Sunday, October 30, 2011

Meal Plan Plan {i.e. planning to make a plan}

I am big on organizational intentions and not much on follow through. 
That's because I'm  lazy right brained, creative, and spontaneous. 
It's been a helpful thing to recognize this and learn to adapt my plans to this reality. 

Here's how I compensate for my loss of motivation in follow-through: 
keep it super-simple.

For me this involves thinking through the spaces in our home, how we use them, 
and what super-simple things I could do to maintain them. 

This is our entry/mud room/music room (below). 
Like most of the spaces in our home it does double and triple-duty. After tripping on backpacks, music bags, and shoes for years, we finally realized we needed a place, right here by the door, to keep these things.  
I'd love to have a long bench with cubbies and cute little chalkboard tags, a hook for each member of the family, and a shelf to display lovely storage-y items.  Instead I have a big basket and a wooden crate. 
It's super-simple. It works. 

Meal planning is similar. There are a few necessary steps: deciding which meals to make, 
grocery shopping, thawing/prepping early in the day, making and serving the meal. 
I used to get stalled after and even during the shopping part. 
Something about the implementation broke-down and I bought things I thought we would eat 
but didn't have a plan for, my meats were never thawed at the right time, 
and I still felt at a loss in knowing on any given day what to make for dinner.

Here's my simple solution:

1. Make a long list of meals our family eats and use this as reference while meal planning. (I keep this on my computer.) What a relief not to have to come up with meals from my scattered and uncooperative memory.

2. Look at the weather and our weekly schedule and plan meals that work for this week. (I am pretty moody when it comes to cooking and I know I'm not going to want a roast when it's warm outside.)

3. Write down which meal will be made on which day. I write mine on the chalkboard in the kitchen. That way I don't have to make a decision each day about what we will have for dinner. There's a default, super-simple list already in place to tell me what needs to be thawed or prepped or what have you.

4. Shop for those specific meals and try not to impulse-buy. (Especially at Costco!)

This works for me. What works for you?

{P.S. This week's meal plan is already on the wall.}

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Living Room Wall {or making a minimally fall-ish mantle}

We've had some overcast days here lately, it's been possible to wear a sweater or a scarf (or both), in the evening, if you don't mind feeling a little warm ~ hooray! 
So it's time for a little mantle-tweaking, re-arranging, fall-ifying fun.

This year I kept it simple, no pumpkins, no turkeys, no cornucopias ~ just a little bit of warmth from the rusts and golds I found when I shopped the house.

Oh, and some leafy branches from an overgrown shrub in our backyard. 
Don't underestimate the decorating power of weeds and random cuttings. 
This arrangement has lasted over a week and still looks good.  
I painted the oil painting when I was in college. It's a study of a Van Gogh.

We've done a lot of work on this wall since we moved in six years ago. 
The lower half of the bookshelves were here when we bought the house, but there was a big empty space in the middle and nothing on the upper half of the wall.

I designed the mantle and the upper bookshelves and our handyman-carpenter friend Louie built them. 
What do you think about my solution for hiding the T.V.? 

For the surround, I ordered salvaged antique majolica tile on ebay 
(in keeping with the time period our home was built). 
I'm not sure how happy I am now with that choice. Kinda wishing I'd gone all white 
for the flexibility it would give me in decorating.

In the upper bookshelves I'm trying to capture a quirky collected naturalist look (that's a look, right?). 
My sister sculpted the mini bust
~ that's a little quirky ~ 
and so is the venus fly-trap painted on the Portmeirion vase.

And those light tan books spanning the width of the wall (below) are one of Scott's best deal finds ever. 
He bought a complete set of Harvard Classics (copyright 1937) at a garage sale for $5. 
That's a collection of the greatest works of the Western cannon, from Plato to Luther and more, 
originally advertised as "The Five-Foot Shelf of Books." 
They are beautiful, most had never been opened, and we actually use them!

It's kinda fall-ish, right?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Monday Meal Plan

 Last week I basically stuck to the plan, with a few minor modifications. 

A few inspiration photos ~ 

{oven-roasted asparagus} 

 {grilled Teriyaki chicken skewers}

This week I'm planning fewer meals because of 
Grace EV Free's Men's Conference, which Scott will be attending.

Monday ~ Greek chili, pita chips, celery, carrots and hummus
Tuesday ~ leftovers (date night!)
Wednesday ~ fish tacos, beans and rice
Thursday ~ tri-tip, roasted cauliflower, salad

What can you inspire us with?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Dropping By

I live in a place where walking over and dropping by are possible. Part of me wants all my loved ones in this place, where the ease of connection is natural and personal, where our friendship is mediated by sidewalks and fences. It's a gift that some of those loved ones do or have lived in this circumference reachable to me through physical and human means.

I have a neighbor who (for a season, when we were both home and getting very little ones through the day) would drop by. She just wandered over and I welcomed her in, or we sat on the stoop, and she saw my unswept floor and my piles of laundry. And I wandered over, in the long days, past her house and she welcomed me in and served me coffee, and neither of us had the time  or concern in those moments of contact to worry for more than a moment about tidying up or hostessing well.

I have another friend who lived nearby for a while and I loved how she found me at times, still in my pajamas, late in the morning, but happy to see her. And she would make the kids an impromptu picnic and we would chat.

It's not at all that I want constant involvement, or a full house (I like an empty house a lot of the time, introvert that I am). But when I am looking at you, when we are both present, there's a grace that flows more freely, there's a different kind of knowing, and being a part, and accepting.

If you know me well at all, you know that I don't carry a cell phone and I don't text and I'm not much for talking on the phone. Honestly, all those ways of developing and maintaining friendship make me a little anxious. But I'd love to wander over and see if you're home. Notice if you are busy, and if you are, just say hello and keep on going. And if you're not, maybe stay a while and catch up and laugh at the kids or the dog or just the mess.

I'm not really ready for it. There are dirty dishes here and there and I haven't dried my hair yet, but if you didn't mind a lot of imperfection, and you were wandering past, or wanting some human contact, or just getting through the day, wouldn't it be great if you could just walk over and drop by?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Party Like a Ninja

Today is Jack's birthday!
This weekend we celebrated ninja-style ~ 
silently, stealthily . . . ok, maybe not so much like ninjas, 
but we did our best.

The decorations were all black, red and white from the invitations to the cupcakes.
I made origami throwing stars for the ninja warrior training session.
{All links to inspiration and tutorials are at the end of this post.}

Jack was a red ninja ~ Hiya!

I made an enemy ninja as a target for the throwing stars.

Part of the warrior training was this string obstacle course. 
They had to try to slip through as stealthily as possible.

We had an expert ninja master to demonstrate the way of the ninja warrior.

He presented the ninja warriors with their headbands and swords.

After all the preparation and practice, the ninjas were let loose on the enemy.

I drew ninja masks on about 20 helium-filled balloons and anchored them around the front yard.
The kids attacked them and popped every last one! fast! faster than I could photograph.

I made sneaky ninja cupcakes for the victorious warriors.

Happy Birthday 5 year-old!

decoration inspiration, and more

Monday Meal Plan

Once again I'm planning the menu for the week. 
Last week I did manage to make Giada's Pork Milanese (woohoo! cheers! hurray!). 
It was the most popular meal of the week. I highly recommend it!

{click here for the link to the recipe}

We didn't use two of the meals I planned last week, 
since we spontaneously had dinner out one night and leftovers another. 
So, I can carry over those meals to this week.

Here's the plan:

Monday ~ Costco roasted chicken and green beans
Tuesday ~ grilled salmon, couscous, salad
Wednesday ~ pizza for the kids (date night!)
Thursday ~ teriyaki chicken, rice, pineapple, salad
Friday ~ grilled steak skewers, salad, pita and hummus

If you care to share ~
What are some of your family's favorite meals?

Monday, October 10, 2011

What We're Having . . . {for dinner!}

In the last year I've actually begun meal planning regularly. 
It fits with the part of me that dreams of being organized. (key word: dreams)
I got a kick-start from a meal-swap co-op I did with friends which filled me with cooking inspiration
and helped me to form the habit of planning meals (and shopping for them!) each week. 

Mondays are my planning and shopping day.

Here's my plan for this week:

Monday ~ fish tacos, rice, and beans
Tuesday ~ leftovers for the kiddos (date night!)
Wednesday ~ Giada's pork Milanese, rice pilaf, and brussel sprouts 
(we'll see if this one happens, it's a little more involved than my norm)
Thursday ~ burgers and sweet potato fries
Friday ~ teriyaki chicken and salad
Saturday ~ salmon, couscous, and salad

I try to plan which day I'll make each meal, but we're flexible 
and often a meal or two is dropped or switched as things come up and plans change.

Care to share what you're having for dinner?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Super-Yummy Lentil Soup Recipe {this one's for you, Steph}

Here's a delicious variation on lentil soup passed along to me by my sister, Carrie. 
It's super-easy to make in the crock pot and there are a few tasty twists included: 
 balsamic vinegar, shredded cabbage and spinach (to add a little crunch),
and a dollop of goat cheese.


                                                               1 onion, chopped
                                                               4 carrots, sliced
                                                               3 stalks of celery, sliced
                                                               4 garlic cloves, minced
                                                               2 bay leaves
                                                               2 tsp. basil
                                                               2 tsp. oregano
                                                               2 cups dry lentils
                                                               6 cups vegetable broth
                                                               1 cup water
                                                               2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
                                                               2 potatoes, peeled and cubed

                                                               2-3 big handfuls of fresh spinach, sliced thin
                                                               1 cup fresh cabbage, sliced thin
                                                               soft goat cheese

Put everything except the spinach, cabbage and goat cheese in the crock pot for 4 hours on high. 
Add the spinach and cabbage for the last 30 minutes. 
Top with goat cheese and serve with crusty bread.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Old Ennui

I've been on a bit of a binge lately. A reading, thinking, longing kind of a binge. Sometimes things coalesce in just the right (or wrong) way to bring about the old ennui. Or, The Old Ennui, I should say. A familiar sort of friend. Do you know about ennui? You must.

It's a French word. The French are perhaps more inclined than we are to dwell long enough on a particular vague experience or feeling to call it out of the shadows and give it shape. Years ago, in reading Kate Chopin's The Awakening, I came upon the word and something previously felt but unnamed became clearer. The naming helps I think.
But as she sat there amid her guests she felt the old ennui overtaking her; the hopelessness which so often assailed her, which came upon her like an obsession, like something extraneous, independent of volition. It was something which announced itself, a chill breath that seemed to issue from some vast cavern wherein discords wailed. There came over her that acute longing...
(p. 232)

Perhaps Chopin overstates the experience with some hyperbolic drama. Her allusion to the pounding, pulsing, emotional cacophony that is Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" might tip the balance that way. But still,

The Old Ennui arrives, unasked, perhaps overwhelming, but at the very least insistently tugging at the edges of the day, in the quiet moments or in the ones that are so busy and loud and full that you turn inside for just a moment of respite and there you find it, the intangible, unarticulated longing brought on, no doubt, by some half conscious reverie.

For me, this time, brought on by reading an analysis of neuroscience and culture (Nicholas Carr's The Shallows) alongside quiet stories of lost simplicity, unspoken commitments, and joyful work (Wendel Berry's That Distant Land). Add to that a long solitary airplane flight with time to be still, a daily infusion of laundry and dishes, and a disposition bent toward . . . well, toward ennui. Deadly, I tell you.

It's a struggle, with a kind of sweetness. To pull oneself up out of the romantic vision and see, engage, and enjoy or endure the real moments. To know that the longing yearns toward what cannot be attained, and that it can lead one onward always into discontentment and worse. However, to recognize also that it speaks of something better, the way things ought to be. C. S. Lewis knew this pull mingled with promise and called it "joy." And he found, finally, that it hearkens toward heaven. In the sharpest moments of ennui, in the caverns wherein discords wail, it is good to have these names, and to have this hope held out.

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