The Basics

I once asked a babysitter to throw dinner together as I was flying out the door, “Just toss something together! Whatever you find is ok. There’s chicken in the freezer, pasta in the pantry, canned tomatoes. Go for it! Get creative. See you at 9.”

I got a text later asking me what exactly I wanted her to do because “throwing it together” was a foreign language. I then realized that I wanted her to know how to make the basics. Simple pasta sauce, al dante pasta, a salad for a crowd, 3 ingredient bread, a meat rub, a side that goes with almost anything and a way to use whatever you might have. Usually less than you think.

I never got around to teaching my sitters anything in the kitchen, actually I just started keeping frozen pizza’s in the freezer or boxed pasta in the pantry hoping that would suffice, but the sentiment is still there and I want my own kids to know how to fend for themselves when they’re staring down a dinner party, meeting the parents, impressing a love interest or simply surviving in their first apartment. It doesn’t take much, these are the basics.

Let's eat

An onion is the start of so many wonderful things. If you’re in a hurry or stuck for a good idea – start with an onion. If all you do is saute it down to it’s brown goodness, sticky on the edges, a little crisp … and toast a piece of bread and open a can of tuna. You can slice a tomato and eat like a king. No tuna or tomato necessary.

We’ll start with Skillet Cabbage. I grew up on this and in the Fall there’s plenty of cabbage to go around – this is one of our favorite side dishes this time of year.

Let's eat

Grab a large skillet or dutch oven, heat up a few glugs of oil (we use Avocado oil. Coconut oil or EVOO would work, as well as ghee. No wrong answer here) if you’re a stickler for measurements start with 2 TBSP.

Slice up 2 onions, whatever kind you have.

A few cloves of garlic – minced.

A bit of salt and pepper. More salt than pepper, but to your taste.

Saute the onion down to it’s translucent yellow state. Just starting to brown.

While your onions are cooking, slice, julienne, chop – whatever you desire – an entire head of cabbage. Discard the middle, tough white parts.

Add the whole thing to your pan or dutch oven – it will sizzle. The cabbage will sweat, there will be steam. This is the romance of the kitchen. This is the part I love the best. I cover my dutch oven for a few minutes and stir every once in a while.

This will last about 10 minutes. Your cabbage will have wilted to about 50% of it’s original mass. Right before you’re ready to serve it, toss in some soy sauce. Again – start with 1-2 TBSP but add more to taste as you wish and crank up the heat again if you reduced it. More steam, more sizzle.

It’s humble in presentation. But it’s perfect with fish, chicken, pork. As a side if you’re having fried rice. As a base if you have a couple sausages to use, or bacon to fry, left over meat from the grill.

You can always do more – add more. But this is one of my favorite basic recipes.

And now maybe it can be one of yours.

House Keeping: On a roll

Here’s another snap-shot of the bigger picture of our “what-works-for-us” routines. Today, Imma get chatty about grocery shopping and menu planning.

housekeeping

Grain of salt, please. This is not a soap box, this is the sharing circle. And today I have the speaking stick and I want to talk about lists.

(This is where I start singing and dancing. It happens in real life all. the. time.)

On an ongoing basis …

I make lists. Usually of the groceries we’re out of, the recipes I plan to make for the next week or two, the events we have going on or the dinners we already plan to eat away from home and the some-what daily list of the things I need to, or want to, accomplish in any given day.

Back to school

Where we live we have access to some great grocery options. Aldi and Meijer are the stores I shop the most. On the weekend I look at the ad’s online for each store and build my menu plan off of what’s on sale. The front and very back page of these circulars are called their “loss leaders” which means the store generally looses money on the “sale” but gets you in the door to buy everything else. So I know those items are going to be the cheapest. If something we use a lot of is on sale, I buy more than I need for the week and stick it in the freezer. This happens with meat usually.

I always go to Aldi first and whatever I can’t find or get there – I buy at Meijer with anything else that I planned on getting from their ad as well.

We have favorite meals that I try to rotate in regularly so I can stay in the good graces of my children if I flop more than once during the week. Right now I know that we have busy evenings with soccer practice and youth group so I plan my menu based on being able to make something quick, in the crock pot, or pull it from the freezer on the days I know we’ll be here, there, and every where. On the rare evenings we have time to sit at the table and do more than eat and go, I love trying new things or having friends or family over.

After I shop for our groceries, I chop. I call it the Shop and Chop day of the weekend. I’m basically a sous chef for myself. I wash and prep my veggies for the week, anything I can – I make ahead (or double so I can freeze). This means I make pancakes, cookies or bars, freezable dinners, and lunch items or breakfast items in one huge push so the rest of the week is fairly easy.

still life

Back to school

The kids are doing a kid craft fair at the local library today. Oliver made and is selling paper airplanes while Jessica (with some help) made and is selling cookies, mini sweet breads, and scones. We've been busy.

Yes, it’s a lot of work. And I get tired. And usually at the end of that day I want to crawl in blanket with a glass of wine and watch hours of tv. But I do have time during the week as well to bake and cook. I have time on busy days to prep dinner if I didn’t get to it on the weekend. There’s always something else to make or do or fix. We might run out of baked goods for lunches on Thursday so I make more on Friday.

Um, you guys. It’s not that easy to get into this habit. 11 years of being a stay at home mom who contracts creative talents outside of the home has taught me this one thing: if it’s working for you, don’t change it. Don’t try to be Martha Stewart if you are not. Don’t try to be Rachel Ray if you are not. Don’t try to be your favorite blogger in the kitchen or your closet with their awesome photos and target themed baskets if you are not. Take what you can from whatever source inspires you and implement the small things. Or don’t! You do you, you’re good at that.

Onward: Now that I’m in the habit of running my kitchen like this, it has made a huge difference in our evenings and my ability to function past 4pm. I post our dinner menu plan on our chalkboard wall every week (and the full one on the fridge for me) and it’s been one of Jessica’s go-to check points for her week.

Turns out I gave birth to someone who needs structure and expectations. She needs a goal in order to accomplish things and when she has to worry about what might be for dinner (if she’ll like it or if I’ve even thought ahead that far yet) she freaks out. I mean it. She flips a lid. This is oddly one of the ways I love her every week – planning not only our dinners but I plan Breakfast, Lunch, Snack, and Dinner every day. She can check in and if I’m not around to help or guide she can help herself. This has saved us in the mornings when she’s tired or not feeling like herself (read, hormones. Also, 11) and after school when she has a lot on her mind and is unwinding from her day. Not having to think about what she’s hungry for and having to ask or make it for herself is a small way I can help her transition from school to home.

And yes, you lovely little freaks: I do plan out our Breakfasts, Lunches, Snacks and Dinners for every day of the week for a rotating 7 day basis. Say it with me: WHO IS SHE?!

Here’s what I write in my notebook – one page will be the weekly menu plan while the opposite page is my grocery list:

MON
B: Smoothies
L: Home lunch (mini pancakes, carrots, strawberries, cookie)
S: Chips and Salsa/apple slices
D: Taco salad and quinoa

TUE
B: Eggs, Bacon, Toast
L: Home lunch (muffin, protein and cheese, apple, granola bar)
S: Rice krispie treat/banana
D: Curry with rice, green salad

WED
B: Breakfast burritos/yogurt parfait
L: Hot lunch
S: Carrots/sugar snaps and dips
D: Roast chicken with sweet potato fries

And so on … While the opposite side of my notebook will read like this:

ALDI

butter
rice krispies
marshmallows
grapes
lettuce
cheese
turkey
frozen veggies
canned tomatoes
tortilla chips
cheese crackers

MEIJER

pears
milk
toilet paper
avocados
kale
gr. beef
whole roasting chicken
ground mustard
paprika
cinnamon

TO MAKE

Muffins
Rice krispie treats
breakfast burritos
Ham chowder for freezer
banana bread
cinnamon sugar bread

Scenes from my kitchen

What did I miss? I feel like I’m telling on myself just a little bit because this sounds like a tried and true formula and although it’s what works for us, this is a system designed solely based on the way I think. I’m a little bit forgetful. Ask the kids how many times we end up using kleenex because although I noticed we were low on toilet paper – that’s the one thing I routinely forget at the grocery store EVERY TIME. But I buy Rice Vinegar almost every trip.

I read recently that you should have a dinner emergency fund in your house – which basically means always have a box of pasta and can of sauce in your pantry because there will be the night that nothing got done and you still have to feed people or you hired a sitter for the night on a whim and expecting them to make your planned pork loin with sides is asking just a little too much. I don’t eat pasta but we have it in the house for these reasons, I’m never out of lettuce or rice, coconut milk, the oils I cook with, eggs or butter.

ONE MORE THING: We’re members at Costco so we buy a few things (in bulk) a few times a year. Like the oils I cook with 😉 and the wine we drink. I love some of their meats, cheeses, and frozen food options. And I always buy flowers.

There’ve been stints in the last (almost) 12 years where I’ve worked full time outside of my home and having a dinner menu plan has made that possible. I know it’s the cliche thing to say that being “just a mom” isn’t a job and sure, I’ve claimed it and struggled with it for years but you know what? I love this job. And I’m good at it.

I don’t get paid to plan meals and custom make them to our families needs, no one calls me a chef.

I don’t get paid to clean our house and do our laundry so our family has what they need to live outside of the walls of our home, no one calls me a maid.

I don’t get paid to grocery shop or shop for clothes or shoes or to keep my home stocked with the necessities, no one calls me their personal assistant.

I don’t get paid to balance a budget or pay accounts payable or be the operating accountant for our several goals, dreams, and responsibilities, no one calls me their CPA.

I don’t get paid to decorate and renovate our spaces, no one calls me their designer.

I don’t get paid to mow our lawn or keep our flower beds weed free or to plant, consider and keep a garden, no one calls me their landscaper.

I don’t get paid to plan our social life or dinner events, or to host our parties or beautiful evenings under the stars, no one calls me their events planner.

I don’t get paid to do a lot of things and I’m not called a lot of titles: I get paid to take photographs, to write. I call myself an artist and a writer.

My family calls me Jodi, my children get to call me mom.

Somehow it all works out, and I love my life. Lists and all.

xoxo
Jodi

House Keeping: Building a life

** It’s a little weird to publish this, I know I was the one who said she wanted to talk about budgets but now that I’ve been sitting on this and revising this for the past couple weeks, it’s hard to not sound like a know-it-all or just a princess. Which there will be a number of you who come to that conclusion and thats ok. The three things you’re not supposed to talk about; money, sex and religion, are basically what I eat for breakfast so here’s where we call a truce. In relationship these topics are met with vulnerability and understanding. They’re fragile and solid, invisible and fully formed. They’re complex, and I love discussing them. Which is hard to do as a one-sided digital essay. I don’t know it all. I’m not the person you want to ask for stock tips or investment opportunities (unless you’re talking real estate and then I’m your girl) and I’ve screwed up many times with our budget and finances. This essay is an over all snap shot of the bigger picture and not a soap box for me to stand on and complain (there is NO complaining). We have everything we need and we value resourcefulness over resources. Want to skip this one entirely? I don’t blame you, here’s a sleeping kitten.

If you’re new here you might not know that 6 years ago we sold a house, started building another one, sold that one, tried to buy two more homes over the course of two more years in 2 different rentals and finally, four years ago, bought the house we currently live in. Over the last 3 years we’ve gutted this home and made it our (hopefully) forever space.

There’s a specific reason for this run-on sentence of a decision.

We wanted to be debt free, yes. But with Aaron’s job there’s a lot of personal risk involved. If Aaron would have gotten into an accident or died unexpectedly our income would have stopped with those tragedies and I wouldn’t have been able to afford our house payment. The decision to move and lessen our monthly output was a very tactile decision for our future.

putting the sign up

There isn’t a ladder for Aaron to climb as a business owner. He doesn’t work at a company where someone else just hands out raises or promotes him based on his performance. That’s his job, he’s the ceiling. So if our life requires more cash, we can’t knock on a bosses door and ask for it. Yes, there are perks to owning our own business and yes, sometimes there are good years of plenty and there might be profit sharing, other years we lose everything and start all over. Not only do we live a debt free life, personally, but also professionally. Aaron is the sole owner of his companies and it’s a core value for us to operate them without debt, partners, or venture capital.

Office of Elevator Up

Now, here’s my disclaimer. Please take this with a grain of salt. We started out very differently than so many of other business owners/professionals. Neither Aaron nor myself had any debt of any kind when we got engaged (We didn’t go to college, ergo no school loans). We bought our first house together before we were married and I “rented” it from Aaron until after the wedding.

We were a dual income household when we bought our second house (the house we sold in the beginning paragraph). I was pregnant with Jessica but working full time with health insurance and Aaron was employed full time as well. On paper we could afford the house but 6 years later with two kids (one of which we ended up paying for the prenatal care and delivery to the tune of almost $30,000 out of pocket), a start-up business and only one income; we were selling everything and then some to keep our house above water.

We took a substantial loss when we sold the house, twenty-thousand to be exact. Rolled that into our new build loan but when it sold before it was finished it sold for an appreciated cost and cut our initial debt in half. We rented for 2 years to save money and pay-off the remaining debt from the sale of our house. We had sold cars to pay our hospital bills and somewhere in there bought our minivan with a small loan and paid that off in those two years of renting as well. (Are we still on the same page?? Anyone??) We saved everything and our goal was to buy another house but with 20% down this time, no questions asked.

SO. You guys – we did. We bought our house that we live in now with 20% down and our mortgage is under $300 a month. This is why we did this. We can also now (and only now) afford to send our kids to private school.

Kitchen AfterKitchen After

We live differently on purpose. Now if catastrophe hits the fan, our family won’t crumble. We finally have better health insurance and this is the first year in the last eleven that we haven’t ended the year paying out of pocket almost double what we’re allowed to contribute to our HSA. This might be the year we actually carry a balance to be able to save up for emergencies where insurance is concerned.

I really like to budget, I love numbers. I get jazzed about this stuff and yes, with our low monthly output and no debt (aside from the mortgage) to our name – we can do more with our income. This is how we’ve given ourselves “raises” through the years. We reduce the amount going out so the amount coming in looks like it’s growing even though it isn’t.

But it’s still hard because money is still money and it buys really fun things and we still have to say no and save and work and have goals.

My eyes are a little bonkers. I realize this is either really interesting or completely irrelevant to you, I get it. I wish more people would talk about this because it fascinates me.

As a teenager I set myself up on a budget based on percentages. So, when I got a paycheck (or cash from babysitting) I would automatically calculate 30% of what I earned for savings, 10% towards gifts/tithes, 15% towards gas/car maintenance, 30% towards spending and the other 15% went into a slush fund of sorts to build up for things like insurance or my eventual cell phone bill. I changed the percentages when needed (like every 6 months if my expenses changed) but I was pretty strict with my self and how I managed my (very little) income.

Alllllllllllll these years later I’m still doing a version of this. Only it’s not based on percentages and instead of me calculating the amounts for our categories, our direct deposit does it for us.

EASIEST THING IN THE WHOLE WORLD.

I wanted to talk about this for a few reasons, one because I’m a geek and setting up budgets for automatic saving or spending (automatic bill pay anyone? Oh my gosh, now we’re talking. You’re so naughty) is one of my secret powers that I want to share with you but also, as it turns out, not a lot of people think the way we do about this kind of stuff.

I realize that if you find yourself in a similar situation to where we were six years ago your train of thought might not lead you to the hop-scotch selling and building and renting as it did us but I guess I’m weird? It’s like walking into a house and seeing the walls come down. I can just see it.

Aaron took some convincing, he sort of just expected to have a car payment and house payment and credit cards. Not to abuse, just because thats what he thought it took. Only, I don’t know … I disagree. We don’t have to have it all, I’m not interested in more stuff. Experiences? Yes, lets do that. Let’s travel and see and taste and explore. Let’s put our dollars to work in our kitchen, on our table, and in our hearts with our memories. Lets build a life worth more than counting numbers.

🍅🍅🍅

So I guess a budget is like really good boundaries, if we want to bring it from tactile to emotional because this girl loves a good metaphor. I love boundaries. There’s more freedom within them than outside of them. If I have absolutely no boundaries then I have no direction. Wide open spaces are only fun for so long and then you start wondering where you can put things. Where does this go? And what if I had a place for that?

I’d argue that I am not Type A. I’m creative and messy and full of feelings and I cry easily and laugh loudly and I like to giggle whenever it bubbles up and I love surprises and adventure and being a free spirit … who also can get down with a budget, a repeatable file system, grocery shopping and menu planning. I’m kind of different.

But thats what I hope to bring to you in this mini-series of “House Keeping”. My slightly bent, what-works-for-us routines. One last thing? There aren’t short cuts. It’s a lot of work to stay on top of menu planning and budgeting, there isn’t a quick fix, that I’ve found, that lasts. There’s just doing the next right thing. And then the next thing, and then the next. If ordering take out is the budget saving solution to eating at home, then do that. Next month maybe you’ll go to the grocery store on the weekend, and the next maybe you’ll menu plan too … 3 months into small changes you might be cooking your own food from your kitchen and adding up the savings towards a vacation. Or maybe towards the debt you might carry, or the eventual car replacement headed your way.

Whatever it is, doing nothing is actually doing something.

With that little nugget of gold, brought to you by inspirational posters every where, I’m out. Peace.

A letter to myself, a manifesto for relationship

On a walk with a friend this morning I told her that I felt God prompting me towards something. What I actually said was “in church on Sunday I felt God say to me “Stop qualifying your relationships with your past sin”” and then I let that hang in the air a bit. Like watching a balloon float higher in the sky after accidentally letting it go.

Even though I talk candidly about God with my friends over coffee or via email there’s something about saying words like that out loud and then realizing that you can’t pull them back from the air around your head and stuff them back inside.

Shhh, nevermind. I don’t hear voices speaking deeply convicting things to me or have conversations with God on the regular in the car while I’m driving. Just, just nevermind. Let’s talk more about your thing.

========================================================

Later on in the morning I was stretching and decided to focus my attention on a personal mantra of “I am enough” which was all good until I was done and the rest of my day begged to be gotten on with and I could no longer breathe like a normal functioning person.

We had poked a deep seeded bed of unrest inside of me. And it wanted to play.

Enough

Naturally I got in the car, drove to the grocery store and bought 4 dozen eggs, 2 gallons of milk, some canning jars and the tinfoil pans for batch baking cinnamon rolls. We were out of eggs and we don’t drink milk. Makes sense.

Still not breathing normally, the phrase “I am enough” is rolling around in my head like a baby trying to take it’s first steps. Persistent, a little uneasy, determined.

And I start to panic because I can’t catch my breath and these are JUST WORDS after all. WORDS. But I kept running in to them head on.

Stop qualifying your relationships with your past sin, you are enough. Put them together and it’s a doozy. I tend to go all in. Open book Jodi wants to race you to the finish line of my story and see if there’s anything left. Maybe if all my new and future friends know all my dirty little secrets they’ll just get the ‘abandoning me’ thing over with quickly so I can suckle my victim wounds and stay broken and afraid. Or perhaps, I can just stay Right. Instead of always Wrong.

I do this. I drink a few glasses of wine and open my mouth where the bits and pieces of me that need protecting walk off my tongue like an army marching towards the front-lines. Ready to fall at the first mention of rejection. And I don’t share this with you to seek pity or comfort within this certain misery but because it bothers me to no end.

I’ve learned this before. I qualify relationships, always new and often tried and true ones, with the parts of me that make me who I am – yes, but that are no longer where I stand. The real story is the victory over the burden of my past. But I leave that part out, because that part is even more uncomfortable than the qualifiers into humanity.

We all have walls and triggers and pasts and struggles. We do. And I’ve said before (and I mean it) that relationship is my favorite human condition. But what am I doing wrestling to bring my burden back for show and tell when the real story is my own resurrection from the deepest regrets, mistakes, and suffering of my past.

I am enough.

Enough

Today. Today I am enough.

Take it or leave it, I promise not to hold on to your decision like I had anything to do with it. But my past is no longer for sale for click bait or interest level or acceptance. It’s not fodder for girls night or something to whisper when I’m not present to offer my heart with all it’s brokenness.

I’ll bring to the table what I have to offer, and inside of relationship when trust is established and vulnerability is fostered, I will open up and let you in if need be. But I won’t throw you in my deep end and expect you to swim back to the safe shores and shallow waters without first giving you the same life raft I drifted in on.

It will be slow going and not all at once.

Because the fire that burns the hottest is the one that is stoked carefully, fed easily, and given room to grow.

building a fire

I needed this today. I’m still holding my breath, consciously trying to release this deeply rooted belief that I’ll never be enough. Less is more but the lie about that phrase has become that we can do more with less, when really it was supposed to be a reminder that with less – we are more. More free to rest and recuperate. More free of the obligations of stuff or debt or schedules or showing up as a shell of who we know we are. Less is more doesn’t mean emptiness. It’s supposed to mean fullness. It’s supposed to be the room we need to give space to the places in us that need to be seen. Less is more; it’s more work. But this work is worth it.

xoxo,
Jodi

New Hoirzons

School is well underway for us and with it, a new routine to our days. The beginning of each school year is always a good clean-out season for me. I get on top of things. Lists, charts, chores, stocking the fridge and freezer. I imagine it’s a very different version than what my Grandma might have done to prepare for the winter. Canning, butchering cows and chickens … the constant work of having a home and family just amplified for time away and ease back at home.

The last couple years of school have been what I will refer to as “The Adjustment Period” of my life for, um, ever. I think the last 5 or 6 years have been a trajectory of change and coming off of it, I finally found my footing. I’m a girl who will always look for whats coming, inquisitive and introspective. I want to learn and I often look backwards to discover how to move forward but that’s all changing too.

Camping: Fayette and Wilderness State Park

School felt like a celebration this year. A return to something worn and loved. A found object, which maybe is just us. Turns out being a young lady in this day and age is tricky and we’re learning all about it but also learning how to navigate those waters with her. A friend recommended the book “Untangled” to us, and parents/guardians of ladies in the tween/teen age group? I want you to read this book with me. And then we will get coffee together and be honest with each-other. And I will cry. And we will not be alone.

Honestly one of the best books I’ve read about parenting a girl so far.

There’s also so much shaking free in this season. I’m changing the rules I made for myself, or my family, that were more like contracts in the OR ELSE category. “It’s a work in progress” might be a better way to say it. I grew up knowing what I did not want but it wasn’t easy to stick up for what I did want. The opposite of knowing what not to do is rarely easy or perfect or the exact right thing instead. It’s a whole world of confusion because knowing the wrong thing doesn’t automatically make the rest of it explainable, or right.

I read something recently that resonated with me about Water and Rest. This amping up on lists and charts is always good but where I used to overcommit my capacity and then overwhelm my schedule, I’m learning to take it as it comes. Today I might be prepared for tomorrow but tomorrow I might need to rest or just go to the water and listen. And that’s what I do.

I watch my husband go to work and slay all day. He comes home tired and spent and always a little bit stressed about tomorrow. Being married to an Entrepreneur is kind of like saying that living in the moment is for “other people” because you’re constantly forecasting and planning and worrying and building and creating. Slowing down to be right here, to be right now … near impossible. Although it’s not impossible. We accomplished this on our trip out West this summer – removing ourselves from the regular distractions of location, we were forced to slow down and look around, outside of ourselves, to capture life.

It was beautiful. And this is the hardest part of coming back. I’m forever impacted by the summer we spent away. I know the difference, I experienced it. I want it, I crave it, I live for it. We came home to all kinds of questions, like what are we doing this for any way? And when do we stop doing this for us or for them or for (you name the reason) and start doing the things we dream about when no one is asking us for the answer.

Which brings up all kinds of questions that we don’t have answers to, of course. The big ones. The future ones. Should we?? has been a theme in our house lately. Should we do that? Should we do this? What should we do?

And enough. Enough already. I don’t know what’s around the corner but I know today is taken care of. I know less than I used to because there’s less certainty and more opportunity than I ever could have imagined. But some days I just stop running in circles and I stand still, and rest.

And some days I go to the water and drink and get refreshed.

And those are good days.

These bubbles disappear as fast they appear. My favorite Lake Michigan trick.