Seven series: Food

**This is the first in a series of posts on experimenting with reducing consumption, based on a modified version of Jen Hatmaker’s book Seven. Check out my original post on the challenge for more info.** 

The first two weeks of this challenge coincided with my official start date with a new consulting client, and three big deadlines. So, I didn’t get the chance to enter in daily notes on the challenges. I’ll summarize here.

  • 7 simple meals repeated each week
  • Groceries < $100/wk
  • No eating out
  • Focus on whole foods
  • Make from scratch when possible to reduce packaging
  • Feed others/potluck and share
  • Donate to a food bank

I wanted to use this time to create a repeatable weekly meal plan for our family that would simplify our food expenses and create more time to just be together as a family.

Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Monday: Carrot ginger soup, simple green salad, homemade bread.
  2. Tuesday: Rice, grilled or poached chicken, a seasonal vegetable, and a homemade sauce.
  3. Wednesday: Baked sweet potato or squash, steamed greens, and slow-cooker lentils
  4. Thursday: Vegetable barley soup with chicken, homemade bread
  5. Friday: Tortilla night (tacos or burritos), slow-cooker pinto beans, sliced avocado
  6. Saturday: Quinoa, baked frozen fish, seasonal vegetable
  7. Sunday: Homemade pizzas or easy egg dish (fritatta, omelet), green salad

For lunches we had leftovers or sandwiches. For snacks, homemade hummus with veggies, apple slices with nut butter, sliced tomatoes and hard-boiled eggs, granola bars, and yogurt with fruit.

So how did we do in terms of our goals?

7 meals repeated each week: For the most part I really liked this. It definitely took the headache out of meal-planning and prep. I like not having to recreate the wheel every week. I often get meal-plan burnout, which leads to me standing in front of our fridge around 5 o’clock, pulling out random ingredients and trying to fashion them into a meal to feed three tired, hungry people, including one hanging on my leg. Having a set menu takes the guess work out, and makes it easy for Lyle to get dinner started when Sky and I are at story time or the gym in the late afternoon.

Some of the recipes need to be doubled in order to provide leftovers (the carrot soup, tortilla filling). I also think a 5-6 meal menu might be more sustainable for us, with one of the meals doubled and repeated during the week (maybe the squash or vegetable soup, which yielded the most). This is just because LIFE. Sometimes we were too exhausted to prep a new meal. Especially while we’re transitioning to a two-income, two-kid family.

A highlight of this process: meals came together so much more smoothly, so we were all seated at the table at about the same time most nights, with way fewer tears/tantrums. And so we started saying a little prayer before meal times. I know this is probably a no-brainer for a lot of families, but it has been hit-or-miss for ours for a number of reasons. It’s a really short, simple moment in our day but it has meant so much to me, especially during the first weeks of September when there was so much pain in the United States and around the world. It was good to come together as a family and offer up our thanksgiving as well as our fears and love for people facing flooding, fires, and possible deportation. Sky caught right onto it, reaching her hands out for ours, closing her eyes and joining us in saying, “Amen.” Now she says, “Mama, say prayer!” every time we sit down to eat something together, even just a snack, and that makes me tear up a little just thinking about it. Thank you, lord.

Grocery spending: I finally did our budget for last month, and we underspent by $100, which is awesome considering we overspent in other categories like charitable donations, gifts, and ahem, clothing (see next week’s challenge…). We’re on track to stay within budget this month, possibly even a little under. We spent $18 over our $100/week goal, and I think the extra bulk basics we bought at Costco is part of that. But that should even out later as we use what we need and (hopefully!) spend less in subsequent weeks.

No eating out: Weeeelll… there may have been two stress-induced Starbucks runs in the last stretch. I’ve been worried about meeting my first project deadline for my new client, and we have an echocardiogram coming up for a possible hole in our baby’s heart. And then there were hurricanes, massive wildfires, and an earthquake this week. So, I haven’t been sleeping well and there were a few early mornings when I just needed to get us out of the house before preschool, with some small amount of caffeine involved. But these two mama-daughter dates over the mutual treats of a muffin and a decaf latte were really highlights of a sad couple of weeks for us.

Otherwise, Lyle and I ate in for all dinners, and I think he only had one lunch out, which was a big improvement for him. He said he really liked having the home-cooked leftovers for lunch the next day. On our sixth anniversary, we packed a strange little picnic and took it to Chapman school to watch the Vaux’s swifts make their annual spirals into the old brick chimney (obsolete but left intact for the birds.) That was a cheap and memorable date night. I really felt God’s work in us as we walked together to the park in the first rain of the season. Lyle has been working late hours and getting up early with Sky to help me with some of my pregnancy fatigue. He’s been stressed at work, and ordinarily we might have been a lot snappier with each other, more irritable. I might even have felt a little dissatisfied with our haphazard anniversary plans: neither of us had much energy to put into gifts for the other, and we cooked up our picnic plan last-minute.

Instead, we both felt really happy just to be together, and grateful for our family’s health and safety. It’s been a scary couple of weeks, and a difficult year for us personally in terms of losing a pregnancy, dealing with extreme weather, and managing our own businesses on top of two-year-old milestones (potty-training, molars, sleep and separation anxiety). I do feel that even the small changes we’re making around food helped us get centered around a predictable schedule and work together.

Focus on whole foods: Yes! I used my Vitaclay slow-cooker pretty much every day for beans, lentils, or rice, and I have to say, the results are WAY more satisfying than canned or stove top. Wow. And so much easier to just turn it on and walk away. However, the return of morning sickness (why??) threw a serious wrench in the plan toward the end of the second week. Maybe it was stress, or dehydration from several days of being stuck inside due to wildfire smoke. But I just felt grossed out by a lot of food, and not very hungry in general. So that made it challenging to stick to whole foods cooked from scratch. I ended up eating cream of wheat, oatmeal, and smoothies a lot.

1st loaf: cornmeal, whole wheat and all purpose flour

Made from scratch when possible: Oh yeah. I really enjoyed getting back into making some of our basics myself. I made two loaves of no-knead bread, four quarts of plain full-fat yogurt, two batches of granola bars, two jars of peanut butter, and a couple jars of hummus. It was definitely tiring, and I need to keep tweaking some of the recipes. The no-knead bread was super easy and delicious. I want to experiment with some lighter sandwich loaves that do require kneading. The yogurt wasn’t as firm as I remembered. I used to make A LOT of 24-hour yogurt with our Excalibur dehydrator when I was healing from SIBO four years ago, and I remember the yogurt being smoother and thicker. I’m not sure if I need to lower the temp, whisk the starter in better, or do a quicker high-heat ferment. So I’ll play around with that. The peanut butter was so-so. I have a super quiet, gigantic food processor that’s just been taking up space in our cupboard, and it grinds to a pretty fine paste– but not as easily, and not as creamy as the grind-your-own at Winco. Plus, Sky really loves that part of grocery shopping. I’ll have to do a price comparison to see if it’s really worth grinding our own at home. The hummus and granola bars were both easy and good. (For the hummus I just blended 1-2 cups cooked chickpeas, ~1/4 cup tahini, 1 tsp salt, ~1/4 cup olive oil, juice of one lemon, and a mix of paprika, cumin, and coriander, adding water until my very old blender could chop it).

Feed others (potluck and share, donate to a food bank): This was a really fun part of the challenge. We had another family over for fajita night and I couldn’t believe how easy and fun it was. They brought cooked ground beef and grilled veggies, and we provided beans, tortillas, and fixings. It all came together really fast and meant we had plenty of time to play with our kiddos, talk, and even take a walk up to the park together.

I also swapped homemade granola bars with two neighborhood mom friends, which was fun, and got invited to join a freezer meal exchange party– that one felt like providence. We also donated to our local food bank and hope to donate to Houston food banks once they reopen after the massive flooding. And I’m excited to start a monthly women’s dinner group later this month inspired by the IF: Gathering.

2nd loaf: flour dusting, all white whole wheat flour

In general? I’m amazed by how much can shift with just a few simple changes around food in our house. And I had to remind myself several times of the purpose in all this. Not to be super mom, but to connect to the Spirit during the ups and downs of each crazy-making day, through being present with my family, my friends, the world around me. I had to be pretty vigilant with my perfectionism that would rear up as irritability when things weren’t going just as I wanted them to. It’s okay to give Sky some pre-packaged fruit pouches and crackers: it meant getting out and connecting with friends at the playground. It’s okay to have that Starbucks date with Sky: it meant sharing giggles with her and gazing at her happy crumb-smeared face before our mutually-stressful preschool drop-off. Each time, connecting to the deeper purpose meant that God was able to do some good work in us, draw us closer to him, and even connect us to people we needed to meet. I need to remember that.

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Raised garden bed with winterizing trellis

I’m not much of a raised bed gardener.

I learned to grow food on a couple of farms in Sonoma county– one a 40+ acre vineyard, vegetable, and orchard operation, the other a two-acre CSA farm– both of which planned and grew crops directly in the ground. The seasoned farmer who ran our 6-month apprenticeship program even had some choice words to say about raised beds. So when I put in my first garden at a local church, I dug my own beds right into the ground, sheet-mulching and cover-cropping and tilling as little as possible.

Later, Lyle and I planned and planted our first real garden in much the same way. We had a gorgeous, sunny 20 x 20 plot in the middle of the double lot where our rental house sat, and the freedom to do whatever we wanted with it. We carved out four beds with pathways between, and perennial header plants of hyssop, rosemary, sage, thyme, and calendula. I really, really loved that garden, and it produced so beautifully for us. I miss it.

When we bought our first home, where we currently live, we accepted the minimal yard space because we were just so thrilled to have the opportunity of homeownership. We knew we wanted to landscape the front with native plants to keep irrigation costs down and help out native wildlife, and we also wanted room for Sky to play in the small side yard that was half cement patio. We ended up putting in some sod for her, and laying flagstone for a small patio for entertaining (cuz parents of small children do SO much of that, right?). That left us with two options for growing food: join our local community garden, and/or install a space-saving raised bed on the cement pad.

We tried the community garden for a couple seasons. The first season, we planted late, so we just threw down a bunch of winter squash seeds and crossed our fingers. Much to our delight, we got a few crazy looking delicata/kabocha blends that cross-pollinated, and we were looking forward to trying them out. Then someone harvested and smashed them on the street outside the park, along with damage to several of our neighbors’ plots. Needless to say, we were disappointed, but I was also just MAD, and determined to pitch in with garden leadership to try to solve what sounded like a chronic problem at our garden.

I managed the community garden for the next year, and our second-year garden was much more successful. We enjoyed cherry tomatoes, chard, basil, cucumbers, beans, arugula, and lettuce from our own small plot, along with a profusion of heirloom tomatoes, carrots, chervil, radishes, and greens given to us by our Ukrainian garden neighbors. After many community work parties and neighborhood outreach events, the incidents of vandalism even decreased, and gardeners reported feeling a lot safer in the garden.

I felt and still feel so proud of that year, and I also felt really burnt out. It ended up being too much for our family for me to take on that leadership role while also running our home and trying to grow food. What had started out as a family project had turned into a solo project for me, and I just didn’t have much energy for it after caring for Sky all day and coordinating garden stuff. Meanwhile, Lyle was working long days of physical labor and the last thing he wanted to do in the evening was head up the block to water, weed, and coil up all of the tangled hoses left in the common pathways. So at the end of the season, we decided we’d tuck in our plot with a cover crop and turn in our “key.”

And we started scheming about carving out some space in the yard to grow food.

This is what we came up with: a 2(H) x 8(L) x 2.5 (W) foot raised bed made of 4x4s and cedar boards. We lined the bottom with pea gravel and black weed cloth, then filled it with a compost/manure/soil mix from the feed and fuel store down the road. It’s on top of concrete alongside the southwest-facing side of the house, so we’re hoping this creates a bit of solar heat during the colder part of the year. This is the side of the house with the panels for our electric, water, and rooftop solar panels, so we left a good foot behind the bed for access to those.

We didn’t get it finished until mid-June this summer, because I just felt so awful in the beginning of this pregnancy and really didn’t have energy for anything. We missed the prime planting window for summer crops, so in August we seeded the bed with peas, arugula, salad greens, beets, and chard for a fall/winter garden. Then Lyle made a hinging triangular “cloche” frame for it with chicken and hog wire to keep our cat out. When the cold weather comes, we’ll pick up some painters’ plastic from the hardware store and staple it over the sides to keep the plants warm.

So far our little peas are making their way up the trellis in back, and the salad greens are coming in. Something has nibbled off all of the tender tops of the tiny arugula sprouts, so I may need to reseed those or try a different green for that section.

We’ll see what comes of our experiment. Who knows, maybe it will even make a raised-bed convert out of me.

Which do you prefer, an in-ground or raised bed garden? What are you growing this fall and winter?

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Jen Hatmaker’s Seven and how I’m adapting it pre-baby

On vacation in August, I picked up a copy of Jen Hatmaker’s 2012 book Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess at a used bookstore. It grabbed my attention and kept me interested over the course of plane rides, nap times, and the few hours before sleep after Sky was in bed. I finished it just before we touched down again in Portland, and as I often feel after we’ve been away for several days, I had a new perspective on our life at home.

I decided to wage my own “experimental mutiny against excess.”

This book is about how Hatmaker spent ten months reforming her consumption habits in seven areas: food, clothing, possessions, media, waste, spending, and stress. For 30 days, she developed new habits for each of these focus areas, then spent a few weeks reflecting and integrating what she learned before moving on to 30 days in the next focus area. The number 7, both because of its sacred significance and as an organizing principle, factored into each of the seven months.

For example, in the first month, she ate only seven simple food items, meal after meal, day after day: sweet potatoes, spinach, bread, avocado, eggs, apples, and chicken. In the second month, she wore the same seven articles of clothing on rotation for 30 days. And in the third month, she and her family gave up seven forms of media. You get the picture.

The purpose in all of this was to dramatically reduce the extra noise in her life so that she and her family could better focus on Christ.

I was really captivated by this idea because it reminded me of similar challenges I’ve set for myself over the years, with one crucial difference. This challenge is about creating room for a deeper purpose, for a relationship with God that is uncluttered by the many comforts and distractions of modern life that can make us believe we are in control, when we’re not; that we’re self-sufficient, when we’re not; and that perfection is possible– when it’s definitely, definitely not.

But so many of the challenges I’ve set for myself over the years have been mostly about all of those things, especially perfection. I wasn’t consciously and deliberately setting out to be perfect. But the frustration I felt when I ‘failed’ at my challenges showed me that I had pretty high expectations.

Most recently, it was the Kon Mari craze that caught my interest and sent me running for my towel drawers to see if I could fold them as beautifully as Marie Kondo. While the lean, minimalist Japanese style of decluttering did teach me a few things about what’s really important to me, it didn’t address the hungers at the center of my life that slowly, inexorably began to draw more stuff back into my life, our home, our kitchen drawers.

I liked Hatmaker’s hands-off approach to this whole thing. Ultimately, she’s not laying out a list of proven rules or strategies. Instead, she’s telling the story of how God used these ten months to teach her about parts of her soul that still need shaping and shaking up. And she’s inviting the reader to make the challenge work for them, prayerfully, so that God can work in the reader’s life in a way that speaks uniquely to their own weaknesses, hungers, and needs.

Because we’re getting ready to meet the newest member of our family in January, I don’t really have ten months to move through the seven areas. Baby will be here in about four months, and I know better than to extend an experiment requiring focus and reflection into the unknown, but certainly chaotic, postpartum period.

So I’m roughly halving it, going through the seven “stations” in a little over two weeks each, with a couple days in between to reflect and regroup.

And because I’m pregnant while running after our two-year-old, I’m adjusting the specifics to meet our needs and limitations.

Food: I’m thankful to be able to eat normal food again, and I also need additional calories starting now to keep up with baby’s growth, so I won’t be restricting my diet to seven items. I like this idea for a future fast, because I know the value of traditional fasting, but for now I thought I’d use this time to create a sustainable, simplified meal routine for our family. Hopefully one that honors our bodies and gives us breathing room for rest, prayer, and each other. My seven goals are:

  • 7 simple meals repeated each week
  • Groceries < $100/wk
  • No eating out
  • Focus on whole foods
  • Make from scratch when possible to reduce packaging
  • Feed others/potluck and share
  • Donate to a food bank

Clothing: I’m entering the cold season and thankfully have winter maternity clothes from my first pregnancy, so that already creates a pretty limited wardrobe. I’m not sure yet how to use the time meaningfully, but I think I’d like to learn about current clothing needs at local women’s organizations, and do a little reading about “ethical fashion.”

The last few categories I’ll keep pretty similar to the book, with a few modifications for our family:

Possessions

  • Give away 7 items each day
  • Source meaningful recipients, not Goodwill
  • Reduce and donate Sky’s toys
  • Go through all closets and backyard shed
  • Read about the psychology of consumption, the buy-purge-buy cycle

Media:  We will be fasting from:

  • iPad/TV
  • Facebook/Instagram
  • Phone apps
  • Radio
  • Texting (necessities only)
  • Internet (work only)

Waste

  • Conserve energy and water
  • Buy food from local vendors
  • Make or thrift other necessities
  • Walk when possible, link trips, and skip trips
  • No plastic baggies: buy reusable ones from Earthwise, find a set of reusable bulk bags I like, and bring grocery and produce bags.
  • Reduce packaging: make yogurt, peanut butter, hummus, granola and bars, and bread
  • Install bidet with baskets of flannel wipes

Spending only at these 7 places:

  • Fred Meyer gas
  • Online bill pay
  • Preschool tuition
  • Savings
  • Donations
  • Fred Meyer
  • Goodwill
  • Read God’s Economy by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

Stress

  • Reading and using the 7 sacred pauses. One of these is the midnight prayer, which I’m nervous about. But by the end of pregnancy I’m pretty sure I’ll be up then anyway. 😉

I want to keep a semi-daily log of how things go, and I’ll probably post these sporadically as I go along. A lot of them I will likely set to post after the baby is born, so there will be something on the blog when I have no time for anything but nursing, diapering, playing with Sky, and (maybe?) sleeping. I’m excited to see how God uses this experiment to reshape my thoughts and habits.

Have you read and tried Seven? How did the experiment change you?

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What We Did This Summer

First trimester nausea plus a summer heat wave is not my favorite combo. Nonetheless, in spite of feeling pretty lousy all of June and for most of July, when I look back on our summer I’m grateful for what we managed to do together as a family.

Inspired by my friend Callie’s post on summer goals, I made a really hasty summer bucket list poster in June. Whenever we thought of it, Lyle and I tacked on a few post-it notes listing some of the things we wanted to try this summer. Callie’s was muuuuch prettier than mine, because she is something of a sparkly magician in general, but in the throes of morning sickness, this sad little sun was all I could muster.

Here are some highlights:

Camping in Mt Hood National Forest

I guess this is our annual tradition? We camped here last summer mostly because it was the only area with reservations available at the very late hour of May. Most people reserve even tent sites way back in winter for the following summer. Lesson learned? You’d think so, but nope. Didn’t even think about camping until June this year. Fortunately there was still a yurt site available at our “usual” campground.


Vancouver Community Library

This has been on my kid-activity bucket list for a while. A short drive across the Columbia, this library has an entire floor devoted to children’s books, plus a sensory exploration area and a kid-friendly, literacy-oriented technology center. Completely free. We carpooled with my friend and her two-year-old and spent a good two hours there, including a music/story time. Easily could have stayed for another couple of hours, but nap time prevailed.


Jamison Square splash pad

I love this interactive fountain downtown, and wish it was a more regular part of our summertime splash pad rotation. It’s a bit of a trek for us to get downtown, but well worth it for how much it thrills Sky. We met up a few times with my cousin and her kiddos, whom Sky adores, packed lunch and played in the water until we were all tuckered out.

Sandy River

We started bringing Sky here when she was a newborn. At our favorite spot, there’s a trail to the right of the main road that leads to a mellow bend in the river. In the late afternoons there’s shade, and it’s calm enough for little ones to wade in the shallows while rafts of inner-tubers float by with beer, dogs, and boom boxes.

Pickles baseball game

Portland got its first minor league team last summer, and we went to one of the first playoff games this season with friends and family. Sky learned how to shout, “Goooooo Pickles!” and kept repeating it for a full week after the game. She had a blast running up and down the grassy slope in the family seating area with all the other kiddos.

There were also a handful of post-its we never got to. Hiking Shellburg falls outside Salem. A day trip to the Oregon coast. A morning at the zoo with just the three of us. We liked this practice so much, we’re thinking of making a new board for fall. Maybe this could be a seasonal tradition.

What about you? Do you make summer bucket lists? What was on your list this summer?

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Summer Reading with my Toddler

I love our county library system.

Last summer when Sky was one, we participated in the summer reading program. My little reader and I picked up a stack of books every week after story time, took them home, and read them until we had memorized them. Then we traded them the following week for a new stack.

I’m a big fan of relying on the library system to feed my little one’s voracious appetite for books, while keeping a small stash of favorites at home. Her interests change so quickly, and she likes to read a book over and over again until suddenly, she decides she’s had her fill and won’t pick it up again.

We are diligently crossing off boxes on the little summer reading game board, turning it in every two weeks for a prize and eventually that coveted summer reading T-shirt. (Insider tip: toward fall, you can pick one up for 50 cents at the Title Wave bookstore.)

Meanwhile, I’m making it a personal challenge to cross out as many squares as I can on the adult summer reading Bingo board. Just for fun.

Here are our favorite books so far:

Sky, 2 years old

 

The mixed-up truck/ Steven Savage
A cement truck is new on the job, and he keeps mixing up the wrong stuff! In the end, all of the trucks take a bubble bath and go to sleep. The bubble bath was Sky’s favorite part.

One gorilla : a counting book/ Anthony Browne.
Really beautiful illustrations of ALL kinds of primates, finishing with a group shot of a diverse mix of humans– We’re all one family. I was shocked when Sky began naming the species she saw: “That’s a MANdril. Those are baBOONs.” We both learned a lot. Plus, this book is oversized, and she loves “big, big books.”

Piggies/ Don & Audrey Wood.
Do you love King Bidgood and the Napping House? Here are more of those arrestingly odd and sweet illustrations, plus a story about the different sized fingers on our hands, and, if you’re as lucky as we were, an accompanying CD with truly weird songs about the “piggies.” Sky loved this book best of all.

Walter’s wonderful web / Tim Hopgood.
This book teaches shapes through the story of a little spider who try-tried again. It features a repeating narrative– “‘Whoosh!’ went the wind” and  “Walter sighed”– and Sky loved helping to tell those parts of the story. It has also come in handy as the early fall spiders start making their webs across our front door step. Despite my best efforts, Sky is already scared of spiders. I tell her the spider is just like Walter and his wonderful web. It kind of helps.

 

There’s No Such Thing as Little/ LeUyen Pham
Here’s one of those books I would not have guessed would be such a hit– but it was. Easily her first choice book the week we picked this up, every time we sat down to read. This book has sweet circle cutouts that reveal the ways in which something that may appear little– a tree, a fish, a candle flame– can actually turn out to be more meaningful and significant than you think. Just like your little one. (aww…)

Melissa, 30 something 🙂

These are some of my own favorites, along with the adult summer reading Bingo game prompts that inspired them.

Request a recommendation from My Librarian.
Reinventing American health care : how the Affordable Care Act will improve our terribly complex, blatantly unjust, outrageously expensive, grossly inefficient, error prone system / Ezekiel J. Emanuel.
This one took me forever to finish, and I’m more than a little late to the game in reading it, as you can see by the subtitle’s hopeful future tense. I requested suggestions from the library’s (awesome, free, online) My Librarian service. I wanted a few recent titles that would help me understand the appalling state of health care in the U.S., as the current “administration” gets ready to dismantle the few pieces of it that actually function. Next on the list is Elisabeth Rosenthal’s 2017 An American Sickness, but there’s such a lengthy list of holds placed on this one I figured I’d start in the past and work my way (queasily) forward.

Read a book with a single word as its title./Read a book you’ve always wanted to read.
March : a novel / Geraldine Brooks.
Little Women was a favorite for me growing up, and Brooks’ spinoff book, detailing the March girls’ father’s Civil War service, has been on my reading list for years. This was a suspenseful and emotional read. Not for the faint of heart– and ordinarily I’d count myself among that group– it’s more than a little gory in some chapters, but then, it’s a novel set in the Civil War. It’s hard to go back to Alcott’s flowery prose after reading March.

 

 

Read a book with a map on the endpapers.
A midwife’s tale : the life of Martha Ballard, based on her diary, 1785-1812 / Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
This won the Pulitzer in 1991, and it’s a meticulous contextualization of one of the oldest intact diaries we have in the United States– the story of a seemingly tireless woman who delivered over 800 babies in a small Maine town in the 18th century. (!!) I was fascinated by the details of Martha’s day-to-day life. Things that must have seemed so mundane for her– riding sidesaddle to attend midnight births, planting hundreds of beans in her “garden,” pulling candles and weaving flax, administering herbal medicine to her neighbors– filled me with admiration and curiosity. It was interesting to read the terse, factual diary entries that begin each chapter, and then to see how Ulrich, a gifted writer and history scholar, unpacked and set everything into context in terms of familiar U.S. historical events and feminism.

 

Read a biography of someone you admire.
Becoming Maria : love and chaos in the South Bronx / Sonia Manzano.
I happened to catch an NPR interview with Manzano in 2016, just after this memoir was released. Manzano had a 44 year run as Maria on Sesame Street, and in the past six months as I’ve introduced my toddler to the likes of Big Bird and Elmo, let’s just say she has become a very, very familiar face in our house. It was interesting to read about her tumultuous but colorful childhood in the Bronx.

 

 

Read a mystery
Big little lies/ Liane Moriarty.
I’m not sure this technically counts as a mystery, since I had watched the addictive HBO mini-series first, and already knew whodunnit. Still, the book added depth and nuance to the TV version, and it was interesting to see what had been changed/omitted on screen. For instance, the book is set in the author’s native Sydney, Australia– not a fictitious California coastal town as filmed in Big Sur. I read it in less than three days, so make sure you’ve got some downtime available when you pick this up. **Also, trigger warning: both the book and the series contain graphic imagery/language about abuse.**

 

Read a book that teaches you something.
No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame/ Janet Lansbury.
Strangely, this book was nowhere to be found in the library catalog, and neither were there any other titles by Lansbury. I picked it up online and hope to buy an additional copy to donate to the library. It has smoothed out so many edges in my days with Sky. Though bringing this level of awareness and intention to my parenting takes more energy, it saves so much time and heartache, for both of us, in the long run.

 

I can’t recommend this enough for any parent of a spirited toddler– and show me a toddler who isn’t spirited.

Certainly not this one. 🙂

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Making A Family Budget

I love, love, love the podcast Matrimoney, run by a couple in Arizona with two small children, who get together to share their money goals and budgeting process with the world. I admire their transparency (their current budget is posted on the podcast website) and their relaxed, kind way of talking about money. Relaxed and kind are not words I would have used to describe money conversations in our own household– until recently.

Lyle and I started listening to Matrimoney together once a week as a way to kind of ease into a regular practice of checking in on our finances. In our house, I pay all the bills, do all the grocery shopping and meal-planning, keep our files in order, and maintain our budget.  It gets to be a little overwhelming for me, especially because we are a one-income household for the moment. I struggle with feelings of anxiety and guilt about how I’m managing our money. To his credit, Lyle trusts me completely to make sound decisions for our family, and his hands-off attitude generally makes it easy for me.

But as our family grows, the complexity of our monthly bills does, too. We have a mortgage and land lease to pay now, preschool tuition, a car payment, and allllll the insurance. Plus we have goals and dreams to save for– namely a down payment on a house closer to our parents, in a smaller town in California, with a decent amount of land to grow a big garden and let our kids run around wild. Our patch of earth.

So I felt like I needed him there with me in the trenches of budgeting.

After a few weeks of listening to Matrimoney and having some relaxed, kind conversations of our own about our dreams and challenges with money, we felt confident and inspired enough to make our own budget, from scratch. And it really didn’t take us that long.

I’ve tried lots of different budgeting systems in the past. You Need A Budget (YNAB). Mint. Learnvest. I mostly found them difficult to customize and frustrating to update and use. The free versions would never sync with our accounts, or I’d spend a precious hour categorizing a month’s worth of expenses only to have it all erased.

So we modeled our budget after Matrimoney’s, making a simple Excel spreadsheet that I printed and posted on our fridge. We also made a poster with Sky’s markers listing our top budgeting challenges and our top goals, and stuck that on a kitchen cabinet. It’s motivating to see those goals and number every day. I think that as we continue to develop the habit of working on this together, we’ll get more specific about our top goals, and hopefully translate them into dollar amounts we can work toward.

I moved all our online budgeting over to Finance Works, the free budgeting software that’s built into our community credit union’s online banking feature. It’s not fancy, which I appreciate, and all the categories are customizable, so I was able to match them to our Excel categories.

So far all of this is working well for us. We haven’t had an overdraw all summer, our personal spending has been reigned in, and we’ve been pretty consistently on or under budget for groceries, too. Those were our top three problems in May, so I’m really pleased to be making progress there. I’m also feeling a lot less stressed and alone in all the money stuff– and that’s probably the best part of all.

What about you? Do you have a family budget? How do you talk money in your house?

 

 

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My go-to soup for new moms (and toddlers too)

This is one of the posts I’ve had bouncing around in my head as I’ve tried (and failed) to avoid writing a blog. I’m so excited to share one of the recipes we make on repeat– at least when I’m not sick to death at the sight and smell of onions. And garlic. (Pretty much anything in the allium family is contraband in our house for nine months, and then as soon as baby comes, my aversion magically disappears. It’s wild.)

It’s a simple soup recipe from my cousin Kelly. This amazing mom of four (!) brought a jar of this golden orange goodness along with some tasty baked goods AND her whole brood, over the hills from Hillsboro to our door when Sky was a newborn. I will never forget how good it tasted, and how good it was to see her in those early, blurry-eyed weeks.

Since that day, we have made this soup SO many times. Sky loves it so much she eats it with TWO spoons. And it’s incredibly simple and budget friendly. I bet you even have these ingredients in your house right now.

This week, I get to go visit our former babysitter and her brand new baby, and I’ll be bringing a jar of this along, plus a batch of these muffins.

Carrot Ginger Coconut Soup
from Everyday Detox

Serves 4

1 tsp coconut oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb carrots, chopped (~3 cups)
2.5 cups water
1.5 tsp sea salt
2 Tablespoons freshly grated ginger
1/2 cup coconut milk

  1. Melt the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat and sauté the onion until tender. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant.
  2. Add carrots, water, salt, and ginger, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer covered until carrots are fork-tender, ~20 min.
  3. Transfer soup to a blender and blend carefully in batches, or use a stick blender in the pot.
  4. Return the soup to the pot if you transferred it, heat it over medium heat and addd coconut milk.

I experimented a little with the amount of water to get the thickness I like.

 

 

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