Top Ten Ways to Make the School Year Smooth

  1. Easy dinners – I love making fresh, healthy meals. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that a homemade meal–even if it’s quick and easy–is much healthier than ordering pizza every night. I try to follow the rule that I can only make one “complex” dish per night. For example, if we’re having burgers (easy), I can make frozen green beans (easy) and couscous and black bean salad (more time consuming).
  2. Pizza once a week – I’m going to budget to order pizza once a week. We have church plans on two weeknights, and I tutor after school one of those days. I don’t have time to cook and clean up afterwards. In the past, I would have cooked at home anyways and been depressed about how messy my kitchen was for 80% of the week. No more! Besides, I am very popular around here when I order pizza.
  3. Date Night – We used to cram date night into a week night, and then I’d want to eat out again on Friday because I was so exhausted after a long work week. We’ve moved date night to Friday night, and now I have something to look forward to all week!
  4. Delegating – With pizza night and date night out of the way, I’ll only cook on three week nights. We’ve made an arrangement that Dexter and Luke (our renter) will each do all the dishes once a week, so I’ll only do dishes one night a week! Luke and our future second renter will also clean the upstairs bathroom–so all I have to clean is a half bath.
  5. Decluttering – We’ve worked hard this summer to get rid of a lot of stuff. We’ve even give away the now-empty plastic totes we stored our junk in so we’re not tempted to re-fill the empty spaces. Having fewer possessions means I have fewer responsibilities. We’re not finished yet, but I can already feel the weight lifted from my shoulders!
  6. Waking up on time – Even though we’re almost 26 and have been married for 5 years, Dexter and I are awful about waking up on time. No amount of morning misery has been able to convince us to just get out of bed when the alarm goes off. We’ve instituted an extrinsic reward system to pry us off our buns in the morning: our Friday night date budget hinges on our waking up on time. For every week day we wake up at the designated time, $5 goes in the date night fund. Needless to say, I had a very productive morning today!
  7. Prep the night before – I am notorious for saying, “I’ll do it in the morning.” This is a dangerous thing for a person who can’t wake up to say. (See #6) From now on, I’m making lunches, getting my bag ready, and even picking out my clothes the night before. No more stressful mornings for me!
  8. Family calendar – Dexter and I will have two friends renting rooms in our house this fall. With four adults sharing our home, and three adults eating together, it’s important to know who is going to be where, when. Instead of making an ever-effective “mental note,” we got a big family calendar with plenty of room to write. I think I use it the most, and even if no one else touches it all year, it’s taking away my burden to remember everything all the time.
  9. Saying no – I’m trying to realize that there are some things I won’t be able to do as much as I’d like, and some things I won’t be able to do at all. I haven’t run for a couple of weeks because of school activities (and I didn’t run for a couple of weeks before that). I’d like to keep running, but it may not be four times a week like it was in the past. And I’m deciding to be okay with that.
  10. Having ONE priority – We often talk about our “priorities,” but only one priority can be at the top of the list. I’m making an extra effort to keep my relationship with God at the top of my list at the expense of a clean house, of time to run, and of time to blog.

I’m linking up with OhAmanda’s Top Ten Tuesday.


Market Monday

This week, I forgot to stop for cash on my way to the farmers’ market, so I could only use our CSA punch card for purchases. But as you can see, I came home with plenty.

We’ll eat the green beans as a side with “tuna bake,” a casserole my mom made when I was a kid that Dexter has requested for dinner this week.

We bought regular large eggs, but then decided to get a carton of pullet eggs (left), which are the first eggs a hen lays when they are less than a year old. They are smaller than standard eggs. Some people think they are richer than standard eggs, but our pastured eggs from Salt Fork Farms are so good that it doesn’t really matter if they’re big or small.

The cherry tomatoes were just for Dexter. Although his sweet tooth usually pulls him toward things more like this, he loves popping back tomatoes. I don’t get it, but I do support the habit.

The onions and zucchini will go in spaghetti sauce, in omelets, and atop huevos rancheros.

We devoured the potatoes Saturday night with burgers. I tried an Amy’s veggie burger for the first time.

Last week, I had high hopes for cooking meals and following recipes. I’ve realized that since school has started, quick meals are the only ones that are going to get made. This week we’ll be eating:

  • Huevos rancheros, yogurt
  • Tuna bake, green beans
  • Omelets with zucchini, onion, and cheese
  • Spaghetti with store bought sauce ramped up with onions and zucchini, salad

What did you find at the farmers’ market this week?

Top Ten Sugary Things I Will Miss

Photo Credit: inya (click for source)

I recently discovered that a not-too-serious heart condition I have (mitral valve prolapse) may be the culprit behind some breathing problems I’ve had for the past six years. I gave up caffeine a few weeks ago, and can’t tell if there’s much of a difference in my breathing. There’s agreement all across the internet that the really important thing is to cut sugar out of your diet. I was desperately hanging onto hope that I could keep my sugar if I gave up caffeine, but it wasn’t meant to be.

In the long run, I won’t cut sugar completely out of my diet. I’ll have the occasional piece of birthday cake or a treat on a special day (I hope!), but in order to see if sugar is the key to my breathing trouble, I’ll be cutting it out completely for a while.

These are the top ten things I’m missing without sugar in my diet.

  1. Pop. I don’t drink pop very often–I never want a whole  glass. But I do love the occasional fizzy sip of Dexter’s Coke.
  2. Apple cider doughnuts. This farmers’ market tradition will have to be replaced with something savory, like a local burrito or an heirloom tomato and basil auf lauf.
  3. Chocolate chip cookies. These cookies beat out any fancy schmancy desert I can think of. The crispy-chewy-sweet-salty-chocolatey goodness will be hard to go without.
  4. Honey in my tea. I’m thinking that when I decide to cheat (and I plan to cheat if I can), I’ll cheat with honey. I drink tea a lot during my work day, and I’ll miss the little squirt of honey in my afternoon cup to fight off my craving for sweets.
  5. Weekend brunch baking. I am a fan of brunch. I love breakfast foods, and a lazy morning with eggs and doughnuts, scones, muffins, or quickbreads is something I look forward to all week. And let’s be realistic–I’m not in it for the eggs.
  6. Yogurt & oatmeal. I know people eat these breakfast staples without sugar, but I’d really rather not. Hopefully I’ll be able to load them up with enough fruit that they taste sweet enough.
  7. Chocolate. I have a friend who says she doesn’t feel right if she doesn’t have some chocolate every day. I think she’s got a point, and I might be a little crazy at the end of my no-sugar trial period as a result.
  8. Ice cream. And just after I compiled all those recipes! Maybe I’ll try to overload the ice cream with fruit.
  9. Restaurant desserts. Eating out is special, but ordering dessert makes me feel like I’m really on a date.
  10. Convenience. It’s a little tiring to check labels for HFCS, trans fats, animal products, and caffeine. Adding one more label to the list doesn’t sound fun. I’ll probably be making (even) more things at home.

(I know I could get lots of these things with artificial sugar, but at least for the time being I’ll be avoiding those because of the health consequences, the taste, and what they do to my…ahem…digestion.)

What would you miss the most if you couldn’t eat sugar?

Linking up to Top Ten Tuesday.

Market Monday

Saturday’s farmers’ market was nice and cool. I wore a sun dress and even wished I’d brought a cardigan. Even though the temperatures have been summery, in comparison to the recent sweltering weather, it feels like fall is here.

My breakfast came from Devotay, the makers of auf laufs. It was a tortilla espanola made with potatoes and onions, topped with aioli (a tangy, garlic mayonnaise).

Since our city has a festival about every other weekend during the summer (for art, jazz, books, you name it), we decided to check out this week’s festival: Sand in the City.

The city brings in professionals to build a massive sand sculpture in the middle of the street.

Local businesses create their own sculptures as well. Can you name this classic children’s book?

“I am the Lorax. I speak for the Thneeds.”  –The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss

Humpty Dumpty

This week, I picked up tomatoes, potatoes, onions, zucchini, eggs, and a whole broiler chicken from our CSA. (I still haven’t dared to cook the stewing chicken I bought in May. I see a whole-chicken-cooking-adventure post in my future.)

We bought the beets from Grinnell Heritage Farm and the corn from an old hippie-looking man whose sign advertised “bodacious sweet corn.”

I’ve really been enjoying the red onions from our CSA this summer. They leave a delicious caramelization on the bottom of the new not-nonstick pans I got for Christmas. Now I finally know what Rachael Ray was talking about when she exhorted me to scrape all the goodness off the bottom of my pan when I added my vegetable stock.

I’m headed back to work this week. I definitely have one of those “ugh” feelings about how busy things are about to get, but I’m also excited about having some structure back in my schedule. I imagine I’ll find time for things I never got around to this summer thanks to that structure. I hope to cook some low-stress meals as I get back into the swing of things.

This week, we’ll eat:

  • Zucchini, onion, and kale omelets, potatoes
  • Burgers and corn on the grill, baked beans
  • Beet soup (I’m in the market for a recipe!), bread, veggie
  • Scalloped tomatoes with croutons, salad

Did you make it to a farmers’ market this week? What’s cooking in your kitchen?

Market Monday & 200th Post Giveaway Winner

heirloom tomatoes at the farmers market

I wanted to buy everything at the farmers’ market this week. We’re actually getting both sun and rain here in Iowa (finally!), which means that the more colorful vegetables of summer are finally ready to harvest.

I went to our CSA stand first thing on Saturday morning to get eggs. We’ve become pasture-raised egg snobs around here. First, we love buying the eggs directly from the man who raises the chickens so we know that they really are pasture-raised–we’re not just relying on a sticker on an egg carton at the store. Second, the yolks are brighter, the whites cook up more tender, and we pretty much devour the carton of eggs within a few days of purchase.

From our CSA, we also bought four tomatoes, three cucumbers, three eggplant, a pile of tomatoes, a red onion, a head of garlic, and fennel.

I bought another bottle of Lemon Basil Balsamic Vinegar from Pickle Creek Herbal. We’ve been following the simple (1:2 vinegar to oil ratio with a drizzle of honey) recipe for salad dressing Jocelyn gave us when I first met her and have exhausted our first bottle. She also recommended using it on caprese salad, which I think will be a good use for those four tomatoes. (Or three tomatoes. See how the top one looks a little funky? It looks really funky now.)

I also stopped at a stand to by goat cheese for a muffin recipe I wanted to try for Sunday morning breakfast. I’ll share that recipe with you soon so you can see if you want to start waking up to goat cheese.

We bought the cherry tomatoes and yellow squash from an organic stand that was very friendly and helpful to Dexter one morning as he was getting his stand set up. Dexter loves these cherry tomatoes and will enjoy having them in his lunch in place of the carrots I usually send.

For the sake of full disclosure, I should tell you that we also bought apple cider doughnuts and a savory tomato auf lauf at the farmers’ market. They were devoured much to quickly and ravenously to make it onto the camera.

Some of the cucumbers will probably make it into a salad, but we’ve been using them to add some pizzazz to our drinking water. I fill the pitcher in our fridge with water and add five slices of cucumber and half a lemon, sliced thinly or cut into wedges. (Wedges make it easier to squeeze the juice directly into the water, but I’ve found that slices flavor the water well enough if left to sit.) I usually refill the pitcher without replacing the cucumber and lemon slices once or twice so we can extract all the flavorful goodness from them before tossing them in the garbage disposal. Dexter doesn’t like plain water, but he was enamored with this water when I made it once last month and has been drinking it almost as enthusiastically as he drinks coffee.

I’m not a huge fan of eggplant, but I really want to like it. I plan to bake it (like in the first half of this recipe) and then serve the crispy slices on top of spaghetti. It’ll be my adapted version of eggplant parmesan. (My beef with real eggplant–or chicken–parmesan is that everything gets soggy, and I don’t want to go to the trouble of making something delicious and crispy if I’m just going to dump sauce all over it. Does anyone else feel this way? Am I the only one who has soggy-parm issues?)

The large pile of yellow squash will go into Sunny Summer Squash Soup, which I found on Once A Month Mom’s August Vegetarian Menu. The onion, some garlic, and two of the potatoes will go in the soup, and the rest were eaten, grilled in slices, with Monday night’s dinner.

What I’m left with, however, is a bulb of fennel. I didn’t have any plans for it. It was sort of an impulse purchase. (You know you’re kind of a kitchen dork when fennel is your impulse buy.) Any suggestions for my fennel?

Finally, before I hit the sack on this barely-got-it-posted-on-Market-Monday, I want to announce that Sarah is the winner of the Eating Animals giveaway. Your book will be in the mail as soon as I confirm your address.

Total Money Makeover Update: August 2011

Since I’m switching to budgeting a calendar month at a time (rather than starting at the 15th of each month), I knew I would have to do a teeny-tiny, half the payments update sooner or later. So here it is.

In the past two weeks we’ve paid off 0.2% of our debt and we have 72% left to go.

I’m not expecting a huge drop in percent next month since we made a bigger payment last month with my multiple paychecks from school. My first paycheck of the school year is in September, so I’m hoping to be able to celebrate my birthday in October by moving down into the 60s.

Des Moines Farmers’ Market Pictures

Last month, Dexter and I took a trip to Des Moines to visit his mom. In recent weeks, blogging has come in dead last on the list of things I want to do (I think I’m still recovering from mean-spirited comments), so I never got around to telling you about it. I’m sitting at my usual farmers’ market right now (my bare feet touching the chemical-ridden road, my back leaned up against a light post which I am sure serves as an urban tree for neighborhood dogs…I’m going to take a shower as soon as I get home). I’m saving my post about today’s finds for Market Monday, but I thought I’d post a few pictures from the Des Moines market in the meantime.

I want these for my living room. I would base my whole new color scheme on them.

des moines farmers market

des moines farmers marketPeach tart. Amazing.

des moines farmers marketA spinach pupusa. Pupusas are an El Salvadoran specialty I’ve heard about a lot from my students.

des moines farmers marketWheatgrass, beet, and something else juice. Less flavorful than you’d think, but still good.

There was music on just about every corner, from middle-aged cover bands to steel drums to this guy.

Total Money Makeover Update: July 2011 – Shaking Up My Easy Budgeting System

Since we’ve become an all-Mac family, I’ve had to change the way I track our budget. I was so frustrated since I had spent years perfecting my system. The upkeep was quick and painless each month, and it was easy to check on my progress throughout the month.

Those days are over. I’ve spent the last month or two downloading the wrong version of Quicken, downloading the right version of Quicken, realizing that my bank’s files aren’t compatible with Quicken for Mac. (From what I’ve read online, this is because Quicken wants extra money from my bank to give them permission to let me have a file with the EXACT SAME NAME. I found a way to hack the system, but I didn’t want to get in trouble. Plus, on principle, it should just work if I’m paying that much for their product.) It hasn’t been fun.

I’ve decided to give a go, since it’s free and *should* look up all my financial information for me each time I log in. This will save me time logging into each of my loan accounts to track our balance each month. However, it seems like every time I log in there’s at least one financial institution that’s not updating properly. So, I may not be saving any time at all. But did I mention it’s free?

By using Mint, I’m also giving up my ability to track my spending starting on the 15th of this month. I’ve gotten around that problem by using part of my triple-beginning-of-summer-paycheck to give us a cushion at the beginning of each month up until the latest day our first paycheck might come. So, after this month, I’ll plan to do my Total Money Makeover Updates during the first week of the month.

Unfortunately, my way of coping with changing our budget system has been avoidance. In fact, my task tonight is to catch up on July and see how big a hole we’ve dug for ourselves where we’re at on this month’s budget. We’re thankful that my summer job brought in a few hundred dollars more than we’d planned so we could pay the $130 ticket we got for forgetting to register our car have a little bit of cushion on our summer budget.

Let’s cut to the chase.

This month, we paid off 2.1% of our debt and we have 72.2% to go.

And remember…register your vehicle.

Saturday Stumbles: Desserts, Documents, Dentistry & Decor

***My Eating Animals giveaway ends tomorrow! Check it out!

Only a few entries so far!***

This week, thanks to my ice cream research and Pinterest, I found lots of new things on the interwebz! Here are some of the best.

Joy the Baker’s Strawberry Upside-down Cake with Cardamom – You should set aside a day soon to read all of Joy’s posts. She’s a big, famous blogger and doesn’t *need* any hits from me–but she’s really nice and even let me use an extremely tantalizing photo from her blog on my ice cream post. Plus, the Strawberry Upside-down Cake recipe comes with a free grammar lesson!

10 Things You Must Keep in a Fireproof Safe – I’m working on paring down our files, digitizing some documents, and making sure our important papers are really safe. We have a fire safe with some important things inside, but I wasn’t sure what should be moved from our regular file cabinet to our fire safe. Now I know!

Grain-Free Brownies – You don’t need a food allergy to make these. They are probably the best brownies I’ve ever had.

Whiten your teeth for under $1 – The key? Hydrogen peroxide–the active ingredient in most commercial whitening strips.

Alphabet wall – I don’t have kids. I am not pregnant. Can I just do this in my living room? Would that be weird?

What did you find online this week?

Linking up to Saturday Stumbles with Simply Staci.

Why I Care About Animal Welfare

For a long time, I’ve had a heart conviction to be vegetarian or at least to buy meat that didn’t come from a factory farm. I didn’t, however, have a lot of scripture to back up what I believed. In the past several months, many familiar passages of scripture have spoken to me about this topic. The first one I stumbled upon is below.

Psalm 8: 3-8

 3When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
   the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
   and the son of man that you care for him?

 5Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
   and crowned him with glory and honor.
6You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under his feet,
7all sheep and oxen,
   and also the beasts of the field,
8the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
   whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

David begins writing about the care with which God exercises dominion over humanity. He notes that God has given humans glory and honor even though He has made things as spectacular as the moon and stars. After we’re reminded of God’s goodness and abundant grace to us, we are reminded that we have dominion over his animal creations.

No, it’s not a direct command to buy pasture-raised chickens. However, Christians are called to be imitators of God and to live a life of love (Ephesians 5:1-2). I believe that our responsibility to live a life of love extends into loving and caring for all of God’s creation.

Explaining myself at The Vanderbilt Wife.

Photo Credit