Thursday, May 31, 2012

Baby, Oh baby...Food

Well...

I was super excited when I found our ice cube trays hiding in the back of our cupboard....

Why?

Because I was getting really sick of only being able to make a 4 day supply of baby food.

The honest to goodness truth is that making your own baby food doesn't take a ton of time (I usually only need 10-15 minutes), but that 10-15 minutes is true regardless of if you're making a 4 day supply or a 10-14 day supply...so it will be nice not to have to make baby food every week.

Are you interested in making your own and don't know where to start? Are you worried about the time it takes?  Keep reading, you just may be pleasantly surprised by how easy it is (I'll give you some tips and tricks I've learned along the way). You may also be shocked by how much money you could be saving by taking 10 minutes one day to make a supply of food to store between your freezer and fridge. Read further and I'll give you a few recipes to get you started. :)

Yesterday, as I was a baby food making machine, I spent some time trying to streamline my process and make it a bit cleaner.  I'm lucky because I have the Baby Bullet. Its really quick to rinse out and prepare for a different batch of food and it purees everything beautifully...so that helps. I'm not sitting waiting for a blender to get all the "chunks" out, a food processor to cream the food, or killing my arm to use a manual grinder. If you have the extra cash, I'd highly recommend the Baby Bullet.

I've written a blog about baby food before, but I'm too lazy to link it right now...so I will reiterate some of my points from that blog that explain why making your own baby food is such a great idea. For starters, making your own is SO MUCH CHEAPER! Yes, you have to take the 10-15 minutes to do it (an amount of time easily found during a naptime or after they're in bed...) I've done the math,  and even at a minimum we save quite a bit making our own...When veggies are on sale at the store, or if you're buying things that are in season, the amount you save will get better and better (I also have several friends that will buy a bountiful basket and they swear that it ends up being even CHEAPER. Bear in mind that the idea of a Bountiful Basket is that you're getting fruit and veggies that are in season, if you look online, you can easily find a chart of what's in season and go by that if you're looking at saving more and either Bountiful Baskets isn't available in your area, or you're late to get one - they go fast in some areas!) Cheaper is good...especially once you get to the point where your pediatrician is asking you to feed your baby solids 3 times a day.

I also utilize frozen and canned produce. A bag of frozen peas at our grocery store costs about $0.80...but it will make 9-12 servings of peas (depending on how thick you make your food). Say we only get the 9 servings of peas out of the bag... $0.8/9  works out to be just $0.088 a serving...not even a dime...compare that with $0.35 (if you find it on sale)-$0.63 a jar at your local store.... So...say you're feeding your baby 3 times a day, 7 days a week...that's 21 x $0.088=  $1.8666 a week compared to (being generous and giving you the sale price) 21 x $0.35= $7.35...makes you wanna spend that 10-15 minutes, right? I use canned peaches and pears... just make sure they are canned in juice or water NOT syrup. If you end up in a situation like I did (I sent my husband to buy them because we were out and forgot to mention the no syrup rule), and end up with canned fruit in syrup, don't despair. Rinse them really well to remove the syrup and use water as your blending agent. Baby will be fine. My husband grabbed the GIANT cans of peaches, they cost about $1.50...but made just shy of 15 servings... so you're looking at $0.10 a serving as opposed to what you would pay in the store. (A serving for my baby is 4-6 TBS...your baby may only eat 2 TBS at a time, so you may get more.)

Beyond being cheaper...there are other benefits- baby will get used to the flavors that you ACTUALLY USE in your own house.  Granted, as you do stage one foods, it is suggested that you don't really add anything to the food...but once you hit the stage two foods, you can start experimenting on foods that baby hasn't shown an allergy to...Here is my take on it...if you wouldn't eat it, why would you expect your baby to?  I've tasted the processed baby food...YUCK! There is NO FLAVOR at all...and people wonder why our kids end up being picky eaters... they have taste buds people! Yes, they need to be exposed to flavors slowly so they aren't overwhelmed, but imagine going from eating a non flavored paste to being asked to eat a small piece of roast beef with potatoes from the crock pot...that would be overwhelming for anyone...but if they've been given a chance to experience the flavors that you actually use in your own home, it seems to make sense to believe that they will eat it when they are toddlers and its placed in front of them because it will already be familiar to them.

I will say that even at stage one, as I tasted what I was giving my daughter it had 10 times the taste of anything Gerber or Beech Nut would give you... and I didn't feel guilty for not being able to add salt or butter to it.

If you're just getting started with baby food- and are interested in trying to make your own, you don't have to have anything special...just a blender at the most (just be aware that it will take a little more time to get a puree free of chunks.)  and ice cube trays for storage.  If you're not sure what the stage 1 food are, you can either go to your local store and see what the companies can...or you can just follow this link HERE...because I like you so much, I did the Bing search for you. :) If you buy a Baby Bullet, it will come with a small recipe book and a suggested guideline for when to introduce certain foods. They list Avocado, Yellow Squash, Bananas, Sweet Potatoes, Peas, Zucchini, Pear and Apple as the best foods to start a 4-6 month old on, at 7 months they suggest adding asparagus, carrot, green beans, white potatoes, and peaches... I will admit that I introduced most of these foods with no problem at 6 months because I was out of options for new foods and I was out of baby food, had no car to go to the store, and happened to have them in the house...my pediatrician said that by 6 months (if they're handling textures well) you can start adding pureed meats into their diet and a few other proteins, and move on to stage 2 type foods...the baby bullet suggests introducing yogurt and cottage cheese at this point, but again, talk to your pediatrician to get their opinion. My pediatrician was okay with the idea of yogurt, but said to hold off on the cottage cheese. Many websites will suggest certain foods that are listed as high allergy in the Baby Bullet manual...so my big thing has been, when I've been in doubt, I've asked.   For example..tomatoes are listed on one of my favorite baby food recipe sites as a stage 2 food, but as you click on the link it suggests waiting until after 10 months to introduce them and talking to your pediatrician first because they can cause severe allergic reactions... another website I've found with recipes suggests putting peppers and foods that are on the "no no" list in stage 2 purees...I simply use the recipe and omit them...if it seems fishy to you, don't do it until you've asked.

I am lucky...my baby is NOT picky. In fact, she's kind of weird. She takes after her mamma and will eat a good veggie over fruit any day.  She HATES apples and loves apple juice (although, I am beginning to wonder if she has a similar apple allergy to mine. I can drink apple juice, but eating them raw, in a pie, or in applesauce form makes me nauseous.  She spits up a lot if I manage to get a few bites of apples down her.)

She is now 7 months old. She gets really frustrated when mom and dad are eating and she doesn't get any. If she happens to be in my lap or my husband's, she tries to steal our forks and spoons, and finger foods off of our plates so she can eat it too... so we have to watch her closely when we've got her with us at the table so we can avoid a choking spell.. I did break down at lunch a few weeks ago and puree some mac and cheese with peas and chicken that I'd made for myself for lunch. It was much thicker than the food she was used to, and I was surprised that she handled it so well. She just couldn't eat much because it was sooo heavy. She probably got down a tablespoon or two before she was full...

She LOVES yogurt, but sadly she has a milk intolerance and spits up the majority of it after she's done... (funny thing, the mac and cheese didn't cause a reaction at all...but it was also boxed and we only have 1% milk in our house right now. I've talked to other mommy friends with kids who have a milk protein intolerance, and they've said that their kids are usually okay with mac and cheese too.. go figure...) So we can start introducing protein, I've slowly started introducing meat proteins into her diet...one easy way to do this, if they are still struggling a bit with thicker textures (and my baby is), is to add chicken or beef stock to the puree instead of water or formula.  It adds a lot of flavor, and if you cook beef or chicken in your house a lot (and unless you're a vegetarian, you probably do...) it gives baby a chance to experience those flavors.

So...how did I streamline my process yesterday? I'd read some complaints from fellow blogger mommies that ice cube trays are a huge mess when it comes to making baby food because its hard to get the food into the little surface area that you have to pour into...I, my friends, come to you with a solution!

Do you have a quart ziplock bag????  Snip a corner off of it, load the bag, keeping the food against the un-snipped side, then tip it towards the snipped tip over the ice cube tray. Yes, it will likely pour out, but once one cube is full you can simply move your hand over slightly and fill the next. I found that if you kind of slam the tray down a few times lightly after all the receptacles are full that it will flatten the food out and then you can take a spoon or knife (or your finger) and put the food that is on the "in between" spaces into an adjacent cube receptacle.   Simply cover the ice cube tray first with saran wrap, and then tin foil to prevent freezer burn...stack them in the freezer and once they're frozen, you can move them into freezer safe bags that are labeled with what they are.  Use 2 -3 cubes (depending on the size of your ice cube tray and your child's appetite) at a feeding. Simply pop the cubes in the microwave for 25-30 seconds (I usually err on the side of 25 seconds and then do 5-8 second spurts to get it to my desired warmth) and stir, stir, stir to get rid of any "warm pockets" that may have developed...I suppose you can melt them in a sauce pan and avoid the warm pockets, but if you make it a point to displace ALL the food in the bowl and scrape the sides,etc. you will eliminate any "warm pockets" that could possibly exist.

So...I figured I'd share a few recipes to get you started... I'll give you 2 recipes for 4-6 month (stage 1) and 2 for 6-9 month. Again, I make it a point to taste EVERYTHING that I give my baby. If I won't eat it, I won't expect her to. If a combination sounds weird to you and like something that wouldn't go well together, then I wouldn't even waste your money...but if you're feeling bold...go for it, just be fair- if you think its gross, what do you think they are going to think?


4-6 months...a serving size for a 4-6 month old baby could range from 2-4 TBS (my daughter got to 4 TBS quickly!) :

Avocado (this one is easy- and almost every book I've read actually agrees that avocado is the PERFECT first food. In fact, many pediatricians I've read works by, and moms agree that they would introduce avocado INSTEAD of boring and tasteless rice cereal... We started on oatmeal because we were worried about constipation with my baby (my pediatrician suggested it)...but as soon as we found avocado, I can honestly say that the oatmeal has been sitting on the counter collecting dust. She welcomed the avocado, and we had to fight with her to get her to eat the oatmeal (even with adding fruit juice to it)...it has EVERYTHING- protein, fats, and carbohydrates... and its SUPER easy...Let me tell you what to do...)   Open the avocado, take out the pit and take the flesh out of the skin...put it into a blender/food processor/grinder with 1/8-1/4 cup warm water, formula, or breast milk...grind until smooth...that's it! One avocado should make 4-6 servings (depending on if you buy small, regular avocados or the giant ones.)  You don't have to add anything...baby will love it as is. Its still one of my daughter's favorites, even with all the fun flavors she's been getting lately. :)  Avocado can also be used in mixed purees with bananas, apples, or pears after you know that they aren't allergic to each of the foods being blended. Just be sure to follow the 3 day rule...only 1 new food at a time, and they have to prove for 3 days that they aren't going to have an allergic reaction before you introduce something else.

Peas- (again, this one is easy, and is one of my daughter's favorites.) 1 cup of peas, steam/heat.  Put in your pureeing apparatus with 1/4 cup water.  Puree to desired creaminess, and serve/store.

* Note- any homemade baby food stored in the fridge will keep for 3 days before going bad. The avocados will turn a little brown. Stir them and if the brown doesn't disappear, or if there is a lot, they were likely a VERY ripe avocado and spoiled faster. Foods stored in the freezer can last up to 3 months.*

6-9 months-  ( You can add rice to any of these recipes or actual cooked and shredded meat if your baby handles textures better than mine. The best part about the way that my recipes are done is that I can mix cubes of food to get an even more complex flavor. I will make only 1 type of stock for my recipes of the day and split it between all of the recipes. )

Yummy Sweet Potatoes and Carrots- 1/2 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed, 1 cup carrots diced, or 2 large handfuls of baby carrots. Steam/boil until tender (usually takes about 12 minutes. I will set the timer for 6 minutes and then go do something else while they steam. Come back and stir them, and do it again...see you can do housework while you make baby food! Isn't multitasking wonderful!?) Drain the veggies (if you boiled them) and pour into your pureeing apparatus.  Add 1/2 cup chicken or beef stock (can use Boullion cubes...ie 1 cube to 1 cup of water... to make stock) and 1/4 cup water (to cut down on salt content) Puree until desired thickness/creaminess.  If desired, add 1 TBS of butter or margerine (I find the stock adds more than enough flavor so you likely won't need it).  This recipe filled 1 ice cube tray completely and 2 baby bullet containers (they hold about 4-5 TBS)...so it makes A LOT! * You can use 1 cup peas instead of the carrots if you want something different.  I made both. because I had the whole other half of the sweet potato to use. The best part is that you can use half of each and give your baby a real treat of taste complexity! :)

They'll Eat It- I Swear, Green Beans:  2 cups green beans, steamed/heated.  Put into your puree apparatus with 1/4 cup stock, 1/4 cup water, and 1 TBS butter or margerine.  Puree until desired thickness and creaminess.  Taste it...add a sprinkle of salt if you think it needs it.

You can add rice to any of these recipes if your baby handles the texture well, or even puree it it with the rice to break the rice down a bit. If you're going to add the rice, just be sure to add more water or stock to thin out the mix and make it easier for baby to swallow. In my experience, you usually want about 1/4 cup liquid for each cup of solid that you use.

Here's to happy babies! If you have any questions, don't hesitate to leave comments or email. I will respond, I promise! :)

Hugs and loves until next time.









Monday, May 21, 2012

Being Productive or How to Clean Your Washer and Fabric Softener Dispenser When You Have Nothing Better To Do.

The last few weeks I've noticed myself becoming more "pregnant"... which means I really, really need to kick myself in the butt to do things that I've been putting off.

Those of you that have been pregnant know exactly what I mean, but for those of you who have yet to experience it, I will give you a list of a few of the ways that you start becoming "pregnant" after you hit about the 5 month mark...

1) You realize that if you're laying flat on your back, you can't breathe...eventually you find that you need a pillow under your belly to support it so that breathing is easier as you lay on your side and to avoid nasty round ligament pains (oh yeah...we're already there...hooray!)

2) You can't bend over anymore- well, you can...but when you get up you're out of breath, you ache in places that you didn't know you could ache and you feel dizzy...(eventually you literally won't be able to bend over anymore, but that happens later around 7 1/2- 8 months) This inability to bend and breathe at the same time has made bath time a lot of fun in our house. I politely told my husband on Friday or Saturday that he needs to brace himself because shortly, bath time will be ALL him until the baby comes.

3) Sense of urgency...you know you still have time, but you want it all done now and by "it" I mean deep cleaning the house, organizing, purchasing baby items and finding a home for them- Why? Well, because you realize that in 4-8 weeks, you will only be fit for sitting on the couch...because you won't be able to get up without help... (I'm approaching the 24 week mark this weekend, if I'm lucky, I will make it to 30 weeks before the inevitable happens...)

4) Sitting on the floor turns into an interesting dance as you try to get up unaided- you have to find new ways to maneuver yourself up while still being able to breathe and avoiding round ligament pains that tear through your entire abdomen...

There are more, and I'm sure I will think of them and clever ways to state them...but alas, I want to get to how I've been productive today.

I found a pin on Pinterest about a month ago for how to clean your washing machine.  Our townhouse is great...but the longer we've lived here, the more I find the really gross things that weren't kept up very well before we moved in. The washing machine is one of those things...

I decided that since I had the stuff I needed to clean it per the instructions (or atleast decent substitutes) that today would be the day I clean out my washing machine. (Find out how to do it yourself HERE!) I was awfully glad that I did it today...as the water was filling up in the tank for step 1, I realized that the water wasn't clear that was coming out of the spout...it was an awesome dingy gray color...yeah, my clothes have been getting SUPER clean I guess (not).  Just so you're aware...the tutorial doesn't specify if you should use warm, cold or hot water...I used warm (because our hot water gets REALLY, really hot) and it seemed to work perfectly. I also didn't have bleach and used hydrogen peroxide instead (another tidbit I found on Pinterest- hydrogen peroxide actually works like Oxy Clean when you use it in your washer.)

The only thing this tutorial didn't have was a way to clean the fabric softener and bleach dispensers...in my unit they were both gross. In fact, the fabric softener dispenser was the main reason I wanted to clean it...it was completely gunked and every time I wash clothes and try to use it, the fabric softener just splashes all over the lid and sides of my unit. Barely any of it makes it to the clothes.  Well, I did some surfing on the net and found a solution.  Most of the answers I found for this tricky question just said to use plain old white vinegar. Pour it in the dispenser to fill it, let it sit and then flush it with hot HOT water.  I did the vinegar, but I found that the little output holes on the sides of the twisty thing (I think its called the agitator...but its the thing that moves the clothes back and forth) were completely gunked up too. I simply dipped a Q tip into vinegar and worked at the little holes until the gunk came and and low and behold fabric softener filled vinegar started pouring down the sides of the twisty thing.    (apparently there is a way to remove it to clean it in the bathtub, but, being as pregnant as I am, and considering that this is a rental and I can't afford a new washing machine, I opted to just leave it at pouring the vinegar down the hole and flushing with tons of hot water.) Another tip- if you've got one take a bottle washing brush to the top of the dispenser to clean off the gunk that has built up on the sides...

There were other suggestions to use bleach and hot water, but as I don't have any in the house I can't really test it to see which works better. Perhaps I will send my dear Mr. Nielson Man (didn't you know I married a super hero???)  to the store for some tonight so I can see if it degunks the fabric softener dispenser the rest of the way...

It was suggested that instead of using the fabric softener dispenser to put your fabric softener into the washer, just wait until the water is full and then pour it in. I think until things are degunked all the way that is what I will be doing to avoid a messy catastrophe again...I want my clothes to smell "April Fresh"!... A side note:  Did you know that fabric softener sheets are actually BAD for your dryer? My dad is a maintenance man and 90% of his dryer calls end up being to degunk coils and other pieces of the dryer that the fabric softener sheets have left. In fact, he says that in talking to Maytag repairmen that he's had to call on a few occasions that they would always suggest to people to use liquid fabric softener instead because you can degunk the washer much easier (and cheaper) than it is to have a repairman come and degunk the dryer...who knew, right?  That's not to say that Bounce sheets don't have a place in the home. You can wipe them along your molding by your carpet and they will not only clean the dust off them easily, they will leave a film that will prevent dust from settling on them again...but I digress (I'm kind of on a tangent of tangents aren't I?)

While I've been in between steps of washing my washer I've been organizing baby clothes.  I still have a pile of winter stuff that needs to be sorted sitting in my living room, but I decided I wanted to blog first...  Its been nice to go through everything that we've been given over the past few months (because we have awesome friends and family) and see what we're lacking size wise.  Obviously, I'm going to have to purchase some more newborn sized stuff. If I'm lucky, I won't need it...but this baby is LONG (80th percentile) like her big sister (who was in the 65th percentile at the 20 week scan and was born 4 weeks early at 21 inches long!), and already weighed a pound at the 20 week scan (which is 24-25 week weight normally) so I'm not holding much hope that we won't have another preemie on our hands. All I can do is pray that this baby makes it even a week longer than her sister did so there is a little more time for lung development and to hopefully avoid another baby in the NICU. The Little Diva was wearing newborn sized pants until she was 3 months old because I couldn't keep anything else on her little hiney...they were short for her, and I only had 2 pairs (which was annoying!), but...what do you do?

I also found that I need more shirts and onesies for the 9-12 month age (which is the next size up for the Little Diva) and the 12-18 month range.  Surprisingly, I have tons of dresses for the next size up and that is what I'm lacking for her current size...go figure...

Well, I should go be more productive...the dishes won't do themselves, and this pile of clothes is starting to make me nervous and feel kind of OCD- its just sitting there, looking disheveled and like it needs to be sorted and out of my hair...I should do something about it before the Little Diva wakes up from her nap...I also still need to shower and actually get dressed for the day...I guess I need to decide which is more important at this particular point in time...

Decisions are the worst.

Well, good luck cleaning your washers! May the cleaning gods smile upon you in your attempt to be overly productive!

Hugs and Loves until next time darlings!

Monday, May 14, 2012

The "Mom Schedule"

Ever since we welcomed the Little Diva into our house almost 7 months ago, I've kept telling myself that I needed to get on a schedule.

...I also kept giving myself excuses for why I would wait...

Faith isn't old enough...Its too chaotic with an infant to try to actually plan my day....the list could go on  and on, but I won't bore you with it.

Finally, I decided that my Mother's Day present to me would be to get that schedule written out and in a place that I could see it and be held accountable to myself for it...In a way, I still function like the college teaching/student opera singing diva that I was before I got married and ventured into the baby making business...At that time, my whole day was planned out in a planner, I even scheduled when I would clean my house, make dinner, and what time I would go to bed at night. Without my schedule, my world was chaotic, and I found that I never had enough time to do everything that I did normally, but with a schedule things magically happened...

Well, its not that things don't get done around our house- but I definitely feel like I could be more productive with how I use my time...

So...I wrote out my schedule- but there was no rule that it couldn't be a chic, fun wall decoration for my kitchen, was there?

I didn't think so...

My "Mom Schedule" wall, in all its glory. Complete with Dry Erase Board Calendar.

Here I've taken my "working hours" and divided them, telling me what exactly I should be doing at that exact moment. The beautiful part? I can take the dry erase marker and add an event to any given hour of the day and erase it at the end of the night.

This is my week separated by days. Here, I've written what tasks need to be done on that day. I will explain a little more in detail below.
So...I bought these picture frames before I married Jeff...like 2 years before...and we got a TON of picture frames for our wedding...in fact too many ( a lot of them ended up at thrift stores before our move from our first apartment in Poky- we just didn't have enough wall space or pictures to ever EVER fill them)...and these frames ended up sitting in our closet once we unpacked here in Vegas. There just wasn't enough wall space, and the pictures that were in them were very dated.  I kept saying that I would get some pictures printed and maybe hang them in our bedroom...but we've been here for 5 1/2 months and they were still sitting there...

I was perusing the DIY section of Pinterest and saw a similar idea for scheduling your days of the week using a multiple frame picture frame like the ones above...and I then and there vowed that I would find time to do that too... I had the necessary materials...all you need is the frame, scissors, and some scrapbook paper...you can be a tech savvy and use a printer and scale things down, etc...but I have more fun when I freehand letters, so I just used a pencil and a sharpie...

So...the divisions of time are pretty ordinary...Faith does wake up (or I let her out of her crib) at 6:30 AM...However, I like my "Mommy and Me" time in the morning with my princess. We sit on my bed- she drinks her bottles, I eat my cereal and we watch yesterday's soap operas together...the problem is, its very easy to just want to stay in bed and snuggle until her first naptime at 9:00...so, I decided that I need to make it a point to be out of bed a little earlier. We can continue our "Mommy and Me" time in the living room while I do a general de-clutter and get some baby food ready (because we all know that my girl, if given the choice and chance, would eat nothing BUT solids if she had the dexterity to handle a spoon on her own...I know, we're so mean holding her back...).

As far as the OTHER schedule is concerned...As explained above, its my days of the week with the tasks for the day written down.  If you look closely at my time division schedule, you will see that I have "Clean A" and "Clean B" written down starting at the Little Diva's naptimes.  During any given day, I have assigned A and B chores.  I read an interesting post on C Jane's blog where she explained how she cleans her house in zones.  I was intrigued...She explained how she basically divided her 2 story house into different zones and only focused on one particular zone on any given day. She said that, of course there were daily chores like dishes that were always done, and that she would try to do a general de-clutter of the areas where her children had been, but with the zones, she didn't feel like she had to clean her whole house all the time and it made her life a lot less stressful.

At the time that I read this particular blog, I was pregnant and we were living with my parents to save money.  My "zones" only included our bathroom, bedroom, and the dishes on the days that my parents had designated as being our "turn"...so I filed it away for later.

My townhouse isn't exactly a 2 story house with lots of entertaining space (C Jane has my dream house...) so I continued to file it away. I figured as long as the dishes were getting done and my bathrooms were getting scrubbed once a week, we were golden...but the more time I've spent in my house, the more I realize that if I had a system, things would be cleaned much more often and we would probably have less allergies from dust in the air because- frankly speaking- our carpets are DISGUSTING!

So...I sat down and decided what chores were A and B chores, and what days I'd like to do them. This actually ended up working out. I will vacuum almost every day, the kitchen and bathrooms will be swept and mopped twice a week, and there is a designated day to clean our bedrooms and change sheets...so instead of it happening maybe once a month (I'm really bad about changing sheets...it was one way I was spoiled as a kid. We cleaned everything else in the house, but mom was the one who made sure sheets were changed...) sheets will be changed once a week...  I also have 2 or 3 hour blocks to complete my chores in any given zone, meaning, if I finish before Faith's naptimes are up, I will have time to myself to do whatever I'd like. I can craft and get my handmade craft business back up and running, I can waste time watching movies or blogging, or on Facebook- but it will be AFTER I've completed scheduled tasks...meaning I will be much more productive in a day- because let's face it, its really easy to go to Pinterest and spend half your day looking up every project you've ever wanted to do and not even realize how much time you've spent until your husband walks through the door after work wanting dinner...(guilty...)

So...are you intrigued? Have small kids that aren't ready to help in the house yet? Want to make chore time more productive for your kids and have them all working in the same area on any given day? Try it! (even if you don't have time to make a stylish wall hanging of your schedule) Sit down and write down all the BIG chores of your house (ie bathrooms, kitchen, living room, etc.) you will know what "subtopics" of chores belong in that room- or write out the "sub" chores so you can decide what tasks are good for your children...then designate what time of day you'd like to be doing certain things...you'll be amazed by how much you really could accomplish if you made a schedule (I was kind of blown away by how much time I really would have to complete a given chore once I put it on paper...) I was even able to schedule an hour of story and music/singing time with Faith (that's an hour each- 2 hours of uninterrupted mommy time!) because of my scheduling!

Happy scheduling, darlings...

And...for good measure, after I was finished with being a scheduling goddess, I decided you needed a daily dose of cute (you're welcome...)
video
Hugs and loves until next time, darlings!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

4 Week Meal Plan- Freezer Meal Prep

So...
You've come home with your 2 carts full of groceries all bagged and you look at everything and think:

"Holy cow! I totally can't do this!"

But YES, you can!

Your mantra as you work is, "Just think about all the time I'll save this month by NOT having to chop veggies and mix ingredients. I just may have time to__(insert your reward here)___."

I read several articles on how to streamline meal prep. After picking and choosing the tips that seemed to make the most sense to me, I came up with a system and I am going to share it now.  Just be aware that YES it is going to take time- it took me 3 1/2 hours- my husband took little diva duty while I did some of the prep, and then we realized that it was definitely naptime, and she slept the rest of the time.

I know what you're asking? What can I do to make the meal prep time the most efficient and as quick as it can be?

Well, it takes preparation...yes, that's right, it takes some planning- but the planning is well worth it.

Go through all your freezer meals, make a list as you go of commonly used vegetables like onions, and peppers (whatever) and make a little hash mark for every time you need to chop some for a recipe, or make two columns for chop and slice...

Ex: Onions
Chop:  (hash marks) slice: (hash mark)

Do the same for your meats, like if you need to cube or slice a steak or a piece of chicken (its easier to do it now than after its been frozen)

If you already have your containers or freezer bags that you're going to put your meals in, take time to write the Menu item (i.e. label what is in the bag) and label how its supposed to be cooked and any special instructions.  If your bags are all labeled and prepped, it will take a large portion of time out of your prep.

On prep day make sure you have all your recipes categorized, and at your disposal for you as you're putting things together. Also, make sure you have a shelf cleaned out on your freezer for all the bags/tupperwares that you will be freezing after prep. Remember, the bags can always be readjusted later, so don't worry too much if one shelf seems overflowing. It will only be for one night. :)

Chop your veggies first! You can either keep them in piles on your counter or put them in bowls (worst case scenario you rinse them and throw them in the dishwasher- it shouldn't be too hard.) If your veggies are already chopped you can just grab a handful, or your desired amount, and throw it into the bag as you put things together. Also, have a "garbage bowl", just pick out a big bowl that you can toss tops and peels into. It will make things much faster and easier to clean up because you'll only have to take one trip to the garbage, as opposed to having to stop every time you chop something to make room and clean up to take care of something else.

Prepare your meals in categories- I recommend starting with your chicken. Put whole breasts (thighs...whatever) into bags first then dice up a big pile (if your recipes call for it) and divide it among the bags that call for diced. Then move to your beef and do the same. Then make the sauces that are supposed to cover the meats and veggies- END with your ground beef recipes- many of the freezer ground  beef recipes I've found require mixing the raw meat with various elements (like crock pot meat loaf or sloppy joes.) If you're smart, you'll only need one bowl for all the sauces and mixing the meat at the end. You'll just have to rinse it out between uses. This will make clean up easier, and keep you focused on one menu item at a time so you don't forget anything.

Make sure the seals on bags are solidly closed and lay your bags FLAT for the first night. They will turn into little flat bricks and then you can maneuver them to make more room in your freezer for other stuff later- a frozen flat bag is easier to stack like a library book in the freezer than one that has had everything settle into the bottom like a glob.  Be sure to put bags with lots of liquid on the top to avoid leakage due to too much weight being on top of them. I would even suggest folding the top of the really liquid filled bags over so that as other bags lay on top of them there is an extra layer of "protection" to prevent leaks.

Finally- put a list of the freezer meals that you've made up on your fridge so you can mark it off as you use it.  The freezer meals should be good for 3-6 months, and it will be good to keep an inventory so you don't find a freezer burnt mess that you've forgotten later on.

So...that's how I did it.  If I remember anything else special that I did while prepping my freezer meals I will be sure to edit this post, but I covered all the important stuff.

Happy "cooking"!

Hugs and Loves until next time darlings!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

4 Week Meal Plan- 30 Minute and Easy Meals.

Yesterday I posted my 4 week meal plan with the crock pot freezer meal recipes. Today I went through the rest of my meals and (except for 3 of them because they are recipes that I've either made up or have memorized) I wrote out the recipes and found other freezer prep that you can do as you make the crock pot meals to make your life even easier.  So...here are a few more recipes for you to try and enjoy! Happy table time! :)

Beef Meals:

Skillet Garlic Meatballs: Mix 1 lbs ground beef, 1 egg, 1/4 c breadcrumbs, 3 TBS parmesan cheese, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper. Form into 16-24 balls. Bake in 400 degree oven for 15-20 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly, pour into a freezer safe tupperware or a gallon freezer bag. Label: Defrost in fridge overnight. Add 4 red potatoes chopped, 1 small bag frozen green beans, 1 can stewed tomatoes, and 3 cloves garlic minced. Simmer covered, stirring occasionally until potatoes are tender. Serve with extra parmesan on top if desired.

Texas Goulash: mix in a bag 1 lbs ground beef, 1/2 onion chopped  Label: Brown Ground Beef and Onion Mixture. Add 1 can diced tomatoes, 1 small bag frozen corn, 3 TBS chili powder, 1 TBS sugar, 1tsp oregano, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp black pepper. Can be served over Fritos, or with them stirred in. For extra flare pour Fritos over the top and sprinkle with cheese and bake 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or until cheese is bubbling. Serve with sour cream to stir in and salsa (if desired.)

Country Bean Casserole: mix in bag 1/2 lbs ground beef, 1/2 lbs bacon chopped, and 1 c chopped onion. Label: Defrost and brown meat mixture. Add 1 can pork and beans, 1and 3/4 c frozen lima beans (or 1 can), 1 can kidney beans, 1/2 c ketchup, 1/2 c brown sugar, 1 tsp salt, 1 TBS dry mustard, 2 tsp vinegar. Pour into prepared casserole dish. Bake 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes.

Skillet Shepherds Pie: (No Freezer Prep for this one- sorry!) Boil 3 medium russet potatoes and mash with 2 tbs butter and 1/4 milk or half and half.  While potatoes are boiling, brown 1 lbs ground beef with minced onion, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in 1/4 c flour and 1 small can tomato paste. Mix well and add 1 c Beef Broth, 1 and 1/2 tsp parsley, 2 tsp worcestershire sauce, and 2 cups mixed veggies. Simmer until mixture is thick and heated through. Add more salt and pepper to taste if needed. Serve with Mashed potatoes over the top and cheese (if desired)

Calzones:  Prepare Pizza Sauce for freezer prep- or you can buy a can premade, but why buy it when it tastes so much better homemade?- 1 can tomato sauce, 1 can tomato paste, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp oil, 1/4 tsp lemon juice, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp oregano, 1/8 tsp basil, 1/8 tsp parsley,  and 1/4 tsp garlic powder. Simmer together for 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool a bit and store in a quart freezer bag. Recipe: Brown  3/4 lbs ground beef w/ chopped onion to taste, and 2 cloves minced garlic.  Add in pizza sauce.  Cut pizza dough (prepared by you or a store or whatever...) into squares and spoon meat mixture onto the middle. Top with mozzarella cheese and fold over to form a triangle. Seal the sides and poke the top with a fork. Bake 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until pizza dough is golden brown.

Bacon Stuffed Hamburger Patties: in a bag mix 1 lbs ground beef, 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1/2 tsp pepper, 2 tbs steak sauce, 1egg and 1/2 c breadcrumbs. Label: Divide into 16 patties, place cooked, chopped bacon into the middle of one patty and cover with another and seal. Grill until well done (about 9 minutes each side)  Serve with Sauteed mushrooms and onions on top and steak sauce on the side.

Chicken Recipes:

Bacon, Chicken and Cheese Quesadillas: In a quart bag mix 2 chicken breasts, diced and 1/2 package of bacon chopped with 1/2 onion sliced. Label: Defrost overnight, Brown together seasoning with 1 tsp garlic powder, 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp chili powder, 1/4 tsp cayenne, and salt to taste. Place on tortilla shell and sprinkle with cheese. Grill on each side until cheese is melted and tortilla is lightly browned. Serve with ranch dressing, salsa, and guacamole for dipping (depending on your desire.)

Baked Ranch Chicken: (the only pre-prep you could do here is to make your own ranch dressing mix, but if you're hesitant, go ahead and buy a premade packet.) Recipe: Mix 1 c breadcrumbs with ranch dressing packet in a bowl or baggie.  Dredge chicken in melted butter.  Coat with the breadcrumb mix. Bake 350 degrees for 45 min or until no longer pink.

Pork/Ham Recipes: 

Crock Pot Ham and Ranch Potatoes: (again the only pre-prep you could do would be to make your own ranch dressing mix)  quarter 2 lbs red potatoes, Pour a 16 oz package of diced ham (juices and all) over the top of the potatoes. Dice 1 package of cream cheese and put on the top, and sprinkle with 1 c cheese. Cook 6-7 hours on low or until potatoes are tender.


Vegetarian Meals:

Spaghetti Squash Marinara (Makes 2 VERY LARGE servings- in fact, could easily serve 4) Freezer Prep: Slice 1 Zuchinni and 1 Yellow Squash. Put into quart freezer bag with 1/2 bag frozen broccoli. 
Recipe: Slice 1 Spaghetti Squash in half. Boil until tender. Take out the seeds and throw away, then use a fork to get the flesh of the squash. Reserve the shells.  Melt 3 TBS butter in a fry pan large enough for the spaghetti squash. Sautee the squash and add your prefrozen vegetables. Pour in half a pint (jar, can, etc...we make our own freezer pasta sauce and store it in pints.) of spaghetti squash and 1 can of diced tomatoes (drained).  Simmer together and heat the rest of the spaghetti sauce separately. Put Spaghetti Squash mixture back in the shell and top with cheese of choice (be it mozzarella or cheddar, it depends on what you have in the house and what you like.) Bake 350 degrees until cheese is bubbling. Pour the rest of the pasta sauce over the top and serve. 


For good measure, I'm going to throw in the Ranch Dressing Mix recipe that I use, in case you want to save a few bucks. :)

3 TBS Onion Powder
2 and 1/2 tsp Paprika
1 TBS parsley flakes
2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp pepper
1 and 1/2 tsp garlic powder

Mix well and store in airtight container. Can be stored for up to 12 months. use 1 TBS for every 8 oz of liquid.  The recipes above will need roughly 2 TBS. :)

Happy meal planning!

Hugs and loves until next time darlings!



Wednesday, May 9, 2012

4 Week Meal Plan- Freezer Meals

Last week and this week mark my first expedition into the world of the magical 4 week meal plan... I usually only plan for 2 weeks, but my loving husband asked that I attempt the whole month in an attempt to thwart us eating out when I'm tired (and we've been doing that more than I'd like to admit.)  We usually eat out for pretty cheap, but the reality is that no matter where you're eating out, you can never eat out for as cheaply as you can make it at home, and it will always be healthier to eat at home.

I love to cook. It makes me sad that this pregnancy has basically left me exhausted (well, this pregnancy coupled with keeping up with a 6 month old who has no problem with being the princess and demanding all of my free time.) It makes me sad because I know that there is nothing more satisfying for me than being in the kitchen.

So... I'm getting back into it, and purposely planned a lot of freezer crock pot meals so that all I have to do is pull out a gallon ziplock from the fridge the night before I need it and plop it into the crock pot the next morning.   We haven't had our shopping trip yet (we don't get paid until tomorrow) but I'm hoping that the tips I've found online to help economize will make things cheaper...and the beauty is that except for a run for milk and possibly cereal here and there, all our shopping will be done for the month...which means we will save money because we won't be running to the store for random things at random times.

I made it a point to plan 1 vegetarian meal for each week. Obviously, if you're not eating meat, you're not paying for it.  To be honest, these are the nights I'm most excited for. I'm back on a veggie kick (likely pregnancy cravings, but I will be honest and say that I go through periods where I just don't crave meat at all...in fact, the summer before I married Jeff, with the exception of a few meals I was completely a vegetarian- not for any social reasons, just because I really didn't want meat. The honest to goodness truth- I will eat a really good black bean burger over a hamburger any day)

I also used a lot of "cheaper" meats like chicken (which is around $2.28 a pound at the grocery store we usually shop at, but, as always, I will be checking ads to see if its on sale cheaper somewhere else) and ground beef.  

I'm going to go ahead and post the 4 weeks of meals, but for right now, I'm only going to post how to put together the freezer meals (as I spent the majority of the afternoon planning my prep day and took the time to write them all out....) I will post the other recipes as we use them if they're any good...mostly because when I cook I always find something I want to tweak or some way I want to change the recipe to make my tastebuds happy....

So...here are 4 weeks worth of meals (I plan on mixing it up...I tried to vary what we were eating in this particular list, but let's face it, sometimes you just aren't in the mood for what was planned for that particular evening.) I will put an asterisk next to the freezer meals that I am posting the recipes for.

1. Crock Pot Chicken and Wild Rice *
2. Skillet Garlic Meatball Dinner
3. Parmesan Dijon Chicken
4. Spaghetti Squash and Vegetable Marinara
5. Texas Goulash
6. Ham and Ranch Potatoes (a crock pot meal, but as potatoes don't really freeze well, it will be prepped day of.)
7. Honey Catalina Chicken *

1. Penne Pasta Zuppa *
2. Country Bean Casserole
3. Crock Pot Philly Cheesesteak *
4. Chicken Pesto Pasta
5. Skillet Shepherds Pie
6. Cream Cheese Stroganoff *
7. Bacon, Chicken, and Cheese Quesadillas

1. Slow Cooker 7 Up Chicken and Rice *
2. Baked Ranch Chicken
3. Crock Pot Stuffed Peppers *
4. Crock Pot Ratatouille *
5. Chicken and Broccoli Alfredo
6. Slow Cooker Meat Loaf *
7. Chicken Cacciatore *

1. Crock Pot Sloppy Joes *
2. Basil Chicken *
3. Swiss Steak with Onion and Mushroom *
4. Calzones
5. Bacon Stuffed Hamburger Patties
6. Teriyaki Chicken *
7. Crock Pot Lemon Chicken *

Freezer Recipes:  Just take it out the night before so it will be thawed enough to go in the crock pot. (Bear in mind that these are adjusted for 2 people; however, many of them would serve 4 with a single serving or 2 adults and some small children. :)  Adjust accordingly.) 

Chicken Recipes:

Crock Pot Chicken and Rice- Mix 1 can cream of chicken soup with 1 package of onion soup mix, 1/2 TBS of Parsley, 3/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper. Pour over 2 diced boneless skinless chicken breasts in a Gallon freezer bag. Label should say: Place 1 small box wild rice mix in bottom of crock pot,  and pour  contents over the top. Cook on Low 8 hours 

Honey Catalina Chicken- Pour 1/2 bottle of Honey Catalina dressing over 2 chicken breasts in a gallon freezer bag. Label: Cook on Low 8 hours

7 up Chicken and Rice- Mix one 12 oz can of 7 up (or generic knock off....)with 1 can cream of chicken soup. Pour over 2 diced chicken breasts  in a bag.  Label: Cook 3 hours on low, add 1 cup rice and 1/4 cup chicken broth. Cook 3-4 more hours on low.

Chicken Cacciatore- 1/2 onion sliced, 3/4 c baby carrots, 4 mushrooms quartered, 2 chicken breasts diced, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, 1 pint of spaghetti sauce. Label: Cook on low 4-6 hours

Basil Garlic Chicken- 2 chicken breasts, 1 c baby carrots, 3 stalks celery diced, 1 onion sliced.  Label: Place 3-4 chopped red potatoes in the bottom of crock pot. Add contents of pack and 3/4 c chicken broth mixed with 1 tsp Garlic powder, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, 1 TBS basil. Cook on Low 8 hours.

Teriyaki Chicken- Mix 1/4 c soy sauce, 1 c water, 1/2 tsp ginger, 3 TBS Brown Sugar, 1 clove garlic chopped or minced, and 1 TBS cornstarch mixed in 1/4 c cold water. Set aside. Put 2 diced chicken breasts, 1 c baby carrots, 1/2 onion sliced, 2 chopped cloves of garlic, and 1 can of pineapple undrained into a bag. Pour sauce mix over the top.  Label: Cook on Low 8 hours, serve over rice

Crock Pot Lemon Chicken-  Mix 1/4 c Dijon Mustard, 1/2 c lemon juice, and 1/2 c chicken broth. Pour over 1 onion sliced, 3 cloves garlic chopped, 2 chicken breasts diced in a gallon bag.  Label: Cook on Low 8 hours, add 1/3 c half and half in the last half hour of cooking. Serve over noodles or rice.

Beef Freezer Meals: ( Some of these couldn't be adjusted for 2 people, so they will easily serve a family of 4-6 -or more- comfortably) 

Philly Cheesesteak- 2 steaks sliced thin, 1 onion sliced, 1 bell pepper sliced. Label: Add  1 TBS butter, 1/2 c Beef Stock mixed with 1/2 tsp pepper, and 1 TBS garlic powder. Cook on Low 6-8 hours. Serve over hoagie or Kaiser Rolls with provolone (or desired) cheese and mayo/miracle whip.

Cream Cheese Stroganoff- Cube 2 steaks, add 1/2 onion chopped, and 8 oz of cream cheese cubed. Mix 1 can cream of mushroom soup, 2 TBS worcestershire sauce, 1/4 c beef broth, and 1/4 tsp garlic salt. Pour over steak and onions in the bag.  Label: Cook on Low 6-8 hours.

Stuffed Peppers- Combine 1lbs raw ground beef with 1 cup rice, 1/2 onion chopped, 1 carrot shredded, 1/2 tsp salt, 1tsp worcestershire, 1/2 tsp pepper, 1 can tomato sauce. This will stuff 6 peppers; however, if you don't need 6, you can stuff the number you want and store the rest. Stuff them 2/3 full so the rice will have room to expand.  Label: Top with 1 can tomato sauce. Cook on Low 6-8 hours.

Meatloaf- Combine 1 lbs raw ground beef with 1 egg, 1/2 c breadcrumbs, 8 oz tomato sauce, 3 TBS onion chopped, 3 TBS bell pepper chopped, 3 TBS celery chopped, 2 TBS seasoned salt,  3 tsp parsley.  Label: place in a greased crock pot shaped in loaf, not allowing it to touch the sides. Top with mixture of  1/2 c ketchup, 4 TBS Brown Sugar, 4 TBS vinegar, 1 TBS mustard powder.  Cook on high 1 hour then move to low for 6-8 hours.

Slow Cooker Sloppy Joes- Mix 1 lbs raw ground beef with 1/2 onion chopped, 2-3 stalks celery diced, 1/2 bell pepper diced, 1 can tomato sauce, 1/4 c ketchup, 1/4 c barbecue sauce, 1 TBS brown sugar, 1 tsp dry mustard, 1 tsp chili powder, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 TBS worcestershire sauce, 1 TBS vinegar. Label: pour into greased crock pot, cook on low 4-6 hours stirring as needed to keep ingredients mixed.

Swiss Steak- 2 steaks, 4 mushrooms quartered, 1 onion sliced. Mix 3/4 c beef broth with 1 and 1/2 tsp paprika, 1/4 c apple juice, 2 TBS parsley.  Label: Cook 8-10 hours on low. Add 1/4 c half and half mixed with 1 TBS corn starch  20 minutes before end and stir in to thicken juices.

Vegetarian Freezer Meals:
Penne Pasta Zuppa- 1 can white beans or kidney beans, 2 diced yellow squash, 2 tomatoes diced, 1 onion diced, 3/4 c carrots diced, 1/2 bag frozen green beans, 2 cloves garlic chopped. Label: Add 4 c. chicken or beef broth mixed with 1 tsp oregano, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper.  Cook 2 hours on high, then 6 hours on low. Add pasta and more water if necessary to cover during the last 30 minutes of cooking time or until pasta is tender.  Serve sprinkled with parmesan cheese.

Ratatouille- 1/2 onion chopped, 2 cloves garlic chopped, 1 small eggplant diced, 1/2 red pepper diced, 1/2 green pepper diced, 1 zuchinni diced, 1 small can tomato paste, 1 can chick peas, 1 can diced tomatoes undrained, 1 tsp basil, 1/2 tsp oregano, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper.  Label: Cook on Low 4-6 hours, serve over rice

Happy Eating! :)





 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Anxiety


Sitting here in the family waiting room...all by myself. Part of me is wishing I hadn't taken my visiting teacher up on her offer to babysit today...at least I would have SOMEONE...anyone...

I look down at my left hand, Jeff's wedding band around my thumb. I'll twist and turn it around my finger every now and again. I think back to sitting with him before they took him to surgery... his reaction was so funny...he kept looking down at his naked finger and seemed completely off-put by the fact that there is nothing there...

Part of me chuckles...I think back to when we were first getting married and he asked if I would be okay with him not having a wedding band, or wearing it on a chain around his neck, claiming that he was just not a "jewelry" kind of guy...I won out...and now, he obviously feels naked without it.

I know the surgery is fairly routine and straight forward...but I still worry.

I waited a long time for my prince charming...and having him be sick, even a little bit, shakes me to my very core.

Its so funny...I was very independent before I got married. I was capable of taking care of myself with very little assistance from anyone. Of course, my family was always there, and I was grateful for that...but ultimately, I knew that the only person I could rely on was me...


Fast forward almost 2 years and I honestly can't picture a life without this crazy, amazing, wonderful, funny guy...the thought of not having him around brings me to tears.

What would I do without him?  How would I go on? The pain those thoughts bring is almost unimaginable.

Losing Jeff has moved to the top of my biggest fears list.

I watched what my mom went through after my dad died when I was twelve...until now, I don't think I've ever been able to fully grasp just how much pain, and terror she was living with on a daily basis. It makes me even more grateful for her.  She may not think she was very strong, but the reality is, if it took me this long to really even remotely understand what she was going through, she was hiding it well.

Its so funny how one person can change everything you think you know about yourself.  Maybe I'm just a worry wart, but I believe my early experiences with death have made me a little more aware of just how real the possibility that someone may not be there the next day could be.  Every day that Jeff wakes up and kisses me on the forehead is a day that I pray and thank God that he is still here...

and he's not even sick (other than the hernia he is currently in surgery for)...he is usually so healthy and strong.

So....here I sit...waiting for the moment where I get to say a silent prayer and thank my Heavenly Father that I still have such a wonderful man in my life, and that my babies still get the chance to spend time with their amazing and wonderful dad...

He was terrified to be a father- I think most men are at first- he even said that he didn't know what to do with a baby...the truth that most women know is that no one really knows until they're in it, you figure it out as you go along...Well, he's figured it out beautifully. He is so wonderful with our Little Diva...he knows just what to do to make her laugh and smile, and she cannot get enough of her daddy. She has him wrapped around her little finger, and he has her heart...its a good exchange.

I am so grateful for the blessings of the temple. I am grateful that I know that my husband and I have the opportunity to be together forever as long as we live up to our covenants to each other and God.

Heaven just wouldn't be heaven without Jeff there...

I know we're working on forever...but I wouldn't mind another 100 years here to enjoy him.

Hugs and loves until next time darlings.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Conventional Wisdom

In the last few weeks, I've had family and friends post questions as their statuses on Facebook. These questions are purely about manners, etiquette, and social conventions...

The reality in this world is that we all weren't raised in the same household. This can make for some pretty awkward situations when someone does something that your mamma told you wasn't appropriate when you were growing up.  How do you tell them that you are slightly offended, or put off by their actions without offending them or putting them off in return?  There is a fine line that separates you from politely explaining your point of view and coming off as a total jerk.

One question that was posed: "Is there a time of day that you should probably think twice before you call someone?"  My mother always taught me that unless it was an emergency, you probably shouldn't call someone with a family after 7...when I was single I learned that rule still applied, with or without a family...Yes, people make last minute plans, and you don't want to leave anyone out, but you only call someone after 7 if they are a close friend and you know that they aren't trying to wind down for the day...this is just what  my mamma taught me, mind you...and it seems to make a lot sense...

For people with a family, 7 is usually the time that they are getting kids ready for bed... for most families with young children, 7 PM means bathtime, brushed teeth, storytime, lullabies and off to dreamland...For families with older kids, this time of day usually means fights to finish homework, fighting with your kids to finish chores, etc...for a single person it means, finishing homework you'd put off, getting ready for a night out with the girls/guys, cleaning the house because its a disaster and you can't sleep until you do...after 7 is usually a pretty busy time.  Sometimes people don't mind, especially if you apologize when you call, noting that you know its kind of late to be calling...

This seemed to be the convention that all the people I grew up around were raised with.  You knew that if your phone rang after 7 it was an emergency, or it regarded something that had been spaced by someone and they needed an answer right that night (those particular calls were few and far between, and the caller was ALWAYS apologetic.)

However, not everyone was raised with this convention.  In fact, in some households such conventions, mannerisms, and rules of etiquette aren't really ever discussed...which is another lesson I learned when I was single... I was in the middle of writing a paper I'd procrastinated finishing, up at midnight and my phone starts to ring...If I had been in bed asleep like I wanted to be, I probably would have just silenced my phone and not answered and asked them the next day not to call that late...but because I was up and already irritated because my computer had decided to crash losing HALF of the paper because it didn't autosave like it was supposed to...I picked up the phone and this person got a piece of my mind...rather unfortunately...it was a well meaning friend who wanted to tell me that they had arranged a late night game party. It was a weekend and he had figured I'd like to be included....

In the fallout, a few days later. I apologized (of course, because, let's face it I was unusually cranky and kind of rude...) but I also explained that the way I was raised certain times of day were off limits for a phone call, no matter what was going on...he then explained that when he was growing up, he used the phone at all times of day and his parents never really restricted the times that he would call people...he did admit that more than a few times he had angry parents get on the phone when he tried to call friends to explain that their children weren't allowed to accept calls after a certain time, but he'd never really thought of it as a social convention.

Strange.

Another post to Facebook: "After what time is it inappropriate to make an unexpected house call?"
Again, I'd always learned that after 7 was the convention...however, I also learned that you should ALWAYS atleast try to make an appointment. This question came up in regards to Home Teachers and Visiting Teachers...

I know I've mentioned this more than once, but I will say it again. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon).  One of the programs in our church calls the adult members to visit a few families in the ward every month just to make sure that they are okay. They report back to their leadership, who report to the Bishop- this guarantees that all the families are being taken care of and allows the Bishop to have less of a load on his shoulders.  Of course, if there is an issue the Bishop will go out on special visits, in fact he even acts as a home teacher himself for a few families.

It seems like more and more Home Teachers (that's what the male visitors call themselves, they are assigned to check on the welfare of the entire family they visit) and Visiting Teachers (female visitors assigned specifically to check on the welfare of the lady of the house) seem to "drop in" unannounced because of busy schedules and difficulty finding a time that they can get out with their partners (because Home Teachers and Visiting Teachers are supposed to come in pairs)... but I was raised to believe you should do all you can to set and appointment with the people you're supposed to take care of...So, and this is just my opinion of course (I guess) you should try everything you can do to make sure you've made an appointment and keep it.  Also, (in my opinion) if you're constantly just "dropping in" on people when YOU have time and don't bother trying to set an appointment,  then you're missing the point of VT and HT...Your job as a VT or HT is to make life easier for those in your jurisdiction, not to make life easier for yourself.

I know I always get slightly annoyed when my VTs or HTs just drop in because I haven't had time to make sure my house is clean (because, let's face it- life happens and your house isn't "company worthy" 100% of the time...and its EMBARRASSING for people to see it like that.) and also because they don't know my family's schedule.  We eat dinner at certain times, and because of Jeff's job requiring him to be up at 4:30 AM (or earlier sometimes) we go to bed really early (at around 8 PM.) Baby is getting ready for bed at 6:30 and in bed by 7.

Unfortunately, I've read of more than one occasion on Facebook lately where the HT's or VT's came at an inappropriate time...i.e. too late in the evening when parents are trying to get their kids down to bed or, even worse, when the family was already asleep- ringing the doorbell and waking up the whole house...this is the scenario that I find the most unbelievable... for a few reasons:

A) If the whole family was in bed, I would imagine that the house lights would be off (except maybe a hall light.) Its pretty easy to tell when people are not there, or not awake...What would possess you to ring a doorbell to an obviously SILENT house?

and

B) In this particular case, it was 9:30 at night, and a house with small children...What would possess you to think that it was okay to just drop in, unannounced? Dropping in unannounced on a single person at 9:30 at night is even a big no-no...again, this goes back to social conventions...

I remember my mom being a visiting teacher when I was younger. I remember listening to her and her partner talking at church and planning on when to make appointments.  Yes- its difficult, but it can be done...and (as I learned in a single's ward when I was in college) if you can't find an appropriate time to make appointments you need to speak to your Relief Society President or Elder's Quorum President to tell them that the partnership isn't successful because of scheduling and that, unfortunately, until partners are reassigned you won't be able to go out together and will likely need the aid of a presidency member if they prefer your visits to be in partnerships...its all a part of the call of being a VT or HT.

I remember one little conversation that my mom had with a VT partner once...they were planning appointments and her companion noted that she'd already made an appointment for a certain day with a certain sister, but noted that because that sister was a chatter box, they would likely need to make the next appointment a few hours later so they could be sure to be on time and not keep people waiting...

That brings me into another point that someone made...A family member of mine received a text from their HT saying that they were coming by sometime that day with a treat for the family...but gave no time they would be there....they ended up showing up while mom was trying to wrangle the kids in and out of the bathtub and into bed. Fortunately, her husband was home and answered the door and visited with them while she finished getting the kids in bed by herself...

I'm quite close with someone who isn't an active member of the LDS church. She does have HT's and VT's, and every once in a while she'll get a pair that visit regularly...but she had made it a point to tell people that she prefers an appointment to be made...she suffers from Social Anxiety Disorder and it causes her great distress to meet new people (hence her inactivity in the church...she just has a hard time with situations where she is forced to meet large groups of people at once.) She was very sad when they reassigned her HT's because she had built up quite the relationship with the ones she had and it always scares her to have new ones...one of her new HT's, while well meaning, decided to just drop in...well he happened to just "drop in" during a family dinner party...

Well, most normal people would see that you have a full house and apologize and quickly excuse themselves, this gentlemen invited himself in, sat on the already crowded couch and expected to go through the WHOLE HT bit...sharing a spiritual message," is there anything we can do"... Finally, this friend of mine had to politely explain that they, quite obviously didn't have time for his visit and asked him to make an appointment next time... He was offended that she'd asked him to leave...but what else could she do? Her home was full of family members and they were waiting to bless the food and have dinner because of this gentlemen's visit...

This brings me back to my original question...HOW in the world do we explain what is and isn't appropriate in our homes without causing offense...and if it happens again, in spite of our attempts to be polite about it...what then?

I have a few tips that have helped me in my experiences...

1) Don't wait until you're angry to address it.  If you keep allowing it to build up and up you will find it even more difficult to be polite when you're at your wits end.

2) Make your rules clear and keep them across the board. If you don't think its appropriate for people to be calling your home after a certain hour then don't answer it...of course, you may possibly make exceptions if its an unexpected call from a family member in case its an emergency, but if 7 or 8 PM is the time you deem as the cut-off time for your home then make it the cut-off time!  If its important, then people will leave a message and you can always check a message and call them back if they need an answer to a question ASAP, or it can wait for the morning or afternoon at a more appropriate time the next day. People will eventually catch on that you don't pick up after a certain time...and if they question you about it, you can politely explain that this particular time when they are trying to call is a busy time in your home, and a time you prefer to have just for your family and give them some options for more appropriate times that they can reach you...Most cell phones have options where you can turn the ringer off but keep the alarm on (if you happen to use it as an alarm clock in the morning.) Turn your ringer off and, again, they can leave a message if its important.

3) If people come to your door at an inappropriate time you can always send them away with a smile, a quick explanation of why their choice of time is inappropriate, and a list of more appropriate times for a visit.

4) If you have a "repeat offender" on your hands when it comes to dropping in at an inappropriate time, you have the right to, as politely as possible, explain that you have given them a list of appropriate times for a visit should they need to "pop in", and you've already asked them more than once to make an appointment. As kindly as possible, tell them that you will no longer answer your door if they come to your house after a certain hour. (One of my close friends had to do this, and yes, their visitor left a little offended, but they never had a repeat of the problem and their "repeat offender" made sure to make appointments for their visits from then on.)

5) Make sure you teach your kids about social conventions! It seems like more and more young adults are going into the world having absolutely NO CLUE that they may offend some people by calling too late or trying to visit too late.  Of course, make it clear that others may not share these social conventions, but that you have good reasons for your rules, and that you know of many other people who share your opinion. Make sure you explain WHY you are teaching them what they are learning. They can, of course, adjust their own conventions as they get older, but it doesn't hurt to try to teach them what you deem as "good manners." Also, set a good example when it comes to dealing with people who don't share your social conventions...teach your kids to be polite in all aspects of their life- especially when people aren't being polite to them.  They will learn from you how to walk away from situations as the "bigger person".

6) Don't be afraid to share your social conventions with others.  There may be cases like mine where someone wasn't raised to know that there may be an impolite time to make a phone call or house visit. You may save them from more embarrassing situations in the future by lovingly and patiently explaining a convention that you, and perhaps the community you were raised in share.

7) If all else fails- remember to love! Remember that earlier phrase I said, "People choose to take offense."?  Well, it applies to you as well. Try to remember that not everyone was raised in the same community as you, or by the same parents and they may not even realize that what they are doing is offensive. Patience and love will always win out in the end...you just have to wait for the benefits and rewards of them sometimes...hence the whole PATIENCE part...

Hugs and loves until next time darlings!