Almost meal planning: progress report

Yeesh, I'm talkative lately.  I feel like there are so many things bouncing around in my head, and I just want to post to get them all out in some sort of coherent way.  And if I can unload the little stuff, maybe there will be more room to mull over the big stuff.  I mean, there can only be so much room inside your head, yah?

So...  The great cook-at-home plan.  It's working.  I'm still not sure where I'm coming up with the time, since I don't feel rushed or like I'm having to work overly hard to make this happen.  Seriously.  I've had a two mishaps where I've neglected to eat breakfast and stopped at McDonald's for a salad on my way into work.  But I took my lunch to work every single day last week.  Shayne and Ethan also had dinner at home every day.  Major accomplishment, at least in my little world!

So what am I doing differently?  Basically, planning my meals a week or so ahead and sticking to the plan.  There's some room for flexibility, otherwise this wouldn't work for me.  For example, I had planned to make chicken and wild rice soup on one of my days off, so I roasted a chicken on my first day off, picked it apart, and stuck it in the fridge.  A few days ago, Ethan had a stomach bug, so I tossed some of the chicken into some stock I had canned last year.  Add onion, celery, carrots, seasoning, and noodles, and we had chicken noodle soup.  And somehow, in spite of a sick kidlet and raking leaves, I got a lasagna on the table that night for dinner.

Then I got sick.  I fell off the cooking wagon for a few days, but we still had enough leftovers to see us through (especially since I wasn't eating anything!).  It seems like as long as I cook every 2 or 3 days, we always have plenty of leftovers and wiggle room in case something goes wrong.

But since I'm now a bit behind and we are totally leftover-less...  Tonight, I need to toss the remaining chicken into the crock pot so that we'll have chicken and wild rice soup tomorrow.  And the ground beef in the fridge HAS to be browned before it goes bad.  Even if most of it goes into the freezer (Shayne and Ethan are eating dinner at my mom's tomorrow, and probably the day after as well), at least we'll have something in reserve for the nights the cooking just doesn't happen.

Something else I've learned is to pack up leftovers into meal-sized portions, even if I'm going to toss it into the freezer.  If I have to pack a lunch for work, I won't do it.  I'm cramped for time in the morning, and that's the thing that seems to get left by the wayside first.  But if it's already "packed" and all I have to do is throw a jar or container into my bag?  I can handle that.


Pretty Boy meets The Girls

Last night we took a trip to a friend's farm to go get Pretty Boy, the rooster.  Ethan was ecstatic to go see cows, and was even more excited when he found not just one, but three tractors in the barn.  This child is obsessed with machinery.  Sue got Pretty Boy into the kitty carrier with a minimum of fuss, and he rode quietly all the way home.  I set the carrier in the coop, still closed, and planned to wait til dark to let him out.

At around 7 pm, Shayne heard Pretty Boy squawking quite a bit, so I went out to check.  As then hens were trying to come home, Pretty Boy was bk-AWWWWK-ing at them loudly and scaring them away.  I moved the carrier out of the coop, and peace was restored. 

And then it was dark.  I was worried, as last time I introduced new chickens to an existing flock, there was a lot of picking and pecking before they sorted it all out.  But this time, nothing happened.  Pretty Boy went to roost on the ladder to the chicken house, and the girls cooed sleepily at him before going back to sleep.

But I was still worried.  I woke up at about 3 am and was unable to get back to sleep.  All I could think about was whether or not there would be bloodshed in the coop when I went out in the morning.  Was it too small of a space to introduce a lone bird to my flock?  If they fought, would the picked-on bird be able to find somewhere to hide?  Maybe I should go out at 6 am and open the door, so they could all go straight outside when they woke up?  Yeesh.  It was a long night.

I actually slept later than I expected, probably as a result of being up half the night worrying...  So at 8:30, I ran out to the coop, expecting much chicken misery.  Pffft.  As if.  Pretty Boy was in the house, and the girls were on the floor.  As I opened the door, Pretty Boy emerged and started bRRRRkk-ing at me.  The girls all hopped out the door, and Pretty Boy followed.  He followed them around, making chiding-sounding noises at them, then did his little wing-dragging mating dance.  Oh my.  My little adolescent hens went crazy.

First the girls would all cluster together, making little chicken noises that reminded me of nothing so much as a bunch of teenage girls giggling.  Then one would get brave and run up to Pretty Boy.  She'd circle around him, acting shy.  He'd dance some more, and she'd get even closer.
He'd decide the moment was ripe, and he'd jump on her back.  "Sqaaaawwwk!" went the surprised hen, as she ran back to the other girls.  They'd giggle and gossip some more, then another one would go to tease Pretty Boy.

The light was horrible (which is obvious from the picture I took), otherwise I'd have taken a video.  They were hilarious.  I think Pretty Boy was flattered by all the attention; he came from a flock of 70, with several other roosters.  I'm really looking forward to seeing the results, now that he has his own, very appreciative, harem.


What I Want

In no particular order...

  1. To become even more self-sufficient.  I like growing my own veggies, but I wish I had space to raise cattle for beef.  And pigs.  And maybe a goat for milk, if I could just milk her in the morning.  I want to make my own soaps, herbal remedies, and cleaning supplies.
  2. To finish our house.  I'm sick unto death of living in a construction zone.  I'm sick of our ugly bathroom and kitchen.  And if the dining room had plaster walls and a pine floor instead of paneling and pergo, I think I'd swoon.
  3. To be comfortable financially.  I don't need much, really.  I lived in my first apartment on $800 a month, and the rent was $400.  I can be frugal, and I'm a homebody.  But our car will eventually need to be replaced, and things go wrong.  So "comfortable" means having enough to save a bit every month.
  4. To homeschool my kids.  I'm not sure how long I want to do this for, but I already hate the idea of sending Ethan off to kindergarten.  I hate how education has become so centered on standardized testing that it's more a matter of how much you can memorize instead of how much you actually learn.  I'm also not too keen on exposing him to all of the sex/drugs/profanity that it seems like even the littlest kids now know about.  I was sheltered, with the added bonus that I was completely oblivious to pop culture.  I didn't have a clue what all the other kids were talking about, and I didn't care.  I was perfectly happy to read my books about magic and dragons and ignore the world.  But I'm not sure that is completely normal, and I don't expect my kids to be the same way.  So, I want to give them a good foundation at home before allowing the rest of the world in.  I also want them to have the freedom to explore topics in greater depth than what happens in most schools, to really learn about topics instead of just skimming over them.
  5. To buy a house and land further away from town.  I want to have room to roam away from pavement, cars, and other people.  We've toyed with the idea of building our own home, possibly from strawbales, and I think that would be the ultimate accomplishment.
  6. To stay home from work to raise my kids.  I'm fortunate enough to have family who can watch Ethan, so I don't worry about leaving him.  And I have a job that I love.  But I don't want to do this forever.  Being home feels like something I'm being called to do.
  7. To have another child, so that the "kids" and "children" I've mentioned in the past two posts are real instead of imagined.
  8. To take an exotic vacation.  Just one would be fine.  I'm happy going to the Smoky Mountains and to Sleeping Bear Dunes for vacation.  But I think it would be awesome to go to Scotland.  Or Italy.  Or Egypt.

Our life, in a nutshell

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you will know that I have lots of ideas that often pull me in different directions.  We are still trying to sort out the specifics, but our ultimate goal has always been to live a more healthy, sustainable, self-sufficient lifestyle.  Secondary has been to fix up our house.  We vacillate between staying here and moving.  We also talk often about whether or not I will continue to work full-time.

I know a lot of this has been gone over before in previous posts, but I need to clear my head, and writing is usually the best way for me to do it.  Bear with me.

 I still feel very strongly that our country is headed for disaster.  I don't mean this in a conspiracy-theory kind of way; I just mean that we (as a country)  have had our priorities jacked up for about as long as is sustainable.  Our goal has been progress.  Progress at any cost, and progress for its own sake.  As machines and computers started to do the work of people, it was thought that people would work less and have more time for leisure.  The opposite has been true.  We work more.  We spend less time as a family.  We value entertainment over relationships.  We value convenience over authenticity.  Newer, Better, and Faster have become the gods that America worships, and we serve them at an extremely high cost to ourselves and our future.

And I DO NOT want this for myself or my family.  In many ways, we have opted out.

Our only television lives in the basement.  I will not raise a child who is a mindless consumer.  We avoid toys and clothing that are feature popular characters.  He has no idea who Dora and Diego are, has never seen Blue of Blue's Clues, and identifies Cars characters by the type of vehicle they are instead of by name.  I intend on keeping it this way for as long as possible, as I feel very strongly that kids are exposed to too much advertising too early.  Mommy and Daddy should be the central figures and examples in the lives of our children, not characters.  Too many people rely on "educational" television to teach their children.  Shayne and I will rely on ourselves.  We strive to set an example of behavior for our children to mimic, instead of telling them to do as we say and not as we do.  We are our children's best teachers, and as a result, we are becoming better people.  We are far from perfect, but it's important for our kids to see that too.  We make mistakes.  We are human.  But we can always strive to be better.

We spend lots of time outside.  Ethan has never once become bored or cranky outside.  It's the ultimate entertainment, and it moves at the speed of the child.  All it takes is a parent or caretaker willing to supervise instead of getting something done.  It's not realistic to spend all day, every day outside.  Meals still need to be cooked, showers need to be taken, and the laundry doesn't put itself away.  But it's been an important lesson for me to organize my time around my little guy's need to play and explore - not the other way around.  Babies accommodate the parent's routine.  Toddlers need accommodation, otherwise they become cranky and confused.  Having a loosely structured day, with the child's needs foremost, make for a much happier home.  Please don't confuse this with accommodating a toddler's every want and whim.  There is a difference.  Children need to play.  They also need boundaries.  They do not need to be allowed to tyrannize their parents.

We grow and raise some of our own food - more every year.  And we are working on cooking more and more from scratch.  In addition to being healthier for us than conventionally grown food, our organically frown veggies are healthier for the earth.  And the less food that is shipped across the country, the lower our country's gas consumption.  We also have the peace of mind from knowing our eggs were laid by happy, free-ranging hens, that our home-canned food is additive free, and that we are raising our child to think about where his food comes from.

We live within our means.  We could afford a larger house, with a larger payment.  We could afford a new car.  We could afford to take a cruise.  Well, none of this right now, since I was paycheck-less for a while and our house and car both decided to fall apart at the same time we had big vet bills for our poor old kitty, but our household income is higher than that of the average American family.  But we don't live like the average American family.  We choose to save money in our own retirement fund instead of relying on Social Security or pensions from our jobs. 

We try to live small.  Less stuff means less to clean, less to take care of, and less to weigh us down.  It's a work in progress, and we aren't true minimalists or ascetics.  We just try not to have anything that isn't useful, beautiful, or that we don't love.  It's hard.  Especially with the constant bombardment of media and internet images.  Even though I have all the ads blocked on my browser, I still visit blogs and message boards, and I see houses and property that I wish I had.  I have to constantly remind myself that we are where we are supposed to be right now, and there is always a lot behind the pictures that I don't know.  Maybe the people are swimming in debt.  Maybe they received an inheritance.  Maybe they scrimped and saved every penny for many, many years to be where they are.  There are so many variables that it's an exercise in futility to try to compare yourself to anyone else.

These are the main tenants of our existence right now...  But where are we going?

And the truth is, I don't know. 

I'm trying so very hard to figure that out right now, but I'm not making any realistic headway.  I just feel pulled in six different directions...  Over the next few days, maybe weeks, I'll be trying to work through my options and feelings.  Stay tuned...


We're getting a rooster!

I said when we first got chickens that I'd never get a rooster, because I was afraid of all the noise he may make.  And now I'm eating my words.  With the continued unease in our economy, plus the fact that I've been unable to source a reasonably-priced provider for pastured chicken meat, I decided to look a little closer to home for a solution.  And when a friend posted on her blog how she needed to offload a rooster or two... the answer seemed obvious.

Pretty Boy, a Buckeye/buff Orpington cross, will be coming home to roost on Monday night.  None of the girls have started laying yet, but two of them are really close.  Their combs are bright red, and their wattles get bigger every day.  I expect eggs within a month. 

We currently have three breeds of chickens.  Buff Orpingtons and Australorps are considered a dual-purpose breed.  The grow fairly quickly, are heavy-bodied, and are excellent layers of brown eggs.  The Easter Eggers lay green eggs, and are fairly slim.  They are geared more for egg production than meat, but since their eggs are green, I will be able to easily remove them from underneath a broody hen.  Or if we hatch in an incubator, I'll select only brown eggs unless we need to replace a layer.  I'm hoping to raise a few birds next year for our own consumption.  I'm not sure yet if I'll do the processing myself; I don't have a good spot outdoors for butchering and cleaning production-line fashion.  But if not, we have a processor nearby who charges $7 per bird.  Even adding in feed costs, I estimate each bird would cost about $12 and dress out at 4 - 5 lbs.  And for organic (getting new, organic feed soon!), truly free-range, pastured chicken, a price of less than $4 per pound is unheard of. 

I'm still not certain about the noise issue...  But he can't possibly be noisier than our neighbor's 6 beagles. 


Almost meal planning

I feel like a champ.  I haven't spent any (ANY!) money at all this week, and we've had home-cooked food for every meal so far. I cooked a big pot of beef and vegetable soup on Monday (my last day off), then have taken it to work for lunch every day since.  I set out pasta and sauce for Shayne to make for dinner last night, then today popped pork steaks with a mushroom and onion sauce into the crockpot for dinner.  I also have bread rising in the bread machine to go with the rest of the soup.

This has not been easy, but it's been easier than I thought it would be.  I just have to remember to take meat out of the freezer to thaw, so I'm working a day ahead of myself.  I'd like to eventually get to the point where we're planning our meals about 2 weeks in advance, but even thinking a few days in advance is big progress for me.  I will probably only need to cook one more meal to get us through the rest of my working days, then I'll have my days off to plan, shop, and cook.  My ultimate goal is to cook enough on my days off that I'll only need to cook one, maybe two, meals on my working days.  This should keep Shayne from feeling like he needs to eat out for dinner (which is obviously better for both him and Ethan), plus it will give me dinners to take to work and keep me from eating out.  I don't mind eating out one day a week, but it was getting a bit ridiculous.  Last month, we spent almost $900 on food.  $900!  We should be spending half that...  I knew we'd gotten off track, since we've been stressed and our kitchen has been a mess, but still...  It's time to get back on track.


Ethan's vocabulary

Having just turned two a little over two weeks ago, I thought it would be fun to document some of Ethan's milestones.  In some areas, he seems very advanced, but in others, he's a bit slower.  So...  He's normal!  In my opinion, he seems to have an extensive and complex vocabulary, so I wanted to try to write down all the words that he knows right now.  These are all words he can say while looking at a picture, seeing it in real life, or spontaneously, all with no help from us.  He can parrot many more, but I don't consider that to be "knowing" them.

(After a quick internet search, it seems the average 2 -3 year old has a 30 - 50 word vocabulary)

  1. Mommy
  2. Daddy
  3. Grandma
  4. Papa
  5. Papaw
  6. Jay
  7. Jammie (Jasmine)
  8. Carlos
  9. Rafa
  10. Christopher
  11. Aunt Shelley
  12. Uncle Negro (nickname for his dark-skinned, Hispanic uncle)
  13. Nana
  14. Felisha
  15. Lucy
  16. Michael
  17. Meggie
  18. Miss Rachel
  19. Mr. Rut
  20. Mr. Dan
  21. Mr. Todd
  22. Miss Angie
  23. Uncle Chuck
  24. Aunt Virginia
  25. Great Grandma
  26. Miss Susie
  1. bear
  2. racoon
  3. squirrel
  4. fox
  5. duck
  6. giraffe
  7. elephant
  8. lion
  9. tiger
  10. zebra
  11. owl
  12. dog
  13. kitty
  14. mouse
  15. bird
  16. chicken
  17. horse
  18. cow
  19. pig
  20. sheep
  21. dolphin
  22. penguin
  23. crab
  24. fish
  25. octopus
  26. starfish
  1. tree
  2. grass
  3. flower
  4. dirt
  5. woods
  6. leaf
  7. lawnmower
  8. sunshine
  9. fence
  10. pool
  11. lake
  12. river
  13. bridge
  14. house
  15. fire station
  16. train tracks
  17. hill
  18. flag
  1. rug
  2. floor
  3. light
  4. bed
  5. toilet
  6. sink
  7. table
  8. chair
  9. spoon
  10. bowl
  11. napkin
  12. knife
  13. fork
  14. refrigerator (frig-rator)
  15. towel
  16. pencil
  17. pen
  18. book
  19. couch
  20. door
  21. window
  22. wall
  23. ceiling
  24. fan
  25. vacuum (wack-yoom)
  26. flashlight
  27. blanket
  28. washcloth
  29. soap
  30. shampoo (ampoo)
  31. toothbrush
  32. toothpaste
  33. medicine
  34. wipes
  35. paper
  36. picture (pick-ter)
  37. phone
  38. video
  39. slipper
  40. toy 
  41. screwdriver
  42. drill
  43. hammer
  44. bottle
  45. bedroom
  46. bathroom
  47. kitchen
  48. breakfast
  49. lunch 
  50. dinner
  51. man
  52. woman
  53. baby
  1. shirt
  2. pants
  3. socks
  4. shoes
  5. jacket
  6. hat
  7. glove
  8. bib
  9. shoes
  10. boots
  11. sandals
  12. diaper
Body parts
  1. head
  2. hair
  3. ears
  4. eyes
  5. nose
  6. mouth
  7. teeth
  8. chin
  9. neck
  10. stomach
  11. hands
  12. finger
  13. arms
  14. legs
  15. feet
  16. bottom

  1. train
  2. airplane
  3. jet
  4. space shuttle
  5. helicopter
  6. truck
  7. car
  8. van
  9. motorcycle
  10. mail truck
  11. trash truck
  12. boat
  13. police car
  14. fire truck
  15. ambulance (am-blance)
  16. Jeep
  17. Hummer
  18. combine
  19. tractor
  20. Bobcat
  21. excavator
  22. forklift
  23. dump truck
  24. mixer
  25. roller
  26. crane
  27. backhoe
  28. front-end loader
  29. bulldozer
  30. trash truck
  31. school bus
  32. tow truck
  1. red
  2. blue
  3. yellow
  4. orange
  5. green
  6. purple
  7. black
  8. white
  9. brown
  10. big
  11. little 
  1. inside
  2. outside
  3. underneath
  4. on top
  5. upstairs
  6. downstairs
  1. run
  2. walk
  3. jump
  4. dig
  5. climb
  6. come
  7. go
  8. work
  9. drive
  10. ride
  11. push
  12. carry
  13. eat
  14. sleep
  15. cook
  16. wash
  17. dress
  18. put on
  19. take off
So far the total is 222, and that's just what I came up with sitting here for a few minutes.  I know he knows way more animals...  He can string words together really well, though he often leaves out the unessential parts of sentences.  Some examples of his sentences are, "Go outside," "Bach coming downstairs," "Daddy working," "Ride tractor outside", and "Read book couch."  He definitely can get his point across.  My all-time-favorite sentence is, "Front-end loader scoop up dirt."  I'm impressed!

Things to make my life easier

As Ethan has gotten busier (and busier!) and takes fewer/shorter naps, I've been feeling frazzled again in the morning.  Especially when I'm trying to get out the door, I feel like I'm in a huge rush and that I'm setting a poor example for him.  So I'm going to try a few things to be a little more structured and organized during my "me" time, hoping that it will allow me to be more flexible during the time I spend with Ethan.

When I get up in the morning, the first thing I do is make myself an iced raspberry mocha (Did I tell you I bought an espresso machine to save myself from my Starbucks addiction?  It totally deserves its own post, so I won't elaborate, but I am in LOVE!).  It doesn't take long at all, but trying to measure coffee while Ethan inevitably opens the refrigerator and begins to remove items (yogurt! milk! carrots!) usually results in misery when I remind him that he just ate breakfast and is probably full.  Please don't think I'm denying my little guy...  He's one of the rare toddlers that would eat all day, every day, until he got sick.  But if he doesn't open the fridge and see the food, he's completely content to play.  So I'm going to avoid it.  My mocha will be made the night before and refrigerated.  I get my coffee; kidlet stays out of the fridge, and a meltdown is averted.

The getting-out-the-door part is usually the hardest part of my day.  I always think about moving the carseat to my work car when Ethan is napping... and then I rarely do it.  I'm definitely going to make a concentrated effort to get this done, along with packing the diaper bag and taking my work "stuff" (lunch, laptop, etc) out to the car.  Then, even if I'm short on time, I won't be trying to throw things together while chasing the little one.  I usually end up getting frustrated and short-tempered, and I don't think that's a good example to be setting.

And something else that I've already started doing is to simply slow down.  I don't exactly have a busy schedule, but I don't like feeling like I'm rushing Ethan.  He's two; he doesn't get deadlines, or rigid schedules, or the pressure to go shopping, stop at the market, have lunch, and make it to work on time.  So I've decided not to live like that either.  If I don't make it to the store, or the market, or whatever other optional (though I know it doesn't always feel optional) errands and activities for the day...  I'll do it tomorrow.  Or the next day.  It's not worth rushing my little guy around.  I don't want him to grow up thinking we always have to be running from one thing to the next.  I don't want "hurry up!" to become a mantra.  I want to have time to let Ethan walk around the market - at his speed.  To play outside in the yard and not have to set a time limit on it.  To eat sitting at the table, not in his carseat.

So...  As I implement these little changes, I'm hoping that they will help me to slow down, relax, and go with the flow a bit more.  Life is too short for rushing through headlong.  I want my child to grow up knowing that there is always time to play.


More organizational ramblings

I so wish that there was some kind of magic wand I could wave and just have all the surplus junk leave my life instead of having to sort through it bit by bit.  Still, we're making progress.  We've tossed, donated, recycled, or otherwise rehomed 972 items.  Yeah, it's not even halfway there, but we're still plugging along.

Also, the appliance garage is dead!  I got a bug up my butt (where did that saying come from, anyways?) right before Ethan's 2nd b-day party, and I finally ripped the dang thing out.  And I'm soooo glad I did it.  Our kitchen suddenly looks a lot bigger.

Here's a pic of how the kitchen looked when we bought the house:

 And now that he appliance garage is gone (please excuse the not-so-great cellphone photo and sink full of dishes...):

Okay, so the pictures don't really do it justice, since the "after" shot is too close.  But trust me when I say it changed the whole character of the kitchen.  There's a lot of counter space that was freed up on the other side of the sink, since the toaster oven is now living where the appliance garage was.  And it just doesn't look as dated.  I can't quite convince myself I'm happy with our kitchen, but it's getting better.

We still have a big hole in the kitchen ceiling.  It's amazing, but I really don't even notice it anymore.  We're very close to securing the financing necessary for the bathroom remodel, so I'll be planning that with a vengeance soon.  Can't wait!