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.

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. 

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.

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. 

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.

Family Reunion

About once every decade, my family has a reunion. It was my grandparent’s legacy to our family. This would be my dad’s parents. Now, I was adopted by my dad when I was four years old after my parents got married. They were both previously married, and as a result, I have three sisters. I’m my mom’s only child, and was raised as an only child as my sisters are all older than me; the youngest of them is 14 years older. My dad is my dad; my sisters are my sisters. They aren’t my step-sisters. I don’t know any other family, and I don’t want to.

color runAnyway, last weekend we had our family reunion in Southern California. It was amazing to see everyone again! The family reunions we have aren’t just about hanging out and getting reacquainted. We have a talent show, an auction, and a sort of memorial service. This time, we also had a color run, tug of war, and got to play on a zip line.

I shared my poem Grandfather’s House at the talent show. Several of my cousins came up to me later and said they loved it, and they could visualize Grandma & Grandpa’s house, Grandpa’s library, and the orange trees in the back yard. Talk about warm and fuzzy feelings!

My sister’s granddaughter performed a little dance with the help of her mom, aka my danceniece. They danced to Lost Boy by Ruth B. Now I can’t hear that song on the radio without thinking of them. I love that because I only see my niece and her family about once a year. I have a memory of them dancing engraved on my heart.

At the memorial service, my dad and my aunts shared memories they have of my grandparents. Some of it I knew, some if it I had forgotten, and there was still quite a bit I learned. One thing stuck out to me, and that was how long my grandparents were married despite some terrible things that happened to them, including tragically losing three babies and losing their farm in the Great Depression. No matter what, they loved each other through it all.

Then there were the funny stories. Grandma is most famous for her April Fools Day joke. Grandpa was out working in the fields, and he heard Grandma yelling “fire!” He looked to the house to see smoke. Of course, he ran to the house and just as he got close, Grandma kicked a bucket off the porch then slammed and locked the door while calling, “April Fools!” I don’t know if Grandpa was angry at her for that or not, but my Aunt Joy read some of his journal entries, and they all had things like, “She’s mad at me again, but I sure do love her.”

I’ve been struggling with how to show love despite hardships in my book. Oh, I’ve experienced it myself since I’ve been married for almost 13 years now. We’ve had some rocky times the last couple of years, and some days are better than others. I still find it difficult to delve into that realm of love in spite of anger, and write about it. Hearing stories about my Grandparents and how they lived has given me some new insight and inspiration.

To all my family: Don’t be surprised if you recognize some moments in Over the Moon.