Be Serious: Planning Kids’ Activities

Today I’m going to branch out and talk about something I have only been planning for a relatively short period of time:  activities with my girls.  For the first few years of my career as a SAHM I used to let my time with the kids be almost completely led by what they wanted to do.  This does work in the short run, but I noticed each girl would always ask to do the same activities over and over.  Madeline could paint all day long, and Clara could have a dance party every afternoon.  As much fun as these activities are, there are so many fun (and simple) things the girls and I could do that will help them learn new things about the world around them.

To start, I spent some time on Pinterest researching activities to do with toddlers and preschoolers.

I was completely overwhelmed.

There are so many options it almost shut down my desire to plan activities for the girls.

Fortunately I stumbled on a few very helpful websites for easy kids activities.  First was The Stay At Home Mom Survival Guide.  The activities are usually done with materials you already have in your house, are quick to put together, and keep my girls’ interest for a good chunk of time.  Another website I loved was Intentional by Grace.  This blogger sets up an early version of homeschooling for her young son, so most of the activities are educational.

My favorite go-to activities to do with my girls are:

  • Magnetic letter matching
  • Nature walk and scavenger hunt
  • Puzzles
  • Read books
  • Sing songs, especially ones with hand motions
  • Do chores together
  • Work in the garden
  • “Wash” dishes
  • Make Play-doh letters
  • Make Play-doh animals
  • Have a tea party
  • Go “grocery shopping” in our spare bedroom
  • “Cook”
  • Cook
  • Paint
  • Color coloring books
  • Build block towers
  • Build things with Legos
  • Play with our princess Lego sets
  • Pull the pillows and cushions from the couch onto the floor and jump on them
  • Play musical instruments
  • Paint toenails
  • Cut or rip paper to make confetti
  • Play Simon says

When I sit down to plan my week on Sunday evening, I write down two different activities to do with the girls each day.  Some days we go on a play date or go to library programs.  These would count as an activity for that day.

I find that during the course of my day my brain moves very quickly, and I can’t stop to think of something creative and fun to do with the girls.  If I have a couple of activities written on my to-do list for the day, I can quickly get something together that occupies, entertains, and even teaches the girls.

What do you do with your children while you stay at home/work at home?  Do you plan the time you spend teaching your kids each day?

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Be Serious: Meal Planning

I know those two words together can seriously scare some people.  I promise, though, the way I meal plan is super easy.

Suuuuuper easy.

First of all, before I started planning meals, I would end up either making several trips to the grocery store each week or wasting a lot of food.  Or both.

Planning meals has helped me to save time, effort, and money in the kitchen, and it only takes me about 30-45 minutes every week or two.

First, I have a general idea of what I will be cooking each day.  Take a look:

Monday – Grill or Roast meat and simple sides

Tuesday – Date Night

Wednesday – Italian food

Thursday – Soup/Salad

Friday – Mexican/Spanish food

Saturday – leftovers/sandwiches

Sunday – casserole or other “nice” recipe

Having this general outline helps me to pick meals on specific days.  So, for example, on when I’m planning a meal for Monday, if the weather looks nice, I can pick something like marinated chicken kebobs with grilled fruit and salad.  If, however, weather looks poor, I can roast that chicken in the oven with potatoes, carrots, and still have a salad.

I usually plan meals for a full week, sometimes two, before I plan my grocery shopping adventure.

I tend to stick to one meat per week.  We may eat meat 2-3 times a week, but I will use the same kind of meat (chicken or beef or pork, you get the idea) so I can buy just one large package.

I usually have some leftover if I buy a big package of meat at Sam’s; then I can store it in our freezer and have it for a proverbial “rainy day”.

I also try to stick with seasonal fruits and vegetables.  I cook asparagus and peas in the spring, zucchini and eggplant in the summer, and butternut squash and sweet potatoes in the fall.  This helps me to choose which recipes I use.

I am one of those cooks that could go with or without a written recipe.  Some things I just make from memory, like a roast chicken and vegetables.  I have weeks where I fill my meal plan up with things that are go-to’s for me.  Other weeks I pore over Pinterest to find new, fun recipes to bring some spunk in to the kitchen.

Once I fill in a dinner for each day, I make a list of the ingredients I need.  This handy thing is what I call my grocery list.

Seriously.  It’s that easy.

Our breakfasts and lunches around here pretty much stick within a normal realm.  Breakfasts are usually cereal, oatmeal, yogurt and granola, eggs and toast, or pancakes.  And lots of fruit.  Lunches are usually sandwiches, salad, or leftover things like soups, chilis, pastas, etc.  If I need to restock any of these items, they go on my grocery list.

I promise you, that taking the short amount of time to focus on what you will be eating for the week will help you to shave down your grocery bill, reduce the waste coming out of your kitchen, and save a whole lot of hassle.

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Be Serious: Evening Routine

So my morning routine may have scared some of you off of my blog forever.

Please do come back, I’m not the super-organized freak I make myself sound like.  I just need to be super-organized at strategic times to make my day go well.  Evening is another one of those times.  Check out my usual evening routine:

  1. I was all of my dishes.  I walk around the whole house making sure I grab any stray sippy cups or drinking cups that get left in weird places, and I was all of them.  Depending on the day this could take anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours.  (Perhaps I’m exaggerating.)
  2. Then I scour my sink.  I use Borax:  I just sprinkle a little in each of my double sinks and scour around the whole thing, then rinse with water.  I have found it makes my sink look prettier, plus Borax keeps ants out in the spring and fall.  Win, win.
  3. I wipe down the kitchen counters and the stove, letting all the crumbs fall to the fall.  Don’t scream yet!
  4. I sweep the kitchen floor.
  5. Then I take about 15 minutes to run around the house putting anything out of place away (stray shoes, purse, toys, trash, etc.)
  6. My “work” is finally done!  Then I can blog or work on another project.

This is the time I take to myself if my husband is working in the evening, or the time I spend with him when he’s home.

Regardless of whether he is home,  I try to brush my teeth and wash my face before bed (which has been much more of a struggle than you’d think!), then read my Bible in bed.  Yes, right before I go to sleep.

There are hundreds of reasons why this works best for me, not the least of which is that my brain is always going a million miles a minute, and reading my Bible in bed actually helps me to calm down.  And I haven’t yet fallen asleep reading it, so I call that a win.

The one thing I continually struggle with in the evenings is going to bed early enough.

In my morning routine post I talked about waking up early in the mornings to run.  When I meant early, I meant 4 am.

No, the sun isn’t up then.

I should be going to bed between 8 -9 pm.

Ha.

I’m usually lucky if I’m in bed by 10 pm.

I get way too carried away with things I’m doing after the girls get to bed.

But I am working on it; I promise.

What is in your evening routine?

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Be Serious: A Morning Routine

“Love begins by taking care of the closest ones – the ones at home.”
- Mother Teresa

Life as a stay-at-home mom can be tiring, it can be stressful, it can be tedious, and it can be boring. We perform the same tasks day in and day out: make breakfast, pack lunch, wash dishes, change diapers, fold laundry, sweep the floors. Repeat.
Lately it has been tempting for me to think that I have been “reduced to” a machine that cooks, cleans, bathes, and repeats.
Do you feel this way?
It’s really okay to admit it. I did first.
I am smarter than this, I thought. I am more creative than this, I told myself.
In reality, my intelligence and creativity are tools God has given me to better serve and love the ones closest to me. Allow me to share how I begin my mornings to be most efficient and to allow for more time to play with the girls and to work on projects.
1. Three mornings during the week I wake up early to run with a few women in town. This is the first thing I do on those days. Working out in the morning gives me more energy for the rest of my day.
2. Next on my morning agenda is showering and getting dressed.
Yes, before anything else.
Putting on clothes, real clothes, keeps me feeling like I have real work to do.
Also, after washing my face I wipe out the bathroom sink with a cloth and brush the toilet bowl. Just to keep everything looking decent.
3. Then I will throw a load of laundry in the washing machine. With two adults, two kids, and diapers to wash, there is always laundry to do. Doing at least one load start to finish everyday helps me from getting behind.
4. Next I unload the dishwasher and out away the dishes I washed the night before.
5. I usually start making Beard’s lunch at this time if he is going to work, if not I will start breakfast.
6. If I am going out in the morning I can throw together water bottles and snacks for the girls and I while breakfast is cooking.

I borrowed most of my morning routine from the legendary FlyLady.
Some things you may notice are not a part of my morning routine are:
* checking e-mail: I like time to read and respond to e-mails carefully, so I save this task for nap time.
* reading my Bible: I like to go on the morning. Because of this, I can’t focus well on reading. Instead I read my Bible before bed when my body has slowed down.
* washing dishes: I try to wash dishes at night before going to bed. Waking up to an empty sink just puts me in a good mood.

This morning routine allows me to feel like my house is somewhat out together before breakfast. I then have the peace of mind and time after breakfast to get the girls ready for the day and then play with them.
I’d love to hear from you. What is in your morning routine and why? Why do you like having a morning routine?

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Be Serious: Making Staying at Home a Real Job

WARNING:  This is not a blog series about making money from home.

Staying home with your children and taking care of your home is a real job.

Don’t believe me?

This week I will be posting ways that I have learned (mostly from other bloggers and more experienced moms) how to take my life as a stay-at-home mom more seriously.

Because after all, we do have an important job.  We are caring for, teaching, loving, feeding, kissing boo boos, singing to, reading to, and correcting our own children who will themselves grow up to be adults.  How we treat our job as a stay-at-home mom directly affects our children’s childhood, their development, and their life as an adult.

I am not saying that all problems, great and small, can be fixed by changing something about the way you treat your children.  Children are humans with their own will and are influenced by other things.

What I am saying, though, is that while our children are at home, we have a great influence over them, and if we take this seriously, we can have a greater impact on their lives, as well as a better marriage and a happier home.

Join me the rest of this week for a series about how to take staying at home seriously and treating it like it’s your job.

Because it is.

And also, please remember to click on the page called “Thailand” to sponsor a mile to help send me to Bangkok in December!

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So This is How I Do Tomatoes

2014-08-14 14.06.09I harvested this two days ago.  Yes, all of it.  At once.  In Madeline’s beach pail.

Why does a three year old need a beach pail that large?

I digress.

These beauties are San Marzano tomatoes.  They are a special type of plum tomatoes that are an heirloom breed directly from Italy.  And they make the best tomato sauce.

Ever.

I scored the seeds from my dad who still saves seeds like they did in the old country (which is, for the record, Italy, in this instance).  You can, however, buy San Marzano seeds online pretty easily from any seed catalog.

The reason these beauties are so good for sauce is they are more flesh than seeds and goo, and their skin is so thin you hardly notice it’s there.  Which is why canning them is sooooo much easier.  Take a peek at what I did:

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1.  Score the stem or remnant of stem out of the tomato.

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2.  Cut the tomato in half parallel to where the stem was.

2014-08-14 14.21.493.  Scoop the seeds and goo into a separate (garbage) bowl.  Don’t discard these yet, because you can save the seeds if you want to!

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4.  Cut the tomato halves into four pieces each.  Then put them into a clean, hot canning jar.

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5.  Keep putting in cut tomatoes until you fill the jar about a third.  Then smash those tomatoes down.  Squish them, if you will.  Use a wooden spoon or a clean fist.

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6.  Continue filling the jar with cut tomatoes, squishing down every third or so of the jar.  Fill to near the top, but leave about 1/2 inch of “head space” (room).  Carefully put the lid and ring on the jar.

7.  Process your jars (hopefully you have more than one, otherwise it’s a waste of energy!):

  • Boil water in large, tall pot.
  • Using a canning basket or rings twist-tied together, place jars into pot carefully so that the bottoms of the jars don’t directly touch the bottom of the pot.
  • Leave jars in for 15 minutes.
  • Remove jars carefully and allow to cool, preferable upside down, on a kitchen towel.

When it is time to use these tomatoes for sauce (which you don’t have to, you could eat them chopped and yummy), just use a food mill or a food processor to make your sauce BEFORE you cook the tomatoes.

With this method, your tomatoes are only cooked once (in the jar processing stage) before you make them into sauce or eat them.  Other methods cook tomatoes two or three times (to remove skin, etc.) before you use them for your food.  Cooking the tomatoes less means that, of course, they will taste much fresher, and they will retain much more nutrition.

Happy Canning!

 

 

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