Sunday, January 27, 2013

Family New Year Resolution: The Little Jobs Jar

Something had to be done.

Actually, lots of things needed to be done. Around the house, I mean. Life was so much simpler when the children were younger (and I was not a student). Cute chore charts of all sorts have made their way through our household. You name it, we've tried it. And really, any system works provided you maintain consistency. But that's been our problem over here. Consistency takes time. And nobody has it.

I am a believer in chores. By that I mean children contributing to the work of the household. I believe in teaching children to work and working side by side with them. I believe in all of us pitching in to keep things running smoothly. But the reality is, as the children get older they get very, very busy, and things were just not getting accomplished around the house. It's been all we can do to keep bedrooms clean (no biggie for my kids), do laundry once a week (the kids all do their own), and keep the kitchen clean after meals. I've tried to make sure I run the vacuum once or twice a week and hopefully dust, and then we shoot for cleaning the bathrooms on Saturdays. But sometimes we miss. So, I tweaked an idea that I saw on another blog to adapt it to our situation, and thus the Little Jobs Jar was born.

Here's the premise: None of us (even me) has time for a list of chores, or even a "Zone" during the week, but things have just got to be done. So, instead of stressing about nothing getting done, I figured it would be better if at least some things were getting done. I'm sick of laying down and seeing a cobweb in the same darn corner it's been for months and thinking, "I've got to get to that." Or walking up the stairs and seeing fingerprints on the wall and thinking, "I've got to wash those off." So, for about a month, I made a list of all those little things that plague my mind. The things that get forgotten after the basics are finally attended to. The things I would pay a maid to do, if I could have a maid. These are little jobs. By "little" I mean, they can't take any more than 15 minutes, but most take 5 minutes or less. And even though we are all busy, going in a million directions, I know we can each take 5 minutes, or even 15, and do one thing each day.

I gathered my list of Little Jobs and typed them up as I thought of them. I paid attention to all the things I wish were cleaner, like light switches, for example, or cupboard door fronts, or that shelf in the fridge. But they had to be doable in a short amount of time. No big jobs like sweeping the patio. I printed out my list and cut them all up into little slips of paper and put them in a jar. Every day, every person must take a slip of paper and do the job. I don't care if it's done before school or after school, as long as it's done that day. And then that's three (me, Aiden, Conor) jobs done each day. That's 18 jobs done in a week (6 days a week), on top of the regular laundry, kitchen, bedroom jobs that already happen. That's got to move us towards greater cleanliness and order! And what a relief to finally get some of these things done!

The kids are all for it. The love the idea of such short tasks counting as their chores. They appreciate that I'm not trying to overburden them and that I honor all of the other commitments on their time. And, they're helpful little guys with generally good attitudes, and because the jobs are so quick to complete there hasn't been the whining, nagging, crying, threatening scenarios of the past. It's been working like a charm. Once a job is completed, it goes into another jar until all of the jobs have been done, and then we'll start again! And I have added other little jobs as they've come to mind. It feels like an answer that will work for us in this stage of life that we're in.

"By small and simple things are great things brought to pass." Right? I think so. The Little Jobs Jar.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

One Chicken, Six Dinners Challenge

 I'm trying to be extra frugal this year and actually track my spending.  I mean, I'm always pretty frugal out of necessity and principle, but I only know estimates of what I spend on things, and this year I'm keeping track to see how I do.  As a fun project, I wanted to see if I could stretch one chicken into six dinners. I saw something similar on a blog a few years ago, and the idea has stayed with me.

First, a few disclaimers: I am not a food stylist, nor do I pretend to be. Even worse, I do not have a good camera, so I totally realize that these pictures are not the beautiful "I've got to make that!" kind of pictures. I'm so sorry about that. But the pictures serve the purpose of documentation, and that's the best I could do.

Also, while I wish this had been an organic, free range chicken, it was not. It was merely a hormone-free chicken, on sale, and right now that's the best I could do. So, for the sake of data, it weighed 5.21 pounds, and I got it for $4.53 on sale. So, this is some mighty cheap protein when stretched into so many meals.

The first thing I did was boil the chicken all day long and make stock. Here it is just getting going. Later I added some carrots, celery, and parsley. (And it cooked covered.) Cooking it slowly will bring the gelatin from the bones into the stock and make it extra rich and nourishing.

When I was done, I ended up with 12 cups of stock and 6 cups of shredded meat. I was completely amazed (and my OCD tendencies were so satisfied) with how perfectly even my beginning arsenal was. I divided up the meat into six one-cup portions and the stock into 3 cup portions and froze most of it. I knew I was going to make six dinners, but I didn't want chicken six nights in a row, so I did this over about two and a half weeks. The kids were totally in on it, and they loved it. By the way, most days I was feeding four people, with one of them being a teenage boy. And since most of the meals made enough for two full meals, you can think of it as each meal being enough for eight.

Dinner #1: The obvious, Chicken Noodle Soup. I used 6 cups of the stock and 1 cup of chicken. Served with Cheese and Herb Biscuits. 

(This pot of soup actually made enough for us to have a complete other meal, for lunch a few days later, plus another bowl that someone had another day.)

Dinner #2: Chicken and Rice. I used 3 cups of broth and 1 cup of chicken. Some people had cheese on top, others (like me) had chicken gravy on top (made with the broth). Served with veggies and salad.

This also made two complete meals.

Dinner #3: Some kind of Mexican Quesadilla Concoction. I don't know what to call them, but they were good. I didn't have flour tortillas, but I had tons of corn ones. I had half of a green pepper and a red pepper and about a quarter of a bag of frozen corn, so I sauteed that up with some onion, threw in 1 cup of chicken, and put it on a corn tortilla, topped with another corn tortilla and fried in a bit of oil.

Served with salsa, sour cream, and beans. They were good, whatever they are.

This was only one meal, but there was enough of the filling mixture (about 1/2 cup) to throw into a batch of scrambled eggs for another day.

Dinner #4: Chicken Tortilla Soup. A favorite around here. I used the last 3 cups of stock and 1 cup of chicken. Added diced tomatoes, corn, black beans, and spices. Then we served it with sour cream, cheese, and tortilla chips. Delicious!

And again, this made two complete meals.

Dinner #5: Chicken Tetrazini. Used 1 cup of chicken. Except I didn't have spaghetti noodles. I did, however, have two half-full boxes of fettuccine, so I used those instead. (I love making use of odd things left over like that!) Served with garlic bread and salad, we had it for dinner one night, and lunch on Sunday after church the next day. Total comfort food.

Dinner #6: Chicken Pot Pies. I got these ramekins at Target on clearance more than a year ago, and I've been dying to use them. They made pretty big servings, so we only got one meal from this. (Well, except that Conor didn't finish his and I ate the rest for lunch the next day.) I used my last cup of chicken. These were so good. I could have made the crusts fancier, but I was in a hurry.

So, there you go! It is possible to get six dinners from one chicken! And really, we ended up getting ten (TEN!) meals from that chicken. For $4.53, that ain't bad!

Stretching meat this far obviously does not make the meat the star of the show. It is an accompaniment, an ingredient, a nourishing highlight. But we also know that meat is better consumed that way. We eat far too much protein in this country and you definitely can have too much of a good thing. We also eat like gluttonous, entitled pigs sometimes, as if chickens just show up in the grocery store and are not living creatures whose lives should be taken and consumed with gratitude and humility. We found that while there was less chicken in these familiar dishes than we might have been accustomed to, we didn't miss the excess and were still completely satisfied.

All in all, it was a fun experiment and a success!

I'm not promising I will always make a chicken last for six dinners. I probably won't, usually. But I can do better than I've done and be more thoughtful in our consumption, saving money (and chicken lives!)

What do you think? Would you try it?

Monday, January 21, 2013

It May Not Look Like Much Right Now

Under that soil a miracle is about to take place. Planting a seed is an act of faith, and I needed one today. The weather was so gorgeous. Almost 80 degrees. In January. Which I tried not to be bitter about, and instead I was grateful for warm weather and a holiday from school (Thank you, Dr. King!) and seized the opportunity to put some seeds in the garden.

I decided to concentrate the plantings in the front bed and then I planted the Sugar Snap Peas I had left along two of the trellises. I also decided to forego the broccoli and cauliflower this time around, but I am trying a few cabbage plants, in a different bed than I grew brassicas last season. Crossing fingers on those.

So far, here is what I hope will emerge:

8 Ruben's Red lettuce
8 Black-Seeded Simpson lettuce
8 Lolla Rossa lettuce
8 Summer Bibb lettuce
8 Parris Island Cos lettuce
64 Chantenay carrot
32 Purple Dragon carrot
32 Atomic Red carrot
8 Bloomsdale spinach
16 Monstrueux De Viroflay spinach
4 Earliana cabbage
64 Green Onion
16 Five Color Silverbeet (Rainbow) chard
16 Fordhook Giant chard
63 Sugar Snap peas

Grow, little seeds, grow!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Beginnings and Endings

Friday was a strange day. I was working my first clinical rotation shift at a new hospital in a Neuro Telemetry Unit.  We haven't really been exposed to Neuro patients yet; that's to come later in this last semester, so there was a lot that was unfamiliar to me. Unfamiliar meds, different assessment techniques, new terminology. This is a floor specialized for all kinds of neurological problems, but especially for stroke patients, who come from all over to receive life-saving treatment and rehabilitation here in this Stroke Certified hospital.

The thing about a stroke is that it happens all at once. A clot in a blood vessel to the brain, cutting off oxygen to tissues. Or, a blood vessel that bursts depriving the brain cells of oxygenated blood and at the same time bleeding out and putting pressure on the brain, which doesn't have much room to give. The symptoms are noted for their suddenness: one-sided numbness or tingling; an instant and intense headache; blurry or double vision; trouble walking. A victim of a stroke has a very limited window of time to recognize the symptoms for what they are and get to the hospital for medical treatment.

The other thing about a stroke is that even though it happens all at once, it has been insidiously developing over time, unnoticed. You can have a genetic predisposition to factors that increase the likelihood that you'll develop a stroke. And, you can make lifestyle choices that steer you right in a stroke's direction.

I knew that day that Adam had an interview. He had applied for a position as manager of an apartment complex just a few miles away from our house. He's been wanting his own place, needing his own space for quite some time, but financially it had been an impossibility. He received some inside information about this job which would give him a free apartment with utilities paid. I knew what it meant, but I encouraged him to apply. We had reached a stage where we no longer talk in ifs, but in whens. This seemed like the right move to make.

And yet.

I texted him from the hospital that morning: "Good luck at your meeting, I guess. Kinda weird, but I know it's for the best. Let me know how it goes. Love you." Strange.

A few hours later, he texted back, "I'll be out by the end of the month."

So sudden. And not.

So I'm filled with all sorts of feelings. I'm in my last semester of the RN program. An ending and a beginning just out there on the horizon.

My husband is moving out. The beginning of an ending.

My 30s are coming to an end. But I have to have hope that there is a new beginning waiting for me that hopefully will challenge all of the negative, demeaning, false beliefs that I've come to accept about myself over the last two decades of my life. Yes, they've definitely got to go. I can think of all kinds of positive, strong, worthy beliefs that I want to be part of my soul. But there's got to be room for them to set up camp. Making room can be so painful.

2013 will be a year of endings. And bright beginnings.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Family New Year Resolution: Poetry Memorization

Last fall, as I began thinking about changes we could make around here, new things to add, ways to change our systems, what we could do without, I remembered with fondness our days of regular poetry memorization and I knew I wanted it back in my children's lives.  Especially since the two that live here at home are the ones that were either not on earth yet, or too young to really participate.

When I was a homeschooling mom (I miss those days!) part of our regular routine was to memorize one poem, one scripture, and one hymn a month.  As Lyndsay and Dylan got older, their memorization projects got more involved.  I can remember one Christmas when Dylan memorized (and acted out) "Twas the Night Before Christmas" which I must still have on video somewhere.  And Lyndsay memorized The Declaration of Independence and The Living Christ as two of her YW Value Projects. Such inspiring, impressive recitations.

Interestingly, I had picked up a book over the summer and set it in my pile to read during Christmas break called Moonwalking with Einstein, by Joshua Foer.  This is a book written by a journalist who was on assignment to cover the U.S. Memory Championship, and after a year of memory training guided by the nation's top competitors (who insist that they are of average intelligence and have average memories) finds himself in the finals.  He writes about the history and physiology of memorization and gives us the tricks of the trade that these memory champions employ.  Crazy stuff, let me tell you.  It's very inspiring.  And an incredibly fun read. (If you're into nerdy, like me.)

One of the things that I've enjoyed is the renewal of my belief in the importance of memory work.  I was intrigued by the book because I have such an enormous amount of reading that I have to do in nursing school and the task of committing it to memory has proven to be very daunting for me.  I wanted tips, and HELP.

One paragraph I underlined in my copy:

"Mere reading is not necessarily learning. . .To really learn a text, one had to memorize it.  As the early-eighteenth-century Dutch poet Jan Luyken put it, "One book printed in the heart's own wax/ Is worth a thousand in the stacks."  The ancient and medieval way of reading was totally different from how we read today.  One didn't just memorize texts; one ruminated on them--chewed them up and regurgitated them like cud--and in the process, became intimate with them in a way that made them one's own.  As Petrarch said in a letter to a friend, "I ate in the morning what I would digest in the evening; I swallowed as a boy what I would ruminate upon as an older man.  I have thoroughly absorbed these writings, implanting them not only in my memory but in my marrow.""


I don't know that I can ever get to that point, but I can start somewhere, and I can offer the gift of developing memory to my children.  My mother had us memorize poetry as children, and I had a Sunday School teacher when I was a teen who also included memorization as part of her weekly lessons.  I remember great quotes from Winston Churchill and others that she taught us to commit to memory.  One that she taught us by Alexander Pope, that you probably know or have heard:
“Vice is a monster of so frightful mien

As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.

I understand those words so much better now as an adult than when I was 16, but I love that she gave me so many years to "chew" on them.  So, what we are doing this year is memorizing one poem a month.  I have a book called (aptly) Poems for Memorization that was a mainstay in my homeschooling days.  I like its simplicity and the fact that the poems within have great appeal to children.  The book is divided up by grade level, so I am choosing age-appropriate poetry for the boys, not the same poem.

By the end of the year, they will each have twelve poems in their minds on which to ruminate.  I think it will be a blessing to them in this fast-paced, information-overload, instant gratification world that they live in.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Date with Conor James

In between Lyndsay leaving to back to BYU at 3:30 this morning, and Aiden coming back from Arizona at 6:30 this evening, the day belonged to Conor.  Aiden and I try to get to the temple to do baptisms once a month as our "date".  Every month, Conor complains that it isn't fair that I always take Aiden to the temple and never him, so I'd promised him that I would take him on a date over Christmas break.  Way to wait till the last possible minute, huh?

He was so excited.  He got up early and got dressed and was ready to go.  I was so tired from being up since 3am with Lyns, and not really able to fall back asleep through my sadness, but I was also very much looking forward to spending the day with my precious little guy.  Our first stop was the Los Angeles Temple Visitor's Center.  That place is so cool, with lots of videos and interactive screens that teach about the Church and about the Savior.  I let him lead the way.

He led us straight to the coloring screens.

But we also watched a few films and walked around looking at the exhibits.  I love it there.  I feel so peaceful and calm.  I wish I could stay all day long.

Then Conor and I went for a walk around the Temple.  There were crews of people there working to take down all the Christmas lighting.  We talked about the special things that happen inside of temples and why they are so important.

I loved how in the Visitor's Center he started out feeling so shy when people (read missionaries) would come up to us, and the longer we were there, the friendlier he got.  As we were walking around the temple grounds he would say hi to every person we passed and say to me something like, "He seems like a really great guy!"  The temple just makes you feel good.

The sun, right in his eyes.

One of Conor's new "friends" offered to take a picture of the two of us.

And when I showed Conor the Baptistry doors where Aiden and Lyndsay and I come, he wanted a picture in front of them.  The first doors of the temple that he will be able to enter when he turns 12.

Then it was lunch time.  Conor wanted some place "fancy," so naturally he chose El Pollo Loco.  I'm pretty sure "loco" means "fancy," right?  The Fancy Chicken?  Anyway, he said he wanted a taquito, so that's what he got.

I had the Chicken Tostada Salad, which is what I always get if I eat at El Pollo Loco.  Which isn't all that often.

Conor got a sticker scene that he had to set up before we could leave.

And then we walked over to the theater to see Wreck-It Ralph, which was actually cute, the parts I saw.  (I may have taken a brief nap.)

Conor's Love Language, by far, is Quality Time.  His constant plea is to spend time together.  It was such a joy to have him all to myself today, for about seven hours.  (After the movie we went to Kinko's so I could make copies for Primary.)  He was so well behaved and pleasant and full of joy and thankfulness.  I adore that little guy and I want him to know with my time.

That was the best date I've had in a long time!  Love you, Bubba-Loo!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Favorite Books of 2012

I read an extraordinary number of pages in 2012.  Maybe a new record, if I kept track of that sort of thing.  Granted, most of it was nursing textbooks, but still.  I have a rule of discipline that I've imposed on myself: During semesters, I only read nursing books (with the exception of my scriptures, and on Sundays when I never read nursing books and allow myself to read doctrinal or inspiring books.)  This is very, very difficult for me.  As soon as each semester ends, the first thing I do is start reading a novel.  Anything fiction!  It's such a sweet reward.  I was able to devour many books this year, more than in other years simply because the reading became such a treat after all that hard work, and I knew I had a limited time to do it in.  Because of my self-imposed limitations, I have also been very careful about what I choose to read.  So, in compiling my list of favorites, you'll see that not all of these were published in 2012, and many have been listed on other peoples' favorites in previous years. Since I have limited time, I have tried to choose books that other people have highly recommended to me. There are so many others not listed on here that are 4 star books for the year, but these are my 5 star books. They were great fun, for all kinds of reasons.

In no particular order, my Top 10 Favorites:

Okay, so I lied a little bit.  If I had to choose one favorite book of the year, it would be Pope Joan.  LOVED this book.  Such a great story.  And The Glass Castle is a very near second place to Pope Joan.  This one is a memoir and one of the best I've ever read.

Half Broke Horses is another memoir-ish book, by the same author as The Glass Castle.  The author calls it a novel, but it is really the story of her maternal grandmother.  A great read.

My mom recommended Gone Girl to me.  It's different than the books I usually read, but this was the first book I read when my last semester ended and it was a great escape.  Lots of language in this one, so beware of that, but a very cool story with lots of suspense and twists.

Forever was another one my mom recommended and I read it in January, right before my spring semester started.  Again, it has some mature content and language, but this is a really interesting story idea.

Dispirited is a book that is not getting enough attention.  It's a quick read that will pull you in on the very first few pages.  I was really looking forward to the release of this book, since, of course, it's written by one of my best friends, Luisa Perkins, and I was not disappointed.  (I never am by anything she does.)  Very cool story.

Luisa told me about this book, French Kids Eat Everything, when we were picnicking at the park this summer with our kids after a round of swim lessons.  I was intrigued.  She gave me her old Kindle and this book was on there, so I knew I had to read it.  Now I have a hard copy in my Amazon cart.  I loved the way this book was written.  Now, I'm not foolish enough to think that I can actually recreate French eating traditions 100% in my home, but there are some very good points.  The French do know a thing or two about eating well and living well, and maybe our culture could learn from them.  I have taken some lessons to heart.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was a Christmas gift to Lyndsay last year, and when she went off to college, she left it here.  I had read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan in 2011 (I highly recommend that book too!) and when I mentioned that one to a friend, she recommended this one.  (Luisa again, I think.)  This is a really sweet story about a shameful time in our history, beautifully told. 

I have read a lot of doctrinal and inspirational books this year, and this one was my favorite.  I read it back in January.  I love Dallin H. Oaks, and I loved the personal style he used to tell these stories from his own life.  Life's Lessons Learned is a wonderful book.

I LOVED this book.  I got Variant for Aiden last Christmas.  And another copy for Sean.  After Aiden read it, he couldn't stop raving about it, so I read it.  He was right.  I love this story idea.  Really cool and unexpected.  I have loaned this book to several of my piano students who read it and loved it and recommended it to other friends.  The sequel, Feedback, is out now too, and it's also a good read.

Have you read any of these?  Agree, disagree?  Have any suggestions for me for my next school break?  I've got a whole pile waiting for me!

Here's to another great year of reading!!