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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

I'm working on a capsule kitchen.

Feeding a family is hard, important work.  

A while ago, I began to cultivate a habit to do three things each morning; load the dishwasher, put a load of laundry in the washer, and decide what we will eat for dinner.  These are the chores that keep our home running.  

If I don't make a plan for dinner in the morning, 4pm will sneak up on me.  I'll feel exhausted and incapable of being decisive.  My meat won't be thawed, and we no longer have a microwave to do that job quickly.  The kids will end up eating Mac and cheese and Stephen and I will spend $25 for Thai food from Siam Square. 

I value variety at our dinner table.  I value making seasonal recipes that use seasonal ingredients.  I value using real food to make healthy dinners.  

I value being frugal.  My budget for groceries is $600 a month.  This includes our cleaning supplies.  The four kids who go to school eat breakfast, lunch, and a fruit or veggie snack at school for free which provides a huge savings for our family.  Stephen's work provides snacks, good coffee, and sometimes lunch for him.  

I should say, that I have no real ability to gauge whether $600 is a small or large budget for a family of seven.  Also, we exceed this often by about $100.  It's interesting to see what other people spend, but I know that each family is unique in makeup, values, and income.  I will never have an apples to apples comparison.  Comparison isn't important for comparison's sake, but I think it leads to learning from others and improving your own process.

I value my time.  I want to make dinner in 45 minutes or less, preferably with prep time being 20 minutes or less. 

Shopping for and making a new recipe feels ten times harder than making one I know well. This conflicts with my value for variety.  

I stumbled upon the idea of a capsule kitchen on a blog called Less,Please. Then I did a search to get other takes, and discovered

I started by doing a kitchen clean out.  I've been working to declutter all areas of my home for about a year and a half.  I've sorted through the kitchen once, but it needed a second pass through.  I purged some extra dishes, tupperware, pitchers, and baking dishes.   I sorted through my spices, and my pantry.  

I started to make a list of ingredients that are staples in my kitchen.  I decided that I did not like the idea of simply selecting 33 ingredients to purchase and make all of my meals from.  That still left a lot of room to feel overwhelmed with the question, "What recipe am I going to make for dinner?"  

Instead, I decided that I would start with making a list of recipes that I would make for dinner.  I have about 30-40 recipes that are I know.  I know that my family likes them.  I know what ingredients are needed for them.  I know how much time they will take.  When I've meal planned before, I've tried to use twenty of them every month, and I've also tried to add a new one.  It's just too much.  

With this idea of a capsule kitchen, I selected nine meals that make sense for the season. One of them is a new to me recipe.  We are going to repeat these meals every two weeks for two months.  

  1. Hamburgers w-slaw & fries
  2. Italian Turkey Meatloaf w- stuffing & green beans
  3. Chilli
  4. Chicken Parmesan w-veggies
  5. Shepherds pie
  6. Zuppa Toscana Soup (the new to me recipe) 
  1. Spaghetti
  2. Frozen Pizza w/carrots
  3. Yellow Rice/Black Bean Burritos

I've started ordering my groceries online and picking them up at Kroger.  I make an order every two weeks.  It's worth every penny of the $5 fee.  It's inevitable that I will forget items, though, and need to head to the downtown Marsh to grab them.  

I'm limiting my recipes, therefore, limiting the ingredients that I need to purchase.  I have a list of 50 items that I need to purchase from the store to make all these recipes as well as feed us breakfast and lunch.  This list will stay the same for two months, leaving me with really zero thinking and planning to do.  

I get really excited about new ideas on how to run my house more efficiently.  Stephen got an earful about this whole plan.  I think he gets weary of all my planning and housekeeping scheming, but he is game for whatever I need to do to make dinner easier.  (He just folded all of his t-shirts using the Kon Marie method.  I think I'm slowly convincing him that this stuff is worthwhile.)  

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Julian is 10!

Julian is a decade old.  He hasn't had a proper birthday party in years.  We celebrated with a party at Laser Tag for him and a few of his school friends.  He received LEGOs.  Surprise!

I've wanted Julian to be excited about life beyond LEGOs and video games.  I've worried, a little, if that would ever happen.  Twenty five year old men who don't realize that there is life beyond video games exist.  They do.  This last year, I've seen him find joy in lots of areas.  It's been a privilege and a relief to watch.

He loves books.  Many days I'll find him an hour before wake up call reading in his bed with his head lamp.  He finished up The Lorien Legacies Series this year.  He knew the date that the final book would be released.  What a nerd.  He has also read some Harry Potter, The Indian in the Cupboard, Wonder, and now he is working on The Hobbit.

Stephen signed the kids up for a Coder Dojo class.  They learn to code with a program called Scratch.  Julian really digs it.  Periodically, he has projects to do for school, and it always feels like a fight to get him to complete them.  This last time, he decided to use Scratch to make his presentation.  He was super excited and motivated.  He worked hard and made it super fun.

He's embracing work at home, too.  He used to growl at us when we asked him to do anything.  Stephen and I have decided to give the kids more choices this year.  I'll say, "Julian, you can either empty the dishwasher or go rake up dog poop in the backyard."  "Julian, you can either take out the trash and recycle or go clean the sink and toilet in your bathroom."  Now, he has favorite chores that he moves like lightning to do so he doesn't get stuck with the ones he doesn't like.

Julian went to SpringHill camp this summer.  I was actually really nervous to leave him.  There is a zipline and a huge climbing wall and a big bouncy blob in the lake.  Despite the fact that he has proven himself to be a confident swimmer this year, Julian can be anxious about activities like this.  He did great, though.  His counselors gave him an award at the end of his stay acknowledging his determination.  He only complained about the lack of sleep he got.  He said, "I don't think those boys slept the entire time we were there, and I had a hard time sleeping through their noise."

We went tent camping as a family of seven for the first time.  Everyone gave it a thumbs up.  Julian suggested we go for a whole week in the future.  However, he told me that camping didn't mean we couldn't use electronics.  "It's not the 80's, mom."

But he's learning to really enjoy nature and a good hike.  We walked past a little spot on our camping trip that he decided looked like a "Kermit the Frog" spot.  He was excited to take everyone back there to have a look.

He's thinking more about spiritual things.  I picked him up from an overnight at his cousin's house.  He told me that he and Gabe had told each other their testimonies.  I was surprised.  I asked him what he meant by a testimony.  He said, "You know.  It's like that "Draw My Life" YouTube channel except you add stuff about God."

We've been taking turns sharing life testimonies at church so I asked him if he wanted to share one Sunday.  He said, "No."

But, Yes, to YouTube...especially the Dan TDM YouTube channel.

His grammy gave him a necklace that says "The Lord is My Strength".  Grammy's friend made them and prayed over them.  Julian wore his daily for the entire spring.  He told me once that he didn't want to touch it because he didn't want to rub the prayers off.

Julian's favorite word is Sup.  It's not just that he says it often, he officially declared it his favorite word.  He is obsessed with the Illuminati and Minecraft.  His favorite song is "Can't Stop the Feeling".  It commands him to dance, and he obeys.  He's always asking when we will have another dance party at church.  Not long ago he said, "Mom, I hate Justin Beiber songs, but I kind of love this Justin Beiber song."  Life is confusing.

He was excited to play soccer for his school this Fall.  He took his position on the field really seriously and wouldn't leave his little box.

Three hundred out of 365 days this year, he wore this stocking cap I bought him at the secondhand store.  By June, I was like, "REALLY?"

Penelope calls him her "Best Brother".  I'm not sure what this means for Schroeder.

Julian was fairly invested in this election.  A week beforehand, He said, "Could we just keep Obama for another four years?"

The day before, Julian told me that we were going to stay up till midnight to find out the results.  As we sat down election evening to watch the results come in, he informed me that a candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win.  He said, "Mr. Frick came to tell us all about the election today at school."

Schroeder asked, "Did you just say the F word?"

Julian went on to say, "I didn't vote for Todd Young because Todd Young is hurting Hoosiers."  I guess he saw that commercial.  And while it was sort of funny and cute, I dream of a day when he'll use his own mind to create his own opinions on political candidates.

He made it till 10pm because, again, the boy knows when he needs to sleep.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

This is the Starnes Family.

We had to reschedule their session from October to November and I figured all the leaves would be gone and the weather would be super chilly.  But November is surprising me this year.  I felt a freedom to do my thing without pressure to get certain photos.  That always frees me up to find the treasure in the moment.  Thought I would share some of the beauty.  

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

That Maggie Girl is six!

Maggie is six!

She is such a sweet, funny girl.  She's an easy one to get along with.

She's an organized girl.  She takes great pride in making her bed.  She organizes her drawers.  I've been simplifying our home over the last year thanks to my Kon Marie.  I've thought of teaching Maggie how to fold the Kon Marie style because I could see her really digging that activity.

She plans her outfits, especially for special events.  She'll say, "Oh, this is the perfect dress for ...."  and "don't you think these shoes will look fantastic with this sparkly vest."

Last winter, she started wearing these red glasses frames.  They were from a 3D movie, I think.  She popped the dark lenses out of them, and would wear them to preschool and church.  She received lots of compliments and several people gifted her other fake glasses.  I believe she has four or five pairs now.  She has them organized on the top of her dresser.  She told me the other day she should make a YouTube video about how to organize your fake glasses.

She says other funny things.  My mom's name is Terri.  That's where Maggie's first name, Teresa , come from.  Maggie came out on the porch a couple of weeks ago, and said, "Wouldn't it be funny if your mom's last name was Gross!"  As in Terry Gross from NPR's Fresh Air.  We're raising this kid right.

Before kindergarten started, we bought her a pair of "Vintage" Sketchers.  It was a compromise because I can't handle those sparkly light up ones.  The shoes have laces.  She asked me to show her how to tie the shoes and practiced diligently for days.  This is noteworthy because my experience with my first three children was quite different.

She started kindergarten and piano lessons on the same day.  She seems to like both.  She has the same kindergarten teacher as the boys had, but she got married and changed her last name to Mrs. Williams.

She was asked to be a flower girl for my cousin Zach's wedding.  He married Kate, and Maggie loves Kate.  She was also very intrigued by the bridesmaids and wanted to be wherever they were.  She got annoyed with me because I had to ask her to give them their space a couple of times. I was cramping her social life.  She was also quite disappointed that the "ring barrier" wouldn't dance with her during the reception.

She is still an anime girl.  She and Schroeder play their Yugioh card game very frequently.  She also likes Junie B Jones.  We've been reading those books together after school and at the dinner table lately.

D'arcy and I both had our ears pierced when we were six.  Maggie asked me last fall if she could get her ears pierced soon, and I told her, "Yes, on your next birthday!"

I made the appointment without telling her for immediately following piano lessons.  I told her and Julian we had one quick stop to make before going home.  When she asked where we were going, I said...

Me: "Oh, I made an appointment for Julian to get his ears pierced."
Julian: "Huh?  I don't want my ears pierced."
Me: "Are you sure?"
Maggie: "I know!  There is an almost six year old who can take his appointment!!"
Me:  "You'll have to ask Julian.  Julian, are you sure you don't want your cheek or nose or belly button pierced?"
Julian: ""

So she walked right in that salon, and with no fear and no tears let them put a needle in both ears.

She also asked for and received an American Girl Doll from my parents and me.  Those things are stupid expensive.  She like to brush Leah's hair, and tries to coordinate her outfits to look like her.

We invited our church friends to meet us at Dairy Queen for a treat on her birthday.  Then it rained and kept raining.  Stephen rushed to the store to buy ice cream, and I rushed around the house trying to clean up.  It would have been too disappointing to cancel altogether.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Jay-quell-in is twelve!

Our firstborn is twelve!  D'arcy hasn't had a kid birthday party in four years.  This year, we let her have a slumber party.  D'arcy put a lot of work and planning into the event.  She made a pinterest board.  She had a legal pad with lists and floor plans.  She planned out a craft making bracelets from beads and safety pins.  She created a projector with a magnifying glass, her iPhone, and a shoe box to show a movie.  She put together a scavenger hunt in Fletcher Place.  We had tacos and cake and donuts.  Stephen made a grocery store run at ten o'clock for movie snacks.  She received lots of cute little gifts from her friends and was sweet and gracious.  I think she is good on kid parties till she's sixteen.

I was looking back over her birthday blog posts.  Two years ago, I mentioned our daily feud about brushing her hair.  She gave me a lot of grief about it.  And now she's twelve, and she stands in front of the mirror in the downstairs bathroom every morning.  She brushes her hair and braids it in a million different ways.  Sometimes she puts it in a bun.  Sometimes she puts headbands or accessories in it.  And this mom is really thankful that it isn't a fight anymore.

She was coming into our bathroom every morning to spot treat her tiny zits and use my blush and mascara.  So a couple of months ago, I bought her some of her own makeup and acne medication.  She was super thrilled when I gave it to her.  She gave me several hugs.  Stephen asked me if she was old enough, and I said, "I'm just so glad that she is taking an interest is caring for herself."  I'm crossing my fingers that we'll be so lucky with Julian and Schroe.

If you walk into our house there is a good chance you will find her with her iphone earbuds in.  Her phone isn't activated so she can't call or text anyone.  She asked us to let her sign up for this texting app called kik.  The app says you need to be thirteen to sign up.  Stephen has decided, why make new rules when the app already has them?  So she has to wait.

She watches this YouTube show called Daily Bumps.  Forget TV.  My kids only care about YouTube.  I've made her start leaving her phone on my desk when she goes up to bed at night so she'll actually do some reading in her bed before she falls asleep.

The art club at her school is going on a trip to Savannah.  In January, she asked if she could go.  The cost was almost two thousand dollars.  That felt like so much money to me.  Reluctantly, we paid the $400 deposit, and I gave D'arcy this long lecture about how she needed to work for most of the rest.

She started busking.  She added to her ukulele repertoire, and played songs on Mass and Virginia Avenue.  She also got a couple of jobs watching dogs and chickens and cats.  In five months, she made the other $1500 she needed for the trip.  You guys, that lecture really worked.

Last Christmas, she received some roller blades.  She's ditched the scooter and travels around the house and neighborhood on skates now.

She also asked for and received a FitBit from us and my parents.  One of the things I desperately want to instill in my kids is a rhythm of being active and the sensibility to eat well and in moderation.   Guiding an almost teenage girl in this area is super duper tricky.  Please send all the answers.  Maybe I'll have this down once Maggie and P reach this stage.  D'arcy continues to be our parenting experiment.

D'arcy was invited and received a scholarship to attend a Presidential Camp at the Benjamin Harrison house this summer.  Stephen and I had been talking often about how we can help her channel her natural inclination to lead to be strong, effective leadership.  She often comes home from school frustrated with her peers and their foolishness.  D'arcy has a zero tolerance policy for foolishness.  But so much about leading is seeing value in your followers and inspiring them to live into that value.  Anyway, we saw this Presidential camp as one opportunity to think more about strong leadership.

She and her friend and neighbor, Katherine, started a Fletcher Place kids neighborhood association.  They are organizing kids in the neighborhood to do community projects.  D'arcy has dreams of starting a kids' garden.

Last October, we had to say goodbye to our beloved dog, Begbie.  D'arcy insisted on being with him as he was put to sleep.  She was so sad, and will still shed tears when she thinks about it.  Then, in late November, she lost her great-grandmother, namesake, and birthday buddy which was also extremely difficult for her.  It was just a tough month.

My mom and dad made her dreams come true when they helped us buy a new bulldog puppy for Christmas.  D'arcy loves Georgia so much and has spent so much time this year teaching her to sit and lay down.  She give her baths and takes her on walks.  She also measures Georgia and shops for doggie halloween costumes.

Before she went back to school, We bought D'arcy a new Jansport backpack.  She helped pick it out.  That girls' backpack and home locker and top bunk is always full of STUFF.  When the backpack was delivered, she spent ten minutes showing me all it's wonderful pockets and features.  Her excitement over pockets and features makes me smile.

You guys, We are two thirds of the way done raising this person!!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Tim and Lindsey got married!

I've been working on these photos all month, and I'm almost done!  It's been a minute since I blogged a wedding, and this was a good one.  Yeah, they had a great venue and good food, but they had such a great crowd.  Plus, the bride and groom were determined to have a fun day which I hope comes through in the photos.  Congrats to Lindsey and Tim.