Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Eating healthy doesn't have to be expensive

I am investing in my family's health.

Let me explain.

When I was teaching, I had the honor of filling in for a friend of mine in her AP Human Geography class. The focal point of my curriculum was food: where it comes from, how we get it, what we are actually eating. I had maybe thought about these things once or twice in the Taco Bell drive-thru or when I saw a sign for a farmer's market, but I never really paid much attention to "food" until teaching this class. Most of the information proved environmental benefits to eating vegetables, and a few videos showed the treatment of the animals who were grown for slaughter. My interest was piqued, but not because of the animals or the wetlands, but because of the whispered mention of, "Oh, and this is good for your health too."

As many of you know, my family has been on a journey to health. Last year, my husband and I each lost 30 lbs. but we were well aware that losing weight or getting skinny wasn't the end game. The end game was to get healthy. We wanted to be eating nutritious meals, feeding our daughter nutritious meals. We wanted to have energy to run after her and free ourselves from the NEED for caffeine to jump start our morning routine.

I won't get into all the gory details here of what we did to lose weight, but I wanted to share with you a typical meal plan. I've had lots of questions on this in the past. Even when we weren't eating healthy, I was still meal planning. I just included a lot more processed foods in the mix.


Side note. See the Transformers lunch box? Every couple days I change out the snacks in there. String cheese. Sliced apples. Grapes. Carrots. This is Mazer's box. When she's feeling snacky between meals, I get out the box and let her choose what she wants to eat, and since it's already prepped and stored in this box, I never have to think on my feet and her snacks are QUICK.

On the weekend, we sit down to do our budget, pay bills, all that happy stuff, and at the same time I make our meal plan. I start by evaluating the food we have left over from the prior week that needs to be eaten. Then, I plan meals including those ingredients so there is little waste. This week, I had a lot of squash left over. It's squash season here in Arizona so I am using squash in lots of meals. "In season" means cheap and fresh, just what I'm looking for! Pinterest has been my best friend on planning days. While I have a large collection of tried-and-true recipes filed away in sheet protectors in tabbed notebooks (yup, I'm THAT girl) it's always nice to try something new.

Here is this week's meal plan along with links to the recipies:

Monday: Spaghetti Squash Boats I made my own sauce without meat and bought a hunk of mozz from the specialty cheese section of the grocery store. This is absolutely delicious.
Tuesday: Zucchini Parmesan Why not? Since I'll have left over sauce and cheese from Monday night's meal? We don't mind a little duplicity in our lives. BTDubs, this is delicious.
Wednesday: Pan Fried Eggplant with Honey and Thyme I had some fresh thyme sitting in the fridge from a friend and a couple eggplants that needed to be made this week.
Thursday: Slow Cooker Leek and Potato Soup I got leeks and potatoes in my Bountiful Basket this week. Never tried this, but it looks good!

Friday we will be going out for dinner, so I didn't plan a meal and on the weekends, we usually munch and grocery shop so we can prepare for the next week. You may have noticed there are no meat dishes. That's because we eat vegetarian at home. It's a long, drawn out story about cancer and heart disease and how we eat exponentially more meat in America than we ever have in the past. If you're really all that interested in hearing my food philosophy, let me know and I will do a post.

My yummy pull from Bountiful Baskets.

Noticed that weird thing called "Bountiful Baskets"? It's a co-op where people pool their money to buy locally grown, fresh food. This week's basket included leeks, potatoes, broccoli, blood oranges, bananas, a pineapple, navel oranges, grapefruit, spinach, apples, and carrots (I even got a purple one!). I paid $15 for the basket. You can't beat that! This is a national program. Go to the website to learn more and see if there is a pick-up site near you.

This week's visit to the supermarket was a little higher than usual. Well, actually, it was twice as high as usual, but here's why: I had to buy basics this time round. You all know what I'm talking about. Peanut butter. Honey. Cans of tomato paste. Broth. The kind of things you buy in bulk and last you a month or more. I bought a bunch of that stuff, but still, my grocery bill was $120.50 sans coupons. Yup, you did the math correctly. That means my normal grocery bill is about $60.


I would like to point out here that this is not just for dinners. I bought supplies to make salads for lunches, celery, apples, peanut butter, and nuts for snacks, various produce (that I didn't already have) for smoothies, and even supplies to make a couple desserts.

If you are interested in those, this week's desserts are drink desserts. We chose Banana Oatmeal Smoothies and Homemade Mocha Coconut Iced Coffee.

This week was also the week I bought our milk and yogurt (which will last us two weeks) and the week I bought Clara's toddler snacks (string cheese, Goldfish, organic fruit snacks, pureed fruit pouches, and a few jars of baby food for those emergency moments). Next week, I won't need as much since I'm already stocked up.

We follow Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University advice and use cash for just about everything we buy. I budget $300 every two weeks for groceries and food. As you can see here, I spent about $135 of the $150 allotted for each week, leaving us some extra cash to eat out or save up for a pizza night. Because we have been doing this for so long, I know we will have an extra $75 or so left over from next week, which lets us eat out each weekend, or save up to buy ingredients for something we've really wanted to try (like ANY dessert on Pinterest!)

If there is interest, I would be happy to continue sharing with you each week as we plan. Also, I have been in the process of cleaning up my Pinterest boards, but there are quite a few great recipes pinned on my boards. I have my food boards separated by category, but all of them begin with "Food". The meat board is my catch all so you will find all the recipes I haven't reassigned there.

We really aren't talking about a lot of money here and we aren't talking about a lot of time to prep and cook these meals. They're just different and use ingredients some of us may not be familiar with. It doesn't make them expensive and it doesn't make them unattainable. It's not Hamburger Helper, but it's comparable in price and a thousand times more nutritious. The time I spend planning is an investment in my family, a completely worthy investment.


Friday, February 22, 2013

An open letter to Husqvarna Viking: The Response

I know many of you have been asking about my sewing machine troubles and what has happened since I posted my letter to Husqvarna Viking back in July. You can read the letter here.

Two weeks after I posted this letter to my blog, I got a phone call from the regional manager for my area. She apologized for my inconvenience and offered to give me a brand new Sapphire 835 (the same machine I was having trouble with) in box. All I needed to do was contact my local store and they would have it for me to pick up in a few days. I contacted the store and was met with disbelief in my claim, so I had to call back to the regional manager to ask her to contact the store so I could make arrangements. It took another four weeks and multiple trips up to the store before I got my new machine. I was told the machine would be ready to pick up on three separate occasions when the machine was not actually in store. I needed to trade in my existing machine when I picked up, so all these times not only was a lugging a heavy machine in and out of the store, I also had my daughter with me. The fourth time I was contacted for machine delivery, the machine they had for me was not new in box, as I was promised. It was in a box, but it was NOT new. The box was tore up badly enough for me to want to open it right there in the store. Once opened, I found the manual torn and crumpled, shoved in a space it clearly didn't belong in. The cords were not wrapped well and the styrofoam was damaged. Initially, the new manager (the old manager, Clarrisa, left for a new job opportunity) told me that was how it was supposed to be and that it was, in fact, new in box. I refused the machine and asked for a different one. I left the store again and waited for the next call. When I finally got the call the new machine was in, I opened this one in store as well, just to be sure it was in fact "new". It was in pristine condition, everything as it should be. It was ever more clear that the previous machine was NOT new and the manager apologized for her insistence on the contrary. I made the swap and took the machine home.

I'd been sewing on it for a few months when I decided I needed a reliable machine. This new Viking had the same tension issues as the last, the bobbin thread showing on top no matter how many different ways I changed the top thread tension (since there is no way to change the bobbin tension on this Viking) and the top thread nesting on the bottom at random intervals (though happening most often after the machine had been in use for a while.) I did not have the top thread becoming tangled in the internal workings of the machine this time and there was no loud noise, but it still did not work well enough to be worth the money I paid for it.

I had to stop quilting all Comfort Quilts as the machine would skip stitches and the top thread would nest on the back of my quilts. I had to unpick more than one quilt, which anyone who quilts can tell you, is the worst kind of torture!

I had a friend over to teach beginning quilting lessons. Lots of skipped stitched. Lots of loops. Lots of nests. Lots of thread breaking.

I had another, seasoned quilter friend over to use my machine to quilt her do.Good Stitches quilt. Same issues. Lots of loops, nests and skipped stitches.

As I was working on my heart quilt, I couldn't even use this machine! I needed a zig zag or applique stitch to adhere the hearts to my blocks. No such luck. The outcome was horrendous. I ended up borrowing a friend's little $80 Shark machine to stitch all 272 of my hearts. My machine retails for closer to $1,800.

Ultimately, I was tired of my Viking. Tired of not knowing if it was going to give me good stitches or bad. Tired of not being able to do any real quilting because I was afraid I would have to pick out all my hard work. Tired of broken thread (yes, even Aurifil), broken needles and shoddy work. I decided to buy a new machine.

I bought a Juki TL-2010Q from a local dealer and it has been an amazing purchase. I spent $850 on this straight stitch only machine and it has been worth every penny. The walking foot it came with is terrible, but the machine itself is fantastic. The tension was tricky to figure out at first, but after reading the manual thoroughly and playing with the tension settings, I have a much better handle on it now. The Juki sews great, so quiet at times I have to stop and check to make sure I'm still sewing and the bobbin hasn't run out! Aurifil on this machine is absolutely dreamy. The motor runs smooth and can handle long work sessions. I've only done a few small, practice bits of FMQ on it, but just from the little bit I've done I can tell it is leaps and bounds better than my Viking, which can't do FMQ at all. It says it can, but it can't.

I have to keep the Viking because the Juki can't do anything other than straight stitching, although, since the Viking couldn't even zig zag long enough to applique one heart (oh yes. It quit working as I was trying to stitch) I think I would rather find another good quality machine to take the Viking's place. The Viking also has a free-arm, which means any garment sewing will have to be done on it too. Scary.

I cannot even tell you how disheartened I am about this Viking machine and their products. I had really hoped my first machine was just a lemon. I take good care of my machines, cleaning and changing the needles often and using good quality fabrics and threads.

If you have any questions about how either of these machines is working, please don't hesitate to ask. I'm sure there are many other aspects of the machines I have forgotten to mention here.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Cult of Domesticity and Feminism in the Modern World

Often times I find myself sitting in a coffee house or sifting through sales at the mall with a friend I haven't seen since high school, and invariably I get the comment, "I never thought you would get married and take care of a man. You used to be such a feminist." Usually I brush away the comment, knowing the friend didn't mean any harm by it. But those comments are starting to concern me more as I get older, especially as those old high school friends change and develop into the people they were meant to become. They've missed the mark somewhere. Their naivety has become ignorance and I really feel something should be said about it.

Brent and I were married when I was 19 years old. I've always been stubborn and opinionated and wild and, despite all those things, an old soul. He knew this about me before he decided he wanted to spend eternity with me and asked me to marry him anyway.

My husband is beautiful. He's the kind of person who exudes kindness. He's compassionate, friendly, helpful, warm. He's the kind of person who, when he walks away from a group, leaves behind the happiness that overflows his aura on a regular basis. And more personally, he's the kind of man who will work a 40 hour week and still offer to clean the dishes in the sink, or watch the baby because he wants me to have time to create and sew, or get out of bed to get me a glass of water because I forgot to do it and it's too cold to leave the toasty covers. He's amazing.

Now, the root of feminism is the woman's right to chose for herself. I'm not entirely sure I would consider myself a feminist. I'm not one to attend bra burnings and I really don't read up on the subject all too often, but I do believe women should have the same rights as men. And just because a woman does, well, womanly things, doesn't mean she's a submissive Stepford.

I don't love ironing Brent's shirts, but I do it because I want him to feel good about himself at work. I don't always want to cook dinner, but I do it because I like my food MUCH more than Brent's. There is nothing in me that yearns for yard work, but often times I will go out and scoop poop or pull weeds or, in much rarer cases, mow the lawn, not because I feel I HAVE to as the SAHM, but because I want to. I do it because I love my husband and doing things for people is how I show my love for them.

Brent and I don't follow gender roles. I don't do the dishes. The thought of using my bare hands to wash away someone else's coagulated spit off a fork they were too lazy to rinse for themselves makes me physically sick. Brent knows this about me and always offers to do the dishes. I clean the toilets. I have no problem with toilets. Probably has something to do with the long stick brush that keeps me a few feet from the actual mess at all times.

I cook. Brent bakes.
I handle vehicle maintenance. Brent takes out the trash.
I dust. Brent vacuums.

We are a team. We work together to make our home function smoothly. Where I am flawed, Brent steps in.

Like many of you, I sew. I quilt. And sometimes, that means I fix ripped jeans and make Angry Birds stuffed toys for Brent's friends and iron his shirts. Like many of you, I like to DIY. Like many of you, I am an artist. I make cards, scrapbooks, baskets. I spray paint just about anything I can get my hands on. I have a weird fascination with chalk and paper tape and I like to make my own bubbles for my daughter. I'm a hands-on mom. All these things, however, do not add up to my lacking feminism.

I had grand plans as a teenager. I was going to leave this state, see the world, become a doctor. But the truth of the matter is, I grew up and realized I didn't really want those things at all. I had read so many amazing stories I wanted to emulate, but I was looking at the glorious end picture and not all the strokes it took to make it. I didn't travel because, as it turns out, I'm terrified of the ocean (TERRIFIED. That's a long story. I'll save it for another day.) I didn't become a doctor because, as it turns out, I don't like bodily fluids. Remember the whole spit thing? I was pre-med for two years and I swear I almost didn't make it through that last biology class (we have to type someone else's blood?! Are they crazy?!) I'm still in Arizona because, as it turns out, I live in an amazing state, full of natural beauty, great hiking spots and a thriving cultural center. And my family is here. And my friends. And everything I've ever known. My dreams changed as I grew up and I'm living them now.

I could have been the career type. I worked in the business world for a few years, long enough to know I didn't like the person I was while I worked there. I'm a good leader. I pay great attention to detail. I finish my work and have no problems letting colleagues know when they aren't doing their share. I was a great employee but I wasn't a great person. Working in business changed me. I know I could have been promoted quickly. I know I would have found great amounts of success, but I also wanted a baby, and I didn't want my baby to know this version of me. It was then I realized I wanted to be a SAHM. And Brent, being the aforementioned AMAZING person he is, said that he wanted whatever I wanted, and so we began to plan.

We paid down debts and put the dreams of buying a huge house on the back burner. Losing my income wasn't easy, but we manage. We keep to a tight budget and thankfully have not incurred any major costs since Maze was born. It took me two years to get pregnant with her. I know many people struggling to get pregnant, and I know our wait was nothing compared to what some couples go through, but it was a lifetime to me and I wanted her more than she will ever know. Wanting a child does not mean I am against feminism.

In the 1950s, a cultural phenomenon swept the nation known as The Cult of Domesticity. I won't go into a long-winded history lesson here (even though I SO want to) but basically, here's what happened:

- WWI ends. Country goes all crazy, banning alcohol and whatnot. Women's skirts get shorter. Promiscuity ensues. The Great Depression hits. Bam.
- Some women are forced to work to help care for their families. WWII begins. America watches from the sidelines. Economy is growing as America ships parts to other countries. Women don't have to work as much. Women told to get those hemlines down.
- Pearl Harbor gets blasted. America joins WWII. Women turn around and go back to work.
- WWII ends. Men come home. Women turn around and go back to the homesteads.
- 1950s. Hollywood shows nip, tucked, and starved women dressed to the nines baking cakes, mending clothes, and keeping garden. Suburban housing communities start showing up. The neighbors get a refrigerator. Now you need a better refrigerator. Lady neighbor wears a new dress she made to trim the roses. Now you need a new dress. And roses. Keeping up with the Joneses becomes a "thing".

Women in the 1950s were expected to tend to the home and children, and since suburbs were becoming more popular, women started trying to out-do themselves (or at least the woman next door). They cleaned. They sewed. They cooked. They baked. They were machines. They were programed to do these things by society, hence: The Cult of Domesticity.

Then the 60s happened. Then the 70s. 80s. 90s. You get the idea. Things changed.

Nowadays, I've seen this resurgence of home-making; of women WANTING to stay home. Women WANTING to cook. Women WANTING to sew, to organize, to decorate. Women are being called back to domesticity, but instead of the "Cult" part looming, I've been seeing modern women enjoying these tasks.

And I believe that is where I am.

I ENJOY all these things but I still sew in my sweat pants. I go to the farmer's markets in my band tees from 10 years ago. Sometimes I wear make-up, but only when I want to. I clean my house before people come over, but if I'd rather be doing something else, I don't clean my house and my guests just have to step over toys and shoes. I haven't been forced into any of this by someone else and I don't let my "responsibilities" to my house ruin my life. Brent does not dictate what, when or how I do anything. As I mentioned before: we are a team. We both do whatever is necessary to keep things moving smoothly. I GET to stay home to raise my children, I don't HAVE to. I GET to clean and decorate my house the way I want it, I don't HAVE to. I GET to be myself.

So, am I domesticated? Yes. Do I need your pity? Absolutely not. And I don't want it. I may not call myself a feminist, but that doesn't mean I am a mindless body doing what I am told to by a man. I am a strong, educated, confident woman who just so happens to also love to cook, clean, sew, and love my man.

And there's nothing wrong with that.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Blue Like Jazz - Donald Miller

There really is no way to summarize this book, Blue Like Jazz, other than to say it is a collection of non-religious thoughts on religion, as the author, Donald Miller, points out. I'm not sure what I was expecting when I picked up this book at Barnes and Noble a couple years back. I guess I was interested in the cover and the praise my friends gave it. Turns out none of my friends have even read it though, so I'm not entirely sure what was going through my mind when I picked it up. Must have been the cover alone. It really is a pretty cover.

I liked that this book was honest. From the start, Miller tells his story, regardless of the disgust it has brought from the staunch, traditional Christian community. He talks about girls (and the lack of girls) and of pipes (and the lack of pipes) and God (and the lack of God). He discusses the people he's met and how their views on Christianity and life helped him realize his path. He talks about friendships and growing.

The novel, if I can call it that without the literary community coming after me with pitchforks, was scattered. Sequence was foregone for conversation, and even though events occurred in a different order than they were relayed, I never really noticed as a reader. Instead, I found myself pondering on my own beliefs and recognizing people in my life who reflected the characters in his. I teared up a time or two as Miller discussed life and death and I laughed at some of the situations he found himself in. It was as if Donald Miller was sitting across from me just spilling his heart out on the table over a nice cup of Earl Grey.

I heard someone is developing a movie based on Blue Like Jazz. I can't figure out how to make a movie from this book, but I guess that's why it's not my job to do so. Overall, this is a good, thought-provoking read and gives a glimpse of the heart of the emerging church in America. It's worth the read, even if you're only interested in his stories of living in the woods or how he failed at being cool.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Embroidered Elephant Pillow

You've been asking. You've been prying. Now here it is:

Elephant Embroidery

My embroidered elephant pillow.

Elephant Embroidery back

I made this over the course of about 10 months, stitching here and there as I had time. This pillow was a gift to a friend of mine who got married last year. It was a tough one to let go of, let me tell you, but it was always theirs. I chose this fabric specifically because this friend moved to India to teach shortly after I met her. She was there on a Fulbright Scholarship and eventually came back, but I have a feeling India has left a lasting impression on her. This print just screamed "India" to me, so choosing it was easy. As I stitched, I prayed for them, had many happy thoughts of them and who they would become as a family. I couldn't keep this pillow. It BELONGED with them.

Elephant Embroidery

I'll just have to start making me one now!

Elephant Embroidery

As everyone says, the pictures really don't do it justice. I varied my stitches and played with depth a bit more than I have in the past. If you are in the Phoenix area, I will be teaching a workshop on how to create this elephant (and basic embroidery stitches) in the coming year at the Phoenix Modern Quilt Guild. You can check the website for dates, once the "powers that be" have chosen them.

Elephant Embroidery

This elephant is stitched over Valori Wells' Karavan print. I used mostly DMC embroidery floss, along with some randoms I was given to make friendship bracelets by my aunt in 4th grade. Blue background is Betz White. Back of pillow is Lizzy House 1001 Peeps. Pom pom fringe from JoAnn's.

Elephant Embroidery


Wednesday, February 6, 2013


I'm at a bit of a loss. Clara has recently entered her screaming phase and I'm over it. I don't mind the screams of joy when her friends come to visit or the screams of happiness when she slides down her slide. Honestly, I don't even mind the screams when she's fallen off the couch and she just wants mommy to scoop her up and give her love. No. The screams I'm sick of are the ones she makes when she wants her way.

The tantrum screams.

The "play with me RIGHT NOW" screams.
Chilling in Mom's bed

I don't want to be that mom who yells, "STOP SCREAMING AT ME OR YOU'LL GET A SPANKING," mostly because I kind of think that defeats the purpose of punishing a child for screaming... And the spanking, I don't really feel she's warranting that kind of consequence either.

Chilling in Mom's bed

I've been putting her in time-out every time she starts yelling. She gets her angry eyes and scowls at me and sometimes screams louder, but I can't really think of any better way of dealing with this phase. I've had friends tell me I'm hurting her psyche, but seriously, I'm far less concerned with hurting her feelings than I am about helping her grow into the lovely little lady I know she will become. There are so many wonderful things about her, but the screaming needs to stop. Like, yesterday.

Chilling in Mom's bed

Any advice for me?


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Postmistress - Sarah Blake

I have a degree in history, so as you might imagine, I love a good war story. The Postmistress, however, is not a good war story. It's not really even a good story on its own.

The novel is supposed to be based on the life of the postmistress in a small town on Cape Cod. The thrilling thesis: what if the postmistress never delivered a letter? Gasp! ...not really.

Instead of being about that, it flitters back and forth between the stories of two women in two countries. World War II is in full swing and these women are enduring it. The novel has small town banter and points out the plight of the Jewish people living in Europe, but nothing new for fictional World War II novels.

I think the problem is less about the fact that this is a tired story line, and more about the fact that there is no action. There's no thrill. The author dully drolls on about woman one in the most bland way possible, then carries on another 20 pages about woman two, in an equally boring and stale storyline. There is no climax or resolution because there is no action. Even though she threw in a couple fairly pointless sex scenes, the overall feeling of the story didn't change. It's just a story. It never builds, then slowly peters off in the end.

Now, I will give Blake one compliment: her verbiage is fantastic. She writes so romantically and seemingly effortlessly. It was the one element of this novel that kept me reading. The content, however, also seemed effortless, which I think was her downfall. If you're going to write in romantic prose, at least give us a feisty leading lady or true romance, a la Austen, or keep it short like Dickinson.

I'm actually wondering how much Kathryn Stockett was paid to review the novel, because her comment on the cover about how "beautifully written" and "thought-provoking" it is was the grain that encouraged me to read The Postmistress in the first place. I'm a little worried that if this is the caliber of material Stockett is endorsing, maybe the beauty of The Help was a fluke? I would like to think Stockett will put out more amazing works, but I have to wonder. It's not like I picked up this book and the cover reviewer was Cosmopolitan. At least when I pick up those books, I know what I'm in for.

I was hoping for another Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Didn't get it. If you're really bored and this happens to be the only book on your shelf you haven't read, go ahead and read it. Otherwise, I wouldn't recommend it.


Monday, February 4, 2013

Mommy vs. The Chicken Head

Some mornings you have very important decisions to make. This was one such morning.

I woke up with massive chicken head. I have loads of errands to run. Conundrum.

Now, I could have taken a shower, but that would have meant leaving Maze to fend for herself for 10 whole minutes. Ten minutes of me being stuck in my little wet jail cell as I peek through the shower door at her pulling every piece of perfectly folded clothing from my dresser drawers and not being able to do anything about it. Ten minutes of her dancing around the bathroom stringing toilet paper along behind her. Ten minutes of her opening the bathroom cabinets and discovering mommy's secret treasure trove of eye shadows and lip glosses.

No. Not today. Today is a day for jeans and T shirts and ridiculous fuzzy boots that don't match anything but somehow work their way into every outfit I own.

Today's chicken head will be tamed by a hat.

Mommy vs Chicken Head

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