Wednesday, March 25, 2015

3 Steps to Clear Your Fridge (and Simplify the Kitchen)

We just came back from a long weekend road trip and as I opened my weary eyes yesterday morning and trudged downstairs I realized that my kitchen management has been lacking.  Oh, and paired with the sun shining and birds singing I brutally realized that it is indeed Spring Cleaning Time.

I hadn't really meal planned (beyond a day or two) in about a month.  I couldn't remember when I had last efficiently done food shopping and was clearly not staying within our food budget.  Add to that some busy and chaotic weeks and our kitchen environment falls apart. So it was time to take the first step and yup, clean the refrigerator.  Now, this is ALWAYS my first move when the kitchen has become chaotic.  When the refrigerator is jammed and untidy I find that the family and I are making less healthy eating choices and I tend to meal plan haphazardly, which blows the food budget and leads to more not-so-healthy eating (its hard to eat the veggies and fruit when you can't find them!)

Here are my 3 steps to clearing out my refrigerator and hitting the reset button in the kitchen:

Take it all out and wipe it down.  I mean ALL of it.  Every can, jar, fruit, vegetable, drink, you name it.  Then take out the shelves and drawers if you can and wash them (warm soapy water will do).  Even take out the shelves on the door if you are able.  Then with just some soapy water and a cloth wipe the inside.  It is amazing how many little spills I find that I never knew had happened.  While the fridge and its parts are drying move on to---

Look at the food you have.  Go through and check for items past expiration (obviously throw them out and recycle containers!).  Pair like items together: jellies and jams, condiments, dairy, sauces, etc.  Lastly, figure out what you REALLY need and get rid of what you don't.  Sometimes I make poor food choices at the store and I'm left with a jar of something that I really don't use and/or I really don't want to put into my body or that of my family.  So I throw it out.  It may seem wasteful but sometimes you just have to get rid of the bad so that you can make choices for the good.

Now before you put it all back together--
Think about how your family uses your refrigerator.  And let this guide you towards where you put the shelves and drawers.  Do you have little children who like to visit the fridge?  Maybe you want to put only healthy items in their reach.  I found that as my own children have become more independent I'd like to help them and move items lower for them to reach, so they are not dragging a chair across the kitchen floor!
Do you tend to reach for the same foods more often than others?  We eat a pretty limited repertoire of breakfast foods and so I've organized them all on the door for easy access and now even my little guy can reach his yogurt every morning.  This alone has helped mornings go a bit more smoothly and we can use all the help we can get.
Try to get those veggies and fruits into a drawer.  If needed, cut or chop them first and put them in a clear container in the drawer.  Once again, it's hard to eat the veggies if you don't see them.

I find that once the fridge is put back together, clean and organized, I can begin to make those healthy snack choices because I see what is good right in front of me.  I can also begin to plan meals efficiently and in a healthy way because I know what I have to work with.  I hope you make the time to clear out and hit the reset button on your own eating and cooking, I'd love to hear how it goes or if you have any other tips!

Health and Happiness,


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Library Log #2

Ahh, as sunlight streams through the window over the snow piled up outside I feel as though spring might truly be on its way.  Just like the birds happily chirping to greet the newly warm day, a fresh start may be in order for me as well.  Last week, we had such a successful trip to the library that I have renewed ambition to post those lovely books here to share with you.
Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson:  a very interactive picture book where the reader is invited to perform actions on the pages that seemingly affect the following page.  If you touch the buds on the tree, when you turn the page they have magically blossomed.  We enjoyed the simple nature theme as we helped the tree change through the seasons.  It was sweet and simple, yet my 5 and 7 year old wanted to read it over and over again.  If you have read and liked Press Here or Mix It Up by Herve Tullet you will enjoy this one. 

The Old Woman Who Named Things by Cynthia Rylant:  an old woman has lived longer than all of her friends and lives alone in her house where she names things like her chair and her bed presumably so that she won't feel so lonely.  When a stray puppy arrives at her garden gate she reluctantly befriends it but does not name it, presumable so that she won't outlive it, too.  When the dog goes missing, she realizes just how much he means to her and goes to find him and eventually give him a name.  Beautiful pictures and a heartwarming story about the importance of companionship.

The Gardener by Sarah Stewart:  a hands-down favorite of my first grader.  This story, set in the 1930s, is told through a series of letters written by a young girl to her parents and grandmother while she is sent to live with her uncle.  It traces her growing relationship with her unsmiling uncle and demonstrates the power and beauty of flowers.  This book presents so many opportunities for conversation about feelings and relationships and how life was different so many years ago.  Oh, and the pictures are so beautiful I was inspired to start my flower garden planning!

Nightsong by Ari Berk:  an endearing story of a small bat sent on his first nighttime journey.  He is nervous that he will not find his way, but his mother assures him that he should trust his senses.  Of course, he does and flies further than he has before and is rewarded with a beautiful adventure.  We found this book to be a lovely bedtime story.  

I hope you enjoy some of these choices as much as we have!  And please let me know of any of your recent favorite children's books.  

Health and Happiness,


Monday, February 10, 2014

The Family that _______s Together

It's Family Meeting Time, It's Family Meeting Time...Family Meeting?  Why should we have a Family Meeting, you say?  We thought the same thing not so long ago.  But now that we've started, we're never stopping and here are our reasons.

We actually tried to start holding family meetings in the fall.  But they were met with so much kickback from the children that I decided to wait (and do some research on family meetings which led to more research). We talked about the idea of family meetings over the last few months, so they were still on our radars and everyone in the family knew they would come back at some point.  So, I resolved to make them happen in the New Year (anyone who has read my previous post might see a pattern here, but I am not usually a "New Years resolver").

My mistake in starting our last meetings was that I foolishly thought that they would just come together nicely and neatly and we would have wonderful family problem solving and feeling sharing opportunities (sugar plum and gumdrop fantasy, I know).  I was more focused on the product than the process.
Now I realize that these meetings with my husband and (almost) 6 and 4 year old are merely laying the groundwork to create a family atmosphere in which we all feel secure enough to talk things out and share problems and feelings in the future.  Because I think if I don't create that now, then my future 14 year old sure won't feel comfortable to come to me on her own.

So our first meeting was really brief, about 10 minutes, to get together to sing a fun song and set out some guidelines with the family. We needed to decide when and where to have the meetings, how we should start them and who would be in charge of what tasks.
I knew that to make these meetings work I would have to get the kids invested in the idea by having fun and giving them some responsibilities:

1.  After modeling what a typical agenda might look like, my daughter took the job of creating one for each week and posting it on the refrigerator.  Throughout the week we jot down any agenda items that might come to mind, like sharing an idea with the whole family or how to solve a problem that the siblings are having.  At the beginning of each meeting, Bean grabs the agenda and brings it over.

Bean's Agenda
2.  Doodle's job is to grab the Family Meeting Notebook and a pen.  In the notebook we write any important notes from the meeting or things we need to remember for the next meeting.

 Family Meeting Notebook

3.  We decided that a song to open every meeting would be a good idea (we picked the hokey pokey and everyone gets to pick a body part to "shake all about", you probably can guess what my 4 year old son chooses!). It's like an ice breaker and gets everyone on the same page.

4. Sharing Time or Announcements is when we share ideas, things that happened over the week, or items that the children created.  Everyone gets a turn and there are no rules except to be respectful to the speaker.
This is also when we might play Roses and Thorns; each family member gets to share a "rose" (good thing that has happened) and/or a "thorn" (not so good thing).  We've found that everyone enjoys knowing that they will be heard and their feelings validated at this time.  Not that it doesn't happen at other times during the week, but having a dedicated time has been so valuable.

5.  Business is the down and dirty problem solving time.  Honestly, we haven't had much of this so far and it is okay.  I know that we are setting the framework now for when we need to have the big "business" discussions.  For now I have been using this time for games and activities that are team building and fun.

6.  Treats!! The closing of the Family Meeting is always a treat, whether it is a cookie or fruit with whipped cream or a bit of ice cream, it is something the children look forward to.  And I'd be hard pressed to find a better way to continue great family bonding than over a glass of milk and a cookie!

Our Family Meetings are a work in progress, as they should be.  They help give us time to bond and really enjoy one another in the middle of our busy schedules.  I'm so glad we started them and I hope you might think about it too.

Health and Happiness,

My Early Childhood Education background helped me make these meetings work for my young children.  It can be challenging finding ways to involve children this young (and younger!) but I encourage you to try. 
Just setting the precedent for these meetings to happen in your life will help your child understand that you are making family a priority in your life.  While I'm not an expert, I do feel strongly about how strong families make for strong children.  

If you have any questions, I'd love to help if I can.  

Monday, February 3, 2014

Library Log #1- The Adult Shelf

My all time favorite simple pleasure is reading.  Fiction, non-fiction, young adult, mystery, I'm pretty much open to it all.  I see nothing wrong with sitting for hours and getting lost in a book (not that I get to do it very often with two little ones running around), in fact if I could take a week off from everything and just live in a library or book store I would be one happy woman.  But since that isn't going to happen, I do the best that I can and quickly scan and grab a book or two from the library shelf while my kids are playing in the children's section.
Sometimes I can get through two books in two weeks, more often I end up renewing and renewing again until I can finish.
I have found the GoodReads app (for iPhone) to be most helpful lately as I can quickly scan books at the bookstore or library to add to my "to-read" list and then access it when I need to remember what that book was that I wanted to read.
My library system has a digital media catalog that I can use to download available titles to my Kindle or iPad.  I sometimes find that books I cannot find physically at the library are available digitally.  One benefit is that you can request a title and when it is available you receive an email and link to download.  Unfortunately the titles are non-renewable and only able to be "taken out" for 14 days.  Although more often than not I have found this to be a huge motivator to finish the book!

And so, similar to my original Library Log post I will share here with you my good library finds (and maybe some not so good ones), but for adults.

My reads this week:

VB6 by Mark Bittman:  My husband and I just finished a 4 day cleanse.  We felt great afterwards.  We know that we can't eat like that all the time but we also know that our regular eating habits could be changed for the better.  This book couldn't have come to me at a better time.  It was an eye opening read because it led me to understand how my eating doesn't have to be "eat this-not that (ever)" and that I don't have to feel guilty when I do indulge a bit.  Essentially, author Mark Bittman visits his doctor and is told that he is overweight and pre-diabetic and is given a mandate to begin a vegan diet.  Being a food writer, his life literally revolved around eating, yet he didn't want to be resigned to a lifelong pill regimen.  So he created a flexible"flexitarian" vegan diet plan to fit his own needs.  Six years later he has lost 40 or so pounds (and kept them off) and he is no longer pre-diabetic.  The plan essentially prescribes that you eat Vegan Before 6:00 (at night, or dinner time) and for dinner and later you are welcome to eat anything.  No rules, calorie counting or restrictions.
Bittman spends the first few chapters of the book describing in very simple to understand language how the body processes what we put into it and how that translates into health (or lack thereof).  The last chapter is full of recipes that are fairly simple and broken into categories of breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner.  While I don't intend to follow the plan exactly, it has helped inform how I make my own dietary choices.
There is also a great interview of Mark Bittman and his book on WBUR's On Point.

Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson:  Interesting story set in Nazi occupied Poland and current day Chicago.  A young German boy, Otto, is generously taken in by a Jewish family prior to the Nazi occupation.  Through the years the boy becomes part of his new family, bonded with his new siblings, Ben and Rebecca.  When the Nazi's come to invade their town, Otto is visited by his biological parents and faces the decision to stay with his Jewish family and face many challenges or to listen to his parents and go to work for the Germans.  In current day Chicago, Ben has enlisted a lawyer to persecute a well-loved philanthropist who he accuses of actually being Otto, who as a Nazi had committed terrible crimes against Ben's family.
The author uses Ben's voice to retell a beautiful and tragic story that I didn't want to put down.

I hope you might pick up one of these great books and enjoy for yourself!

Health and Happiness,

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Library Log #1

As we settle back into routine after the holidays (and recent snow days), I find that the children and I have also settled back into a favorite activity: enjoying books together.  I'm a reader and always have been and so I have the expectation that my children will be, too.  After all, they are great imitators of our best and worst habits.
I was discouraged recently when we went through a few months of not reading much at all.  Perhaps it was holiday and pre-holiday craziness or just a bad, bad phase but our regular story reading at bedtime wasn't happening so regularly.  The kids and I were having challenges with bedtime and in the interest of getting them to sleep before 8:30 each night, story time was cut short.  Sad, I know.  Unfortunately this was also paired with us not reading during the day either (crazy schedules again).  Battling guilt (I was that mom who never read to her children!) and sadness (why can't we just enjoy reading together?), I knew that in the New Year we would need to remedy the situation.  My solution?  Planned weekly trips to the library and the creation of a family reading spot.

Our family reading spot now centers around a cozy chair in our living room (complete with fuzzy pillow and blanket) and two book holders.  One holds books from our personal library that I try to rotate according to season and/or theme.  The other holds books borrowed from the library so I know where to find them.  I have also found that this makes it easier for the kids to find the books they are looking for.
Doodle enjoying a new book.

Apparently it has worked, because lo and behold, just the other day I caught my 4 year old just "lookin' at books" in the chair.  I have high hopes for daily independent book looking.

And now to the real purpose of this post, to share some of our great library finds with you.  I hope to make this a bit of a series, posting occasionally as we find great library books (honestly, some weeks we don't find that many "winners").

Here are my kids favorite (and Mom approved) books this week:

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers: a very silly story by one of our favorite authors/illustrators about a boy who gets a lot of things stuck in a tree while trying to retrieve his kite.
Actual Size by Steve Jenkins:  a picture book including a variety of animals represented in their actual size, which is great because what 4 year old can grasp that a Goliath frog is 3 feet long without seeing it?
Families of the Deep Blue Sea by Kenneth Mallory:  a non-fiction book which details the life of a variety of animals that live in and around the water.  It shares some interesting facts that I haven't seen in other books of its type.
The Night at the Museum by Milan Trenc:  the story behind the movie starring Ben Stiller.  My kids haven't seen the movie, but continue to enjoy the tale of the night shift guard who loses the dinosaur bones and finds lots of adventure on his first night of work.

I would love to hear some of your favorite books!

Health and Happiness,

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Making It Look Easy

That's what someone said about me.  This morning.
There I was, standing with my 3 year old outside the preschool door waiting for school to open.  With my coffee mug in my hand.  Not the travel mug that I should have brought in the car with me but the real mug that I ran out of the kitchen with as I shuffled my kids out the door because we were going to be late for Kindergarten drop off.  I should mention that we were running out the door because we had already missed the bus.
Never the less, there I stood, waiting and another mom said to me "Wow, you make it look so easy, with your coffee cup and everything".

And I was reminded of how perceptions can be so deceiving.  To me, my morning was anything but easy.  Running late, packing snacks, trying to get my kids to eat breakfast.  On my drive to do the errands (of course there were errands) I couldn't stop thinking about what had changed in my demeanor that would demonstrate to others that this all is easy.  And all I could come up with was how my priorities have changed and my life simplified over the last few months.  I felt proud of myself.  Because in the craziness of that morning, I was still able to talk about the leaves falling with my 3 year old.  I watched my 5 year old as she walked herself into school, finally confident enough to take care of herself.  And a lot of those changes have to do with my decision to focus on them, on being present, on making parenting them thoughtfully a priority.

This morning couldn't have happened if I was tied up on my smartphone.  It couldn't have happened if I had prioritized my kids looking perfect, and sacrificed them working independently to get dressed and ready.

I'm so glad it did happen, because it is little victories like this day that make me feel like I'm doing something right.

Have you changed your priorities?  How has it made a difference in your days?

Health and Happiness,


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Simply Bedtime

We have been blessed with a dawdler.  The bedtime routine itself is enough to drive me to drink (okay, maybe just pull my hair out).  Never mind attempting to have her (the dawdler) clean up the playroom; that makes my blood rise and my heart hurt, and I'm a pretty patient woman.  And in the middle of all this, in my first weeks as a Stay-At-Home-Mom, I'm continuing to try to live the Simple Life. 

 Is life simple when you feel like screaming because your children have no sense of urgency?  No.  Is life simple when you just want to read stories to the kids before bed but someone hasn't even gotten their jammies on yet?  No. Is life simple when you have worked so hard to put routines and reward systems in place and some days they Just Don't Work?  No.   Life is complicated and messy and FULL of emotion.  Of course it is, it's meant to be.  

When does life get simple again?  When you can stop. Simply stop your body and mind.              
Breathe.  And breathe again.  One more time...
and remind yourself:

Because she's only 5 and a half. 
Because her brother doesn't help (especially when he decides to be an alligator). 
Because despite all of it, none of it really matters. 
Because before I know it, she's going to be 12(or 8) and not need my help anymore. 

I'm stuck in one of those "cherish every moment" moments.  You know, the ones when people with kids 12 years older than yours say "cherish it now because it'll be over before you know it" and you go "what, the whining and messy eating and negotiating and I'm-just-so-exhaustedness of it all?"  Yup.

And the simple life lady in me says that those people are right.  So tomorrow night I will help Bean get her jammies on and I will listen to whatever she is telling me as she's making her way to start the bedtime routine.  Maybe we'll find a way to start the whole bedtime thing 30 minutes earlier.  And I'll have to be okay with that, because my kids are who they are.  And they, of course, deserve a Mom who simply loves them.  

Thanks for listening.  How do you remember to simply 'be' with your kids?

Health and Happiness,