Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Week 4: Keep it short

As I alluded to last week, this week I am talking groceries - specifically the list that I follow to get said groceries.

Last week I told the short tale of living at a Residential Treatment facility, where part of our salary was paid in food.  For 5.5 years we had a pantry right on campus where we could get all the food necessities that we needed.  This was grand...while it lasted.

When we transitioned out of our Houseparenting role in 2014, and made the move into the real world of grocery shopping - it felt a bit daunting. I had been out of practice for so long, and the Recession, and increasing food prices, had happened in that time.

My husband and I have a long-term dream of one day living on only half of our income, and giving the other half away (another post for another day). And one way to help make that happen was to be wise and prudent in our grocery purchases. Hence the main reason for our pared down grocery list. That, and I just tend to crave the minimal.

Several things have helped us:

1. Meal Plan:  this isn't elaborate (it couldn't be or I wouldn't stick with it!) It involves about 10 minutes on a Sunday night  (lately I've incorporated the kids into helping) and the main goal is to use what we already have. If we don't have it, we follow our....

2. Capsule kitchen grocery list: I wasn't the originator of this idea, I found it here.  And though I am a rule follower, I did veer off the rules a bit. I needed to accommodate a family of 5 - with 3 of them being 'distinguished' taste palettes under 10. It was still a very scaled down list from what it could be and it helps keep meal planning streamlined.

3. Aldi: I am so glad it exists. Our goal is to spend no more than $200 a month on groceries. Aldi helps make that possible. Everything on my list can be found there and grocery shopping, even with kids in tow, can happen in 20 minutes.

My list:


As you can see, I stay a bit more general than the Capsule Kitchen dictates, but this allows me to have a bit of variety (i.e. pasta can mean spaghetti or rotini) and to shop sales (turkey on sale when chicken is not). Because, unlike the Capsule Kitchen that changes every 3 months, I have used this list for almost 3 years.

I love the ease of this list, because I can just run down it quickly, know if I need to replenish or not, and make my shopping list in a short amount of time. 

It also has helped us eat healthier. You'll notice there is no room in the list of 30 to add in already prepared foods. Sometimes, on a crazy, hectic night, it's a bummer that I don't have something quick to pull out, but in the long run we've managed to adjust, plan ahead, and sometime be OK with popcorn, carrots, and cheese cubes for supper...

Also contrary to the Capsule Kitchen, I have a second list (shh...!). 
These are items that I don't buy weekly or need to replenish often, but they are kind of needed (i.e. flour! and curry!)

I, by no means, think this is doable, or necessary, for everyone. We, thankfully, do not have food allergies or intolerance in our family that restrict our choices. 

But, I hope it can give us all pause to realize that, in our culture of having everything we could ever want for food right at our fingertips, (or just a short drive to the store) we really can get by on a whole lot less than we think.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Inaugaration Musings...

One would have to be pretty much off the grid to not know what is happening today.

1 minute of scrolling Facebook, or hearing the radio or newscast could tell you as well.

I am not here to voice my political views. I don't want this to be the platform for that.

But what I will say is that today does not make me cheer, nor does it make me despair.

Because, in reality, a new man may now be holding office, but this was already known, planned, and ordained long before either of those men were even born.

No, today I do not throw out cheers or jeers on my Facebook wall. I do not stand here on my soapbox and rant.

Today I offer Hope.

Hope that does not depend on who is leading a country, any country.

I do not desire for our President to fail, just like I didn't want the last one to fail either.

Because we would all go down with the ship. 

Do not place your hope in something that is fleeting, something that grows old, fades, passes on.

But place your hope in something eternal. Because, truly, our God is greater than any President. He was not surprised by this election, and can work through and with whomever He chooses.

So, today I am thankful to be an American. To live in a land where each of us is allowed to voice our opinions and not be in fear of persecution from the government (but, unfortunately, from fellow Americans!)  

Today I do not place my hope in "Change" or that America is going to be "great again."

No, today I am thankful, and hopeful. Just like I was 4 years ago. Because my hope rests not on this feeble ground, nor the ones who walk it.

But on One Unshakable. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Week 3: Shut the Door

 Thankfully there are doors to hide the mess...
Unfortunately there are doors to hide the mess.
Seems if there is a door to cover it up, it's more likely to get out of control 
(my laundry room is another case study of this point!)

 This weeks purging/organizing, surprisingly, didn't take me long to tackle.

The pantry was a bit ridiculous, but it still cleaned up without too much of a hassle.

This post kind of flows into next week's (grocery list) with it's explanation...

While we lived at Gateway Woods from 2009-2014 we were fed by the communal food room. There we had a share of the food with the rest of campus. Sometimes we ran out of fresh fruit and milk by the time it came to grocery-run day, but otherwise there was always plenty of food to choose from.

This was one concern I had as we were leaving Gateway, and the benefit of the food room. I hadn't bought groceries for real in 5.5 years.  I knew prices had gone up and prior to Gateway our food budget covered two adults a 2-year-old and a 9 month old. By shopping at Aldi we got by on $25 a week - crazy, huh?

Well, in 2014 we had 3 children in elementary school. That $25 budget wasn't going to cut it. Even at Aldi.

But I came across the idea of a Capsule Kitchen and loved the concept of it.

It helped keep my food list to a manageable amount. It helped with the food budget, kept us from wasting food, and keeps our cupboards stocked, but not stuffed.

All that to say, there aren't dramatic before and afters here to post - sorry! I know how much I love those drastic changes, but not this week....

Instead, I guess my process for keeping things in order:
-baskets and containers: The snacks that the kids can have access to are all corralled together in a basket. If the basket is full it keeps me from buying excess. 
I also transfer things that come in plastic bags (beans, rice) to containers since they fit better on a shelf than floppy bags.

Before: not too bad.....

After: organized the snacks, realized that I have enough oatmeal packets to last a few months, and decanted beans into appropriate containers.

Before: OK....

After: pretty much lined things up, this cupboard wasn't too bad. Those wire racks have helped immensely, though. This cupboard is deep and high and stacks of cans threatened to crush my fingers when I would root through it. These wire racks that I got an Aldi helped make more sense of the cupboard.

Before: gracious. This one took a bit more time. Random boxes that held things that were not labeled on the outside of it. Items shoved on shelves, blocking other items behind them. Things put in here to be addressed later.....well, later has come.

After: some items that I was just holding onto until I could decided whether to keep it or not were decided upon (I didn't keep them...) This pantry doesn't hold as much food as it does meal prep, extra dry good storage (grey tub on floor) and OTC meds.  After some rearranging, I can now get items with the one reach rule. 

I can also follow one of my other rules - but it's useful.  
It's not pretty but I can shut the door....and I really like that.

Next week I'm talking grocery list, Capsule Kitchen and my take on it, and how we've managed to stick to a tight food budget.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Week 2: Get in the Zone

When I got married 14 years ago, and moved into our first apartment together, it was novel, the idea of having my own kitchen, with my own kitchen utensils and pans and pots, etc.

the only shot I could find of our galley kitchen....that really was all of it...

As I was looking to put things away in our tiny galley kitchen I put things where I thought they made the most sense at the time (in my 20-year-old, never had my own kitchen head).

Over the months things felt herky-jerky and didn't really have a flow as I tried to get accustomed to my own kitchen. And I realized with a bit of shock: I was acting like my mom. Ha!

I had laid out my kitchen, and where I put things in the cupboards, in places that I was familiar with: like my mom's kitchen.

But what made sense in my mom's kitchen, did not necessarily make sense in mine. So, I set about rearranging and putting things in places that made more sense.  And then Paul spent the next month trying to figure out where it all went....

That leads to this week's organizing: the kitchen cupboards and drawers and putting things in zones that make sense.  Cupboards and drawers can easily become a jumble of things because you can shut the door. But when things start falling out when you open the door, and the drawer won't open all the way because something is blocking it, well, it's time to sort and purge.

Our kitchen is made up of cupboards up top and a number of drawers below. I LOVE the idea of drawers on the bottom and really wish that the remaining cupboards below would become drawers. This is a fantasy and pipe dream that may become fact when the kids move out. Until then, I work with what I have!

For cupboards and drawers the rule I use is "one motion to reach."  Obviously some of that was needed with this cupboard.

This is the baking cupboard - the Baking Zone. So all things that I would be reaching for, for baking, are sorted into this cupboard. The larger items like flour and surar had to go in the cupboard beside because their containers are a bit too tall for this space.

Everything was pulled out, sorted into groups that made sense and put back into the cupboard in those groups. I used a random basket I had in storage to cull all the sprinkles and birthday candles. Square baskets (that take up less room than round ones) and large Rubbermaid containers, whose lids have gone the way of the lost, work well to group small items that would otherwise get lost in this space. That way I can just pull out the basket and have all I need right there without it all falling on my head or having to pull out a bunch of other things to get to it.

I used that container thought in these three cupboards as well: one to catch all my boxes of tea, one to hold all the cold medicine, and one to hold extra popcorn and spices. Which, that leads me to another thing: when everything is shoved in a cupboard I kind of forget whats in there! I had WAY more tea than I thought because I would buy what I thought I had run out of. In reality, it was just shoved to the back of the cupboard.

This drawers is the Eating Zone. It's one step from the dishwasher, making it easy to put stuff away, right below the eating utensils, and low so the kids have a part in putting items away and helping set the table.
Now...paring down the plates, bowls, cups....
I had the thought that there are only 5 people who eat in this house on a regular basis....why do I have enough to plate 20?  We regularly do dishes as well, so never is this drawer empty because we've used everything. So, I pulled out extra plates, bowls, and left what we would go through in 1.5 days. I gave myself a buffer of half a day because, although we do dishes daily, there may be an off chance that it doesn't happen. We still have plenty in the drawer to use. Plus, it just seems SO much simpler and less cluttered!

Utensil drawers: that is one place that can really get away from me!

When I started working at Gateway Woods, one thing I had to get used to was that all the knives were locked up in a drawer. It felt so funny having to get a knife out of a drawer. But now, I love the fact that I don't have a knife block on my counter - one less thing!

So, I bought a magnetic knife rack from IKEA that is supposed to hang on your wall and put it in a drawer instead. Now, my knives are all lined up and that wooden block is off my counter. And nope, I have not noticed my knives getting dull from this. 2 years and we're doing well.

These days you can buy a gadget for just about every cooking and baking task there is. If that is your thing - go for it. It is not mine. Less is more. So, I try to have utensils that can do more than one thing, or find a way for it to do more than one thing. It keeps utensil drawers uncluttered and allows me to do the one reach rule - no rooting around.

The two drawers above are part of the Cooking Zone. They are right beside the stove so it's easy for me to reach in and grab a spoon for stirring.  I also chose to go with a drawer for these things versus a container on the counter to hold them all. One less thing on the counter is a good thing in my book.

The only 'gadgets' I own...

One final zone to address: the storage containers...

They seem to breed don't they? I finally had to call it and start pulling things. I pulled out all the ones that had stains, ones that didn't have any lids to match (or vice versa) and duplicates. I ended with about 20 containers of various sizes that would be sufficient to contain leftovers and packed lunches.
They rest were either recycled or passed on.

I have two drawers that I use for the containers. I have found it's easiest for all involved if all the containers are stacked in one drawer and all the corresponding lids are in another.

 I'm not sure how my amount of drawers compares to what you have in your kitchen. But, I feel the need to prioritize and make the most of the space that I have. So, one thing that did not make the cut in this kitchen: the junk drawer.

You may think that it is impossible to go without a catchall drawer. I at one time thought the same. But, once I eliminated it I found that it wasn't needed. Those little things that didn't have a home somehow found where they were supposed to go since there wasn't a little 'stopping place' along the way. I have yet to miss that thing.

Whew. I am glad that part is done. School was cancelled today and e-learning just about derailed me, but we got it done!  Don't let hiccups in your plan become roadblocks. They are merely chances for you to flex and think outside the box! Now go throw out some plastic food containers and decide if you really want to organize that junk drawer one more time....or get rid of it..... ;)

 Oh, and just because I'm reminiscing on our kitchens of days past.....look at all those cupboards! We had so much space I wasn't even using it all.....sigh.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

As Family We Go: 2016 Lookback

A few years back I got Rend Collective's Christmas CD. During the Christmas season it is just about the only thing that plays in the van. My personal favorite, and what has become our family theme, is their song: For All That You Have Done.  It's sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne.  The lyrics are below:

Your grace will never be forgot
Your mercy all my life
Will be my soul's forever song
My story and my light 

  January: celebrating 34 years of Paul

From mountaintop to valley low
Through laughter and through tears
Surely the goodness of my God
Will follow all the years

February: Welcoming long-time friends, and all their children, into our home, for a weekend of sweet fellowship and friendship building.

 March: celebrating Easter with a Sedar dinner. Following Paul along on his sportscaster adventures

For all that you have done for me
For every battle won
I'll sing a song to bless your heart
For all that you have done
 April: Spring break trip to Pokagon and celebrating 8 years of Hannah

 May: Road trip with just Paul and I to a friend's wedding in Nebraska and saying goodbye to another school year

In all our failures and regrets
You've always led us home
Redemption's arm has raised us up
Our triumph in the storm

 June: saying goodbye to sweet Grandma Jane. A more selfless, humble, gentle heart I haven't found. And a family vacation to Edisto Beach, SC

 July: Meeting up with missionary friends on furlough and making the most of our zoo pass

 August: the startup of another school year and saying "So Long!" to a house we have owned for the past 10 years.

In unity we'll stand as one
As family we'll go
Shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand
Into the great unknown

 September: Paul completes his first triathlon, after only signing up the week before the event. And we welcomed back to the States our dear Wiegands of Zambia.

 October: we celebrated 10 years of Owen and completed the Columbus Marathon (my first full!) is memory of Bryer and in support of his parents, Justin and Carey.

November: We reflected on the many reasons we have to give thanks.  Celebrating with Ohio family and Illinois family all in the Thanksgiving weekend.

  December: celebrating with family - Suvars and Steffens, being ever-so-thankful that everyone could make it there.

For all that you have done for me
For every battle won
I'll sing a song to bless your heart
For all that you have done.