Monday, January 19, 2015

He wasn't just a dog...

I wrote this in mid-September. I never posted it because I just wasn't ready to share my grief. It's been 4-1/2 months since Max died and the hole is still massive and although it hurts a little less to talk about him, him not being here is odd and horrible and lonely. The house has returned to some semblance of normal but it will never be the same. 

December 13, 1999 - August 25, 2014

On August 25, we said our final goodbyes to our beloved Max. He died peacefully, his head in my lap, his Dad and his brother by his side. It's kind of thrown everything into a funk around here: no one wants to really do anything substantive and so many things have become a great big chore. Doing anything seems complicated and no one is ready to say good bye to his stuff - we've actually decided to put most of his stuff into storage for now but even that, no one wants to do, yet.

He was truly an amazing part of our family. He knew how to make us laugh, he knew when to snuggle near, he made us smile, be happy and just generally made life better. He wasn't just a dog, he wasn't and although he had four legs and floppy ears, he was so much more than a dog. In fact, saying he was 'just a dog' is an absolute insult to us and to his memory.

so why am I writing about it? Because I can't seem to do much else today but miss him. There are dishes to be done, supper to be prepped, a nap to be had but I just want to hold my boy and stroke his head and cry into his fur. I want him back, I want him here and nothing is replacing that feeling today. Not the second bit of lunch, the bowl of grapes or the Swiss roll (which was terrible, by the way). The work out didn't help either.

Sometimes, there isn't anything that can fill the void grief brings. I've been told time will help and I know it will, but nothing will ever fill the space he held in my heart.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Menu Planning: How it got me two marriage proposals and saved me 30%!

Recently, I finished a year's worth of meal plans. That's right, folks, I have 52 weeks or 365 dinners planned. I am RELIEVED. It's a huge weight off my shoulders. While I enjoy cooking, I do not enjoy meal planning.

The results of my labour of love? Two marriage proposals, a few (indecent) solicitations for copies of my menus and oh, an annual savings of 30% - (this includes our grocery and our dining out budget)!

When I thought about how and what we eat, it became clear that we have several "family favourites" and those meals are repeated frequently but we also like variety so I'm always trying new things (like "It Looked Pinteresting" - a collection of new meals curated from Pinterest).  When trying new recipes, there are always winners and some BIG losers. I've done two 'big cooks' with friends so there will be meals that won't be repeated (like "Coconut Thai Chicken") and although I love the idea and will likely repeat a 'big cook', the recipes from the books we used were frequently bland and tasteless.

My meal plans have areas to add new recipes and the plans, being organized by month, are also seasonal (we don't BBQ in November, for example). Additionally, our meal plans have a less than every six week repeat (meaning, save for "Taco Tuesday" on piano day, we don't eat the same meal more than once every six weeks), more often, it's more like eight weeks between repeats. Some meals never repeat and sometimes we have theme nights like "Meatball Monday's". Dinners out are pre-planned based on the month's activities (piano recitals, birthdays & anniversaries are 'given' dining out events).

All that said, the biggest reason I started the annual meal plan is to save money. Food is expensive - no matter where you live. With milk approaching $5 for 2 litres and peppers at $3.99 pound, meal planning allows me to buy what we need and reduces waste because I know what I need before I go to the store to shop. It is convenient and allows me to plan healthy and balanced meals. It also reduces our impulse to order in because we know what's for dinner!

As I said before, we managed to save 30% on our annual food budget since I commenced the monthly menu planning in February 2014. By having a clear plan, with scheduled dining out events, much more organized shopping trips (and grocery lists) and with no "what's for dinner tonight" questions bringing about impulse shopping trips, has helped our bottom line immensely.

While 30% is a huge sum of money, I hope to shave an additional 20% this year.  Recently, a friend asked how do I know that I want what's planned for November 17 (which was meatballs & gravy)? Knowing my meals are pre-planned and the shopping is complete, I have seven meals to chose from on any given night. By now having it all organized before the beginning of the next month, I am able to take advantage of the store loyalty discounts that happen the first Tuesday of the month. Which, starting this month, meant that I was able to stock up on all the staples required for the month so I, in essence, have 30 meals to chose from this month. I am also watching store sales more carefully and stocking up on staples we use frequently. Just this past week, I bought three pounds of our usual coffee - because it was $5.92 cheaper per pound than it usually is!
, by the way)? The fact is, I don't always feel like what's planned but because my meals are

We still impulsively order dinner and we don't always eat what's planned but I have a plan for that too - I carry the meals forward to another evening and ensure we don't dine out too often if there has been impulse meals out. I can tell you doing a 'big cook'  is like having take-out in your own house. It is something I will do again because the convenience of it can't be beat.

Since I first started planning meals way back in 1995, I've finally found a method that works for me. I've tried many different ways of planning but the annual plan totally suits me and provides the flexibility we need.

It may not work for everyone and it may take time to find your groove, but after many years (and many failed attempts), I've finally figured it out and I never have to think (about cooking) again!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Recipe Share: Vegetarian Salad Rolls

A while ago, I found this recipe on the website and I thought they would be tasty. During my next month's menu plan, I added it for dinner, intending to serve it with an Asian inspired chicken. I purchased the vermicelli noodles and rice wrappers and promptly forgot where I found the recipe.

Fast forward a bit and I asked my friends on Facebook. Naturally, they came through with suggestions. I combined the suggestions, deleted a few things, added a couple more and came up with my own recipe.

Here's what I did!

Vegetarian Salad Rolls

1-1/4 mini cucumbers – cut into matchstick size pieces
6-8 baby peeled carrots – cut into matchstick size pieces
1/2 – 3/4 cup bean sprouts
1/2 yellow pepper sliced thin and cut length wise
3 green peppers, sliced thinly
1 to 1-1/2 cup cooked rice vermicelli noodles
1 – 2 tbsp fresh ginger (grated from frozen)
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 caps, full, soya sauce

14 round, rice paper wrappers

Toss all ingredients (except for wrappers) in a glass bowl. Soak rice paper liners (one at a time) in hot water (30 seconds or until soft). Place on clean tea towel. Add filling (at one end) and fold sides in and roll.

Place seam side down on parchment paper, cover with plastic wrap and chill until ready to eat.

We served them with spicy Thai chili sauce but a good peanut sauce would be nice too. I think one could add shrimp and my son said that the Teriyaki chicken I served with it would have been awesome inside the rolls.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Menu Plan Monday: September 1, 2014

This is my first MPM post in months... I've been planning though! I have monthly menus dating back to February 2014 and my hope is to have the next four months planned by the end of October. I'm SO happy! No more dreading meal planning each week/month. I'm so close to have a full year of menus I can't wait!

Do I worry about boredom? NOPE. I've got theme nights and a plan to replace key meals each month to keep things 'interesting'. I can't begin to tell you how excited I am about this!

Without further blabbing, here it is. I've noted the month's themes too so you can see just how clever I am! My recipe for the Crunchy Chicken is at the bottom of the post.

Monday (Macaroni Monday's): Crunchy Chicken with garden potatoes, carrots & corn
Tuesday (Try It Tuesday's): Mexican Unstuffed Pepper Casserole
Wednesday (It looked Pinteresting): Chili's Monterey Chicken with rice
Thursday (Quick & Easy) Perogies and sausage
Friday (Finger Food Friday): Clubhouse sandwiches and Macaroni Salad
Saturday (Sandwich Saturday's): Smokies and leftover Macaroni Salad
Sunday (Simple Sunday's): Eggs and toast

Linking up to the Org Junkie's Menu Plan Monday! Have a great week - back to school plus we're heading out camping next weekend so it's going to be a wonderful week!

PS Here is the recipe for my crunchy chicken. I kind of created this and my first run was TOO salty so I expect I'll play with it and seriously reduce the amount of season salt!

Crunchy Chicken

3 or 4 chicken breasts

3 cups corn flake cereal
1 tsp season salt (originally, I used two)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp pepper

~place all in a large zippered bag. Roll and crush with a rolling pin.
~set aside

1/2 cup mayonaise
2 tbsp water
~place in a bowl and stir to combine
~set aside

1/2 to 3/4  Flour
sprinkle of: pepper, table salt, basil

~place flour and spices in a shallow plate and stir.
~set aside

1 egg
1 tsp water
~combine egg and water in a bow and beat to combine
~set aside

1. Wash & dry chicken.
2. Dip chicken piece in egg and water, then dredge in flour mixture.
3. Dip again in mayo mixture and dredge well in corn flake mixture.
4. Place on parchment paper and bake at 400F preheated oven for 35 minutes (or until cooked through).

Monday, June 23, 2014

Forty by Forty (40x40): Day 21 - my closet

Today, in the world of the world's most boring 40x40 countdown, I decided to tackle my bedroom closet (my side of it). Fortunately, I knew what I was in for. Unfortunately, it wasn't the first time I'd completed this "organizing" task.

Over the past two years, things have "slid" around my house. Unable to do as much as I'd like and unmotivated to do what I can, "things" have just been put where there is a space. In attempt to control my clutter, I've been ridding our house of as many horizontal surfaces as possible. However, I'm SO good at amassing clutter, that I've found ways to be cluttered in vertical positions too.

I've also completely repurposed rooms in our house just so it can contain my clutter in an seemingly organized fashion (that's really a joke but the bed in the photo studio may tell otherwise)...

Want to see my shame?

And before anyone asks, the paper plates stuck to the walls are actually reading aids for TroubleMaker. We were reading by flashlight and he'd have to find the word on the wall. He moved out a month ago (to his own room) and I've not taken them down... As I mentioned, things have slid a lil' bit around here.

Over the years, I've blogged about getting organized a lot. Like a lot, a lot. I've done a couple (three?) different organizing challenges (52 Weeks & 29 Day) and it always goes well enough. I completely understand the process and I'm really good at it (check out this and this and this) but as time passes, my interest wanes and my stick-to-it-ness disappears and then I'm right back where I started.

'Cept this time, The Org Junkie (the guru of all things organized) isn't hosting an organizing challenge so I must go it alone (I'd use a Star Wars reference about Luke & Yoda but I really don't know anything about the movies).

First, I emptied everything out of the closet.

Then I went through everything. Happily, I purged several pairs of pants that had grown too big for me. I tossed out several pairs of dress pants that I've had for more than 10 years and haven't actually worn in at least 4 years. Then I rehung what I'd kept, washed a few items (again that haven't been worn but one must always have at least one pair of dress pants and a blouse or two). I cleaned out the five purses I own (I used to only have one purse - it did everything I needed it to do, then I discovered Grace Adele and now I own four purses, 5 clutches and two wallets). I then put my boot supports in my most awesome boots and folded all my purty sweaters.

Now it is done and I'm the happy owner of a very tidy closet.

Friday, June 20, 2014

40x40 Update: Day 25 - Meal Planning (in my defense)

My goal was to plan (at first) six months ahead - then I said three and finally settled on two months. I accepted that I need to accommodate what I could realistically complete. I've got the rest of June, all of July and August done and it feels amazing!

I've been teased for years about my meal planning and when sharing my Day 25 40x40 challenge on Facebook, my sweet sister started teasing me about it and it was her goal to teach me a few things about living life instead of planning meals. It got me thinking - why do I meal plan?

Reaching way back in my memory, I recall the first time I started planning meals. I was working as an order-picker in a sewing supply warehouse. Although I liked the job, it was dreadfully mundane and sometimes I needed something to pass time while I was wandering the isles picking orders. It was usually the same thing week after week but it killed five minutes.

Later on, it evolved to planning when my husband worked out of town. I again ate the same thing Monday to Thursday, week after week, but always tried to plan different things when he was home.

When I went back to work after our son was born, it had to happen. I was gone from the house 7am until 4:30pm and my husband didn't cook so I had to make sure he knew what to make for breakfast and lunch plus, I needed to be able to spend as much time with my baby as possible when I got home from work.

Planning further ahead (like I've been doing since February) works so much better for me for a few reasons...

1. Planning ahead helps me save money.
2. It takes the guess-work out of dinner.
3. Aids me in planning more nutritious meals.
4. Gives me more time with family.
5. Helps me stay on budget for our 'dining out' budget and our grocery budget.
6. Reduces my stress level because I'm not worrying about it.
7. Ensures I have several meal choices on hand (in case we don't feel like what's on the menu that day).
8. Once I get another five months planned, other than tweaking it and rotating in new meal choices, I won't have to worry what's for dinner for a good long time to come!
9. Less time in the kitchen!
10. During the school year, we have commitments on at least one night a week, knowing what's for dinner means we can eat and get out the door on time and I don't turn into Momzilla.

And those, friends, are just off the top of my head. If I thought a little more, I'd likely come up with 10 more!

Everyone is different - some of us plan, some of us don't. I say do what works for you and be happy. Life is too short to worry about what others are doing but if I had to give anyone a piece of advice, it would be to try menu planning - you might just like it!

Sister: I'm expecting you to teach me some of what you've promised!

PS If you're interested in learning how I menu plan and how others do it, here are a few links so you can be in the know too and simplify your life.

My menu planning guidelines
Our Family Recipe Index (it needs updating)
The Organizing Junkie's recipe selection criteria
More Org Junkies Menu Planning Resources

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Forty by Forty (40x40) - Day 33

First and most important lesson learned today: I cannot count. Counting backwards was never really my "thing" and I realized today, that I've somehow managed to get mixed up but I'm back on track and I've been doing things daily (or delegating) so it's all going to work out in the end.

Today was a delegation day... I enlisted my super awesome, couldn't do it without her, Mother, to help me. My plan had been to do a cupboard today - my spice cupboard. Which I superbly organized while participating in an organizational challenge a few years ago but it's recently fallen on hard, mixed up times. So it got gutted, cleaned and reorganized all by my wonderful mother while my hunny and I spent an hour at Registries sorting out the how and why of registering a motorhome once the Registry office creates the registry incorrectly.

I also gave confidence to two Mommy friends who have apparent bathing suit complexes, cheered on eight very enthusiastic soccer players, made a kick-ass dinner and even crocheted a lil' something (serious, it's only little - I just did three rounds).  I figure that's a good list of accomplishments for today and will still only count all this awesome as just "one" thing.

What kind of awesome did you create today? This life is a journey and I think we should all try to be as awesome as we can each and every day - not just a certain number of days prior to a certain milestone. So go, be awesome and enjoy this thing called life.


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