I know the month isn’t over yet, but it’s already been full of lots of good stuff! I thought it’d be fun to share a few, well, FIVE, of my favorites with you all. In no particular order, here are five faves from February:
1. Hiking with the Cat
Sounds crazy, right? Well, the thing is, every time we hike, we see so many people out with their dogs. We don’t have a dog. But we DO have a rather dog-like cat. Concerned about his safety on a harness and leash, however, I wondered aloud about the possibility of a hiking backpack and, wouldn’t you know it, you really CAN find anything on Amazon.
Apollo loved his time out in nature with “his people” and the kids thought it was awesome to have their buddy along. People along the way were fascinated by our hiking cat and thought it was pretty cool! I look forward to many more adventures with our orange tabby companion.
2. Seeing Human Compassion Alive and Well
Concord, New Hampshire was a small, lovely capital city. The residents were warm and welcoming and I was charmed by their perpetually good manners and resilience in the snow and ice. It was basically a quintessential New England city, but without the hustle and bustle we associate with our big cities. (Northeasterners are known for always being in a hurry!)
Right by the capitol building, I saw these trees, wrapped in scarves, vests, and jackets, with hats and gloves stuck on bare branches. “Take if you are cold!” the signs read. And, frankly, Concord IS cold. I was cozy in my down jacket, but I can only imagine facing those bitter winters without adequate gear. This simple gesture helped renew my faith in human goodness and compassion.
3. Subbing Second Grade
We were off from school on the 15th and 16th for our February Break/Presidents Day. I was asked to sub in a second grade classroom for that Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Obviously, this meant I was the only teacher those kids would see that whole week.
I loved my time with those seven- and eight-year-olds! I had so many great experiences with them and I truly looked forward both to seeing their faces in the mornings and receiving their hugs on their way out the door. They made me smile and laugh and think on my feet and it was awesome.
I had already considered it a wonderful three days, but the above text from the classroom teacher made my whole WEEK. Seriously. I can’t even tell you. For a girl who has Words of Affirmation as my top love language– by FAR– there was no greater gift.
4. Big Strings
There’s my A, flanked by high schoolers, playing the double bass at the String Festival (my favorite concert of the whole year.) He looked like death warmed over, to be honest. He was exhausted and fighting what I thought was a cold, but turned out to be influenza, AKA THE FLU. My apologies right now for exposing others– we truly didn’t know!
Anyway, he looked awful and I feared he’d fall over at any point, but, despite that, his playing was SPOT ON. His tone and rhythm were fantastic and I was super proud. That said, I realize I’m his mom, so I must own the possibility of bias.
A couple days after the concert, I received an email from his orchestra director, remarking on A’s playing– “He has a great ear and a solid sense of rhythm. His bass playing on Thursday was spot-on! It makes such a difference to have a solid bass player in any group.” So, hey, I’m not just a crazy mama. Seriously, though, I’m so thrilled that he has found a love for both cello and bass. Not only are they simply lovely to listen to, I’m also just over the moon happy that he’s enjoying music. Coming from a musical family, that just warms my heart.
5. Plans on the Horizon!
In less than two months, we’ll be at the beach. For a girl with salt-water in her veins, this is breathtakingly wonderful news. I cannot WAIT to feel the sand between my toes and fall asleep to the crashing waves. I also can’t wait to have my morning coffee down on the shore, watching the sun rise and reading a good book. The countdown has begun!!!
What are YOU loving this month?
I’m gonna level with you all…
I sat down this morning to write. I’m actually not teaching today, because my oldest child has been fighting fevers on and off for a week and it hit just under 104 yesterday. Long enough and high enough that even I– the notoriously uber calm mama of sickies– am taking him in to get checked out.
Anyhow, I have some time. And I miss writing! But, wouldn’t you know it, once I sat down? My brain went blank. Figures. Still, my fingers itch to get some words on the screen so, until my thoughts return to me, I decided, why not share what we’re eating?
This is the last full week of February and, if you know anything at all about me, you know that that means we’re in our “desperation mode” where I make random things out of whatever is left around here. Oddly, this is my husband’s favorite time of the month.
I do not do any major shopping during this phase, but I did run to ALDI yesterday to buy a few things. I grabbed six pounds of gala apples, three pounds of clementines, a gallon of milk, a dozen eggs, and some laundry detergent. I spent $12.06.
So, with that said, here’s the plan!
B–Cereal, Apples, Milk (for the kiddos, before 7:30AM Mass)
Brunch– Ham, Egg, and Cheese Sandwiches on Maple Cinnamon Bread, Clementines
Mid-afternoon Snack– Granola Bars (I’ll admit these weren’t homemade. We found granola bars on clearance at Big Lots one day for ten cents a box. What’s more? We had a 20% off coupon! So, yeah. We bought the eight cent boxes of pre-made granola bars.)
D– Herb Marinated Chicken, Broccoli, and Carrots over Jasmine Rice
B–Cinnamon Maple Toast, Apples, Milk
D–Hot & Sour Peanut Noodles
B–Oatmeal, Apples, Milk
D–Hot Dogs on Whole Wheat Buns, Carrot Sticks, Pickles
B–PB Toast w/ dried berries, Milk
D–Cheesy Beans & Rice
B–Fried Potatoes and Eggs, Apples
D–Pizza – ***Pizza Night is usually Friday around here. HOWEVER. We are in Lent and, well, I live with some carnivores. So, just for this week, I swapped pizza night to Thursday, so they could have a meaty pizza. I’m nice like that.
B–PB Toast, Apples, Milk
D–Fish Tacos– I use tilapia in these, because it’s really affordable and just picks up the flavors of the spices
B–Ham, Egg, and Cheese English Muffin sandwiches, clementines
D–Mac & Cheese w/ mixed veggies
And that should do it!
It’s been four years since I miscarried our fourth baby.
Holy cow, that sounds like a long time!
Honestly, even though they tell you that women will never, ever forget how old their child would be and all that, I actually sometimes do. It’s not that I don’t still mourn the loss of that precious life. I do! But I don’t necessarily DWELL and I believe I’ve subconsciously released some details from my memory just for my own sanity. Does that even make sense? I don’t know…
Anyway, I know it’s been four years because I was admitted into the hospital for a D & C on Leap Day and, well, that only comes around every four years.
At this point in February of that year, I was still blissfully unaware that anything was going wrong. But, because I lived through it, I’m realizing what a temporary period of elation that turned out to be.
So, it’s been four years.
And here’s what I’ll tell you.
I still have a hard time getting excited about pregnancy announcements– at first.
I no longer feel sucker-punched or devastated, but there’s a weird little ache that keeps my fingers from typing, “Congratulations!!!!! SOOOO excited for you!!!!!” at first sight of a cutesy little pregnancy announcement.
And that makes me feel like a real jacka$$, to be honest.
Nonetheless, it’s the truth.
However, and this is important, I do, indeed, feel very real joy for people. I look forward to the births of babies and I really don’t take it personally in any way, shape, or form. I expect others to be expecting and I consider that very happy news!
It just takes me a little bit.
Sometimes a couple days, sometimes just a couple hours, but I need to give my brain and heart that space in order to both acknowledge my own lingering pain, while opening myself to this couple’s beautiful news.
It is delayed joy, true.
But it is no less sincere.
And, so, if ever you’ve been on the receiving end of my belated congrats, please know that I’m doing my best. I’m truly, truly happy for you. I will wait with baited breath for news of gender and names and bump pics.
I just sometimes take a day or two to get there.
One day last Spring, I substitute taught in kindergarten. The class was, let’s say, energetic and, let’s be honest, I was fairly unseasoned in the world of kindergarten at that point. Nonetheless, I did my best and most of them followed suit. A couple children struggled to cooperate and I asked them to sit at their tables, rather than the carpet, until they were ready to be calm with the group.
I kept glancing at them periodically, because I was eager to invite them back. During one such glance, I happened to notice one little boy using his tool kit scissors to snip at his hair.
I put an end to that, got things back on track, and the day went on. At the end, while writing my note to the teacher, I mentioned that this child had had a tough day, was often defiant, and had cut his hair while at his table.
Now, unsurprisingly, this particular student was not known for being an angel. The teacher was in daily communications with his mother regarding how he was doing. In her email the following day, she (the teacher) mentioned the hair incident.
She was caught off-guard by the reply:
“I asked E. if he cut his hair. He insists he did not. Your substitute is a liar.”
Now, the classroom teacher knew I hadn’t lied. Let’s be honest here– what would I possibly stand to gain from claiming some child cut his hair? There is nothing about this that makes me look good or plays to my advantage.
On the other hand, let’s consider why a little five year old might perhaps not want to tell his mom the truth about cutting his hair.
Which seems more likely?
But, rather than consider that her son might want to avoid getting in trouble, the mother immediately jumped to calling me a liar.
I’d love to say that this is a very rare occurrence, but the truth is that it’s not. We’re living in a day and age when it is absolutely common for parents to believe their children over the teachers without exception.
And that’s a problem.
Listen, I GET that we need to be advocates for our kids. Trust me– I’m very familiar with having to speak up, call meetings, and make things happen in order to ensure that my children are getting the educations to which they’re entitled.
Teachers, in almost every case, are on the same side as parents.
They are not the enemy. They are not “liars.” They are not out to get our kids.
Are there sometimes missteps or miscommunications? Sure. We’re all human. But those things are easily resolved by calm-minded, allied people. I often point out that I have an incredible success rate with getting problems solved at the school– and it’s not because I go in there all ready to fight. I go in assuming we all want what’s best and will work together to get it fixed.
We need to draw the line between advocacy and blind support to the point of ignorance.
Stand up for your kids, yes.
But understand that that isn’t a synonym for standing against the teacher.
My Personal Goals for 2016 got eaten up into the abyss of the interwebz, and, honestly, I haven’t been able to bear the thought of rewriting and typing the whole thing with my still-hurt hand. But that doesn’t mean I can’t write! I’ve decided to move on to my Marital Goals post because, frankly, that’s more interesting than exercise, flossing, and regular check-ups, anyway.
Here’s what I’ve come up with. I thought long and hard about what sorts of things really help my marriage sing. I mean, our marriage is fine. We’re happy and committed and all that good stuff. But… are we regularly DELIGHTED by one another? Do we have time to just enjoy each other? Are we nurturing the communication and joy and discovery in our relationship? These things matter!
Marital Goals for 2016
1. Weekly Date Nights — reversed, whenever possible.
“Date Night” around here does not typically involve babysitters or restaurants. More often, it’s take-out after taking the older two kids to karate. I feed the kids Cheesy Beans & Rice (one of their FAVORITE meals), head out to karate, and my husband takes our youngest with him to go pick up grown-up food. I know that doesn’t sound exciting. But we look forward to it! Knowing we’ll have that time to eat together, just the two of us, and talk about and do what WE want is wonderful. Making it a “Reverse Date Night” is even better, in my opinion, because I needn’t worry that exhausted mommy will show up, yawning, and passing out before we can even spend time together.
2. Banner Year Getaway
At some point last year, I realized that during this year, 2016, my husband I would both turn 40 AND celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. Those are all big things! I decided we should do something special and I used part of my substitute teaching income last year to fund a “getaway” column in the budget. The money is already there. What’s left is to find a fantastic little getaway that will allow us to celebrate and relish our time some place fabulous, while not being gone too long, since I’m asking my parents to watch our kiddos in our absence. (They know this already. Don’t worry– this blog post isn’t going to be their first notice! )
The two of us, after our dinner out in Boston.
3. City Visit-- perhaps an overnight?
Early in December, my husband I made a trip into Boston for a surprise party in honor of my best friend’s 40th birthday. We arrived in the city earlier than we needed to be there and decided to just walk around and explore. Honestly, the whole visit was wonderful– we had a fabulous meal in a great restaurant, lots of fun conversation, and it was so great to celebrate with the woman who’s been my friend for 30 years! During the drive home, I recalled how nice it had been and remarked, “I even loved when we just walked around the city, holding hands, when we were early.” My husband smiled at me and said, quietly, “That was my favorite part.”
It was a really special time together! We had a blast walking the city blocks, checking out the holiday decorations, and just exploring together. We had tons of opportunities to meander through woods and mountains here, but, city streets? Not so much. We want to do it again. And, honestly? We’ve got quite a few major cities in easy proximity.
This set of goals makes me smile. These are all wonderfully fun things to look forward to, but they’re also important. We’ve learned that investing in time and travel together is important to us. We care more about visiting places than redecorating. I’d rather go on a getaway than get a new stove!
I’m fine, really, but, as my husband disgustingly put it– I filleted my hand.
Bear with me! I’m doing my best to type. I’ll be over on Facebook more as it heals. I’d love for you to hang with me there!
A few days ago, I shared my 2016 Family Goals with you all. They were fun!!! Today’s topic is not quite as fun, but it’s definitely important.
My husband and I are very finance-minded people who like to set goals and allocate funds accordingly. We already have meetings or check-ins periodically to make sure we’re on track and on the same page, but I wanted to craft some very specific goals for ME in terms of finance.
Ready to see what three things I came up with?
Finance Goals for 2016
1. Contribute > $100 extra payment toward Forester each month. Right after Christmas, we got a new vehicle. After much debate and research, we opted to get something larger, safer, more fuel-efficient, all-wheel-drive, and family-sized, even though we were replacing my husband’s sedan. This way, when we (inevitably) have to replace my minivan down the pike, we can just get any old tiny cheap thing. Because we live on a winding steep road and my husband’s work NEVER closes, we need at least one car that can handle ice and snow. Anyway, that’s a lot of background. But, since we made the decision we did, for the first time in basically forever, we do have a car payment. I’d like to see that gone ASAP. So, while my husband is already throwing extra money at it, I’m vowing to contribute at LEAST $100 of my own income toward the principal of that loan. I expect it was usually be a higher sum, but I want to be realistic and take into account that I don’t substitute teach over the summer months.
2. Begin funding van replacement. My minivan is still fine. I’m not in any hurry to replace it. But, let’s face it– it will need to be done at some point down the road. Since we have time, and we don’t have to get anything big or fancy next time, my plan is to have that one completely paid for before we even need it.
3. Research grant opportunities. So, here’s the thing. My husband is partway through his MBA, but his company just changed their tuition reimbursement plan and it is NOT good for us. Suddenly, pursuing that degree has become a costly venture. I want to see if there might be scholarships or grants to help. Also, my A. is so fascinated by so many topics and has discovered some amazing summer learning opportunities at various colleges and universities. Even though it might not even be for this summer, I’d like to look into grant possibilities to help cover something like that. They’re pricey. But they’re also very interesting. And, finally, (I feel like I want to whisper this), I’d like to look into possible grants or programs to help me pursue teaching as a career. I’ve been subbing for over a year now, averaging at least four days a week, and I love it. More than that, though I feel really arrogant saying it, I’m good at it. I’ve done it long enough now, and had enough feedback from teachers, students, parents, and administrators, to actually feel confident in saying I’m good at it. Part of me feels like I’m too old to be doing this, but I’d like to at least explore the possibility…
And that’s all she wrote! For Finance Goals, that is. I still have Marital and Personal Goals to share with you all.
I’m guessing it won’t come as a huge surprise to you all that I’m not a big “New Year’s resolution” kind of girl. I just don’t really like the pressure and, honestly, I’m so fickle that I get bored with resolutions (or “words”, for that matter) by the end of January.
That said, I’m still a big fan of fresh starts and goal-setting! And so, on December 31st, I took a little time, put pen to paper, and crafted some goals for 2016. These are not drastic changes I want to make or even tremendous achievements, for the most part– what they are are things I’ve deemed important enough to make priorities for the year.
I came up with four categories for my goals– Financial, Marital, Family, and Personal. Within each category, I came up with three goals. I’ve honestly gone back and forth a dozen times on whether or not I wanted to share them publicly but, hey, I’m a pretty transparent girl. And I trust we can talk about goals, dreams, and ideas without hurting or insulting one another.
To kick things off, I thought I’d share my “Family Goals” with you all.
Family Goals for 2016
1. Hike > or = to 1x/month. We love hiking. This has been well-established. This last summer, we just didn’t go as often as before and, honestly, that made me sad. Added to that, I realized we limited our hiking season to about six months of the year and, really? I relished the idea of exploring throughout the seasons. We went for a glorious hike on New Year’s Day and it was a total delight– snowflakes blowing around at the higher elevations and NO bugs, whatsoever. I’m already thrilled I wrote this goal!
2. Visit 1+ capital city. When I attended a blogging conference, we spent some time in Harrisburg, PA. Last summer, on our “trip to nowhere”, we wound up in Albany, NY. And we learned something– we LOVE exploring capital cities! My husband and I were utterly delighted to wander these treasure troves with our little ones. We realized that, despite our proximity to NYC and Boston (<–I realize Boston is also a capital), these visits to (smaller) capital cities are also super valuable and enjoyable! I didn’t hesitate to add this one to the list. Since New England states are pretty small, it’s not that hard to get to MA, RI, VT, NH, NY, NJ, DE, etc. I’m excited to see where we wind up!
3. Spring Break at the beach. For the past two years, we’ve headed down to the Outer Banks the first week of summer vacation. There are a lot of things I love about that plan and we’ve very much enjoyed it. I love finding a familiar, beautiful spot and revisiting it year after year. My husband, however, craves new places. I know that having our big “summer trip” be to the same spot again did not really appeal to him. He, on the other hand, knows how much the sea calls to me and how much I cherish our time in that spot. When I discovered that we could stay a week in the Spring for about HALF what a week in late June costs– which is still significantly less than what July or August cost, FYI– I got the bright idea that we could do Spring Break there and go somewhere else in the summer. What a happy compromise! And we’re both excited to try something new.
And that’ll do it. At least for family goals. I have more dreams and ambitions for the upcoming year! I’ll share more of those very soon. In the meantime, I’d love to know– did you make any resolutions or set any goals for 2016?
When the topic of meal planning comes up, there are typically two big schools of thought– there are those who despise it and find it tedious and boring and there are those who LOVE it and are passionate list-makers. Within each of those, of course, there are sub-groups, but that’s the the general breakdown.
The planners and list-makers will work tirelessly to try to convince the resistant free-spirits that adopting this process will improve their lives– they’ll save time! save money! be prepared for anything!
They’re not wrong, really. There’s a lot to be said for planning ahead and there are clear benefits. The dedicated meal planners believe in the process and they tend to want to teach others how to implement it. And that’s great.
On the flip-side, there’s the crew who hates the whole idea. “How am I supposed to know today, Sunday, what I’m going to want for dinner on Wednesday?” they ask. “What if I change my plans?” And, finally, “Who wants to spend so much time scanning fliers, making lists, and organizing meals?”
They’re not wrong, either. While it might shock the most devoted list-lovers, some people really, really don’t like planning. It may not come naturally and, thus, it’s harder. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to be done sometimes– but if it’s optional? Some folks would rather skip it.
We have those who carefully plan. We have those who fly by the seats of their pants.
Here’s what I have to say about it all–
It doesn’t have to be ALL or NOTHING.
I spent years crafting careful monthly meal plans and compiling the accompanying detailed lists, calculating quantities precisely. I would sit with a cute little printed-off “meal plan” from one blog or another and dutifully pencil in all our meals.
It worked. It obviously didn’t kill me. And, honestly, I’d been convinced it was the best (read: ONLY) way to be a good homemaker, so I went along with it.
But then, a couple years ago, I found myself in ALDI one day with absolutely no list in hand. I knew we needed stuff. We were down to total dregs. I walked through the sliding glass door and took a deep breath.
And I shopped.
I didn’t worry about meal plans or ideas. I simply walked the aisles, grabbing items that I knew we used on a consistent basis and those that were stellar deals. I maybe grabbed an impulse buy or two, but not much. I had a strong, intuitive sense of what I used in the kitchen and I just rolled with it.
When I got home, I unpacked and restocked.
And then I made a plan.
Taking in what I now had in the fridge and pantry, I formulated a plan for what sounded good and fit our schedule for the week. I could really visualize things together and come up with creative new ideas because all the things were THERE, in front of me. Since I’m not much of a “recipe” girl, anyway, this was incredibly freeing and fun for me.
That’s how I meal plan now.
I know some of you are wringing your hands over my lack of a shopping list. I know some of you are sitting there thinking, “But you still had to PLAN.” I’m not saying that my method would be perfect for everyone, or even the majority.
But it’s perfect for me.
And that’s what I really want to convey– when you read all these articles touting the value and importance of lists and meal-planning, keep in mind that there’s absolutely no reason you can’t implement some planning in a way that fits your own lifestyle and personality. There are people who really, truly LOVE lists. And that’s awesome! There are people who find that their lives are just so much better with a detailed plan. Nothing wrong with that!
But, if you don’t fit in those categories? You’re not broken. And you don’t need to fight your own instincts in order to do the “right” thing.
Take it from a girl whose meal planning wouldn’t pass muster with many but who’s finally found her groove.
Five years ago, I was planning a great family party for my little C, who was turning five years old.Though I was certainly busy at home with little ones, in that season, I still had more time than money. With that in mind, I had concocted a delicious, completely homemade, menu. I would make my little girl’s favorites, all from scratch. Macaroni and cheese. Cinnamon rolls. Mini pizzas. Pink cupcakes. The list was vast and I was excited.
I woke the day before the party and laid out my game plan. I mixed up the cinnamon roll and pizza doughs; set them aside to rise. I blended herbs and spices into crushed tomatoes to make my homemade pizza sauce and set it to simmer.
And then I watched in alarm as an ice storm started brewing.
The sky darkened and the sound of ice coating our roof made me wince. I watched the glacial coating thicken on branches and powerlines.
And then the inevitable happened–
The power went out.
It is a common experience of many to sort of enjoy storms– until the power goes out. Many of us can be content stuck at home, but the charm fades when the electricity is gone.
I stared at my rising dough. I looked at my now-cool burner. I shivered as my house grew colder.
And I started to cry.
My house grew even colder yet. My shivering little children grew hungrier. They were young– just 5, 4, and 1. Salty trails dried on my cheeks and, defeated, I carried a candle from room to room. It was December 20-something and the sun set super early. The icy blackness made me angry and brokenly sad.
“Why don’t we drive into town and try to find a restaurant?” my husband asked gently. “The kids can warm up and we all need to eat.”
I nodded and bundled them up.
We slid down our windy mountain road and made it safely into town. The heat from the car felt lovely and I smiled a half smile when I saw lights blazing in buildings.
We huddled into Friendly’s and waited for a table. The kids thought it was a lark, this impromptu adventure of ours, and happily stuffed their bellies with chicken strips and ice cream.
Surrounded by warmth and light and chatter, I felt the tight grip in my belly ease a bit. I poked at the spinach wrap on my plate and asked, “Do you mind stopping at Stop & Shop on the way home?”
My husband tipped his head a bit, “Sure, we can do that. What do you need?”
“Just some party stuff,” I answered, smiling weakly.
He drove the minivan through the slushy, icy parking lot of the grocery store and I scurried on in.
It was a ghost town in that usually bustling store and I ventured around haphazardly, swinging a purple plastic basket.
I bought little rolls at the deli. A package of ham and one of turkey. Some sliced cheese. A bag of oranges and one of apples. Some crackers. I grabbed a bottle of cranberry juice and a 2 liter of ginger ale. I strolled by the bakery and snagged some garishly bright pink cupcakes. On a whim, I picked up a big bag of tater tots on the chance the power might be restored by party time. I knew I’d have to store my cold stuff outside if the power wasn’t back, but I didn’t let that faze me.
We headed home and held our breath as we approached our neighborhood.
Alas, our street was still in blackness.
We headed indoors and, while my husband helped get little limbs in snuggly jammies, I carefully placed our cold goods in a waterproof bag out on the ice.
We tucked in sleepy, rosy-cheeked children and piled their covers high. Shortly after, we burrowed under our own covers.
We woke to a flashing alarm clock.
Still, the party was early in the day and there was no time to complete the original plan.
We welcomed people into our home and let them make their own tiny sandwiches on store-bought rolls. I baked up piles of tater tots and they were wildly popular. I served sickly sweet, greasy-frosted cupcakes and no one complained.
We laughed. We sang. We celebrated.
Because, at the end of the day, it was never about the spread I served up. It was about celebrating the birth of an amazing little girl. Though my arrogance had me believing otherwise, the truth was simply this–
There was really no way for me to screw it up.
And so it goes this time of year. As we hustle and bustle and trim and treasure and flourish and festoon, the reality is that those are all just trappings. Are they good things? Sure. Just like homemade cinnamon rolls are good things. But do they MATTER? Not really.
We’re not celebrating trees and cookies and lights and elves and bows and finery. We’re celebrating the birth of a Savior.
And nothing you can do (or not do) will screw that up.