One Bite at a Time: Project 5

Project 5 in One Bite at a Time is to start menu planning. This is one of the projects I already do, and have been doing for several years now. I usually do my grocery shopping on Friday, and I actually cannot go to the store without a menu plan for the week. It’s nice to know I have a few good habits!

My menu planning is very simple. I take a scrap piece of paper, write out the upcoming week and fill in some meals for lunch and supper. I usually ask my husband for some input, too. I’d like to do better at making things for breakfast, but bananas, yogurt, toast and cereal are the norm for now. My husband usually comes home for lunch and two of our kids are at school for lunch during the week. Lunch is often leftovers or something very simple.

I use the back side of the paper as my grocery list. I try to put things on the list based on the layout of the store. (I wrote most of this post last week, but waited to get these pictures of this week’s menu on Friday. Then, I got busy over the weekend and didn’t get around to posting. Grrr!)

I’ve read about people who plan several months at a time, and I have no interest in doing that at this point. The one week approach has been working for us, so if it’s not broke, don’t fix it, right? We occasionally swap meals or abandon them altogether as things come up during the week. Even in those cases, I know I have the ingredients on hand for other meals, so we can make changes without any trouble.

We have added a new little twist to menu planning recently. My son, Andrew, is in Cub Scouts, and for one of his activities he had to plan a menu for a day and assist with meal preparation and clean up. This got me thinking that it might be fun to include the kids more often in the kitchen. Then, I saw what happened when Andrew helped make his “finger foods” meal. He was so very proud of his peanut butter & jelly sandwiches! So, every Tuesday (our night with the least other stuff going on) one of the kids gets to decide what we eat for supper and help in the kitchen. This is a lot more work for Mom, and we might be eating a lot of mac & cheese on Tuesday nights, but I’m hoping it works out to be a good little tradition for our kiddos.

I also would like to come up with a master list of meals we like and eat often. I just today (making my late posting OK, right?) ran across a great idea on Pinterest for making a list of 30 meals and the master ingredient list. It looks like a nice idea to try.

So, that’s how we meal plan. How about you? Do you have a system that works for you?

One Bite at a Time: Project 6

Here we go on the first project in One Bite at a Time! Well, actually, I’m starting with the sixth project. It is to be done in your own order and at your own pace, you know. I didn’t think I would start with this project, but sometimes things come up and the timing just works.

Project 6 is Create a Family Purpose Statement.

We decided to call a family meeting Thursday night to address some negative attitudes and behaviors that have crept into our family and needed some attention. We’re not sure the success of our meeting overall, but I was pleased with the discussion we had about why God made families and what families are supposed to do/be. The kids had great insight, and I think their ideas make a great mission statement for our family.

The official project suggestion is to spend a few hours discussing a purpose statement with your spouse, so I guess I’m breaking the rules on my first project. 😉 I really like what our kids came up with, I think my husband and I would have come up with a similar statement, and I think it gives our kids some ownership in our statement.

Without further ado, here it is:

Our family will LOVE each other, HELP each other, WORK together, SPEND TIME together, HAVE FUN together, PRAY together, WORSHIP together and SERVE together.

I was thinking it would be fun to make it into some sort of artwork to put in our home, and that was a suggestion from the book as well. Here’s what I came up with:

The Motions of Life

The first day of my Couch to 5K running plan, I loaded up a song list on my husband’s iPod and headed out the door. The songs were set to play at random, and I had to chuckle at the first song that played.

“This might hurt

It’s not safe

But I know that I’ve got to make a change … ”

— Matthew West, The Motions

(You can listen to the whole song here or click the link in the video box at the end.)

I can hardly think that song was “random.” I think God has a serious sense of humor.

This might hurt: Learning to run caused some physical pain with sore muscles and stiff joints. (Although, not as much as I anticipated, I think due to how slowly the running plan starts out.)

It’s not safe: It felt incredibly awkward to clumsily jog around my neighborhood for one minute at a time, trying to find good stride and rhythm. There was no guarantee I would finish the program, or even the first day.

But I know that I’ve got to make a change: I know that I need to make some changes to improve my physical health.

There is something more about this running thing and this song, though. I first heard the song about a year ago. I think it could be my theme song for what I am repeatedly learning in my life for the past two years or so.

I don’t want to go through the motions.

I don’t want to just be a good Christian who knows all the answers, lives a nice life and adds knowledge to my mind.

I don’t want to be a wife that lets my marriage become a formality, just an agreement to tolerate each other.

I don’t want to be a mom that let’s life fly by without enjoying my kids at each stage they are in.

I want to really live. And I’m learning that it really is the little things I do each day in my relationship with God and my family that matters most.

To pursue God, listen for His voice and act when He speaks.

To be intentional to spend time with my husband, respecting his leading in our family and appreciating his desire to provide for and protect our family.

I want to enjoy moments with my kids being mindful of how quickly they grow and change.

I used to think that I had to do something huge or risky or dramatic to avoid “going through the motions.” I’m finding the opposite is true. It’s those little things I do each day — even as small as an attitude shift — that determine whether this will be a day of just surviving or intentionally living.

Pockets of Joy

I have been amazed with the energy and excitement of my 2-year-old daughter.

If she’s in one part of the house and wants something in another room, she runs to find it as fast as her little legs will carry her.

She’s always asking, “Where we going next?” As though every place we go is a new adventure.

She is very interested in trying new things and doing them by herself. “Me do it!” she says.

She notices the sound of trains, planes and loud trucks.

She sees sparrows in the grocery store parking lot.

She finds bugs outside — and sometimes inside the house.

She proudly shows me how she properly used the potty.

And she gets very excited when her shorts, skirts or pants have pockets. “Oooooooo! Pockets!” she says, as if it’s the most joyful thing to be found.

Thank you, Lord, for little legs, planes, trains, bugs, birds, potties and pockets. And for little children who remind me how blessed I am to have all those little things I often don’t even notice.

Love & War

I remember a conversation with my brother about a friend of his who was from a culture that practices arranged marriages. I remember talking about how we can hardly fathom the idea and how bizarre it seems to us.

Then my brother said, “But the divorce rate there is almost zero.”

My immediate thought was, “Ah, but are they happy?”

And then, I immediately was disappointed in myself for thinking that, because I “know” that marriage is more than “being happy.”

So, what is marriage all about anyway? Why did God design marriage in the first place? I think the book Love & War: Finding the Marriage You’ve Dreamed Of, by John and Stasi Eldredge, can answer those questions.

This is not your typical “Seven Steps to a Happy Marriage” book written by an author who shares about the people he/she has counseled to a better marriage. Yes, there are some stories about other couples, but mainly the authors tell their own story  — the lows and highs, the bad and good, the ugly and beautiful — of a real marriage. I mean really sharing about their marriage. [Can you imagine writing a book about your marriage for all the world to read? Yeah, me neither.]

It is their realness and honesty that makes this book so good. I read it and felt normal, because as I read about their story I felt like I was reading my own. And while I related to the frustrations, misunderstandings and just general hardness of marriage, I also had the overwhelming feeling of hope. It’s as if the book says, “Hey, it’s Okay! You are normal! But there is something more. Marriage can be so much more … you can do it!”

But, not just that I can do it alone. And not even that Ben and I can do it in our marriage. But that God can do it when we invite Him into our marriage and into our lives. And isn’t that the message of Jesus? He accepts us as we are and invites us to something better.

Like I said, the book isn’t as much a how-to with a list of suggestions, but a story of how John and Stasi have invited God into their marriage. How they have learned to listen to God. How they’ve learned to love. And how they’ve learned that the “war” is not against each other, but against Satan, the enemy who wants to destroy everything God has called good. And most importantly that God offers us something better when we invite Him into our lives. It can seem like a risk — and it is! — but it is worth it.

And so begins the book: ”

It can be done. And it is worth it. Of all the things a man or woman needs to hear about marriage, this is perhaps the most important of all. It can be done. And it is worth it.” (Introduction, page 7)

The book is worth it, too. I find no coincidence in the fact that I finished reading the book in the week Ben and I celebrated our 10th anniversary! Thank you, God, for the gift of marriage! And thank you for the hope you give us!

How to make a Mario party!

In accordance with my goal to do little things to add some fun to life, I have enjoyed some simple parties to celebrate birthdays. We usually do a meal with family members, and we decided to do a little friend party for the kids starting at age 5. Our oldest just turned 6, so we’ve had two friend parties so far.

I love to find party ideas online. In my research, I’ve found that some people spend hundreds of dollars buying things for parties. Other people spend hundreds of hours making things for parties. When I say “it’s the little things,” I don’t mean that every little detail must be planned and coordinate with a theme like a Martha Stewart magazine. (I do enjoy Martha’s creativity, but seriously, she has a whole staff to put together items for a photo shoot in a magazine.)

For me, “it’s the little things,” means doing a few little things so the kids will have fun. They are not going to remember invitations that coordinate with favors that coordinate with napkins that coordinate with forks. (If you love doing that kind of thing, FABULOUS! Do it! If you don’t, relax and do some things that you enjoy!) What they are going to remember is having a fun time and feeling special on their birthday.

And, I have to admit, I have been accused of going overboard on decorating cakes for the kids’ birthdays. (“People are just going to eat that!”) I admit, it takes some time. But, I like it. I do it because it’s fun for me, not because I think I have to have the perfect cake (further post in the works).

Birthday #6 party had a Super Mario Brother’s theme. I found lots of cake ideas online, most of them using fondant. I haven’t experimented with fondant, so we used some ideas with regular icing. The top had Mario and Yoshi, and the sides were supposed to look like a level on Super Mario Brothers.

I found a free printable Mario Bingo game online here. We used butterscotch candy as “gold coins” to cover the Bingo squares.

We made a large Mario for “pin the mustache on Mario” by printing a poster-size coloring sheet, also found online. It printed in four 8.5 x 11″ sheets that I taped together and colored with crayons. I used some black felt with adhesive on one side, leftover from another project, to make Mario’s mustache.

My mom had made my kids cute hats Mario hats, just for fun, so kids were wearing them throughout the party. That was a great bonus item! Thanks, Mom! 🙂

Pinatas are always fun for a party, but most of the ones I found online were too expensive for me. So, I looked into how to make my own. I had initially thought a coin brick, like from the video game, would be fun. But, the simplest paper mache pinata to make is with a balloon. Birthday Son wanted a Yoshi egg, so simple pinata was created!

I used a large balloon, paste mixture (2 cups flour, 3 cups water) and strips of newspaper.

I dipped strips of newspaper into the paste and covered the balloon. The balloon started rolling around, so I found it helpful to put it in an ice cream bucket.

The first layer dried overnight and then I added another layer. When it was mostly dry, I popped the balloon, removed the balloon pieces, and painted it to look like a Yoshi egg, using paint we had on hand from some other projects. I put some candy inside and hung it in a tree in place of a bird feeder.

After destroying the pinata, the kids “raced” around the house. We pretended they were racing in Mario Kart, but really it was just a way for a bunch of boys to burn some energy! 😉

We ate some cake, opened gifts and, of course, played some Mario Kart Wii.

I think they party guests had the most fun just playing with some Batman toys! Further proof that over planning and over spending on a party is not necessary. Just do a few little things to make your child feel special.