Friday, September 16, 2011

Motherhood

Last week Stephen went to New Jersey on business and I stayed with my parents for the week.  I hate how I seem to digress into a 17-year-old whenever I visit, but I like to think I did better this time at maintaining my own age.  You know, cleaning up after myself, helping with chores while I was there, watching my children.  The things normal adults do. Have I mentioned how great my mom is? That she makes my every visit feel stress free, even when I'm doing work with her?

Anyway, I brought a bunch of projects and my wonderful mother helped me get things together and watched the kids so I could get some of them out of the way.  She is amazing.  She also came to my house to help me today. I asked her to come and she did, because she is a super mom.  Sometimes I just wonder how she does it, she is such a great mom, because sometimes I feel like something is missing in me.  Sometimes I look at my kids and I just don't know what to do.  They're happy, their basic needs are met.  But something is missing.

I have been feeling lately like I need to reevaluate my parenting.  I am coming to realize that raising children is just so much more than taking care of them and their needs.  Argh, how do I voice this without sounding terrible?

My mom is great.  I love watching her when she is with my children because I feel like she shows me how to be a mom.  She plays with them, asks them questions, shows them interesting things, gets them snacks, and makes them feel important.  I see it in Ben's face every time she visits.

I am good at making lists and goals and meeting specific needs.  Ben is thirsty? Get him a drink.  Sophie is cranky? Feed her, hold her, pacifier her, rock her, put her down.  We're not saving as much as we'd like? Reevaluate the budget spreadsheet.  Dishes are dirty? Do the dishes.  Fridge empty? Plan meals and shop.  I am good at concrete things like that.

I think that I try to fix a situation and move on to "the list."  It is easy for me to feel like I've accomplished something important this way.  That I'm taking care of my children by taking care of the household.  But is it the best thing I should be doing?  I don't think so.

I think I get Ben comfortable and step away too quickly.  I think I spend too much time on the computer.  I think I need to involve my children more in my tasks and, more importantly, I think I need to be a bigger part of theirs.  I need to stop and play.  I need to listen.  I need to sing and dance with them.  Teach them the best of what I know and love. I think I need to be as attached to them as I possibly can.  Before they get older and start pushing me away.

I'm going to try something drastically different from the task-oriented way I've been living.  I'm going to set for myself two to three things each day that are the most important concrete goals so I feel like I've accomplished something and then devote the rest of the day to spending it with my little children.  For example, tomorrow my goals are to (1) get caught up with the dishes, (2) vacuum and (3) keep the computer off.  The rest of the day I hope to spend playing trains, making pizza with Ben, and cuddling a not-feeling-so-well Sophie.  I think this is realistic enough for me to feel like I'm still maintaining a household and still spend time with the children.  Perhaps I just need to work on our quality time?

I know this post is a bit heavy, but that's what I'm feeling right now: the weight of raising two little ones to be happy and fulfilled children who trust that their mother will be there for them.  The pressure is enormous sometimes.  I just need to take it easy and be there for them.



On that note, what ideas do you have for spending time and playing with your children at home? How do you pass the time in a meaningful way?  Ideas would be very much appreciated.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Menu Planning: Chicken Stock and Brown Rice Pilaf

Meal planning is something I am still researching, so I was browsing the interwebs and came across this wonderful blog- Word of Wisdom Living.  It's a reference to the Latter-day Saint doctrine of the Word of Wisdom and I am blown away by the amount of information he provides- everything from scholarly journals to life experiences.  I was posting in a discussion over there on menu planning (and wrote a TON) so I thought I'd share what I wrote. :)

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I have only been menu planning for about 6 months, but I have a few things I'd like to share.

First things first- get to know what your family eats.  Write down meals that your family considers "normal."  This will save you a lot of brain-wracking trauma and will keep you from getting overly ambitious with changes and burning yourself out.

When getting ready to go shopping the first thing I do is check my inventory, especially what I have left from the previous week in my fridge- the fresh stuff that needs to be eaten right away. I start getting some ideas for what I'd like to use my ingredients for and check the circulars. 

I live in Southern California like Skip [the blog author], so I shop at similar stores (Costco, Sprouts/Henry's, and Stater Brothers) and look for the best deals. I look for cheap cuts of meat that can be used in lots of ways.  I know some people are more picky about their meat, but I try to serve it to my family conservatively and it's not an issue for us (at least not right now). I really like using whole chickens because you can get a lot out of them for .80-.99/lb.  I like to cut them up myself and make stock from the back and gizzards though most grocery stores will cut them up for you free of charge (but not all).  I use the stock whenever I make rice, gravy, soup, or sauces. 


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Crockpot Chicken Stock

Chicken Parts (back, bones, gizzards, etc)
1 carrot
1 stalk celery
1 onion, cut in half

Place chicken parts, carrot, celery and onion in crock pot.  Fill with water, leaving about 1-2" space at the top.  Cover and set on low.  Cook about 10-12 hours. Take out crock, take off lid and allow to cool.  Pour through a sieve into a bowl, discarding parts and vegetables (or you can eat them), and place stock in your fridge (you don't want it too hot or it will have adverse affects on the temperature of your fridge).  Loosely cover and allow to cool until fats solidify on the surface.  Skim away fats and store. (We keep the chicken fat and use it to cook with.  Beware- don't put it in an already hot pan or it will sputter like crazy.)
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Get to know prices for items.  We use rolled oats a lot and, believe it or not, the best price was a bulk bag at the regular grocery store and not at Costco like I expected.  I am working on a pocket-sized notebook to keep track, but for now, it's all memory (or little notes in my planner).

I made a template on my computer for my grocery planning and print it out each week.  It keeps me focused on what I need to plan for and makes menu planning that much easier.  I plan on Tuesday nights (So my weekly list is Thursday-Wednesday) because that's the day the circular arrives.  You don't have to plan Monday-Sunday.

Lunches are hard in my house because my husband comes home for lunch and doesn't like sandwiches.  I have a hard time coming up with something that's quick and healthy, and usually one of those criteria gets sacrificed.  Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

We recently switched from white rice to brown rice, a decision my husband still occasionally scoffs at (though I will admit, white rice is just so fluffy).  I like to make kabobs and rice pilaf- we use peppers, onions, and pineapple.  We use 1 cubed chicken breast to feed our family of 3, though it doesn't feel skimpy when served with our brown rice pilaf:

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Brown Rice Pilaf

2 T butter (or olive oil)
1/2 medium onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 c brown rice
2 1/2 c chicken broth, vegetable broth or 2 1/2 c water + 1 t salt

In a medium size skillet (with a lid) melt butter over medium heat.  Add onions and sautee until translucent.  Add garlic and cook about 30 seconds to 1 minute until rendered (you can smell it).  Add rice and sautee, making sure it gets coated, about 1-2 minutes.  Add broth, season to taste with salt and pepper, turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer about 45-50 minutes until liquid is absorbed.  Check occasionally and add more broth or water if needed.
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I went a little crazy with this post, but menu planning is a point I firmly believe in.  We have saved SO MUCH money by planning, it is ridiculous.  We cut our grocery bill nearly in half just by planning our meals.

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So that's what I shared over there and I wanted to make sure I shared it with you, too.  Happy meal planning!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Three R's: A Thrifty Way to Store Bags

Let me just say, for the record, that I am not into the "green movement."  I have lots of opinions about it that, for the moment, I will keep to myself.  I do, however, believe that we are required to be good stewards of the earth and that there are merits and (frugal) benefits to living in a conservative way.  I also believe that using the three "R's" (recycle, reduce, reuse) is a good way to save money and be responsible for all the excess stuff we seem to have.



I want to share with you an effective way of storing your old plastic bags from the grocery store.  I know they are getting a lot of flack right now, but we reuse them all over the house as garbage liners, sack lunch bags, and wet bags for the beach, pool, or a kid's unfortunate accident (though I am using cloth grocery bags most of the time now).  This storage bag is made from things I had lying around the house already and is a great way to recycle old remnants from sewing.  It features a drawstring at one end for easy access or something to hang it from, plus an elastic opening on the other side.



You can easily grab a bag out of the elastic opening.  This project can be done by a beginning sewer and it will save you precious cabinet space!

Supplies:
  • Fabric- mine measured 1 yard x 1/2 yard, but you can do any size you'd like as long as it's rectangle-ish in shape.  Mine was fairly large. An old dish towel would work fine.
  • Thread
  • Elastic- at least 10", braided preferred, though whatever you have left over from other projects should work great.
  • A Shoelace- My husband's Vans came with two sets of shoelaces and, let's be honest, who changes those out? Ever? Anyway, the point is to use what you have lying around.
  • Sewing machine
  • Iron and board
  • Rotary cutter and self-healing mat or scissors (if you sew at all, I highly recommend investing in a rotary cutter system- it will make your life so much easier!)

Step 1 Square off your fabric.  You can skip this if you are using an old towel.  Do this by folding it in half, lining up the finished ends and cut the edges (that the fabric store made uneven) straight. If you don't have a mat, use something to help you with the 90 degree angle, like a book.


Step 2 Fold your fabric in half "hot-dog style." With right sides facing each other, sew along the long end of your rectangle.  Iron seam open.  At each end, fold and iron your fabric about 1/4" (again, you can skip this step with a towel).


Step 3 Fold and iron your fabric up one more time to make a casing that won't fray.  I folded one end about 1" up for my shoelace casing and the other about 1/2" for the elastic casing. 


Step 4 On the shoelace end, mark where you want to put your shoelace hole(s). I chose to have 2 holes, one for each end of the string, right where the long ends were sewn together and on the outside of the casing.



Step 5 Open up your casing and sew your shoelace holes using the buttonhole setting on your machine (don't mind how terrible mine are... I feel like I have to relearn how to do them every time).  Using a seam ripper, open your button holes.


Step 6 Sew the shoelace casing all the way around.  I didn't leave much of a seam allowance because I didn't want any plastic bags to get caught on open edges.


Step 7 Sew your elastic casing and leave 1-2" open.


Step 8 Using a safety pin (or in my case, a paper clip) insert your elastic through the casing.  I just took out my big spool of elastic I had laying around and didn't cut it to size until I had drawn it through.


Step 9 Sew your elastic at the length you would like, making sure you leave a little slack so you can get your hand through the hole.  Trim off excess and sew the casing closed.


And you're done!


This project really opened up a lot of cabinet space for me! I didn't realize how out of control it all was...

Before:

After:


What a difference, huh?