Tuesday, March 29, 2016

How to Batch Process Lunches


Despite the fact that people got really upset about how much money I intended to spend on purchasing 10 eco-friendly, health-friendly lunch containers in order to make my busy life a little easier, I wanted to share an update about how it's going for us. 

I started by purchasing two of these, based on a recommendation from my friend who says she has used hers for years, in addition to the many positive reviews on Amazon. 

Once I realized they worked for our family, I purchased eight more of them. On Sundays, I set aside 1-2 hours to prep as much food as possible for the week. Last week, it took Henry and me two hours to:
  • Make ten school lunches
  • Chop broccoli and mushrooms and shred cheese for a vegetarian pizza on naan bread
  • Make a healthy carrot and cauliflower soup with cumin
  • Bake a loaf of fresh bread using the recipe from the book that Kylie, Angie, and I made
  • Chop broccoli and juice/zest lemon for a whole wheat penne pasta one-pot meal
The lunch containers (you could do the same thing with a much cheaper plastic version) stack really easily in our fridge and don't take up much space in our fridge all week. It's incredibly fast to lay these out and populate them with healthy, balanced things (the little container is applesauce).  

Prepping as many ingredients as possible for our weekly dinners means that I only need to spend about 15-20 minutes pulling together dinner each night. It's the only way we have time for playing, eating together as a family, bath time, books, story time, and bed time. 

It's a stressful time of life, but we're making it work!

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Monday, March 28, 2016

Signs of Spring

For some reason, I am just now tuning in to the subtle changes of the seasons, and it feels really good. I'm guessing my inability to truly connect with the changing of the seasons stems from the fact that I spent the first 12 developmental years of my life in a city with no seasons: San Diego. 

And then almost another 12 in a state with no seasons: Florida. 

And Houston didn't really have seasons either. 

But in Austin, I can truly see the changes of the season, and it's so fun to tune into the changes--to really notice, appreciate, and take joy in them. 

In the winter, most of the trees around our house lose their leaves. It means I can easily see the cardinals and the blue jays. Their blues and reds pop against the gray forest. 

The shift to Spring is so subtle. It doesn't happen in the sky or really in the temperature. It happens ever so slightly in the trees. From afar, they will look gray. But up close, you will see the slightest hint of green. The tiniest fig leaf appears, bursting with energy and promise. 

The entire East Austin landscape shifts from gray to a brilliant green in a matter of a week. Each shift in the season nudges me to reminisce about what was happening at this time last year and about what the season ahead holds for our family. 

I think about our boys coming home from school every single day, stripping off their clothes, and heading straight into the backyard to swim. I think about our chaise lounge chairs under our umbrella. One of my favorite things in the world is a shady spot on an otherwise brilliantly sunny and clear day. I think about the watermelon plants that will overtake our front yard, the little hidden watermelons that will appear under thick leaf coverage that our children will spot and rejoice in discovering.

These small things bring such great joy to my life. 

When I used to read Soule Mama, I would be envious of her family's deep connection to the seasons. Now, I think I have created just the right amount for me and my family. I actually don't want to run an entire farm or live somewhere cold. But if I tune in and pay attention, I can create my own connection to nature and to the seasons right where I am.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Starting a 5-Year Diary


This quote from Annie Dillard has always resonated with me: 
"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." 
I've also been thinking a lot about how quickly my children are going to grow up. Henry just celebrated his 5th birthday. In two more of those, he will be turning 15 and getting really close to leaving the house. 

I also see how quickly former students grow up on Facebook. And those are other people's children! I feel like my own life is going to blink by. 

So I bought a 5-year diary. I wish I would have started one many years ago. I love the idea of getting a mini moment of reminiscence every day. 

I searched Amazon for one that appealed to me. I ended up loving the one I bought more than I thought I would. The paper band comes off, and it's just a lovely simple fabric. I like the texture of it. It's also very small and portable. I was able to take it on vacation with us. The daily spots are just a couple lines--enough to say something substantial but small enough to not put unnecessary pressure on me. 

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Monday, March 21, 2016

Another Season of Gardening

And so the cycle of gardening begins again. We pretty much garden year-round in Central Texas! Well, actually, it is year-round here. 

The boys and I just pulled up the fall/winter garden. We harvested a bunch of cabbage. It was fun to watch broccoli completely flower (it attracts so many bees!). We pulled out all the lettuce, as well. We left our artichoke plants (they seem to grow all year long!) and our Brussels sprouts. 

Henry pulled a lot of snails out of our garden and moved them to a better spot. During the process, he noticed, "Mama! The snails are mating!" Sure enough, they were. It's so fun to watch things for the first time in person in my 38 years of life alongside my five year-old. He added, "They must love each other." Hooray for sexuality education with a preschooler. 

We then trekked to our favorite plant store (well, favorite plant store on our side of town; we actually love Natural Gardener more). We purchased mint, basil, okra, and tomatoes. 

I continue to swear by:
  1. Front-yard gardening: It keeps everything away from pets and puts it in your line of site. We pass by it every single time we walk from our house to the car and the car to the house. We can't help but weed and harvest when we need to. It also puts us in better touch with our neighbors. 
  2. Drip-irrigation: Not having to water a garden every day is a lifesaver. It makes gardening possible in our otherwise impossibly busy lives. 
I recommend this book if anyone wants an easy way to start gardening. We don't follow-it anymore, but it was helpful the first time we were thinking about setting up beds. 

Once your beds are in place, the best thing to do is to go to the garden store and see what transplants are available and recommended for planting! 

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Enrolling My Son in Martial Arts

Henry just turned five, and up until this point, he hasn't really been enrolled in any extracurricular activities (aside from a safety swimming class when he was a toddler). I definitely subscribe to the ideas explained within Simplicity Parenting around giving children wide-open time to play outside, create, explore, get bored, and decompress. I haven't felt like the benefits of extracurricular activities outweigh the drawbacks at this point. We are already a stressed out family with two full-time jobs and full-time school for the boys. 

However, at our recent conference with Henry's teacher, she mentioned that she thinks he would benefit from a formalized activity that helps him channel his physical energy. She mentioned martial arts in particular. 

A friend of mine mentioned Aikido, and it looks like we have a good program here in Austin. There's a 30-minute class once a week, specifically designed for 5-7 year-olds. After doing some preliminary research, it seems like Aikido is pretty amazing because it's more defensive than offensive. It doesn't involve punches or kicks (more just pinning and twisting). 

Do any of you have experience with or recommendations related to various martial arts? I am totally new to this.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Around Here Lately

Whoa! It's been a while since I've made my way to these parts. 

As I type this, Tate is screaming in the background because I won't let him slide around on the floor on a couch cushion. Oh, life with two young children! (Just when I said I was getting my life back.)

Life has been too much of a whirlwind to carve out time for writing. The week before Spring Break, I worked really hard to get a lot of things knocked off my to-do list before going on vacation. Then we left the day after school let out. Usually, we give ourselves a weekend at home before leaving for vacation, but it didn't work out that way this time. 

We left for Flagstaff on Saturday and returned home on Wednesday. On Friday I headed to Chicago for the American Montessori Society Conference. 

Honestly, this vacation was our worst one yet. We got a great deal on an AirBnB cabin, but, ultimately, it was too small to be comfortable for our family of four. Tate was supposed to sleep on an air mattress in the living room, which deflated within 15 minutes of being blown up. So then he slept on a pallet of chair cushions that kept separating in the night. 

Henry slept up in a loft on a bean bag thing, which seemed fine but he kept saying his back hurt in the morning. Because of the open concept, whoever woke up first would automatically wake up the other brother. 

Matt and I normally sleep in a king-sized bed, so it was pretty uncomfortable to squish into a full. 

Despite our fatigue and discomfort at night, we made the most of it. We went hiking in the Coconino National forest, ate at a delicious pizza restaurant, visited an observatory, drove to the Grant Canyon, visited the world's best preserved meteor crater, ate dinner at a casino (the only place available on the way back from the meteor crater), I spent the morning at a spa in Sedona (while the boys went fishing), visited an awesome creek, ate breakfast at a college dining hall, visited a firefighter museum, and sat on the grass at a Cubs spring training game.

It sounds so fun when I put it into a summary paragraph! I think the challenge was that it often involved a lot of driving and the boys were fighting a lot. I started to read Siblings Without Rivalry (which is an especially great book to read if you think you only want to have one child). I'll write a separate post about it to share some of the wisdom in the book.  

One of our priorities as a family right now is to travel together in the spring, summer, fall, and winter. Normally it's really fun! I hope this trip was not indicative of the trajectory we are on. It should be getting easier!

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Monday, March 14, 2016

Reflection & Rejuvenation: My Goals for March

[Oops! I wrote this a while ago but didn't realize that it never published. Sorry!]

It's a Saturday morning as I write this post. I just finished a 45-minute run around the lake while my family played at the dog park. Now they are out running errands as I sit on the back porch. The sun in shining, the sky is a brilliant blue, my bloodhound is sunbathing on the deck, and the quiet chirps of birds are all around. I am so grateful for this life! 

I had a great month. Some highlights from my month:
  • I made a really good friend. This story is much longer than I can fit in right now, but basically I had an acquaintance that seemed like a kindred spirit, I told him I thought we would make great friends, and then I started calling him on the phone and having really deep conversations. Now we are close friends! 
  • I worked with a colleague at work to come up with our 20-year plan for our organization. It involves serving 50,000 children in 20 years (15,000 in seats in 25 schools around the nation and another 35,000 in public schools being taught by teachers we trained) and creating more than 13,000,000 education reform touchpoints through resources downloaded from our website, tours, visitors, books sold, etc. 
  • I presented at a national educational conference. 
  • I officially became a person who exercises again (after a 5-year hiatus!).
  • I finished reading a second book (my goal is to read at least one book a month).  
  • I started writing my third book (you can find the first one here and the second one here).
Whoa. No wonder I felt busy this month. 

Let me check in on my goals for the year and month:

  1. Start the year with the 21-day cleanse from Clean and work through a book about breaking the emotional eating habit. Done!
  2. Eat more salads with dinner. Nope, I have not been doing this regularly.
  3. Drink at least 80 ounces of water each day. Not really...
  4. Run once on the weekend and once during the week. Yes! I've been doing this!
  5. Go to yoga once a week. Yes! I've only missed one class since the start of 2016!
  6. Cultivate a daily meditation and gratitude practice. Half and half. I've meditated about half of the nights. I've been forgetting to practice gratitude. I want to be sure to do this. I need to start doing it at the dinner table again.
  7. Publish five six books.  I am working on this!
  8. Clean and organize our house before the boys go to bed each night. Kind of!
  9. Track our expenses in Mint.com daily so that we are able to hit our saving goals. Kind of!
  10. Invite friends over monthly. Henry's birthday party will have to count!
  11. Use my work time in the evening to clear out my inbox and do bigger-picture planning. Yes!
  12. Take a trip with Matt. Still trying to figure out childcare for this one...
  13. Go on a retreat by myself. I started planning it! I'll write an update in another post.
  14. Reflect each month about how I'm doing toward these goals. Here I am!

2016 Family Goals

  • Take a road trip to Oklahoma: Yes!
  • Take a road trip to Dallas to see Kyla: We are getting it calendared!
  • Read three chapter books: I need to check out the third one from the library.
  • Read all the BOB books: Working on it....
  • Go camping: Planned for March
  • Volunteer: Yes! 
  • Take more day trips to small Texas towns: Not yet.
  • Hang out at the creek in the summer: Too cold! 
Goals for This Month
  • Keep up with the salad, running, yoga, and water. 
  • Work on my daily gratitude and meditation. 
  • Find a graphic designer to design the cover of our first book (Sebrina, I tried e-mailing you about this! I'll try to reach you through Facebook).
  • Finish the draft of for my most recent book idea. 
  • Make serious forward momentum on our house projects: refinishing deck, hanging the children's art gallery, recovering the chair in the living room, finding a wall hanging for the big wall, getting more quotes for permanent deck railing.
  • Finalize summer plans for Henry and Tate. 
  • Book my personal retreat.
  • Have an awesome Spring Break! 
On my run today, I saw a poster or some graffiti (I can't exactly remember since I was huffing and puffing) that said: "Live a great story." I'm looking forward to it! 

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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Ideas for a Personal Retreat

I've been doing a little research to plan for my annual Reflection & Rejuvenation Retreat. Last year I planned and hosted it myself; this year, I just want to show up. It seems like there are a couple options:
  1. A retreat center like Omega, which is two hours out of New York City. This option is very cost-effective ($481 for three nights, which includes basic dorm room accommodations and three meals a day). There are free classes in yoga, tai chi, meditation, and movement; boating and swimming on a lake; basketball and tennis; extensive nature trails; and evening events like concerts and films.
  2. An awesome AirBnb. That's what I did last year with a small group of people, and it worked really well. The upside is it's more relaxing (if you're introverted and don't want as many people around). The downside is that we would have to cook all our meals. The real downside is that we would actually have to get people to commit to going, so we would know how many rooms were needed in advance. If we did this option, I would lean toward some place like the beach in San Diego.
  3. An adult camp. I like the idea of these in theory, but when I dug into it, most of them started to seem like a big frat party. I think I went to one frat party in college, so I'm not particularly nostalgic for that scene. 
  4. A spa-like retreat center, like this one in Austin. While the amenities seem amazing and it looks really beautiful, I definitely can't prioritize spending my money on this.
  5. A resort like Canyon of the Eagles. Although the rooms are nicer than Omega, I feel like the amenities just don't compare. It's awesome to have access to a dining hall for three meals a day (now that's something I do really miss from college). And the thought of running into other people's children while I'm trying to relax honestly makes me won't to poke out my eyeballs. 
I think Omega is the clear winner this year! 

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