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.


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:

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

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

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:


rice krispies
frozen veggies
canned tomatoes
tortilla chips
cheese crackers


toilet paper
gr. beef
whole roasting chicken
ground mustard


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.


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.


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.

The summer of the popup adventure

We’ve been in our house for just over 4 years now.


As many times as I drive in and out of the drive way: today it hit me. How amazing this little slice is. I didn’t grow up in a neighborhood, I wasn’t part of a rat-pack of friends from my backyard, I couldn’t ride my bike to school, or walk to my library. We didn’t camp when I was a little girl, I lived a very different (often dual) life than my children are experiencing. And the popup in our driveway with the blooming window boxes and the basketball hoop with a neighborhood playground only a block away … It just makes me thankful for this life. The one I almost missed. The one I sometimes wish away. Today isn’t one of those days.

We’ve had some turnover in our neighborhood recently and as exciting as possibility is, I find myself being completely rooted to this house. A year ago I would have told you that once our renovations were finally done I would want to move. Collect the equity and run away.

I don’t know where I’m always going but I haven’t wanted to stop. Until now.

Summer is almost here and we’re preparing for an extended trip, which is why we bought a pop-up camper a few weeks ago. We ripped out carpet and cleaned it up and we’re shaving minutes off the set-up every time we practice. We spent our first nights in the camper this past weekend – the first night was chilly and we didn’t have enough blankets so we all huddled in together and fought off bug bites and woke to a downpour storm. We stayed dry! And we all woke up smiling, giddy almost.

I remember going to Shipshewana with my parents and buying my first tent with my babysitting money when I was 11 or 12. We lived in a subdivision where everyone’s backyards pooled into one big, uninterrupted green space; divided only by landscaping rocks and invisible lines etched out with mowers and ownership. I set up my green tent in the backyard and slept outside every night I was allowed to that summer. I spent days laying under the green tarp listening to the birds, writing in my journal, pretending I was in the middle of a great big field with mountain views and rushing water nearby. Only when I poked my head out from my miniature universe did I realize I was in the middle of a suburban sprawl, no mature trees as far as the eye could see; in the middle of empty lots and chemically induced grassy lawns.

When I was seventeen I camped on the beach with Aaron. I wrote a note to my parents saying I’d be back in the morning (pro-tip: not recommended) and we hiked out to the beach, set up a tent and watched the stars. It was that innocent, actually, and it was perfect. We wrote in each-others journals that night, instead of our own, as if we were writing a memory for the other person. That no matter what came of us, we’d always have this. A night underneath the stars, a night with the waves and the moon. I woke up next to Aaron for the first time on that rebellious little adventure and thats when I knew, I wanted to do this forever. Soon after waking up my parents found our tent on the beach and sternly told me to … ehum … come home. (True story.)

Waking up in our popup to the sound of rain pelting our vinyl roof with bleary eyed genetic clones of each of us staring up from underneath blankets, huddled in with their stuffed animals, I realized that this is my forever.

I love houses and I hope I always will. But I love sleeping underneath the stars more. I love watching the water, and feeling so small it’s actually painful in the grand scheme of things. I love running on the shore and spending time counting grains of sand. I love living in close quarters with the people I can’t get enough of. Picking roadside flowers and sipping muddy coffee under the awning while the dust dances at my feet in a furry with the rain.

It’s that innocent, actually, and it’s perfect.

Welcome to my home

Kitchen After

I’ve shown you around a bit over the years. We bought our house in 2012 (April 21, actually: HBD house!) and this past fall we completed our last over haul of a space inside. First we finished our basement and added a functional bathroom down there. Next we lived in the basement while the main floor was brought to the studs and rebuilt (save for the kitchen), lastly … we finished the kitchen and added a mudroom (which was originally a 3 season porch).

This is what I saw the first time I walked into our house when it was listed:
first showing

I loved it. There was counter space and for the age of the home – there was a lot of space. Sure there was carpet in what was supposed to be the dining room, and paneling every where. We had cedar shingles in. our. kitchen. And a hole in the roof that was once a skylight. And carpet on the walls, and no shower upstairs and, later we discovered that our master bedroom was the previous owners laundry room at one point … it had it’s quirks.

This is that same view from above.
Kitchen After
Kitchen After

It still has it’s quirks. We have plywood floors and an exposed beam in the middle of our house.

Kitchen After

Anyway – here’s some of the before and after shots of our main floor. Specifically our kitchen/living/dining area.

BEFORE: Entrance off the 3 season porch, built-in hutch, breakfast nook, this is what was supposed to be a dining room (we think) under the light fixture.

progress shots of house May 2012

AFTER: Entrance off the (now) mudroom, behind those hanging doors (painted with chalk paint) is our pantry and hidden toaster oven, our island with storage. We removed a large wall in the middle of this big room where our tiny little fridge was built in, otherwise it was closet space … makes the whole space feel more open.

Kitchen After

BEFORE: Looking in FROM the entrance off the 3 season porch into the living room. A fireplace, skylight, lots of paneling and carpet and a wall dividing spaces.

progress shots of house May 2012

AFTER: Looking in FROM the entrance off the (now) mudroom into the living room. We replaced the fireplace with french doors leading out to a new deck off the house. Wall is gone, more open concept space. No more hole in the ceiling!

Kitchen After

BEFORE: Looking into the kitchen you can see the breakfast nook, our fridge built into the wall and a hallway with lots of openings – looking towards our front door and the front room.

progress shots of house May 2012

AFTER: Looking into the kitchen, wall is gone and fridge is now next to the stove (we swapped the stove and dishwasher when we remodeled), no more little corridors as a hallway. We reconfigured the bathroom in size and a bit in location to make room for a closet in our master bedroom. We also exposed the chimney and made a doorway off of the “front room” (now office) to our bedroom. By doing this we eliminated wasted square footage that was just a labyrinth of walls and doors and passage ways.

Kitchen After

BEFORE: Looking into what WAS a second bedroom on the main floor in the original blueprints of the house (previous owners did an addition on the home and eliminated this bedroom as a part of that … it’s now part of our bathroom and part of our dining area) you see built-ins! So many, you guys. More doors and little hallways, and that wall we removed. Also, all the carpet.

progress shots of house May 2012

AFTER: Our dining area with a wine cabinet built-in with some shelves, no more wall! And less little doorways and hallways.

Kitchen After

Small pivot, same room:
Kitchen After

Different angle:
Kitchen After

And looking opposite into the space: You can see the french doors here.
Kitchen After

BEFORE: Looking into the wall that we removed.

Main floor living room

AFTER: Looking into the rest of the house once the wall was removed.

Kitchen After

BEFORE: Here’s a fun shot of after we painted the original cabinets and took the cedar shingles off the bulkhead. Baby-steps towards our finale. Looking from all those little doorway/hallways into the kitchen/would-be dining space and breakfast nook. Built-ins and all the carpet.


AFTER: Looking into the kitchen, hidden pantry behind chalkboard barn doors, and the island.

Kitchen After

This side of the island is exposed for cookbook and glassware/platter storage. I store props for photography here now but they double as usable items in my kitchen. This entire island is a constant work in progress as a storage solution.
Kitchen After

I think we covered all the major views of the kitchen, here’s a few detail shots and different angles of the space. We love it, I mean it’s a house and a kitchen but we live life around the table in community with each other and others so this space is our most used. It feels good to come home, just like it felt good to have one four years ago. I’m constantly thankful for the way this turned out. For the patience it took, for the planning and waiting.

Kitchen After
Kitchen After
Kitchen After
Kitchen After
Kitchen After
Kitchen After
Kitchen After
Kitchen After
Kitchen After

It’s Monday and I don’t want to Adult today.

Case of the Monday's

Everywhere I look in my house there’s a reason to get busy. Dishes, laundry, sweeping, the aftermath of a weekend with paper and scissors.

Case of the Monday's

Case of the Monday's

Case of the Monday's

Case of the Monday's

Case of the Monday's

Case of the Monday's

There are projects I’ve started that are collecting dust and excuses, bills I have to pay, and my coffee is cold but I’m still drinking it. We had a good weekend, full of places to go and people to see. My kids are almost 11 and 7 1/2 now, we’re no longer under the dictatorship of napping schedules so their social calendars are full of fun things to do. Sports clinics and teams, friends to play with, even dates with grandparents. These kids are exciting.

Picking apples

Fall Family Photo Shoots 2015

But they’re constantly leaving a wake of chaos. I was talking to a friend this weekend about how surprised I was by this feeling of “complete” I’ve had since the projects on our house have finished. I wasn’t expecting to want to stay. The last project (our kitchen and mudroom remodel) didn’t go well. The contractor we had been working with really dropped the ball and ruined the relationship. I was feeling upset about the process, not even sure if I would enjoy the finished product because of all the turmoil that went with the progression. But having the ability to settle in the wake of that – and wanting to come to a place that feels like home, it’s created a shift in how I feel about this little house with big ideas.

The result of that is wanting to live in this space. I want to be here. I like it here. And, maybe for the first time ever, I feel a sense of pride in my home. Not because I think it’s beautiful or the best. Because it’s ours. Together, this family, my family, we sailed the salty waters of change together and here we are. Landed, ground amok in the messy harbor of life outside of those boxes.

And it’s a beautiful picture for me every Monday when the playroom is torn apart and beds aren’t made and breakfast dishes leave a wake of crumbs on the island with milk rings from their cups. I’m reminded at the beginning of each week that I get to do this. I get to care, I get to choose to want this. I’m no longer chasing the emptiness in my soul because where I was looking for so long for the spout to fill me up; there was only more loneliness in that spring. And this is thankless work, the work of caring for others. The unrecognized pattern of following the chaos to the other side of the room so that when you get there to catch them, they fall into your arms instead.

I find it difficult to not be recognized for this kind of work. To not be put on a pedestal in a public manner for doing the hard things, without being asked. I can get upset about the trajectory of the next 10 years, how many more hours I’ll log doing dishes, making beds, folding laundry. For how many internal conversations I’ll have about what really matters, and the result of that is always putting them before myself because they’re not here for that long. And when you have a burning desire to chase your dreams inside that is constantly met with the reality of your everyday, mundane tasks of sweeping instead: you can suffer in silence. You can cut off the oxygen to that fire that wants more for you.

But friends,

Case of the Monday's

You can be one of many and still be chosen.

You can still write that book, build that table, paint those canvases, write those scripts. You can still run that marathon, and become that chef. You can still own that restaurant, be a photographer, write those poems, own that clothing store. You can be one of many dreams, you can even have more than one: and you can still go get it.