Meditation… Hanging Laundry…

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Ah, meditation…in my circles, meditation seems to be a common topic of conversation. I find it on the blogs I read, in the fitness classes I attend, in the conversations I have with other moms like me… And it seems like a pretty good deal. You get to sit quietly. By yourself. And you don’t have to do or think anything. As someone who often feels overwhelmed by too many people and things, closing in bit by bit, that free vacation from it all sounds pretty, gosh-darn good.

But the reality is that for me meditation is a struggle. I go through phases where I am officially practicing it regularly. And I really do see results. It makes me happy, contented, and calm… Then *poof* one day I skip doing it and then the next and then the next. Until just the thought of it hangs over me, like a nagging mom…

“Go on… do it… you’ll feel better once you do… you’re always happy once you have… it’s good for you.”

Ugh. Nothing like a mom to speak the truth you don’t want to hear. J

Currently I am in the “nagging mom” phase of my meditation practice. Well, I was until I had a little epiphany while doing the chore of hanging the laundry on the clothesline yesterday afternoon. I find that chores fit into two categories: chores we deeply dislike and chores we don’t mind at all. Hanging the laundry is one of those chores that I don’t mind at all. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I really like hanging the laundry. It’s a highlight in my day! I have recognized this in myself for a while, but this afternoon, I happened to ask myself why. My answer surprised me a little.

Here is what I like about hanging the laundry. Hanging the laundry is an outside activity. It involves full-body movement. On top of that it is repetitive and methodical, while also requiring a certain sense of care and attention so that the clothes come away neat and wearable. And all of this is generally done in solitude. It was in the middle of this process that I realized why it makes me so very happy… all this time I have been doing a laundry meditation!

Now that I am thinking about it, not all meditations need to be the traditional type, sitting in a chair or on a cushion, in silence or with gentle music playing. And in fact, it still counts, even if it’s not that traditional type. It can happen when I’m hanging laundry or washing dishes or wiping down the bathroom. A quiet contemplative state where I am playing great attention to the moment its self is its own kind of meditation. To that end, with flexibility and an open mind, I can more easily fit meditation into my daily life.

Lucky me… Suddenly, with no struggle at all, I am left feeling refreshed and good that I am taking care of myself… and look at that the laundry got done!

Cheers! Lauren

Managing Summer…

charley pool

Ah, summer vacation… By the time we get to May each year, summer vacation can’t come soon enough for us. Right about that time, I start to daydream about open-ended days where we don’t have to “answer to the man”; where we wake with the sun and not our alarm clocks, and the rest of our day is the perfect mix of relaxation and exciting family adventures. Sound picturesque? Well, I do have a top-notch imagination…

So, needless to say, that is not exactly what happens… While I do have the luxury of being at home with the kids and my sole job is managing our lives and the household, I do not seem to be able to perfectly recreate that unblemished world of my imagination day in and day out for three months. That said, I do try and here are a few things that bring me closer to my unattainable goal:

  1. Summer Planning Work Session… This is something that we did at the beginning of the summer on a whim, and I feel like it helped us start off in the right direction. First we ordered take out for dinner to make it an “event”. Then we broke out our Wellness Wheels** to help us gauge our satisfaction with our own lives, and from there we talked about our personal goals for the summer. We also talked about how we could help each other meet these goals. Finally we took the opportunity that evening to brainstorm ideas for our summer family bucket list. By the end of the evening it felt like we were ready to dive in to summer vacation!
  2. Family Bucket List… I’ve talked about our family bucket list on an earlier post, and it continues to be a driving force behind our accomplishments as a family. During summer break, I rely heavily on the family bucket list to guide me in scheduling in fun and adventures. Some of the bucket list items are easy and relaxing, like our quest to watch all of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies or what we call “porch-sicles” where we just enjoy popsicles on the front porch together after dinner. Others are adventures designed to force us out of our home-body comfort zones and to create stories to tell when we head back to school in the fall. These adventures include various camping trips, paddle boarding on the bay during vacation, or helping with my husband’s adventure race. Checking off various types of activities throughout the summer means that when we reach the end of vacation it will feel balanced and well-spent.
  3. Organized Sports, Activities, and Jobs… Despite the fact that not “answering to the man” is what I look forward to the most about summer, I have found that having something organized and with outside expectation is important in giving my kids a sense of structure over the summer months. The activity is generally something that also can be missed for travel or an adventure just too exciting to skip, but otherwise we make a full-hearted effort to go. With four kids, it can at times feel like a bit too much, but most weeks it is effective to have things scheduled. This summer the boys each have a sport going, swim team, soccer conditioning, and ultimate frisbee, and Molly has a few part-time jobs that give her some structure, too.
  4. Personal Bucket List… In addition to our family bucket list, I have started my own weekly personal bucket list. It shows the things that I would like to accomplish each week that are my own, separate from the family. On it you find things like:
  • run/walk (3)
  • bike
  • pilates (2)
  • garden (3)
  • clean baths
  • vacuum
  • sewing project
  • home improvement project
  • hike

It is the same list every week, and while not nearly as fun as our family bucket list, it prevents me from ending the week feeling like I didn’t take care of myself.

  1. Morning List/Check-in… While I like the kids to take advantage of summer mornings to catch up on rest and relaxation, too much of that good thing does not make for a good summer. To prevent day after day of sloth-like behavior, we have a list of morning activities posted to the refrigerator. It is a list of pretty obvious morning activities… breakfast, teeth brushing, instrument practicing, for example… but on summer break it’s nice to not have to think too hard… and the kids know not to ask to do something extra, like, say, play Xbox or head off to a friends house, if the list isn’t fulfilled, thus eliminating some stress for me, too!
  2. Family Meeting… We keep up with our family meetings most Sundays in the summer, too. They allow us to stay connected and well as to look at the week ahead and have some control over how much we have scheduled and how much time we have for vegging. This weekly fine-tuning is helpful in finding the ever-elusive balance.
  3. Flexibility and Forgiveness… And finally… and this is probably more of a reminder for me than anybody else… I try to remember that while life is what we make it, it is also often out of our control. It is important that I listen (both literally and figuratively) to my family and myself. A big adventure may not be just what we need that day. Or vegging around the house for the day might encourage edginess and bickering instead of rejuvenation. That said, if I get it wrong… well, that’s where the forgiveness comes in!

corkscrew willow

So that’s what our summer looks like around here. How about you? Do you have any special approaches to get the most out of your summer? How do you make sure you and yours will be ready to head into the school year satisfied, but rested and raring to go?!

Cheers! Lauren

**Wellness Wheels are something I was introduced to in college while working for JMU’s Center for Community Service-Learning. Briefly, it is a tool for gauging satisfaction in various parts of one’s life. A circle is divided with six points: Social, Physical, Intellectual, Spiritual, Emotional, Occupational, with a spoke coming from the center to each of points. The spoke is then used like a sliding scale of how satisfied or dissatisfied you are with each category. When you connect the dots on your sliding scale you have a visual of how balanced your life is… a balanced life produces a wheel that could roll. 🙂

Our dinner story… spring beginnings…

Happy Sunday all! Did you notice that spring begins this week? Our weather here in Virginia has been very spring-like… you know, the early spring kind… snow, sun, rain, freezing rain, sun, repeat… We did get that snow I had talked about last week, enough for two snow days and a delay for the kids. And that, combined with my car being held hostage at the mechanics for five days and one of the kiddos going ahead and breaking their arm, did wreak some havoc on my menu plan as predicted. I finally did make my monthly trip Costco by the end of this week, so we’re going to call that a win!

Sunday: Chicken and Root Veggies Sheet Pan Dinner with Green Salad… Today was going to be our postponed St Patrick’s Day dinner, but a big benefit to snow days is that things get canceled and we get to spend more time snuggle up together at home as a family, enjoying our corned beef on actual St. Patrick’s Day! So today we will enjoy that sheet pan dinner I mentioned in my last dinner story. It is wet and chilly this weekend, so I think that will do nicely before we start shifting to lighter, springier fare.

Monday: Chicken Fried Rice… After look ahead in the calendar, it is clear that this week is going to require dinners that come together quickly and easily. Soccer’s spring season officially starts this week and that, combined with continuing school play rehearsals, the wrapping up of robotics season, and my youngest’s swimming habit, life really takes off starting at 4:00 in the evening.On Monday I plan to use the leftover chicken bits with some frozen peas, scrambled egg, and rice to make a quick fried rice. I’ll sauté some garlic and some soy sauce before through in the rest of the ingredients. Nice and hot in our big white latte bowls, it should be it perfect comfort food as people move to and fro throughout the evening.

Tuesday: Saucy Tuna Puttanesca over Rice with Sautéed Baby Kale… My easiest-to-make meals are rarely actual recipes, and Tuesday’s dinner is no exception. My Tuna Puttanesca starts like most of my recipes with sautéed onions and garlic. Then I’ll add two boxes of diced tomatoes and a tube of tomato paste. A whole tube may sounds like a lot, but I love tomato paste! The sweet/sour umami flavor really speaks to me. Giving that a stir, I start adding fun, zingy flavors: a glug or two of Worcestershire, capers, halved kalamata olives, some lemon juice, and plenty of red pepper flakes. Finally, six or so cans of drained tuna go in, breaking them into large chunks with a wooden spoon. I’ll serve all that over rice with a side of sautéed garlicy baby kale. It will be nice to have the bitterness of the baby kale there to play off of the tangy puttanesca.

Wednesday: Springtime Pot-a-Feu… I’m starting to throw off the mantle of winter with warming meals that have a lighter, fresher feel. Wednesday’s meal of Springtime Pot-A-Feu is perfect for that. The recipe’s beef should make it nice and hearty, but lighter with its brothiness and spring-time veggies.

Thursday: Cod Hash of  Yellow Corn and Potatoes with Green Salad… Last week’s trip to Costco meant that I was able to stock up on frozen fish. I’ll use a bag of it in my Cod Hash with Yellow Corn and Potatoes. I often struggle to remember to defrost meats and fish the number of days ahead that is usually needed, but this dinner is great because the fish can cook up easily whether I remember to or not! I find that the most efficient way of doing hash is if you can get the potatoes baking earlier in the day or even the night before. In a large pan, lay the fillets of fish, cooking them until they are opaque. Remove them from the pan, paying no mind to whether they stay in one piece or not. Then, while you’ve got some onions sauteing in plenty of olive oil, you can chop up the cooled baked potatoes. When the onions are soft and maybe even caramelly, you can add in some garlic and other veggie that you might want, like bell peppers, shredded carrots, and yellow corn. Next to go in are the chopped up potatoes. Let the potatoes get browned and crispy before flipping them with your biggest spatula. Lastly, add the fish, breaking it up into bite-sized pieces, as you stir it in. Finish with salt and pepper. I will serve it with a fresh Green Salad and the ever important bottle of Frank’s Red Hot.

Friday: Pizza Friday… Friday evening is book club night for me, so we’ll probably do our usual pizza takeout on the earlier side before the ladies come over. I’ll be serving desserts and cocktails at book club, so currently I am leaning toward a citrus almond cake, sorbet for my vegan friends, as well as port and tea. I started this book club a about a year ago and it is a major highlight for me, so I’m sure you will be hearing more about it on this blog sometime soon.

Saturday: Slow Cooker Basil Chicken in Coconut Curry Sauce over Rice…This weekend holds yet another soccer tournament, as well as a few school musical-related commitments, so I will be getting out the ol’ slow cooker. I try very hard to keep my one-trick-pony appliances to a minimum, but the slow cooker is a true gem. It has gotten us through many a soccer season, providing delicious, healthy home cooked meals at the end of a long day. One of my favorite dishes to make in the slow cooker are curries because of the magic that happens to their flavors when they slow cook all day long. I’m planning to try this recipe for Slow Cooker Basil Chicken in Coconut Curry Sauce that is new to me, but basil + curry + coconut just has to be a winner.

Sunday: Black Bean Soup and Cornbread… The menu was looking a little meat-heavy this week, so I threw in a vegan meal to wrap things up on Sunday. Moosewood’s Black Bean and Chipotle Soup is an all-time favorite of ours and is good for this time of year because while the black beans keep it hearty, the zesty orange juice it calls for really lightens the final flavor. We never really eat it without cornbread, but just a green salad would lighten the whole menu even more, if you were so inclined.

This week’s menu looks like a good way to ease into Spring. There’s still a little bit of snow dotting the corners of the yard, but the daffodils are springing up all over, too, so the combo of lighter soups and spring greens seems just right. I kind of like the two-steps-forward, one-step-back approach to the Spring season, with hints of summery weather here and there, but still the chilly mornings and good dose of rainy days…

Cheers! Lauren

 

Family Time… Bucket List…

FullSizeRenderLast summer when visiting with a best friend from college, my dear friend Becky mentioned her family’s bucket list. Now Becky’s oldest and my oldest are about a decade apart, so while hers are still in the preschool years, mine are in the teenage phase of life, and our daily activities are a world apart. But when she mentioned the bucket list, I got excited. Here is a tool that can both keep her little ones entertained and engaged, as well as keep my older crew connected to the family for just a little bit longer. It’s genius!

This bucket list is set up more like a bingo card, a 8×10 block grid, with most of the spaces filled with various events, activities, and challenges. We, like Becky’s family, have chosen to cover a season’s worth of time with each list, so thus far we have made a Fall (September-November), a Winter (December-February), and a Spring (March-May) list. At the end of one season and the beginning of the next we brainstorm ideas for the coming season’s list and the ideas follow quickly and easily.

Some of the spaces have holidays in them. There are well-known ones like Christmas and Valentines Day, and smaller, but still known ones like Ground Hog Day and MLK Day. We also like to add some practically unknown, but fun ones like National Popcorn Day and National Hot Cocoa Day. We find some way to recognize the holiday when it comes, eating a big bowl of popcorn together on National Popcorn Day or just talking about did the ground hog saw his shadow and whether or not we think he will be right this year.

In other spaces there are scheduled, but fun activities like the going to see Charley sing in the school chorus concert or supporting Riley at a soccer game. The best thing about these spaces is that they encourage us to support each other’s activities. Now that most of my kids can stay home alone, it is just as easy to leave the unenthusiastic ones behind, and mum and dad go off to watch the [insert activity here]. But with the bucket list encouraging us, sometimes we all head off to the soccer game (or swim meet or robotics competition or school play) together, and the kid in the activity feels the love and support of the whole family.

Finally we like to include general family fun in the bucket lists. These take the form of outings, like “go see show” or  “ice skating”. There might be adventures, such as “family bike ride” or “family adventure race”. And then there are the challenges and projects, for example “Harry Potter movie marathon”, “chapter book by the fire”, and “prep vegetable garden”. Some items are traditions that will be added to the list year after year and others are unique, one-time experiences.

As we accomplish the various items on the list, we use a marker to high light each activity. Being a “list-maker type”, I find this alone satisfying, but the best part is actually the feeling of balance that the bucket list brings. Being a family of six, we are never lacking for things to do, be it a scheduled activity, a home improvement project, or some family fun, but the difficulty comes in when trying to prioritize and get the most out of life. Pre bucket list, a weekend would wrap and it would feel as thought we only worked and didn’t play, or we only vegged and didn’t do enough work. Now, as long as we are highlighting the items on our list, then we are content knowing that we are working and playing at what is important to us.

Cheers! Lauren

Our dinner story… a wintery March…

Hi all…

Here we are in our second week of March, but it looks like we will be getting a full solid week of winter. Cold, cold temps, and, currently, a strong possibility of a major snow storm early on in the week… I’ll believe it when I see it, as this has been a particularly un-snowy winter here in Virginia, but, boy, would I love a good snow. Having grown up in the northeast, I am a little put off by Virginia’s meh winters. I like proper cold and snow from November through February, thank you very much!

Because of the blustery weather, dinners this week will trend toward heavy and warm, with something fresh and green thrown in for a hint at spring. Today we’ll be having that Kalpudding that I spoke of last week, which hopefully will help to thaw out Noah and Riley who are spending the weekend in the 30 degree weather at a soccer tournament. Brrrrr!

We’ve shifted our family meeting this week to Monday as we don’t know when the intrepid travelers will return from their weekend activities. In addition to the soccer tournament, Will is at a robotics competition both Saturday and Sunday. For both kids it is a situation where if their teams do well, the weekend gets longer… and not in a relaxing way… I’m always torn between wanting them to succeed and wanting us all to get to cozy up at home and have a nice, gentle end to the weekend. Regardless, Monday should be a good night to gather for family dinner/meeting and I’ve had this slow cooker Indian Fish Curry recipe tucked away  for a while. I believe we would all benefit from more fish in our diets, but due to a shellfish allergy among us as well as the many varieties of fish that are unhealthy or environmentally unsound, the options are few and boredom can quickly set in. This recipe, however, seems spicy and flavorful, a departure from plain, broiled whitefish. Here’s hoping…

It is predicted that Tuesday could be a snow day home from school. We’ll see, but there are certain recipes that seem just right for a snow day, and they all involve a big pot of something simmering away on the stove. This Tuesday, a pot of beans should do the trick. I intend to turn them into Moosewood Restaurant‘s Chili Burgers with some sweet potato fries. If our grocer delivery makes it through the snow I’ll add add in this Alabama Hot Slaw, also a Moosewood recipe.

Now Wednesday’s dinner is a prime example of how you can plan and plan and life still gets in the way. If you read last week’s dinner story, you’d have read about the Brazilian Fish Stew I was planning to make, but, here’s the thing… sometimes you forget the extra steps it takes to prepare for a meal. Sometimes you forget to take the meat out of the freezer to defrost and when it comes time to make the meal… whoops! So that’s when you have to shift some things around and make barbecue lentils over polenta (loosely base off of this recipe) because it comes together quickly and without defrosting. Then you make the Jalapeno-Turkey Burgers on Thursday and the Brazilian Fish Stew the next Wednesday… ta-da! And, extra bonus, you get one more week to have your kids look at the menu board and make the joke, “Brazilian Fish Stew? That’s a lot of fish!” ha. ha. ha.

Come Thursdays I am often left feeling like I really need things to be simple. It tends to be a catch up day where I’m trying to get all the things done that I don’t feel like doing on Friday… which is everything… And then Thursday nights seem to be when the kids each have at least one activity a piece. So dinner needs to come together easily, as well as be something that anyone can eat at any time. This is why a Mezze Platter is a perfect candidate. I like to collect my favorite pre-made appetizers, like the stuffed grape leaves, hummus, and tabouli that I can pick up from Costco. Throw in some greek olives, pita, crudité and you have a dinner! If you want it to look like a proper dinner, you can lay it out on a platter like a composed salad, but feel free to just set out off those containers and let me have at it. You’ll know deep down that it is a proper dinner in disguise.

I’m so very excited for our Friday dinner. The art department at the kids’ high school is doing an Empty Bowls dinner. Have you even gotten to enjoy one of these? The students have spent the past few months making and firing bowls and, in conjunction with the home economics classes, they will be serving a soup dinner to raise money for one of our local relief organizations. You buy a ticket and with it receive a handmade bowl and soup. It’s such a lovely, heartwarming fundraiser that I can’t wait to be a part of it!

This weekend is still kind of up in the air. There is another robotics competition; this one far enough away to likely require a hotel stay, so at least one of us adults will be away. Usually it is my husband to take on those types of responsibilities, but at this point the poor guy is probably pretty tired of staying in hotels… If I’m around and in charge of dinner then I think I will fall back on another version of last Saturday’s Sheet Pan Dinner. Roasted Fall Vegetables with Chicken fits the items we have coming from the grocer. I’m looking at a bed of beets, fennel, and parsnips, slicked up with olive oil, and some chicken thighs that I’ll likely rub with lard, thyme, sage, and salt and pepper. I’ll roast the vegetables at 475 degrees for 20 minutes or so and then add the chicken for another 30 minutes. Hopefully it will really be as low key as this last Saturday’s veggie with sausages. They were a dream…

Knowing that Thursday is St Patrick’s Day, but that there just isn’t going to be time for a proper dinner, I’ve saved our celebration for Sunday. My plan is to do a very traditional  Corned Beef and Cabbage with Irish Soda Bread. The corned beef is coming from our grocer and I am planning on a recipe from Epicurious that is new to me, but looks simple and straightforward. And it was created by an actual Irish woman so its got to be the real deal, right? The Irish soda bread is my mum’s recipe from when I was a kid. I am just giddy to make it… the flavors of my childhood winters… ahhhh…

Well, I think that about does it for this week’s story. I suspect that our impending snow storm may cause some upheaval in the plan. The grocer’s delivery on Monday night may have to wait until later in the week. Days off of school and work can mean impromptu neighborhood gatherings by the fire. More people at home will mean more food being eaten, period. But part of the plan is to also roll with the change and I’m ready to roll… I’ll let you know how it goes…

Stuck…

Hi all…

Well folks, if I am not living in the middle of a metaphor right now, then I don’t know what! There were plans for this weekend… plans that involved driving… driving to Maryland to visit with an longtime friend, driving to see my son compete in his first robotics competition, driving to Target to grab some needed supplies for upcoming Pi Day, and, as always, driving kids to their various activities… but instead something came up. The car is in the shop. For the next FOUR DAYS. And all I can think is “man, I sure am stuck.”

The word “stuck” has been popping up in my life often lately. How’s the injury? Stuck. How’s the house? Stuck. How’s life? Stuck. At every turn there seems to be some obstacle blocking my direct path to where I think I want to be…

But then again, is it stuck or is that just one perspective?

Perspective is such a driving force in my life. It can turn a positive moment into a negative one, or a negative moment into a positive one, in a snap. Sometimes it even feels like I’ve had a supernatural, magical experience when I can move my thoughts to the other side of the perspective. What a power!

But I don’t think it is magic, so much as practice that makes changing one’s perspective possible.  And I have a few tools that I use that help me practice that control:

Meditation – Oh my, meditation is an amazing tool. It requires no money, no tools, no special location, no expectations. Just me… and my brain. That said, sometimes I do like to get a little help with my meditation practice and lately the app Headspace has been my go-to. I like to sit down with the app for about twenty minutes, five or six times a week. Would even more help? Yep. I’m sure it would. But “do what you can” is a motto I’m holding close right now, so the twenty minutes is what is working.

Podcasts –  As a podcast junkie, I have numerous that I listen to regularly, but there are two in particular that teach me skills for shifting my perspective. The first is called Happier with Gretchen Rubin. Each week you find author Gretchen Rubin and her sister, screenwriter Elizabeth Craft, conversing about ways to live a happier life. The podcast goes hand in hand with a number of very popular books about happiness and habits that Gretchen has written. Both the books and the podcast offer up such simple, but effective adjustments that I often think, “Now why didn’t I think of that?!”

The second podcast is called The Life Coach School Podcast with Brooke Castillo. This podcast is designed to help people who are becoming life coaches, but I find it to be extremely useful to those of us who are just trying to coach our own selves through life. Brooke delves deeply into the power our brains have over our lives and each listen leaves me with that “mind blown!” sort of feeling.

Books –  Currently I am working my way through a book by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans called Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life. The book is based on a course taught by the authors at Stanford University where they teach students how to use the same problem solving skills used on designing the physical world to design and create a life that fits them. So far it has been chock full of messages that turn my life perspective on its head. Good stuff!

With these tools at my disposal, I find that I am becoming more agile at shifting my vision of things. It doesn’t always come easy; sometimes I need a kick in the pants, a reminder from a podcast or a book or my own blog… but once I’m on track, I find that I do know what a positive attitude feels like.

So all of this writing about perspective reshaping has me wondering… am I really stuck? Or am I actually moving… very, very slowly, but moving, none the less… and if I just put in a little creative thought, allow a shift in my thinking, that thing that was an obstacle is, well, probably still there, but it too has shifted a bit… off to the side… And now I have a little more room to think and a better view of my path ahead.

I think it might be time to throw on my shoes and walk myself to the grocery store for those Pi supplies…

Cheers! -Lauren

 

Our dinner story…

Happy Sunday all!

And around here that means time to write our next week’s dinner story. Menu planning is really so much more than just menu planning, isn’t it? I find it to be more like writing the next chapter of your family’s life. Too much pressure? Well, that perspective actually makes me feel like I am doing something creative and purposeful… it’s all about our perspective, right?

So when I do our plan for the week (well, really the next ten days…) I try to make it an event. If time allows I set myself up with my laptop, my bullet journal, and, this time of year, a cozy beverage. And if I’m lucky, someone has built a smoldering fire in the fireplace for me to cozy up to. Then I make sure that I have all the websites and apps I need. These usually include my family calendar so I can see which nights are family meal nights and which ones require on-the-go meals, the email from our grocer telling me the week’s fruit and vegetable list, the grocer’s website so I can add meats and other fruits and vegetables we may need, Pinterest for recipe inspiration, and amazon.com, as well as my grocery list app, in case any purchases need to be noted for the week’s shopping. Armed with all that support, I am ready to write the story of how we nourish our bodies and souls, and remind ourselves what it is to be a family.

Tonight my husband has taken the reigns with a meal of brats and sauerkraut. He gets the kraut warming in a big pot before boiling the sausages in beer and onions. Here is when he cracks open another beer for himself and a hard cider for me! While it only happens a few times a week, sharing a cocktail with him while making dinner is one of my favorite parts of the day. It elevates the whole process… Once the sauerkraut is warming and the grill is lit, briefly sauté the onions in olive oil in a large pot. Add the beer and brats, bring to a boil, letting them cook for about 15 minutes. He then finishes the sausages on the grill to get a nice char and I ring the dinner bell. (if you don’t have a dinner bell, I highly recommend it! One loud ding-a-ling and all the kids come a-runnin’. I love our dinner bell so much that we have one for the inside and one for the outside. Can’t recommend them enough…)

Tomorrow being Monday it is generally another calm night at our house and this Monday we can fit in another family dinner. We’ll celebrate Meatless Mondays with a bean soup. I love Moosewood Restaurant’s Black Bean Soup recipe as a go-to, but I’ve used up all our black beans (both canned and dried) and my monthly Costco trip isn’t planned until Thursday of this week, so I’m planning to try cranberry beans in a bean soup from Food and Wine. That and some corn bread (I’ll try to post my go-to corn bread recipe here very soon…) should hit the spot…

Last week I came across a Jalepeno-Turkey Burger recipe posted by our grocer that I’m excited to try. Tuesday is a busy night with a piano lesson, a musical rehearsal, a robotics club meeting, and a fine arts college night all on the docket, so I feel like the burgers can be mixed and formed earlier in the day, cooked in the early evening for the first dinner shift and warmed later for the second shift. I think I will serve these sans buns with a salad as those of us who are approaching 40 are trying to lose a few pounds by avoiding refined grains… *shrug*

Wednesday I am looking forward to a belated birthday celebration honoring my dear friend Melissa. Yay Girls Night! For the rest of the fam, I plan to throw together a Tuna-Rice Casserole earlier in the day along with a bowl of green peas from the freezer to eat when they can, post swimming or musical rehearsal or soccer practice. This will mean making a white sauce adapted from the Better Homes and Garden cookbook, using olive oil in place of the butter and vegetable broth instead of milk. Combine the white sauce with a few cans of tuna and rice whipped up in the rice cooker in my giant cast iron skillet, top with panko and some pecorino ramano, and bake at 350 until bubbling around the edges. Make sure that a bottle of Frank’s Red Hot is handy… tastes like my childhood!

Hopefully on Thursday I will fit in my monthly trip to Costco. Among many other things (I usually fill a flatbed…) I plan to get many, many bags of their most sustainable fish. Using whatever whitefish I can get my hands on, I’ll make this Brazilian Fish Stew from dizzybusyandhungry.com. It is a genius recipe that combines heart healthy fish and eye-popping flavors into a recipe that comes together in less time than it takes to order and pick up carryout. I’ll add some broccoli with orange zest for some green in both color and vegetable. We won’t be able to squeeze in a dinner with more than five of us together that night, but no matter who eats when that night it will be healthy, filling, and heartwarming.

Friday night is almost alway carryout pizza from our favorite local pizzeria. And Fridays also mean gathering with our best friends from across the street. The kids will start their trek to one of the houses right after school for xbox and running around in the yard. Then around 6:00 the adults will congregate and the wine will flow. A salad of odds and ends from the fridge rounds out the meal and at some point somebody finds a bar of dark chocolate to share among the grown ups and some cookies for the kids. It is a reprieve that marks the end of the exhausting weeks and the beginning of the busy weekend and I love it.

This weekend holds both a soccer tournament and a robotics tournament for the family and so together we will divide and conquer. With only half the family at best, being around for dinner Saturday night, I think a sheet pan dinner of sausages and veggies will do. Any type of sausages and whatever veggies are on hand will do, laid out on a parchment-lined baking sheet. I’ll bake it at 350 to start and switch it to a broil at the end for some caramelization. I believe that the nine year old will get to choose a movie for the two of us to watch while the rest of the crew is off on their own adventures… I can only hope that it is not Star Wars…

With any luck we will gather again on Sunday for dinner and our weekly family meeting… It looks like I will have some time during the day to prep the food and am eager to try a recipe from the cooking section of the New York Times called Kalpudding. It is described as “meatloaf with cabbage” and with some roast potatoes, it looks and sounds like a perfectly cozy way to wrap up a busy weekend. *fingers crossed* I’ll be sure to let you know if its a keeper…

And with that I leave you, hoping that this has inspired you to write your own dinner story this week… or to use mine as a touch point for your own family… a meal is so much more than food for the body. Like I said, it is a way to nourish both the body and the soul.

Cheers! -Lauren