Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Meal planning + food prep

I received a topic special request from a friend (Hi, Steph!), so this blog will be all about meal planning and food prep! Be warned: this will be long. I'm going to include a lot of info and some recipes, too.

I've always been sort of ruled by food, ever since I started putting on weight in puberty. I feel as though I could look at a carrot and gain 5 lbs. Even though I cheered and danced and swam and ran around all day every day all summer long and ate more vegetables than most of the people I knew, I was always a chunker from about 3rd grade on.

Over the past few months, I've been working to transition to a place where I rule the food around me, not the other way around. Instead of being controlled by my cravings and food wants, I make a conscious effort to think of food as nourishment and fuel for my body, plain and simple.

Yes, food may taste good. Yes, I am a true foodie, always looking for new flavors and ideas. But, I'm trying not to make it matter so much what I eat, just that I'm eating things that are whole, healthy, and as un-processed as my budget will allow. I'm not in the mood for the food I packed for my work lunch? Too bad. I'm saving money and being more health conscious by eating it. I'd rather run through the drive thru after work for a happy meal for Kimmy and a burger for me? Nope, I have a 20-minute meal waiting for me at home, and it's $2.50 per portion and chock full of veggies. See how I'm trying to train my thinking?

So, how am I making that switch?
1. I'm shopping based on what I need for specific meals, instead of shopping by what looks good and tickles my fancy at the store.
2. I'm planning a menu based on those meals. If I want to change things up, I can just switch the order of my meals, instead of going out for a quick fix and breaking my planning cycle.
3. I'm making a budget and sticking to it. Only extravagant budgets allow for over-indulgent food, after all.
4. I'm prepping my ingredients/dish components as much in advance as I can, so I can come straight home from work and cook, rather than giving in to ravenous food cravings and ruining my good planning.
5. I'm being less wasteful. If I have fresh produce in my fridge that has the potential to go bad, I don't need to be ordering take-out or procrastinating by eating non-perishables out of the pantry first. I've thrown away too much produce in the last few years, and I refuse to do it anymore.

Then what?
First thing's first: you need a good planning document. I print out these menu planner/shopping list combos every 2 weeks. I get paid every other Friday, so I either do my shopping on payday or the day after, and I get enough food for our household for 2 weeks. (I'm currently trying to spread our shopping out to 1 month intervals by shopping in bulk, but that's a work in progress, especially with my limited freezer space. I'll have to let you know how that goes.) Anyway, this document is cool because you can write down your meals in each box, guesstimate how many leftovers you'll have to allow that meal to stretch across a couple days, and write all your ingredients in the handy dandy categories below. This is a lifesaver (and timesaver) for me!

Once you've got your meals planned out and ingredients written down, you can take a look at your store's circular ad to see what can be swapped out to make your meals cheaper. If fish is cheaper than chicken, make a switch. If Brussels sprouts are on sale, but asparagus isn't, do a switch-a-roo. See where I'm going with this? Once you have some meal-planning practice under your belt, you'll be able to take a look at your grocery store ad first and do some quick calculations in your head to figure out which meals from your repertoire are feasible and which aren't.

My budget allows for $100 spent on groceries every 2 weeks. You might be sitting there thinking that's impossible, but I think you'll be shocked when you discover how much money you save by shopping by meal! I know I was. I usually come in under budget these days at ~$85-$90 every 2 weeks. This includes snacks like extra veggies, peanut butter, cheese, and crackers. Your initial few trips may cost more while you're stocking up on essentials, but I promise it can be done on a way smaller budget than you're used to long-term! And, obviously, if you have a bigger household than a 26-year-old and 2-and-a-half-year-old, you can adjust your budget accordingly.

"What do you usually buy at the store? What's your typical 2-week spread?" you ask.
Well, let me give you my current 2 weeks as an example! Some of the items I already bought, prepped, and/or froze, but I'll pretend I bought it all on Saturday for the purpose of this exercise.

Week 1
Breakfasts: refrigerator oatmeals (Monday-Friday), eggs and turkey bacon (Saturday), waffles (Sunday)
Lunches:  salad w/cheese and hardboiled egg (Monday-Friday), grilled cheese and veggies w/hummus (Saturday), chili (Sunday)
Dinners: moussaka (Monday/Wednesday), chicken thighs with rice and kale (Tuesday/Friday), spaghetti and meatballs (Thursday/Saturday), any remaining leftovers and salad (Sunday)

What I Bought
Dairy: butter, eggs (lunch salads, meatballs, breakfast), milk, parmesan cheese (meatballs), cheddar cheese (grilled cheeses), 1 qt. plain yogurt (oatmeal x 5)
Meat: 3 lbs ground beef (moussaka, chili, meatballs), bulk package chicken thighs, turkey bacon (or regular bacon if cheaper)
Frozen foods: 1 bag frozen fruit (oatmeal x 5)
Produce: hummus, celery (moussaka), carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, onions (chili, spaghetti, moussaka), lettuce (salads), eggplant (moussaka)
Canned goods: tomato paste/tomato sauce/diced tomatoes (chili, spaghetti, moussaka)
Dry Goods: 1 lb. kidney beans, thin spaghetti, bread crumbs, chili seasoning, pancake mix (waffles), syrup, rice (bulk is way cheap if you have somewhere to store it), oatmeal, whole almonds, bread
Misc: any additional spices/seasonings/dressings, snacks like popcorn or peanut butter or crackers, coffee, and coffee accessories

Week 2
Breakfasts: refrigerator oatmeals (Monday-Friday), eggs and turkey bacon (Saturday), cereal
Lunches: chili (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday), broiled tilapia and broccoli (Wednesday, Friday), grilled cheese and veggies w/hummus (Saturday), leftover pizza (Sunday)
Dinners: chicken leg quarters with potatoes au gratin and carrots (Monday/Wednesday), hamburgers and salad (Tuesday), meatballs w/tomato sauce and broccoli (Thursday/Friday), homemade pizza (Saturday), any remaining leftovers and salad (Sunday)

What I Bought
Dairy: eggs, milk, 1 qt. plain yogurt (oatmeal x 5), cheddar cheese (and/or whatever other kinds you like for potatoes au gratin), mozzarella cheese (pizza)
Meat: bulk package chicken leg quarters, ground beef (hamburgers, pizza)
Frozen foods: carrots, broccoli x 2, bulk bag frozen tilapia
Produce:green onions (potatoes au gratin), lettuce, potatoes
Canned goods: tomato sauce (pizza), black olives, mushrooms
Dry Goods: pizza dough yeast, flour, oil
Misc: any spices/seasonings

Simple enough, right? You have only what you need for your meals, plus when you get things like flour, eggs, oil, butter, cheese, and rice that are part of your meals, you're likely to have leftovers that become staples in your food supply. A lot of times things like that will last for several rounds of meal planning. This helps you save money in the long-run.

So, some tips and tricks:
  • Do yourself a favor and purchase a big package of food storage containers. Throw away all the crappy ones you've accumulated and use your brand-new matching set. You'll thank yourself a million times!
  • Plan to buy and use frozen veggies for the last part of your meal-planning cycle. They're less likely to go bad, and you're more likely to get use out of them and not throw away good money.
  • Soups, sauces, and beans go further if you're trying to stretch your money. A pot of chili or hearty soup will last forever (which is why I freeze half as soon as I cook it)!
  • Always have ready-made food items in your freezer like muffins, waffles, casseroles, meatballs/loaf, pasta dishes, and whatever else floats your boat. These are nice bonus items when you're waiting for the next payday to roll around...or when you have no food for the next day's dinner, but don't have time to go shopping. Just thaw and warm!
  • Buy meat in bulk and repackage into meal-sized portions of your own to freeze. If ground beef/turkey is one of your meats, you can go ahead and shape your burgers and form your meatballs before freezing.
  • Label everything you freeze and look through your freezer stash every time you plan your next set of meals to see what needs to be eaten soon.
  • If you work (or have kids who throw off your stay-at-home-parent schedule), spend a few hours on Saturday or Sunday prepping all your breakfasts and lunches and morning/afternoon snacks. You'll remove almost all of the temptation to go out for lunch, waste money, and consume way too many calories. My fave work lunches are salads, a big casserole split into 5 portions, or a cooked meat + frozen veggie. You can actually put the veggies in your containers still frozen to save time, since you'll be heating your meal in the microwave before eating anyway.
  • Always check your menu for the next day after dinner to see what's coming up. If it's something that's in your freezer, move it to the fridge. It'll be nice and thawed by the time it's time to cook din-din!
  • Know your top 5 fastest dinners and be able to roll them off your tongue in 30 seconds or less! This comes in clutch when menu planning if there's a particular day you're going to be super strapped for time. Our busy days are Wednesdays because of church, so I usually plan leftovers that day or something I can cook in 20 minutes or less like broiled fish and a frozen veggie, tacos, veggie omelets, hamburgers, spaghetti, or fried salmon patties.
  • Toddler mommies: save those old bananas that get wasted more often than not! They make the most delicious muffins that will have your kiddos begging for their breakfast fruit/fiber!
  • Use coupons and buy generics whenever possible. Kroger has some amazing store-brand foods. Just sayin'. I used to be a name-brand snob, but I'm loving the savings and still-intact flavor/texture integrity I've found in Kroger generics.
  • If you see something at the store that's an unbeatable deal like several pounds of steak or salmon that's been mega marked down, grab it!!! Adjust your menu accordingly. Flexibility is key if you're serious about saving money!
Ready for some recipes?! None of these are extravagant, and all are super easy and delicious! Have you seen a recent food pic on Facebook or Instagram that you'd like a recipe for? Comment and let me know. What's mine is yours, friends!

1 lb. ground beef
2 potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 eggplant, peeled and thickly sliced
1 large onion, sliced
5 ribs celery, sliced
1 green pepper, sliced (optional...I hate bell peppers!)
1 large can diced tomatoes
salt and pepper

Layer everything in a casserole dish with raw beef on the bottom to tomatoes on top. Cover and bake for about an hour at 350º. Traditionally, this Greek dish is topped with a béchamel sauce, but I'm rarely feeling that fancy. Plus, this is a really filling dish, and I fear a creamy sauce would make it too rich for my blood. One other note: this dish is really versatile! You can really add whatever veggies or seasonings you like. I've done it with zucchini, spinach, kale, and mushrooms. All delicious additions!

1 lb. ground beef
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 c. fresh grated parmesan (like DIY grated parm...so much filler and processed junk in pre-grated cheese!)
1 tbsp. dried basil (or fresh minced if you have it!)
2 tbsp. dried parsley (again, fresh if you prefer. Fresh herbs are cheap and delicious, and leftover fresh basil and parsley make a bangin' pesto sauce!)
1/2 c. bread crumbs
salt and pepper
2 cloves minced garlic

Mix it all up, form into 1-2" balls, and either freeze raw or bake at 350º for about 20 minutes and cool before bagging and freezing. Pop 'em in your favorite pasta sauce or bake/fry them and serve as mini meatloafs with tomato sauce, ranch, or ketchup. These are a big hit with my Kimmy--very toddler friendly!

Potatoes au Gratin
4-5 potatoes, thinly and evenly sliced
3-4 green onions, chopped
1 stick butter
2-3 c. shredded cheese
salt and white pepper

Line your casserole dish with butter. Layer potatoes, green onions, little pats of butter, salt and white pepper, and cheese in 2 big layers. Cover the top well with cheese. Bake at 375º for 40 minutes (covered) and 10-15 minutes (uncovered).

Refrigerator Oatmeals
Ingredients (each)
1/2 c. old-fashioned oats
1/2 c. plain yogurt (not flavored and not low-fat)
1 tbsp. whole almonds (the baking kind, not the salted/snack kind)
1/2-3/4 c. fresh or frozen fruit of your choice
2 oz. milk

Measure all your ingredients and put them in a container. Pop on a lid and toss it in the fridge for at least 8 hours and up to 5 days before eating (the texture is not ideal outside of this timeframe). No stirring, no nothing. You can sweeten with whatever floats your boat (honey, Splenda, etc.) and stir it all up before eating. Seriously measure your ingredients, though: this is unbelievably filling. Overdo it, and you will not finish this breakfast in one sitting. Just sayin'.

Buy a box of Kroger brand buttermilk pancake and waffle mix. It's the best. Hands down. I do not buy any other brands. It's either this or homemade from a Googled waffle recipe. You'll also need vegetable oil and water.

Follow the waffle directions on the box. Put however much batter your waffle iron holds in your waffle iron. Cook. Cool completely. Freeze. #boom

This recipe or this recipe

Add in or substitute whatever fruits float your boat (especially those old bananas we all love/hate!). Cook. Cool. Freeze.

I hope this helps all you other busy bees find a little balance in your cooking/food schedules! I'm always open to blog suggestions, recipe suggestions, and whatever else you want to know about how I do things if it can help you organize your life.


Monday, February 9, 2015


Hmmm, where to start on this topic? Let's go here first:

I'm a feminist. I will advocate for women's equality until the day I die. Equal pay. Equal rights. Removal of sexism from all aspects of life. There is no wrath like the wrath of a woman scorned, and media and society do a lot--both intentionally and unintentionally--to "put women in their places."

One thing that absolutely boils my blood is the societal idea that women are too high-maintenance and have standards that are both too high and unrealistic.

Society could not be more wrong.

Women have high standards because they know what they want, and they know what they deserve. We are clear thinkers. We may change our minds a lot, but we have coherent goals, dreams, and plans. I'd even venture to say that we're even better off for being mind-changers because that implies malleability and resilience and flexibility and adeptness and pure, effervescent wit.

Beyond that, we are absolutely entitled to have the standards we have--for people, for relationships, for jobs, for parenting, for gender equality, for healthcare, for women's rights, for life--and we should be lauded for having such a firm grip on our wants and needs.

A lot of times, "standards" and "goals" are interchangeable words. Why should one gender be allowed to set clear goals and the other held in constant contempt for it?

Sorry, men, but women keep the world running. We bring a hell of a lot to the table. I dare you to try to do it without us!

Anyway, off my soapbox. Kind of.


I'd like to advocate for women never to be afraid of having high standards and never to settle on something below those standards if it is within your power. It could lead to getting lost in a total mess, whether that's a bad relationship, a job that's a waste of your time, doing things for people who don't appreciate you, a whopping pile of debt, etc.

Set your standards high and hold your ground. Your life will be so much more amazing because you'll be living it on your terms. Circumstance and person will not affect your outlook and ambitions.

I've got a lot of standards for my future, and I refuse to find myself in a situation within my choosing that's too far away from those ideals. I'm specifically talking about future relationship, financial, and professional/educational goals for myself.

If I enter into another relationship in the future, it must be with an honest man. Honesty makes everything else tolerable, or at least overcome-able. He must be honest and worthy of my trust, time, and attention. Beyond that, he must be worthy of the time he will take away from Kimmy and Mommy 1:1. He must love my child as much as me and/or as much as his own if a blended family is in my future. He must be someone I can be comfortable praying with/around.

My financial standards include being debt-free with the exceptions of car and home loans in my future. I will save for emergencies, for Kimmy's college education, for retirement, and to help others. On these standards, I will not bend, unless forced circumstance would make it so.

I will receive a graduate degree, come hail or high water. [I think the generally accepted phraseology is "come hell or high water," but "hail" makes so much more sense to me. Natural disaster + natural disaster versus death + natural disaster. I've changed it to "hail" for myself. Why? Because I can.] I'm willing it to happen. I will not break this goal. I will work during my working years and my retirement years. I will help others all I can. Lord willing, I will spend my retirement providing free childcare for a future single momma around my age now, so she can work and save and not have to worry about the most worrisome time of life. But I can figure all that out when the time arrives. It's my plan, at least!

Why should I be made to feel "less than" for having such high standards for myself, my daughter, and my/our future?

Sorry, boyz. I'm standing strong. Row your boat to my island, or row right on by and leave me be.


Unsolicited advice

I don't know what it is about my life in particular, but people have always felt especially compelled to give me advice on a myriad of topics. I'm also one of those people who, when out in public, gets approached by the most random people, who then proceed to tell me their entire life story. And then, ironically, a lot of people come to me for advice, so they can't think I'm entirely dim...right? These things don't seem to happen to most of my friends on so large a scale, and they certainly don't add up in my mind. So, I'm just incredibly perplexed and always have been.

The life stories thing is more entertaining to me than anything else, but I find the unsolicited advice to be tiresome and draining more often than not, plus it draws unwanted attention to me. I'm a true introvert and like to hide behind a curtain in my life without people seeing my every move (Yeah, I know that probably sounds weird out loud, but it's true. Don't notice me, people!) And even people who know me and know how often I post on FB are probably reading this thinking, "What? You post all the time. You post everything that happens in your life." Wrong. I'm a really busy and active person, so much so that it makes my head spin and causes me to live out my hectic life on detailed post-it note lists, and I really only post like 1% of my thoughts and feelings and life happenings, believe it or not.

I feel like I am very clear in when I am asking for advice and when I am definitely not, so I am often left with swirling questions. Do people think I'm stupid? Do I appear to lack common sense or the ability to think for myself? Do I come off as dependent--the direct opposite of the independent person I actually am? Do people want to feel like they have a say in my choices and be stakeholders in my life? Is my life really all that outwardly interesting (because it certainly doesn't seem like it to me)? Do people even care about what they're pushing advice on, or do they just like to hear themselves talk? Even if I take someone's advice or if I don't, why does it matter/pertain to them?

Like I said, I really don't get it. I know people care--I get that part--and I certainly don't mean to sound snobby or rude or pretentious. I just truly don't understand why I'm the target of so much more advice than your average Joe. And, especially since becoming a single mom, I've had to fight off even more advice than usual. It's not that I don't love the people who are "helping" me--I do, and I have nothing personal against anyone who offers me advice, but rather a general feeling of disdain about it all.

The point is, though, that I want to figure things out for myself. I enjoy a challenge and a learning opportunity and the ability to learn from potential mistakes. I don't have a fear of falling or failing in most things (postgraduate education is an exception because I have been there, and I have failed) because I'm very in tune with my resilience. Even if someone tells me of their failure with an exact decision that I'm making in an exact scenario I'm in, it's absolutely meaningless to me until I experience it for myself. Example: people's movie recommendations. If someone tells me a movie is terrible, and I shouldn't see it, I 100% disregard their sentiments--on purpose, as well as an innate response within myself. I totally ignore it. If I want to see a movie, I go see it, regardless of what someone else thought of it. Even if that opinion comes from my most trusted circle. Why? I have to experience it for myself.

Maybe I'm just so independent that I'm over-sensitive to the whole topic of unsolicited advice and feel boxed in and defensive and like I need to stick up for myself, but I find it very hard to bite my tongue at times. Especially those times when my absolutely harmless Facebook posts turn into a gigantic controversy of people flat out telling me what to do, as if I'm asking for their permission. I find myself thinking, "HELLO?!?! You do not own me or my decisions! Being 26 has it's benefits--it means I'm an adult who can make sound decisions for my own life. I am not a child, nor do I act like one. In fact, I have one...for whom I have been making important, foundational decisions for 2.5 years now! Treat me as such. Hush. Leave me alone. Get off my back. Butt out. Silence!"

Yeah. Responding to unwanted advice is one of my biggest challenges as a Christian--right up there with patience, a virtue with which I was not blessed. I truly struggle with it. Huge personality flaw of which I am quite aware. I have always walked the line of...
 "I shouldn't say something. I really should just swallow it and not respond. It will eat me alive, but I must refrain from a rebuttal."
"I'm not being forthright with people or honest with myself if I don't say something. People will never learn the type of communication I value most if I don't speak up for myself. I will continue to be misunderstood and walked on. I must speak up."
Maybe it's wrong of me (I feel like it probably is because of the small twinge of guilt I feel), but this is where I stand right here, right now: if you don't know by now that I don't appreciate unsolicited advice, it is my job to tell you--not to be mean, but so you can learn that about me and respect me as a person for who I truly am. By combating it, I am being true to myself and my needs and removing the flurry of wanting-to-scream thoughts that overcrowd my mind when I'm being inundated with unwanted opinions. I try, and will continue to try, to be kind in expressing that I don't want any advice on whatever topic is the Kelsey controversy of the day; however, it's important to me to feel like I am being heard loud and clear to prevent future occurrences.

I guess what it boils down to is honesty. Honesty is the one human capability that I value first and foremost above all else in myself and in other people. By speaking out against the arrows of advice people send soaring my way Katniss-Everdeen-style on a daily basis, I am projecting honesty. Perhaps I just need to continue my journey on the path of Balance to find that happy place where I'm not also projecting angry-bear-who-just-awoke-from-hibernation / #LEAVEMEALONE!

#sorrynotsorry? #imnotperfect #workinprogress



For as long as I can remember, I've hated routines. Loathed them. Lots of people feel liberated and stress-free with a daily routine. I just feel trapped. Absolutely caged and boxed in, like there is nothing exciting about my life. There is nothing more boring and redundant and hopeless-feeling to me than doing the same thing at the same time every single day. In fact, that's a large part of why I chose a music major over a biology major in college (it was close!): the prospect of a free-flowing day throughout my career, being able to travel where the breeze takes me, and the ability to learn/practice/perform new and exciting rep all the time.

It's pretty surprising to me that I've wound up in an 8:00-5:00 job with a strict home routine with my Kimmy-girl. It's even more surprising that I don't hate it--actually, I'm learning to like it, especially since I know it has so many benefits for my baby! I guess there was a slight oversight on my part because I didn't realize how valuable financial and personal stability and health/retirement benefits were with this type of career path.

At the same time, I am actively trying to change up my routine as much as possible, so I don't get bored and revert back to that "trapped" feeling. I actually dread the day that Kimmy starts school because it will start a long set of consecutive years of routine. I don't even want to think about it!

One of the things I dread most about routine is the feeling of waking up to the same ol' thing every morning and the realization that I have so much to do before I can actually start my day. I'm supposed to get up at 6:30 each morning. Does that happen? Nope! I hit the snooze button, re-set my alarm for random times like 6:51 and 7:03 and 6:37 and 7:06 and my personal fave: 7:17am...only 30 minutes before I'm supposed to leave for work. I also change the names of my iPhone alarms periodically to change things up. Current alarms are "Alarmed," "Alarming," "WAKE UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" and "Don't Hit Snooze!" The unintentional multiple-snooze approach leads to me being sluggish, having a bad attitude about waking up, feeling stressed over all that needs to be done before I can leave for work, and being super grumpy until I have my coffee.

I've recently caught on to a gem of a concept, which is much more bearable for me. I spend my weekends working on pre-completing my routine, so I don't have to do much of anything but roll out of bed and get dressed come Monday morning. I can plug away at my checklist at my own pace, stop and start, take a nap, work late into Saturday night if I want to (great option for this night owl, who doesn't get her big burst of energy until around 7:00pm each day). It's brilliant! I'm wondering why it took me so long to work it to its fullest extent.

I'm going to share a little bit of what I did late last week/this weekend in hopes that it will help anyone else with the same routine woes.

Thursday Evening
Since Kimmy was at her dad's, I worked tirelessly on our budget. I paid off what debts/bills I could pay online. I wrote down what needed to be handled by phone the following day. I worked on my budget sheet, daily expense tracker, and balance sheet. I basically got all of our ducks in a row and allocated our entire federal tax refund to all the things it needed to be allocated to and wrote everything down, so I didn't have to stress about how much money I had and what expenses were going to be coming in over the next few days. I always feel so stressed about money until I sit down and plot everything out. I feel so much better when I get down in the details and come away with an overview of what's going on with my finances. Before bed each night, I memorize the amount that's in my checking account going into the next day.

This budgeting evening was my best yet! We're so close to being into the black it's not even funny. Car is paid off. All but one medical bill is paid off. All credit cards are paid off. Everything but student loans, really, and if I continue to work for a non-profit/government institution for 9 more years, my loans will be forgiven. I'm on a Pay As You Earn plan for my loans with a total of $0 set for my monthly payment, so I'm just releasing that debt from my worry bank entirely!

I got a pep in my step walking into work Friday morning with my giant document shred pile and my newly very slim financial planning folder! I truly thank God for that tax-refund money. I know that the several years of financial struggles were so I would know how to use that money intelligently when it arrived. All things for good.

Friday Evening
I picked up my baby, and we splurged on a Pizza Hut pizza (our fave) for dinner: large pan with pepperoni and black olives cooked just a few minutes extra. Delicious and worth every bit of $16 including tip. I kept my pre-routining simple that night and just made a detailed list of everything I planned to handle over the weekend. I won't bore you with that list, but I will say that writing things down is key for me, both with getting my life organized and relieving my stress (hence this blog, which is the best Kelsey therapy ever).

We got an early start to our Saturday! Well, Kimmy did. She woke up at 7:00am on the dot and wanted to watch "Peppa Pig." I set her up with my phone, and she cuddled with me in bed for another hour, while I slept. Love when that happens! It's a rare treat.

We went downstairs and ate breakfast. Then I busted out my computer and got started. First, I made a list of all the things we needed to buy. Next, I scoured all kinds of weekly store ads to find the best deals around town. Then I re-wrote my list by store and wrote down everything I planned to get from each store, along with the prices of each item and the estimated total to be spent at each store. I also gathered my coupons for each store and put each store's coupons in a separate Ziploc bag. This whole process took me a solid 2 hours, but it saved me a lot of time and hassle throughout the rest of the day (and a lot of stress about how much money I'd have left in my checking account after each shopping extravaganza).

After my list-making, I packed a lunch of leftover pizza and blueberries and water. I gathered all my shopping supplies (Thirty-One's Making Memories Rolling Thermal, Deluxe Utility Tote, Essential Storage Totes, and Fresh Market Thermal) for the day and packed my list and coupons. (If you don't have any big totes for shopping, I can hook you up! I love the income from selling my Thirty-One products, sure, but I love the functionality even more and truly stand behind the usefulness! They are seriously just so functional and total lifesavers, especially with a toddler in tow.) We got dressed and headed out of the house around 11:00.

Where all did we go? Everywhere, it seems like! The post office, Lowe's, Walmart, Sam's Club, Kroger, CVS, Target, and Speedway. That's 8 times getting Kimmy into and out of her car seat, which is tiring in and of itself, as any parent knows all too well. What a long and tiring 5 hours, but so worth it! I saved a crap ton of money shopping like this, and we only went to a few more places than we usually would. Not to mention all the free food samples at Sam's on a Saturday afternoon. Oh, and the pretty weather outside. It was a really enjoyable day, and Kimmy was very well behaved because she was having so much fun.

Normally, we shop for food every 2 weeks the Friday or Saturday of payday week, but I think I've managed to get us set with groceries and household items for at least the next 3 weeks this time. If I can keep shopping like this, I *think* I can get away with only going on one big shopping trip once a month with maybe one teeny tiny trip for fresh produce and a few gallons of milk in between. Buying in bulk is an amazing luxury to have in this country!

Once we got home, I put all our groceries away. I left my meats in the fridge, so I could separate out the portions and freeze them to save lots of thawing time once we're ready to use them. We had an easy dinner of grilled cheese sandwiches, put together our new shoe shelves and organized shoes, and called it a day. The rest of the evening was spent playing and talking and laughing, and the Kimmy and I went to bed early around 8:00!

Perhaps it's just the sudden change in weather, but Kimmy and I both woke up not feeling well with coughing and sore throats. I decided we better not go to church, in case we were contagious, so we spent the day at home for the most part. Pretty sure it's just allergies, but you can never be too safe when volunteering in a room full of 2-year-olds who can catch things.

Sundays are my meal-prep and cleaning days. I like to space it all out throughout the day, so I don't get too bored with any one activity, and so I make sure to spend plenty of weekend time with my sweet girl. She so cherishes our weekends together (I do, too), and it's easy for me to get caught up in my to-do list and miss lots of moments with her if I'm not careful.

So, I tried to juggle a lot of activities, but I have some practice to do, especially when Kimmy wants to help in the kitchen while I just really want to get things done quickly. It's going to take some practice. Here is what all we/I did:
  • took out the trash (I'm still gradually unpacking, so there are a ton of boxes and packing supplies accumulating through the week. Kimmy's Radio Flyer wagon has been a God-send for carting our trash to the dumpster!)
  • vacuumed the entire downstairs
  • did 3 load of dishes throughout the course of the day
  • changed our sheets and pillowcases
  • ran to CVS for a few things, including a Sunday paper with coupons
  • clipped coupons
  • checked/sorted/trashed mail that I had accumulated through the week
  • balanced my checking account
  • cleaned up toys (several times...lol)
  • washed and dried 2 load of clothes (Kimmy and I have established a brilliant system throughout the week. During our bathtime routine, we take off our dirty clothes and put them directly in the washer, which is in the laundry closet right outside our upstairs bathroom. Usually by Friday/Saturday night, we have enough for a full load of laundry! I wash everything in cold water, so color sorting doesn't matter so much. I can start the washer before our evening bath/bedtime routine every weekend and pop everything in the dryer right before bedtime. Then on Sundays, I can wash sheets, towels, pillowcases, washcloths, and rags before church and stick 'em in the dryer after church. Painless! The sorting and folding and putting away part? Well, let's not go there.)
  • set my coffee pot on auto timer mode (If you don't have a plain ol' coffee pot with auto timer setting, you're ruining your morning routine. Just sayin'. Keurig takes time. Auto timer takes a few non-rushed minutes of your evening and does all the work for you, so you just pour and go in the AM.)
  • did food prep (Bagged my chicken thighs and chicken leg quarters in smaller portions, labeled them, and stuck them in the freezer. Started dinner in the oven: 1 lb. ground beef, 2 sliced potatoes, 5 ribs sliced celery, a sliced onion, and a can of diced tomatoes. Made a Mommy-sized hamburger and a Kimmy-sized hamburger with a little more ground beef and stuck those in the freezer. Turned the rest of the beef into pre-formed meatballs with some parmesan, egg, bread crumbs, basil, parsley, salt, and pepper and stuck those in the freezer. Made my refrigerator oatmeals for the week. Made some banana muffins with our old bananas and stuck most of those in the freezer for easy toddler breakfasts. Made my lunch salads and my veggie and hummus snacks and my sliced apples and oranges. About an hour of prep for all my work foods, and I've saved myself tons of morning hustle and bustle...and calories and money!)
  • watched Frozen with my Kimmy Jarae
  • took some silly photos
  • cleaned my kitchen counters
  • somehow got our baths and bedtime routines handled on time
It was a lonnnnnng Sunday, but it felt so nice to get everything done early. All I did this morning was wake up, unload the dishwasher and put my breakfast and lunch and snack containers in my lunch box, pour my getting-ready coffee and my work coffee, go back upstairs to throw on some clothes and make-up, put on my shoes, grab my lunch box and coffee, hug and kiss my baby, and head out the door.

That's a routine I can live with! It's so short that it feels like no work at all.

Over and out.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

It is well with my soul

Life is good. Life is really, really good.

In our hard times, it's difficult to see the light through the darkness. Money troubles. Relationship troubles. Dichotomy between where you thought you would be and where you actually are. Chaos where you always thought there would be order.

I can't tell you how many times over the last few years I've thought or said, "If only I had $___." If only I could pay this off. If only I felt unburdened by X, Y, and Z. If only I didn't have to worry about such and such.

I have prayed over my finances for about 2 years now. I've cried and agonized and gritted my teeth and worried myself sick...physically sick, to the point I could have been a poster girl for Zantac 150. I've budgeted and skimped and saved and done without, but I've prayed and prayed through all my strife. I had gotten to the point where I didn't even bother uttering words for my financial prayers; I just spoke with my heart because God knows my heart.

"If only I had $____."

Well, guess what? I just got $____ through my tax refund. Prayer answered. And what did it take? Several years of terrible financial troubles, bringing an unplanned [but never unwanted] child into the world, unemployment, not enough employment to do anything but strike evven, barely scraping by, unthinkable betrayal and the end of a long friendship/relationship. Terrible things...that led to head of household tax status...single parent status...a literal answer to my financial prayers, and an open door and unburdened soul for much, much bigger and better things to come. My tax refund was basically the exact amount I have prayed for for years: that token accumulation of funds that would relieve my financial stress. I'm not kidding.

The path is crystal clear in retrospect: just what God ordered for my life. His perfect timing; his perfect method. Would any person ever put themselves through all that and know that this would be the perfect outcome? Umm, no. That's unthinkable! In the midst of enduring it all, this outcome was not even on my plane of vision, and I think the enemy thrives on that negative energy--the idea we 21st Centurians walk around with that our lives are defined by our wealth (or lack thereof), possessions (ditto), relationships, how many movies and TV shows we can quote, the number of friends and followers on our social media, and just all this stuff that doesn't even matter at all!

I'm happy to say that my life--my success--is defined by Christ alone.

Is it coincidental that all of my challenges over the last 3 years led me to exactly where I am today? Is it serendipity that my life suddenly just really turned around and became this really great thing that I am so sincerely excited about living every single day?

Absolutely not. Want to know when a change stirred within me? When I "let go and let God." It sounds corny. (It probably sounds ridiculous to the non-believer.) It is positively true of my life, though. A friend happened to lead me to a church on Easter Sunday last year, and I was finally so spirtually nourished that I had no choice but to let my troubles fall to the wayside and give over all that pain and frustration and chaos to God.

I have never lived so lean in all my life: this house's budget is tight. But I have never felt more full in all my life. I don't dread waking up in the morning. I have friends. I have purpose and a place. I have amazing coworkers and the best benefits package from my employer imaginable. My sweet daughter brightens my every moment. I have passion for my hobbies again. I have goals for my future. I have confidence. I am loved. I have love in my heart. I have love to give. I have clothes on my back and hot water in my pipes and coffee in my cupboard and music on my computer and in my head and coming out of my mouth. I'm funny. I'm happy. I'm unashamed of being me. Life is really, really good, and the best part is that I'm not pretending. Being here and feeling this way and having absolute assurance in my faith and my eternal future is worth every single bump in the road in my rearview mirror.

I'm pretty sure I could give examples of all the "God things" in my life over the last half a year, ever since I really got serious about attending church and growing my roots, and make jaws hit the floor. I'm not talking about supernatural occurrences here, just other things--like the money thing--that keep happening. I'm talking about his plans falling into a clear path beneath my feet that, through trust, I am walking on more and more steadily, and it's really making all the difference in my life. I don't believe in coincidence; I believe in free will. When things appear to be coincidence, I belive that that is when human will and God's will align. My life is aligned. My soul is aligned.

Anyway, all of this is to point out one key word: trust. Trust is key. We look for trustworthiness in humans all our lives, but people let us down without fail. I don't have a single close person in my life who has never broken my trust in some miniscule way. There is no trust like the trust we can put in God. If you're looking for something your soul craves (honesty, trust, love, attention, acceptance, guidance, validation, worth) in someone, I hate to break it to you, but you're looking in the wrong place. There is only one way to quench the soul.

I'm looking forward to letting go even more and trusting and walking where I am led to go. Why? Why would this Type A control freak want to let go more? Because it's working.

I'm taking my first big step this May, when I'll be spending 10 days in Cambodia and meeting young girls who have endured horrible things through the industry of human trafficking. No human should be forced to deal with what these girls have dealt with. But, I think this is where I need to be. I'm so looking forward to committing scripture to heart and memory over the next 3 months, so I'll have the right words to say. I cannot wait to follow this call and be a messenger. I have dreamed about this journey from the first time I went to church camp around age 11/12 and first heard the concept of missions work. I think--I hope--my life experiences are for such a bigger purpose than I even know right now. I'm so excited to share my testimony with these girls and show them the freedom I have in my soul through Christ, despite anything that's happened in my past...the huge imperfections in my life that are made perfectly okay through the precious grace and forgiveness of Jesus.

I've tucked away this urge for years, deep in my heart and mind, and I think now's the time to act on it! I've done plenty of living for me in my life; I can't wait to see what happens when I start living for others just as much. And all that is to underscore the concept of trust. I'm trusting my curiosity and the tug in my heart and trusting that funding will work out and trusting that this is my path. The rest is up to the one in whom I trust, and guess what? He's never failed me.

Keep me in your prayers, peeps!

Much love.