Friday, August 16, 2013

Meal Planning

One of my most hated chores has become meal planning, especially during the school year. I like to do it weekly and shop for the entire week so that I always know what's for dinner and have all the items I need at hand. I tried shopping on Fridays on my way home from school this past year, so Thursday nights, often when I was already dead tired, I had to try to figure out what to serve for dinner the following week. What a headache. This summer I finally came up with a way to simplify it. It was a lot of work up front, but it will save me the weekly stress of planning. I've used it for seven weeks now this summer and love it!

First, I wrote down the name of the recipes I use most often from my cookbooks. It's funny how I have over 3 dozen cookbooks (I counted), but I use just a few recipes regularly from only about ten of them. I really should purge, but it's so hard to part with cookbooks!

Next, I pulled the recipe cards I use most often. My favorite recipes in the past few years have come from, so many of my "recipe cards" are actually printouts from that site. Altogether, I pulled together about 50 recipes--dishes I cook several times throughout the year.

I then made a meal planning template and began to plan. I decided to use a system: Crock pot Sundays, Mexican Mondays, Soup Tuesdays, Pasta Wednesdays, Anything Goes Thursdays, and Pizza Fridays. We always go out on Saturday nights after church. I chose to serve beef or pork/ham just once a week, chicken twice a week, and fish or vegetarian twice a week, not counting pizza night. I plugged in the names of the main dishes as well as side dishes for nine weeks worth of meals. On most weeks, I also have alternates listed to allow for more variety.

On the templates, I included the page numbers of the recipes I use from cookbooks. I didn't include the cookbook title because I can remember without it. I put the recipe cards in quart-sized zip lock baggies labeled by the week (Week 1 through Week 9). I put the baggies of recipes in a pencil bag like students clip into their binders, and I keep that alongside my cookbooks.

Each week on the night before I plan to go grocery shopping, I simply look at the week's plan, pull out the baggie for the week, and check the recipe cards and cookbook recipes for ingredients to write on my grocery list. I keep most nonperishables and frozen meats on stock at all times--as soon as I take something out of the freezer or pantry, I write it down on my grocery list--so I usually just have to add fresh produce and dairy products to my list for the week's meals.

I actually have begun to make a document listing the ingredients for each recipe so that I can just look at that, but it's far from finished. I might have to work on that next summer since this one is almost over, and it's back to school for me. At least now with this system I have one less thing to stress about each week.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Mom is Free

Eulogy for Mom
Thelma Blackstone
February 13, 1944-June 15, 2012
                For as long as I can remember, whenever anyone has asked me whom I most admire, or who is the most influential person in my life, or who is my hero, my answer has been “my mom.” I’ve tried to put into words why this is, and I’ve found it difficult. It all sounds so trite on paper in light of who she was and what she meant to me.
She was wise, gentle, loving, and curious about the world, and I admired those traits about her most. She loved all people, not just those who looked like her or experienced life in the same way she did. Differences in cultures and beliefs didn’t scare her, they interested her. I’m not sure what scared her, if anything. She embraced life as it came. She loved going out and doing things, taking my sister and me, and later our children, along for the fun.  Together we went to countless plays, musicals, concerts, fairs, movies, teas, exhibits, tours, and fun classes. She also loved parties, attending them as well as throwing them. Her favorite parties involved costumes.
I admired the way she balanced work and family life. She went to college for the first time when my sister and I were little, eventually earning her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing. I remember Dad was so proud of her 4.0’s. As a nurse, she was well-respected and loved and became nurse manager for a time. After she got sick, we met more than one nurse who had worked with her at the Salem Hospital, and they all spoke of her fondly. One of them said, “She was the best boss I ever had.” I’m sure many more felt that same way. But despite her dedication to her job, she was still actively involved in the lives of my sister and me. We didn’t ever feel neglected or in her way. We were treasured daughters to the end.
Even toward the end of her life, she was a hero. She tried so hard to continue doing the things she was used to doing, even when her body and mind would no longer cooperate. It would have been easier for her to sit down and stop trying, but she was determined to keep going. While it is common for people with her condition to become angry and hostile, Mom remained consistently loving and gentle as she always had been. She is my inspiration for who I most want to be like.
I always knew my mom was a hero, but through this experience I learned that I was actually raised by two heroes. My dad’s dedication to Mom these past few years has been nothing short of heroic. I’ve read about love like that before and have probably seen it in a few movies, but with this experience, I saw it played out before my very eyes. I want my dad to know how deeply grateful I am for how lovingly he treated Mom during her illness, caring for her physical and emotional needs and doing everything he could to preserve her dignity.
I’m also grateful to my aunts, uncles, and cousins who have been so supportive during this time, especially Aunt Lorene who gave so much of her time to Mom. I’m grateful to Dad’s church family and mine for all their love and support, as well as friends and co-workers. And I’m grateful to the staff at Farmington Square who so lovingly cared for Mom since September. Most of all, I’m grateful to Alan, Mitchell, and Isaac who have been unfailingly patient, loving, and supportive as so much of my attention lately has been on my mom.
Now I have to get used to life without seeing her or touching her, and that’s still hard to imagine. But she once told me something that has proven true in my life time and time again. We were talking about my grandmas, both of whom had to bury a young son. I told her I didn’t know how they could bear it. She said that when I go through hard times, I’ll discover resources both within myself and surrounding me that I didn’t even know I had. So far she’s been right, so once again, I draw on those resources: my family and friends, and most of all, my Lord. She’s with Him now, and the door to Heaven has been cracked a little wider for me. When the time is right, I eagerly anticipate joining her there. I’m sure she’s busy planning a party for me. I can’t imagine what’s on the menu, but we’ll probably be wearing costumes.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Saving My Sanity with Routine Charts

Isaac is a good-hearted, well-intentioned boy who simply lacks focus. Early on I found he could not follow multiple directions. I could not say "Pick up your toys, put your pajamas on, use the toilet, and brush your teeth" and then expect him to do it without follow-up. I had to tell him to do one thing at a time, sometimes more than once...several times a day. I felt like I was constantly nagging him in the mornings, after school, and at bedtime. I often felt irritated and frustrated with him, but even more so with myself because I really didn't think his lollygagging was intentional. I called him Pokey Little Puppy. Needless to say, our relationship has often been bitter-sweet as we love each other but also have driven each other crazy.

For a couple of years now, I've considered making him "to do" lists to follow each morning, but I resisted for several reasons. Primarily, I didn't think it would work. Two weeks ago, however, I became inspired by to give it a shot. I used for templates to make computer-generated routine charts. I've made one for weekday mornings, after school, evenings, weekend/holiday mornings, and extra chores. I laminated each chart and stapled them to a bulletin board hung in his room. A dry erase marker sits on top for his use. I erase them every Sunday, and then he starts over.

Let me tell you--this has changed my life! My 10-year-old son loves being able to follow his charts to see his progress. The nagging has almost entirely stopped. He told me he feels like a grown-up now. My stress has gone down tremendously. He may not have any "screen time" after school or on weekend mornings until his chart is complete for that time of day. I've also linked his charts with allowance. Isaac has never had an allowance before, but I believe it's time for him to learn to manage his own money. Now on Sundays I give him four dollars. One dollar goes into a "charity" envelope. He can give it to church the next weekend or save it for another cause. Another dollar goes into a "savings" envelope. This will eventually go into a savings account at a bank that he will draw from to pay for his college books. The remaining two dollars are his to spend or save as he sees fit. However, for every "hole" on his charts for the week, he loses 25 cents. He may earn additional money by doing tasks on the extra chores chart.

Here is what I put on each chart:

Weekday Morning Routine
Get dressed
Comb hair
Eat breakfast
Dishes in dishwasher
Brush teeth
Make bed
Fill water bottle

After School Routine
Put away shoes/jacket
Empty water bottle and lunch bag
Eat snack
Clean up snack

Evening Routine
Pick up living room
Take bath
Brush teeth
Wipe sink
Clean eyeglasses

Weekend/Holiday Morning Routine
Just like weekday morning, but no water bottle, and I added reading, spelling practice, other homework (if needed), and pick up bedroom.

Homework Help

When it comes to their attitudes toward school and approaches to homework, my two boys couldn't be more different. The oldest is an introvert. He loves learning and is a high achiever, now excelling in his first year of college. I rarely needed to help him with homework, and it was not a stressful experience for either of us. As soon as he got home from school, he did his homework with no prompting and finished it quickly.

My youngest son is an extrovert. His favorite parts of school are daycare before and after school, recess, lunch, and PE because he gets to play and interact with his friends. He's bright and capable like his brother, but to sit down and do math, practice spelling words, and writing essays is "boring" and tedious to him. He is now almost done with fourth grade and has only recently begun to do homework with little to no prompting. Up through the beginning of this year, it was a horrendous, stressful battle for both of us. I dreaded Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays after school because those are homework days. I work as a learning specialist for a middle/high school, and I felt like a failure with my own son. It's easier telling other parents how to help their kids and when to back off--much harder when it's my own kid!

I don't know for sure what has changed my son's attitude toward homework, but I believe most of it is growing maturity. Beyond that, I credit the following:

1. Homework is a non-negotiable--for the most part (I'll get to that in #3). It's a priority in our household and comes before any "screen" time. I've heard many parents say that their kids need a break after school before doing homework. I agree to an extent (see #2), but I believe that unless the child lives right next door to the school, the walk or drive home has already been a long enough break. I expect my children to begin homework within the first 15 minutes after arriving home while their brains are still in learning mode. If I let them watch TV or play video games first, it is much harder to get their brains refocused for school work.

2. Before beginning homework, my son has a few tasks: Empty his lunch bag and water bottle, put his shoes away, hang up his jacket, eat a relatively healthy snack with some protein and/or complex carbs (think apple slices and peanut butter, skim milk, fat free Fig Newtons, string cheese, yogurt, Wheat Thins, etc.), and clean up the snack. This takes about 15 minutes, and then it's time to crack the books.

3. My son began to turn a corner when he realized that I was on his side and would advocate on his behalf if I believe the day's homework load was unreasonable or if extenuating circumstances made homework a low priority on a (rare) given day. After talking with his teacher, she agreed that I could jot a note letting her know that he did not do all his homework, why he didn't, when he would get to it, and what he needed to accomplish it (if extra help was required). I've only had to do this a couple of times this school year, but those times went a long way for convincing my son that I had his back--that HE was more important to me than his accomplishments. However, he did not get screen time those days. He could still play with Legos or with other toys, but no TV or video games.

4. I praise hard work when he brings home high scores on tests and assignments. I tell him how proud I am of him. I ignore most of his lower scores. Over time, the high scores have increased as he's experienced the pride of doing well, and the low scores have decreased.

5. My son likes it when homework is turned into a game. I've googled "math games", "pronoun games", "states and capitals games", and other such topics to find online games he can play to strengthen his knowledge and skills. I am nearby to make sure he's actually learning and understanding. In addition to online spelling games, I've used an individual white board with him for spelling practice. He responds to that much better than practicing with a pencil on notebook paper. He's enjoyed challenges using the kitchen timer as well. I set the timer for 10 minutes and challenge him to complete five math problems or answer five chapter review questions within that time.

6. I've created a homework zone for him. A bookcase in my dining room contains everything he needs to organize and complete homework: Notebook paper, pencils, pens, eraser, glue sticks, scissors, markers, colored pencils, dictionary, extra folders, hole punch, hole reinforcers, pencil sharpener (preferably electric or battery-powered). The computer and a stapler are nearby. Everything he needs is easy to find and use to cut down on frustration.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Working Full Time and Keeping a Clean House: Is it Possible?

I have attempted the impossible--keeping my house spotles while working full-time--and although I now accept the impossibility of spotlessness, at least I've picked up some helpful ideas along the way.

1. I've divided my weekly housekeeping into two categories: dusting and vacuuming is one, and bathroom cleaning is the other. I alternate those tasks on weekends. One weekend I'll thoroughly vacuum and dust. The next weekend I'll thoroughly clean the bathrooms. On the bathroom weekends, I'll just pick up visible debris on the carpets with my hands or vacuum only high traffic areas (no dusting). I use a sticky lint roller on my furniture to get up some of the cat fur. On the vacuum/dust weekends, I'll clean spots off the bathroom mirrors and wipe down sinks, counters, and toilets with a Clorox wipe (no shower or tub cleaning).

2. The kitchen is cleaned every evening after dinner--dishes washed and left in the drainer to air dry and put away in the morning; counters and stove wiped down; spots wiped on refrigerator, microwave, dishwasher, and cupboards (if noticed); floor swept and spot cleaned if necessary. Occasionally on the weekend I'll do a thorough mopping with a Swiffer Wet Jet mop.

3. I do one load of laundry every evening, right when I get home from work. Mondays = dark, Tuesdays = white, Wednesdays = red/orange/pink, Thursday = "catch up" if needed, Friday = dress clothes/delicates, Saturday = sheets/towels, Sunday = jeans.

4. I grocery shop on weekends, but I plan to switch that to Fridays on my way home from work. I keep a running shopping list on my refrigerator. Then I plan my menu for the week and add to my grocery list the night before I go. That cuts down on multiple trips to pick up forgotten items throughout the week. It also helps me to plan ahead to take items out of the freezer to thaw in the refrigerator a couple of days before needing them. I give myself a break on Friday nights by picking up an unbaked pizza, and on Saturday nights we go out to eat, taking turns choosing the restaurant.

5. Everyone in the family picks up his or her own items and puts them away before going to bed so clutter is kept to a minimum. Beds are made each morning by whomever slept in them.

6. Mail is dealt with daily: recycled, filed, or put in a "to do" pile which is done every weekend. I buy calendars with monthly pockets from the Current catalog in which I place items needed for later weeks or months such as season tickets for our local theater, field trip information, etc. I tried to do a link to these calendars, but it looks like the product may have been discontinued. If so, I'll switch to "Tickler Files."

7. Zone cleaning. I got this idea from Fly Lady I've made my own version of it to fit my house. For example, my one zone task for this week is to vacuum under and behind my living room furniture. This is one of my larger zone jobs, but it should only take about a half hour. I'll do it on Saturday. Last week's zone task was to clean out my bedroom shelves and drawers. I purge, organize, and straighten things. Since I do this every year, I usually don't have much to purge, so it really doesn't take long. I love how organized my nightstand is now! By working in zones, I literally purge, organize and clean my whole house once a year, but it's never a huge, overwhelming task. I confess that sometimes life works in a way that I may not get to three or four weeks of zone cleaning, and then I'll do them all at once. But since each task is relatively small, it's not too bad.

So...if you come to my house right now, you'll find some leftover cat fur on the furniture (it was just bathroom weekend), maybe some pine needles or other debris on the floor. There are probably some mirror splatters by now in the bathroom. A light film of dust covers all flat surfaces, but you won't notice it in most places unless you're looking for it. You'll find some dust bunnies behind my living room furniture and crumbs under the cushions of the sofa in my family room. The oven needs cleaning inside. But overall, it looks pretty good, and I'm content. Last weekend besides the bathrooms and a little zone cleaning, I read, went shopping for craft supplies (4 different stores!), did two different crafts, visited Pinterest and Facebook, cleaned out my email inbox, went to church, deep cleaned most of my dad's kitchen, did laundry, went out to dinner with friends, exercised both days, and had some quiet time with God both days. is possible to work full-time, keep a clean (enough) house, and enjoy some fulfilling personal time. Just don't expect spotless unless you hire a housekeeping service.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Rebellion Prevention Tips

I've been a little nervous to post parenting tips because I don't feel in any way that I'm an expert. I've made a ton of mistakes. But I have raised one responsible, respectful son and am pleased with how son number two is turning out as well. I must have done some things right. I raise my kids with the motto "Rules without relationship leads to rebellion." Of course without any rules or discipline, many kids will behave like little savages and make dangerous choices as teenagers. However, if I give my boys rules but don't cultivate my relationship with them, I can expect just as much bad behavior in the form of rebellion. The following are some things I've done to keep the relationship I have with my boys on a positive note:

1. I've picked my battles, depending on their age. Some things are non-negotiable such as teeth brushing and no hitting. If I want to say "no" just because it's more convenient for me, then I shut my mouth and let them do what they want (such as scatter Legos all over their bedroom floor). If I say "no" out of habit, it will just frustrate them, and they will be more likely to battle me over the things that really do matter.

2. As they grow older, I allow more independence and give more responsibility so that by the time they're 18, I can treat them as adults in my home. By fourth grade, both my boys were capable of making their own breakfasts and lunches. As they grew older, their bedtimes became later. By high school, I no longer enforced my older son's bedtime at all. He got up and was ready on time every morning and maintained good grades, so no bedtime was necessary. He no longer had a curfew by 17, except for what was required by state law. He still had to tell me where he was going and when he'd be home. I also lifted my restriction of certain movies, TV shows, and books as he grew older. I just asked that he respect the values of our home, and he agreed.

3. Teaching at a middle and high school, I have witnessed many broken relationships between teens and their parents. One night as I was putting my oldest son to bed when he was about six or seven years old, I was struck by how much he loved and trusted me in that moment. I thought, "How can I keep him feeling this way into his teenage years?" I decided to monitor the temperature of our relationship on a daily basis. The Bible instructs us in Ephesians 4:26 not to let the sun go down while we are still angry. We usually think of that verse in relation to marriage, but why not apply it to our children? Those teenagers at my school who are angry with their parents were not born that way. Something triggered it. Mostly likely it began with a fight. Angry words were said, maybe on both sides. They went to bed angry and got up the next day, still angry. Day went into day, but that relationship of love and trust were never restored. Instead, hurt piled onto hurt. That doesn't mean I don't set limits with my kids so that they won't be angry with me. It means setting limits that are reasonable (see #1) and then reminding them of my love when they're upset with me: "I know you don't like me right now. That's OK. I still like you, and I have enough love for both of us."

I look awful in the picture below, but I love it. My son was so grumpy that evening at the fair, and I'm loving him right out of his funk. He was in a good mood by the time we were ready to go home.

4. I make a habit of catching them doing something good and praising them for it. I point out the specific thing I saw them do, and I commend them with sincerity. I make an extra effort to point out those things that show good character: kindness, responsibility, honesty, integrity, hard work, etc. Instead of saying, "You're so smart" when I see a good test grade, I say, "I can tell you really studied hard for this test." In addition to praising them for specific things they do, I give them messages telling them I love them just for who they are: "I'm so glad I'm your mom. I love having you for a son." I greet them with a smile and hug or kiss when they get home form school and when they get up in the morning. I do this even if I'm tired and wish they'd slept in longer. I let them know by actions as well as words that I like their company. Of course, it's important that kids feel loved, but I believe it's just as important that kids feel LIKED by their parents.

5. I become involved in what they are interested in. I can't emphasize how beneficial this has been in relationship building with my boys. When Mitchell was about nine, he got his first video game system, a handheld "Game Boy." He began to drive me crazy talking about the games ALL THE TIME. I had no experience playing these games, I didn't understand what he was telling me, and most of all, I was not interested. One day I decided that if it was important to him, I would try to become more interested by learning how to play it. I borrowed his Game Boy and had him try to teach me how to play the game. It was hopeless. I tried for probably 20 minutes, but I just didn't get it. I could tell Mitchell was getting annoyed with my constant questions, so I finally gave up. Years later he told me that he remembered those 20 minutes because it meant so much to him that I was trying to connect with what was important to him. It was much easier when he was a teenager and became interested in guitar playing, songwriting, and singing. I am probably his biggest fan. Now it looks like I need to start watching football in the fall since that became a new interest for Isaac last season.

Monday, March 26, 2012


I had to quit writing on here for awhile because it was too difficult. I think I was going through more of a depression than I realized. My mom was put under hospice care a little over a week ago, and since that time it seems as though I've awakened from a fog or a nightmare. I don't know why that is. The first day she was signed up with hospice was a busy day. I had a ticket to a benefit concert that my niece was singing in, I had church afterwards, and I had laundry to do. While driving home after signing the hospice papers, all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and cry, but I couldn't because I was too busy. The rest of the day went by quickly, and I survived it. I even enjoyed myself. Being too busy was actually good for me this time. It made me realize that I still have a life to live, and I know Mom wants me to enjoy it. My grieving has been in fits and starts, usually in private, for nearly three years now. It's exhausting work. I know when she dies, the floodgates will open, and I will be undone for awhile. But I have this good week to remember that life is for the living, and I mean to do it well in her honor.