Fall Camping

We took advantage of a school break to have one more camping adventure of the year in Northern Michigan. We stayed at Platte River Campground in the Sleeping Bear Dunes and ventured to Frankfort, Beulah, Traverse City, Empire and Glen Arbor for a color tour/food/things to do/and to listen to podcasts before bed.

Fall Camping 2016
Platte River Campground, Fall 2016
Platte River Campground, Fall 2016
Platte River Campground, Fall 2016

We hiked to the beach, made a teepee with fallen trees, cooked over the fire, drank lots of tea and hot chocolate, hung around in hammocks, played soccer and read. It was chilly and a bit rainy one of the days but we stayed warm and dry.

Platte River Campground, Fall 2016
Platte River Campground, Fall 2016
Platte River Campground, Fall 2016
Fall Camping 2016
Fall Camping 2016
Fall Camping 2016
Fall Camping 2016
Fall Camping 2016
Fall Camping 2016
Fall Camping 2016
Fall Camping 2016
Platte River Campground, Fall 2016
Fall Camping 2016
Fall Camping 2016
Platte River Campground, Fall 2016

We saw a fox! Lots of deer and squirrels and every brilliant fall color.

Resources and places to visit:

**Take the M22 drive
**Stop for coffee and bagels at Leelanau Coffee Roasters in Glen Arbor
**Make a special stop for the kids in your car at The Cherry Republic (they do pop tastings!)
**Grab a hot chocolate to walk around with or sit and stay and enjoy a beer at Brew in Traverse City
**Once you’ve satisfied your craving, head to Brilliant Books for some inspiration and to catch up on your favorite authors
**If you’re hungry make a special trip to Harvest (in Traverse) or Stormcloud (in Frankfort)
**If you just want a snack and a glass of wine with a view or you want to wrap up the wine trail with a memorable tradition – head to Brys Estate Winery for a glass of wine and a cheese board on their deck
**Then sneak down to their Secret Garden with your kids (or friends) and giggle with delight (maybe nightcap it with some apple cider)
**For a memorable afternoon with friends or older kids who love outdoor activities, make a stop at Hop Lot for a fire and games (their tacos are not to be argued with, either)
**A weekend for just the two of you? Make it special with dinner at 9 Bean Rows
**Have the kids along? There’s still something for you at their bakery to take home – 9 Bean Rows Bakery

I love Michigan and traditions. When the two meet, fall in love and make out passionately in the back of my car? We make memories.

Washington, 2016

This past summer we took off for the PNW taking a week to road trip west, a month to stay in one place, and a week to road trip back east to the midwest. So far, here’s what I’ve documented: Day 1, South Dakota, Custer State Park, etc, Mt Rushmore and the Black Hills, Montana, Day 6, 7 and 8, as well as a few posts about our time in Washington: Home and Like you, Like me.

I haven’t been able to write about our time away yet, I thought it was because there was so much to tell you, to unpack, but I think it’s because I wasn’t ready to share it. It took an entire year of planning to even get there and the year it took was a hard one. There was so much good but so much hard good and getting to the end of the plan and experiencing it first hand was spiritual for me. I needed this summer, those people, my people. I needed that place and the space to unwind, to spread out without anyone watching me. I needed to be a in place where I could blend in and not stand out, where I didn’t recognize faces and wasn’t recognizable. Even though I looked like everyone else, even though I was among people who would know me, who could really see me.

First morning in Washington, Home.

First morning in Washington, Home.

I ran away, to some extent. Far away. The farthest I could go for as long as I could go. I was trying to leave a few things behind and pick up a few more along the way. I had ideas and all kinds of expectations that quickly went to the wayside.

We got to our rental house and unpacked and then I made dinner.

Cooking

Cooking

Cooking

Furiously chopping and pouring, simmering and steaming. The little kitchen didn’t have a chance. I’d like to think of it as a yoga for the mind. I worked so much out in that little kitchen. Without modern tools to help along the way, every batch of cookies or bread I made, I did by hand. No power tools. Just me and a whisk, a wooden spoon. And I counted the minutes it took to knead a loaf of bread and I let the sweat drip down my face as I knit my entire back in knots over countless batches of cookie dough. I let the kids think it was the onions that made me cry, even though the tears didn’t stop well past the chopping.

Home

I accomplished the things I thought I wanted to. I saw and introduced and explored the landscape of my heart and I walked those roads, up and down, back and forth. Disappearing into the pines, letting the rains baptize me in the moment. I was there for guts and glory and I wasn’t going anywhere until I undid myself.

2016-06-23 07.28.48

2016-06-23 07.33.57

Just as soon as we arrived, we quickly began a routine of picking berries with my Aunt. Not just any berries. PNW berries from the very capital of the entire world of berry producing soil. Whatcom County. And it was berry season. And I had arrived.

Picking blueberries

Picking blueberries

A month in Washington

Picking blueberries

Picking blueberries

There was a romance in those fields. Heavy, ripe fruit bending it’s branches. You would touch them and they’d fall into your hands. It never took more than half an hour to fill alllllll our bowls and buckets and we’d laugh and eat so many that our tummies would hurt and we’d guess how long it would take for us to run out and return to the rows.

We’d go in the middle of the day, at the end of the day, just before sunset, at dusk. We’d go mid morning and quick before dinner, right after dessert, and before the movie started. We went and went and went. Back to the field, back to the rows, back to the fertile soil.

Picking blueberries

Picking blueberries

And it became a rhythm for me, a meditation of our time spent there. A place to go, a reason to return. To the fields. To the dirt by the mountains kissed by the misty rain under the sun and the wide open sky and where I found myself. Where I found myself dancing and laughing and eating and being merry and in love and in communion and in relationship and together, with my family.

Picking blueberries

Like I had never not been there in the first place. Like I was always where I belonged. Like I had never left.

Like I never would.

To the water

The skies have been grey for a few days now, this weather always begs me to say too much and bleed all over. To listen to the songs that bring me to the edge and break me and I’m drawn to the water like a magnet. To put my feet in the foam and look out on the endless horizon. The water is where I go, not because I have a choice, there’s a lure there, it’s the place where all I see is what’s in front of me.

Manistee
Manistee

The water is a constant in my life and the more I sort out and come to terms with all the things that send us to our knees I’m drawn to the water to remind myself that this work is worth it.

Manistee

My Grandparents were just in town for a visit and after spending the summer in their neck of the woods it was so fun to see them on our turf so quickly again after immersing ourselves in their every day. One of the things my Grandpa does often when he visits is to have coffee with Aaron’s Grandpa. They talk politics and old man things and who knows what else. Fishing? They probably have all sorts of things to catch up on, but it matters to me that the patriarchs in my life are still standing. More than that, that they talk to each other.

The men in my life.

I have so few left.

Excavating my soul; it's been a year of hard truth

I mean, we should stop here, yes? It only took 24 words to tell my story from start to finish.

Manistee

All the poems I want to tell you, All the
things I want to give away and watch you take from me

if you could just put your hand on my heart
these are the words I don’t know how to write

from the closet of my wardrobe heart.

Dig around in there, excavate my soul.

I shared the whole poem on Instagram because this, this is it.

Manistee

I just want the water. The horizon. The waves. I want the drama of the lake, the hell fury of a storm coming in. A small place to write, a single burner to brew coffee and a jar for the wine I’ll drink.

Manistee
Manistee

Sometimes I want to forget, to disappear and come back when I’ve sorted this all out. When I’m ready for the responsibility of my life. When I’ve had all the conversations I never got to have and met with all the lovers I never had. When I lived a thousand different lives above bars and bookstores in cities all over the world. When I’ve finally settled my soul.

Maybe then, this would be enough.

Manistee

For now there’s always the lake. But the song she sings to me is only getting louder.

Manistee

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.