Monday, January 31, 2011

Meal Plan Monday

There's about to be a big winter storm here so naturally chaos ensues. BUT its a boom for the local grocery stores! Raph had a play date yesterday so I put off my Sunday grocery trip until after dinner. I don't think I've ever seen grocery store shelves so barren. There was literally no bread. How freaky is that? The egg cases were just filled with some overturned crates and cartons with broken eggs. Ok, so its going to be an icy, snowy week but its not Armageddon!

Aww look at cute little 2 yr old Raph

Anyway, I have my week planned out but this all assumes we have power. I'm getting nervous that the power will go out for days on end. I've been having flashbacks of when I was pregnant with Colin and the icy storm knocked out the power at our house for 3 days. I was sitting awake in my bed listening to the crack and pop of limbs breaking and transformers exploding. Then I hear this huge explosion and my whole bedroom lit up. The transformer outside the front of our house exploded shooting sparks everywhere and the power went out. The next day I called daycare to see if they had power and they were up and running. I took Raph to school and I went into my office. Hey, they have heat so I might as well work right? I walked into my office and the carpet splashed. Seems there was a crack in the foundation somewhere and it flooded my basement level office. AWESOME!

He was digging out our Halloween pumpkins. They had stayin' power that year!

On with the meals:

Sunday: Chicken parm with pasta and salad

Monday: Hungarian Pork cutlets with mashed potatoes and salad

Tuesday: Meat on a stick. Per Colin's request we are having maple glazed sausage and apple kabobs

Wednesday: Sausage, Tomato and Arugula Pasta

Thursday: BLT salad

Friday: Out

Saturday: Out

All this cold weather is making me want to bake. I think I'm officially a gluten free baker. The last few recipes I've looked up required nary a trip to the grocery store. I have all the basics for any gluten free, vegan recipe in my pantry. The little bags of various flours is getting unwieldy. I think I need to invest in some stacking canisters and a label maker...

This was during his must-have-a-cup-in-my-hands-at-all-times phase that lasted approximately 2.5 years. Didn't slow down his limb hackin'!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Organized Chaos

I like to kid myself every now and then and claim the "organized" part but mostly its just chaos. I think everyone aspires to have a certain level of organization to their lives but just don't really know how to start. I think this is where baby steps come into play. You can't go from train wreck to order over night. There are trial and error, supplies and drive that must come first. Also, a house without children would be nice but that's not happening any time soon. I'm trying ever so hard to train my kids to pick up after themselves. You can only expect so much from the toddler and preschool set but Raph...he just needs to do it. I have just started regularly making them pick up an entire room no matter who's stuff it is. The excuse of "I didn't make it" falls on deaf ears. You don't EAT until you pick up that room. Period. Today I watched Colin try to put a box of cereal, piece of trash, book, article of clothing or whatever else he might be holding in the wrong place. I just say, "Where does that go?" A little prompting helps him to learn that things have a place and if you take it out you put it back.

I can try this until I'm blue in the face but really it all starts with me. I run this house, so its my job to be the purveyor or order. I get bogged down in the minutia of life sometimes but I find that I must take a step back and look at the bigger picture...or sometimes the smaller picture.

Food: We eat everyday. My kids eat all day every day so this is something I need to stay on top of in order to survive. I've started making a real, honest effort to meal plan. I can't stand looking in the fridge at 5pm trying to piece together a meal. That doesn't work, kids beg for food and we end up making pasta or getting take out. Neither are stellar options on a regular basis. Now, on Sundays I go through recipes and plan a meal for each night. I think about outside activities that color the dinner hour. Does Raph has TaeKwonDo at 5:30 or are we free for the evening? Quick dinners on the nights we are busy and more involved dinners on free evenings. Simple right? Plus, if you know what you are going to make each night you know what food to buy for the week. I've also started a long term grocery list. When I finished off the couscous last night I added to my list. I don't need to go out and buy it tomorrow but I do need to replenish that staple in the next week or two. This is helpful if I'm trying to take advantage of a $10 off $50 night at the grocery store and I need a filler. They don't make couscous coupons and its not on sale often so you just buy it at full price without feeling queasy.

Mail: It comes almost every day and there is usually a large portion that goes in the recycle. Instead of a heaping pile of stuff on my counters I look through the mail when I bring it in and toss what I don't need, file what needs to be filing and put bills on my desk. Next free moment I pay the bills and file the papers. Done! I have a shelf in my office where I keep unread magazines. When I finish a magazine I put it in a bag for Colin's school. DONE! No floating around or lost papers.

Visual and Mental Clutter: My house is probably just like every other house in the country. There is always a certain amount of mess on any given day but some of it can be controlled or at least kept to a minimum. I read an article about happiness. The one thing I gleaned from that article was that people who make their beds are happier. They interviewed people a year later and those who started making their beds said that one small things made a huge difference. Who knew? I have lived my whole life a non-bed-maker. I've started making my bed. It feels good. I don't walk into my bedroom and see a mess of a bed. Its crisp and clean and that one small thing has made a big difference. Its the biggest thing in the room and its orderly. When you walk in a room and see something like an unmade bed or a pile of mail its mental clutter along with visual clutter. It nags at you, pleads with you...FIX ME! Then every time you walk into your bedroom or the kitchen its still looking at you, judging you...FIX ME! I'm still here!

Yeah so this was mess but once it was over my children, the table, chairs, floor around table, bathroom and toys were all quite clean!

Never empty handed: I read on the blog of my idol that you should never walk through a room empty handed. Seems simple right? If I would just pick up that shoe on my way down the hall to the bathroom and toss it in Heidi's room it would be put away. Took virtually no extra effort but I would know where her other brown shoe was (I wish this were the case b/c where is that other brown shoe!?). On the way back from the bathroom I could pick up that cup and a toy, depositing them in their homes as I went through the house. You don't have to carve out enough time to clean an entire room from top to bottom. A little bit here and there adds up and those shoes and cups quit judging you AND you know where they are when you need them.

30 seconds or less: This is not unlike the never an empty hand rule. I read this gem in a magazine once. If something takes 30 seconds or less do it now. That paper you need to file away that keeps looking at you? Just put it away. There are so many little things like this that grate on you, hang on you and nag you silently. I kept looking at a putty knife and Spackle in the kitchen for a week. All I had to do was put it in the garage. That's it. I kept seeing that knife and jar and kept thinking, "Ugh, that is STILL out here." Well, I put it away in about 20 seconds and its gone. Out of sight and nothing to think about again.

My new binder: I have a pdf file that has a sheet for each week of the year. Its got pretty much every imaginable household chore listed in a rotation. Each day she gives you a couple small things to do; change the hand towels in the bathroom, clean out your wallet, clean the middle shelf of your fridge, etc. Small things that always need to be done with some regularity. Cleaning the middle shelf in my fridge is much more manageable than cleaning out the whole damn thing. So, I have this list of things to do but they are loose papers that get shuffled around. I also have a list of long term projects...again, loose paper. My monthly calendars, midterm grocery lists, big ticket items we are planning for, recipes for this week's meals, etc etc etc. I went to the store today and I got a binder and dividers. I have things hole punched, in page protectors and organized by the day. Its all in one spot. One small binder on my desk instead of papers scattered around my kitchen and my office. If I need something its all right there. I even copied over our family calendar into this binder. If I ever need to make appointments I can just bring this binder with me to the doctor, or school or where ever else I might be going.

Everything is starting to have a home. I am a work in progress but things are getting better. Instead of fluttering around aimlessly I'm starting to do things with a purpose. I have more projects that take time but they are planned out and manageable. Manageability is the most important thing for me right now. When I feel like I'm barely treading water some days its good to know that I don't have to reorganize my entire kitchen in one day...especially when I have a little 2 foot wrecking crew that's faster than the Tasmanian Devil.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Meal Plan Monday on Monday

I think I'm starting to get the hang of the meal planning thing. Or at least for the first part of the week. By the end of the week I'm tired and things tend to fall apart but its a start right? One good thing I like about meal planning is that I get to try all those recipes that I've been meaning to try. I have hundreds of recipes waiting for me to try them out. I'm not about to be Julie from Julie and Julia but Marcella who gets bored easily and wants to try new things but has a bunch of kids with food allergies to wrangle in the mean time.

One of the new things I tried last week was a gluten free, egg free meatloaf. I thought it was fabulous, Heidi ate it, Mike liked it but without the glaze and the boys each ate a bite for a dollar. Don't judge me...a little bribery goes a long way sometimes!

I need to get some pumpkin b/c I feel the need to make some chocolate chip pumpkin muffins. The gluten free version I tried tastes just as good as the real thing so I'll make that at some point this week. Mmmmm, pumpkin muffins. They are idea with a cup of coffee.

Anyway this is the plan for this week:

Sunday: Flakey Mushroom and Gruyere Tarts with salad
(verdict: these were goooooood, but not very filling. I think it would be a perfect Lenten fasting meal though or an appetizer)

Monday: Lamb meatballs with couscous and Feta
(Never did make it the other week but its a hit in my house. The boys love couscous, Heidi has never had much luck with the rice based couscous but we will try again. Everyone but Raph likes the meatballs and Mike and I eat the feta and cucumber part. So its a pretty universal as my house can get...meal.)

Tuesday: Sour cream Enchiladas

Wednesday: Shrimp Curry
(This is an awesome winter warm you up dish. Plus anything with coconut milk is fabulous in my book)

Thursday: White and Green Chili and cornbread
(A girlfriend just tried this and said it was really good and a simple crock pot meal.)

Friday: Chicken, Leek and Mushroom Casserole
(This is new but looks really good)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Meal Plan Monday...errr Tuesday

I've decided to really try and work on planning out our meals for the week. It simplifies my life and helps with grocery shopping and saves money. No last minute runs to the grocery store or take out. Or at least keeps that type of behavior to a minimum. Last week I made a plan and stuck to it. I think now I will start posting my plans in an attempt to keep up with my planning. We shall see, but this is the week thus far:

Sunday: Bobby Flay Philly Cheesesteaks. I love Bobby but not his list of ingredients. Its worth it in the end

Monday: Brinner with leftovers from the Philly Cheesesteaks

Tuesday: Brats, coleslaw and tater tots...I just have to figure out how to cook brats inside

Wednesday: Meatloaf (I want to find an eggless and gluten free version so Heidi can actually eat it b/c I think she would really like meatloaf) and mashed potatoes with green beans (using leftover carmelized onions from Sunday and tossed with Almonds)

Thursday: Pasta Fagioli (Millet Fagioli for Heidi)

Friday: Chicken Parm, salad and something

Saturday: Pizza night. Some sort of DIY pizza buffett for everyone to make their own pizza

I did cook something special this week.

Gluten free vegan chocolate chip cookies with coconut. They were delish.

On Sunday I went to the grocery store because we needed "everything". That kind of blew my budget for the week so I'm trying to make dinners around whatever I have in the house so that I only need to buy a minimal amount of fillers for our meals. I'm really struggling with the appropriate amount of money for our weekly food budget. I have to buy so many speciality items, plus I want to ensure we have GOOD food in the houes not cheap junk. Its a delicate balance between good and non-budget busters. Plus it doesn't help that I think all three of my children are going through a growth spurt. I swear they are like a plague of locust in my kitchen. Once they leave there are only banana peels and a few crumbs left. Anyway, this week is simple, no empanadas from scratch this go round. Maybe I'll make up for it next week and pull out the binder of recipes I haven't tried yet.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Need vs Want

It seems simple but its sometimes hard to differentiate those two ideas. I try to teach my children this basic fundamental concept but really we could ALL use this life lesson. When was the last time you put something back on the shelf and said, "I don't need this, I only want this"? Its not that easy. We live in a consumer society and are bombarded by things or we simply cannot go on living a full and happy life. Right?
I first started to ponder this when my kids watched less PBS and more Disney Channel. They started seeing commercials for toys and food and vacations and even infomercials. I tell you what, I think Raph will be the next Billy Maze. He can *almost* sell me on space bags and the slap chop. Almost. After a while we had to have a sit down and really explain what the difference between needs and wants. You need food but you want a certain brand of cereal. A need is something you truly can't live without and a want is something that would be nice to have. Given that I was talking with Raph he mulled over the idea and gave me a few examples. Then over the course of a few weeks he would bring up the topic over and over and over again. Sometimes he would get confused because you don't NEED just 2 more Bakugans. Its all in the details.

As a society in general we should all think about needs and wants more. Do you need a latte or that new pair of shoes? Do you need a new car or do you want something fancier. I explained to Raph as an example that I needed to buy a new car before Heidi was born. I just didn't have room for 3 car seats in my Jeep. I didn't want a new car, really I didn't. I was sad to sell my Jeep but I actually needed one whether I liked it or not. This, of course, doesn't mean you can never have things you want but as with virtually everything in lie, it must be within reason. If you look at the current economic status of most Americans then, yeah, most people are NOT telling themselves "No" very often. Depending on which stats you read the average American household carries approximately $7000 in credit card debt. Other sources have the number higher and as much as $11-15K. That's just madness.

At some point it became ok to spend more than you make. If you don't have the money for something right now then just charge it. You can always pay it 27% interest. No wonder children feel so entitled these days. Its pervasive as the flat screen tv in every room of the house. Did you know you can buy and ENTIRE house full of furniture with no money down and have no payments until 2014?! Its practically FREE! Of course then you'd have a house full of 3 year old furniture you have to pay off, but I digress.

I've always been sort of cheap. I grew up with very little money and gradually as my parents finished their graduate degrees they started earning more money. I never felt like I was doing without as a child. Not really. I did have a pang of jealousy now and then when someone would come in wearing some totally rad Jordache jeans and pretty white Keds, but all in all I didn't notice. Even when I went to a private middle and high school and was surrounded by some very very wealthy people it didn't matter all that much. Though I really did wish my parents didn't drive that orange VW Beetle to drop me off at school. This was before the Beetle came back and this one was circa 1965 and smelled like gas. Gradually their lifestyle and mine by association became a little less restrained. Now they live comfortably but drive cars that are over 12 years old. Things don't make the life, experiences make the life. Nice things are nice but not necessary to live a good life.

I want my kids to value what they have, not give into every whim and NOT drown in debt. I want them to learn what is really important in live and how to spend money, give money and save money. I already had the basics of these ideas in my head but my brother became a Dave Ramsey convert. He seemed to be doing it all right. I knew that while we didn't have credit card debt we could be doing better with our money. We were living at our means not beyond our means but still, we could do better. I felt like I was slightly on the verge of tipping the scales in the wrong direction. Especially after I had Heidi and we were down to one income and had 3 children. I focused more on saving money when I shopped. My new job was to find ways to SAVE money. I did it without real focus or direction and then my brother kept talking about Dave Ramsey. I decided to see what he was talking about.

I went to the book store, bought a latte and sat down with The Total Money Makeover. I was sucked into the book. Dave Ramsey just made sense. It wasn't any magical get rich quick scheme, it was a real solution to any one's financial mess no matter how big or small. I bought the book and read it cover to cover in one day. The next day I started working on a budget. You don't know where your money goes until you know where the money goes. I started tracking our money, listing our debts and coming up with a plan. All this time I thought I was living without debt. I just didn't have CREDIT CARD debt but we had plenty of debt. A house, 2 cars and a massive student loan. Yeah, we have debt. With some focus and a shift in our spending habits we have dropped a car payment. One car is owned by US not a bank. Its a start. We've been throwing money at my car to get rid of that payment. Just think how much more money you'd have every month if you didn't have a car payment! Its amazing.

It will be a while before we are completely free of debt but we are on our way. I feel better about our financial future and hopefully we are teaching our children one of the most valuable life lessons. If I can follow my advice and set a good example for my children I will do my job as a parent. We are not perfect. Its easy to say "Bah! I WANT that" but it happens less and less. With more focus we could pay off my car by the end of the year but we shall see. Life throws us a curve ball now and then like your oven catching on fire or a drain exploding in your basement, but it doesn't devastate us and we don't put it on the credit card. That makes me happy.

Today I told myself "no" when I passed Starbucks and last week I said "no" to new sheets. I have a list of big ticket items we would like to buy. I have started prioritizing them so we can PLAN for those purchases. A little self discipline goes a long long way sometimes. I think twice before I buy things and I give more away to others who really are in need. I think this is a good way to live. Though, it is very very hard for me to say no to shoes. Everyone has their weakness but at least if I do buy new shoes they are always always on sale. I should get bonus points for that right? I aspire to live truly debt free but that does not come without work, determination and most of all self discipline.

By the by, does anyone read this stuff? If you read this post, then please comment even if it is annonymous. Bueller? Bueller? Anyone there?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Weaning the reluctant baby

Breastfeeding is probably one of the most hot button issues when it comes to raising babies. I don't really get what all the fuss is about but there's a lot of it. I just figured I'd breastfeed my kids and if it didn't work I'd use bottles. As luck would have it I make lots and lots of milk and my babies could all nurse quite well. My kids have all thrived on nothing but b-milk for their sole source of nutrition for the first six months. I was even able to *gasp* nurse in public without raising an eyebrow. Raph had a bottle or two of formula in the hospital. Colin had the weight gainer 3000 preemie formula before my milk came in and Heidi never had any formula...unless you count IV fluids and lipids, but I don't. Aside from a little (HAHAHHAHA "little" is a relative term) soreness in the beginning I've never had any problems nursing my babies. That is until it comes time to wean them, then all hell breaks loose.

I nursed Raph until he was a year old. I waited until he was about a year old and then stopped nursing him and gave him the rest of my freezer stash of b-milk while my boobs grew to freakishly large proportions. During this period of intense pain I considered just never weaning him. Ever. Just so that my boobs wouldn't become engorged....just keep on nursing until I have another baby to relieve the pressure. He was always happy with the bottle and gladly accepted the thawed milk while I cried whenever there was a stiff breeze. Then the milk was gone from my body and from my freezer. I gave him a bottle of soy milk and he had a shit fit. My easy going baby would have none of it. After several days of him only sipping a little water I sat on my couch sobbing. He actually came up to me, poked my face and laughed at my anguish. I picked him up and nursed him on my deflated boobs. He was so happy. What took 3 weeks to dry up came back with a vengeance in less than 3 days.

In the end I went through the process of weaning him twice. The second go round I rehydrated him first, then slowly added more and more soy milk to his bottles. After a month or so he would happily take soy milk in a bottle. I let my milk dry up yet again and actually put cabbage in my bra in a vain attempt at easing my suffering. Just when I couldn't take it anymore it was like they sprung a leak. I was walking into the grocery store and the girls just started spraying milk everywhere. I turned right back around and went home for a shower. But after that incident it was over and Raph was happy....until we took away the damn bottle and he threw a pot at me in a furious rage that only a 15 month old baby can have.

Colin was different than Raph but what's knew? They are polar opposites in every way imaginable. He started out on bottles in the NICU. Once he was home and we worked up to nursing full time it was an ORDEAL to say the least. Because he was a typical sleepy preemie it would take a lot of work on my part to keep him awake long enough to nurse. "Herculean" would be one way to describe it because that's what it felt like at 2am when you've been trying to nurse him for an HOUR. Once he's finished and go back to sleep you are up again an hour later to repeat the process. Once he started nursing full time I was not at all interested in pumping and giving him bottles. But this plan backfired when I went back to work and had to put him through Baby Bottle Boot Camp. He never really took to bottles after that and was using sippy cups by the time he was 5 or 6 months old. Hey at least we didn't have to worry about him throwing pots at me right?

When it came time to wean Colin I decided to do it slowly over 6 wks instead of the abrupt painful finish that I used with Raph. He already drank cow milk from a cup so that was a non-issue. It was good and bad. Instead of one epic engorgement that lasted a week I had a series of smaller engorgements every week or so. I dropped a feeding, let my body adjust, drop another, adjust etc. Nearing the end something dawned on me. I was sitting on my bed just sobbing because I didn't want to take a shower. I was getting ready to go out to dinner with friends and I was beyond upset that I would have to take a shower and see people. Mike came home and was completely alarmed because that was so very unlike me. Right then I realized that I was having symptoms of depression. After a little research I found out that Postpartum Depression can hit when you wean a baby and isn't limited to those first few weeks or months after you have a baby. Once I was cognisant of what was happening I felt more in control. Looking back I hadn't been myself for weeks but it wasn't until I was a sobbing mess on my bed that it all made sense.

I was almost finished weaning him so I figured I would wait it out to see if I felt better once the process was complete. I was emotionally sad to stop nursing Colin because I believed he would be my very last baby. The last time I nursed him I went to get him out of his crib and I held him close. He was cranky and roughly latched on, then repeatedly slapped me while he nursed. When he was finished he bit me then rolled off my lap and never even looked at me as he ran out of the room. Wow, thank you for making this last nursing session so meaningful! Like that it was over. My milk ran out and quickly I returned to my former self and all was well.

Heidi's start was a bit like Colin's. I couldn't even hold her until she was a week old because she was just too sick. But the most glorious thing about that first time I held her was that I also got to nurse her. Her sick little body had been nourished by IV fluids and lipids. The Italian Mama in me wanted to scream that the doctors that she needed FOOD, real food, not lipids. She was HUNGRY!!!! Now, I know that they were doing the best for her and knew what she needed and could handle but ya know, Mama's want to feed their babies. So, as it was I who gave her the first nipple feeding not a nurse and a bottle. She did a good job but as expected she quickly tired. Her few swallows were all that the doctors needed to know and she was ready for real milk. She started off with tiny amounts of my pumped milk in a bottle, followed by milk in a feeding tube. They wanted her to get used to the act of sucking but her little body was just too weak to get enough nutrition this way. Gradually she was able to nurse from me for a full feeding once a day and a combination of bottle and feeding tube for the rest. When she came home she still required bottles for the bulk of her feedings but she quickly gained strength and was nursing well for all of her feedings. Again, not unlike Colin, she started on bottles then adamantly refused them. I didn't go back to work so the urgency wasn't the same and was more for the benefit of our sitters. She never really took to them or b-milk from a sippy cup. Or table food for that matter.

As with most things Heidi requires a little something more. It has been a real struggle to get her to consume food or soy milk or anything that doesn't come from my boob. She really likes to nurse in a way that the boys never did. This is something entirely new. The boys never had screaming temper tantrums for 15 minutes straight because I would not nurse them. As it stands I've nursed her over 2 months longer than I did either of the boys but her days are numbered. At the recommendations of the Occupational Therapist and Speech Pathologist I started weaning her in November. Less milk from me means that she has to eat more food. She did not like this plan and was more than a little cranky for a week or two as she adjusted to her new feeding schedule. We are down to nursing just once a day and that is right before bed. She's not happy about losing her nap time nursing but she's getting better. Half the time she falls asleep in the car and doesn't miss that milk. Its the days we are home and I have to put her into bed, bypassing the rocking chair, that she freaks out. I feel bad, a little, for taking away something that is so beloved and special but it needs to come to an end. She doesn't need me and I am going to go on vacation for a week in less than 2 months. I don't plan on bringing a pump with me and I don't want to have the ocean breezes make me cry...or for my boobs to scare people as I sit by the pool! Its time, she's eating food like a big girl, she drinks from a sippy cup and she can go to sleep without me nursing her. Nevertheless its bittersweet. She for really real will be my last baby. I know that each night I put her to bed it is one of the last times I will ever do this. It is something special between she and I and when I am finished I will not have that little something. The thing she enjoys the most is possessed only by me and I am giving that up.

Its always a little sad to wean a baby but especially for a baby like Heidi who really enjoys it so much. For now, I enjoy our last few nights together but know that even if she doesn't remember this time when she's older, I will. I have many wonderful memories of all three of my babies stored away in my memory bank. Once they are weaned and they move on they don't give it a second thought or remember. At that moment, they become jewels of my time as a mother and cannot be truly shared with anyone else. Its one little bit of selfishness that comes with being a mom. For as much as we give of our bodies to bear and raise children, somethings just cannot be given up. I will carry these memories (good and bad) with me because they are truly one of a kind and mine alone.

By the time Heidi is completely weaned I will have nursed a baby for a combined total of 45 months. In the last 8 years I have either been trying to get pregnant, pregnant or nursing for 7 years and 3 months. I think its time I had my body to myself for a while.