Tag Archive for cooking

Reflections on Eating Vegetarian: A Week in Review

I recently embarked on a crazy journey. My goal was to eat vegetarian for one whole week. I was out of town at a professional Summer Seminar in Rhetoric and Composition at Michigan State University and was able to eat five days worth of meals at a five-star cafeteria (see this article for more), and the other two days in airports. The food in the cafeteria was especially good. Not what I had in The World Famous Bean at ACU back in the day (over 15 years ago–wow!). The students donned chef coats and cooked the food right in front of you. Amazing!

Many of you followed along during the journey, but if you did not (or if you just want to re-visit some of the pages), you might be interested to see with your eyes the variety of food I ate and the many different options of eating vegetarian. It isn’t all steamed cauliflower and roasted peppers (although those are good!). The pictures are also really pretty! I have included links to each day’s food, including verbal descriptions and visual photos of what I ate at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Background of Experiment, Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four, Day Five, Day Six, Day Seven

Phyllo and Zucchini Strudel with Summer Squash Saute

Though short, this journey opened my eyes to a variety of issues about food, eating, mealtime, fellowship, and myself. I share some of these with you in today’s post. Since it’s Tuesday, let’s just make it part of the Tuesday 12 Series.

1. Eating vegetarian reduces the number of food options available, which simplifies the process of ordering food.

When I go to a restaurant, I scour the menu looking for something to eat. I am not one who orders the same thing each time. I actually order a different meal each time. Even when I cook at home, I rarely make the same thing twice. I like to cook and eat a variety of foods. Sometimes, it takes me at least 15 minutes to decide on something to eat.

But eating vegetarian meant that I was typically given two main meal choices along with soup, salad, and veggies. I didn’t even look what else was being served. I saw the vegetarian options and decided what I wanted. It was so simple. And since I’m trying to simply my life and my mantra is becoming “less is more,” I think simplification is a good thing.

2.    Eating vegetarian does not equal healthy eating.

This may not come as a surprise to vegetarians, but I guess it did to me. I assumed that a vegetarian diet meant a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables and legumes. And it does. But it also includes the oh-so-yummy dairy food group of butter, cheese, and milk, oils (even healthy ones still are high in fat), and desserts. I do think, though, that eating vegetarian means that you can enjoy these foods more often since you aren’t eating high-fat meats and maybe fewer calories. Although I can’t point to any “real” data to back these points up, I can say that I didn’t gain any weight this week–even though I had more dessert than I have had in a very long time.

3.    Meat substitutes taste good (at least most of the ones I ate).

The vegan hot dog wasn’t my favorite, but the ground meat substitutes and the tofu were both tasty and served their respective purposes in the dish.

4.    When you don’t eat meat, people assume you are a vegetarian.

The people at the Seminar assumed I was a vegetarian. I never ate any meat, so, of course, I was a vegetarian (really, this makes logical sense). But what’s interesting is that I never told anyone I was a vegetarian. They just inferred, after looking at my plate, that I was a vegetarian. My suitemate, Karen, knew about my “experiment,” but I didn’t tell anyone else until much later in the week, and only if they asked. I found it really interesting that after the first or second day, many of these colleagues even pointed out vegetarian dishes that they thought tasted (or looked) good. They often directed me to a certain station to make sure I tried one of the vegetarian dishes being served there. I found this quite endearing.

I also noticed that the cafeteria staff made assumptions about me when I ordered the vegetarian option from their station. These assumptions weren’t bad; I just noticed it, that’s all. Vegetarians are typically a certain type of person (more health-conscious, more environmentally-friendly, more liberal, etc.). I could tell this in the questions they asked me and in their friendly smiles and eye contact. This generation of college students (the people working the food stations) seems very aware of the impact, the difference, one person’s personal choices can have on the larger society. To me, they seem more socially aware than my generation, which, I think, is a good shift.

5.    Individuals and restaurants can be very accommodating to vegetarians, vegans, gluten-freers, or others with dietary food requests and restrictions.

Many restaurants these days are conscious of the wide variety of eaters coming in their doors. Many now have a wide variety of options for all kinds of people, and the food is quite comparable. Even when we went over to one person’s house for dinner (who is not a vegetarian or vegan and has no known food allergies), she thought in advance and made vegan hot dogs, gluten-free dishes, dairy-free dips, and many other dishes that people with specialty requests could eat. I find this to be extremely thoughtful.

6.    Eating a vegetarian diet can cause massive problems on your intestines.

Not eating meat can constipate you. It happened to me on Day 2 and lasted until Day 6 (Friday). One colleague at the conference told me to eat more fruits, so that’s what I did. I don’t know if the relief on Friday was the result of eating more fruits or if my body adjusted to a plant-based diet. Either way, I was thankful.

In the same vein, I did notice that bowel movements are not the same (If this topic grosses you out, embarrasses you, or makes you uncomfortable, proceed to #7. If you read on, remember that YOU WERE WARNED!).  Instead of the long, S-shaped pieces of poop Dr. Oz once told Oprah were ideal, my poops were shaped like small round pellets. This happened the entire week, every time.

One interesting benefit/side effect of not eating meat is that your poop smells different; it doesn’t stink quite so bad. I hadn’t really considered this point–that not eating meat would impact the smell of my poop–which is odd considering I have a 9-month baby who doesn’t eat meat yet and whose diaper does not smell near as bad as it will in a few months when we introduce meat into his diet. I’m wondering if this rings true for any vegetarians out there??

7.    Eating less meat is a really good idea.

Eating less meat can be good for your health, as much research on eating a plant-based diet suggests, even if you primarily eat low-fat meats. It can also be good for the environment. I’ve heard it can be more cost-effective and cheaper (Have you noticed how expensive meat is?). It can make you think more reflectively about food and eating and mealtime. It can get you to change normal routines and be more thankful for what you do eat. I could go on and on here, but I firmly believe that eating vegetarian, even if it’s only once in a while–is a good idea.

8.    Eating vegetarian encouraged me to slow down, talk more, listen more, and really pay attention to each and every bite, to savor the flavor and ponder the taste.

I was shocked to see how my eating habits changed when eating vegetarian food. Granted, I was not eating these meals with small children, where the words slow, savor, and ponder don’t often show up. However, I do think it was more than the fact that I was eating with adults. The food I was eating was on my mind the entire time. I studied it. I pondered the food combinations in a dish. I analyzed how I thought the dish was cooked. I questioned what spice was used. I tasted the food, I mean, really tasted the food. I didn’t just eat with my eyes, but I also ate with my mouth…in a deep way that I often miss when eating before. This habit could have been because I was doing an experiment about food. I’ll grant that. But even at other times, I think about food all the time–what I’ll cook, what I need from the grocery store, which food is the healthiest, etc. This time, however, I thought about food while I was eating it. This is a new thing for me–to be conscious of every single bite that goes in my mouth. It was a neat discovery, and I thank this vegetarian experiment for it.

9.    I had more energy throughout the day.

Usually after lunch, I experience what I like to call–“the afternoon crash.” Right after lunch, I suddenly become so sleepy that I can do nothing but think about getting in bed and going to sleep. This feeling of exhaustion is overwhelming. If I am home, I may go take a nap. If not, I just try to make it through the next couple of hours. Either way, this sensation comes almost every day (depending on what I ate at lunch).

Interestingly, I did not experience “the afternoon crash” one time during the entire week, even though we went immediately back into the Seminar for another half day of work. I didn’t get sleepy. I didn’t get tired. I was able to concentrate.

What’s more is that after the Seminar ended for the day, between 5:15 and 5:30, I exercised. I either went to the gym or jogged around campus (all but one of these days when we went over to a colleague’s house for dinner one evening). One might think I would have wanted to lie in bed and read or just rest (this was actually my plan), but I had more than enough energy to work out for well over 45 minutes each day I was there. THIS IS HUGE. And it felt great. My energy level was amazing, and this alone is making me consider being a vegetarian, at least for breakfast and lunch.

10.   I slept better at night.

I am a person who gets up at least twice a night to go to the bathroom. During my time eating vegetarian, I did not get up ONE SINGLE TIME to use the bathroom. I drank just as much and drank it just as late. But I never had to go during the middle of the night. I don’t know if it’s connected or not, but it was an observation so I put this here. I have decided that I probably still needed to go (I had to go badly when I woke up in the morning), but I was sleeping better and was not awakened by the need to go. I’m interested to hear from others: Does this ring true to your experiences?

11.   I felt full and was always satisfied after finishing a meal.

Eating vegetarian can be quite filling. You’re not just eating “rabbit food.” Rather, the meals were satisfying and delightful. And because I ate slower, I was full faster, oftentimes, before I had even finished my plate. It’s interesting how all this works together. I even noticed that I was focusing on what I could eat, rather than what I couldn’t eat. I didn’t even glance at the meat dishes served. I didn’t even miss them–in looks and desire or in taste.

12.   Eating vegetarianism brought me closer to God, the creator of all things.

I have been taught my whole life that, “in the beginning,” humans and animals were vegetarians (Genesis 1:29-30). Even though meat was available, only a plant-based diet was ordained by God. It wasn’t until the flood that God told people they could eat meat (Genesis 9:1-3).

This week reminded me that God is the creator of all food, meat, grains, fruit, vegetables, and other wonderful delicacies. And I thank God for all the food supplied to me. As an American, I recognized how blessed (some would say cursed) I am (we are) to even have the choice to do something like this. Others in the world–too many people–are starving, literally, and here I am able to eat with so much to choose from. I have learned that food is a gift. Eating food is a a git. And being thankful for it should be part of our daily lives…whatever you consider yourself.


Overall, this was an interesting experience. I learned a lot and I’m left with even more questions than with which I began this journey. I hope my experiences have shown you that it isn’t too hard to eat vegetarian once in a while. Even if you would never eat vegetarian for an entire week, I do encourage you to challenge yourself for one meal, probably dinner. I think it’s worth it. Maybe it will make you appreciate where you food comes from. Maybe you already appreciate that. Perhaps you want to see how it impacts your budget, or what a complete vegetarian meal tastes like. Or maybe you just want to pull an April Fool’s Joke on your loved one. Going vegetarian just might be for you.

If you’re interested in this topic or in trying it out for yourself (even one day a week), check out these sources for more information:


One final note, this experiment did not involve me cooking vegetarian food, which would be a different thing entirely. I am so used to cooking food with meat, and I have become quite good at it, and cooking vegetarian “main” meals seems like it would be a challenge. Although I cook vegetables with almost every meal, they are the “side,” the appendage to the meal, the part that my husband could do without. It seems to me that cooking vegetarian would take this challenge to the next level. Maybe that’s what’s next.

Here are some questions I’m considering now:

  • What would “going vegetarian” look like if I actually had to cook all the food? How would the food taste? How would I feel preparing it? What would the food taste like? Would I like it? Is it more difficult to prepare vegetarian foods?
  • How does eating vegetarian impact a food budget?
  • How does eating vegetarian impact my children? Would they go for it? Would they express “not feeling full” or “still being hungry”? How does one move a family toward a vegetarian diet?
  • What would my church family say if I brought a vegetarian dish to the weekly potluck, especially something more “exotic,” like edamame, lentils, and quinoa (yes, these are exotic around here)? Would anyone but me even try it?


Thanks for journeying with me. As always, I love hearing from you (even if you disagree—just be constructive, not rude, demeaning, or mean).

What is your response to this experiment? Would you ever try to eat vegetarian? Why or why not? What are you favorite vegetarian recipes? What is something you have learned about eating vegetarian? What have you noticed? What resources (documentaries, movies, books, cookbooks, etc.) do you recommend that I (or my readers) take a look at? What assumptions do you have about vegetarians?

How I Planned a Teacher Appreciation Banquet and What I Cooked

A few months ago, I had an idea to honor the teachers at our church. Our teachers sacrifice so much of their time, not just on Sunday morning, Sunday afternoon, Wednesday morning, or Wednesday night when they actually teach, but also in the time they spend outside of class planning and preparing and praying. I wanted them to know that I—as a parent of three children and as a student in several adult Bible classes—appreciate them.

I thus decided to host a Teacher Appreciation Banquet for all the teachers in our church—from cradle roll to youth to adults to men’s and women’s classes. I had been to one of these dinners before at a different church when my husband was invited to be the guest speaker, and I thought it was a great idea then. Nothing like this had been done in the almost three years I have been at this church, so now was the right time.

Without talking to anyone except Shane, I put together a proposal for the elders at our church (yes, I teach technical and professional writing and must practice what I preach when it comes to ideas and suggestions). This proposal was complete with a rationale, budget, and agenda. I then distributed it to the elders who discussed it, thought it was a great idea, and approved it. They even told me they would like to help serve the food. Great!

One thing that surprised me through this process was when I learned that nothing like this had ever been done before at this church (at least according to the people I talked to). I’m not sure why, but I can only guess that it didn’t happen because the people who would have done this are all teachers themselves. Most (not all) of the really involved people at our church teach and would not have planned this for themselves.

I began taking pictures and shooting video footage of all the children and youth. I decided on music for the video (it’s hard to beat Ray Boltz’s “Thank You”), and then our youth minister put the video together. I mailed invitations to all of our teachers, planned the menu, bought the food, ordered gifts, and bought lovely rose bouquets for the tables.

The day of the event comes. I had originally intended to ask parents of children and youth whose kids are blessed through these teachers to help me prepare the meal. I thought that was a great idea, but the dinner ended up falling on Memorial Day when many of our young families were busy or out-of-town. So, it was just me and two other people.

Terrie, a sweet woman who is always quick to volunteer to help out.

And Terrie’s daughter Hollie. I did not know Hollie very well beforehand because she currently lives in another town a few hours away, but she just took a teaching position here and will soon be moving back and wanted to help out.

My Helper!

Hollie, and I had a great time preparing the meal. We blabbed the whole time and the six hours we were there went by very quickly (The only way I knew how long I had truly been up there cooking was by how badly my feet hurt!). Here’s Hollies blog post about the event.

Here was the menu:

Strawberry Pecan Salad

Strawberry Pecan Salad

Applewood Smoked Bacon Pork Tenderloin and Dinner Rolls

Applewood Bacon Pork Loin Roast

Twice-Baked Potatoes
I used the Pioneer Woman’s recipe. It is definitely the best recipe I’ve ever tried. A healthy-minded person cannot have these

Twice-Baked Potatoes by Pioneer Woman

Green Bean Bundles
Hollie wrapped at least 200 of these! The Green Bean Bundles I make have butter, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, salt, and pepper. Yum.

Green Bean Bundles

Green Bean Bundles and Twice-Baked Potatoes--Yum!

Dazzle Berry Pie (a light and tart raspberry dish that my sister gave me and I have adapted somewhat)

Dazzle Berry Pie

Here I am holding one of these yummy pies (notice my Sonic drink in the background!).

Holding one of the TEN Dazzle Berry Pies I made.

The tables with the flowers (beautifully arranged by Terrie)

Teacher Appreciation Banquet Tables

Each teacher also received this pitcher as a gift. (I got a great deal on the pitchers, thanks to Jessica Turner at The Mom Creative).

Simple Graces Pitcher Given to All Teachers

I end this post in the same way our video did: In the words of 3-year-old Mallory, “I love you, teachers.”

I hope you have been blessed by a teacher.

Twelve Tips for Saving Money

I am a saver. I like to save money. I like a bargain.

When I was growing up, my dad required my three siblings and I to keep three jars: one labeled Saving, one labeled Spending, and the third labeled God. When we received money of any kind, Three Money Jarswhether it be our meager allowance ($1.00-$3.00) or birthday or Christmas money, we were required to divide the money evenly between the three jars. He wanted us to know how important it was to save, only spend what was available, and give away a large portion of our money as well (33%).

Two of my jars were always full. Can you guess which ones? If you guessed Saving and Spending, you would be correct. I even saved my spending money.

I guess my dad discovered I was a saver early on because by the time I was eight, he put me in charge of balancing the family checkbook (some of you young people don’t even know what that means!). This was a big responsibility and I took it seriously. My husband thinks it is hilarious that I balanced the checkbook because of how poor my math skills are. Balancing the checkbook taught me some things about money. I learned the true value of a buck. I learned how important it is to only spend what you have. I learned the importance of organization.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve become even more of a saver. I especially like it when I can save money in one place (electricity, gas, housing, groceries, etc.) so I can either save it or spend it on something I really like spending my money on, such as traveling with my husband or kids.

For today’s 12 Series, I give you twelve tips for saving money.

1. Cook (and eat) at home. Buying food, cooking it, and eating it–at home–is much cheaper than eating out, especially when you have more than two people to feed. Eating out drains the budget and you will save money if you eat at home. The more people you have to feed, the more expensive it gets to eat out.

Eating at home may not save a single person much money (I can’t speak to this anymore). But I do know that it can be quite cheap (even for one). If you’re scared by cooking, just try it. Begin with a recipe that takes 15 minutes. You’ll be amazed how quick you pick it up. After ten years, I now like to cook and feel confident in my skills. Plus, the food I make at home is much healthier than the food in restaurants around here. There are many reasons to eat at home.

People often say it’s more expensive to cook healthy food. I don’t really agree with this assumption, especially when you compare how full you get when you eat healthy food versus how much more you eat when you eat junk food. But, even if you think healthy food is more expensive (which I don’t), I think it’s one area worth spending the extra money on. Good food equals good health, and paying extra for things that are good for my body and my spirit and my family is fine with me.

2. Don’t be enticed by marketing ploys that promise “the best sale ever.” Seriously, don’t. Resist the temptation to sign up for emails from Pottery Barn, Ann Taylor Loft, Pier One, Children’s Place, Old Navy, and all those other stores that offer big sales and discounts.

The goal of these emails is not to save you money, contrary to the subject line in the email. Their goal is to get you in their store so you will spend money.

If you hadn’t gotten that email saying, “Everything at the store is 40% off!!”, you wouldn’t have gone to the store anyway! Unsubscribe from these email alerts. Even when places offer coupons through email (like Bealls or Target), you can often find them on their websites, or, when you are at the counter checking out, just ask if they have any coupons you can use and they will most likely give it to you or just apply the discount to your purchase.

Emails aren’t the only place retailers get you, though. TV commercials are another way they do it, especially with our children. If you have DVR, skip through the commercials. If you don’t, tell your children to get up and go do something during the commercials so they aren’t manipulated into wanting more “stuff” that just clutters your house and your life.

Do not be enticed. Resist temptation. Flee from it…quickly. When we give in, we always end up spending more money than we would have had we not known about these “sales” in the first place. Less is more.

3. Buy from Amazon. I have a lot of friends who refuse to buy from Amazon (or Wal-Mart) for moral reasons or for fear these big companies will destroy small, local businesses. I respect those positions. I have thought them at one time or another.

But, ever since moving to a small country town, I have become Amazon-obsessed. Here’s why. Their stuff is competitively priced. I can get new and used stuff for low prices, probably the cheapest on the planet. I also live in a small town that doesn’t always have what I need, which means that I would have to drive 45 minutes to one hour to get what I need. Gas is expensive and driving that far takes up a lot of my time. So, I use Amazon. They deliver right to my door.

I also have a Prime membership, which one of my college roommates convinced me to get, and I’m so glad I listened to her advice. Prime offers free two-day shipping on almost everything (even big, expensive things like playground equipment and furniture), free returns, and free streaming on thousands of movies and TV shows (saves rental fees). I encourage you to check it out.

I also shop at Amazon because of “Amazon Mom” (they also have Amazon student for college students) and “Subscribe and Save.” I use Subscribe and Save to buy diapers, wipes, oatmeal, paper towels, and many other household items. With the Amazon Mom discount added to the Subscribe and Save discount, you end up saving a lot of money.

One last reason I use Amazon is because they are tax-free in Texas. I feel a bit guilty admitting this as a reason because I think we all have a responsibility to pay taxes to live here, but I also want to save money, so I still buy from them. This will all be changing soon, though, because starting July 1, Amazon will no longer be tax-free in Texas. We can thank the Lone Star State for that! (Note the sarcasm.) They sued Amazon over back-taxes and reached a settlement, so now we all have to pay taxes. I guess I’ll be buying a lot of items at our state’s annual tax-free weekend.

4. Buy in bulk. I try to avoid eating a lot of non-perishable food items (see #2 above), and I eat food that is fresh, refrigerated, or frozen as much as possible (food located in the U-shape of the grocery store). However, there are some items located in the center aisles that I do buy, and I try to buy in bulk whenever possible. I buy bigger bags of cereals, canned goods, snack foods, pasta, beans, and household items like toothpaste, shampoo, and paper towels. We don’t have a Costco nearby, but there is a Sam’s Club in Waco where I buy most of my bulk items. I also buy a lot of these bulk goods at Amazon through Subscribe and Save.

5. Conserve in your home. Turn out the lights in rooms you are not using (better yet, use natural light). Adjust the thermostat according to your comings and goings (and don’t forget to do it!). Buy a programmable thermostat that won’t let you forget. Weatherproof your home. Don’t use as much water. Wash dishes by hand. Use more cold water.

6. Set a budget. Setting a budget and sticking to it has helped our family immensely. It also keeps me sane and lets me know where our money is going.

7. Don’t purchase books (printed or digital) unless absolutely necessary and, if necessary, buy used. I’m sure this advice seems odd, given I’m an English professor, but I believe spending less on books is an important way to save, and it’s an easy expense to drop when you want to save money. Instead, check out books from the library. Most libraries now offer digital lending services where you can download books to your Kindle. And all of this is free. LibraryIf you have an Amazon Prime account (and a Kindle), you can check out Amazon’s Lending Library where you can check out a variety of books. They also have a variety of free Kindle books for purchases–new ones are added all the time.

You can also ask your local library if they have an Interlibrary Loan (ILL) department.

If you live near a university, see if you can get a library card there. You’ll have an even greater selection to choose from and most of them have wonderful ILL Departments where you can order any book you want from other libraries (and it’s free!). You can also borrow books from friends or buy used books.

I am somewhat hypocritical when it comes to children’s books and scholarly books for my work. Although I use the library extensively in both of these cases, there are some books that I must own.

8. Shop consignment stores. I buy my children clothes from consignment stores (The only new clothes they get is given to them by their grandparents.). I’m not at all ashamed of this because not only does it save money but it is also good for the environment. I also shop in the off-season when everything is on clearance. It’s getting a bit harder to find used clothes for Elizabeth. She’s in a size 7/Medium and most clothes in her size are worn out because of how long children stay in one size. I can still find dresses and jeans, but t-shirts and shorts are much more difficult.

There are places that sell cheap kids’ clothes (i.e., Target, Wal-Mart, Kohls, Ross, Marshalls), but I am somewhat hesitant to buy from these places because if it is THAT cheap to consumers, then most likely the person who made it was not paid a fair wage and that bothers me (but that’s for a different post).

9. Spend less. Spending less doesn’t seem like it should be an entry on ways to save money because it’s so obvious, but I think it’s an important one. If you spend less, you will save money. We live in a materialistic, competitive culture that tells us to find our identity in material things and stuff, but this doesn’t bring true fulfillment or happiness. Spend less. Just do it.

10. Garden. Our garden is beginning to produce vegetables, and we are so excited. We’ve already eaten cucumbers, zucchini, squash, and peppers from the garden and tomatoes, onions, and watermelon are almost ready. Last year, our garden produced so many tomatoes that I was able to make marinara and pasta sauce for the entire year. We just ran out in March. That saved us a lot of money.

11. Pay bills online. I was a latecomer to online bill pay, but I’ve been doing it for over 3 years now, and I find it fast, convenient, cheap, and easy. No stamps. No envelopes. And it’s free (if you’re paying for it, find a different bank).

12. Spend only what you have. Here at Casa de Alexander, we use the Cash System to help us spend only what we have. We take cash out each month (it’s all electronic, so we don’t have all that cash lying around in our house, but it’s the theory). We have been able to get out of almost all of our debt by spending only what we have in the bank.

These are just a few of my tips. I know there are hundreds of other ways to save money. I’d love to hear ideas of how you save money or spend less.

We Were Swinging

Some family visited us this weekend. City folks. My mom and younger sister Kellee and her adorable daughter Olivia.

Olivia at 17 months

Sweet Olivia

My mom is from Houston and my sister is from Dallas. We live about halfway in between the two cities, so they met in the middle at my house for the weekend. We enjoyed ourselves. We didn’t “do” much–not as much as we would have had we gone to one of their homes, or to my other sister Kim’s house in Austin. There, we probably would have taken the kids somewhere to do some activity (i.e., a museum, a splash pad, a well-known park, a great restaurant, the movies, shopping). The activity would have been a lot of fun, but it would probably have cost a lot of money and we would have been on-the-go the whole time.

In this small town, we don’t have as much access to these kinds of experiences. Sure, we could have driven to Waco, which is about an hour away, but Kellee’s house is only an hour and fifteen minutes away. Why would we do that? And our small town does have some enticing places to eat as well as a wonderful state park just a few miles away.

But, they didn’t really come here to spend more time in the car. They came here knowing we probably wouldn’t do very much. They came to rest. To relax. To take things slow. To get away. To enjoy the slow pace.

And it was the simplicity of our weekend that they seemed to enjoy the most. This says a lot coming from my mom who likes to be busy and “doing” things. She is constantly on the go and likes it that way. But not this weekend. She was the one who kept insisting that we just take things slow.

Friday night, we did have one event. We went to Elizabeth’s t-ball game. She played the best game of her (3-year!) career, and it was a lot of fun.

Elizabeth at t-ball game

My mom with Levi

Nana with Levi

Saturday morning, we watched the kids swim in the kiddie pool and play on the jungle gym.

My mom, Kellee, and I sat in one of our porch swings for much of the day, drinking our Sonic drinks and talking.

Kellee and Olivia

My sister Kellee and niece OliviaLevi (9 months) playing in the pool

Swinging awaySaturday afternoon we walked over to our church to attend a Fish Fry. None of us really knew what to expect and, to be honest, we were a bit skeptical of how the food would taste or what it would be like.

I guess some people from my church are reading my blog because one woman was very surprised that I had never attended one before because “it isn’t a country thing; it’s a lake thing.” My family went camping two to three times a year when I was younger, and we would fish. We caught perch and catfish, but we always threw it back. Even if we were to catch something worth eating, my dad didn’t have the supplies to clean and fry the fish, so we always threw it back.

But there’s just something about fresh fish. It is scrumptious. The fish we ate was breaded with flour and coated with a delicious mix of spices. It was flaky, yet crispy and so very tasty. We also ate our fill of hushpuppies (which Peyton kept calling “cheese balls” because they were so soft in the middle), cole slaw, potato salad, baked beans, and all kinds of desserts. I hope I can attend many more fish fries while I’m in the country (And it was really nice not to have to cook it but to enjoy someone else cooking for me for a change!).

After the fish fry, we went back home, put the kids to bed and sat in the backyard on the swing for the rest of the evening. The breeze rustled the trees. The birds tweeted and chirped. Our dog Shiloh ran around and licked our feet (they did not like that). It was even cool enough that my mom wore a lightweight jacket. We enjoyed the smell of the night air and the cooler weather, knowing it would not last much longer. Summer heat and humidity would be coming soon.

And we kept swinging. Even long after it got dark. We were swinging, back and forth. Enjoying the quiet of the country.

This was a relaxing weekend for us all. It was peaceful, restful, and simple. If you were to ask us what we did all weekend, I would say, “We were swinging.” I was glad that my family got to experience a little bit of my life, to see why this city girl likes the country.


Anxiety Abatement: 12 Ways to Simplify Your Home

Today is the first post in my 12 series.

I write today about simplifying your home by clearing out the clutter–physical clutter, such as toys, books, and decor; environmental clutter that increases anxiety; and emotional clutter like distraction.

I have my own issues with clutter. Last fall, I stayed home with my new baby. I work outside of the home, but my wonderful university gave me a semester-long maternity leave when I had my baby at the beginning of the term. During this time at home–almost every single day–I came to realize that I did not like being at home. I was shocked by this revelation. I really thought I would like staying at home.

I have a nice home. And I like my stuff. But I disliked being at home because of the constant mess. I didn’t like looking at the junk, and I mostly stayed in one or two rooms so that I didn’t have to see the rest of the house. Too much clutter.

I decided to do something about it.

Today, I present to you 12 ways to simplify your home, to de-clutter your home so that you can find the emotional sanity you need and truly live your life in focus. These items are not ranked in order of most important, but I chose to number them to make it easier to skim the list.

1. Consign, sell, or donate at least 2/3s of your toys. Seriously, do it. Over the past several months, I have been cleaning out the toys. It’s been easy to get rid of the ones my kids have outgrown. If we don’t need it anymore, I’ve gotten rid of it. I also tried to get rid of toys that limit creativity or originality, toys that come in such a pre-form package that they do not allow children to use their imagination. My daughter’s Barbie dolls are the only things that I have yet to throw out in this vein. She has about 10 of them. I told her she can keep 2. She’s deciding which ones and then they are gone.

The hardest part for me has been to dwindle down the toys to a very small stack. But I have tried. I only have one more room to do. The results? It’s been freeing for my children. Their rooms are neater. Cleaning up is not quite as big of a task. They don’t seem so stressed out or overwhelmed when I ask them to clean up. I’ve also noticed that they are playing more. They aren’t coming to me saying their bored. They know where their toys are, and they want to play with them and then pick them up. As I was separating the toys into consignment or donation piles, I also added one more pile–a rotating pile. I put the rotating pile into one storage bin and moved it to our garage. Eventually, I will rotate the toys in the bin out with the toys in their room. My kids are enjoying their clutter-free spaces. And I am enjoying their better attitudes and their renewed interest in the toys they have.

2. Cook the same meals (or types of meals) each week. I like to cook gourmet meals. I like to eat good food. I like to watch cooking shows and discover new recipes. And I must admit, I’m still trying to put this one into practice. We have simplified our weekly menu by instituting Pizza Night, a tradition going strong for several years now. The problem here is that I’m the only one who’s known about this weekly event. I cook and plan the menus and having one weekly meal on my list has made meal-planning and grocery-shopping easier. My kids know that we have pizza a lot (it’s my daughter’s favorite food), but until recently, I didn’t call it Pizza Night. I am learning, however, that children need to experience anticipation, so I plan on communicating meals like “Pizza Night” to my children. Over the summer, I plan to institute “Meatless Monday,” “Pasta Night,” and a “Mystery Dinner.”

If you were to take this tip one step further, you might even designate the exact meal: chicken spaghetti, soup, chicken tenders, breakfast-for-dinner, lasagna, etc., so that the meals are simplified even further. I don’t think this would work for me because of my own interests as a cook, but if it works for you, great. Go for it. The goal here is to simplify meal-planning, cooking, and eating and for all to experience joy at the dinner table.

3. Get rid of all those extra cookbooks on the shelf. Admit it, you probably don’t use half the cookbooks you have on the shelf. I just went and counted my cookbooks. I have at least 50 (and I just got rid of about 30–still working on the others!). I probably only use 8 of them. But the others are special to me, so I’ve kept them. I still have too many, though. My sign should be that they don’t all fit on the bookshelf I have in my kitchen. Still trying…

4. Play a game. Indoor or outdoor. As a family. With your child. By yourself. Play a pick-up game of basketball. Play Horse or Knock-Out (I recently played this with my 7-year-old nephew and my brother-in-law Derek, and it brought back so many memories of playing these games in middle school and high school. I loved it!). Play a baseball game where the trees in your backyard are your bases. Play board games like Candy Land, Chess, Monopoly, or Checkers. Play Double 9 dominoes, Uno, Spades, or Memory. Anything your kid likes. Or, make up your own game, complete with materials and rules.

5. Try to filter out the adult world from your children. Try this for one week: No fights with your spouse. No negative comments about other adults (friends, teachers, church people, the president, politicians, relatives, in-laws). No inappropriate content coming to your children through the TV (especially the morning and evening news or certain video games that can desensitize us to violence). Instead, be present with your children. Talk to them at the dinner table or when they come inside from the backyard. Listen to them. Learn about their world, their interests. And let me know how it goes.

6. Donate all those books on your bookshelf to your library. My husband and I both went to graduate school, where we were required to buy hundreds of books for our courses and our research. Most of those are at our respective offices, but many have entered our home. If you don’t use it or think you will use it, get rid of it.

But graduate school books are the least of our worries when it comes to books in the home. Novels, Christian books, self-help books, biographies, and children’s books are of much greater concern. I must admit that I am cheap when it comes to books. I don’t like to spend money on books. I go to the library at least once a week. Any book my local library doesn’t have I can get through my university’s interlibrary loan service (which is awesome). That being said, I still have a lot of books. People give books to me because I am an English teacher, and, hey, I like books. But I don’t like books to clutter my shelves. I used to think having books in your home was a sign of intelligence and brilliance and being smart. Just think of all those movies where smart, rich people have these amazing libraries with the movable ladder. But now I don’t really care to live up to that standard. Books and bookshelves lead to clutter. So, get rid of your books. Getting rid of the children’s books has been the hardest part for me. I put some of them in the rotating pile and got rid of at least three shelves’ worth. I now have three shelves of books–one shelf for each kid. That’s still a lot, I know. But we do read a lot and we read a lot of the same books, so I’ve kept a few.

7. Consign or donate your unworn clothes. Seriously, do it. It is liberating. Go through your clothes, your spouse’s clothes, your kids clothes. Consign clothes that don’t fit or that are out of style. If you have gained or lost a lot of weight recently, get rid of the clothes in the different size. Even if you lose that weight (or gain it back), those clothes will be out of style. And it will make you feel better when you are getting dressed each day not to be staring at those other sizes.

8. Turn off the TV. At least 2 days a week, no TV allowed. Try it. It’s amazing how much more time you have to do things you love to do–and things that will make you feel so much better about yourself than watching 4 hours of TV every night. Read, write, cook, eat, talk, scrapbook, exercise. Find a passion and turn off that screen.

9. When you feel yourself getting overwhelmed at the mess, take 15 minutes to do a quick pick-up of the house. Toys and mess can be overwhelming for adults, too, and setting a limit on how much time you spend picking up is good for you, too. Get the kids involved. Make it a game. We did this recently and it was the fastest, most fun clean-up we’ve ever had. I set the timer and provided an incremental countdown of how much time we had left. The older kids were so excited. They kept coming back to ask, “How much more time?!!” Fun will be had by all.

10. Read more. Take the time to read that mountain of books on your nightstand. You will have more to contribute to discussions with your husband or your friends. You will learn something. You will feel good about yourself. You will grow as a person.

11. Make it a goal to have 2 entire days or evenings of unstructured time at home. Nothing planned. Nothing scheduled. Except being with your family and letting your kids run free. They can know you are there and come to you when they need you, but don’t plan an activity–even in the home. If your kids get bored, tell them, “Well, then, something amazing is about to happen.” Just be. Your kids will appreciate it in the long run. And you will, too.

12. Pray more, and dwell in the presence of the Lord as often as possible. In the rush of my busy life, I must admit that personal time with God often gets lost first. I used to have quiet time in the morning. But with young children, such a goal is idealistic rather than realistic, and I won’t beat myself up over not being able to have this peaceful time the same way I did as a single woman. Instead, I have learned–through the gentle love of some older, wiser women–how to integrate prayer and God into my day rather than save a single time or space for it. I like this idea. I’m still not very good at it, though. I am trying, though.

This list is far from comprehensive. These changes take time. Change is a process, not a one-time fix. I merely offer some things that have worked for me. They’ve helped make our family closer. They’ve allowed my kids to open up to me in ways they hadn’t before. They’ve decreased my own anxiety and have helped me deal with the feelings I have being in my own home.

What tips do you have to make your home a peaceful place?