February 22, 2013

Pantry Taco Soup

As in eating right, not hurrying, although I do a lot more of the latter.  These days I am lucky if I get dinner on the table. My slow cooker has become my best friend. As a matter of fact, I bought a second, slightly smaller one. So far I have used it to cook potatoes for a side dish and it has worked great.  Here is a recipe that is quick and easy, albeit EVERY INGREDIENT IS A PROCESSED FOOD. So I think I will save this recipe for tax season. Or for the next natural disaster to come our way that causes a power outage. It is modified from Fix It and Forget It. 

Pantry Taco Soup

2 28 oz cans tomatoes (I used crushed tomatoes)
2 15 ox cans corn, undrained
4 cans beans, rinsed and drained (the recipe called for black beans, but I only had one can left so I used a can of black, garbanzo, kidney, and cannellini or white kidney beans)
1 packet taco seasoning mix
1 packet ranch dressing mix

shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, tortilla chips

mix first 5 ingredients in a slow cooker heat for 4 hours on low (or put it on your stove and heat through)

serve with above fixings

Four hours is too short a cooking time while I am at work, but since today was errand day, and I have to drive people around tonight during the time I should be making dinner, four hours in the slow cooker is perfect timing. If we didn't have power I could easily heat this on the side burner of my gas grill.

February 8, 2013

How to Make It Work

I have a busy life. There are two essential ingredients to managing a busy life. 

Foremost is putting God first. A friend once told me that He is the perfect secretary. Ask Him what is most important, what you should be working on right now, and He will guide you. And she is right. Staying close to the Lord is crucial to living a happy and successful life. Not only will He help you manage it all, but He will help you focus on the important things and let go of the unimportant and counterproductive things.

Second is organization. Time management, schedules, lists, and along with that, assignments. The Lord helps here too. I have received inspiration as I have tried to figure out how I am going to make my life work.

Here are some of the things I have come up with to help me through tax season, AND BEYOND!

Seminary - share the load

We were able to combine classes. The teacher of the other class (who used to be my co-teacher) is taking five classes this semester, so it was mutually beneficial to combine and share the load. Since we taught together before, we know how to work together. We meet during the Sunday school hour at church to plan the week. She teaches two days, I teach two days, and the fifth day we play games. We still attend every day, but we do not have to plan more than two lessons a week.

Groceries and meals - make it simple and use what you have

If I were really smart we would eat rice and beans every weeknight. I would buy a rice cooker and set it up next to my slow cooker and that would be it. My kids would rebel, however, so I cannot make it that simple. I have come up with this plan:

Friday - on the run. I never know who will be here on Friday night, since the boys can be camping, any of the kids can be at a friend's, sometimes, although rarely, my husband and I will go out, and sometimes we just need to fill our pizza craving. So, Fridays I will make what I want for my husband and I, which guaranteed will be some kind of soup. If the kids are home they can have some or scrounge for themselves. My freezer/pantry is full of kid friendly food:  pizza rolls, frozen pizzas, mac and cheese, popcorn chicken, raman noodle soup, etc.

Saturday - My big cooking day. Last week I made meatballs and sauce (which took 4 hours). We got another meal out of the sauce and still have some meatballs in the freezer. Tomorrow is shot due to a blizzard we are having, but future plans are post roast, roasted chicken, ham, etc.

Sunday - A fairly simple dinner, but will be making soup or salad for the week as well.

Monday - Pasta. Monday is always pasta night in our house, and my kids can cook it.

Tuesday - Something from the freezer and/or pantry, along with a fresh or frozen vegetable. I have lots of leftovers packed in Foodsaver bags (that is the point of Saturday's endeavor).

Wednesday - sandwiches or fast food (probably fast food until we are sick of it, then sandwiches)

Thursday - crock pot soup/stew/one pot meal

Using what I have also includes recipes. When planning my menu, I will be looking at my recipe file box, and what I have already posted here. The rest of the year offers plenty of time for experimenting and trying new things. Now I need to stick to the tried and true. Stuff I know I can get on the table in the time that I have and that I know people will eat.

Cleaning - share the load

Saturday is clean the house day. I clean the bathrooms and kitchen. My kids are responsible for the rest. Sometimes some of the kids won't be around, camping with the scouts comes to mind, so that week the ones that are home have to do more, and the others will make up for it the week after.

I also came up with a dishwashing schedule, based on who will be home that night.

Monday:  K&J
Tuesday: P&J
Wednesday: whoever eats home cleans up after himself
Thursday: S&G
Friday: S&C
Saturday: K&C
Sunday: G&P

Everyday there are two to help and everyone has two days. I love it when it works out like that!


This still falls on me mostly. My daughter can now drive herself, so that saves me two trips on Thursday, but also helps me to stay at work longer since some of her activities are after school.

Next year she will be able to drive everyone else, and my evenings will get much easier (other than the worrying), and she will know what it is like to be me. 

The year after that there will be less kids to drive around. In any event, it gets easier from here on.

This is what is working so far!

Happy Homemaker Monday February 8

I was actually home today (Monday) because they have not plowed the street where I work yet. We had even more snow than they predicted: 36 inches in my town and 40 inches in the town where I work! We spent all weekend shoveling out. The kids are off from school for possibly the whole week. But, we did NOT lose power! So grateful for that.

Yes, I am aware that is Friday's date because it is, in fact, Friday. I am cheating because I started working and this is my day off and therefore the only free time I have. So I hope you don't mind my non-compliance, I love participating and don't want to miss out.  See Sandra at Diary of a Stay at Home Mom for more Happy Homemaker Monday and other great posts too. She is truly inspiring.

The Weather
Here we go again. I would actually be thrilled with our circumstances if it were not for the threat of loss of power and that my husband will spend the weekend at work and leave us to clean possibly two feet of snow off the driveway. I am in the northeast and we will be experiencing the "blizzard of the century". The reports on how much snow we will be getting and when it will start have been so varied and conflicting and it has been really frustrating. Anyway, the snow has started and immediately started covering the roads so I am already housebound. There will be high winds later in the day which means we may lose power. I am not prepared for that this time.

Right Now
I was supposed to be taking my youngest to the orthodontist and then stopping by the warehouse club for cases of water and then the library for a couple of books to read, but since it started so fast and furious all of that has been cancelled. Instead I will fill every water container I have with water, reading the books that are already in my house (or on my kindle if we don't lose power - my kindle fire goes through battery quickly, does yours?), and have already rescheduled the orthodontist appointment. So right now I am enjoying the peace and quiet while the ones whose school was cancelled sleep upstairs.

Worrying, actually, about my oldest, who should have been at school, but since it was cancelled, went to work at the bank instead because the snow wasn't supposed to start until after noon. I am not worried about my husband because he will most likely stay at work throughout the storm.

Still Gone With the Wind and the New Testament, but I may start Silver Linings Playbook. I have a preview on my kindle.

On My TV
Nothing has changed there either! Still have the movies from Netflix. I need to catch up on Glee.

On My Menu
Today was supposed to be my grocery shopping day. I thought about going last night (not that I had time to plan a menu) because of the storm, but then realized that if we lose power I will have that much more food to possibly spoil. I still have a couple of gallons of milk and enough food in my pantry and freezer to provide for awhile. This may be a clean out the freezer week! There is no point in planning anything until things are back to normal, since we don't know if we will have electricity or not, or when I will have a chance to go to the store after this is over.

Now that I am working, I have very little time for dinner preparation (see below), so I have to think quick and easy. The crock pot is a huge help, so are soups!

Here is what this past week's menu looked like:

Friday:  Friendly's for three of us, one was camping, one was with friends, husband was stuck at work
Saturday:  homemade meatballs and sauce, spaghetti, salad, bread 
Sunday:  Yummy pork chops, mashed potatoes, green beans
Monday:  pasta with leftover meatballs and sauce, salad
Tuesday:  hot dogs in chili, wrapped in torillas, corn
Wednesday:  taco bell (I am not home at all on Wednesday nights, only long enough to pick up two of my kids)
Thursday:  beef stew, rolls

I don't want to rely too much on dining out, but Wednesdays are unavoidable.

To Do
My life, scheduled, for the next 12 weeks:

Monday-Thusday: get up at 4:15 am, shower, dress, pray, put daughter's lunch together*, make daughter's breakfast*, warm up car, throw load of laundry in washer, leave at 5:45.

5:55 - 7:45: seminary, drive kids to school, drive home

7:45-8:30:  eat breakfast, read scripture block for seminary lesson, feed dog, put clothes in dryer, pack lunch, take dog out, possible dinner prep

8:30-5:15: drive to work, work

5:15 - 6:00:  drive to school, pick up son, drive home

6:00 - 6:45: dinner, leave for piano/therapy/youth group/scouts/dance, depending on the day

7:30/8:30/9:00 - 10:00:  arrive home, prep for next day: dinner/lunches/pack, clean up, fold & put away laundry, pray, collapse in bed

Friday: same early morning schedule, then menu plan, grocery list, allergy shots, bank, gas for car, grocery buying & putting away, bookkeeping, laundry.

Saturday:  house cleaning, laundry, cooking

Sunday:  church, seminary class planning, REST

That is my life while I work. I have the UPMOST respect for women that work full time year round. The downside of working for only part of the year is that our family life does not support my working. Nothing changes once I start: all of the kids' activities continue, and my husband is no help. Not because he is lazy, but because he has a ridiculously demanding job, but that is another post altogether.

The one saving grace this year is that my daughter got her license last Friday, so she is able to drive herself to school on the days she has drama, and drive herself to piano and to dance. That saves me time and lets me work until 5-5:30 at night.

*One son makes his own lunch, the other, because he is a foster child, gets free hot lunch, and both take care of their own breakfasts. I do it for my daughter because it takes her longer to get ready.


Homemaking Tip
To continue from my last tip:  keep on top of your bookkeeping! Every week I record my purchases (daily is even better, because you can keep even better track of your budget) and reconcile all of my accounts. With access to our accounts online, it is easy to do. This makes the task less overwhelming, keeps you on top of your spending, and will help you detect any fraudulent activity more easily and quickly. Plus you have peace of mind knowing exactly where you stand financially. Reconcile every week. I highly recommend it!

Looking Around the House
There are a few things to put away, but it is not too bad because we are staying on top of it. Being a procrastinator, I am so much more efficient when I have no time! The kids are still asleep upstairs, the dog is on the couch, even though he shouldn't be, and the snow is falling outside.

From the Camera
Getting ready to say goodbye as I pull out of the driveway?

On My Prayer List
My kids, my students, my father, my girlfriend's son.

Bible Verse
"But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
Matthew 6:33

Here is one of my favorite object lessons:

a jar, rice, ping pong balls (or other large objects)

jar = life
rice = things of the world
balls = things of God

If we put the worldly things in our lives first (pour in all of the rice), then the things of God do not fit (attempt to put in all of the balls, they will not all fit)

However, if we put the things of God first (put the balls in first), then the things of the world will fit around them (pour in the rice, it will fill in the spaces around the balls and all will fit in the jar).

I am so grateful for seminary. Yes, it is demanding, it is hard, it is draining, it requires a LOT, but it also gives me the opportunity to put God first in my life, in fact, in every day of the week. Because we meet early in the morning every day before going to school or work, we feel the Lord's protection, guidance, and love. And, as you can see by my schedule above, He helps it all to fit.

Have a great week!