And for my #3 trick…

I have to admit, it bothered me to think that I would be giving up cooking elaborate dinners for my family in order to save time, energy and sanity.  It was a close call between going back to school to get my masters in teaching or to train to become a chef.  But as anyone who has worked in a kitchen knows, having a family with small children makes restaurant work painful.  However, cooking is magical for me, time flows differently when I am in the kitchen, measuring, tasting…it makes your family gleam with delight when they drag in after a long school day only to breathe in the comforting aroma of home cooked delights.  Friends are welcomed around a table full of fresh cooked meals.  Everything that I love is put into my cooking.  When my life is a mess and I am reminded that I know so very little about this life, I do know that if you throw flour, fresh herbs, baking soda, salt and some milk together and deep fry it in just the right way and your taste buds dance.

So, last weekend when the kids and I bounced happily into the library (well, they bounced, I sort of Quasimodo dragged in with Bubba the baby gorilla glued to my hip) I was determined to find some help in my quest to accomplish my 3rd resolution, make great, healthy, delicious, and quick meals for my family.  This felt a bit daunting.  Perusing through the cooking section of any library always reminds me of sifting through used cars at the local lot.  There are a lot of lemons out there and you don’t find out until it’s too late.  Most of them require a ton of detail and almost always a small fortune in parts.  We currently live in the Mojave desert (no, I’m not kidding).  There isn’t exactly a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s within reasonable distance so if I need Kefir Limes or Teleggio Cheese last minute, I better just simply be prepared to forget the meal altogether and dig out the pasta.  Thankfully, the cooking section of our library turned out smaller than expected.  There was of course the expeced books on meat, pasta, veggies, and fish.  I quickly ran into Rachael Ray, Mario Batali, Bobby Flay and an army of Food Network mafioso.  Then, just as I began glazing over and Bubba started pulling books off shelves, an unexpected blessing slipped into my fingers.  Ainsley Harriott’s  Gourmet Express caught my attention with the word express.  This would imply quick, simple and easy.  Interest peaked, I flipped through the pages with one hand while breaking apart apple cinnamon puffs and shoving them at Bubba with the other.  His interest in the cooking aisle was waning quickly since I insisted he not gnaw on the books.  The recipes appeared simple, it had small ingredient lists with cooking times ranging from 30 to 45 minutes.  I could do this.  I snapped up the book and did something I hadn’t done in years…I planned my week of dinners out and actually felt really good about it.

I started with the recipes that included items I had the most of in the house to keep my budget intact and dove into Monday with glee.  Hot Crispy Cajun Chicken Sandwich and Roasted Tomato with Creme Fraiche, all I needed was fresh boneless chicken breast and some creme fraiche.  Skipping off to the commissary with Bubba in tow, we discovered that all the plain, boneless chicken was gone.  Of course, why would there be plain chicken??  This is a problem.  I found Foster’s Chicken had a teriyaki chicken breast hidden behind a line of wings.  Could I substitute?  Well, if I expected to eat anything close to what I planned, substitution was going to be imperative.  I found a coupon for .75 cents off the chicken (which turned the trip into a semi score, at least I wasn’t paying full price for the chicken I really didn’t want to begin with), and hurried home.  The prep time for everything took about 15 minutes.  Cooking was simple.  Fry the chicken (which was already seasoned so I could skip that step), roast the soup ingredients, blend, sandwich, serve.  My husband reported loving the food.  The kids said they would definitely want to eat it again, and only one asked if she had to finish the soup.  But to the recipes defense, she dislikes tomatoes immensely, so the mere fact that she ate half of it was a testament to it’s edibility.  I looked around when I finished and noticed we were done eating before 7pm, a new thing for us.  The dirty dish level was moderate, but only because I had to use a food processor and could not find my strainer and ended up using a steamer basket to very inefficiently strain the seeds and pulp from my soup.  This was after trying my ricer and then my fryer screen.  Cooking with Ainsley Harriott is going to make my life simpler, and regardless of my husband’s extreme dislike of Indian food, we will be eating every recipe in that book.  Bubba may even get a blended version.

The finished teriyaki chicken sandwich with “monster” cheese and the roasted veggies pre-blend

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And the beat goes on…

A mountain in the Arizona desert, this photo always seems to bring me peace

Trying to find time for myself has indeed proven itself to be a challenge.  It has been quite a few days longer than I wanted since I last posted, and initially I felt like I was not giving en0ugh time to this, but really the last couple of days provided me with time to think about what I wanted to accomplish here.  If someone were to actually read my random and scattered thoughts, what did I want them to be looking at?  Who am I doing this for anyway…me, others, the voices in my head?  And then it hit me, I cannot be the only stay at home mom who has thrown herself into her family so deeply that sometimes she wonders just what happened to that really interesting, fun, smart individual who filled her skin previously.  Staying at home is a privilege and an honor, right? So why do I feel as if I work twice as hard as when I was employed full time?  Between the baby, household chores, cooking, children and husband, some days I’m not even sure I remember what life was like pre-family.  My wonderful husband and I used to discuss politics, art, music, feelings etc…and now I am lucky if I can talk about anything other than the kids, play dates and groceries.  I was only single for a brief period of time between my first and my current marriage.  Of course, I very romantically married my high school sweetheart the first time so we had been together almost 13 years when that fell apart.  Ahh, young love…the stupidity is endless and the collateral damage is never ending.

Anyway, I have digressed as usual.  This blog is meant to accomplish a few things in my life.  It is supposed to force me into spending time with my own thoughts, away from the other people who share my domain and constantly deserve love and affection.  Alone time is so precious and yet so easy to give away these days.  Blogging will also help me gather my scattered ideas, establish goals and become accountable for achieving them.  So I have decided to list my 2012 resolutions here.

1. Become an employed teacher by the end of this year-I earned my Master’s in the Art of Teaching from St. Mary’s College of Maryland last year.  This was done all while raising 4 children, being pregnant and giving birth and trying to keep my sanity.  I managed to maintain a 4.0 GPA but am afraid I lost some of the sanity.  I will have to get certified to teach in my new state since we moved across country when I graduated (Maryland already felt I was decent enough to teach there), apply for positions and size the carp once I find a great job. 

2.  Edit my wardrobe to fit a “333” challenge-I purchased new clothes when I decided to return to school and earn my degree as a teacher, when I began, I was a size 6.  Two months into the program I got knocked up (this is not to say we didn’t try to not get pregnant, I had an IUD and still managed to have my last little blessing but that is another post), and had to but MORE clothes.  Of course, I wasn’t pregnant forever and had to buy even more clothing to finish my year.  I shop at thrift stores mostly but my closet has become a monster.  Time to edit and live life more minimally.  I will have 33 pieces of clothing that a. fit, b. look good and c. make me feel great.  Everything else will be donated, upcycled or turned into hand towels.

3. Cook gourmet meals that do not strain my time or my budget-It was a close call between becoming a teacher or a chef.  I love to cook, bake and make stuff, so it’s become almost expected that dinners (and any other meal that the family is home) will be elaborate and delicious.  My wonderful husband suggested I use more “convenience” items to cook in order to save my sanity and time.  I hate pre-prepared foods, anything with words I cannot pronounce and ingredients that come from things I wouldn’t eat if it weren’t ground up and dyed bright colors shouldn’t go into my family’s mouths.  So I have decided to find new recipes from great chefs that will help keep healthy whole foods in my house and yet not take 3 days to prepare. 

4. Make many household items myself to save money and the environment-Laundry soap, liquid hand soap, dish detergent, facial cleanser, cleaners, deodorant etc…I have made all of it at some point or another and it works just as well if not better than the commercial kind.  Giant corporations make billions of dollars off the American people for products that cost a fraction of what they charge.  I’m sick and tired to forking my money over for things that hurt my body, the environment and my wallet.  Time to take charge of my household!

5.  Coupon, Coupon, Coupon-While I may not ever be on that ultimate couponer show, I want to save cash when I buy anything.  It may take extra time, attention and thought, but saving 50%-80% on food and household goods is worth every moment I can give.  Is it really necessary to charge $3.00-$5.00 for a box of friggin’ cereal?  Why does one pair of underwear cost $15.00?  And why in hell are we o.k. with spending astronomical amounts for healthy food? 

6.  Actually put money into my savings account every month-Pay yourself first.  I had a wonderful friend who always knew what kind of financial advice to give.  At 70 years old, he had retired a millionaire having grown up a poor coal minors son in rural West Virginia.  I can safely say, I listened, took notes and hoped to apply his knowledge some day.  Well, some day is here and I am ready to start saving and earning money.

7. Resume working out-After a long and stressful pregnancy that included many bouts of bed rest, I found my body had not really bounced back to it’s original shape.  Yes, I’ve lost almost all the baby weight, but stuff just isn’t as “high” as it used to be.  At one point in time I trained to join the FBI, it never happened, but I was in excellent physical shape after having lost over 100 pounds.  I want to feel good about my fitness and health again.  Time to bust out the P90X and the running stroller…

8.  Give my children individual attention that they deserve-It wasn’t that long ago my oldest daughter was a baby, now she is almost 13.  I want to remember their growing up and not take the time I have with them for granted.  Every week I will make it a point to spend time with them as a family as well as alone.  You only have one chance to be with and influence your children before they leave the nest and I am determined to make this happen.

9.  Travel-We have been blessed to be a military family.  This gives us so many opportunities to see and experience things many other people miss out on.  Our current duty station may not have much to offer in the way of immediate excitement, but there is so much to do just within driving distance that I will kick myself if I don’t take advantage of it while we are here.  I will travel at least once a month to a new place.

10.  Give just as much time to myself as I do to my family-I love and adore my husband.  There is no other man, (besides my grandfather) that I respect and admire than him.  He is my rock, my best friend, my most honest critic and biggest supporter.  We are together simply because we want to be, and I hope my children find a partner just as I have found who fills their life with joy.  My 5 children give me reason to be excited about life.  They challenge me daily to be my best, love fully and remember what it is like to be a child.  I want to give these people my best everyday, but to do that I must remember to give to myself just as often.  You have to fill your own tank if you expect to bring anyone else along for the long haul, and my tank has been running on fumes for a while.   

11. Use my NICE THINGS-When I die, I don’t want to have full bottles of expensive perfume, perfect, chip free china, unused tea sets, sparkling unworn jewelry.  I want to use it now, while I can really enjoy it and pass on the live for today attitude to my children. 

And there it is, my year list.  I’m sure I will have a bucket list someday as well, but for now, one day and one item at a time.

Of course it’s 1am…

When the sun goes down everyone should be sleeping…

What else would I be doing but blogging at 1 am?! Well really I meant to start at the new year, but we can see how that turned out. Actually, if I were honest, I would admit that I wanted to begin when I went back to school last year, but alas, another project put aside for a time that would not interfere with my family. Apparently 1 am is ideal for not interrupting everyone else’s day, not so perfect for my sagging under eyes but hey, I’m making me time here right, and that was number one on my New Year’s Resolution list.

Ahhhhh, precious me time, my last bastion of personal sanctitude. It’s hard to say exactly when it started slipping slowly from my open hand. It was probably initiated by the birth of my oldest child and unraveled then blew away like a rogue kite very quickly after that. Picture a small child desperately chasing their precious lost kite string as the wind carries it further and further out of reach and you might have the idea. If some were to have explained to the high school version of myself that in less than 10 years I would be married, divorced, remarried, pregnant, going through a master’s program and raising five (yes, gasp, five) children, I think I may have just started a Prozac drip then, either that or I would have changed my DARE policy of “be alcohol and drug free” a whole lot sooner. Please don’t be mistaken, I would not trade the life I have now, but I might be willing to bargain for just a smudge more of those sanity saving moments that have fallen by the wayside. If only the members of my family unit had a little more perspective, like, a walk in the shoes kinda deal, they might be able to ward of my seemingly brief insane bursts of hostility.

The other people sharing my living space simply do not comprehend the mom position like they should. Let me briefly elaborate. My husband, (who I love and respect more than almost anyone else)decided that tonight, when the baby awoke for the third time in less than 3 hours since we’d both adjourned for the evening, he would turn off the baby monitor in the bedroom. He then proceeded to fall quickly back to sleep and failed to let me know the monitor was off. His common sensical explanation…..the baby crying (because of gas) was keeping him up. Really? How do you make that point to a sleep deprived individual and not end up with some sort of sharp object being waved at you?

So anyway, 1 am, you and I will be compadres for now. I will steal back my me time when there is no one clamoring for food, begging for attention and just generally sucking at various parts of me. Tomorrow has already arrived, and I will be carping the diem in just a few hours.