Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Day 9 - Keep it simple

Once you've finished your family favourite meals list, and made your weekly menu plan, and then made your shopping list, you would think that's all the lists you could need right?

But before we talk about that, we need to get back to the idea of simple.

That sounds like a lot of lists right? To a list person, making lots of lists isn't a problem. In fact, more lists makes me feel more secure and prepared. It makes me calm. Making sure the lists get kept in a useful order, don't have to have a lot of repeats, and are actually useful, can be a problem, so I have to keep only the lists that are actually useful, and keep them in order. And if you aren't a list person, 3 lists seems like tons. It just overcomplicates the whole matter.

You need to find your way to the sweet spot. 

You are the only one who can figure out your comfort level. The space where you feel prepared for the week, confident that you haven't forgotten something that will cause frustration later, and didn't feel like you were locked in a dungeon all afternoon writing lines.

In it's simplest form a menu plan is just a list of things you will cook, and an accompanying list of things you need to buy. Get to your sweet spot, and you will be hooked on menu planning. (But not phonics... you may have missed your chance!)

This figuring out might take a bit of time, but keeping with it, and keeping on working on it, will help, especially in busier and harder times in life. If you are in a season of abundance, you might not feel motivated to work on improving your household systems, but if you are in a season of leanness you have all the motivation, but maybe not the ability to work on this (time, energy, etc.). Just work on things to your own ability, and within your own strengths. Menu planning shouldn't become another area in which we constantly feel insufficient.

So do what works for you. And that is all. And that is everything you need. 

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Day 8 - Filling your shopping cart

Did you guys have fun yesterday browsing all those meal plans from other people at Organizing Junkie

Did it inspire you to write down your meal plan? 

I hope it did, because today we are going to talk about the second step in meal planning.... creating your shopping list. 

Before we start I have to give a shameless plug to Plan to Eat, because they solve the problem that is generally the most disheartening part of the whole menu planning chore. At some point you have to look through every recipe, figure out all of the ingredients, check this against what you already have, and then write it down on a list that you can actually use in the store, without forgetting something. Plan to Eat does all of this for you, and can be set up, so that it checks what you already have. It feels somewhat miraculous every time. 

If you have decided that Plan to Eat is simply not for you, then things will take a bit longer. But we can still work on ways to streamline things. While ensuring that nothing is forgotten. Because after getting home after shopping all morning, and finding out you either forgot something, or got more of something you really didn't need, is one of the worst feelings. Completely depressing. (Or maybe that's just me, and I am too dramatic.)

I find that the biggest time suck when creating a shopping list, is often from having to get out all the recipes and then go through them each. This creates a huge mess, and really does take lots of time. If you prefer to cook from your head, then you probably don't need to do this as much, but you also run the risk of getting a bit boring. And easily forgetting things such a condiments and spices that you are out of. 

Remember on Friday how we talked about the list of all your family favourite recipes? Well today you are going to do a bit more grunt work on that. Basically for each recipe you need a list of all the ingredients needed for it. You could choose to write this on paper, and store it in a binder, or you could make a spreadsheet like this one:

Click to Enlarge
Just keep it on a file on your computer, and then every time you make your menu plan, you simply need to write down the things you are missing. No more getting out all your recipes. This is will save lots of time for you when using these recipes (which you probably are using for most meals) and then you just need to spend a bit more time on special meals. 

I really really prefer a list on my computer because I like to organize my grocery list into categories. On paper I find I have to re-write the list because I am OCD about things being categorized correctly and still looking pretty. On the computer I am in love with the copy & paste function.  Otherwise I end up criss-crossing the grocery store, which is much more tiring and eventually I am just grabbing whatever, just so I can get out of there. I generally also do not take the time to do even a bit of comparison shopping, and so end up spending more money. 

I have seen recommendations from various websites about keeping a pantry inventory, and if that works for you, then that is great. I find that it does not work for me, because it changes to often and is a pain in the neck to keep up, and often led to me not buying something, without realizing that I don't have enough to finish the recipe I had in mind. 

So instead I just start fresh each week, with everything I need listed on my grocery list, and delete the items I already have. For me, this is simpler. 

Ok? So quick summary. 

1. Go get Plan to Eat, because it is the best way to plan menu's ever, and will seriously reduce the amount of time spent meal planning. 

2. If you don't want Plan to Eat, then write an ingredient list (include everything, even oil & salt) for each Favourite Family Meal, and keep somewhere safe. 

3. Each week, when writing your shopping list, refer to your ingredient lists and simply write down the items you are missing, organizing into categories. Make sure you actually check not only that you have the items, but how much of each item you have. 

4. Go to the grocery store and only go down the aisles that you need, and feel confident that your list is complete. 

Monday, 7 October 2013

Day 7 - Let's do it!

Hi guys! I hope you had a great relaxing weekend. Since I work shifts, I mostly worked this weekend, and now am sick with either a cold or flu. Luckily I can blog from bed.

Today I want to introduce you to a favourite menu planning resources of mine - Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday. She posts her own menu plan for the week and then has a linky party for other bloggers to add too. Usually hundreds of bloggers link up. And because these are real people, who often don't have food related sites, you get to see a lot of real menu plans.

As you guys now know, I do my shopping on Friday, so my "week" is from Saturday to Thursday. However, I like to plan my menu before then, just in case life gets busy. I find that if I have to meal plan and then immediately grocery shop it takes all day. Even though I can really meal plan in about 30 minutes, I guess I just get distracted.

Currently my family is myself and my husband, and we try to eat paleo or primal for most of our meals. However, we don't paleo-ify anything, so we just drastically reduce our grains & legumes, but if a recipe calls for 1 tbsp. of flour, it'll probably be white flour not coconut flour. That's why you will mostly see a meat dish and a vegetable or salad. I do work shifts, and often work 2 evenings a week, so for those nights we have meals that can easily be made ahead and travel. As you will see, we usually make dinners that would feed 4 and then use the leftovers for lunch the next day, or, more often, for dinner the next day.  I also just attended a soup swap, so my freezer currently has several different soups ready to go. I will be using those in my meal plans this month. Finally, Canadian Thanksgiving falls within this meal plan, but we will be celebrating with my family next weekend. Don't be alarmed by Monday nights fancy dinner, this is just for a holiday.

My menu plan for next week: 
Friday - Sweet & Sour Pork, Chinese Cabbage Salad
Saturday - leftovers
Sunday - soup from the swap, cut vegetables
Monday (Canadian Thanksgiving!) - Braised Chicken, Rutabaga Puree, Kale Salad (dessert optional)
Tuesday - leftovers
Wednesday - Shepherd's Pie & Roasted Savoy Cabbage
Thursday - leftovers

If you use Plan to Eat my user name is Robyn_M and you can add me as a friend! And I will be linking up to Menu Plan Monday. If you have a blog you can link up as well, or you can comment below so we can all see what kinds of things other people are eating!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Day 6 - Stretch yo-self!

Ok... so today was supposed to be a blog post about grocery shopping. But instead I am going out to dinner with my sister and then taking a long shower and falling asleep. It's been a loooong weekend.

So... instead let's talk about flexibility. And why is it the central skill of a meal planning.

You see, food is important for basically two reasons on most nights, sustenance and nutrition. You gotta eat, and hopefully it won't be bad for your health. But there is another important reason that we eat... community. We share the table, because the table is where we often let down our guard and really listen to each other. Gathering around shared food actually is a strong bond, that creates trust.

Often, we are invited to dinner, or realize it would be a great time to have dinner with friends at the last moment. Sometimes we just decide to go out to dinner by ourselves on a whim. Or we are struck by a sudden craving.

Sharing food is what makes food fun and exciting. It is no longer just sustenance, it is celebration and life. It is rich, and deep and important.

So make meal plans, because they add flexibility to your life and allow for more of the excitement. See them as the preparedness guide. Basically if nothing better comes up today, then we will have the menu plan for dinner.

It's also kind of awesome to know that you were already going to make a big pot of chili the day you find our your high school best friend has arrived in town and would love to catch up. No searching all over the inter-web, finding a recipe that you have to go to two stores for, plus the liqour store (obviously), and then come home, make all the food and clean the whole house. You're not going to want to really be engaged after that, you are going to want a nap!

If you are someone who struggles with wanting to control life (hi me!) this idea of flexibility is hard. The whole point of a list is so that we are in control right? Well... maybe start slow, and be gentle with yourself. But stretch. Say yes more, and strive for perfection less.

So make menu plans in pencil, because you never know when life will come up. 

Friday, 4 October 2013

Day 5 - One List to rule them all

Ok, so we've talked about our meal plan system, and chosen whether or not to use a list or a calendar.

But, how do we know what to put on our meal plan? We want this to be easy and fast right?
Ok. Here is the magic fairy dust. The part that makes this whole thing worthwhile. Today we are going to talk about how you are going to make meal planning = simple.

What you need to do is simply write down a list of your families favourite meals. These are the meals you have grown up with, the meals you don't need a recipe for, meals you use a recipe for, but that page is probably splattered and tattered. This are your well-worn, time-tested recipes. You can choose as little or as many recipes as you like. But lets give you some guidelines.

You should have at least 20 and no more than 90. Even 60 is a large number. Do you really have that many favourite meals? Also these should be fairly standard recipes, but might play more heavily to your ethnicity or family background. Spaghetti, simple grilled chicken and hamburgers are at home here, but butter chicken, pad thai and cabbage rolls can also be great. Another thing to consider is recipes, that aren't really recipes at all. Your amazing chicken soup that you just create with whatever is in your fridge? That's a non-recipe. It belongs. Breakfast for dinner, grilled cheese & soup and nachos can also work. Just be sure that most things on the list are quick to prepare. Some might need a long time to cook, but they can do so without you standing by. This is pretty important. Do you see what kind of ideas I'm getting at? Simple, favourite meals, that you can make for most weeknights, with a few slow-cooker and sunday afternoon dinners, just for interest and yumminess.

Ok, got your list?

Now, I prefer to organize my list by protein - chicken, beef, pork, seafood & vegetarian. In my world, pork is anything that comes from a pig.

The next part we need to add to our list is sides. Start with vegetables. This can be as simple as "steamed vegetables," which gives you lots of flexibility to full salad recipes. If you are up for it try to vary your sides, maybe even with a different one for each meal. But, again, these have to be vegetables you will actually eat. If you kids or husband, (or you!) will only broccoli and carrots, then include these vegetables each meal. You can decide how to work other vegetables into the meal if you want. Some meals have classic sides, or your family traditionally has certain foods with them. Spaghetti & caesar salad is a great example. This list is not a time to look for exciting and new recipes, it is about the tried & true.

Then from there you can add starches and condiments. You can add appetizers and desserts, but this is mostly so that you can use these same meals for entertaining on casual nights. That part is totally optional. Add each element to the meal, so you don't realize as you scramble to get dinner on the table that you forgot horseradish for your roast beef or naan to go with your butter chicken.

When I initially wrote my list, it was quite un-balanced between the protein categories (21 chicken & 4 fish??), so as I added "experimental" meals, I focused on the more empty categories, so that I could find new favourites. After the initial list was created I have slowly added more detail to this list. And worked on diversifying my vegetable choices. You can revisit this list whenever you like, and add or subtract things as your families tastes change, or you want to change how it works for you.

Ok... so how does this additional list make menu planning easier? Well... you are going to make most of your meals off this list. So when you are doing your planning you can simply grab your list and get most of your meals filled in. And with enough variety it certainly won't seem like you are eating the same thing over and over again. You can add new dishes and stuff too, but only when you want to. And you don't have to haul out your whole collection of cookbooks or view all of pinterest every time you make a meal plan. It will also help significantly when making your shopping list. We'll talk about that tomorrow.

Here is my personal list, shared on Google docs. Because I use Plan to Eat I have simply uploaded these recipes, so I don't have recipe books & page numbers listed. But I would include it otherwise. You need to be able to easily get at this info. Check it out if you want an idea of how to actually organize this list. I love seeing all the cute printables available online, but I think that since this is a working document, printables would make it seem too precious. This is a document that will need to be revised, changed around, erased and scribbled on. Make it work for you.

Tomorrow we are going to talk about why this list makes everything so. much. faster!

What meals made your list?

Day 4 - Planner McPlannerson

Ok... are you guys ready? The next 3 posts are the heart of the menu plan. Everything else is just tips & tweaks to make these things work. So you ready? Have you figured out what kind of planner you are and how long in advance you want to do your planning? Ok, grab you tools and here we go.

So the first thing you are going to need is a planner. Basically a place to write down your outline. On day 2 I had you choose what tool you wanted to use for this. There are basically two styles: lists and calendars.

A list is, well, pretty self-explanatory. Write a list of the foods you would like to eat, for your specified time frame. You can assign days of the week, or not. If you crave flexibility, just a list of 7 dinners is a great way to start. If you crave structure, assign days. If you like routine, you can even add theme nights. We'll get back to themes in a second. Check out these printables if that's your thing, or just grab a piece of paper, or your dayplanner. Make sure you are writing your list in something that is already part of your life. You don't need a new notebook, or a fancy binder, just use what you have around you already.

A calendar, is also just a calendar. The basic difference is a vertical list or a horizontal calendar. But it is harder to have the same level of flexibility with a calendar... but not impossible. Enter the mighty pencil. Haven't used one since grade school? You can probably steal one from your kids. If you are using a computer, well, you have the delete key, and even copy & paste. One of the most important things to realize with a calendar is that you will probably move stuff around. Some days you just really won't feel like what you had planned, or life will happen. Or you'll get a last minute invite to dinner. A meal plan shouldn't get in the way of these things.

Which brings me to a great point. Never plan for 7 dinners a week. You will have leftovers, go out for dinner, make something up from pantry food you found, finally getting around to eating that casserole in your freezer. Or you will just have pancakes for dinner, because this was a miraculous week and none of that happened. I generally do 5 or so, and add notes for times when we already know we are going out, and also include my leftovers in my plan. For instance, last week we had ribs, and since there are two of us, no way are we going to finish 2 pounds of ribs in one sitting. So in my plan I just noted leftover ribs for dinner the next night. Sometimes you plan for leftovers, and it doesn't work out. This is a good time to use your pencil and skip on to the next night, or bust out the pancakes. During this series I will help you get some better ideas than just pancakes for nights like this.

Ok... so back to themes. At one point in my life I felt that if you didn't have a Taco Tuesday in your life, then your menu plan wasn't really a menu plan. But as I would add themes to my planner I found that there were WAY too many great foods out there to just limit it to 7. I eventually went to theme months and would use up to 20 themes for the month. But that was crazy. So I stopped. And so now I have just 5 themes: Chicken, beef, pork, seafood, vegetarian. One meal from each protein a week. Simple. You can adjust these proteins to your way of eating. If you are vegetarian, perhaps try eggs, lentils, beans, soy, vegetables.

And that is all it is. An outline of foods you plan to eat this week. A rough sketch drawn in pencil.

Are you ready to write down your first outline?

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Day 3 - How long in advance should I plan my menu?

We're taking this menu planning thing slowly. Carefully considering it, and thinking about how our day-to-day reality will affect it. Remember, this has to be a plan that will work for you, not be just another expectation we cannot meet. Ok? Still psyched? I am.

One of the things you need to decide before we start writing things on paper (!) is: how often do you want to shop?

There are many, many options here, from every day to once a week to once a month. Quarterly shopping can also be useful for certain items. If one of the reasons you want to start a menu plan is to stop having to go to the grocery store everyday, awesome! If you are here because you actually like going to the grocery store everyday, but feel that you shouldn't.....ignore that voice in your head! A menu plan is for people who want a bit of structure and need some time-saving.

Personally I do not enjoy grocery shopping, so I prefer to shop once a week. But I have also experimented with monthly shopping, including produce, which was quite successful, but I find takes a bit more planning. I think the default for most people is weekly, so if you are really just starting out at meal planning, aim for this.

It is important to decide on a regular grocery shopping day, that will fit into your life, based on your work and home schedules. My day is Friday, based on my work schedule, which generally starts on Saturday. I also like this because if we have people for dinner it is usually on the weekend - so I can get all those ingredients in the same shop. I have noticed that Sunday seems to be the busiest day at the grocery store and Tuesday is the quietest. I really like to try to get to the grocery store between 10 - 11am so that it mostly empty.

One other thing to do before you get to meal planning is figure out what you already have. I think everyone has there one thing that they always feel they are out of, and constantly end up with too much. Mine is condiments. My mother's is carrots and jello packets. A great tip is that you can actually use a dry-erase marker to write on your freezer, which is a really easy way to keep track of your frozen meat or vegetables, especially if you have a large freezer. When you start meal planning it's a great idea to include meals that use ingredients you already have. This will save you a lot of money, and if you can get into a pattern of it, you can start buying in bulk and save even more money.

Ok? You ready? Figured out what kind of tool you want to use, and how long you're going to plan for?  Great! Tomorrow we're all going to start our first menu plan!

What day do you do your grocery shopping?

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Day 2 - What kind of planner are you?

One of the most imporant parts of a menu plan is YOU. And your family. But at this point, mostly you. Since you are the one doing the work and making it happen, its got to fit your organizing style. So answer this quiz to start figuring out where you are and how your organizing style will affect your meal planning.

When you figure out what's for dinner - how do you do it? 
  • Do you just open the fridge and start cooking? 
  • Do you have a note in your daybook or calendar? 
  • Ideas listed on your phone or computer? 
  • A written meal plan for each day of the week?
What kind of cook are you?
  • I make it up as I go along. 
  • I have memorized a few recipes and make them over and over again. 
  • I like to use a recipe, but then adjust as I go along. 
  • I follow every bit of the recipe.
  • I just kind of hate cooking. 
Where do you find the recipes you use?
  • Oh, do people actually use recipes?
  • My index cards full of special family favourites. 
  • In a huge collection of cookbooks
  • I drool over the pictures on Pinterest and FoodGawker.
  • I just google whatever seems interesting. 
And when you go shopping, how do you know what to get?
  • Whatever looks good?
  • I have a few notes and then add as I go?
  • A list scribbled on the back of an envelope or on my phone?
  • I get the same things every week. 

So let's break down these answers into a few examples: Maybe you are someone who likes to be really flexible and make whatever is inspiring today, cooking dinner is your meditation for the day. Or you like need to have a structured plan, so that some kind of food gets on the table. Perhaps you enjoy making gourmet meals some nights, and are ok with eating those leftovers for the next two days. 

Well, here are two things that can help you right now, today:

1. You have to write your plan down. Keeping it in your head actually just adds stress, because now you are responsible for remembering everything. At this point a simple list is fine, we will add structure through the week. But you gotta commit to writing it down somehow. If you are afraid of commitment and only want to plan 2 days worth, or even just ideas such as "Asian Chicken" then do it. Make it work.

2. Choose whether you want to keep your list on paper or on a computer/phone. But please pick a certain spot for it. A dedicated notebook, or meal planning pad for the paper lovers. For the compu-geeks a spreadsheet on your computer, or a website like Evernote or Plan to Eat, will work well. 

In the next few days we will get into the specifics of how to set-up our meal planner. 

I'd love to hear your answers to the questions today. For the record I have a written meal plan for each day of the week, like to use a recipe, but adjust as I go along, LOVE pinterest but also use cookbooks, index cards and make stuff up, and definitely have a shopping list on my phone. 

What kind of planner/cook/shopper are you? 

Monday, 30 September 2013

31 days to a menu plan that works: Why should I bother with meal planning?

"Why should I even bother with meal planning? I mean really, it's just another step. Planning to do a thing is always an extra step. Just start doing the thing!"

Ok... but let's say making dinner is like building a deck.

You would never start building the deck without figuring out where to put it, or what materials you want to use, or whether you want a roof on it, or maybe a fancy outdoor fireplace, or that you don't know how to hammer a nail, or own a saw. You would never just go to the store and buy whatever looked pretty and like it could possibly be used in the making of a deck. That would be dumb, and wasteful and expensive!

So let's not do the same thing in our kitchen, deal?

But... you can also easily get stuck in a planning mode. Spending all summer on meticulous architectural drawings of a beautiful deck, but never actually going to pick up the wood or doing any building means.... that you will have missed your opportunity. And still not have a deck.

So we're going to make this menu plan take as little time as possible, ok?

But... what if half way through the building you realize that you have to work all summer and only have about 15 minutes to build the deck each night? Or that you forgot to talk to you family members and they think decks are stupid and like lush green lawns? Or that you forgot your deck would need railings and never planned for those? Or that you might want to invite friends over to enjoy your deck... but you only made it strong enough to hold 2 people?

Yeah.... sometimes we forget to include non-dinner foods in our plan, or allow for guests to have meals with us, or that everyone we are cooking for has specific likes and dislikes. And also that we have limited time and energy for making dinner.

We're going to work on dealing with all of these issues, so that our menu plan will actually help save our sanity.

This menu planning thing has to be helpful. It has to really work for us. And we are going to tame this beast, together, so that it can! Ready?

Are you ready to level up your meal planning? What kind of meal planning do you already do?

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

So its the end....

Have you noticed a decided lack of blog posts recently? Yeah.... so about that.

I originally started and designed my 1001 goals while working a night shift at a long-term care facility. I had no idea what I was doing with my life and my husband had no idea what he was going to do in his life. We were just drifting along, doing whatever came up.

We had both been in school for a long time, but for whatever reason neither of us had really spent any time figuring out who we were, or maybe more importantly, who we wanted to be. We just were.

And so we drifted. In and out of school, through jobs that were ok. Even through entertainment and friendships. We were rudderless.

And so when the storm hit, we just drifted around. And crashed a bit, and got bruised, and then continued to limp along. The goals came after I started reading stuff online about intention, simplicity and minimalism. Organization. Living out your dreams. Security. These were things I dreamed about, but didn't think I would really get until I was about 40. And I guess I just figured I would eventually bump into them, and somehow understand what to do and how to do it.

I wrote most of these goals to help me figure out who I wanted to be. After I spent some time thinking about this, most of the goals became about forming habits to become this person that I decided I wanted to be. The original goals had some totally random stuff on it, some stuff that was purely dreams, and some stuff that was work.

While doing the goals I have moved provinces, realized how much I love my profession, come to realize how much I love my current position in my profession, start to begin to realize how my profession works in my home life, how my social and emotional health interact, how my spiritual life can be fed, both socially and personally. And just so, so many things. We really have had a busy 2 years.

And we've stopped drifting. Today I asked my husband what he thought his purpose was, and he actually had an answer! And didn't have to go into detail, because he could just refer back to all the other conversations we've had about this. We don't know exactly what we are going to do in life, but we are moving in a specific direction and are clear on the end goal.

So, while I clearly didn't finish all my goals, I think I completed the main goal. I needed to find intention in my life, and I needed to figure out who I was, and how comfortable I was with that person. I needed to figure out some areas to work on, that I actually cared about, not just what someone else or a self-help book thought was important. I needed direction, a role, and... of course more goals!

But this time I don't have 101 goals for the next 3 years. I have about 5 goals for the next 5 years. I have realized in the past little while that much of what I want to work on now is about attitude and ways of living, not just one-time events.

So.... I don't know what's going to happen to this little blog. For now, I haven't found much I really want to write about in this space, but maybe in the future I will! If you want to keep up with what I am doing in my life check me out on instagram where I am taking a photo each day. I've really been having lots of fun with that. Also, if you want to see which goals I completed and which ones I didn't check that out here.

So, friends, this might be it.... or it might not be. Let's see what the future will throw at us, ok? Hobey ho!

Thursday, 25 April 2013

For this week...

I really think this is a cool photo - even if its a bit depressed looking. I promise I'm not depressed.

Hey Guys!

Guess what happened this week? I didn't complete any goals.

For real.


And also my end date for all of my goals is only 34 days away! I really gotta start cracking.

But this week with sickness, pains in the neck, and as usual lots of work for both of us there is just no time to blog.

If you want to know what is happening in my real life check out my Instagram feed, where I am doing a photo a day - hopefully for a year, but we will see. Maybe forever? Maybe 6 months. It's basically the highlight or best picture of my day.

Hope you have a great weekend!

Friday, 19 April 2013

Goal 85. No TV or Movies for a whole weekend

Hi Friends! This week I've had some difficulty getting my posts up at their usually scheduled time. This is why I am glad this is just a hobby and not my job. Hopefully next week I can be a little more organized.

This past weekend we didn't watch any TV or movies. And I don't think my husband noticed. We enjoyed a great weekend, and want to share with you some ideas for how to have your own tube - free weekend.

photo by autowich on Flickr

One thing we have to explain is this - we did not have a screen free weekend. Our computers do so much for us, that are both helpful and fun, so avoiding those for a whole weekend would certainly take a lot more effort. But we didn't just swap out watching the television for watching marathons of shows we download on itunes. We avoided those too.

  1. Plan or go to a party - This weekend we got to go to a birthday party for our dear friends baby, who is now 1! A party is a great way to spend time with friends and near-by family, plus it helps you focus on connecting to real people, thus avoiding TV. If you haven't been invited to a party this weekend, why not throw your own! A full-out dinner party, board games and nibbles, or just dessert and catching up. Another great way to spend time with people is to invite them for Sunday lunch. 
  2. Go outside - A surefire way to avoid TV for a whole weekend is to go camping! It is great to be in the outdoors and not even be tempted by our sedentary past-times, which I think is why so many people enjoy camping. But, if weather would not permit camping, or you have other commitments, try going on a walk. Even just a half an hour around your neighbourhood after dinner distracts you from flopping down on the couch to digest and then getting sucked in for the rest of the night.
  3. Make it hard - One of the ways that we avoid watching too much TV is that we don't have a television and watch all TV shows online. I use a website called Sidereel to keep track of my favourite shows. Since organizing my shows this way I find that I naturally avoid just looking around for things to watch and am much more purposeful in what I actually do watch. Avoiding all the advertisements and just the ease of flipping through channels really makes watching TV more of an actual choice, not just a habit. 
  4. Get ahead on work - This doesn't sound like what you want to hear? Well, maybe its not, but using your weekend to get ready for the week sure takes a lot of pressure off those weeknights. Whether your version of getting ahead means actually going to the office (or school for my teacher-husband) or just simply prepping food for lunches and ironing your clothes, being ready for the week takes up most of our Sunday night, and makes Monday morning go a lot smoother. 
  5. Get committed - Another way to connect with friends, or possibly make new friends is to be involved. Attending your kid's sports games, taking your own classes (exercise or otherwise), joining book or interest groups and being involved in your church will help you spend your time on worthwhile activities connecting with the people around you. 
  6. Work on a project - Want to plant a garden? Re-paint your bathroom? Be the kind of mom who does cool crafts with her kids? A gourmet brunch-maker? The weekend is a good time to do this and more. 
  7. READ - Yeah, I sound like your mom. Well, she was right. 
  8. Listen to podcasts, audiobooks, music - Maybe you just want some background noise? Well, TV is actually much better at being the focus, not the background. It is really hard to actually be productive with a TV show on. Hey, they're actually designed to be looked at. A podcast isn't. It's designed to just be listened to. So it makes good background noise. Go figure. Same goes for audiobooks and music. 
  9. Plan some margin time into your weekend - Give the activities in your weekend good margin, so that you can actually be restful. Give yourself time to be a bit late getting home, a moment to stop in at a cute shop or pick up some extra ingredients for a yummy dinner. Give yourself a chance to explore, even the common places in your life, like the grocery store or that park by your house you just never have time to stop at. Instead of whizzing through your morning routine exactly like you would do it on a weekday morning, go a bit slower, taking your time, getting lost in what you are doing or in following a tangent. Simply build in time to do whatever interests you in the moment, instead of rigidly following a schedule. Or be like my dad and whiz through whatever you want to accomplish, and then spend all afternoon just following your whims and interests. Just not ones on TV. 
  10. Sleep - Sleep in, go to bed early. Much simpler when the TV isn't distracting you. 

Do you ever avoid watching TV? How do you spend your time?

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

In the Kitchen: Yes, you can make your own salad dressing!

There was a point in my life that I decided I was going to go 100% real food. I had dreams about grinding my own grain, baking everything from scratch and never having a box of kraft dinner in my house again (how sad!)

Then I realized that if I wanted to do that, it would be a full-time job. And I already had a job I liked and it actually paid in real Canadian tender. Which was a big deal in my book. So I never got to go fully real food, and a few years away from those dreams I am still totally happy with my decision. 

During that time I made some real strides to eliminate questionable food (as in foods with ingredients only my chemist husband can understand) from our diet. But it had to be easy. Things that would be way too time-consuming to make from scratch just won't work in our lifestyle. 

One of the foods that I have been able to make completely from scratch for a while now is salad dressing. Making my own salad dressing helps me control what type of oil is used, as well as how much sodium and other non-pronouncables are put into them. And darn is homemade salad dressing ever tasty. Oh yeah and easy! I just throw all the ingredients in a jar and shake them. Here are my favourite vinaigrettes:

For Really Fast Days
- drizzle balsamic vinegar and olive oil over salad greens. Toss. 
Could not get easier!     

All-purpose Italian Dressing (lasts several weeks on the counter)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1 1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1 1/4 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. dijon-style mustard

Poppyseed Dressing (great on spinach salad)
1/3 cup white vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1 tsp. salt
1-2 tsp. dijon mustard
1 tsp. poppy seeds

Honey Mustard Vinaigrette (great on grilled chicken salad)
2 tbsp. honey mustard
2 tbsp. cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
(if you don't have honey mustard use 1/2 tbsp. each of honey & mustard)

Next week I will share my favourite creamy dressings. I hope this will inspire some of you to try your own salad dressings! 

Do you make your own favourite dressing? Share below in the comments!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Goal 32. Purging my University "stuff"

Our house is small. And there is a lot crammed into it: 5 years of marriage, christmas decor, a treadmill, 3 guitars, hockey gear, oh, and two or three degrees worth of papers and books. We try not to be, but sometimes we are "selective-hoarders."

I have gotten rid of many things in my house, even things that at one point I thought I needed. But up until now I have held on to all of my old nursing notes and textbooks.

In "The Happiness Project," (which I am currently reading), Gretchen Rubin talks about aspirational clutter and nostalgic clutter. But there are lots more.  My "Someday, I might need this" clutter actually comes from a sense of fear that somehow I am going to desperately need great notes on, or an extra quote regarding... wound healing? A History of Women and Health Care in British Columbia?

Yeah.... that seems unlikely.

With the internet I can find resources regarding both of these subjects much quicker than I could by looking through my notes. Not to mention that they are only 4 years old and already becoming out-of-date.

But, if I throw them away, then I am truly closing that chapter of my life off. And, for me, it's been a chapter of my life that doesn't feel quite finished. Since leaving nursing school at the end of Year 3 and not being able to return, I have always felt that chapter remained open, unfinished. I was always working towards completing my degree or working on a plan to get me closer. I wasn't really an LPN, I was an RN in LPN clothing.

Well, today, I am stating: I am an LPN. I work as an LPN, I am registered as an LPN, and I quite enjoy being an LPN. 

If I become an RN, that would be great. It would be wonderful to accomplish that task. But, it is simply something to make my work better, not to make it legitimate. Keeping old school notes doesn't let me room to add any new notes. They are just hanging on, so that I don't have to close that chapter. I don't have to move on and let the past go.

Sometimes clutter can be a representation of what is going on in our lives, not just what happens in our house. Today I am getting rid of some of that "mind - clutter." Maybe you see yours, lurking behind your own cabinet door. 

Do you keep clutter that is holding you back? What about "mind - clutter"?

Monday, 8 April 2013

Meal Planning: Make your friends do some of the work...

Sometimes the sheer monotony of 3 meals a day, every single day, gets the better of me. I have often moaned, "Why do you have to eat again?! Can't we just eat once a week and be done?!" And of course, we have to eat in dishes and use cutlery, or at least drink out of glasses.

Yeah, that's right. I love to cook, I love to meal plan, but sometimes I just don't wanna!

So if this is you, and you want to avoid pizza or the drive-thru why not try this brilliant idea, that I totally did not come up with...

A freezer meal exchange. 

My friend recently organized a freezer meal exchange on Facebook by simply asking us each to make 6 dishes (as in the same dish) and then bring them to her house in disposable dishes (yay! less dishes!). Switch around and you go home with 5 new meals and the one you made as well. Oh, and the kids got a play date, and you got to have coffee together. Super win.

I think the best part of this idea is that you don't have to make 6 different dishes in one marathon session  yourself. You only have to make one, just make a lot, which is actually easier than making several dishes. I rolled 120 meatballs in about 2 hours. And I was able to save money by buying 5 lbs. of lean ground beef on sale. I actually made all the meals for about 30 dollars. And since I made 6 meals for 4 people each... I am serving 24 people. Wow. (Now i feel bad about my usual food budget for a party.....)

If you want to host something like this, Facebook makes it easy. Simply message a bunch of friends and ask who would be interested, then you can make it an Event. We found it was easier to do it a few weeks after we first talked about it, since then people could clear our their freezers and look for sales and such. You want a good group of people but not too many. I would say 4-6 would be fun. If you want more than that, maybe try having each person make only 5 dishes and then each person gets to choose just 5 out of a larger mix. It is also nice to clarify if you are doing full meals (are sides and vegetables expected?) or not.

It is important to talk about allergies, but if your friends all have long lists of intolerances, intense dislikes and allergies, then maybe this isn't the route for you.

You're gonna have to go in expecting a bit of an adventure. You might find your favourite dish ever, something might not be so great. It is food... you didn't make it... you get to eat it.... be happy!

So far we have had only one of our dishes and it was really good. And I still have 5 more to try. Yippee!

Does your freezer help you get dinner on your table? Do you friends help stock your freezer? How?

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Goal 99. Do a fast

I did a fast. From 9pm one night to 2:30 the next day. I was hungry.

I did a fast because it was on my list. But, I have left this one on my list for so long because I don't know how to do a fast. One day in my life I will learn actually how to do things like fast, and read the bible, and pray really well. Maybe.

But the point of a fast isn't meeting a goal. Or completing it. The point of a fast isn't just to feel hungry and say, "Wow, I felt hungry and didn't eat. I must be so great." Because just ignoring your body's innate needs is kind of stupid. The point of a fast is to be reminded.

I have needed reminding in my life. I have needed something to actually put on the brakes and say, "hey you, stop. Pay attention to your soul, your life, your emotions." And to not add anything more, but to simply spend some time reflecting on everything I have collected over the years and days.

Because that's how long its been since I did a fast. Years. And only one time.

I am really bad at stopping and reflecting in life. I am kind of a busy person, or a completely-lay-down-and-think-about-nothing person. Both don't leave room for real reflection. Which is part of the reason I write this blog. I actually have to reflect on stuff for long enough to write it down.

This morning (while I was still fasting) I woke up and kind of laid around thinking about how nice it would be to have breakfast. And then I decided to get busy and distracted, by working on my shopping list. And then I realized that just being hungry isn't the point.

So I decided to listen to a sermon by John Piper, while I did some dishes. Still busy, but at least getting there. Of course, procrastinating-by-collecting-information, because that is my deal.

And then I randomly decided to sit on the floor in a corner of my living room and pray. And then, randomly, decided to set a timer for 20 minutes. I remembered what I had heard about meditation, and how not to be mad if I get distracted and start thinking about that shopping list again, but instead to just recognize that thought and send it away. I thought it was going to be a looong 20 minutes.

And it wasn't. It seemed to just jump by. And I didn't get distracted.

Here is what I learned: Jealousy is simply looking at someone else's life and wishing it was yours. And the reason their life isn't your life, is because that is not the life you have been promised or designed for. Fear that your promise or design is somehow less than, or inferior to another person's (an actual person or just "them") is what makes you jealous. And if you (I) believe that, then your God is probably a bit small. Because his promises are huge and wonderful. Because that's how he rolls. (Oh yeah, and faith is  learning to believe that.)

Is your God, maybe, a bit small?

Monday, 1 April 2013

Meal Planning: Great finds from Pinterest March'13

Each month I plan my menu, and choose a lot of new recipes. I really like trying new things, new foods, and new ways of preparing things. Sometimes I find duds, but quite a few are pretty good. So here are my top 5 new recipes for this month.

  1. Crepes & Berries from Little Yellow Barn - At the beginning of the month I needed to use up some whipped cream. And then I realized I had never made crepes before. Weird! So I made some, using this recipe. And even though I totally ignored the "refrigerate for 1 hour"part, it still worked out. 
  2. Potato Corn Chowder wi. Kale & Bacon from Good Life Eats - Maybe you've heard of kale and all its health benefits. But maybe you've also discovered that kale chips just taste like burnt lettuce and that a kale smoothie is like shoving grass in a good smoothie. Or maybe I just haven't figured out how to do these things well. Well, this soup, ends the problem with kale. It is absolutely delicious, rich and creamy and the kale actually gives really good texture. Again, because I cannot make a recipe correctly, I changed it to just roasting frozen corn kernels (@ 400ºF) drizzled with olive oil and salt & pepper, instead of ears of corn, and I had to leave out the "corn broth". I just added 2 cups of chicken broth. I am excited for summer corn, and trying out "corn broth" though.
  3. Spicy Shrimp Nachos from Midwest Living - Nachos? Mango Salsa? Jerk Shrimp? Sold. Every part of this recipe is pure gold. I even repeated the salsa again without the shrimp for small group at our house. Just so darn good. Try it. Healthy nachos you and your husband will like. 
  4. Lemon Tea Cookies from My Madison Bistro - March is lemon month. But somehow I managed to pick some very disappointing lemon treats, except this one! Dainty flavoured icebox cookie, they still really good even thought I didn't make the frosting. These will certainly be made again. 
  5. Chinese Cabbage Salad from Jamie Cooks it up! - Next time you are going to a potluck and are again forced to make a salad, please make this! It has a great mix of flavours, without being too strong, and since it is mostly cabbage and ramen, it makes a ton without breaking the bank. If you want to make it and eat it over a few days, store the dressing separately and mix as needed. It is a great accompaniment to your own homemade asian food, and can be a nice change from stir-fry. 
Have you discovered any great new recipes this month?

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Goal 90. & 91. Handwritten letters

When was the last time you received a letter in the mail from a real person? A handwritten address and return address, maybe even addressed to Miss or Missus. I can still remember the thrill I got as a child when we received a real letter in the mail and have several of them.

One of my goals has been to write a few letters to special people, because I want them to feel that thrill of a letter, plus it is a nice way to communicate and can become a keepsake. For me there have always been two obstacles when it comes to letter writing.
  1. What to say?
  2. Having something to send it on. 
For a breezy, newsy letter I generally like to write it out on my computer or scrap paper before I use my nice paper. In these types of letters it is more important for your personality and voice to come through rather than specifically what to say. It is a bit more like a journal than an essay. 

If you are writing a letter of condolence or encouragement, and perhaps having a bit of trouble getting started or want some help with wording, check out this site. 

Sensitivity is important, but sometimes we can easily get caught up in our own insecurity, wanting to do something nice, but afraid it will be unintentionally hurtful or cause pain. That's why I like to read through these sentences and have help to find my words. I add more personality with reflections on the specific situation, or including a verse or quote, but can be happy using others' words to refine my own.  Reaching out is a challenge, so start at a level that feels just outside that comfort zone, but something you are truly glad to do. Hopefully the rewards will be greater than the risks.

For the longest time I wanted stationary paper, and felt either I couldn't afford it, and also had a hard time finding actually notepaper, not just cards. I finally just decided that I wanted to write letters and found the stationary I use at Papyrus for a pretty reasonable price. It makes me happy. And that is, of course, the whole point of any style of letter or note. Just for pure happiness, so that someone will get that thrill from their own mail box. 

When was the last time your sent a real-life letter?

Monday, 25 March 2013

Meal Planning: A salad bar for guests

My mom and sister have been staying at my house all week, while we have done some legwork for her wedding. We have had busy days, lots of driving and lots of talking. Oh, and lots of money (at least in talking) is being thrown about. Weddings are big money spenders, if you let them.

So in the interest of keeping to a budget in real life we have tried to not eat at restaurants for 3 meals a day. Because that would be too much! Plus its really hard to find good vegetables at a restaurant. We have had a mix of fast-food, pizza delivery, restaurants and home cooking. 

So what meals can you serve at home, when you have just gotten home, are ravenous and want something healthy. Oh, and everyone has different food dislikes and dietary plans.

Enter the salad bar. No cooking, very little prep. lots of veggies, and everyone can choose what they want. Perfect. 

Want some ideas for what to put in your salad bar? Here's what we had:
  • Greens - romaine lettuce
  • Proteins - diced grilled chicken, crumbled bacon, shredded cheddar cheese, goat cheese
  • Veggies - tomato, cucumber, radishs, green & orange peppers, broccoli, shredded carrots
  • Mix-ins - sunflower seeds, sliced almonds

For the dressing we had this honey mustard vinaigrette and ranch dressing. This ranch dressing recipe comes from the blog Confessions of a Food Bride, but for some reason I can no longer get this website to load, so I am reprinting it for you here.

Ranch Dressing

  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise (not miracle whip)
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1/4-1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1-2 tbsp. chives, snipped (I use freeze-dried)
  • 1/2 tbsp. dried parsley flakes
  • 1 clove garlic (or 1 tsp. garlic powder)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
Measure all the ingredients into a blender and process to mix thoroughly. Add more buttermilk until you reach a desired consistency. Store the dressing in the fridge, as it chills it will thicken into a dip. I have never seen it go bad because we always finish it within a few days! 

What meals do you like for serving guests?

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Goal 41. Organize iphoto

Right now Edmonton is experiencing a spring snow storm. I am so tired of all the snow and freezing temperatures and longing for spring. So needless to say, there aren't a lot of outdoor activities going on.

Over the past few months I have been slowly organizing my iPhoto. About 2 years ago my old laptop suffered a hard drive corruption and everything had to be saved by hand. It was a long tedious process, so eventually I just said it was good enough and never really organized it, or checked that this was true. Well fast forward to today, and there is a mess in my iphoto, with pictures of my childhood dated to 2010 and pictures from last year broken and doubled.

But this week, with the terrible weather, I have had time to simply hunker down and clean it up.

I use iPhoto on my Mac, and organize my photos by date. Then I put them into event folders like this: "Jan-Mar '07." For events that have a large number of photos associated with it, such as a wedding or trip, I will use another event folder such as "Wedding '07." Photos from projects gets their own events folder too, such as "Blog" or "Sunflowers."

 To adjust a photo that is in the wrong date I simply use "Photos -> Adjust date and time." By organizing my events by date, this change will automatically move the photos closer to the event folder they belong in. Also remember to deleted the 14 test shots you took before getting the right angle, and anything too dark, blurry or simply ugly. Not every photo needs to be saved!

This is a task that is easy to do while watching a movie or TV show, but it can be a bit tedious. So start now! Especially if you take a lot of photos, things can get ugly quickly so get a handle on it as soon as you can. From then on, photo organizing will be much simpler.

If you have ever thought about scanning in your print photos from before there was digital photography having your digitals organized before you start will make that process so much easier. Use the same organizational structure for photos you scan; choosing the (approximate) date the photo was taken rather than the date it was scanned.

Once you photos are organized think about how you will backup and/or display the photos in your house. A few ways to backup your photos include:
  • back-up services like drop box or evernote
  • external hard drives (we use a Time Capsule with Time Machine)
  • discs (try burning a dvd of photos each year - make sure to label them!)
Once you have organized your photos it is so much easier to display them, from printing photo books, making wall art or saving as a screensaver. Now it is also faster to use photos for projects like this desk top, table runner or these canvases. Have fun!

How do you keep your photos orderly?

Monday, 18 March 2013

Spice up your meal plan: Barbecue Chicken Pizza

It is no secret that I kind of love meal planning. I love selecting new recipes to try, searching for the perfect version of classics like shepherd's pie and lasagna, and celebrating special events with food.

I also have a crazy schedule and a husband who doesn't cook. And a generous but non-negotiable food budget. I will have to write about my food budget at some point, but that is not for now.

I have a pretty interesting meal plan, and we rarely eat the same meal twice. As in twice ever. I have the opposite problem that some people do, where my meal plan is TOO varied, instead of too boring.

So here is a recipe that can easily be added to any meal plan, doesn't break the bank, doesn't take a gourmet chef, but might be a completely different flavour than you usually have on your meal plans.

When making this you can either follow the links for making homemade, or use store-bought ingredients. The choice is yours based on budget, time and desire. For the record, when I made this, I used store-bought dough and homemade sauce.

Barbecue Chicken Pizza with Pineapple and Cilantro 

  • 1 ball pizza dough  (this dough can be made in advance and frozen. Thaw to use!)
  • 1/4 cup - 1/2 cup barbecue sauce 
  • 1-2 chicken breasts, cooked & finely diced
  • 4 sliced bacon, cooked & crumbled
  • pizza vegetables - peppers, onion, garlic, mushrooms, spinach
  • 1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded 
  • 1/4 cup pineapple tidbits, drained
  • few sprigs cilantro, minced

Roll out your dough onto a baking pan. I generally find that rolling mine into a rectangle is easier, and fits my narrow pans better. If you have a pizza stone or pan use that! Follow the instructions for using your pizza stone.

Cover the dough with barbecue sauce, leaving a ridge bare as the "crust". Sprinkle on chicken and bacon. Add your favourite pizza vegetables.

Cover the whole works with a generous amount of cheese. Sprinkle pineapple on top. If your husband doesn't like pineapple (or any other topping), then leave it off his half. Sprinkle cilantro over top of this.

Bake in 400ºF oven for 25-30 minutes. It is done when the edges of the crust are dark brown and the cheese is all melted. Let it sit on the counter for 2-4 minutes, then cut it into pieces.

Try serving with cut vegetables and homemade ranch dip. Enjoy!

What are your favourite "different" meals?

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Goal 37. Design a pretty, relaxing bedroom

I am happy to finally be able to say that I love our bedroom and like relaxing in here. Everything in it works well for us, and is something we have chosen, not simply what was available. I love the current colour palette of white, soft blues and brown, but we will see what happens in the future.

Decorating slowly, one piece or area at a time really helps me relax and continue to feel excited about being at home. I would define our decorating style as cozy minimalist, and I try to choose functional pieces that look nice together. We really don't have a lot of extra "stuff" everywhere, but what we do have gets used well.

Since we have only been married for a short amount of time, a lot of our furniture is still hand-me-down's or things we bought in college. Not a lot of it matches, but I think we make it work pretty well.

However, when we moved to Edmonton, we decided to simply dump our nightstands and dresser at the Value Village and buy new stuff when we arrived. Our nightstands were moulding on the back, and the dresser was second-hand from Adam's younger brother! It was in seriously rough shape; even paint couldn't fix it.

So we splurged on furniture at our favourite store (can you guess?) and got our Malm dresser and nightstand. And we even sprung for the glass tops, so that they will last longer without getting scratched. Over the past few months we have added curtains and accessories. The bedding has been with us since we got married, and my lamp is from college! I still love this lamp.

I also love this photo gallery I made, based on this inspiration from Always Chasing Life. Since its our bedroom it's the story of our relationship and has pictures from different events we've shared together. I used mis-matched all-white ikea frames, and tried to make the arrangement organic, but collected. I even bit the bullet and wrote out our wedding song on this matte. I would like to add some more non-photographic elements, but I think I need a bigger wall for that to work. Hopefully, over time I'll keep updating it.

One of the earliest DIY projects I ever did (back in college! before pinterest!) was this jewellry board. It is simply an old bulletin board, covered with cheap fabric and then I spaced out clear push pins. I just hang my jewellry on these push pins. Ridiculously easy, and makes the room sparkle.

Yeah, I know. What is with all that stuff? Well, a husband needs a place to keep his stuff, and the top of his desk makes perfect sense to me. Makes this spot just his, and limited space, well, limits what he can keep. I don't try to get rid of his stuff anymore, and it doesn't clutter up (in my opinion) our living room. Peace.

There is still a lot of work that could be done with this room. You know, like, getting a bed. But right now its working for us, and looks good enough for me.

What do you love about your bedroom?