Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Operation Organization: The Meal Planning, Clarifications

Well people, I am halfway through my first month of organization and I can tell you that is is WORKING! I dare say I am a complete convert. This past Saturday, rather than fighting traffic and waiting in the checkout line, I was discovering a new park (hiking trails, waterfalls, playgrounds, oh my!) with Greg and the kids.

I thought I would clarify a few things:

The blogger who created the worksheets I recommended uses the pantry inventory sheets a little differently than I do. I made a master list of all my pantry items, a master list of all my refrigerator and freezer items, one of our family's toiletries (toothpaste, shampoo, etc.), one of all the paper products we use, and one of cleaning products. I printed out inventory sheets and just changed the headings accordingly. I put them all in plastic sleeves in my cute little binder so they were in one place, and my plan is to review each list quickly each month before my big shopping trip to see what I need. I think what the blogger does is hang each sheet in a separate place: the pantry inventory, for example, is hung in the pantry, the fridge and freezer ones are clipped to the fridge, the toiletries one is in the bathroom, you get the picture. As she runs out of things, she notes it on the inventory. Makes perfect sense! I just like to have everything in one place and have my lists organized in such a way that I can run down them fairly quickly.

One of my friends emailed me another tip you might like to try - thanks Melissa!

Type out a list of all household supplies like detergents, toilet paper, cleaning supplies and pantry staples. Then slip it into a dry erase sleeve and post in a handy place with a dry erase pen. Every time you use the last of an item, mark it with a check or slash. When it is time to go to the store, refer to your list to know what you need to replace. Then clean the sleeve and repeat again. Hope it saves you a minute or two!

Next up: another throwback Thursday, and all the gory details of the monthly grocery trip.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Throwback Thursday: A Sweet Little Girl & A Big Birthday Surprise

I was looking back through my blog this week and realized that there were a few really fun experiences our family shared over the last year that never made it to the blog - a great excuse to use the old "Throwback Thursday" posting theme for the next few months or so. 

Last July was our Chloe's 9th birthday, and she had been dreaming of a trip to the infamous American Girl store for as long as dreams had danced through her head. Greg and I had decided well before her birthday that we wanted to surprise her with a little overnight to NYC, which conveniently happens to be one of our favorite cities :-).

The night before we were leaving she went upstairs, put on her pajamas, brushed her teeth, and found Kit perched on her bed holding a letter addressed to her... Surprise, Birthday Girl!!


She had no idea - I don't think she ever thought she was going to get there!



She read it prrreeeettttyyyy slowly... I think she was afraid she might be misunderstanding things :-).


She wasn't the only one who was excited to be heading for the Big Apple!


Our almost-nine-year-old went to bed quite excited that night.



The next morning at 5am? NYC or bust, baby!!



Pics of our Manhattan adventure to come in the next Throwback Thursday post!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Operation Organization: The Meal Planning, Part Two


About the time I decided that I had to give my meal planning a makeover, I stumbled across a a blog post from a fellow Rochesterian about planning an entire year's worth of meals in one fell swoop. That was a wee bit ambitious for me, but she was showcasing a simple system created by her friend Amy J. that was easily adaptable. I jumped onto Amy's etsy site, ordered the lists, and got started!

Here's the abominable manila folder I spoke about in my last post. Martha Stewart would have tachycardia if she got a look at this mess. I separated all my dog-eared recipes into piles of chicken, beef, pasta, etc. and trotted off to Staples.


Don't you just swoon over page protectors and pretty binders? Greg thinks I'm pretty much the only person on the planet who swoons over such things, but I had to nearly clothesline a lady in mom jeans and a fanny pack for the last pink and brown binder on the shelf, so I am not the only lover of office supplies in this city.



I bought both the 8 1/2 x 11 page protectors and the ones for 4 x 6 photos. Recipes that I've copied or printed off the internet fit snugly in the 8 1/2 by 11's, and the ones that had actually made it to a recipe card over the years went into the others. More than anything, I love the recipes written in someone else's hand. They're like time capsules from my life, transporting me back to a day I'd otherwise forget.

Here's one an old friend scrawled out for me in her kitchen when she had me over for lunch. Chloe was a baby, her daughter Ella was a baby, and she lived across the street in the little neighborhood where we had our first home. She made wonderful chicken & wild rice soup and chocolate chip cookies on a cold day, and our babies crawled around on the floor, and I felt for the first time that maybe this stay-at-home-mom thing might work out. Maybe I wouldn't always feel so lonely. I haven't talked to her in years. Neither of us live in Pennsylvania any more. But I have this recipe from her, and the memory of that day, and it makes me smile every time I pull it out.


After getting my recipes organized into my pretty binder...



I got to work making a master list of all the meals I make for our family, all of the grocery staples we go through in a month (this list I added myself because it's helpful for me, but really not necessary), writing down an inventory of all our pantry, fridge, and freezer items, and planning ONE month of meals. I'm trying not to burn myself out, people. 



I thought I would try this in April to see if it's manageable. If it seems to be working for me by the end of the month, I'm going to try to do three months of meal planning at a time. I was shocked to see how easy it was to plan a decent month of meals once I had everything organized in one place right in front of me. Seriously, I typically sit at the counter on Saturday mornings with my head in my hands, trying to figure out what to make. It usually ends with me saying to Greg, "Hey, how about scrambled eggs?" or "Do you think pizza three times in one week is too much?" I made the same five meals over and over, all the while ignoring my manila folder full of ideas. Not any more! This lady is crazy organized!



 Questions? Did I explain things well? Feel free to ask if you're wondering... Next I'm going to tackle how I handled the ginormous grocery trip. It was... interesting. But I really do think the pain of last Saturday will only mean gain for the next three :-). I'll let you know!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Operation Organization: The Meal Planning



Two Saturdays ago I was unloading groceries at 6:00 pm and thought to myself, "I've gotta make a change here." As an increasingly busy homeschooling mama to four, my Saturdays have gone from busy to crazy to downright insane in the last year or so. I used to have my weekdays to run errands, plan meals, do the grocery shopping, and clean the toilets. Even with one and then three babies in tow, I was generally able to manage the household chores and errands between Monday and Friday, with the occasional there is no way I am hauling the kids with me trips saved for Saturday mornings.

People, those days are long gone. In the last couple of years I went from three to four kids, and from homeschooling one child to homeschooling three. During the week I have almost no time for anything but teaching the kids, getting them to and from their activities, and throwing dinner (sometimes literally) onto the table at 6:30. Everything I used to do throughout the week has made its way to Saturday. Saturday has, in turn, made its way to a nightmare.

I narrowed down the nightmare to three main areas of things I need to manage: meal planning and grocery shopping, household cleaning, and homeschool preparation. I've decided to attack them one by one, and I've decided to start with mean planning.

I currently spend at least three hours every Saturday with meal planning and grocery shopping. First I haul out the dog-eared manila folder of recipes that I've been meaning to organize into a better system for the last six years or so. I flip through it and pick out the meals we'll have for the week, jotting down all the grocery items I'll need. Tick, tock, tick tock, tick tock. Oh, I think I'll have another cup of coffee, I think with a big sigh. Then I peruse the pantry, fridge, and freezer, checking to see all that needs to be replenished and adding it to my list. A few more sips of coffee, a little bit of daydreaming, a few interruptions from the kids. Tick tock, tick tock. Then I take my list and climb into the car to fight both Saturday road traffic and Saturday grocery store traffic (my own private hell), purchase everything that I need (often at more than one store in order to stretch the grocery budget), load it all into the trunk, and head home through Saturday traffic. Tick tock, tick tock. Then I need to unload it all from the car, drag it in to the kitchen, and put it all away. It's about this time every week, as I glance at the mid-afternoon clock and realize I only have accomplished one of the many items on my to do list, that I wearily shake my head and say to myself, "Something has got to change."

It occurred to me that if I only did this once per month, rather than every week, I would save myself three hours and a migraine every Saturday. Honestly, most of you are probably already doing this, but for some reason I have never transitioned to consolidating this giant task into one big event rather than many, many little ones.

That is about to change! I love me a big organizational project. Check back later this week for how I am getting my meal planning in gear!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

His Kind of Cool

This little guy snagged two bucks from the tooth fairy for his right front tooth, and he's been hanging onto it in hot anticipation of a trip to the dollar store. The idea of wandering up and down those aisles bursting with cheap, colorful, possibly carcinogenic knick knacks is like drinking deeply from the well of possibilities for my children; it is their nirvana. He'd been asking us when we might be available to transport him there, as he had a purchase in mind. Every time he talked about it his little eyes twinkled, his little mouth curved up, and he'd launch into a dance, sort of a cross between a jig and a hoedown.

He wanted... eyeglasses.



When I was a kid and was told that my extreme myopia meant that I would have to go to school for the rest of my life with coke bottles perched above my nose, I was devastated. I hated them. I refused to wear them, walking like Helen Keller to the bus stop every morning, tripping over large and obvious objects as I insisted I could see just fine. I once got on the wrong bus, for Pete's sake, and was about to leave for the other side of the suburb when my friend Megan banged on the window and screamed, "You're on Bus 9, not Bus 6!"

But my little guy, so firmly his own man, wanted the very thing that acutely grieved me when I was a kid. So off he went in search of eyeglasses, and home he came, looking like a seventy-five year old man in his oversized readers. He is so proud of them. Every morning he puts on his bathrobe and his giant glasses and gets everyone their cereal bowls, a mini Elton John scurrying about the kitchen.





I asked him if I could write this, and read it to him before I hit publish. I explained to him that this little blog has become one of the most valuable things I own, because it is a record of the moments we've spent together. Of all of my kids, he is the most sensitive, the most concerned about what others think of him, and I needed him to know that I was not poking fun at him. I delight in his uniqueness, and one of my biggest prayers for him is that his ears will grow increasingly deaf to the voices of those around him saying there's only one kind of cool.


"You laugh at me because I'm different. I laugh at you because you're all the same."
-John Davis

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Homeward Bound

Traveling at night, the headlights were bright


but soon the sun came through the trees.


Around the next bend


              the flowers will send


the sweet scent of home in the breeze. ("Home," Bonnie Raitt)


We are home, and our hearts are full. So grateful for our Pittsburgh tribe. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

There's a Piano in the Kitchen and the Kids have the Flu, but It's Sure Nice Talking to You...

Anyone remember that old Harry Chapin song "Cats in the Cradle?"


 The piano in the kitchen part wasn't in the original lyrics - I added that :-).


Your eyes do not deceive you. That is indeed a piano in my kitchen. A little bit of reno is going on here in the Smith house!




It's a wee bit exciting and a whole lot annoying. It's dusty and disruptive and - holy smokes - it's loud. Those dirty old yellow floors are suddenly not nearly as offensive to me as they were before all this started. Alas, this will all be worth it in the end. Stay tuned for some spiffy "after" pics touting shiny new floors!

In other news, two of our littles were felled by the flu last week. Sigh. Poor little Chilly had it the worst. Hold me mama. I need you mama. Over and over for 36 hours. On a particularly busy day when I just really needed my hands, this is where he stayed for hours:


As it turns out, even the flu has its up side: I got my baby back for a few days.