A Meal Plan Success Story!

Prep day rainbow!

You know what I do sometimes? Write a rave review about something and then find myself giving it up not long after. Happened with hot yoga, which I still miss terribly but gave up for reasons I won’t go into here. But I really, really hope it doesn’t happen with Prep Dish, because after years of wishing I was the type of person who could stick to a meal plan and a grocery list I’ve finally found a system that works for me and that I still like after almost 2 months. That’s a record!

There are a few reasons why Prep Dish works for me, and of course I relate them all back to personality typing. I am an INFP/Enneagram 4 and we tend to be spontaneous, don’t like to plan things out, and value variety over routine. I’ve tried various approaches to meal planning, but the spontaneous, rebellious side of me always took over within a few weeks and I was back where I started. But Prep Dish helps me avoid this problem in a couple of ways:

  1. You do all the prep work on Sunday. That means that during the week, it takes less than 20 minutes to get dinner on the table. I’m not going to go off the plan if the work is already done and the food just needs to be reheated or assembled. The most rebellious I get is not making dishes on the day they are assigned, but I still make them all within the week.
  2. The grocery list. I’m not going into the store and just filling up the cart with our regular stuff, so that regular stuff is not in the house for me to be tempted to go off plan with.
  3. Prep Day is a great commitment device. If I have the willpower to do all the prep on Sunday, I don’t have to spend any more mental energy convincing myself to eat well and cook a decent dinner all the other days of the week. Prep day is the key difference with Prep Dish. It’s a commitment device that works to not only help us eat healthier but also to manage my time better.
  4. Variety. Every week is different and new. I admit I do miss cooking my old standby meals sometimes, but I can always fit them in as a substitute for something on the meal plan that I know my family won’t eat. For example, I subbed my family favorite meat sauce one week instead of the marinara sauce in the meal plan. But the fact that each week is different means I never feel bored or trapped by routine.

As I continue using Prep Dish I am learning how to adapt it to suit us. We have 2 adults and 3-4 kids living under our roof depending on the day of the week, so I have been surprised that rather than not having enough food (it’s meant to feed a family of 4), we often have too much food.

Jack, at 3 years old, doesn’t eat a lot or a great variety of things, so he often doesn’t eat the food I’ve made. Neither does Tom, who at 18 is too busy to be home most nights for dinner and is also a picky vegetarian. Those 2 kids often end up eating a couple of boxes of mac and cheese, which is easy enough to make while I’m prepping dinner.

Andrew and Alex aren’t inclined to eat a wide variety of veggies or salad so we often have too much left over. But now that I know that, I can just buy less and cut the recipes in half.

Also, not all the recipes are AMAZING but they are all good enough. I’ve not been using the service long enough to know how frequently recipes are repeated, but if there is something we just didn’t like I’ll know that in the future and can sub a different recipe that we did like. I also wish there were other options besides Paleo and Gluten Free (a ketogenic option would be amazing), as I do sometimes feel like the meals are TOO healthy to appeal broadly to all members of my family. But that’s a lot to ask for any meal plan that isn’t populated with your own recipes. Ultimately, I find that having a meal plan that I feel happy sticking to is worth more to me than eating ketogenic.

If I were an INFJ (or really any XXXJ type) I might be able to make my own meal plan with my own recipes and shopping list and follow it happily. But I’m not that way and I am very glad I found something that works for the type of person I am, rather than the type I wish I was.

Summer 2017 Family Bucket List!

In an effort to not feel like the summer got away from me and we did nothing this year, I’ve created this list with the help of my family members. Some are easy, some take effort. Some are free, some will cost money. But they will ALL hopefully help us create a summer full of fun and memories as we get ready to send our second child off to college in August.

  • Visit Water Park
  • Visit Theme Park
  • Visit a Museum
  • Visit Nashville Murals
  • Visit 3 New Libraries
  • Visit 3 New Parks
  • Visit a Splash Pad
  • Visit Southern Living “Best Of” sites in Nashville
  • Make Homemade Ice Cream in a Florean Fortescue flavor
  • Go Hiking
  • Go to Movies
  • Go Bowling
  • Go Roller Skating
  • Host a Party
  • Play Board Games
  • Play Croquet
  • One Day Without Technology
  • Run a 5K
  • Go On a Road Trip
  • Eat a new type of cuisine
  • Walk to Dinner
  • Go to a Nashville Sounds Game
  • Go to a Concert
  • Visit the Farmer’s Market
  • Make Popsicles
  • Eat at a Food Truck
  • Catch Fireflies
  • Instagram Every Bucket List Item and Create Chat Book

Why We Are Moving

We are moving into our new house some time in March. It’s just a tad bigger than our current house and has 4-5 bedrooms, just like our current house  The biggest differences between our current house and our new house are:

  • New house has NO yard. Current house has 3 acres
  • New house is walkable to library, grocery store, restaurants. Current house is not walkable to anything – not even to just GO for a walk
  • New house is way more expensive than what we paid for current house

When we moved here 5 years ago, it was because I wanted to have land and chickens and maybe some larger animals. Andrew was worried that the upkeep would be too much and that most of it would fall to him, to which I objected. We fought. We bought the house. The upkeep fell to Andrew. And while I liked having chickens, I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would. As much as I wanted to like homesteading, I just didn’t. I realized that wanting to like something is VERY different from actually liking something.

I also wanted a smaller, cheaper house. This is the smallest, cheapest house I have ever owned. I am glad for this experience as it did force me to embrace a more minimal lifestyle. I had to get rid of half my kitchen stuff, for example. I have made my tiny kitchen work and I like it. I like not having as much stuff. But our house needs some remodeling, and over the past 5 years we haven’t made it a commitment to figure out how to pay for them and it’s made us tired of living here.

We aren’t the right owners for a property like this. Again with the wanting to like something instead of actually liking it. We wanted to like fixing something up but since we didn’t actually like it, we never did it. We updated the house on the cheap (paint and stuff like that) and I think we did a good job but we didn’t do the major things that we envisioned like a master bath remodel or an exterior re-do.

So I have learned some lessons:

  1. I am better suited to new houses that don’t require updating.
  2. I am better suited to houses with minimal outside upkeep (did I mention that I didn’t learn to use a lawnmower until about 2009?)
  3. Aesthetics matter a LOT to me. I think our current house is ugly on the outside and it’s always bothered me. I compromised on this when we bought the house because I thought we would fix it one day. But instead I’ve lived in a house for 5 years that I think it ugly.

Our new house is in a neo-traditional neighborhood with front porches and rear alleyways, within walking distance of the LIBRARY, movie theater, and main shopping district in our town. I have loved neighborhoods like this for a at least 15 years. But it seemed it just wasn’t the right choice for us financially and I tried to listen to Andrew this time and not make a decision I would later regret. He wasn’t nearly as interested as I was in the dream (I always have a dream) and he is way more practical. But he is also not one to stay in one place for long, and we have that in common.

Fast forward another month or two and Andrew had slowly been talking himself into the new house. On my birthday he took me to the neighborhood and we paid the deposit. And I think we have a book to thank for pushing us to take action. We both read Walkable City by Jeff Speck right around the time we were debating moving and it certainly influenced us to want to try living in a walkable area. Only time will tell if we have made the right choice but I wouldn’t be moving if I didn’t feel that this move would make it easier for me to live the life best suited to me.

 

No shopping challenge, continued: new rules

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As July ends and August begins, I’m perfectly happy to continue my “no shopping” challenge from last month, but with soem changes to reflect what I learned in July. Here is what I intent to do:

Needs are allowed, but every effort must be made to purchase used. I can buy new light bulbs, but if I need shoes or the kids need a lunchbox, I try ebay or Craigslist first.

Wants are allowed if I sell an existing possession to pay for it (sell a book to buy a book, consign clothes to buy clothes, etc).

Eating out is allowed if it’s for a date or the whole family participates (this only happens a couple of times per year!).

I’ll report back again at the end of August along with my new challenge for August, which I will talk about next time.

My no shopping month

This post contains an affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I might make a small commission.

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It’s July 30 and my month of trying not to spend any money is coming to a close. Andrew is the one that does our family budget (and does so wonderfully) so I don’t know how much money I saved. But I do know what the experience was like for me, what I learned, and what I have to consider going forward.

First, how I did. I wasn’t diligent about writing down the things I ended up spending money on but from memory here are the things I did buy:

  • 3 cups of coffee. I don’t have a space to work from home if other people are there, so in order to work I must leave the house. Sometimes my only option is a coffee shop (library doesn’t open until 10). $9.00
  • A pair of shoes for a child. Tom came home from band camp early in the first week with the sole of his shoe dangling by a thread. The whole sole had come off his 4 month old pair of Vans he bought with his own money! Off to the store we went.  $55.00
  • Out to lunch with Andrew for a day date after a work-related event.  $30.00
  • Library fines….50 cents
  • Used books for school. Alex needed two books to read for school before next week and the hold line was too long at the library. I found them used on Amazon and together they were $11.00.
  • Overage on a gift card purchase. I bought two lamps for our bedroom with a gift card but ended up still owing $9.00.
  • Three greeting cards. One for a sick family member and two to fulfill volunteer duties for the marching band (I could get reimbursed for these but I choose to absorb the cost myself). $5.00

Total: $114.50

Also, I did some spending that we had previously budgeted for related to housing expenses. Since the money is already set aside for this, I don’t count it as going against the spirit of this challenge. And in that same vein, we signed our new house contract but the money already existed for that. In fact, I think the lack of shopping gave me more time to focus on house projects. I repainted all of our kitchen cabinets, bought a new front door and scheduled it’s installation this month. I also sold a boatload of exercise equipment and cleaned out the garage.

What it was like.

Well, not hard. At times I wished I could take Jack out to eat or pop into Starbucks. It’s not like I’m normally spending big bucks on discretionary items but I do buy my fair share of used clothing and books. Even if I’m only spending $10.00 at Goodwill, it adds up. And honestly it wasn’t hard because I wasn’t being strict. As you can see, I did end up spending money on things when I felt it necessary. What I mostly eliminated was discretionary shopping purchases I might normally make on clothes, books, eating out, and things that jump in your cart mysteriously at Target.

Thoughts on the experiment:

I read a book yesterday called A Year Without a Purchase and one subject that I found particularly relevant to me was the link between consumerism/shopping and food consumption. The author made a mention of how he gained weight when he stopped buying things, as if he had traded the soothing from retail therapy for the soothing from eating. I can totally relate to that! Breaking up with one vice can often make another one intensify, so you aren’t really any better off. And all of this reminds me that these habits of eating poorly and consumerism are both attempts to resolve some level of anxiety or unhappiness we might be feeling. It takes work, hard work, to make your way through these issues and let go of the things that soothe but don’t improve us.

For years I told all my fitness clients that you can’t be healthy in this culture and be normal. Normal in the US right now is fat, on medication, depressed, and in debt. For those of us that don’t want to stand out and be weird it can be a long journey to embracing weirdness in the eyes of our friends and family in order to be healthy and financial secure, and you might lose some folks along the way. How many times a day (hundreds) will I see advertisements for junk foods or things to buy and have to remind myself that those aren’t for me anymore? The temporary boost in mood that comes from shopping or ice cream will have to come from somewhere else. Somewhere real and lasting, like exercise, giving, being with friends and family, and creative expression. I’m planning to continue this experiment for another month, to embrace the weird, because I think the journey is worth it. I’ll have some new rules, which I will share later, but the bottom line is I think a life without shopping is worth pursuing for more than one month!

 

 

 

My tidying hack

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Last year I upped my decluttering/minimalism game by reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I’ve given some thought to the lessons I learned from the book and from my own experience of getting rid of stuff and I was reminded of one of my key lessons recently by a Happier podcast. Each podcast episode of Happier includes a “Try This At Home” feature and in this episode it was “get rid of it as soon as it becomes useless”. As it relates to my own experience with minimizing and getting rid of stuff, here is my lesson: get rid of the storage containers when you get rid of the stuff inside!

It had never occurred to me before to get rid of my nice wicker baskets, storage cubes, or under-bed containers before. Sure, I had emptied them of stuff plenty of times. But by keeping them around I was only inviting more stuff to find it’s way into the containers again. Instead, now when I declutter and find myself with an empty container, I give it away as soon as it’s empty. I’m no longer looking for stuff to put into them and I’m reminding myself that I have enough stuff. If I add more stuff, I need to buy more containers and it’s very hard to do that when you know you just gave some away. It seems like a waste of money! I can’t tell you how much this made a difference in keeping my spaces permanently cleaner and my mindset on minimalism.

Storage containers cost money and it’s hard to give them away. They promise to hide your stuff, to give everything a home, to make everything seem organized. But nothing is better for organization than getting rid of stuff, and that includes storage containers.

Standard of Living Vs Standard of Luxury

I’m a big fan of minimalism, reducing clutter, being debt free, and living below your means. I think most of us spend too much time buying stuff we don’t need to impress people we don’t like. I believe we can greatly improve our quality of life by reducing our consumerist/materialist habits.

I just read a great little book on this topic that I got at the library called Lose 200 Pounds This Weekend (if you click on the image or the links it will take you to the Amazon page where you can get the Kindle edition for FREE).. If you need the motivation to get rid of stuff and remake not only your physical space but your health and happiness, I think you will find plenty of it in this book. It’s not a how-to book, it’s a how-come book. It will tell you WHY you should declutter but won’t really tell you how. For that I recommend The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which you can also get at the library or on Amazon.

Anyway,  Lose 200 Pounds This Weekend had a good comparison of what it means to have a high standard of living versus a high standard of luxury. From the book:

A High Standard of Living Is:

  • Freedom
  • Good health
  • High self-esteem
  • Being debt free
  • A stable family
  • A satisfying marriage

A High Standard of Luxury Is:

Having all the conveniences and comforts we think will eliminate effort and strain – those gadgets and extras of all kinds they keep coming up with and we keep accumulating.

Big difference, right? Personally, I think the high standard of luxury is a trap. You will never get to the finish line and you will never appreciate what you have because the whole point is the new, the missing, the unattainable. Yet that high standard of living can be had for a steal! All it takes is commitment to focusing on the things that really matter and bring high levels of return. Usually those things take time, effort, and intention, not money. They are things that will continue to pay you back for years to come and won’t lose their shine, their trendiness, or their cache a year after they have been purchased.

Lose 200 Pounds This Weekend is 16 years old and talks about concepts that have now been defined by neuroscience and psychology and can be found in many modern popular science books and articles. Clearly, before science took interest in habits, spending, and happiness these topics were still important and the behaviors were the same. So if you want to read how an insightful guy described things that today would be labeled “hedonic treadmill” or “choice architecture”, give this simple and down to earth book a few hours of your time and prepare to be inspired!

Backwards Holidays

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Last year we celebrated a new holiday for the first time, Christmas in July. It was so much fun that I’m already planning our 2nd annual celebration for next month. The reason it was so much fun is that we had absolutely no expectations about how the holiday should be executed, how we should feel, what we should buy, or what was expected of us by others. We were free of the weight of Pinterest, store displays, commercials, and TV specials. We ate some fun food together as a family (and a few friends, too), listened to Christmas music, made Christmas crafts, and played some games. It was perfect and I’ve unexpectedly learned a lot about how holidays affect me as a result.

It wasn’t until we had so much fun with our new holiday that I realized how stressful the real Christmas is for me. There is so much stress due to shopping for 5 kids, a husband, and assorted family members within budget and also while providing an equal number of gifts to everyone that are as thoughtful as can be. It’s a busy time of year, which is stressful for my introverted self. It’s cold and dark. Everyone else seems to be on the ball with meaningful Advent practices or stupid Elf on the Shelf stuff. I worry. That’s pretty much the gist of it. I worry.

And then Andrew and I had a conversation the night before Father’s Day this year in which he jokingly told me that Father’s Day should be in the fall so guys can spend the day watching football. Inspired by Christmas in July,  I went into my calendar and made an event for the weekend before Halloween called Fall Father’s Day For Football Fans. We will be celebrating it for the 1st of perhaps many times this year. Now I have another unique holiday that I can have fun with while leaving expectations and the Hallmark aisle out of it. Because of course Father’s Day stresses me out, too. I fear I’m not going to make it special enough or get a good enough present or whatever. No such worry with my made up Father’s Day!

I asked my kids over dinner if we could have a whole year where we celebrated all the holidays 6 months after they actually occur. I was only half joking. Christmas in July taught me just how much our experience of the holidays is shaped by the culture around us and that it is possible for celebrations to be joyful instead of stressful, carefree instead of intricately planned and orchestrated, light with play instead of heavy with stuff. No matter what we do with the actual calendar, I know what I am aiming for now and what a happy holiday feels like and I can work on getting there, thanks to our backwards holiday!

Buy Nothing New Challenge Update

I wrote about my decision to try a Buy Nothing New Challenge a few months ago. Well, for the most part it is going well, besides the holidays! I enjoyed the challenge and found that over time I really came to see it as a moral issue. If something exists in an already-made form, I feel obligated to find it rather than purchasing a new one. It seems so wasteful to buy new versions of things that are out there in great numbers already made and looking for a new home!

I have failed in many ways, like buying a new outfit from Fabletics, almost all the Christmas presents for my family, etc. But I have found some great places to buy used as well. Here are a few:

Facebook groups are GREAT places to buy high quality used clothing. I belong or have belonged to groups for Lululemon, Athleta, Stitch Fix, Anthropologie, and others. There are even BST (buy sell trade) groups for monogrammed items by letter!

I’ve also used Poshmark for high end used clothing, bought a used car on Carvana, and of course have used Ebay.

By far my most used resource is a local BST group of women just in my county. I use this site to buy and sell stuff all the time. It’s so much better than Craigslist because it’s local to my county and it’s women-only. I’ve bought Christmas presents, clothing, furniture, and more on there and sold my fair share of things as well. If you are looking to try this challenge, I really recommend you try to find a group like this on Facebook or Varage Sale.

I’m looking forward to continuing this challenge in 2016 and becoming more strict with it. It just feels right to keep this as an ongoing goal as there really is no downside. It benefits my family finances and prevents some small amount of goods being produced wastefully for my benefit.

Christmas In July

14572777462_91e25c08c5_zIn an effort to bring some much needed cheer and silliness to my family’s life, I decided to celebrate Christmas in July this year. I’ve been doing this parenting this for almost 20 years yet this is a first for me. I love Christmas so I’m not sure why it never occurred to me to celebrate Christmas in July but it reminds me of a famous saying:

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.

I’m not planning a Pinterest-worthy affair but rather a simple Christmas breakfast with my family with hopefully some ridiculous treats, board games, ornament decorating, and CHRISTMAS MUSIC. No gifts. I went to the store today to shop for gifts, thinking I would do stockings full of little things, but I changed my mind. I don’t think giving presents would make this event any more meaningful. In fact, it would make it less so as the focus would change from the experience to the material. Also, I always feel stressed at Christmas time because I think I didn’t get everyone enough presents, or the right presents, or an even number of presents, and everyone will be disappointed. Christmas in July is practice for me in not caring about that stuff and just having FUN with my kids and husband. Don’t get me wrong, I love giving gifts, but I love baking, holiday decorating, and sitting around the table with my family more. So that’s what we will do.

Here are some things I am considering for the yet-to-be finalized menu, none of which are ketogenic or healthy in any way but are gluten free:

Apple Fritters – these are insanely delicious.

Cinnamon Rolls – a tricky dough, but if it is too soft to roll you can just throw it in a dish and pretend it’s a cinnamon roll coffee cake. I know this.

Frozen Hot Chocolate – I’ve never made this.

Pancakes – well, I’m lying. The kids said they wanted waffles, and I don’t have a waffle maker so I will probably throw some frozen waffles in the toaster. BUT, this is my go-to gluten-free pancake recipe.

Santa Hat Brownies – never tried this but they had me at “mascarpone buttercream”.

I’ll be sure to take a few pictures and share them next week. Merry Half-Christmas to you!