yourself, grow as a person, and have a lot of really cool experiences along the way.  





Thursday, November 8, 2012

What If You Died In The Night?




I wear ear plugs to sleep because it helps me shut out all those pesky little (and not so little) noises that wake me up in the middle of the night.  The thing about ear plugs is that they also make it so you can hear your heart beat really, really well.

Sometimes it's comforting to know--yup, there's my heart, still beating just as it should.  Sometimes it's annoying.  There's my heart, beating away super loud, another little pesky noise that is making it hard for me to focus on sleeping.  (And yes, I will admit right up front that I could give The Princess and the Pea a run for her money when it comes to needing things to be just right in order to be able to sleep.)

Sometimes hearing my heart beat isn't so comforting--like last night.  When my heart was going thump, thump, thump, thuuuuuuuuump, BOOM.  Over and over.  What???  That's not right!  What the heck is this thuuuuuuump BOOM???  There I laid in bed, wondering what was up with my heart and why it wasn't beating right.

As I'm laying there wondering if this was normal, weird, harmless or dangerous, the What Ifs started flitting through my brain.  What if it's a sign of a heart attack?  What if I die in my sleep?  (I am a mostly recovered hypochondriac, but only mostly.)  What would happen to my family?




What about my kids?  After having not only a stay at home mom their whole lives, but a homeschooling SAHM, after years of being with me almost all the time, will my kids turn into maladjusted, angry children who are super rebellious and act out because they no longer have a mom?

What will happen to Joy who begs me not to leave the house when I have a night meeting and tells me that if I leave, her heart will break?  Who will snuggle with her on the couch and let her beep their nose over and over because she thinks it's funny?  Who will watch when she wants an audience to see her dance?

Who will take the time to listen to Lizzy spin her long tales about princesses and unicorns and playing in rainbows?  Who will ooh and ahh over her many, many drawings and say that they're wonderful and that she did a good job coloring in the lines and chose really pretty colors?  Who will tell her that yes, she looks beautiful wearing every piece of jewelry and hair bow that she owns because she wants to look stylish for a party?

What about David?  Who will listen to him when he goes on and on about the latest thing that catches his interest?  Who will take the time to pick out quality reading material for him to keep up with his voracious reading habit?  Who will give him hugs and kisses even though he wipes them off?  Who will chase him down the hall and tackle and tickle him when he's being a stinker and needs a good laugh to get over his bad attitude?  Who will write him fart stories that make him laugh so hard he almost falls out of his bunk when he's at camp next summer?

And what about their school?  I need to make Hubby promise that he won't send the kids to public school if I die and the kids can no longer be homeschooled.  He has to use my life insurance money and send them to the Christian private school that Hubby and I went to.  The kids would already be super upset; they need to be in a place where the teachers and kids will be nice to them and will pray for them when they're struggling.

Obviously I woke up this morning completely not dead.  I did check the internet to see what could have caused this weird heart beat, and if it's what I think it is, it's almost positively normal and harmless.  But the thoughts of last night are now stuck in my head.  Or more specifically, all of the thoughts that I didn't have.

I didn't worry about my house.  My money.  The election results.  The economy.  Not once did I worry about anything that didn't include my kids or my husband (other than wondering if Hubby would know enough to look on my desk to find our unpaid utility and credit card bills).

My house could burn down, and as long as my family is safe, oh well.  Houses can be replaced.  We could lose all of our money and be penniless, but as long as my family is safe, we'll be okay (we'll just mooch off our parents for a while).  Every single political candidate that I didn't vote for could have won and go on to make only laws that I disagree with, and yet that also doesn't matter.  When it comes right down to it nothing, nothing except my family, my relationships with others, and my relationship with Jesus truly matters.  All the rest will just fade away like dust.  

 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Revamping Our Diet--Misadventures



Hubby and I went on a hot date Monday night--to Best Buy to pick out a new dishwasher (Hallelujah!  Clean dishes!).  We ditched the kids at Grandma's house so we wouldn't have to deal with chasing three kids through the appliance department.

On our way home we started talking about health, weight, and our daily diet.  I expressed my frustration over my inability to lose weight even after running three times a week for over two months and actively, usually, watching what I eat.

Hubby kindly pointed out my dinner menu choices as being part of the problem.  I like casseroles which generally include a sauce that uses butter.  Or cheese.  Or sour cream.  I like Mexican food (yum!) which can be healthy, just not when you add cheese and sour cream, plus a large tortilla, and white rice.  I serve white pasta because my family balks at whole wheat pasta.  I've gradually switched to mostly sweet potatoes but I do still serve white on occasion.

Basically it came down to--I need to revamp our menu.  

Hubby said that he wanted to eat more fish beyond the rare fish sticks.  Something that's not breaded.  Fine, I can try that.  Yesterday Salmon was on sale, so I bought a nice big fillet and brought it home.  Of course Hubby picks yesterday to work late meaning I now had to figure out how to cook said Salmon fillet on my own without a grill as the empty propane tank has not been refilled since our little gas mishap.  I scoured the internet and found a recipe and went to make it only to discover I didn't have any rice wine vinegar.  Back to the internet, saw lots of recipes that used balsamic vinegar instead and went with that.

I served dinner up, took two bites of my delicious salmon, and started to feel funny.  Oh no.  Apparently when I ate Salmon a year ago and reacted to it and assumed it was from cross contamination from the meat counter?  I was wrong.  I'm just plain allergic to Salmon all on its own and not only to shell fish.  Oye.  I quietly got up from the table, dug through the medicine cabinet to find some benadryl and drugged myself up.

Thankfully, the reaction didn't hit my throat this time.  I felt tight in my chest and started feeling really loopy in the head where it was hard to focus on conversation and I had to really search for the right word.  And then when I went to do dishes and took my sweater off, I realized my arms were covered in hives.  Upon further examination I discovered I was covered in hives from head to toe.  Oops.

Apparently there is a very good reason why I don't cook fish as part of our normal diet and why it will not be finding its place in our regular menu rotation.

In light of my conversation with Hubby, I went through my cookbooks and made up a menu for the entire month of November (minus a few days where I have no idea what to make but will fill it in eventually) with healthier recipes.  Hubby looked over the menu and approved it with a few additions of his own.  I did my best working with our no-seafood, no-pork outside of sausage, no-eggs preferences/restrictions.

Now all I need to do is stick to my menu and we'll be all good.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Family Time

All of us building towers together--Adults chose not to be photographed


The latest area that I have been working on is "Family Time."  That would be the time of day when we all hang out together.  Probably like most families, we trend in this area--sometimes we are really good with doing things as a family, and other times not so much.

After much soul searching (or like two seconds of thought), I realized that a big part of the problem is me.  My whole family, except me, likes to play games together.  My whole family, except me, likes to sit and watch whatever sport Hubby is interested in on TV together.  While everyone else in my family is busy playing yet another game of UNO or Sorry, I am doing dishes and then escaping to my room or the office, anything to get away from game playing.  While everyone else in my family is snuggled up on the couch watching yet another game of football featuring two teams I care nothing about, I go do something else.  I rationalize it by saying that I've been with the kids all day, now it's Daddy's turn.

But then a few weeks ago a thought struck me as I walked past the living room and saw my whole family, except me, sitting together on the couch watching some game or another.  I should go join them.  So I did.  They all moved over a little and made room for me in the snugglefest.  I asked which team we were rooting for.  Hubby, David and Lizzy were going for one team, Joy for the other.  Joy always picks the team that's winning, and if it's currently tied, she picks the one with the prettier jerseys or the better mascot (definitely a die hard fan in the making).  

There I sat on the couch with knees and elbows squishing into my sides, heads resting on my shoulders, legs splayed across my lap, watching some game (was it football or baseball?  I don't remember), and I thought to myself--This is the good life.  

Suddenly it didn't matter that I could care less about the outcome of the game we were watching.  It didn't matter that I would rather be reading a book.  What mattered is that I was sitting on the couch surrounded by wiggly bodies, laughing at David who is yelling at the TV because his team did something he did or didn't like, taking an elbow to the gut, tickling each other, and laughing while Hubby tells us all to be quiet so he can hear the game (like that's going to happen).  

It's great that Hubby likes to spend time with the kids in the evening, but being a homeschooling mom doesn't give me a "get out of evening family time free" card.  Yes, I hate most games, but since my family loves them so much I went out and bought a new game that we could all play that didn't make me want to gouge my eyes out when I played it--I bought Appleletters.  Joy is a bit too young for it, but she loves to help me play.  Last week Hubby, David and I played Scrabble and the girls were on my team.  I let Lizzy figure out most of our words with only a little help from me.  Something about letting a seven year old do most of the game playing helped to control my fierce competitiveness.  I no longer cared that Hubby was going to crush me as always.

Playing games and watching sports will never be something I really enjoy in and of themselves, but I am treasuring the moments we spend doing them together as a family.  Because even though I spend all day every day with my kids, there's just something different about the time we spend together when Daddy is around that makes it all the more special.  
 
And then jumping up and down to knock them over