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?