Busy Night Meals

It’s autumn, and besides cooler days and crisp nights, it means school is back in session. A lot of families are busy with extracurricular activities. My children have always been active in sports, band, and various clubs, so I’ve become a pro at sticking to our grocery budget while providing healthy meals. Fast food is a treat for our family, especially as feeding hungry athletes gets expensive. 

Another mom commented on how organized and prepared I am for dinner at one of our soccer games. She teased, saying I have a little kitchen going on the bleachers. I responded with, “I have to be since I’m feeding eight people tonight!” Naturally, the conversation devolved into tailgate parties and grilling. Still, it made me think about other parents who might need some solid ideas on keeping the family fed without breaking the bank. 

Whether you’re eating at the game or need something quick for the short time at home before the concert, you’ll find inspiration here. 

Slow Cooker 

Do an internet search for “busy family meals” or similar phrasing, and I guarantee there will be slow cooker recipes on the first page. I typically avoid any slow cooker meals that require browning the meat before adding to the pot, but usually, that’s because I tend to run out of time in the morning, and I failed to prepare ahead. My go-to slow cooker meals are all “dump and go.” 

You can take any of these slow cooker meals on the go (see my tip below).

White Chicken Chili — I use thawed chicken breasts and shred them right before serving. Any leftovers taste delicious when transformed into enchiladas. Roll the chicken chili in tortillas, smother them in green enchilada sauce and cheese, then baked at 350 degrees until warm.

Hawaiian Chicken — I sometimes like to add green and red bell peppers. Serve over rice. If you have one, use a rice cooker with a delay-start option to save time.

Hamburger Lentil Soup — This is great after a chilly evening spent at the field! You can make this vegetarian by omitting the hamburger and using 2 cups of vegetable broth instead of the bullion. 

Instant Pot

For busy nights, don’t forget that the instant pot needs time to come up to pressure before cooking. However, being able to dump everything in a gadget and have it do the work means you’re free to help with homework or decompressing after a tough day. You can transform the slow cooker recipes into instant pot meals if you know how to do that sort of thing. For the rest of us, here are a few easy recipes. 

Spaghetti — Add a side salad, and dinner is done.

Pork Pot Roast — Roast is on our comfort food list, and this one is easy and flavorful. 

Mac & Cheese — This is another crowd favorite! Add pre-cooked bacon bits just before serving for extra flair. Serve with steamed vegetables or a salad to round out your meal.

Pre-Made or Assemble on Site

Sandwiches — This is an oldie, but goodie. My family never seems to tire of a well-built sandwich. Be sure to include small containers or individual packets of condiments, and don’t forget the pickles! Add sliced fruit and veggie sticks, and you have a satisfying meal. 

Wraps — A variation on the sandwich, but my daughter insists it’s totally different. 

Burritos — Simply spread refried beans on tortillas, top with cheese and taco sauce, roll, and heat in the oven for 15-20 minutes until warm. Then wrap the burritos in tin foil for traveling. 

Walking Tacos — Requiring a bit more time to prepare ahead, Walking Tacos are a favorite in my family. I make the meat mixture ahead of time and keep it warm. Then at half-time, I assemble everyone’s meal. 

Tips and Tricks

Everyone knows how to keep food cold until you’re ready to eat: bust out that trusty cooler. But how do you keep food hot while on the go? Bust out that trusty cooler! We have two small coolers we use for game nights: one for cold food, one for hot food. You can wrap hot food in tin foil or place it in containers. I line the bottom of the cooler with a dishtowel, put the food in, then place another dishtowel on top. It usually stays warm for at least two hours this way. 

Want to take the entire slow cooker or instant pot insert to the game? Simply wrap it in a towel and place it in a cardboard box. The extra insulation of the towel will keep the food hot.

Meal planning is key. Always look ahead to the next week, or even the next month, and make a note of which evenings are going to be hectic. Make a list of meals, add ingredients to your shopping list, and you’re ready!

Prepare ahead as much as possible, so you aren’t scrambling at the last minute while little Timmy needs help finding his cleats. Depending on the space and time you have available, prepping ahead might mean you chop vegetables and cook the meat. Or it might mean you grocery shop and organize the ingredients by meal. The point is to do whatever you can in advance to avoid adding more chaos.

Make a portable kitchen. Use a tote or a large bag, and fill it with disposable plates, bowls, cups, silverware, and napkins. Add in a couple of serving spoons and baby wipes, and you’re all set!

Almost anything that can be prepared ahead and easily assembled will work for these busy evenings. Think of the meals you take camping or on road trips. Make a list of recipes that your family loves so you can easily reference it when the season starts. 

Busy-night dinners do not have to be hard. Neither do they always need to be fast food or from the concession stands. Your family will appreciate the care you’re taking of them, and the teachers/coaches will appreciate that your kids are getting healthy nutrition so they can be at their best.

Long-Term Passion

Recently, I was on a hike with some friends, and one of them asked me if there is still passion after being with the same person for almost twenty years. “You know, like it was at the beginning when you can’t keep your hands off each other,” she said. The answer is a resounding yes. But it takes work. 

Over the years, my husband and I have definitely had difficulties in our relationship. However, we both agree that we have an excellent marriage. We also agree we lack nothing in the bedroom because of our efforts outside of lovemaking. As a long-time couple, we have some tips for you. 

Communicate 

This may seem obvious, and there are a million articles on improving communication in marriage. Still, miscommunication is the number one reason we end up in arguments. My husband will be the first to admit that he’s not the best at conversation and relaying his thoughts while I speak my mind. We discovered that the best way for us to communicate is to ask questions and say, “I’m not sure I understand what you mean,” to get clarification.

We ask each other every day if there’s anything we can do to make the day easier. Most of the time, we’re going about our daily lives, and there isn’t anything, but every once in a while, he needs me to run an errand, or I need him to move furniture. Both of us are independent people and need the reminder that we have a partner who will help. 

When we first started dating, my husband would call me when he got off work (this was before cellphones were standard) just to say hi. Then later in the evening, we talked about our day. That habit continues, and I am incredibly grateful for it. Now, though, he sends me a text letting me know he’s off work and headed home and asks if I need him to stop anywhere on the way. He also tells me goodbye before he leaves for work at 5 a.m., and we both always tell each other, “I love you,” even if we’re arguing. Life holds too much risk for those words to get passed over when someone walks out the door. 

Key takeaway: Learn your partner’s communication style and start and end the day with love.

Service

I mentioned above that we ask what we can do for each other, but there are also hundreds of small ways we can serve each other without asking or being told. I cook the meal, and he clears the table after dinner. I leave the bathroom light on when he’s coming to bed after me, so he doesn’t trip over our black dog in the dark. He lets me have the bathroom to get ready for bed first, even though it usually takes me longer than him. 

We also work as partners when caring for our family and home. He works long hours in the summer, so most of the housekeeping falls to me during those months. But in the winter, when he’s off for the season, he takes on more, so I have a little breathing room as my responsibilities don’t change with the seasons. 

Random gifts also appear in our relationship. For example, he’ll bring me a bottle of wine or some flowers, and I’ll slip some snacks into his lunch box. Usually, our gifts are unrelated to a holiday or occasion and are simply because we were thinking of the other person when we were out. 

Key takeaway: Even if your “love language” isn’t service, you can still show love by helping your partner. 

Make Time For Each Other 

Today’s lifestyle is all about being busy and chasing dreams, and that’s okay. Still, it’s vital to spend quality time with your partner. Date each other, whether you’ve been together for a month or thirty years. Find intimacy in quiet moments together. My husband and I choose a television series on a streaming service to watch each evening during the winter months. We sit together and watch it and frequently have conversations about the topics the show touches on, such as politics, relationships, family, and even our individual pasts. 

We also find new things to do together. Once when life was getting in the way, we came up with a system of a biweekly date night, and we had to take turns choosing what we did. The agreement was that the other person would try it, no matter what. So we went to a comedy club (him), an art museum (me), the golf driving range (him), and hiking (me). It was fun to see what the other person would come up with, and we discovered some shared interests we didn’t know we had.

You do not have to spend a lot of money on a date, though! Years ago, when Pokemon Go first came out, we spent a summer evening walking around downtown, catching Pokemon before having a drink at a local brewery. It was the cheapest yet one of the most fun dates we’ve ever been on! We also go on a lot of drives, usually out of town and up a mountain. Lately, we’ve taken to riding the motorcycle together in the afternoon on the weekend. 

We also try to make running errands special. If you see us on those busy Saturdays spent going to Home Depot, Napa, and the grocery store, you will also see us holding hands and stopping for lunch. We pretend we’re on a date, even when our to-do list is a mile long. 

Key takeaway: Spend as much time together as a couple as you can. 

Laugh, Flirt, And Flatter

My husband has a quick wit, and he makes me laugh. Of course, I catch him laughing at me, too, but I’m not always sure why. I suppose it doesn’t matter as long as it’s in a good way. We laugh together, too, about all kinds of things: our kids, animals, home remodel blunders, the dinner I burned… pretty much anything. We decided a while ago that life’s too short to not laugh, and laughing is better than crying.

Not only do we make running errands look like a good time, but we also flirt with each other. We like to poke fun at our relationship and life, but we also know where to draw the line. Sometimes our teasing can sound mean to someone else. In fact, for a while, my mom would pull me aside and ask me if we were fighting. I finally had to explain to her it’s a type of foreplay! We say things that have double meanings, and frequently he has me blushing in the plumbing aisle. 

We also complement each other for looks, personality, and deeds. I’ll say I love hugging him; he’ll say he loves my hair. I’ll express my awe at his visual measurement skills (if he says something is about twelve feet, it will most likely be twelve feet), and he’ll remind me that my organization skills are why our family survives our teens’ soccer season. We tell each other that we’re grateful for the work done for our family. This might not happen every day, but I estimate we are praising the other person at least once a week. 

Key takeaway: Act like a love-sick teenager.

Physical Intimacy 

Honestly, physical intimacy is not always easy for us. We have very engaging lives with work, kids and their activities, hobbies, volunteer work, upkeep on our property… the list is endless. I’m sure you have a similar list. At the end of some days, we fall into bed completely exhausted, and sex is the last thing on our minds. But we try to have physical touches in other ways during the day: holding hands, hugging, kissing. Occasionally, that’s enough for us when things are busy. Other times, cuddling results in a nice romp.

We also recognize the importance of physical intimacy as part of our marriage. Sometimes one of us will decide that three days is too long, and we’ll text the other person in the middle of the day something like, “We’re going to bed early tonight.” Other times, we take time on the weekend or even while the casserole is in the oven to have sex. As an “older couple,” we have found that when we increase the frequency of sex, we want it more. Naturally, this leads to more intimacy. This is where the passion piece of my friend’s question comes in. 

We have passion because we create and nurture it. We do not allow things to get stale in the bedroom. How you want to accomplish spicing things up might differ from what we’ve done, but I will hint that it goes back to communication. Ask what your partner wants to do or what they like and don’t like. Explore in ways that feel comfortable. Even a minor change can be exciting.

Key takeaway: Do not underestimate the power of cuddling and make time for lovemaking. 

If you’ve been paying attention, you see that all five of the love languages are present in our relationship. Some are more prominent than others, and that’s because those are the ones we both “speak.” I think learning each other’s love languages and actively engaging in them will keep the passion in your long-term relationship.

The Train

I look out the window and stare at the dark, with city lights twinkling in the distance. I’m exhausted after a week of the general chaos of being a mother to four children and frantic last-minute packing. The train begins moving, the rocking motion and clickity-clack of the wheels on the tracks inviting me to close my eyes. This is my first time traveling by train, and I want to see everything. As tired as I am, I am also excited – excited for the journey, the adventure, and for the end of the trip as my husband of ten years is waiting for me. 

The towns I know float by outside. I pass the small city where my parents live, my children sleeping in their spare room. I pass the town where my boys go to school, almost without realizing it because things look different from the train. Slowly, I sink lower in the seat and eventually doze.

My sleep is fitful, and I stir at the odd sounds around me – the very sick woman in front of me coughing, the man behind me shifting in his seat. I am cold and slightly uncomfortable, and more than a few times, I wish I had taken my mom up on her offer to snag a small blanket from their linen closet before my dad drove me to the station. Eventually, light teases my senses, a subtle glowing that pulls me to full wakefulness.

Stretching a little, I gaze out the window at the snow-covered mountains, trees stark against the white. This must be Glacier National Park that my dad was telling me about. It almost looks like home; if my home had shorter mountains and taller trees. The trees look wrong to me, and for a few minutes, I ponder the reason as they appear healthy and proud. Then I realize that there are not any birch trees, or at least very few. All I see is the deep green of Ponderosa Pine, Douglas Fir, and other evergreen trees; no bare white branches glinting with frost and patiently waiting for spring.

A small herd of elk, only eight or so, rest on the rocky hillside next to the tracks and watch the train pass by. Obviously, it is a familiar sight to them as the racket does not disturb them. They remind me of the mountain goats lining the highway in Alaska, leaping from rocky outcropping to ledge with agility and grace. The similarity in the two species comes from their bored looks as humans travel beneath their domains.

There is a break in the trees by the track, and a swiftly moving river comes into view. Staring at the gray-green water flowing and tumbling over rocks between pebble-strewn banks lined with stunted willows, I notice that the color of the water is the exact color of my beloved glacier-fed streams and rivers in early spring. How can it be spring here in this wilderness with snow still blanketing the ground, several feet deep in some places? 

As the train slows into a small depot to obtain more passengers, I think back to my childhood home in Alaska. It has only been six years since I left it behind to find a new start for my family. How could I have already forgotten the idiosyncrasies of the seasons there? Summers are short but memorable, with almost constant daylight and very little night. Autumns are rainy days and frosty nights interspersed with days of warm sunlight and glorious colors on the trees. The winter comes barreling in with snow and wind, taking everyone by surprise with their ferocity every year. While springs arrive slowly, snow still melting even as the trees are budding and tulips are bravely pushing through the snow.

It could be spring here, already mid-April, and yet still snow-covered. This place could be my home if I overlook the taller trees and shorter mountains. It is wild, untamed, beautiful, and breathtaking. So I sit on the train and breathe in a piece of Alaska given to me as a wondrous gift from Glacier National Park, Montana. The view brings a calming peace to my soul that I haven’t felt since leaving home. 

Moon Daughter Rising

My very good friend is releasing her second book! E.G. Moore is an award-winning author and poet who specializes in middle-grade fiction. All of her stories have a moral lesson in them, and Moon Daughter Rising is no exception. Available for pre-order now, and releasing on January 29th, MDR is a fun read for adults and children alike! I might be a little biased since I helped her with some editing, so tell me what you think about it! I am so excited for her!

Bonus: E.G. Moore also has Language Arts curriculum activities to accompany her novels on her TeacherPayTeacher Store: Legends and Lessons.

Book Blurb:

Annalee’s dad went missing and no one is doing anything about it.

The police say he abandoned her, but Annalee knows better. Her aunt and uncle make her promise not to look for him, especially in the woods behind their family cabin for fear she’ll go missing, too.

When she finds her father’s trail, she breaks a promise and tells a lie, hoping she can save him. Doing so attracts Wimpa the abominable ice witch, who chases Annalee into their tribe’s spirit world. Though she doesn’t know it yet, Annalee holds the third Wonderstone, the only possession her father left behind. The crescent-shaped talisman could give Wimpa control over World Above the Sky and the ability to open the ancient ways to the Earth.

Annalee must seek help from an ancient grandmother and her spirit guides to grapple with her newfound moon magic and rescue her father and a grandfather she’s never known from their icy prison. Is she fails, World Above the Sky will fall to Wimpa and the gateways will be open for evil spirits to roam Earth. But if she destroys Wimpa, her father and grandfather stay locked in ice forever. Outsmarting Wimpa will take, courage, honesty, and somehow mastering the power of the Moon Daughter rising within.

A beautiful weaving of fiction, MicMac tribe legends, and some moral truths we all must face.

Books Are Here To Stay

The following is an actual conversation with my son.

“Wow, Regal Cinemas is closed until further notice,” my husband announced as he scrolled through his Facebook feed. 

“Why?” Our almost sixteen-year-old son, Tim, asked.

“Because people aren’t going to the movies due to COVID,” my husband answered. 

“Movies aren’t being made due to COVID,” I said. “It’s impossible to make a movie and social distance at the same time.”

“That sucks,” Tim muttered. 

“What if the movies we have now are the only movies we will ever have?” I mused. 

“No, don’t say that!” 

My son was horrified, but it got me thinking. 


Movies are a recent invention. The first one was created in 1878 when a racehorse owner wanted to know if all four of a horse’s hooves left the ground while galloping. The film, titled The Horse In Motion, is only 3 seconds in length, but it paved the way for motion pictures. Over time, technology increased in all areas and the results are the movies we know and love today. 

Books, however, have been around for several millennia. It is common knowledge that the ancient Egyptians used papyrus scrolls to record their history. Other nations adopted this method and improved upon it, and around 600 AD, people began adding illustrations to parchment pages. These pages were then sewn together and placed inside a leather binding to protect them. 

The first printing press was invented in 1454 by Johannes Gutenberg and, like everything else, technology advancements improved it. We now have practically unlimited access to any book we want through digital means; however, the printed book is still going strong. The publishing industry has shifted to favor e-books since they cost less to produce. There is some speculation that printed books will become obsolete, but printed books aren’t disappearing.

Humans have told stories to each other since they first began to talk. Stories were used to tell the location of a good hunting area and pass down the tribe’s history. This is also how myths and legends originated. Books were not originally used for entertainment, but to disseminate information and history. Once again, time proved to be the changing factor, and now we read books for entertainment as well as to gain knowledge. 

What does all of this have to do with the movies? It’s simple: Books can be created while social distancing is observed. Writers are, for the most part, solitary creatures. We like to get together to give and receive feedback about our work, but the actual writing is done solo. Editing, proofreading, and cover creation can all happen via email. Publishing, especially e-publishing, can be done without close contact with other humans. 

I feel that this is hopeful for humanity. Creativity, imagination, and innovation are still prevalent forces in our world. History has shown us that, no matter what is thrown at us, we are resilient. Even if, in the unlikely event, that the internet disappears, books will still be created.

So much has been taken from us this year, and there have been numerous changes. I think, for good or ill, most of these changes are here to stay. I am optimistic that movies will return, but if they don’t, that’s okay. We have books.

The Swimming Pool

I burst through the front door and ran into the dining room where my mom was paying bills. 

“Mom, Robin and Erica are going to the Y to swim today. Can I go?” I bounced up and down a little on my toes, impatient for her answer. 

My mom looked up from the checkbook. “What time is open swim?” 

“Three to five, and then five-thirty to seven.” 

“Okay, you can go for the first session, but be home for dinner by six.” She handed me a five-dollar bill. 

“Thanks!” I ran to my room and quickly changed into my blue swimsuit. Pulling my shorts and t-shirt over the top of it, I grabbed a towel and shoved it into a plastic grocery bag along with a pair of underwear. 

The YMCA was only a block from our little neighborhood, making it the perfect place for kids to go when the games of tag and hide-and-seek got boring. When I turned twelve, my mom finally thought I was old enough to go there by myself or with my friends. 

“Bye, Mom!” I called as I ran out the front door, letting the screen door slam behind me. 

Jumping on my red Schwinn bicycle, I peddled to Robin’s house, where we always met up. She had a fort in her back yard that was our favorite place to hang out, besides the Y. I leaned my bike against the fence and went into the fort. It was an old shed filled with a few rickety chairs and fraying throw pillows that her mom didn’t want in the house anymore. But we added things like books, paper and pens, and toys to make it a place just for us. 

“Hi! Your mom said you can go?” Erica greeted me. 

“Yep, but I have to be home for dinner.” 

“Me, too,” Robin said. “Let’s go!” 

We got on our bikes and wound our way through the neighborhood, taking the shortcut through the small park to get to the main road. It was a busy, four-lane street, but the bike path was set away from it far enough that we didn’t even feel the wind of passing cars. In just a few minutes, we arrived at the YMCA. 

We locked our bikes on the bike rack and headed in. 

“Hi, girls!” The lady at the front desk greeted us. “Here for open swim?” 

“Yes!” We chorused. 

“It’s two dollars. Do any of you need a lock for the lockers?” 

“Just one,” Robin said. We usually shared a locker.

“A dollar for the lock, refundable when you return it.” She passed Robin a lock with a key attached to a giant safety pin. 

Once we paid, we hustled to the changing rooms. We all already had our bathing suits on under our clothes, so we were ready for the pool in minutes. Robin carefully secured the lock on the locker and attached the safety pin to her suit’s strap. We entered the door at the other end of the locker room, and I stared at the pool’s blue-green water. 

We were the first ones there, but the lifeguard was in place, and he motioned for us to go ahead. Robin and Erica immediately jumped into the deep end of the pool, bobbing up and wiping water out of their eyes. I sat down on the pool’s edge closer to the shallow end and slipped in. 

“What’s wrong, Anna?” Robin yelled. 

“Nothing, I just wasn’t sure how cold it was.” I shivered a little to demonstrate my point. 

“Okay. Let’s get the diving rings!” Robin pulled herself up on the poolside and grabbed several of the weighted red and blue rings from the bucket next to the lifeguard’s stand. 

I took a deep breath and slowly moved into deeper waters. As my toes left the bottom of the pool, I moved my legs in the bicycle motion that my dad taught me. My hands frantically paddled the water, and I edged closer to my friends. I was not a very good swimmer but didn’t want them to know. I reached for the edge of the pool and waited while Robin tossed the rings into the water. 

“Whoever gets one first, wins!” she called before jumping in again. 

“I just want to float for a bit,” I said. I was good at floating on my back and was afraid to try to dive down to the bottom of the pool. 

“Whatever you want,” Erica said, frowning. 

I could tell I lost some cool-kid points just then, but my fear was more substantial than my desire to be popular. Plus, we were still the only ones in the pool. When more people showed up, the water would be choppy and splash on my face if I tried to float then. 

I pushed back from the wall and felt my legs become buoyant as I leaned back. I kept my breathing slow and steady, focusing on the sound of the air moving through my lungs as the water covered my ears and muted the shouts of my friends. After a moment, I closed my eyes. I didn’t try to direct my position but allowed the water to push my body around the pool. After a few minutes, I bumped into the wall and, without opening my eyes, I gently pushed my hand against it to set me afloat again. 

A wave of water came crashing over me, causing me to splutter and splash as I attempted to regain my bearings. I realized I was all the way in the deep end of the pool, and it was twelve feet to the bottom. Still coughing, I managed to grab the side and wipe the water from my eyes. 

“Are you okay?” Robin swam over to me. 

“Yeah, just startled.” 

“Those boys are annoying. They stole the rings from us.” Robin glared over at a group of boys our age who were splashing and dunking each other. 

“Ugh, let’s go get a snack,” Erica said, coming up on my other side. 

Relieved, I followed Erica and Robin back to the changing room where Robin opened the locker to retrieve our towels and money. I shivered again as the chilly air of the lobby hit my wet skin. 

“You really don’t like being cold!” Erica laughed a little. 

“No, I don’t.” I fumbled with my dollar bill as I eyed the vending machines. 

“Too bad you live here, then,” she responded, punching the button that would deliver a candy bar to the pickup slot. 

“Anna wants to go live with her grandparents in California,” Robin stated. 

“No, I don’t,” I protested. I liked Alaska but didn’t enjoy the frigid winters. “I liked visiting them and eating fresh oranges, but I also like living here. Besides, I would miss you both too much!” 

I finally decided on a package of chips and put my money in the slot. We settled on a bench near the main entrance to eat our snacks, knowing that the lady at the front desk wouldn’t let us back into the locker room until we finished. She was always nice to us, but she was also strict about the rules. 

Once we threw the wrappers away under the watchful eye of the desk staff, we headed back to the pool. It was busier now. The group of boys were still rough-housing, and the lifeguard blew his whistle several times at them. There was also a mom with two small children, a few older girls, and a cluster of children a little younger than us. 

“What do you want to do now?” Robin asked as we took turns climbing down the ladder into the water. 

“Let’s play volleyball!” I said. We played in the middle of the pool since it was hard to jump up to hit the ball when you couldn’t touch the bottom. 

“Okay!” They both agreed. 

I grabbed a ball that was floating by, and we stood in a rough triangle. I served the ball towards Robin, who jumped and slammed it into the water with her palm. 

“Point for me!” I called. 

Robin scowled but took the ball and threw it to Erica, who managed to strike it with her forearm. The ball veered towards me, and I leaped up to hit it before it went over my head. I connected with the ball, and it went sailing back to Erica. Before she could get to it, one of the boys cannonballed right in the middle of us. He grabbed the ball to his belly on his way down. When he popped up, he was grinning. 

“We’ll play!” He announced. 

“No, thanks.” Robin swam towards him. “But I’ll take our ball back.” 

“If you can!” The boy chucked the ball to one of his friends, and they laughed hysterically. 

Robin and Erica immediately swam after them. I sighed. I thought something was wrong with me since boys didn’t interest me as they did my friends. All the other girls in my class were starting to wear makeup and talk to boys as if they were appealing. I saw boys as just friends to play tag with. But I didn’t want my friends to know the water scared me, so I pretended to swim after the boys as well. I stayed close to the edge of the pool and motioned at Robin and Erica to toss the ball to me if they got it. I hoped they saw it as a strategy to get the ball away from the boys. 

Finally, I saw Erica swimming towards me. I looked around and spotted Robin talking to the boy who interrupted our game. 

“It’s no use.” Erica shook her head. “She’s totally flirting.” 

I looked at the large clock on the wall near the lifeguard. “Oh, I need to go soon! Let’s get Robin. Her mom will kill us if we leave her behind.” 

“Yeah, okay,” Erica agreed. 

Robin wasn’t pleased when we broke in on her conversation to tell her we needed to leave. But just then, the lifeguard blew his whistle in three long blasts. “Everybody out!” he shouted. 

Groans of disappointment met his demand as everyone made their way out of the pool. Some kids stood near the wall, wrapping their arms around their torsos to try to stay warm while they waited for the pool to open. 

Robin, Erica, and I headed to the locker room to change clothes before riding our bikes home. I went to one of the toilet stalls to change. I always flush the toilet even when I don’t use it, just in case one of the other girls wonder why I change in there. 

On the way through the lobby, the boy stopped us. “Give me a call sometime.” He smiled and handed Robin a slip of paper. 

“Sure!” Robin smiled back. Her short, tightly curled blond hair was beginning to frizz as it dried. I self-consciously pulled my longer curly hair into a ponytail. 

Once we were on our way home, I asked, “You aren’t really going to call him, are you?” 

Robin laughed. “No way! He probably has a girlfriend.” She let the slip of paper flutter through her fingers and watched as the breeze caught it and took it into the road. 

As we passed Erica’s house, she veered off into her driveway, calling, “See you tomorrow!” 

Robin’s house was next, so I traveled the last couple of blocks to my house alone. I didn’t mind, really. Being around people was exhausting sometimes. 

Reaching home, I went around to the back and put my bike in the shed, being sure to lock it and take the key with me. I went inside to find my mom in the kitchen, cooking dinner. 

“Did you have fun, sweetheart?” she asked. 

“Yep! I can’t wait to go again!” 

Why You Should Prioritize Self-Care

We hear the phrase “self-care” a lot lately. There are hundreds of blogs and articles out there listing acts of self-care, but this is not one of them. Instead, let’s talk about why you should make self-care a priority. 

When I’m in a seminar and the presenter asks us to list the things in our life in order of importance, self-care is always at the top of my list. Some people would argue that God or religion should be first, but on my list, that’s part of self-care. Other items on my list might change positions, however. Here is my current list:

1. Self-Care

Faith

Exercise

Good sleep

Boundaries

2. Family

There are a few more items that fall into some of these categories, but you get the general idea. Go ahead and make your priorities list. I’ll wait. 

Is self-care at or near the top of your list, too? If not, why not? How can you care for your family or be effective at work if you are feeling drained? 

“Put your own oxygen mask on first, before attempting to help those around you.”

The instructions airline passengers receive if there’s an emergency and oxygen masks drop clearly state to put your own mask on first. I know that as a mother, my first instinct in an emergency is to help my children. Every time I hear the flight attendant tell me to put my own mask on first, I wonder if I could really do it. Could I watch my child struggle for a few moments while I ensure my own survival? 

I’m grateful that I’ve never been tested in a life-and-death situation. But day-to-day events? You betcha. I put my survival above all else. My family can survive for an hour while I go to the gym. They can wait 15 minutes while I journal. They give me 3 minutes of peace while I use the bathroom. 

If you are not caring for yourself, you will not have the capacity to care for others. It is impossible to give time and energy to your family and obligations if you are depleted. Lack of energy can easily translate to depression, which makes it even more difficult to fulfill others’ needs. Exercise, a good sleep routine, and practicing faith can all boost both happiness and energy. It makes it easier to care for others. 

How do you develop a self-care routine? First, make a list of your stress-coping mechanisms. From that list, pick 3 things that you can do daily. These things should easily fit into your schedule and not involve doing anything for someone else. Next, add these items to your daily to-do list and block out time on your calendar. Finally, and this is the most important step, do them! Don’t allow other things to infringe upon this time. Talk to your partner and children and let them know that this time is important for you to be able to be a better spouse/partner/parent/employee, etc. 

If you have to get up earlier, stay up later, trade babysitting, or hire a sitter in order to have the time you need, plan for that. Will there be days that your self-care doesn’t happen? Absolutely. The goal here is to have this time more often than not. Then those few days a month that you don’t get your workout in or miss journaling won’t affect you as much. You will still be grounded, centered, and filled, ready to take on whatever arises. 

The Modern Mom And Stress

Disclaimer: This article is not meant to discount dad’s roles, single dad’s, or male father figures. This is simply the perspective of a modern mom who wants to help other modern moms!

The modern mom is stressed out and overwhelmed. It’s hard to keep up with everything and everyone all the time! Some moms work full- or part-time. Other moms do not have a partner to help share the workload. Some may even not have a sound support system in place, such as extended family members and reliable friends. There are a lot of factors contributing to the modern mom’s stress levels.

Why is this issue so common? It’s generally accepted that moms do not always prioritize self-care or “me” time. Parents usually focus on the needs of their children, which means their own needs are not being met. On top of that, the modern diet and lifestyle provide less than optimum nutrition. The body can’t healthily handle stress when it is not given proper nourishment. Finally, there are so many sources to learn from and a lot of conflicting information out there. There’s no clear direction or focus. Moms are confused and overwhelmed. 

If stress is not solved or at least reduced, moms can experience more health problems. Issues like eating disorders, depression, colds and viruses, heart problems, and more can be related to stress. Stress can also cause relationship problems as there can be breakdowns in communication, less physical affection, and more conflict.

Most modern moms have already tried to solve their problems with things like a KonMari book, shopping at a health food store, buying “green” products, or buying a new cookbook like 30 Minute MealsBut these things are just patches and do not solve the underlying problem.

By the way, not all products labeled as “green” or “eco-friendly” are actually natural. It’s called “green-washing,” which means companies are misleading consumers into thinking the products are toxin-free. Why is this a concern? Because toxins also cause stress to the body. Moms who are trying to do better for their families are deceived by the packaging. But you don’t know what you don’t know, and now you know. Check out this list of common toxins in the home, and try to avoid any products that contain them. Hint: ingredients such as “fragrance” usually include some combination of yuck.

I know about stress and using products to fix the problems temporarily. I’ve been there. I’ve done all the above and more. These things didn’t work because they weren’t sustainable or actual remedies. It was like putting a band-aid on a broken bone. So how did I actually reduce the stress in my life? I used a five-step process, which I want to share with you.

Step 1: Get Clear and Set Intention.

Journal about your worth as an individual, and in the context of your relationships. Your needs are important, too! Then take a few minutes to focus on the belief that you have the power to create the life you want, which does not include a ton of stress. You may want to create a mantra or find a motivational quote to print out and put in a visible place.

Diffuse Frankincense and Lavender to create a sacred, personal space (wherever you can get it!). Affirm your worth as an individual, then in the context of your relationships. Apply Valor to your wrists, and meditate on the belief that you have the power to create the life you want.

Step 2: Make a list of the most important priorities you want to tackle. Work on one at a time.

My list looks like this:

  1. Family time
  2. Me time
  3. Family wellness
  4. Home organization + cleaning

Step 3: From that priority list, pick one new habit you can introduce weekly, once a day for 4 weeks. Here are some examples:

  1. Habit 1: Diffuse quality essential oils weekly. Diffusing helps set the mood of the home.
  2. Habit 2: Drink Ningxia Red daily.  This powerful antioxidant drink can combat the effects of stress and improve memory function. 
  3. Habit 3: Start exercising with your spouse and/or children. Bike rides, hiking, playing at the park (join in, don’t just watch!), or jumping on the trampoline are all ways you can have fun and get fit as a family.
  4. Habit 4: Switch out all those bottles of toxic cleaners for one bottle of Thieves Household Cleaner. Using toxic cleaners in the home has been shown to cause health problems. 

Step 4: Create a family task board (or Trello board!) to delegate & assign tasks, so everything isn’t on your shoulders!

Talk with your partner if you have one about sharing the mental burden. Get a support network in place. Trade babysitting services with other moms who also need a break. Chore charts for your kids are your friend! Children can begin doing simple chores around age 4. Again, Pinterest has lots of examples of age-appropriate chores and even simple charts you can print off, so you aren’t spending more time getting a system in place.

Step 5: Commit to a “treat yourself” day one time (or more) per month.

“I don’t have time for that!” I can hear you say. Trust me, you don’t have time not to make time. Your mental health is essential! If you are feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, you need to devote at least one day each month to get an emotional reset. It doesn’t have to be expensive, either! Take a bath, spend the day reading a book, meet a friend, watch a movie, go window shopping. The list is endless! Do something that makes you feel good and only serves you. Again, fill your cup.

Stress does not have to be normal, and it certainly isn’t healthy. There are ways to combat it, and even almost eliminate it. It won’t happen overnight, but you can get there! And, please, friend, if you’re feeling so miserable that you don’t see a way out, reach out to someone to get help. See a counselor, talk with a friend, call a crisis hotline. You are important!

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)This post may contain affiliate links.

Life With Chickens

 

6E03BC7B-7B89-4F8D-B488-A5787D2368B6-660x400@2xThere are many things that you learn both before and during the process of raising chickens. At least, I learned a lot. I researched the best breeds for our climate, and cross-checked them with the best egg-laying breeds, then cross-checked them again with the personality types. I learned what the best mixture of non-GMO food was, and approximately how much water per day each chicken needed. I figured out the minimum square foot per bird ratio, then doubled it when we built the coop. I made lists of common ailments and their remedies, just in case. I read articles about how to train your dog to not attack your birds. I thought I was prepared for a life of raising chickens and gathering eggs.

I was wrong.

My research, which took place over a period of a year before we actually got any chicks, was not as complete as I had thought. The things I didn’t know about chickens were, and probably still are, plentiful. There are more to these egg-laying machines than meets the eye.

For starters, I didn’t realize that each hen has her own very distinct personality. It wasn’t obvious at first, but as the chicks grew into pullets then full-grown hens, we noticed we could tell one from the other based on how they were acting. From there it as only a matter of time, probably days, really, that each of us became attached to individual chickens and farm animals suddenly became more like pets.

We told the children not to name them, knowing that death would occur; they named them anyway. Our girls are named things like Bob, Steve, Shadow, and Leo. My research didn’t prepare me for the simple fact that some of the hens know their names, and a very few will actually come when you call them.

I had no idea that hens will basically “yell” at you if they want something. Our girls have berated us for cleaning the coop when they want to lay eggs, called to us when they wanted to be let out in the yard, and run clucking towards us when they think we have a treat for them. If you have ever thought that chickens don’t communicate with their human caretakers, come visit us and I’ll show you otherwise.

Hours of reading and making charts never revealed the concern I would feel when we first moved the pullets from the house to the coop. I was worried they were going to be cold, scared, or hurt themselves somehow. My worries were unfounded, but I found myself going out late at night to check on them and then again first thing in the morning. I also wasn’t prepared for the heartbreak when we lost a hen, the nicest of the flock, to a stray dog and then two more to a coyote. I again worried as the rest of the flock reorganized themselves into a new pecking order, and in the process, one of the girls was sleeping outside the coop because the other hens wouldn’t let her find a place on the roost inside.

My study into the world of chickens also didn’t prepare me for the laughter as we watched them run after bugs and play “chicken tag” as they tried to snatch tasty grasshoppers from each other. I wasn’t prepared for the frustration, and sometimes anger, directed at my funny little hens scratching up my flowers when they were looking for bugs and worms, or the disgust when they ate a half-dead mouse that the cat caught.

We’ve had chickens for almost two years now. Even though we have had many experiences with them, I am sure there are more to come. Just when I think we’ve finally seen it all, our flock surprises us with something new.

Why I Let My Children Color Their Hair

2F9Ep76RkGEYWJ7Fzkcpg-e1516848886199-660x400Don’t judge a book by its cover, or a person by their appearance.

The looks my husband was subjected to when he dyed his hair bright orange in support of our children’s soccer team were nothing compared to the looks we got when people discovered we also allowed our children to dye their hair orange. I had the bottom half of my hair bright pink for a while, too. That was last year. This year, my children, ages 12 and 13, wanted their hair blue and gold in honor of their schools’ colors. While the color didn’t come out quite like we had hoped, it’s still pretty fantastic, and my daughter is especially happy with how her hair looks.

However, those judgmental looks from people who don’t even know us can be hard to bear.

Sometimes I want to explain to strangers our reasoning behind allowing our young children to color their hair, but mostly I want to tell them to stop being so prudish and to mind their own business. It’s frustrating as a parent, who believes in encouraging their children to explore their creativity and freedoms, to watch those same spirited children duck their heads in shame.

In case you’re wondering why any sane parent would allow their child to color their hair with unnatural colors, or in case you are seeking to explain your reasons to family/friends/teachers/etc. for letting them, here is why I allow and even encourage my kids to dye their hair any color they want:

  • It promotes creative expression in a positive way. I would much rather my child dye their hair any color in the rainbow than say, spray paint public buildings.
  • It’s just hair. It will grow back or get cut off, or both. It’s not permanent like a tattoo would be. v2RwjS2TSG6evb5xRxs5g-e1516849058335-232x300
  • It gives them a sense of self. If my children want to dye their hair purple and paint their rooms black, I am going to let them. They are in a safe environment to explore their growing personalities.
  • It shows support for something they are proud of, like their soccer team or school.
  • Dying their hair is less destructive than some other forms of rebellion or attention-seeking behaviors. My children don’t seem to have a penchant for rebellion or negative behaviors, and it makes me wonder if allowing them to dye their hair has helped redirect some of those urges.
  • It’s liberating. I believe that by allowing my children to color their hair, I am also teaching them that some freedoms shouldn’t be taken for granted and that they are free to do what they wish to their own bodies as long as it does not cause harm.

You might not agree with me on one or all of my reasons, and that’s okay. I’m not looking to convince you, change your mind, or validate your opinion. I am only hoping that the next time you see a child with bright green hair, you consider that they aren’t in a gang or neglected or a trouble-maker, but just a kid who likes green hair. And, if you’re wondering, we also allow our children to wear anything they want, provided that their bodies are appropriately covered, for mostly the same reasons. My son wears shorts almost all year, even when it snows, while my daughter wears nothing but leggings and t-shirts. Sometimes they look a little rough around the edges, but that has no effect on their brilliant minds and sweet dispositions.