Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Gaining Perspective

I'm really tempted to say that this month sucked. It has felt like an uphill climb everyday. I've frequently felt like I've fallen and struggled to get back on my feet only to have them knocked out from under me again.
  • We trimmed our budget to bare minimums. I stopped buying convenience items from the grocery store and began making everything myself.
  • We had 2 weeks with no satellite tv or Netflix, only limited on-line options. Not a big deal for us grown-ups, but the girls sure got tired of watching the same 6 shows. Boredom fuels tempers.
  • We dealt with head lice. (If you missed that, see Labors of Love and Nit Picking.) I'm nearly caught up with the laundry from that; only 2 comforters left to go.
  • Some very serious things happened yesterday that I can't go into. It knocked me down for most of the day and will hurt for awhile.
  • This morning one of my grandparents passed away. It wasn't unexpected, but it still hurts. And I hate that I live so far away that I can't go be with my family right now.
I'm really tempted to say that this month sucked. But, lately I'm finding myself in awe of the way the Lord is using me to care for my family, giving me the strength, patience and endurance to weather all these storms.

I would say this month sucked, but when I look back on some of the other really rough months I've had in my life, I see that I've come out stronger. My faith is strengthened and I may even have gained some wisdom.

To say that this month sucked seems kind of like saying that I've given up. As difficult as this month has been, I know that I've made it through. My family still loves me, all our needs are met, and we're together. With those truths, what do I have to complain about?

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

A Year Ago Today

One year ago today, Little Guy was admitted to the hospital with RSV. (Respiratory Syncytial Virus)

It started as a runny nose that developed into a junky sounding cough. I'd had him into the pediatrician February 11 where he was diagnosed with an ear infection and bronchiolitis, and treated with antibiotics and 2 inhalers. I was instructed on how to tell if he was having trouble breathing and told to get him seen immediately if he seems any worse. I had taken him to our local ER on the 17th and 21st because it seemed like he was struggling to get air. They gave him a breathing treatment and sent us home, with me questioning my ability to determine how sick Little Guy was. (I found out later that our local ER does few infant cases and I would have been better off to take him to the next town over.) I took him back to his pediatrician on the 22nd. The doctor took one look at him and said he needed to be admitted. We were literally walked out of the Dr.'s office and through the tunnels to the hospital. We were put in an ER hallway to wait until a bed was available.

Kiddlet happened to be with me this day; she was in an every other day kindergarten class and this happened to be a day she was home. I had not planned for us to be gone all day and even if I had, we didn't even have a chance to grab anything from the van before we were walked to the hospital.

So there we were, in the ER hallway by the ambulance bay doors for, I'm not kidding, about 8 hours. We didn't have any food with us, any books, games, anything for Kiddlet to do. She did discover the ice/water machine almost directly across from us and occasionally entertained herself getting a drink. One of the nurses took pity on us and brought some blank paper, crayons and a patient breakfast package. We played tic tac toe, drew pictures, ate cherrios and took pictures with my cell phone. Throughout the whole thing, Kiddlet remained in good humor and didn't start to complain until we were well into our sixth hour.

Meanwhile, Husband is on his way home from where ever he was working at the time. I have to say, the company he works for was very good about everything. Husband was working out of town at the time and his supervisor dropped everything to get him home before Strong-Willed One got off the school bus. Since we only have on vehicle, they even brought Husband straight to our house and told him to keep them updated, but not worry about work.

Husband got home in time for the school bus. I was trying to figure out how to get Kiddlet home. Anthony was exclusively nursing and would not take a bottle. A trip home and back to the hospital would cross a feeding, so there was no way I could go. Of all our extended family, everyone was either working or had no vehicle. I think it was around 5pm when I finally reached one of my brother-in-laws. He drove the 30 minutes from their house to the hospital, brought me dinner (best Big Mac of my life), took Kiddlet back to their house for dinner, then made the 1 hour round trip to our house and back.

Little Guy finally got a room sometime after 6pm. Because of his condition, we were put in a room by ourselves and everyone entering had to be gowned and gloved. The nursing staff were great! They made sure I understood everything that they were doing for Little Guy and why and made sure that I was doing okay, too. I think it was about 9pm when he fell asleep again, and I was finally able to leave his side. I made a trip to the drugstore for things like a toothbrush, munchies and a book. And look at what I got to sleep on.

The next day, my best friend called my cell. She told me she was going to my house to stay with Strong-Willed One (who was home from school with a fever) and giving her car to Husband so he could bring me clothes and spend the day with Little Guy and me. She was even prepared to stay overnight if needed. That is one of the greatest gifts that has ever been given to me.

Little Guy had been admitted on a Tuesday and was released on Thursday. I had been given the option to stay another night if I wasn't comfortable taking him home yet, but I felt mostly okay about leaving and I needed to see my girls.

It was another week before he was well enough that he didn't choke when he cried, two before he was back to his normal happy self. This virus had lasting effects. Every cold led to a junky cough that required inhaler use and constant monitoring. It's only been in the last 4 months that he seems able to fight off colds on his own and I don't have to make extra trips to the pediatrician. I no longer freeze inside when Little Guy coughs, although we're still being instructed to isolate him when he gets congested.

This whole experience was overwhelming. Even as I sit here remembering, tears fill my eyes. And it's not so much the memory of how sick he was, but the way our family and friends rallied around us, supporting us and making sure our needs were met. I said it many times then and I'll say it again: Thank you so much!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

How Did I Do It?

I realized the other day that Little Guy is now one month older than Strong-Willed One was when Kiddlet was born. There are 16 months between my girls; Little Guy hits 17 months tomorrow.

Little Guy takes a lot of my time. He plays very well by himself, but only after I've spent a good 30 minutes or more on the floor with him. And he's in this stage where he needs to be able to look up and see me. As long as I'm in his sight line, he's fine. But if I'm in a different room, he comes looking for me, then fusses and whimpers until I come play with him for a few minutes. It gets old fast. And then there is the time it takes to give bottles, feed, dress and change the little guy. And, of course, clean up after.

The years that the girls were this age are pretty hazy. I honestly don't remember much about how we would pass the days. All I'm clear on is that that is the summer I was taking orders for homemade apple pies. I made dozens of pies that summer, all from scratch. I seriously have no idea how I did that.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Weekend Doings

For the past month or so, Saturday has been pizza night. I think I've finally figured it all out now. My pizza dough recipe makes enough dough for 2 medium sized pizzas. If I use a preheated stone, I can bake both pizzas at once. And this weekend I even had some help!

Sunday was a busy day for us. Church in the morning and then straight to the in-laws for soup and buns with the family. Little Guy usually sleeps for the 30 minute drive there, but this time he only slept for about 20 minutes. This is a kid who usually has a nap every 3 hours or so and he'd been up since 7am. So with only a 20 minute sleep since 7am, he was one pooped kid by the time we left at 3:30pm. He fell asleep almost as soon as we started moving.

All in all, it was a pretty good weekend. The girls spent most of Saturday complaining how bored they were, but that's nothing new. Husband and I managed to sleep in until 9:30 on Saturday, always a treat!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Stuffed Peppers

I love food. I enjoy eating food, but what I really love is working with food. I read cookbooks like they're novels. I've worked in restaurants. I love serving people food and I love preparing food.

I'm a decent cook when it comes to day to day meals. There are things I make that my family enjoys, things that they don't mind and, occasionally, things that no one likes. One of my joys is preparing a meal that I know my husband enjoys. Because he is on the road so much, this is something that doesn't happen all that often.

Last night I made stuffed peppers. I have a mixed history with stuffed peppers. I remember having them for dinner one night when I was in grade school, not wanting to eat them and then getting sick. It was many years before I would willingly eat another stuffed pepper. Then one day shortly after Husband and I married, I got a taste for stuffed peppers. After searching my cookbooks for a recipe and coming up with nothing, I set about developing my own. As often happens with this kind of thing, my stuffed peppers may taste slightly different each time, but Husband really enjoys them. I wish I had remembered to take a picture before we ate, but I didn't. What you see here is what was left over.

 It looks pretty sad sitting there all by itself, doesn't it? It looked much better when it was grouped with red and green stuffed peppers.

My girls don't care for cooked peppers but they love the filling. So I make extra filling, top it with cheese and bake it as a casserole. The following recipe reflects that.

Sage's Stuffed Peppers

4 medium sized bell peppers
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1lb ground beef
3 cups cooked brown rice
1 - 680ml (about 23oz) can tomato sauce
Mrs. Dash
3 cups cheddar cheese, shredded

1. Cut the tops off the peppers, remove the stems and seeds. Chop the pepper tops; set aside. Microwave the peppers in a covered container for 4 minutes; set aside.

2. In a frying pan, combine the diced peppers, onion, garlic and ground beef. Cook over medium heat until the meat is cooked and the peppers are soft.

3. In a large bowl, combine the ground beef mixture, cooked rice and tomato sauce. Using Mrs. Dash, oregano and basil, season to taste. Stir in a couple handfuls of cheddar cheese; mix well.

4. Stuff ground beef mixture into peppers and place peppers in a baking dish. Top each pepper with cheese. Place remaining ground beef mixture into a casserole dish and top with cheese.

5. Cover peppers and casserole and bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake 20 minutes more.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

We've Made it This Far...

For about 5 minutes on Sunday, I felt like Supermom.

It was about 3:30pm. I had my 4th load of laundry going in the basement, granola bars cooling on the table, bread rising in the oven, Strong-Willed One on the floor in front of me for yet another nit-picking session and Little Guy on my lap having his bottle.

What amazed me was that I wasn't feeling any resentment. This past week has been exhausting. I've never done so much laundry, made beds so many times, or vacuumed this the house this much in less than a week. I've spent hours washing hair and then combing through it in 2 inch sections. I've prepared meals, packed lunches, washed dishes, picked up toys and helped with homework. I planned meals for the next 2 weeks and grocery shopped. There has been one night that I got to bed before midnight, though most nights were later than that. Yet here I sat on Sunday afternoon feeling like Supermom.

God has given us all the grace to get through all that has been going on. When I started grumping about all the laundry, He reminded me to be thankful I have a washing machine and dryer in the house and don't have to go to a laundromat. Not that long ago I went for a month without a working oven; I wouldn't have been able to provide my family with healthy homemade granola bars or homemade bread. I spend most of the year as a single parent, yet the past two weeks and this week Husband is actually home every night.

In the midst of all of this, Little Guy is fascinated by the world around him, things he's never seen before (like a big bag of hairbands) and is growing more confident in his ability to walk, providing us all with many smiles.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Nit Picking

Not the nagging your spouse nit-picking (not that I endorse that kind of thing), but actual nit picking.

As I mentioned yesterday, the school called on Tuesday to let me know that Strong-Willed One has lice. I did a bit of research on-line before she came home as to how to treat it. As I was going through her hair after the treatment, I was utterly confused. I couldn't tell what I was looking at and still wasn't sure exactly what I was looking for. So, yesterday I spent a fair amount of time on-line learning about lice, nits and how to get rid of them. I watched a bunch of videos on doing lice checks, using different methods to get rid of lice and one funny cat compilation. We are using the tea tree/olive oil approach with a rinse of white vinegar. When the girls got home from school I performed a lice check on each of them. Strong-Willed One still had lots of nits (which are the eggs); on Kiddlet I thought I saw just a few nits. I massaged the oils into their heads and hair and then covered the hair with a plastic bag. Just before we sat down to dinner I wash Kiddlet's hair and did the vinegar rinse. When we were done eating we started the nit picking. I was absolutely horrified by how many lice I combed out; I couldn't believe it. She had nits too, but those weren't that bad. From the time I started combing until we were done - 1 hour 28 minutes.

It is now 8:30pm. I still had to wash Strong-Willed One's hair and do her nit picking. Her head is a nightmare. I think we got most of the bugs last night; I only found one actual louse, but she has nits everywhere. From what I've read, many of these are old. Because nits are essentially glued to the hair, you pretty much have to pick them out one by one. There is simply no way to do this on Strong-Willed One's head without spend many hours doing it; she has lots of very thick hair. I did the best I could with the lice comb and picked out the ones I could easily get to. It was 10:10pm when we finished. The poor girl was so tired.

I'm so very thankful that Husband is around this week. He kept Little Guy occupied, cleaned up after dinner, washed all the dishes and picked up the toys. I'm not sure how I would have been able to do all this last night without his help.

Now, a question for all you who have dealt with lice before. Do I have to put fresh bedding on the girls' beds every day or can I just vacuum them? I'm vacuuming all the furniture while they are at school and I've lifted my ban on doing laundry during the day (higher electricity rates) simply so that I can keep up with it. Any other advice on dealing with head lice is welcome.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

An Unexpected Smile

You know those days where you really just need a smile? Look what I found when chopping green pepper for tonight's dinner!

Do you see it?

Labors of Love

Remember how often you were asked what you wanted to be when you grew up? My answer to that was always a wife and mom, though I rarely said it out loud. As I approached marriage, I had a fair idea of what my roll was to be, at least regarding housework, meals, etc.. A few of my expectations didn't mesh with Husband's, but nothing monumental. It was little things like who's responsible for taking out the garbage or putting away his laundry. When we started our family, we both approached it with preconceived ideas as to what it would entail. We knew it wouldn't always be easy. Crying babies, temper tantrums, emotional meltdowns, discipline issues, not always approving of friends, you get the idea.  But there are always things that catch you off guard, things you never considered.

Like your daughter slipping on ice at the bus stop, landing on her head and having the bus driver so concerned that she was actually dropped off at the house. Or getting a phone call from the school saying lice was found on your child's head.

Yesterday was a very long day. The girls' bus stop is just down the street from our place; I can actually see them from the kitchen window. Typically, I walk them down the driveway, watch them cross the street and go back inside. I then feed Little Guy breakfast and frequently look out the window to check on the girls. I watch them get onto the bus and then go about my day. Yesterday was no different. I watched the girls get on the bus, turned away from the window and the back door opened. There stand the girls, Kiddlet sobbing with a huge bump on her forehead. Strong-Willed One quickly explains what happened, runs back to the bus and the bus pulls away. And there I stand in my kitchen watching my plans for the day fly out the window. Within a half hour it's clear that Kiddlet is just fine. She hadn't passed out when she hit the ground, she remembered everything, was speaking clearly, didn't have a headache and was very bored. We are a one vehicle family and with Husband working locally this week, I had no way to get the her to school, so I listened to many a chorus of I'm bored. Don't misunderstand me. I would rather have had her home where I could monitor her when I consider the possibility of a concussion. I simply hadn't been mentally prepared to have her home. But we both adjusted.

Then at 10:30 I get a phone call from the school principal. The first thing she did was ask about Kiddlet, running through all the symptoms of a head injury to make sure she really was okay. Next, she mentions that they were doing head lice screening that morning and that 'a few' nits were found on Strong-Willed One's head. Three people actually checked her to be sure because she has a very dry scalp resulting in tiny skin flakes all through her hair. The only good news in all of this is that as long as she is being treated, I can still send her to school. Now, I've never had head lice (at least not that I remember) and have never seen head lice or the eggs. The principal was good enough to explain to me how to tell a nit from a flake of dead skin and I jumped on-line and googled head lice to learn as much as I could. I then stripped both girls' beds, gathered all their pillows and stuffed animals (which live on their beds), and the blankets and throw pillows off the couch. The stuffed animals and spot clean only pillows went into a black garbage bag that I'll open in 2 weeks. The sheets and blankets were put into the basement for washing and all the other pillows got tossed in the dryer for a 30 minute ride. Next came the vacuuming of furniture. The futon couch I laid out and literally took the vacuum to it. I did the same thing with the recliner. I made phone calls to the local drugstore making sure they had tea tree oil and lice combs, then called Husband to have him pick them up before he came home from work. When Strong-Willed One got home from school and learned she had head lice, she did not take it well. And she was stuck keeping her hat on because I'd already vacuumed the furniture and couldn't treat her until Husband came home. She did however do her homework with no prompting and no complaining; that doesn't happen very often. I looked over her head, but couldn't find anything that seemed like what I should be looking for. That just means that I don't have a clue, right?

After a late supper (due to a misunderstanding of the recipe), I massaged the oils into Strong-Willed One's head, let it sit for 20 minutes, washed it out with tea tree oil shampoo and started with the lice comb. This is where I began to feel completely inadequate and in over my head. I'm combing through like the videos show and looking and looking, but still not seeing anything that I could recognize as lice or nits. Finally get the girls into bed at 9pm, the boy by 9:45. I didn't get to start cleaning up the kitchen until almost 10pm. Little Guy woke screaming and 10:45. It was, I'm not kidding, 1am before I was done and got to go to bed. Little Guy woke at 2am and we ended up falling asleep in the recliner downstairs. Husband sent me back to bed at 5am and Little Guy was up for the day at 6am.

I'm tired today and feel like I'm going to be walking uphill all day. I've modified my goals for the day. I'm going to make a spaghetti dinner; I can make the sauce before the girls get home and just heat it up at dinner time. I will do a lice treatment on both girls when they get home, to be washed and combed out after dinner. I will begin thinking over next week's menu. That is all I'm planning to accomplish today. And now that Little Guy is down for a nap, I'm going back to bed.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

A Frugal Update

Just over a week ago I spent a day baking. I made granola bars, bagels and cookies. And 2 coffee cakes the night before.

I made another batch of granola bars midweek. Everyone is eating these.

I froze the bagels and just thawed one when I wanted; they were fresh every time! I actually finished all of those yesterday and made a batch of asiago bagels. They are so good! Strong-Willed One likes these, so they'll go fast.

I froze half the cookies and pulled those out last night. Husband is home again this week and it felt great to be able to provide him with homemade cookies for his lunch even though I didn't have time to bake them yesterday.

I'm thrilled that I still have a coffee cake in the freezer. If it's needed quickly I easily thaw it in the microwave.

Occasionally, I'll buy a loaf of Texas Toast for making French toast with. We use about 2/3 of the loaf. The first time I did this, the rest of the bread went to waste because no one wanted it. The next time I made French toast I remembered that you can buy frozen French toast for the toaster. Why not cook off the whole loaf and freeze what's left? So that's what I did. And promptly forgot it was in there. This past week I rediscovered the frozen French toast and Kiddlet has been having it for breakfast. I've done the same with pancakes. They aren't as good as when they're fresh off the griddle, but they sure beat the taste and cost of frozen waffles.

Creature Lover

Little Guy loves living things. Especially our kitties. We have 2. This video shows Little Guy loving on Max.

Last night there was a lady bug on Little Guys tray. He was happy about the 'bu' and concerned when it crawled out of his sight.


Shopping Disappointment

I spent Saturday morning making my menu for the week, going over the grocery fliers, scanning my coupons and arranging my shopping list. Keeping in mind that my goal was to buy only what I absolutely must and cook mainly from my pantry and freezer, this all took a considerable amount of time. I ended up with a list 9 items that I needed to buy and 3 items that I would get for free by price matching and using my coupons. Finally, at 7:30pm I packed up and left for the store. Only to find out that the store closes at 7pm on Saturdays. So I ended up going to the 24 hour costly grocery store to buy the cream, use my free yogurt coupons and get fruit. The rest of my items I ended up getting at yet another store the next day on our way home from a birthday celebration. It reached the point that the few dollars I would save by going to my normal store I would spend in gas getting there, not to mention the extra time. Still, I did not buy a single thing that wasn't on my list. So that's something.

After church Sunday, we headed to my in-laws' for Husband's birthday day. He picked lasagna and garlic toast for his birthday meal. His mom makes the best lasagna. It's never the same, but it's always incredible. She asked me to make the cake. Because I was short on time Saturday, I ended up using a chocolate fudge boxed mix. I used the creamy white frosting recipe from my Better Homes and Garden cookbook and topped it with Dutch chocolate sprinkles. Nothing fancy, but it did the job.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Frugal Ponderings

I've been walking around for days now with half formed ideas and concepts in my head.
  • I've been pondering over how to stretch out the food I have on hand and still keep it interesting. I mostly know what I have in the cupboards, but should I take the time to write it down and double check?
  • I've been ruminating on making my own laundry detergent, dish soap, dryer sheets. 
  • I'm thinking about what containers I have on hand that would work for making yogurt (see this post.) 
  • And in keeping with the frugal theme, I've been mentally running through my coupons and the new grocery ads. 

The whole food planning thing would be so much easier if we knew where Husband was working next week. Right now all we know is that he'll be home Monday night; the rest of the week we have no idea and may not know until Monday. I've learned to do fine with Husband on the road; we've adjusted and it's our normal most of the time. What I struggle with is not knowing ahead of time. When he's working on a house 3 hours away from start to finish, I know he'll be gone for about 2 months. Not only do I know how to plan meals, but I can set doctor's appointments, make commitments visit people or provide snack for Bible Study, etc.. Right now I'm in limbo. MOPS and GAC (Moms of Preschoolers & God's Adventure Club) is Monday night which means I either have to arrange a ride or not go. I'm supposed to go to Bible Study on Wednesday but I don't know if I'll have wheels. I'm sure you get the idea.

Kiddlet came home from school yesterday with a class list in hand, determined to get her Valentines done. When we realized that we didn't have any left from last year, she decided to make them herself and she needed to start right now. I quickly cut up some Ruby Red cardstock for her and she spent the rest of the afternoon and into the evening writing names, signing them and writing Happy Valentine's Day on the front. She carefully picked out stickers from her Tinkerbell sticker page for each one, struggling to find the right stickers for the boys. Tonight she will be gluing on a little Cameo Coral heart to each one. I'll post pictures when they're done.

To wrap things up, tonight we're having turkey and rice soup and homemade breadsticks. I had a turkey frame and some turkey slices in the freezer and some veggies that are about to turn. This seemed like a good way to use them rather than let them go to waste. 

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Homemade Ponderings

As I'm striving to stick to my $20 grocery budget for this week and next, I'm making from scratch a number of things I would usually buy. On Saturday I made granola bars and bagels. Yesterday I made bread. (Having a bread machine is really nice.) As we've been enjoying these things, I find myself wondering why I don't make things from scratch more often. Yes, I'm busy with the kids and there is always something that needs to be cleaned or dealt with. But the bread I made last night tastes so much better than store bought. Same with the granola bars. The ones I made aren't full of preservatives and chemicals I can't pronounce and the cost to make them is so much less than the cost to buy. In the past the girls haven't liked the bread and it does go stale by the 2nd or 3rd day. But today Kiddlet had 2 pieces of buttered bread for breakfast and Strong-Willed One had a piece of peanut butter toast and neither said a word about the bread. Besides, they can adjust, right?

We go through a lot of yogurt, over 2 quarts a week with just the kids eating it. And yogurt has really risen in price over the past year. It also seems like the only yogurt that is ever put on sale is the fat free or sugar free kind that I won't buy because I won't feed my family artificial sweeteners. Today I will be opening the last quart of yogurt in our fridge. I'll be able to get more for next week because I have 4 free coupons, but what about after that? Two quarts of yogurt costs more that a gallon of milk. Yes my grocery budget will be back to normal, but why not make it myself? I remember my mom making yogurt when we were kids and I loved it. At least until I ate it while I had the flu. There are somethings that just can't be overcome when you're a kid. Anyway, I've been looking at recipes and methods and I've settled on the one that Frugal Girl uses.

If I'm going to make my own yogurt, why stop there? I could use my homemade yogurt to make yogurt cheese. Then I don't have to buy cream cheese. And I could use the whey from the yogurt cheese to make ricotta cheese. I think big. I do realize though that I would have to make a lot of yogurt cheese to have enough whey to make a decent amount of ricotta. But still...