Monthly Archives: December 2008

Get Busy or Slow Down?

As the new year approaches, I find myself examining where I am and where I hope to be this time next year.  I know I’m not alone.  Forming resolutions and new goals is the thing to do this time of year.  I am no exception…I have a list as long as my arm of the things I’d like to do. And that’s just January.  Eek!  Why do I push myself like this?  Why rush?  Maybe a more simple approach is out there.  Maybe I just have to look.

Of course, my list includes the typical New Year’s things.  Lose weight.  Declutter and organize.  Make time for myself.  Read.  Spend more quality time with my kids.  Start a date night with my husband.  Eliminate debt.  Save money.  Basically be Wonder Woman…invisible jet and golden lasso included.  Maybe not so realistic.  So if my goal is to live simply, how should I go about this?

Is the rush we’re all in to make changes and start fresh just as much about the multitude of events we’ve just put behind us, as it is about the New Year officially beginning?  For weeks we’ve all been busy shopping and baking, entertaining and being entertained.  Trips to the mall and church, pageants, programs and the homes of relatives and friends.  It has been so busy.  Now that all of that is over are we more apt to feel a need to fill it with something.  Like maybe more work.  If we could be so productive and get all that done in December, then shouldn’t we be able to do just as much in January.  Just think of all we could accomplish if we kept up December’s frenzied pace.  That is where I usually get stuck.

Now this year I hope to make a more conscious effort to remember that it is ok to slow down.  Plug away at things a little everyday and still get to bed on time.  Does it all have to quickly become perfect?

My first small step is to leave up my Christmas decorations until Saturday.  Usually I take everything down quickly after Christmas…definitely by January 2.  Not this year.  I don’t want to race through New Year’s Day and show up to work Friday morning feeling frazzled.  So, Saturday I will work at it while keeping in mind that Sunday will be more restful.

Maybe this year I’ll figure out how to get busy while slowing down. Wouldn’t that be something!

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It is what it is…

I strive for perfection.  Like many perfectionists, this can lead to procrastination.  If I don’t think I can meet my standards on this task right now, well, I’ll do it when I do have the time/supplies/inspiration/knowledge to do it “right”.   That is what happens here with this blog.  That’s what happens with my plans for entertaining.  That’s why I can’t organize that closet or start that craft.  What if I do it wrong?  Worse yet, what if someone notices that I could’ve done better?

Screwed up…that’s what that is.  I am trying to ease up on myself.  Cut myself some slack.  And I am making tiny strides in the right direction.  Today I finished a Christmas present for my mom.  Each year we give her scrap book pages for an album, so she has a record of what our families have been up to the last year.  It is 10 pages or so.  I didn’t have mine done.  I brought it along and tried to do some at the in-laws in HomeTown, but there were a lot of people there and I couldn’t concentrate on the journaling.  Then I realized that I didn’t have some supplies I needed/wanted.  It crossed my mind to tell my mom I’d finish them and mail them next week.  Then I thought I’d do what I could, and tell her I’d finish up and get them to her on Saturday at brunch.  That would buy me time to go out and get new supplies and do a better job.  That would also cost me money.  Money I didn’t need to spend.  Instead, I finished the pages at my sisters when I got there.  They aren’t up to my usually standards but I decided not to make any apologies or excuses.  It is what it is…and my mom loved them.  After all, she wants to see what is in the pictures.  For her it isn’t about being the most polished layout.

It is what it is…I should consider that attitude more often.  It felt good to say it today.

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Merry Christmas

It isn’t really Christmas anymore…not technically.  Late Christmas night, and I’m halfway through the Christmas travel extravaganza.  Everyone is asleep and it feels good to have a little quiet time to myself.  We spent a couple of days at my in-law’s house in HomeTown.  Now we are at my sister’s house.  We’ll be here two nights then have brunch at my mom’s house on the way home on Saturday.  It will be a big loop through Minnesota and back home to do our own Christmas.  I will be honest and say that part of me was dreading this trip.  I really like being home…

I feel like this before most of the trips we take, but almost always end up having a really good time.  That has been the case this time too.  We had a lot of fun with Dan’s family at the BIG Christmas Eve party.  Now we get to spend some time with my sister.  I love her like crazy, although we are different in many ways.  Sometimes it gets hard to feel connected when we are busy with work and kids and are only getting quick phone calls every so often.  I am not always the best sister, especially at finding time to catch up with her.  So I will cherish these times where we get a day or two of time to just sit back and relax.  And eat snacks and pie.  We love to eat…and talk.

It is funny how I can manage to have such a good time in spite of myself.  Someday I will learn to relax and not get so worked up about these trips.  It all works out…and this time it has worked out to be a very merry Christmas.

I hope you are all enjoying a wonderful time with friends and family…Merry Christmas!

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Simple Pleasure Sunday

I generally work hard on Sundays.  I wish I could say that I take the day for rest.  I’m working on it.  Saturday is more of my “rest” day than Sunday.  With daycare families back here on Monday mornings by 7:30, I tend to let things go on Saturday and then clean on Sunday.  But not this week.

Saturday had activities penned in for both the morning and afternoon, as did Sunday.  I was getting a little nervous as to when all my to-do list would get done.  So, since Dan planned to either hunt or fish on Saturday, I figured I’d enlist the kids and we’d get the weekend cleaning done.  When Grace and I walked in the house from our afternoon activity there was Dan.  What a surprise.  Instead of scrapping my cleaning plans, I enlisted his help too.  In just a couple of hours we had the house cleaned.  Floors were scrubbed, rugs were washed…the whole works.

That brings me to Sunday.  We were hit with a big storm late Saturday night that raged all day yesterday.  In fact the kids got a snow day today.  So we didn’t make it to church (in the neighboring town) and our afternoon plans, also at church, were postponed.  We were home all day.  It was certainly a simple pleasure to have the time to bake cookies and listen to Christmas music while the kids and Dan shoveled and built a big snow pile in the yard. We didn’t leave home. We didn’t spend money.  We watched movies.  We ate warm cookies.  We enjoyed some relaxing time together.

Now, to accomplish that same kind of day without the blizzard.  Or maybe the focus should be to find some simple pleasure, no matter how crazy the day. hmmm…

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A Price to Pay

I’ll admit that part of the appeal of moving to SmallTown was to get a little breathing room.  We had always lived in HomeTown and many family members depended on us.  We were happy to help, and family is very important to both Dan and I.  Unfortunately somewhere along the line it also meant our own family of four sacrificed.  And that didn’t always sit well with me.

I helped my Grandpa when we lived in HomeTown.  Dan and I bought his house when he decided it was too much to care for.  He was in his mid-80s.  My dad (his son) died a dozen years ago…about a year before we bought grandpa’s house.  When my dad died, my grandpa and I grew closer.  Later my mom remarried and moved out of town.  My sister was still around, but grandpa relied more on me.  I think there were probably many reasons.  I am the oldest grandchild on that side of the family.  I spent a good bit of time taking care of my father during his illness.  I was a CNA in a nursing home for a few years when I was first married.  And I was always accessible since I was home with the daycare.  Roll all that together and I think it made him more comfortable calling me when he had a nosebleed or a tough cleaning job, or errands to run…whatever.

I also had my sister’s children in my daycare.  I loved that.  It was awesome to get to help her raise them a bit.  We built a stronger bond as sisters during those years, too.

Dan’s parents live just a house away from our church there,  so we saw them a lot.  While Grace was at Sunday School we’d take Stanley over to grandma & grandpa’s for pancakes and we’d hang out until it was time to go get Grace.  And then often times go back and visit more.

Every holiday we were there.  Someone’s in the hospital?  We’ll be right up.  Need some help moving something?  Sure.  No, no, we didn’t have any plans.  No problem.  And honestly we were glad we could help.  But there was really not much opportunity to step back and take a little break from all the extended family.  Without even realizing it, that can wear on a family when there isn’t down time.

Moving here we discovered the joy of our own family unit.  That first winter here will always be my favorite, I think. It was just us.  No one knew us.  No one came to visit.  It was cold and snowy…and cozy.  We played games and watched movies.  We just got to be together…no phone ringing with requests.  I relaxed some.  I hadn’t realized how much I hadn’t relaxed before.  And while I felt a little guilty (and truly missed my grandpa) I also smiled to think that my kids were getting more uninterrupted time with their mom.

And with everything there is a price. I’m paying that price tonight, and the price has been high this year.  One of my very favorite relatives died this morning.  Auntie Faye was my grandma’s sister.  They were very close sisters, always having fun and laughing.  When my grandma died when I was a sophomore in college, I got to know Auntie Faye better.  We were pen pals off and on over the next 15 years.  The last few, her arthritis has been too severe to write any more.   I saw her last in March at my grandpa’s funeral.  With all the family around we didn’t get much time to talk.  I regret that.  I hope she remembered how much I love her…how much she and my grandma influenced my world.

Not being so available when family needs me is hard…my price for living over 250 miles from any family.  I’ll admit that sometimes, like with a birthday party or summer picnic, it is a small price to pay to be able to devote more of me to my own household.  Other times, especially when my grandfather was sick and dying in March, the price is high.  I don’t like it much then.  He was 8 hours away.  Since we only had one vehicle then, it was very hard to make a trip to see him.  My family there assured me that he didn’t seem to know who was there or not.  Since I really couldn’t be of comfort to him, I opted to stay put here.  I still wrestle with that decision a little.

Auntie Faye’s funeral will be exactly a month before she would’ve turned 96.  A good long life.   I’m sure she’s already laughing with my grandma.

My schedule has been cleared and I’ll be leaving for the funeral on Tuesday.  My chances to see extended family are getting slim, so I am anxious to see some family.

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From Scratch

There are so many degrees of doing things from scratch.  I do a lot of cooking from scratch, but it  seems as though I find a little more to do all the time.  As with many frugal processes, small steps can be taken over periods of time until you are where you never would’ve pictured yourself in the beginning.

I am now a woman of ingredients.  I would’ve never imagined myself making my own season salt or taco seasoning.  Making real mashed potatoes when it wasn’t a special occasion??  I didn’t do that.  But somehow I’ve taken baby step upon baby step until I think nothing of doing those things.  I make my own cocktail sauce for shrimp.  Tonight I whipped up a batch of granola since the oven was on anyway.

I’ll admit that all this cooking from scratch takes time.  But often I don’t think it takes that much more time than convenience foods.  Because I am a busy gal and like figuring stuff out, I keep tabs on it sometimes.  Friday I was making green frosting for a ridiculously sweet treat for our daycare snack, when it occurred to me that making my own frosting took maybe 5 minutes more than tinting store-bought frosting green and dirtied no extra dishes.  And then factor in that the homemade is tastier…well I’d call it a wash.  This isn’t always the case…but I enjoy my time in the kitchen and I feel that overall, buying ingredients is much less expensive.

Some of my cleaners are homemade also.  I’ll admit I haven’t ventured into that area very much.

So what will I learn to make next?  I may need chili sauce for a recipe this week and didn’t think to buy any at the store today, so maybe I’ll search for a recipe tomorrow.  I bet I’ve got the ingredients.

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French Bread

I learned to make my own french bread last week.  It still tickles me to think about it.  Yes, I am easily amused.  I prefer to think of it as taking pleasure in the simple things.  Whatever.  Anyway, this was a fun accomplishment for me.  I’ve made almost all of our bread since we moved to SmallTown.  With a bread machine.  I had been the proud owner of a second hand bread machine for many, many years and had hardly used it.  In HomeTown, I bought those mixes for bread machines.  I used it to try different things, not necessarily to save money.  After gathering dust for at least two years, it was packed up and moved to SmallTown.

That little breadmaker that I paid $10 for in probably 1998 earned its keep in my new kitchen.  It baked up some yummy bread three or four times a week for well over a year before it died.  This time the ingredients were bought in bulk and I had the price of a loaf of bread down to under 50 cents.  Even adding whole wheat flour.  Then I wore out my second used bread machine, then my third.  Now I have a new, as in from a store, bread machine.  I hated paying retail for one, but garage sales did not provide me any alternatives.  I am still looking though…I like to have a backup on hand.  That first machine is still my favorite and I use some of those recipes in my new machine.

My bread repertoire consists mainly of white, wheat and dough for pizza, cinnamon rolls and Stromboli.  Not very fancy, but it saves me a LOT of money.  Bread here in SmallTown often tops $3 a loaf for white and over $4 for wheat.  With the daycare and lunch packing kids, bread at those prices could break the budget.  While keeping it basic is fine, I’m getting a bit more adventurous.  I feel like learning to make more shaped breads.

Making french bread is exciting to me in part because I love garlic toast.  And we eat pasta a few times a month.  Pasta dinners are so much better with good crunchy garlic toast.  Unfortunately, I can’t always get french bread in the local stores.  I don’t know if I get there too late and its already sold out or if they just don’t make it some days.  Last week as I was planning meals for Thanksgiving weekend, I knew I wanted to serve pasta one night.  I was wondering how to go about the french bread when it occurred to me that I could just MAKE it!  Wow…what a novel idea.  I dug out a book and had a trial run going in the breadmachine in no time.  It was really tasty even though my shaping skills are definitely those of a novice.  When I made it for our company last weekend, it was even better.  I love being able to scratch that off my grocery list.

What is funny to me is that I am always surprised when something like this turns out for me.  I generally tend to be a person that believes I can do whatever I set out to do.  Yet, I am always shocked to see one of my experiments work.  I get excited and it really makes my day…my poor husband must think I’m such a flake sometimes.  But he sure likes the french bread.

So I don’t lose the recipe, here it is:

French Bread

Add ingredients, at room temp, listed in order.

1 cup +2 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

3 cups bread flour

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

  • Select DOUGH program and start.
  • When cycle is complete, mine takes 90 minutes, place dough on lightly floured surface and let rest 5 minutes.
  • Cut dough into halves.  Roll each into a long rope and place on a lightly greased pan. I did two the first time and left it as one larger loaf the second.
  • Glaze each baguette with egg white.  Slash 5 times with sharp knife or scissors.  Place in a warm draft-free spot to rise until double in size, about 45-60 minutes.
  • Glaze unslashed portions again with egg white.  Bake in a 400 degree preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, until deep brown.

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