Sunday, September 28, 2008

Relief Society General Broadcast

I went to my stake center to watch the General Relief Society Broadcast last night. I always feel so much better to be a woman in The Church after attending the Broadcast. I haven't felt the Spirit that strongly for a long time, so it was incredibly wonderful to get a mega-dose of it to remind me again why it's so important to live my daily life as to invite its presence more often.

I thought Sister Beck's talk was inspiring, but also carried the potential to be a little overwhelming for some of us. I agree with her wholeheartedly about pushing forward and doing our best, but while she was talking I kept "hearing" the inevitable comments from disillusioned women who will say that she's just trying to perpetuate the perfect "Molly Mormon" stereotype. I suppose it shouldn't matter what I think other people will say about something in regards to how much I can enjoy it, but I just do that. Sister Beck does, however, always makes me think that she sees something more in us than we can see in ourselves. It makes me want to test my limits to see if I really can measure up to the vision she has of us as a Relief Society.

Sister Allred's talk on temple worship gently inspired me to step up my temple attendance. I haven't been to the temple in quite some time--pregnancy and nursing are just not times when I can leave the house for very long or feel comfortable being away from my home. But Little Lamb is on bottles now, and I still haven't gone; to be honest, I kind of forgot about it. It's definitely time to get back into the habit. I also thought, since our temple is so incredibly close to us, that I should try to take the girls there once a month just to walk around and look at it. Actually, we could pick a new temple each month to visit around here and not run out of options for months! I think it would help to make the temple a "real" thing in their minds instead of just some building they're going to be married in someday.

I am totally spacing the Second Counselor's name at the moment and I'm too tired to go look it up, but wasn't she just the happiest lady you've ever seen in a long time? I can't remember too much from her talk, but I definitely took away the feeling of being happy to belong to Relief Society; happy to belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Just seeing her onscreen lifted my heart; I want to be surrounded by women like her.

And President Uchtdorf's message--talk about balm for the heart. I thought it was a perfect message, through and through. I drank it in, it was the perfect talk for me at this point in my life. I can't say anything more to do it justice, just that it was exactly what I needed to hear. It was incredibly edifying.

I always look forward to the Relief Society General Broadcast, and this one was definitely worth the anticipation. It's so wonderful to be so uplifted in the course of one evening. I'm looking forward to General Conference next week...let's just hope that I get to actually hear some of it! (Another perk of the RS Broadcast--no little ones running about screaming...ha ha.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Happiest Baby Ever







But all that cheerful energy can drain such a wee little person when bedtime is approaching:

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Little Girls Live in This House

Menu Planning

There are times where I kick myself for deleting the old blog, and this is one of them because I had a post about how I plan my meals back then. Due to reader response, I thought I'd re-post the basic idea.

I do have a system for planning my meals, and it shifts and evolves as my needs change; but here's the system as it stands right now:


This is simply a long strip of cardstock/posterboard, to which I glued seven library card pockets (one for each day of the week--find them at a teacher's supply store) and then laminated.
Then I cut a slit into the pockets so I can fit index cards into them. I stuck magnets to the back of it so it can stick to the refrigerator. (If you have a side-by-side fridge, you'd have to put this particular version on the sides of the fridge, or make it in a three by four stepped orientation in order for it to go on the front of your fridge.)

Next, make a list of at least 28 different meals, including sides.

Now, there's two ways (that I know of) to proceed...

The "original" way:
List the entree (and reference for finding the recipe, if needed) on the front of an index card, and then list the sides that go with the meal.

The genius part of it all: On the back, list the ingredients that you'll need to make the entire meal. Then, when you're writing up your grocery list, all you have to do is flip over the card and jot down what you need to buy!

There is a rule that goes with it, and it is that you cannot use any card two weeks in a row; each meal needs at least a week "off" from your menu.

Now, option 2:
I, literally, just came up with this method in the past week. I found that I was tired of having the same sides every time I had a certain entree, so I decided to change things around a bit.

The system is now color coded. Pink cards are for entrees, Yellow for grains and bread, Green for salads and Orange for side vegetables and beans. Just pick one of each color and you've got a complete dinner. Now I can mix things up a bit and broaden my horizons in the sides category--I only made one card for white dinner rolls, one for breadsticks, etc., so I'll have to find other things to serve with dinner and I think it will be healthier for us to branch out a bit. I have at least 28 pink entree cards, but I'm starting with only 21 cards for the sides (it's hard to come up with more right now). I list what ingredients are needed on the card (front or back, it no longer matters), and I also list prep time and whatnot because sides can surprise you sometimes with that stuff.

I haven't got to it yet, but white index cards will be desserts and treats.

If you've ever seen my menus for any particular week, you'll notice that I assign themes to certain days. This makes my job easier because it cuts down on my choices on particular days or makes my decisions for me, and I like that. The themes are:

Meatless Mondays--I try so hard to get my family to eat less meat, mostly because I don't like meat. My husband is an avid steak-and-potatoes fan, so I feel mean for forcing a meatless night on him; but it's a healthy choice for everyone.

Try-Something-New Tuesdays--This "assignment" alone has changed my attitude toward cooking in so many ways. Trying new recipes is fun, and I really look forward to Tuesday now because I know it's going to be different. I hate getting stuck in a cooking rut, and this really alleviates that tendency.

Waffle Wednesdays--Mmmm. I don't know what my deal is, I just really like waffles and coming up with new recipes. (Sometimes, Waffle Wednesday gets demoted to "Breakfast for Dinner" and we end up just having scrambled eggs and toast or bacon or stuff like that.) I make double batches of waffles so I can freeze the leftovers and re-heat them throughout the week for breakfast.

Pizza Fridays--We really like pizza and it's really fun to experiment with different ideas for toppings. If you have a bread machine, homemade pizza is a snap!

Soup Saturday--Soups tend to be low on the meat and on calories, so I include them as a regular addition to our diet. And it occurred to me one day that there are a lot of soups, chilis and stews out there and I never even think about making them. Leftover soup also freezes beautifully for a future quick meal (just pour it into a quart-sized freezer bag, freeze it flat and you'll have two easy-to-store servings at your fingertips).

For lunches, I have a system as well. Since we have pizza on Friday, we always have leftover pizza for lunch on Saturday. Then the next six days follow a pattern: Soup, Salad, Sandwich. We have soup for lunch on Sunday (usually some of the leftovers from Saturday's dinner), an entree salad on Monday and some sort of sandwich on Tuesday. Then we repeat the pattern--soup on Wednesday, salad on Thursday, sandwiches on Friday. Pizza again on Saturday. It just simplifies things a bit for me. (Of course, we usually have leftovers from dinners, so we always have the choice of leftovers or the "assigned" meal for the day.) I also try to get a side of fruit and a side of veggies into each lunch as well. And usually a little something sweet.

Breakfast is a whatever-goes type of meal. We have tons of frozen waffles, and when I make pancakes I always make a double batch to freeze as well. Scrambled eggs are fast to cook up, we also eat a lot of oatmeal with some butter and brown sugar mixed in. I try to also include a piece of fruit and a glass of milk, and we're golden. We don't eat pre-packaged cereal because I've found that it makes everyone irritable and ravenously hungry in about two hours.

Desserts--gotta have them every now and then to add a little sweetness to life--what's a lunch without a cookie? :) And believe it or not, I also have a system for sweets! Three days a week--Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. I just feel better about serving my family a homemade treat than something out of a box from the store. (No judgment on those who don't care...I use trans-fats in my baking, so there ya go, I'll totally on equal footing with everyone else, no self-righteous attitude going on here.)

Anyhow, on Mondays we have Family Home Evening, which requires a treat of sorts, so I/whoever-is-in-charge of the treat makes something for that. It's usually a cookie, bar or brownie-type treat, something that can be made ahead of time and easily served later on. Wednesday is the true dessert day and I make whatever I feel like making. (I'm going to tackle the formidable Apple Turnover tomorrow.) Saturdays are generally limited to cookies because it's our sharing day--we share the bounty with at least one other family in our neighborhood. (It aids in getting to know your neighbors and sways their benevolent feelings in your favor.) :)

Is your head spinning yet? Tee hee.

I do my menu planning on Sundays because it's the only time I can realistically sit down and pore over cookbooks and not feel guilty. (Mr. Brooke understands my desire to do this and agreed to play with the girls while I "work.") I like to be able to dream about what we're going to eat--I hold our meals in high regard. Some may point at my planning on Sundays as a sabbath violation, but I feel drawn towards my family while I contemplate what dishes would please them and what sort of treats my girls would like to help me make. I feel the Spirit attending me as I plan because I'm thinking about my family in loving terms, and that makes me perfectly OK with using Sunday to plan out my menus and make my corresponding grocery shopping list.

So there ya go, Mrs. Brooke's Menu Planning Tutorial in a nutshell. Hopefully it answered your questions. :)

This Week's Food Plan

(Meatless) Monday: Fettuccine Alfredo, Breadsticks, Corn
Treat: Chocolate Cherry Brownies

(Try Something New) Tuesday: Apricot-Sauced Pork Medallions (we had so much leftover pizza last week, I didn't get to it on Sunday), Wheat Rolls, Green Salad, Sauteed Summer Squash
Make pastry dough and chill
Make peach butter during naptime

(Waffle) Wednesday: Waffles! (I don't know what I'm doing yet...probably something savory.)
Treat: Apple Turnovers
Make some other peach concoction during naptime

Thursday: Steak & Cheese Sandwiches, Carrot Sticks, Baked Potato Chips
If needed, make another peach concoction during naptime

(Pizza) Friday: Caramelized Onion & Sausage Pizza, Breadsticks, Salad
Make dough for leaf cookie cut-outs and chill overnight

(Soup) Saturday: Corn Chowder, Cheddar Biscuits, Salad
Treat: Autumn Leaf cookies

Sunday: Lasagna, Breadsticks, Green Beans, Salad

Monday, September 15, 2008

Dinner Menu

(Meatless) Monday: Butternut Squash Risotto with Sage, Salad, Rolls

(Try Something New) Tuesday: Spinach and Herb Torta with a Potato Crust, Glazed Carrots, Rolls

(Waffle) Wednesday: Zucchini Waffles with Spiced Apple Topping, Scrambled Eggs

Thursday: Oven BBQ Chicken, Cauliflower with garlic bread crumbs, Baked Potatoes

(Pizza) Friday: Thai Chicken Pizza, Salad, Breadsticks (for the girls--they won't eat the pizza)

(Soup) Saturday: US Senate Bean Soup, Salad, Rolls

Sunday: Apricot-sauced Pork Medallions, Green Beans, Salad, Rolls

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

New & Improved Chore Chart System

Part of getting the ducks back in a row was to re-vamp the previous chore chart system. I used to have this idea that I would someday come up with the perfect chore system that would last for the rest of my life, but the more I talk to veteran parents, the more I'm deciding that chore systems are extremely variable and require immense flexibility (as in, you've got to change things up when your current method stops working; there is no perfect system that will last for the rest of your life).

So, now we have an improved system. There are now two chore charts--one for the morning and one for the evening, and the rewards have changed. The morning chores include basic grooming and bedroom maintenance, and completion of those chores earns Bluebird the opportunity to play on the computer during naptime and also allows both of them the chance to pull out one activity each from the activity bag in the afternoon. If Bluebird is not done with her morning chores by naptime, she gets to either take a nap (because she must have been too tired to do them) or work on her chores during naptime. If Rabbit or Bluebird are not done with their morning chores by "Activity Time," then they get to spend Activity Time working on their chores while the other sibling gets to do whatever activity they pull out of the bag.

I also have a morning chore chart, which has worked nicely to allow me time to get some stuff done around the house each day. It also serves to be a good example to the girls--Mommy can't play until her chores are done either. It also gets them to play by themselves so I can get stuff done because I say we can't do Activity Bag unless my stuff's all done as well. I figure, if I'm going to spend each afternoon actively engaged in activities with them, that it is completely fine to devote the mornings to chores and let them fend for themselves in the entertainment arena. (And, honestly, I'm helping them with most of the things on their chart because a 4 and 2 year old are only capable of so much in the grooming department.)

It's been so good. I can't keep doing each and every little thing for them, so it's nice that they've started to be a little more accountable for their own stuff, and it's great that I can live in a somewhat clean house again.

The evening chore chart is for after dinner and also covers basic grooming and de-cluttering of the inevitable mess that my dear little pixies make throughout the day. If they get through their evening chores with time to spare, then they get to play board games with Daddy. What a lifesaver! I can actually clean up the kitchen after dinner now and not wake up to dried-on dinner gunk each morning. I've also started going to the gym after dinner, so Mr. Brooke helps the girls with their chores while I'm gone and I get to return home to clean kids and an almost clean home. I work on various chores myself while Mr. Brooke and the girls play their games. I love this new system. (I've also made it a rule that I need to get through my own evening chores if I want any computer time after the girls go to bed, hence the obvious cutback in my blogging...it takes time to adjust to being accountable!)

The Girls' Morning Chores:
  • Pray
  • Take a Shower (Bluebird only)
  • Brush Teeth
  • Comb Hair
  • Get Dressed
  • Make Bed
  • Clean up Bedroom

Evening Chores:

  • Clean up Playroom
  • Write in Journal
  • Attend Family Scripture & Prayer
  • Take a Bath (Rabbit only)
  • Put on Pajamas
  • Brush Teeth
  • Comb Hair

It doesn't seem like much; but trust me, life is so much easier when there's a reason behind doing those things each day. Before, it's always been "You need to do this...because I said so." Now, it's "You need to...or you can't play on the computer/select an activity from the activity bag." Their fun is dependent upon their completion of their work, which I think is a healthy concept to plant in their little psyches.

My chore chart is a little longer, but it's really quite nice to get it all done. I consider my chart to be the absolute basics of what needs to be done each day:

Morning:

  • Pray
  • Make Bed
  • Clean up Bedroom
  • Water Garden
  • Clean up Living Room
  • Wash Dishes
  • Do Two Loads of Laundry
  • Vacuum

I leave off my grooming stuff because it would take up too much room, and I'm all done with that stuff by the time they wake up anyway. My chore chart, while serving as a nice reminder to myself, is mostly about being an example to the girls...if they're not going to see me working on a particular chore, it really doesn't need to be on the chart.

Evening:

  • Sweep
  • Clean Dining Room Table (because little girls are quite capable of big messes!)
  • Wash Dishes
  • Tidy up Kitchen
  • Attend Family Scripture & Prayer (I admit it, I sometimes would rather skip it...)
  • Update Food Journal (keeps me honest)

Life = so much better with a system.

(I look forward to when I can start passing off the dishes to Bluebird and Rabbit...that's going to be sweet. Only, what?, two more years?)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Spanish Fork Kite Festival






I guess Spanish Fork is really embracing this whole "we have lots of wind" idea ever since we got the windmills. Yesterday and today marked the first ever Kite Festival for the city and Mr. Brooke went out with the girls this morning to have a looksee. I went to check my email a few moments ago and found that he's been sending me pictures from his camera all morning, so I thought I'd share.

(I wish I'd been there to see Rabbit's face when she spotted the Nemo kite...it's her favorite movie right now, so I'm sure the reaction would have been quite entertaining.)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

To Grandmother's House We Went

We headed north to Idaho to visit Mr. Brooke's parents for Labor Day weekend.


Mr. Brooke's mother loves goats and keeps three on their property, which the girls love to go out and see. I followed them outside on one of their adventures in order to capture how cute they all were.






Bluebird enjoys trying to lasso the goats.

Remember Holly?

She's huge! I'm so glad we deported her to the in-laws' home!






Watching a movie with Grandpa.



Mr. Brooke and his mother.



The girls had fun, even though the weather refused to cooperate and we had to cancel our trip to the Hot Springs nearby. Some other time, I suppose. Now we head into Fall. The temperature has dropped dramatically here, evidently Mother Nature is in a hurry to get Autumn going. And we all know how much I love Autumn, so I'm not complaining a bit.

It's weird, I remember thinking about this time last year that I was never going to make it to February and be able to get Little Lamb out of me...and here we are, one year later, and I cannot believe how fast the time has gone since then. The years just keep speeding up!

The ducks have been lining a little bit, but I'm still in a state of organization around here. I've decided to devote the next year to losing all of this nasty baby fat that I've been lugging around since I had Bluebird, so my time is wrapped up in planning healthy meals (that fit within my caloric parameters) and a whole lot of physical activity. I am just completely fed up with being a super chub. It's time to do something about the extra weight. :)

*sigh* I'm so glad it's Fall! I'm looking forward to all the canning and baking, which I'll probably give a lot away in order to spare myself the temptation of over-indulging. I've implemented a new chore system around here and things have become simplified as a result, which is always a good thing. I've an appointment to talk to my doctor today to try to figure out why I'm so exhausted all the time--it occurred to me last week that I really shouldn't be using the "new baby excuse" anymore because she's been sleeping through the night for four months now, so I'm going to make sure that it's not something else that has me falling asleep while I'm washing dishes. I'm also seeing a therapist in order to deal with some stuff from the past and to become a healthier, happier person. It's tough going sometimes, but I know that it will ultimately be worth it. Life gets hard, but it's consistently good on most days right now. I guess that's the best you can hope for at any point in your life, right? :)