Hi and welcome! 

I'm a Momma, wife and artist. With 3 of my 4 kids almost grown, I can look back and share with you everything I learned on my favorite subject, raising a family. Like Albert Einstein said "Rejoice with your family in the wonderful land of life" and though things may get messy, you can't really go wrong. xoox

leslie


 

fun with my family
Monday
Mar262012

playing hooky

SPRING FEVER!  I don't know what came over me last week.  i took two of my kids out of school and went on an impromptu field trip to find wildflowers and baby animals.  (I didn't really take them out of school, one hurt her foot and the other wasn't feeling 100%, (wink, wink) so i used it as an excuse to keep them home).  

It all started because i read Ann Lamott's article in this month's SUNSET Magazine about the coming of Spring and the above referenced indicators, and I was smitten.  She described an area not very far from where we live that sounded beautiful!  On the coast, full of wildflowers and baby calfs & lambs! Who could resist!?

I convinced the girls we were going on an adventure and we piled in the car..(not exactly sure where we were heading).  I felt like a hooligan! (but I justified it to myself that if I was a homeschooling Mama; this would be a legitimate field trip!)my girls were excited though and kept trying to guess what we were up to, so I perservered.  I really didn't have any clue how to get to the place she described, because she described more of an "area" than a specific spot...but off we went!

We crossed over the Richmond Bridge and headed into San Rafeal and then San Anselmo. We had a fantastic lunch at COMFORTS where my daughter had the "best meatloaf of her life!" and asked the locals where we might find the things Ann Lamott so lovingly described.  We were given a route and some well wishes by the kind wait staff; and we were off again! 

Well.......it has been a dry winter...........oh wait, there's some wildflowers! (a small patch of Poppy's:see above pic)..."oh! there's some cows!" And sure enough there were a few "babyish" calves...more like pre-teens, but smaller than their mama, and that counted in their book!

"um, can i help you?"

The girls were so easily impressed (cause they were out of school!) and it was all an adventure.  Even though what we saw was nothing we couldn't see in our own town...  I just loved every minute with them:) maybe homeschooling isn't such a bad idea!:)

Thursday
Mar222012

family journals

despite my love of all things creative...i am not a scrapbooker.  

I have a few journals that i made, where i can write down the funny things the kids say.

 like: "those are leg pits mommy" (3 yr.old in telling me what the under part of the knee was called) Oh! that makes senselearn how to make your own right here:)

And I keep a family journal, to chronicle all that happens during the year in our family.   here is our current journal...here is the new one I ordered for next year.  you can get your own personalized one right here!

 

Saturday
Mar172012

happy st. patrick's day!

years ago while visiting Maine, we ventured into an antiques shop.  I happened across some small, old books.  Being the fan of all things small and book related, i bought them, not even caring what they were about.  they were old, charming and didn't smell too bad...good enough for me.  It wasn't until we got home that I discovered their true worth.  We opened them up, and there they were...not one but TWO PERFECTLY PRESSED 4 LEAF CLOVERS!!!! omg! how long had they been there, and, how lucky were we to find them!

the book is hidden now, lest little fingers find these precious relics....and i consider it one of my most valuable posessions.


Did you know luck is something that you can actually cultivate?  Dr. Christine Carter of the fantastic blog raisinghappiness.com talks about how we can actually create our own luck.
Apparently having a talisman or good luck charm can really affect your performance.  Just thinking you have good luck and "special" forces on your side, can make a difference.
Since I love science, here is a funny quote about good luck from a Nobel prize winning physicist  Niels Bohr.(via).
An American scientist once visited the offices of the great Nobel prize winning physicist, Niels Bohr, in Copenhagen. He was amazed to find that over Bohr's desk was a horseshoe, securely nailed to the wall, with the open end up in the approved manner (so it would catch the good luck and not let it spill out). The American said with a nervous laugh,"Surely you don't believe the horseshoe will bring you good luck, do you, Professor Bohr? After all, as a scientist --"Bohr chuckled. "I believe no such thing, my good friend. Not at all. I am scarcely likely to believe in such foolish nonsense. However, I am told that a horseshoe will bring you good luck whether you believe in it or not."

 the leprechauns did manage to wreak some havoc on our house...when we woke up, the tv screen was upsidown, the chairs were on the table, the toilet water was green and the milk was green too.  those rascals!  What did they do in your house? happy st. patrick's day!

 

Friday
Mar162012

rain boots and mud puddles

2 of our oldest will be gone this weekend with sports and sleepovers, that leaves us with the two youngest, to really just play and be goofy.  It's bittersweet, because although i treasure moments with the entire family, quite often it's hard to find ONE activity that they all enjoy.  Although my two oldest often do the compromising when it comes to games or movies, which I love and appreciate..they need time to be the big kids that they are.  I try to set aside time to be with just them too.  We can talk about any subject and laugh at jokes, and be goofy in a different way.  But, this weekend, it will be like 10 years ago, when all we had were little ones.  We got down on their level a lot more.  I remember LOVING the rain, because they would get their boots on and rain coats and splash around like it was the greatest thing on earth...the sheer joy of discovery was contagious and I felt like a child again, right along with them.  A leaf became a boat in the sidewalk gutter.  We could hear the sounds of the rain, pitter patter on their coats and the trees.  When was the last time you heard the rain?  You could almost believe that there were little fairies living in the moss and undergrowth, it is so beautiful, if only you really take the time to see.  Typically we are too rushed from one activity to another to really stop and appreciate the rain anymore, or the birds, or even the clouds on a beautiful sunny day.  But this weekend, we will try to remember what it's like to be little, and awed and utterly content with a leaf and puddle.  Happy Spring!...and watch out for those leprechauns tomorrow!

Wednesday
Mar072012

meal planning~a multi year project

......i t's a little better now my children are in school a few hours a week, but for a while there, grocery shopping, was a monumental undertaking.  i would barely have enough time to GET to the grocery store. Let alone, PLANNING what i was going to buy? ha!

i vaguely knew we needed some sort of vegetable and with kids in tow, would wander around looking for something i recognized and knew how to prepare.  broccoli.  maybe some green beans.  anything else usually ended up in the fridge until it resembled a limp towel.  When i would finally admit i wasn't going to cook it...into the garbage it went.  there were so many things wrong with this routine, i didn't know where to start.  I began at least trying to start a compost bin.  but once that began to grow hair, i quickly abandoned that project.  I sensed there had to be a better way to get a good meal on the table with limited time and budget.  Figuring this out, was going to be a monumental undertaking in and of itself!

In addition to the weekly drudgery of just getting food into the house, I barely ever thought about what to cook.  I knew my kids were growing up on fairly healthy food, but nothing to wrirte home about.  I could just see it now.....visualizing them off on their own for the first time, and reminiscing about a home cooked meal...."my mom used to make the best defrosted chicken breasts, with some sufficiently cooked, but non-descript green beans, and some almost done potatoes....ah, the good old days". no, no, no.... I wanted them to crave "mom's famous chicken kiev" or that fantastic sraccato pot roast! And better yet, I wanted them to eventually know how to cook it too!

Thus, I embarked on a (multi year) research project, to teach myself not only how to cook better meals, but to streamline my grocery shopping and meal planning as well.  It became clear one day around 6:00, as I was out playing with the kids in the backyard, that oops! it was almost dinner time and I have nothing planned!....when my husband came home and noticing this too, kindly said..."it's not like you don't know it's coming...."  those words sent me into a tizzy at the time....."can't you see i am molding their little minds and creating a fun environment!?... dinner~ha!... that is not as important!"  But as the days went by, I realized, he was right.....it's not like I don't know it's coming...it has to happen, it happens every day...this dinner thing.  so, why not figure it out.

 I first started paying attention to how much money i was spending at the store (way too much), and what exactly i was buying (an inordinate amount of snack food).  i also wanted to reduce the amount of time and frequency spent shopping and reducing the number of  stores i went to.  (meat, produce and staples were bought in separate stores). then i started collecting recipes that I thought I could make during the week and planning my shopping list accordingly.  a daunting task, especially when i could only devote a little time here and there to my research....(hence the multi year project!)

But, I think i've done it.  There is a lot of information to share, so i will separate this into many posts over the next few days.

First of all, I had to get over the fact that the responsibility for dinner landed solely in my lap. i was too busy devoting my time and attention to the well being of the kids, that dinner was often an afterthought, rushed, stressful and confusing.  This made me feel resentful and put upon!  I was working hard but not smart.  I thought I could barely add one more thing to my to do list; couldn't my family just give me a break and we can subsist on cereal or mac n cheese for gosh sake?! let's just get it overwith! Not that dinnertime wasn't fun or enjoyable. It always was.  Absolutely no t.v. ever, and we always talk about the best part of our day.

 But, the food part of it...even though i felt like i created minor miracles everyday by even getting something on the table, was often lacking in well......goodness.  Everyone knows the hour or two before dinner are some of the most stressful parts of a mother's day.  Everyone needs you at once.  if you take a step back and watch, it's almost comical.  "mom-the printer's broken, mom-i need you to sign this, mom-watch me do this cartwheel!, mom-can you drive me to MILO, mom-where's my book, shoes,shirt, mom-the dog threw up, etc...........and that is on a relatively calm afternoon when there are no immediate practices that we need to get to.  Thank goodness someone came up with individually frozen chicken breasts.  But I realized that these are presicely the hours in which not to be thinking about what's for dinner.   That had to have happened much earlier in the day, possibly even a few days prior.  That was the fun part, collecting and thinking about the recipes.  But, then it dawned on me that I should probably start the cooking part earlier too.  (I have a cousin who is a master in what i call kitchen tasking.  she will plan so far ahead that she can actually cook many meals at once and freeze some for later in the week. "your oven's on..you might as well use all of it".  I don't think I'll ever get that far in my meal planning, but it definitely is possible.)  Instead, I am using the free labor I currently have lounging around the house...the kids! more on this later in the post.

But, starting to cook at 2, or even 10:00? that sounded like 1950, which sounded repressed, boring and dull. this is how i am going to spend my time while my kids are in school for a few precious hours? i don't want to slave over a hot stove all day, or spend my time grocery shopping!? I'm already volunteering for the school, trying to excercise and get to appointments in my few hours alone... But, the beauty of figuring out a system is that it not only streamlines your schedule, it actually leaves you less stressed and with more time...... to do whatever you want!

The first thing I did was to try plan out the meals for a month.  I would buy enough of the dry, canned or frozen goods once a month, then the fresh ingredients once a week, for all the meals that I had chosen.  This worked for a while, and could still work, but I realized, that it might be also an example of working harder, not smarter.  In my excitement to try new recipes, I was cooking a new meal every night.  Some of the recipes were hits, others were not.  I tried to keep track of all the successful ones in a binder.  But, I was still wasting a lot of food, because we were not taking advantage of leftovers.  Plus, sometimes we would go out, or Graham would be out of town, (and we'd have breakfast for dinner) and the "real" food would go to waste.

That's when i came up with a few strategies that I could employ to streamline this whole process, even without an elaborate weekly meal plan.

strategy #1:  buying and cooking for 3-4 days principle.

 strategy #2: planning for and using the leftovers wisely.

 strategy #3: no more snack foods/baking more WITH the kids

and strategy #4: practice cooking the beautiful and elaborate meals, the ones I want to be remembered for, on the weekends.

I also figured out when, where, and how to best do my "marketing" (sounds better than grocery shopping, with it's connotations of  a huge cart overflowing with snacky foods.-- although, coupled with the kiddie car on the front, was my main source of excercise for a few years.) 

Oh, and, how to get the kids more involved.

 

strategy #1: the cooking for only 3-4 days principle.

I'm pretty sure I didn't invent this..but I know I did come up with it on my own for our family.  I noticed that, on average, we would really only eat 3 or 4 NEW meals a week.  The rest could be leftovers or nothing if we went out.   We are big chicken eaters and although I was the self declared queen of the frozen chicken breast, I realized I only vaguely knew how to roast a whole chicken.  That was going to be our Monday night meal for the next few months.  I was going to perfect this, even if everyone was sick to death of roasted chicken by the end.  How long does it take to cook? Which recipe to use? What kind of chicken to buy?  It takes a few hours; definitely free range organic (more expensive, but by cutting out the wasted food and snack items, my shopping bill is actually much less). for the recipes, I tried Barefoot Contessa's, that beautiful italian girl with the big smile's (can't remember her name right now!), Jamie Oliver's and even Rachel Ray's.  But the best one I found was from a cook book called "100 recipes every woman should know", put together by the editors of Glamour magazine.  It is my favorite cookbook ever. It is a compilation of the best recipes for any occasion.  Best houseguest muffins, best potluck dip, best "get your man to do the dishes" mexican tostadas, etc.  It began when they printed a recipe for a roasted chicken and some girl made it for her boyfriend and he proposed on the spot.  she wrote in to tell them about it and they all thought it was very sweet.  Until it kept happening.  They now claim responsibility for over 60+ engagements, that people have received after making "engagement chicken".  It is scrumptious.  Recipe in Grumpy Pig section.  But, the best part of making a big chicken (or two) on Monday night, is the leftovers.  Tuesday has been nicknamed taco tuesday in our house because we always have mexican food.  Leftover chicken makes a mean enchilada, tostada, taco or quesadilla.  You can have all the acoutremonts and it becomes a delicious meal, not just leftovers.  If you still have chicken on wednesday, make soup. Regardless if you have chicken or not, Wednesday is soup day and nothing is easier than a great soup recipe.  They are surprisingly easy and fairly quick to make.  Thursday is steak night, any kind of red meat. Here we are...4 nights of dinner, DONE! By Friday, I feel a bit more relaxed about an official dinner for the family, we can go out, or just have pasta, which is also easy to have on hand and make quickly.  (I am striving to have a pre-made spaghetti sauce in the freezer, not there yet) Newman's Own makes a great substitute for homemade. Or, better yet, Graham whips up something yummy from the fridge and cupboard that I didn't even know was there!  Saturday and Sunday feel so different than the week, it's fun to carve out time to experiment.  A few months ago, I timidly sent out an email to my parents and my in-laws, stating that every Sunday (unless we were out of town), I would be making a big, beautiful dinner with enough for everyone...a standing invitation to come for Sunday Dinner!!!! (both are really good cooks themselves...no pressure or anything).

The only way to overcome this was with practice.  I can now say that I am a little more comfortable with just a few basic skills that make all the difference (a pre-heated pan, the very best and freshest ingredients and lots and a good go-to sauce).  

If you follow this strategy, shopping for the weeks worth of food seems less daunting.  You have a lot of wiggle room for new recipes on those days too.  I now have over 15 different chicken recipes that I can use for Monday nights that I know the family will love.  I try to remember to have extra chicken for tuesday, or I always have frozen ground turkey on hand to create some sort of mexican dish. (I also substitute fish on mondays and then have fish tacos on tuesdays.) I make sure I have a mirepoix for wednesdays soup (onions, carrots, celery) plus whatever unusal vegetable the soup calls for that i wouldn't normally buy.  Soup day also lends itself to a vegetarian day, where you can substitute veggie stir fry, grilled veggies or a layered rice/orzo dish to mix it up.  I have collected and coalated all the successful recipes into one binder, and organized them by category.  This makes meal planning and shopping, second nature and almost even fun!

tomorrow I will talk about baking and snacks for the kids, then when, where and how to market:) and go from there.

Check the Grumpy Pig section for recipes (He's a pig that sits in my kitchen, and with that wry look on his face, has always seemed to me to sum up the response most of my cooking was receiving..."what's burning?")

What are your tricks and meal planning secrets?  Let me know!!! I think my kids are getting sick of engagement chicken!

:)leslie