Tiny Red Kitchen: Should Making Dinner Take 4 Hours? YES! (Once a Month Meals Adventure)

I just spent three and a half hours making dinner.  Oh yes I did.  Most of it during nap time, so I wasn't managing toddler chaos and that helped. Lest you think I have lost my ever loving mind (after all, my shtick is I am lazy, right?) I'll confess I made TEN DINNERS in that chunk of time.  Spending  not much time overall, for what I accomplished.  The secret to making a bunch of dinners that 'fast'?  I finally subscribed to "Once a Month Meals" and tried their Mini Paleo Menu for September 2012.  I have one more week until my Diet Bet weigh in October 6th, so this week is all Paleo all the time.  For my first attempt, I am thrilled.  THRILLED.  And my back is a little sore.  

I have been curious about Once a Month Cooking  and even bought the book a year or two ago.  My friend Vida and I were going to cook together but I chickened out.  Or rather, I beefed out.  We do not usually eat a lot of meat so the meat laden entrees kind of grossed me out and I decided that it wan't going to work for me.  Now of course, doing Paleo makes the menus look better.  Once a Month Meals has Vegetarian, vegan and Diet menus too!  

I decided to commit and subscribe at the last minute of course.  I knew I was going to the grocery store of course and had already planned  lame spotty menu and grocery list.  I tossed it and signed up for OAMM.  THEN I proceeded to print off the directions, grocery list, and recipe cards.  It was easy to navigate, and I only [panicked a little bit when I realized I had to save the docs into google documents to adjust the family size for the menus, but it was fine.  I also didn't pay attention and am not so great at math...didn't realize until I got home from the grocery store I was making TWO OF EACH DINNER which is AWESOME.  I thought I was making five dinners, but I was making two of each for ten total.  BRILLIANT. 

Yeah, I'm kinda bad with meat and math, youda thunk when I bought TWO pork tenderloins I would realize it was for more than one family of four dinner.  NOPE.  Confused. Figured we were expected to eat A LOT of meat.  Whatever!

So I followed the tip of taping the recipe cards to the cupboards, BRILLIANT. I just did each step and other than a big ol pile of dishes I kept washing it was AWESOME.  There were some things, like the freezer baggie count felt wrong on one meal and on another the 12 mini meat loafs were more like 400 mini meat loafs by my measuring   And I didn't mix the chorizo and ground beef well enough so there were pockets of one then another.  Ah well.  I've never been a meatloaf girl anyhoo.

I loved that a few were low maintenance and the others had sauces etc to add in later.  I would like meal side dish suggestions but certainly can come up with my own.  If the FULL MEAL was all planned out and on the grocery list that would be nice, but this way I'll just bust out freezer veggies if I need a side.  

It didn't feel like three and half hours either.  From beginning the prep, including chopping (which they suggest you do the night before anyway) to all dishes washed and counters wiped down 3.5 hours...and I have TEN DINNERS!  I couldn't decide which we were going to have tonight, the herb crusted pork tenderloin got ousted to Wed and tonight we'll snarf down Bacon Wrapped Coconut Chicken Nuggets.    YEAH, doesn't that sound yummy?  Special thanks to Amy Hubbard who donated her leftover wooden skewers.....the ONE THING I forgot to buy at the grocery tore for today's Once  a Month Cooking adventure.  She saved me a THIRD trip to the store today.  (Maybe I'll invite her for dinner!)

This wouldn't work if you do not have half of your regular freezer empty, or even better a chest freezer.  We stockpile food like it's the end of the world, so our  small chest freezer is perfect.  And I cannot wait to eat the Thai Curry Beef Brisket, Fish Tacos and Chorizo Mini Meatloaves!  I am so glad I joined Once a Month Meals, it works better than the book would have too.  Everything is more portable and I didn't have to bring a book to the grocery store!

I promised I would take the girls to the park after I posted this.  I am trying to get them outside more since I am pretty bad about it.  And....the park is one fat block from our house.  Truly. My back is pretty tired and sore and I wanna just sit.  Ahhhh.....I wonder if I can bring a glass of wine with me?  Travel Mug?

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"Going Too Fast" NPR (88.1 WVPE) Radio Commentary

You can listen to this NPR radio piece by clicking HERE!

Going Too Fast

I'm one year away from freedom.  One year.  And it is a limited freedom, there are mighty parameters to it.  But I can smell it:  Full Day Kindergarten.  Portia will be in  school all day long next year.  And Libby will be old enough to go to preschool two mornings a week.  I will Be Alone.  I will Have Time.  I Cannot Wait.  But then sometimes, I mull over the pending school days for my two girls, and I want to run the other way.  I want to have another baby.  I want to let Libby keep using her binky.  I want them to stay so little.  It is going too slow sometimes and then too fast most days. 

Libby and I recently went to a local orchard and petting zoo together.  I try to get dates with each of my girls, one on one to connect and love on each other.  This occasion Libby and I scored a private wagon ride while we shared a Honey Crisp apple the size of her head.  We smelled the fresh Fall air and bounced along behind a tractor.  We snuggled side by side chewing our crisp juicy apple in utter happiness.

When the ride ended, we strolled to the farm area where we could feed and pet the animals.  I trailed behind Libby and let her decide who to see first.  She went for the potbellied pigs.  They were in three houses;  brick, straw, and sticks just like the "Three Little Pigs" story.  After that we wandered over to the "Llama Llama Red Pajama" pen.  Libby and I both asked them where their red pajamas were...this is one of my favorite books.  The llamas were mum on the subject.  "OK Libby, what next?"   She didn't reply.  She lingered at the Llama pen.  After a second or two I grew impatient.  "Oh look!  Turkeys!" She didn't reply but I took her tiny little hand and led her to the turkey pen. After a minute or two I hustled her to the calves.  Then the rabbits.  Then goats, play tractors, miniature horses, baby chicks.  I was hurried.  

Why was I hurried?  To check off each animal on the list?  I tried to just hang.  I tried to just rest, but I am ashamed to admit I couldn't.  I wanted to hurry up and have some fun.  I wanted all of the fun.  I wanted Libby to have every inch of fun offered in the petting zoo.  We didn't really have a tight timeline.  Libby would have been just as happy at seeing one animal as she was at seeing every single animal.  And maybe she was just a little less happy with me moving her along like a tour bus of golden Girls.  Why couldn't I just be?  Or at least, why couldn't I just let her be?

My girls don't take extra classes yet.  We aren't doing toddler golf, toddler tennis, toddler swimming (well OK, we have done a few sporadic swim classes at the YMCA) but no toddler dance, soccer,  gymnastics, music, toddlers in tiaras or whatever I am missing.  Mostly because we don't want to spend that kind of money yet and because I am a little lazy and don't want to drive all over everywhere to deliver them to the classes.  I don't want them overstimulated.  We are living simply.   We are going slow.  So why am I hurried in my leisure?  I know better.  Why do I go too fast through the pleasures in my life?  Why do I have the "Hurry up and enjoy" skill set?  

I don't just go too fast with my daughters.  I go too fast with food.  I eat faster to eat more of whatever I am enjoying.  I go too fast with parties or events, getting so caught up in preparation and stressing over details or what I am wearing or how things should go.  Instead of living in the moments and savoring them, I am always rushing.  Going too fast either in my head or quite literally grabbing someone's little hand and leading them to the next great thing. 

How do I slow down?  I do not want to live in a way that teaches my daughters this restlessness.  How does one slow down in life and enjoy each moment, each day, each year as it passes?  This question reminds me of a Joni Mitchell song my girls ask me to sing often. "The Circle Game"  "The Seasons, they go round and round, the painted ponies go up and down, we're captive on a carousel of time..." 

Although I may still go too fast, I will rest in the knowledge that from time to time I do stop and enjoy the single precious moment before moving forward to the next.  I will enjoy my freedom next school year, and I will enjoy pudgy hands now banging on the bathroom door with a chorus of "Mama! Mama! MAMA!"  I will love my fast life as it zips forward one moment to the next.  Even when it is going too fast.

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TIDBITS: Organization and Decorating Bathrooms on Budget

TIDBIT: When inspired, BUY IT/Do It THEN!

I just don't have an eye for decorating, and I am OK with that.  When I do see something and can imagine how it will all go together, I move RIGHT THEN.  Otherwise I will forget the idea or the item will be gone or I will be out of money for the month.  In this case, I laud the Target Dollah Aisle.  Sometimes you can hit a decorating home run, sometimes the other women all got there before you could get your kids out of the car. (And then out of the bathroom, then past the goldfish endcap and then you miss out.)  Othertimes....you have a Fabulous Target day like I just had.

I first saw the Fall hand towels. With two little kids washing their hands all the time (both because they are filthy little folks and also because they are SO PROUD to do it ALLBYMYSELF) our hand towels run thin.  So I bought seven one dollar hand towels,  then saw  the baskets for $3 each and soon a plan formed in my head.  

It seems just putting things INTO a container makes everything pull together better.  My husband teased me, "I thought you didn't like baskets???" but even he couldn't argue with the price!

I basically added a layer of warmth, tidiness and decoration for around fifteen bucks. WIN!  

P.S. I'll send that slightly used Dora potty seat to whoever posts the best decoating tip in the comments.  LOL.

From Vegan to Paleo: My Two Week Adventure! (AKA Hope to Win My Fitspiration Diet Bet)

I spent $25 yesterday on a piece of cake.  And some cheese popcorn.  I spent $25 on some chocolate mousse the day before.  And even though I've been trying to reduce my animal product intake overall, I'm going Paleo for two weeks, starting TODAY.  I'm not just going to eat meat without apology for two weeks, I'm going full Paleo in an attempt to get to my Diet Bet weight loss game goal weight by October 6.

You see, I joined Diet Bet "My Fitspiration 3" with Olivia Ward and Hannah Curlee (related?  Dunno?) from Biggest Loser a few weeks ago, betting $25 I could loose 4% of my body weight in about one month.  Then I ate mostly whatever I wanted.  I'm just not one for rules, I suppose, even when I set them myself.  I joked when indulging that the item cost me $25. It cost $25 because when eating it there was no way I could win my diet bet  or get my money back at least.  But I enjoy the naughty food so very much.  

Meanwhile, I have watched my 70 year old Dad slim down over the past year while my weight stayed the same.  My Dad is a big tall guy and to see his potbelly disappear has been awesome.  I am so proud of how healthy and fit he looks and feels at his age, at any age.  He's been eating Paleo.  Pretty interesting to have him here at our house during our vegan phase.  He's going to meet his goal of weighing what he weighed in high school.  He hasn't changed much of anything but his diet.  And now that he is slimmer he is running more.  He gloats over his diet.  His buddies are eating Paleo too, quite willingly.  And he strays from the diet from time to time, especially when is with us and I don't have anything Paleo around.

The only solid weight change I have seen was when I did the Beach Body 5 Day Jump Start Challenge. I actually followed the meal plan and lost 6 pounds.  That was lower carb, no junk food...I had sugar withdrawals! But I followed a plan, something I rarely do. I think it is time to follow a plan again.  With the Diet Bet weight loss game I need to loose a small amount of weight, but more than I have lost in years.  I need to see 177 on the scale on October 6th to "win".  That is 4% of my body weight.  I haven't seen anything near that number since having kids.  Five years.  I like my body, I'm grateful over what it can do but I would like there to be less of it  I need more energy.  I need to take some control over my sugar addiction.  I want to have some control over ME.  I feel exhilerated when I exercise, when I eat well.

Plus, John and I already signed up and PAID FOR the 10K at this years Turkey Trot.  And we haven't been running much.  Well, I haven't.  That's gotta change too, so I am motivated to work out daily...at least for most of the next two weeks.   

I'll do a weekly recap each week, but I won't blog every day about this since there are a lot more important things in the world to think or talk about aside from the size of my posterior.  But I will check in and do a daily recap once a week. Consider joining your own Diet Bet Weight Loss Game. I hope you encourage me, cheer me, wouldn't it be great to actually set a goal and meet it, together?

So who has advice for me?  Who wants to try Paleo with me?  

Thrifty Fashionistas: Come to Goodwill's Little Black Dress Fashion Show September 19 Valparaiso Indiana

Do you ever wish thrift store shopping could be less thrifty?  Maybe easier to find the golden items?  Like someone could hand pick all the good designer labels and in fashion stuff out from amid the granny sweaters and stinky stained stuff YOU actually already donated to Goodwill last year?  I tried on a bunch of fabulous thrift store duds last night at my fitting for the Goodwill LBD (Little Black Dress) Fashion Show here in Valparaiso Indiana September 19th at Strongbow Inn.  Did you know Goodwill has fancy designer label stuff and often new with tags clothing you can buy for a only a few bucks?  

OH!  I had a Personal Shopper, too. My very own.

Cuz that's how I roll.  

No it isn't, but let's all pretend, mmmkay?

My personal shopper was fashion consultant and TV personality Kathy Friend, who's awesomeness has few limits.   I shared the one fashion tip she gave me that changed my "life" in this post.  A few months ago she asked me to model in Goodwill's "Little Black Dress" Fashion Show here in Valparaiso.   I invited my freinds in on it, and last night my MARVELOUS  Mother in Law Monte and I went for our fitting.  Yeah, we had a fitting.  The last time I had a fitting I was trying on wedding dresses!  

I felt like a supermodel!  It was awesome, the racks of clothing, the shoes and accessories all set up for me.  Look at these clothing racks and outfits!  All the pieces they say you should wear on What Not To Wear;  jackets, necklaces, several shoe options....VUNDERBAR!

I guess I didn't realize how much effort went into a fashion show...did you?  I've seen posts on how to set out your "outfit" for the next day with accessories and shoes and everything, but usually I just grab what I am in the mood for.  Or what doesn't need ironing and is kind of clean.  I am a mom after all...


I do think Moms Should Bother dressing themselves up a bit, even when they are "just" staying home with little ones.  Not every day, but maybe most days?  So maybe you as a young woman, mom or grandmother could use some fashion advice?  And you like to support good causes and nonprofits in your community?  And you enjoy a gourmet lunch at The Strongbow Inn?  Well, get a ticket or just show up to Goodwill's Little Black Dress Event the NWI Times wrote up here.  See Kathy Friend's TV commercial for it on You Tube here.

Apparently Monte and I are modeling with Radio One Celebrities including Laura Waluszko and Ric Federighi!  This pretty little Laura lady was finishing her fitting as we came in.  She was VERY excited about her shoes Kathy Friend had selected for her to wear!  I was tickled to ooh and ahh with her and Monte over the fuss of it all.

We get to model three "Looks" for the Valparaiso fashion show; a day, evening and Little Black Dress look.  (No I won't have my sweaty hair in a top knot for the show, it was HOT yesterday People!)  I won't tell you any more, but I am SERIOUSLY interested in buying some of what I wear and A LOT of what is just in the boutique.  I'm a lazy thrifter..I admit I want a Personal Shopper handpicking things for me and I will get that and at half price.  That is my busy mama kind of shopping, folks!

Thrifty Fashionistas: Come to Goodwill's Little Black Dress Fashion Show September 19 in Valparaiso, Indiana (and get 50% off the Goodwill Boutique!) Get Fashion Ideas from Kathy Friend, Fashion Consultant, a gourmet lunch at Strongbow Inn and come see me break an ankle and crash into tables strut my stuff on the runway for the fashion show!  

Oh Yeah, and all the BEST LABELS and TRENDIEST Goodwill Clothes handpicked from area stores at 50% off in the Goodwill Fashion Boutique.  SERIOUSLY, folks,  Buy your ticket and COME see it yourself! 

What is the ONE Thing YOU would like fashion help with? Tell me in the comments, please!  (It is a great way to see who actually reads my happy prattle!)

Best Grocery Shopping Tip to Save Money Without Coupons

I have stood and practically cried in  the middle of the grocery store twice in the past month or so. I angst over the cost of organic food, and then get embarrassed by the fact I can even afford it and have the gall to still angst.  I worry over eating less animal products and the impact on my health, but know I dropped five pounds the week I ate meat every day.

Upstairs Pantry
I want to feed my kids healthy stuff, but then again, they are kids with that tricky kid palate I thought was an indulged figment of our society's imagination.

I'd like to shop the farmer's market, then Aldi, then Costco, and then our local Strack and Van Til.   But that is a lot of driving and taking little kids in and out of carseats and folks, I'm tired.  And maybe a little lazy. So I pay too much to just shop easier.

Minted Pea & Avocado Spread!

And I never use coupons.  I jsut loose them or I buy 90% whole food that doesn't get a bar code or coupon on it in the first place.  And I make my own cleaners.  So...

How can I save you moolah?  What simple awesome tip can I offer you to save money on groceries? Before I get to my favorite tip, let me share a bonus tip with you fine folks: Cozi.com

Our family loves the Cozi.com app because I do meal planning with it and recipe ingredients get added to the shopping list with one click.  For grocery shopping  Cozi rocks too because John can look at it on his phone and see what I have added to the list so we work smarter that way.  But wait, there is more...

You know how sometimes you buy too much?  You forget you already had sixteen cans of something or something is on sale but you cannot recall if you have the other ingredients to make a meal out of it? You can waste money that way.  BIG MONEY.  You also waste time with extra shopping trips or ruined attempts at meals without all the things you need to complete and serve them.  

HERE'S the real TIP:  Take. A. Picture.

Use your awesome addictive iphone or Android (Love you, Samsung!) whathaveyou and simply take a picture of your pantry, kitchen cabinet and fridge right BEFORE you go shopping.
Basement Pantry!


You are welcome. Now please share YOUR tips for saving money at the grocery store...because I need help!

Chose to Think "Whatsoever Lovely"

It is hard to be happy. And my life is pretty close to perfect. Since we are affluent enough for me to have the ease to even ask myself what  makes me happy, I already feel embarrassed when I am not.  

The single mama who scurries half asleep from job two to job three, barley kissing her sleeping kids in between...that woman needs more happy.  The guy who supports his family all by himself and is about to loose his job?  The people we never notice because they are so unremarkable but who have so much to offer they themselves do not even realize it?  They need to enjoy more happy.

Me?  I am blessed, hideously blessed by God in every aspect of my life...and yet...

I sulk.  I try to pamper myself with a rare pedicure.  With a new hairbrush.  Kitchen Rugs?

Thanks for listening.  I know I am ridiculous, but hey, this is me.  I'm nothing if not honest.

So I discover (again) today that one thing to bring me joy is to MAKE.

Make moments. 
(Dancing around our living room to The Beastie Boys with my two toddlers.)

Make food.  
(Granola this morning, again with toddlers.  Marginal soup with awesome if  overcooked=overly crispy tomato flatbread tonight.)

Make space.
(For you.  For you to know you are not alone in feeling selfishly unhappy in those small moments. And  that you are OK. )

I read a story recently where a sweet but goofy character would always say "I was just thinking whatsoever lovely and..." it reminded me to think on lovely things.  To think on Philippians 4:8 and focus on whatever gives life, to think about choosing to be happy no matter my circumstances.

I hope you make your own happy.  In doing so, you will help others find theirs too.

Yes, you may have read this post before...but are you LIVING it?

The HARSH Truth: What to Know When Planning Your Baby's First Birthday Party

Oh Mamas!  The truth about planning your baby's first birthday party is about as ugly as the contents of a  cloth diaper after a fruit eating bender.  There are a few things you will not realize about planning a party for your Littlest Darling, possibly until it is too late.   But I have already made the mistakes and am here to tell you How To Avoid Disaster!  I hope you enjoy my Three Tips about Planning Baby's First Birthday Party. 
Rainbow Birthday Cake for my Daughter!

Please come on over to see me at Mumbling Mommy and see if your planning needs improvement!

NOTE:  Meg from Adventures of a Small Town Mom was 100% what I am talking about...lookit her one year olds' party theme:  You WON'T BELIVE IT!