Saturday, September 29, 2012

Freezer Cooking - Meatloaf Recipe

Sorry about the late posting today.  We had a surprise trip to the ER.  Solveig fell off a chair in the kitchen and hit her head pretty bad.  She was lathargic and though conscious, very unresponsive so we brought her in.  She was her normal self by the time the doctor saw her, so everything is good.


Today I'm sharing my mom's slightly modified meatloaf recipe that I use in my freezer meal rotation.  This recipe is for 1 meatloaf.  However, you are saving yourself no trouble or work if you just make 1 of these for the freezer.  You can sure make one for supper, and be no worse off.  Really, in order to save you time you need to make a few of these at the same time, in the same bowl.  I make this recipe x6 on a freezer cooking day, but I need my RBB (Really Big Bowl) to fit all that.

A couple of preliminary notes:

-it's best to buy your ground meat the day before or the day of preparation, or at least take the meat from your freezer the night before.  You don't want meat that has been thawing that day, or it seems to not mix quite as well.

-the recipe calls for ground beef, but I often do half ground beef and half ground pork.  Not always, but sometimes. It adds some great flavor, and actually saves a few dollars.

-this produces a meatloaf that is more on the dry side than other recipes I've tried.  I don't like a really wet meatloaf, mostly because this is the one I grew up with.  If you have a favorite meatloaf recipe, just use your ingredients, and follow the preparation instructions below.

-If you use the options of oatmeal or salsa, I recommend you pulse them in your food processor before adding them.  It's not terribly necessary, but it makes the meatloaf a bit less crumbly. I often pulse my diced onions too because Knut and I like onions, and my kids hate them.  When they don't see them, they don't complain!

Meatloaf -1 batch

2 lbs ground beef
2 eggs
1/2 cup of quick oatmeal or bread crumbs
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 small onion diced
1/4 cup ketsup or salsa of choice

Mix all ingredients together in bowl.  Mix very, very well.  My grandma and I used to wash our hands up to our elbows, and mix with our hands to get it really good.  She always said that was the secret.  Today I use a wooden spoon, because it's seriously a lot of meat in the bowl.

When all the ingredients are mixed together, simply separate loaf-sized portions into gallon sized Ziploc freezer bags.  Label and freeze.  When ready to use, thaw, press into greased loaf pan, and bake at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours.

It's lovely because when you want meatloaf, you don't have to track down the ingredients.  You don't have to dirty any dishes besides the loaf pan.  It's really good with baked potatoes, brown rice, or cous cous on the side, along with your favorite garden vegetable or two steamed.  It's also yummy to lay bacon across the top as it's going in the oven.  I'm sure that's not very healthy.  Dinner is served.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Teacher Notes

I'm not entirely sure what to write this week about our school.  Things did not go as planned.  I feel as though I should proclaim the week a success or a failure, and that may depend on whose plans were fulfilled, and whose plans were foiled.  Did my kids learn stuff?  Lots!  I should probably be satisfied with that.

The big success to the week was a trip to the library.  I have the kids pick from a list of categories (science, crafts, geography, poetry, etc) and they love picking out their own books as well.  What saved this week is when my plan failed, my kids read tons and tons of library books, and did an oral report on each one.  (We're talking 50+ books here...they did a TON of reading.  They were aching to read all their new books and I just let them because it was easy.)  Silje studied bald eagles and multiple cook books (specifically historically based cook books that she discovered at the library) and David got new chess strategy books.  Silje read tough books to David, and David read tough books to Elias.  They all had a ball.

They were really very good, so I tried not to let my stress level rise when my spreadsheet plan fell by the wayside.  I really, really want to get back on it.

Thursday night I had my monthly "Mom's Night Out" with our homeschool group.  The discussion topic for the night was character development in our children.  They opened with something about how most days we probably feel like we're spending most of our time on our child's character, not math.  It rang so true, and it really was a necessary reminder that "school" for a parent must have a broader meaning than that of a traditional teacher.  If my only job was to teach my kids character, then I could say we worked on it every minute of every day this last week.  Actually, it made me feel much better.

It was also nice to know that I wasn't the only one struggling with this school year.  Either everyone was nodding to what I had to say, or I was nodding to what they were saying, knowing exactly what they were talking about.  It takes away so much loneliness and discouragement to know that these struggles are part of the journey... all of our journeys.  I'm not the only one who isn't perfect, or struggles to attain the standards I set for myself.

If I were to name the successes of this week, it would be that we have climbed some big attitude mountains.  We got over the hump.  My kids are still complaining, but I feel for the older 2, they are at least listening, and the screaming has become minimal.  We have overcome some big trust issues, and we've gotten through some responsibility lessons.  Most academic subjects were covered, but we never got to memory work, or Latin, and we only did about half of our Native American study.  We're also a bit behind on David's grammar lessons, but we have been on top of his reading and phonics.

I'm still eager for some rhythm to our day, although it's gradually improving.  In talking with some other homeschooling moms last night who are also farmer's wives, I learned that we started our school year about the worst time possible.  We started the same week of harvest.  Add to that, we started right when I had a big publishing project due.  It would have been wiser had I started a few weeks earlier or later.  I'm hoping to apply that lesson to future years.

A relative called me this week for some homeschooling advice as this is her first year.  She called me "seasoned" and "experienced" and I had to laugh.  I literally told her, "Do you have any idea how many times I thought of quitting this week?"  I don't mean to sound deep in discouragement because I'm not.  It's just hard.

On a side note, if you don't homeschool, or if you never intend to homeschool, etc., there are a few things that you should never tell a homeschooling mom.

The big one for me is: "I'm not patient enough to homeschool."

First, I didn't ask why you didn't homeschool. There is no need to give me excuses because you just don't answer to me.  Second, there is no way I'm patient enough to homeschool either.  Patience is not my virtue.  However, God is working on me.  Why?  Because he called me to do this.  I saw on facebook this week a little plaque that said: "Sometimes the hard thing, and the right thing are the same thing."

I don't choose hard things because I like it.  I choose it because it's what God has called me to do.  For that reason, there is joy. 

Our homeschool isn't a success because I'm just supermom.  It's a success literally by God's grace.  Any other reason is insanity.  However, knowing that, and leaning on that, deflates the frustration from the hard things.  Hard things simply are hard. 

My heart has not been anxious this week.  God has walked with me every moment of every day, and I'm not sure how many times in my life I can say that I have felt Him right there next to me, guiding my next words.

It is hard.  It has also been so good.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Things I'm Learning from My Midwife

As I've briefly mentioned before, we're using a midwife for the first time this pregnancy.  We made this decision not from dissatisfaction exactly with our doctor.  It was more we wanted something different.  We wanted to work within a system that was more "us."   I like doctors when I'm sick.  I like them when things go wrong.  I think there's a good number of them that are good at preventative care as well.  However, I'm learning that they deal with so many emergencies, so many sick people, that often when you're pregnant, you get the treatment of a sick person.  Throughout my 4 previous pregnancies with a variety of doctors in a variety of clinics and hospitals, I've had consistent issues with doctors giving me things that I don't need because it's routine, and those things ended up causing me problems.

I'm not sure if my body is just sensitive.  For instance, my body does not handle synthetic hormones well.  I also don't handle narcotics well.  Over the years, I've found that handling my issues through diet has been the most effective.  Medications must be a last resort for me.  Diet has been first choice, natural supplements have been my second choice as they seem to absorb better in my system, and synthetic supplements are my 3rd choice, but often pass straight through me with little effect.  Don't even get me started on how my body responds to antibiotics.  I mean, they get rid of the infection just fine, but I'm a bit weathered afterward.

As much as I like doctors, natural remedies aren't their specialty, or at least most of them aren't trained in it.  My current OB is about the most knowledgable that I've found any OB when it comes to natural remedies, but I think he'd be the first to say that wasn't his specialty either.

My midwife is full of information that I've never had access to before.  I'm learning so much about diet and nutrition that I'm not sure how I managed other pregnancies without her.  I immediately go home and tell Knut all I learn during our lengthy appointments, and he often changes his diet as well.  My parents have shown some interest in it as well.  I feel like our whole family is getting healthier this time around.

So here's some things that have been different for me in this pregnancy that is all because I went to my midwife.  She's very individual in her help, so I don't want anyone to think that what she said for me is for everyone.  However, I'm hoping it will give some people some information that may lead to help for them.

I would like to say that I don't believe we have to be either/or when it comes to herbs-nutrition and medicine.  Treating symptoms through diet does not mean you hate medicine, or think it invalid.  Herbs may be a religion for some people, but I believe there might be some merit to them.  I've always thought at the back of my mind that the cure for cancer is somewhere in the rain forest, and if we knew more about natural remedies, (not just me, but modern scientists).  However, the funding for studies in this area always seem to go to drug companies, and medication producing labs.  If you want an "expert" in nutrition and natural medicine, even if you like modern medicine, you kind of have to search.  As always, I research everything either a doctor or a midwife recommends I take.  It's their job to advise me, and it's my job to make good choices because I'm the one who will have to live with my body.  Anyway, here's what's new this time around.

This is my first pregnancy that I'm not anemic. 

I've just gotten used to the fact that being pregnant meant feeling like you wanted to sleep constantly.  I assumed that's just how it was.  I have taken prescribed iron supplements in previous pregnancies.  Never once did it effect my numbers.  One pregnancy I learned that Cream of Wheat cereal might increase my iron.  That worked fairly well, as long as I had a bowl every morning.  We also tried cooking on cast iron, and that helped too.  During my 4th pregnancy one nurse suggested I take orange juice with my supplement and that helped too.  It got my numbers at a safe place, but never to a normally functioning place.

My midwife was the first one to point out that the TUMS I was taking for my constant heartburn and acid reflux I tend to get when I'm pregnant was limiting the absorption of iron in my system.  She recommended that I replace the TUMS with Papaya Enzymes.  Now, I research everything to death, even things my OB recommended.  Turns out they are very safe for pregnant women to take, and they don't taste half bad either.  What really surprised me is I think they work about twice as fast as TUMS in my opinion, and I have to take less of them.  My iron levels have also returned to normal.  Normal pregnancy.  I never knew that my body could do such a thing.

She also strongly recommended that I eat yogurt every day to help my stomach control the acid causing my heartburn in the first place.  I started taking the papaya enzymes first, and I was taking about 4-6 tablets a day.  Once I started eating yogurt every day, I only needed to take about 1-2 a day.  That really helped as well.

So cross that off my list.  No heartburn this pregnancy, and loads of energy.  I cannot tell you how happy this makes me.

I'm learning about the benefits of Kefir.

I've tested positive for GBS in every pregnancy except Solveig where I tried a different natural remedy involving garlic that actually worked so I didn't need that antibiotic during birth.  That was huge for me to be able to avoid that antibiotic that had consistently given me problems post-birth in previous pregnancies.  This time my midwife would like me to add kefir to my diet about a month before my GBS testing as a preventative measure.

For those who don't know, GBS is a bacteria that many women (about 40%) are carriers of, but it does not make them sick.  However, the baby can contract the bacteria while passing through the birth canal and it can be very serious if they do.  So everyone agrees (both midwives and doctors) that this bacteria should be killed off before the birth. 

The way she explained it was that Kefir is "like yogurt on steriods."  Researching online, I see it has more diverse good bacteria than yogurt, as well as yeast.  She said that when you take an antibiotic, it kills both the good bacteria and the bad bacteria in your stomach, which is often the cause of the side effects of antibiotics.  She said certainly antibiotics are sometimes necessary, and if I find myself needing them in the future, I should be sure to start drinking Kefir as soon as the antibiotics are done so that the good bacteria is restored in my stomach as soon as possible.  That was good to note should I need that nasty antibiotic in the future.

Anyway, GBS is cultivated in the body pretty far down the digestive tract.  So while yogurt is like a daily pick-me-up for the stomach, kefir works to restore each part of the digestive tract piece by piece.  So it starts restoring the good bacteria to prime levels in the stomach.  As you continue taking it, it moves to restoring good bacteria in the intenstines, and so on.  She said it will take about a month of taking kefir for it to work it's way to restore the good bacteria all the way down to where the GBS is being produced in my body. 

She did point out that kefir has not always worked, but in about 90% of her clients who normally test positive for GBS, and start adding kefir to their diet, they will test negative for GBS after about a month.

So I just started taking it, and let me tell you, this stuff is awesome.  Knut has started drinking it too, because he said it just makes his stomach feel so good.  That's pretty much how I'd describe it too.  Reading up on it more at home, we've found that studies have been done that of people who are lactose intolerant, their symptoms are decreased by 70% when they add kefir to their day.  It's known to help your body digest things that are tricky to digest.

Other studies have been done on lab rats of the effects of kefir, but they are inconsistent.  In some lab rats, kefir has lowered cholesterol, in others, it has lowered blood pressure, and in some, it has killed cancer cells.  The data is so inconsistent that it would not be right to claim that kefir does any of those things.  However it is proven to be safe to drink, and it is proven to really help the digestive system.  So it's not a bad thing.  The only argument among nutritionists/scientists is how much it can actually do. 

So we'll see what the results of my GBS test is in a few weeks.  The proof will be there for my system.  In the mean time, I'm going to enjoy drinking it.  The kind I bought at the health food store tastes like a strawberry yogurt shake.  It's very yummy.  I was only planning on drinking it 2-3 times a week, but it's so yummy I'm drinking it every day, but limiting myself to about a 1 cup portion because it's pricey.  Well, not too bad.  A small jug for the week costs a bit more than a Starbucks.  If it will help me avoid that nasty antibiotic during birth, I'll drink it!  Well, actually, I'll drink it, pour it over granola, or dip fruit in it.  It's our new favorite food in this house.

I could go on to talk about some of the herbal teas she has been recommending for this last trimester to prepare my blood for birth and is supposed to help prevent hemorrhaging, but I think I've already rambled enough for today.

Who knew that as this is my 5th time around making it this far in a pregnancy, there's still new things to learn. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

It's the Season...for Growing Up

Like my Autumn fireplace display this year?  I do.  It makes the whole room feel fallish.

The running joke around the house these days is how much I'm nesting.  I feel like I'm cleaning all the time, or trying to get the kids to clean all the time.  Yesterday was a bit hectic as we had choir and chess club, and errands to run in town in the afternoon.  So in the morning, I had to decide if we would do school, or if I would clean.  Yesterday I chose school.  It's amazing how messy the house gets when I don't constantly clean for 3-4 hours in the morning.  Even that short amount of time of letting the little kids play while the older kids do school undoes so much work.  It's quite astonishing.

Today I think we'll recover the house from the disaster it became in a matter of hours yesterday.  I think when I'm pregnant, there are always big projects that I get set in my mind just MUST be done before the baby is born.  I stress over it, and drive everyone in my house crazy until said project is done.  At first it was the upstairs bathroom.  That is complete except Knut still has some towel hooks to hang up when harvest is over, and I think the light fixture might get a makeover.  As this project got done so timely, my mind has moved on.

Now I'm obsessed with the girls' room.  I have some major storage issues going on in there, and it's not pretty.  Silje has one very small dresser, and that's it.  It holds socks and tights and underclothes for the girls, and Silje's p.j.'s.  That's it.  The rest of Silje's clothes folded on closet shelves or hung up.  Solveig's clothes are stacked on another shelf, which gets tricky when you're dealing with those tiny little shirts and sweaters that like to tumble over. 

When Silje grows out of something, I've just been shoving it (literally) onto an empty shelf, and now I have about size 3T-6 clothes all mixed together and shoved in no method whatsoever to all the corners of her closet.  There are no more shelves for the new baby's clothes.  There is no more space for anymore of Silje's too-small clothes.  The floor is starting to clutter.  We need a good sized dresser.  We need some storage.  This must get done before the baby comes.  It's my new obsession.

My quest for a decent used dresser is not going well, so as I try to be patient, I've turned my thoughts to the rest of the girls' room, and to Silje.  She's been on my mind a lot lately.

Everything with her is new for me.  She's entering a new stage that is so foreign, and I feel a bit lost.  A new baby coming?  I can handle it.  My little Silje turning tweenish?  I have no idea.  I've been sensing some withdrawal from her.  I've been sensing a frustration in her work and play.  I've been praying for a way to reach her heart, and for her to know that I see her.  When it feels like I'm always just giving her another job to do, and when I have to deal with a whiny toddler, or a sick baby when we were supposed to have our tea party.  I get that she is disappointed that I turn down some activities that she wants to be in because it's during her younger siblings' nap, and therefore won't work.  We skip naps about once a week for activities, but I hesitate to do more.

I don't want to victimize her.  She doesn't have it rough, and I won't give in to thinking that, or letting her think that.  She has quite a few privileges, and in my opinion, a very blessed little girl.  My intent is not to feel sorry for her.  However, I want her to know I see her struggles.  I see she's growing up, and it's something I'm delighted over.  I want to show her I'm excited about the lady she's becoming, and I appreciate her obedience when I know sometimes it's hard.  I see her character, and I appreciate it.

I know one of her major struggles is keeping her room clean.  I can relate.  She has trouble throwing anything away and loves collecting things.  Every surface in her room is covered with stuff, to the point where you walk past anything and stuff starts falling.  She tries to clean it every day, and every day it gets terrible again, without much effort.

The plan is to redo this room for the boys in a year or two, and repaint the boys' room for the girls.  The boys' room is bigger, and will fit 3 girls better than 2 boys.  Until then, I think what her room might need is a makeover. 

I proposed the idea that I do a makeover on her room.  I knew she had trouble getting rid of stuff, so I asked her permission if I could do the makeover when she was not in the house.  We planned a special date with Grandma for this event.  I told her that I would go through her things and take away a lot of the clutter, and replace it with some fun new things. 

When I brought up new things, she was all on board.  I told her I was just going to make space.  I said everything that I removed from the room would go into a box for 6 months for safe keeping.  If she missed any of it, she could simply ask for it (specifically...not just get the whole box).  However, if she wanted anything in the box back, she would have to give back one of the new things so that she doesn't just have a clutter problem again.  She's totally on board.
She's at the age where pink is baby-ish and purple is cool.  When I asked how she would like to see her room a few weeks ago, and it was "Purple!"  She also wanted lots of zebra print and bright colors.  She didn't want a single stuffed or ceramic kitten removed from her room, as that is her favorite collection.

Over the last few weeks, I've been slowly collecting things.  I've scoured ebay, craigslist, Target clearance, Hobby Lobby, Goodwill, etc.  I'm really excited about her seeing it all come together for her.

Last night we went through all of her clothes together, and took out everything that she just hates.  She's getting to the age where I buy her clothes and they never get worn because I have no idea what her "style" is.  We cut her pile of clothes in half and she was really excited with the extra space on her shelves.  I asked her a lot about what her style was, so I could keep that in mind more when we shop.  She was so excited to talk about it.  We talked a bit about modesty, which isn't a huge problem yet.  We talked more about what types of clothes look good on her, and which colors suit her best.  She was so animated and excited the whole conversation to talk this all out.

I removed all of the 3T-6 size mess to my room to go through and sort and organize before the big makeover day.  I know tubs won't work in this closet like it works in the boys'.  Silje suggested vacuum (compressed) bags, and I think it might work.  I hadn't thought of that, but I think it's a good idea.

We then talked more about the style of the room.  I told her a bit more about what the room transformation was going to involve.  I didn't show her anything, but we just talked about some of the things she does in the room, some things she'd be more than willing to part with, and we just talked about growing up.  Letting go of the baby toys, and making space for the toys we use. 

It was the conversation for which I've been praying for weeks.  It's not the room, or the clutter, or the mess that's truly been on my heart.  She opened up to me and really talked for the first time in awhile, and I could see in her eyes that her heart was fed.  I was walking on clouds for awhile over that.  I felt that especially before a new baby comes, and I'm distracted and have a lot on my plate, I needed to connect with her and let her know I saw she was growing up.  I saw her frustrations.  I may be busy, but I still see.

The makeover is planned for this weekend.  I'll have to post the final results.  It's not the shabby-chic style that I've always decorated her room in the past.  It's moving up to bold, flashy, "tween" which is the category that my online searches tell me is the style I'm looking for.  "Tween" is such a weird word.  I don't really like it.  Apparently online shops have it as a category, though.  It's certainly not my style.  I love where we're going with it, though.  I love that she's embracing this makeover, and I hope to be relieving some burden off of her. 

Moving forward in this direction of growing up is a scary, but very exciting place place to be.

Monday, September 24, 2012

I'm Blessed

It's a pretty frazzled Monday morning around here.  I think it's a good time to write this out.  It's a good de-frazzling exercise.  This morning I didn't get to have devotions.  Well, I woke up at 4am with the prompt to get up and pray for the day, and I thought it was flukey, because I normally don't get up until 7am at the earliest.  So I just chalked it up to weird hormones and went back to sleep.  Turns out that Solveig decided to wake up at 5am for the day, so God sorta knew that I needed an earlier wake up call.  She woke up her siblings, and even though Knut was the one who went downstairs and got them breakfast so I could sleep, let's just say it wasn't so restful.  (The kitchen is directly below our bedroom, and our children aren't especially known for being quiet.)  So I ended up just getting up.

Last week, before the first day of Fall came on the calendar, the guys on the farm finished soy bean harvest.  That is a huge blessing.  That means harvest is going at warp speed, and that means there's a good chance Knut will be home for trick-or-treating with us this year.  That's my hope each harvest, and that goal is in sight.  Today they start the corn harvest.

Corn harvest is much more intense than soy bean harvest.  The main reason for that, I've learned, is that soy beans don't like to be harvested when wet.  They get all smushed, and not much value when they're smushed.  So even if it hasn't rained, the dew of the morning prevents them from combining it too early or too late.  Corn doesn't have that issue.  You can combine it when damp, when dry, and I've even seen them combine it with a bit of snow.  What that translates to is farmers who don't stop until it's done.  This is the harvest where some nights Knut only comes home for 4 hours to sleep and the only way I know he was in the house is the imprint in his pillow when I wake up in the morning.

As we approach the intense portion of harvest, I'd ask for prayers for our family.  I'd ask that the kids manage while they miss him, and that I manage without much break.  Well, that's not true.  I hired a babysitter tonight so I could go to a women's ministry dinner at our church.  We don't often hire babysitters, but Knut has been encouraging me to do so during this harvest so I don't get too burned out...especially in my condition.  I thank him for that push.  Grandma is our normal babysitter, but since we go to the same church, she often wants to go to the same events I do.

I'm so blessed to get a babysitter tonight.  The kids love her to pieces, and she made a point to tell me yesterday how excited she is to come..  She plays with them non-stop, and reads them endless numbers books, and she's even done my dishes before without me asking.  Seriously, she's gold.

I'm also a bit stressed because my magazine sample and final pattern needs to get in the mail this week.  The bulk of it is done, but I'm approaching the finishing work and the math portion.  I'm a bit worried about the math part.  With quiet evenings, it shouldn't be too hard to get done, but I worry that if the kids don't sleep well, or if I'm too brain dead at the end of the day I'll fail this job.  I'm not sure the stress will leave me until it's packaged and on it's way.  So where's my blessing in that?  Today I'm going to choose to be thankful that God has given me this opportunity to be published again.  I'm going to be so thankful that I get to knit with this soft yarn.  I'm so blessed that I get to make some extra pocket money doing something I absolutely love.  I'm going to be thankful that people that I respect in this field have been encouraging me along.  I'm so blessed.

I was also so blessed last week to have a whole day in the big city by myself.  I had a great appointment with my midwife.  Our appointments are around 45-60 minutes long, but we went over because we were talking and laughing so much.  I love the relationship forming, and how she really takes the time to get to know me.  I did some shopping, had some dessert at a fine bakery with my sister-in-law, etc. while Grandma took the kids.  I still feel so refreshed from that.  I don't want this post to turn into "I'm so blessed that I didn't have to be with my kids all the time" post.  I do love them.  However, I don't know how single moms do it.  Children are such blessings.  So are support systems. 

Knut left for work this morning and I already miss him.  It was so nice having him home yesterday, even if we just watched football all afternoon.  I probably wouldn't miss him so much if I didn't know I'd only see him for meal exchanges for the next 6 days.  I'm so blessed that he and his family still take Sunday's off.  I don't think we'd make it through harvest otherwise.

How have you been blessed this last week?  Was there a moment you thought you'd drown and someone was there to rescue you?  Did you get any encouragement?  Did God just speak to your heart in a way that was just right for that time?  I love hearing what God is doing in all of your lives.  That's a really neat blessing too.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Freezer Cooking! The Rules

I think one of the most intimidating things about freezer cooking is what can you freeze, and what can't you freeze, and how long should you freeze it for?  There's nothing worse than spoiled food, except perhaps spoiled food that you poured hours into preparing.

First, let's defined "spoiled".  Food is spoiled in the freezer in a taste or texture sort of way.  It does not spoil in the you're-going-to-kill-all-your-family-if-you-serve-it sort of way.  So put your mind at ease.  Worse case scenario is: it tastes bad.  Of course, if you don't follow basic hygiene in the kitchen rules, and rules about leaving meat out, or cooking it all the way, etc, then your food could kill your family.  It's not the freezer's fault, though.  It was bad before it went in there.  Or your freezer breaks, I suppose it could go "bad" in there then.  Or if you forget to plug it in and all the meat rots.  My mom is going to laugh at that one because that's something I did as a teen.  That was not a fun clean up.

At any rate, in a properly working freezer, with food that goes in there already good, the worst case scenario is a taste or texture issue. 

Then I need to add that how long it lasts in the freezer depends largely on 2 things, and all the estimates I give will vary depending on these: the type of freezer and the type of packaging.  Food will last longer in a chest freezer than an upright.  It will last even shorter in a freezer that is opened and shut often.  It will last longer in freezer bags than thin cheapo-bags.  So take those things into account, and know the estimates given by me are based off of well packaged foods, in freezers that get good and cold and don't get opened and shut throughout the day.

First, I'll start with a list of groceries that I buy when it's on sale so I have a bulk amount ready when I have an open opportunity to do freezer cooking:

butter-- yes, butter freezes beautifully.  Ironic, I know because of the cream factor.  I buy 4 stick/1lb packages when they're at a good price.  I normally have a minimum of 10 of these boxes in my freezer.  I have never, ever had texture or taste issues with frozen butter.  When I run out and have to buy it full price, it hurts in a way I cannot describe.

shredded cheese--I learned this from watching Rachel Ray.  Block cheese gets a funny texture when frozen, but shredded cheese does not.  So I'll buy mozzarella, colby jack, cheddar, etc. when it's on sale in the shredded bags.  If there's a cheese that I use often and it's on a great sale, I'll stock up.

Meat--this may be a no-brainer, but this is always bought when on sale, and stored until it fits into my meal plans.  I normally buy the big packages of 3lbs of ground beef, and before they go in the freezer, divide it into 1lb portions and label them in quart sized freezer bags.  (I know some people prefer the freezer paper, and I'm just not in the habit of using it, but I do know it works well.)  Sometimes I'll brown the 3 lbs and freeze for when I need it.  It limits the uses when you do that, but it's really nice when you want to make tacos or something like that really fast, and that first step of browning the meat is already done.  I'd say about 25% of the time I brown some meat, and the rest of the time I divide it while raw into freezer bags, label, date, and save it for a bigger variety of uses.  If I'm planning on doing something with a bulk of meat and it does not need to be divided for ease of use, then I'll leave it in the package from the store, and put another plastic grocery bag around it when it goes in the freezer.  I don't like leaving it in there like that for a long time, like a month or so.  Thawing big portions of meat is annoying.

My favorite kind of meat to use is from a butcher.  Not just the grocery store butcher, but some free standing place where meat is their passion.  I like to buy from their in bulk, when possible, and they will often divide meat up for me in these wonderful freezer paper packages.  They'll chop a roast into stew meat for me at no charge, or individually wrap in 1 lb portions 10lbs of ground beef.  (You can buy stew meat chopped at the grocery store, but it's often $1 more a pound.  The stew meat at a butcher will often be the good stuff, without the price hike.)  I can justify getting this better meat because I'm buying in bulk, and they seem to be more than willing to do some of the leg work of chopping or dividing for me.  It saves me tons of prep time in the kitchen to go to a real butcher, so I try to do that when I get the chance.  I still get meats on sale at the grocery store, but the butcher's is my preferred method.

Eggs--I'm not talking about eggs in the shell.  Although, I've found that you can freeze leftover egg yolks or egg whites in ice cube trays, leave them overnight, and store them loose in a big gallon sized freezer bag.  I've had some texture problems with this, but that doesn't matter so much for baking.  It would matter for frying.  I've heard that if you sprinkle a bit of sugar or a bit of salt (depending on it's intended future use) before it freezes, it will help with the texture issue.  I have not tried that yet.

However, I freeze egg bakes all the time.  You freeze it like any other casserole below.  I always use them in less than 3 months, because they're so popular in my house, and I've never, ever had a taste or texture issue with those.

Chocolate Chips--these often go on sale around Christmas time.  I can never keep enough chocolate chips in my house, but I've noticed that sales on this item can vary the price by over $1 a package, so it's really worth buying when on sale and storing in the freezer.

Homemade Foods:
Garden vegis are something week keep for a whole year in the freezer.  Different vegetables need to be prepared for the freezer by different methods, and whole books are written for that.  I recommend getting Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving or some other sort of huge reference.  You don't have to be a gardener or belong to a co-op in order to do freezer cooking, so I won't discuss it to great lengths.

Breads--I'm not a big fan of freezing store bought bread.  I'm not sure if the stuff from the store has more air in it, or what, but I just notice the taste in the bread if it's in the freezer for as short a time as a week.  I'll still eat it, but I'll notice.  I'm really picky about my hamburger buns and hot dog buns having that freezer taste to them.  I just don't like doing it.  I know many people who do and never notice any difference.

However, I can freeze homemade bread, homemade caramel rolls, homemade quick breads such as banana, pumpkin, zuchinni, apple, rhubarb, freeze fairly well.  Key word: homemade.  I wonder if there's some ingredient in the store bought breads that does not do well in the freezer.  I try to use these in the first 3 months, and after 6 months I will pick up a slight freezer taste, but it's still not as bad as the store bought bread.  These ones go in either the chest or upright freezer, as the freezer on my fridge just doesn't get cold enough to protect it from the freezer taste that long.

Cookies--My husband actually prefers chocolate chip cookies frozen, and I've found that other such type cookies freeze very well.  I would use them in 3 months or less, but that's not usually a problem in our house.  In fact, if they make it a month without being eaten that's a big deal.  When preparing Christmas cookies, I always make the cookies that are very heavily chocolate based first (truffles, fudge, peppermint bark) first because they will last much longer in the freezer.  Sugar cookies, or any flour-based cookie with frosting are done last, as I notice the freezer taste on them first.  The more refined flours/sugars you use, the faster you'll notice a freezer taste.  At least, that's my opinion/experience.

Casseroles--almost any casserole can go in the freezer.  The only ones I avoid are ones that use some sort of stuffing, like a casserole with Stove Top sprinkled on top.  Of course, you could make a recipe like that, and simply not put on the topping until just before you bake it.  Ones with lots of real cream should be used within 3-6 months.  Canned cream soups in casseroles I don't worry about as much as far as an expiration date because all those preservatives in there will protect the taste a bit more.   When freezing something in a 9x13 glass pan, you should cover the top with plastic wrap, and then put aluminum foil over that.  You can write what's in there and the date, and maybe some heating instructions right on the foil.  Be sure to remove the plastic wrap before cooking.  ;)

Individual Portion Meal--Part of my rotation of freezer foods are grab and go things like burritos, chimichangas, and calzones.  I wrap these individually in plastic, and then put many of them in a 1 gallon freezer bag with the contents and date marked on it.  Many times, due to my husband's job, he eats alone, or way before the rest of us, or at odd times.  It's nice to just grab a calzone or two from the freezer, take the plastic off and pop it in the oven for 30 minutes.  Since these often contain cheese and bread/tortillas, I like to use them within 6 months.

Half-Done Meals--I will make fillings in bulk, and freeze them.  Apple pie filling, and chicken pot pie fillings come to mind first.  Also things like Swedish meatballs with sauce, regular meatballs with no sauce, roasted tomato sauce from the garden, fillings for ravioli making, and soup broth.  If the filling has real cream in it, use it in 3-6 months.  If it's mostly vegi or meat in it, you can use it in 6-12 months.

Soups--I have yet to come across a soup recipe you cannot freeze, although I haven't tried it with my cheese soup yet.  That's just too easy to make fresh.  I will often make a big batch of stock (amazing broth) from time to time, and will freeze it in 2 cups portions in quart sized freezer bags.  Then when I make a soup fresh I can grab them, or if I make multiple batches of soup, I have them on hand.  Making stock is so easy and so cheap and it will ruin you of the store bought broth forever.  You won't be able to go back.  I have never tasted the freezer flavor in stock, so I couldn't tell you how long it lasts, but I would estimate about 12 months. 

Again, soups with a lot of cream or milk you'll want to either use in 3-6 months, or omit the cream until you reheat the soup and serve it.  I've also found that peas turn a dingy color when cooked for a long time with soups, so I don't like to put peas into soups until just about 5 minutes before I serve the soup.  They will not often make it into the freezer meal until the freezer meal is all hot on the stove and ready to serve.  The same goes for cheese.  I find cheese can be finicky when heated, so I add that at the last when serving, and won't add it, freeze it, and then reheat it.

Beans--You may not have had it before, but it's a huge budget help and tastes waaay better than the canned, and is also more nutritious.  Cooking up dry beans is really simple, except it's usually easier in bulk.  Solution?  Make it in bulk for goodness sake so you don't have to do it often, and freeze what you don't use.  I freeze in either 1 cup or 2 cup portions in quart sized freezer bags.  Good choices: homemade refried beans, black beans, kidney beans, etc.  Those are my basic ones.  It saves oodles of money over canned beans, and my family much prefers the texture of homemade beans to the thick skinned canned version.  Again, I haven't found the freezer taste on them yet, and I would estimate about 12 months on these guys too.

Are you seeing a trend?  Things with lots of flour or cream you should use in less than 6 months, and things without flour or cream can go longer.  Vegis/meats on their own do very well.  Things that will likely have to last a year like garden vegis or bulk meat should go in your chest freezer.  Things that are easily stacked should go in the upright. 

Things that I found don't freeze well: lunch meat, sour cream or other creams (this does not include Cool Whip, which let's just face it, is just fluffy oil).  It will be a texture/spreadability issue, not a taste one.  Cream cheese works fine if you thaw it for baking in a cheesecake, but will not work if you thaw it for spreading over a bagel.  The main issue with flour based things (bread) tends to be taste, and the main issue with cream based things tends to be texture.

So think about your favorite family recipes.  Sloppy joes?  Chili?  Chicken Noodle Soup?  Any recipe that is low on the cream/bread category will make a GREAT freezer meal.  Even if it does have those ingredients, you can often make it and use it within 6 months and it's still a great help.  So don't think you need a recipe labeled "freezes recipe" in order to freeze it.  Your own family cookbook probably has a huge amount of recipes that will freeze great!

You might notice that I added a button to the sidebar of this blog where you can access all of the freezer recipes already on this blog, as well as links to some of my family's favorite off-blog recipes, as well as all of the posts in this freezer cooking series.  I'll add more each Saturday...until I run out...if I run out.  Next week I'll add a recipe.  Now to figure out which one to start with...

Friday, September 21, 2012

Teacher Notes

This week was again tough, but not in the way it was last week.  This week it was tough, but I kept my cool.  I kept my least most of the time.  Up until this week, I've had the 2 little ones watching some cartoon for the hour to hour and a half that I needed some quiet teaching time with 1 of the 2 older students.  Many times by lunch we're done, or more specifically: I'm done.  As I'm getting lunch ready, and craving some peace and quiet, I send everyone downstairs to the playroom in the basement to watch t.v. until lunch is ready.

That has really been backfiring, because it seems once Silje and David watch some t.v. as cheesy and educational and everyone-be-nice type of cartoons they are (not like the Tom and Jerry of my generation) Silje and David have a marked attitude once I let them watch t.v.  Once they even see one show, they talk back.  The refuse to do their chores.  They whine and complain every step of every instruction.  I was so sick to death of these battles.  It wasn't just daily battles, it was every 5 minute battles.

At one such time after lunch, when I had asked Silje to pick up some school things that fell on the floor in the dining room, and I asked David to go outside and get the eggs, (and I might note, they were the first "chores" I had asked them to do so far that day) they both melted down into a complaining, weepy mess.  They hated picking things up, they hated going outside, they hated school, they hated everything.

I had had it.  They were fine that morning during school.  This was only after they watched a show downstairs, and I had turned it off because it was time to do some chores.  They do not respond well to me turning it off.  So much to their screams, I unplugged the t.v.  I detached the dvd player, and the digital converter box.  I put them on a high shelf in the cold room (a storage room in our house the kids are terrified of because it's damp and it's were the mice live.)

As you may know, I take away the t.v. quite often.  I don't like doing it because I don't see anything fundamentally wrong with the t.v. and it's awfully nice to have a few minutes of quiet here and there.  I don't want my kids growing up too sheltered.  However, it seems my kids can't handle it.  Every few months, we go 6 months or so without it.  I always reintroduce it at some point of desperation, and I always, ALWAYS regret it.  It's like a drug that they get addicted to, and can't seem to pry themselves away.  They can't handle themselves without their fix.  Television shows start taking priority over obedience, kindness to others, and good old fashioned play in their hearts.  As a mother, I can't just shrug my shoulders and let that happen.  I wish I could allow them a small amount, but a small amount hasn't been working.
(I do make the older kids get dressed before school starts, but the little 2 don't always make it into their clothes that soon.  I'm hoping by next week we will all be out of pajamas by school.  Baby steps.)

So it's been hard having everything disconnected on the t.v.  The little kids are now into everything during school.  So far, they are content to have crayons and color books at the school table.  It's tricky when Solveig climbs all over me during reading, but she really enjoys it too.  We're making do, and we're managing, but it's an adjustment.

Creativity is returning to the kids, and that has made me happy.  Both Silje and David have initiated these extravagant popcicle stick craft projects, with painting and all.  I've been kicking them outside to play more often, and they're fighting me less on that.

This week has been full of successes and failures.  I've had some low lows, and I've had returned hope that we can do this.

We've begun our study on Native Americans from North America all the way down to South America.  We've been starting a study of the Incas.  We've been doing some reading on Columbus.  We're pushing ahead on math.  David's reading is improving greatly.  Silje is showing she really has a knack for cursive, and is really enjoying that subject.  I'm tying it in with spelling, which is her worst subject, and she's taking much more to spelling this year, with the fun element of cursive thrown in there.

David is doing extremely well with his first year of Chinese.  He was really nervous about it, but now he loves it.  He's doing great in English grammar now as well.  He likes for me to try to trick him.  Everything with him is a game, and we're working on labeling nouns and verbs right now.  I will give him a word, and he has to tell me if it's a noun or verb.  He loves this game.  When we're walking around the house, I'll throw him a random word and he'll jump up in down with excitement as he tells me the answer.  I've yet to stump him and he's pretty proud of that.  Even my tricky "What's a combine?" (answer: noun) and then "What's combining?" (answer: verb).  He thought that was pretty tricky and was proud of himself that he didn't get tricked.

Actually, the kids are loving most of their subjects, and want to keep going whenever I say a lesson is done.

Although they tell me and others that they just hate school.  I can't seem to figure that out.  Often I'll give them assignments and not tell them it's school so they'll come a bit more willingly.  That has backfired more than once, though, as they then tell people "We didn't do school today" and I'm not sure whether or not I should tell them that they in fact, have done lots of school.

We're gaining some momentum.  I don't feel like we're at a full productivity rate yet, but we're getting there.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Nesting #5

As this blissful second trimester winds down to an end, nesting has finally kicked in.  Things are so different this time around.  The trend in each pregnancy, understandably, has been to be more and more distracted through the whole thing.  It goes by so fast.

I finally feel her on a more consistent basis, but nothing like the other kids.  Inside the womb, she behaves most like her brother, David.  I'll admit that worries me a little.  ;)  Like David, she will stop moving the instant she senses someone's hand there.  Like David, her movements are few, but strong.  The other kids would kick back when they were poked, and almost play a game.  Like her biggest brother, when poked she will stop and think about what happened, and try to figure it out.

I wonder if my labor will be like his too.  Everything about David from the very beginning was intense.  I know I've said that before.  Like all her older siblings, I suspect she will blaze her own trails.  I imagine she will have her own traits that are uniquely hers.  She will teach us all something new.

Name discussions are drawing to a close.  Knut and I each have our favorites, but like always, we'll probably go with his.  I like his name very much, and if I veto'd it, it wouldn't even be on the table anymore.  I really like it, but I like mine more.  He really likes the name I like too, just he likes his name more.  We've been trying to figure out a way to break this tie of ours, and we had a discussion the other night about possible nicknames.  I had to admit that nicknames for his name are infinitely better than mine.  I still like mine, but he may have won me over. 

Preparation for this birth is so different this time around.  We are planning a birth with a midwife for the first time, and there is a bit of extra work involved with that, but it's all fun work.  I'm really enjoying collecting things, and learning things I knew nothing of before.  I have another appointment with her tomorrow, and I'm looking forward to it.  We plan on discussing my previous births in depth this time around, and making some more specific birth plans around that history.

I bought a new little sleeper for her last week, in a teeny newborn size.  I like to get one new for each of the kids, so they own at least one new thing when they are born.  I like to walk around the house with it over my shoulder, and try to remember how much of my hand covers a newborn's slender back.  That's my way of bonding.

I also got her her own new Amber teething necklace.  Silje has a grown up tooth coming in that's bugging her, so she's wearing the new baby's necklace today.  Sorry little one.  I guess most of what you'll have will be used.  I've debated getting one for each of my kids, and the one Solveig had was passed around to the point where it finally fell apart.  I cannot believe I never heard of those before Solveig was born.  It has been such a lifesaver.  One for each kid might get pricey, though.

I find myself nesting, but nesting has a different face as you have more kids, I guess.  I'm not getting any nursery ready.  I know she'll sleep in the cradle in our room until she outgrows it, or starts sleeping through the night.  At that point, we'll see if Solveig is ready to give up the crib.  If not, then the new baby will sleep in the pack n play.  We're not ready to renovate the girls' room yet, and make the big room switch where Silje, Solveig, and the new baby will move into the bigger boys room, and the boys will move into the girls' room.  The girls' room needs to be gutted, re-insulated, dry walled, texturized and painted before we can make the switch.  That is certainly not going to get done this winter.

So I think when the baby is a few months old, and ready to move out of our room, she'll probably sleep with her brothers.

I can't get out the newborn clothes and prepare them until I have some place to put them.  I need a new dresser, and I have one picked out at a consignment store that fits the bill perfectly.  However, I have no means to move it at this point.  I certainly can't move it myself, and even if I could, my van would need to be empty to haul it home.  It's not like I could leave the kids at home and run and pick it up.  The consignment shop is closed on Sunday (Knut's only day off) so I might have to wait for a rainy day, or harvest's end to get it.  Then the clothes-sort will begin.  That's the only part of my nesting that is getting frustrated right now.

The reality of this baby is starting to dawn on the kids, and that's really fun to see.  During church last Sunday, David was having a tough time.  As I was sitting next to him, the baby started kicking.  I whispered to him that the baby was kicking.
"How do you know?"
"I can feel her.  She's kicking me."
"How to you feel her?"
I put his hand over my belly, and told him to wait.  I was certain she would stop kicking then, but she gave him a good punch, and his whole face lit up.  He looked up at me with amazement and said, "She's strong!"

The baby has not kicked for Silje yet, so she's trying to take every opportunity to feel.  Elias was the one who didn't believe me about the baby for awhile, but all day yesterday, he was talking about how the baby in my tummy was still small, but she's getting bigger and bigger.  He was having this discussion with Solveig in a very serious tone, and I'm pretty sure she wasn't understanding.  However she felt important to have such a conversation with her big brother.

I have a feeling she's going to fit right in.  Already the kids love her.  Already Knut and I love her.  I feel bad already that she doesn't get the attention the other kids got when they were in my womb.  She'll have no baby shower or celebration (nor do we need one!  I have bags overflowing with newborn items and my closets will hold no more.)  Although I have thought of having a baby celebration at our house in place of a shower.  Kinda like a shower without gifts.  It will be right around Christmas, though, so that seems impractical.

I also picked up a book of Knit Christmas Stockings this week at my local yarn store, because there was a stocking in there that seemed just perfect for this new little one.  Although her due date is December 22nd, I expect her to arrive before Christmas, as I have never gone late.  Not that I couldn't go late, it would just surprise me...a lot.  For baby's first Christmas gift, each kid got a Christmas stocking, and I think this Christmas will be her first.  I should get prepared.  I really need to find some time to knit it, as I have searched the stores over already, and haven't found any knitted ones that would fit into the color scheme of all of the other knitted stockings in the house.  Most of our stockings are store bought, but I came across the same problem of no matching ones when Solveig was born, so she has a handmade one.

I love the nesting phase.  It allows my mind to drift to a new little baby.  It brings back to mind the smell of newborn skin, and the little noises they make.  I start talking to her at the oddest times, and I wonder if she knows that I'm talking to her just then.

Sweet little girl.  We're getting so excited to meet you!  Take your time, though.  Good things are always worth waiting for!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Yarn Along

Well, I finally figured out what to do with this Quince and Co. yarn.  After knitting a sweater, ripping it out, knitting it again, and planning to rip it out a second time, I have a whole new design for it.  So far, I'm thinking this will be perfect.  It is simple and cozy, which fits this yarn to a "T" and it will be a cardigan, not a pullover. It's really nothing at all like the failed design.  It's a totally new one.  The good news is I'm really getting my money's worth with this yarn.  I get the joy on knitting 3 projects with it for the price of 1.  This project was totally on a roll, when my yarn for another project came in this last week.

I'm doing a bit more magazine work that won't be published until next Summer's issue, and I had a deadline of getting it done October 1st, but then the yarn they were to send me for this project came much later than expected, so all other knitting projects have been put on hold until it gets done.  Luckily, it's a very simple project, and very easy to do throughout the day, and in front of the t.v. at night.  The yarn (the blurry coral stuff in the back) is this lovely wool/silk mix yarn, and I'm very happy to say has been so gentle on my arms that with all the knitting I've been doing with it, I haven't ached even a little bit.  It's amazing how really good yarn is easy on my hands, and really cheap yarn makes my hands ache when I knit for a few hours put together.  At least that happens to me.

I picked a school book for the Yarn Along discussion this week.  A Child's Introduction to Poetry is one of our Sonlight chosen curriculum books, and I just love it.  The kids love it too, and are always sorry we don't read the whole thing every day.  It has some amazing poetry choices...the same poems I studied in college.  However, the way it is presented, and the explanations given for different methods of descriptive language and terms makes me wish this was my college text book.  I would have caught onto my poetry class much faster had I had this book on hand.  I highly recommend for adults and children alike.  It's simply beautiful.

If you want to see what others are knitting and reading, stop by Ginny's Blog today for the big master list of blogs participating.  I'm always inspired by her and her beautiful photography and writing.  OK, she's sort of one of my heros.

Monday, September 17, 2012

I'm Blessed

God has really been working on my heart on one issue lately, that I thought I'd share today.  It's not one I've conquered, and maybe will never conquer.  Like one never says they've conquered weeds in their garden.  It's the issue of my need for Him.

You see, I find that especially since I've become a mother, but even before then, there are things that I feel I must do.

I must eat.
I must sleep.
I must shower.
I must see people every once in awhile.
I must get out of the house.

Sometimes as a mom, your needs get down to the bare minimum.  You re-evaluate what is actually a need, and what is actually a want.

This list above is a very incomplete list, and mostly so because I don't have something very important on it:

I need to spend time with God. 

However, that seems to be trumped by my need for sleep, my need to eat, my need to see my friends, my need to knit, my need to catch up on Facebook, my need to go through a magazine, my need for a clean house, my need to just vent to a friend over the phone...etc.  Somehow my need to spend time with God gets shoved to the bottom of the list, and becomes something I complain about not having, instead of actually moving it up in priority.

Over the years, I've tried to take opportunities as I see them to ask mothers with kids older than mine, or who has more kids than me, and someone who I regard as spiritually mature: "How on earth do you spend time with God?"  How is it done when you're a mother?  How do you do it?  How do you deal with the interruptions?  How do you focus on just Him?  This was something that I used to do, and yet find so difficult at this stage.  Honestly, it's always been difficult, but I seem to be more satisfied with my excuses during this stage of my life.

One mom said that she doesn't ever find big chunks of time anymore, but simply has a stack of Bible verses on her counter, and throughout the day, each day, she memorizes a new one.  That whole day she just says that verse over and over.  I tried that for awhile, and it was an improvement.  I liked having God's word to comfort me throughout the day.  It was very powerful.

There was still a void, though.  I missed praying.  I hated just shooting prayers up throughout the day like flares in an emergency.  I missed the relationship, and the quiet of prayer time.

The answer of "how do you spend time with God" question that I have heard most often, I heard once again this summer when I talked to a speaker at a convention who had 7 children.  She said that she prayed every night that God would wake her up in the morning, before everyone else, so they could have their time together.  She knew that if she set her alarm, everyone would get up, and then what's the point?  No, she said she prays for a quiet wake up from God himself.

I had actually done that before: pray before bed that God would wake me up at just the right time when the house is quiet and we can spend time together.  It does work, or at least it has for me.  It's been a few years since I've done that.  You see...

I need my sleep.

I don't fall asleep easily at night, and many times I don't get to bed before midnight.  I'm not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination.  I know that God gives us rest, that God asks us to rest.  I don't think sleeping is bad, because sleeping is from God.  And I love sleep.

However, God has been teaching me that I need to find my rest in Him firstHe is the source of rest.

That's what I'm learning: God is the source of rest.  Not sleep.

God is the source of unwinding.  Not Facebook.  Not knitting.  Not mom's night out.

God is the friend to vent to and talk out my problems.  Not my sister.

God is more important than coffee in the morning.  I'm talking serious stuff here.

The thing is, I don't crave him like coffee.  I don't love him more than that precious last hour of sleep in the morning.  However, I wanted to crave him like coffee.  I wanted to love him more than sleep.  So I started praying that God would help me want it even more.  He told me to obey.

The longer I've been a Christian, the more I see things happen through obedience.  So many times I wonder why God asks us to do things.  So many times I see that he doesn't tell us why until after we obey.  We don't understand some doctrines until we walk in them.  We would love to desire first, but the fact of the matter is, sometimes we have to obey first.  Maybe all the time we need to be obeying first.  

So lately, no matter when I go to sleep, my eyes pop open about 5:30am.  Sometimes I tell God "not today" and always regret it.  He is always willing to give me another chance.   I've been trying to more often say, "Thank you, God.  Yes I would like to spend some time with you."  Turning him down should be as absurd as turning down your husband when he offers to dance with you.  I want to dwell on the thought that my Creator, the God of the universe who designed the wing of every butterfly, who tells the Sun when to rise, and controls the tide...wishes to spend time with me.  I want to be present to what is actually happening here.

It's often still dark, so I climb out of bed, so I don't drift back to sleep.  I wrap a blanket around me, sit down in a not too fluffy chair, and grab my Bible and prayer notes on my bedside table.  By the light of my cell phone (I should really find a flashlight or buy a reading light or something) I read a chapter from the Bible.  I think about it, and reread certain parts.

Then I start sharing my heart with God.  I use my prayer cards for this. My brain isn't working so well that time of morning, so on each of these index cards I have things that have been on my mind.  I have a card for me, for every person in my family, for my siblings and extended family, for Knut's siblings and extended family.  I have one for our church.  I have one for people in our government.  I have cards for people I worry about and feel tempted to meddle in their lives because of that worry.  This isn't my wish list, this is my list of things on my heart that I want to share with God.  Sometimes he removes the worries and fixes the problem.  Sometimes he explains why they are there, and helps me process through them.

When I have prayed through each card, I place them back inside my Bible.  Then I climb back into bed and warm up next to my husband.  When I get out of bed for real later, it's much lighter.  It's starting the day without those worries dragging me down.  I start the day knowing God is handling it.  I'm sure once God has started working on me more, I won't go back bed after our time together.  I'll go downstairs and make a big breakfast for my kids and present myself to my husband all dressed and bright eyed.  That miracle has not yet come to pass. 

It's been easier to go to bed at night.  I think I'm sleeping heavier too.  I guess I'm saying that I've been feeling more rested being woken up in the morning, not less.  God is not some sort of trick.  He must feel like banging his head against the wall all the time when I try to tell him all the things that I need, and he says back: "Yes, but don't you think I know what you need?  Don't you think you should listen to what I say you need?  Don't you think I might know just a little bit better?"  All this time I've been telling him, I need my sleep.  He's been trying to tell me, "Let me worry about your sleep.  What you need is me."

I have not arrived, and I don't want to brag that I have, nor do I wish for this to be another level of legalism that I wish to encourage other mothers to achieve.  I just want to share with everyone who feels tired:

God is the source of rest.  

God has been blessing me abundantly with rest, both physically, and mentally.  If we are feeling constantly weary, perhaps we are trying to find rest outside of God.  Perhaps our list of needs needs rearranging.  Yes, God has given us sleep, food, coffee, friends, fellowship, etc.  Those are not bad things.  They are improperly used, though, when we use them to replace God.  That's something God is showing me. 

"In vain you rise early, and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves." 
Psalms 127:2

Ironically enough, if you read the verses after this one in the Bible, it talks about how having lots of children is a blessing too.  I always found that ironic that God talks about blessing with sleep and blessing with children in the same breath.   I'm not sure if he meant for me to laugh every time I read that passage.  I think he's trying to make a point.

As I've been preparing for this post on how God has been blessing me with rest, this song has been going through my head day in and out.  I'll leave it with you:

  1. I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
    I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
    I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands;
    I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand
    • Refrain:
      Than to be the king of a vast domain
      And be held in sin’s dread sway;
      I’d rather have Jesus than anything
      This world affords today.
  2. I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
    I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
    I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame;
    I’d rather be true to His holy name
  3. He’s fairer than lilies of rarest bloom;
    He’s sweeter than honey from out the comb;
    He’s all that my hungering spirit needs;
    I’d rather have Jesus and let Him lead
Do we have a mother's verse?

I'd rather have Jesus than playgroups or sleep;
I'd rather know him, than than beauty keep;
I'd rather have Jesus than crafting or friends;
I'd rather be His, and on Him depend.

         Then to have the best behaved children in the land
         Or have my house constantly clean;
         I'd rather have Jesus than anything,
         To know Him, and be led by HIS hand.

That's all I got.  Like I said, this does not describe where I have arrived, it describes my journey.  It points where I want to be, not where I am.  I am so grateful, and so BLESSED  that God has been working on me...

and meeting the needs he knew I was neglecting all along.
As always, please leave in the comments how God has been blessing you this week.  If you have the inability to be concise like me, feel free to leave a link to your blog post on the topic.  Whether it's something big or small, spiritual or material...God is blessing us everyday and it is good to "shout it from the rooftops" and praise Him.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Freezer Cooking! The Equipment

So this is the first part of my freezer cooking series, where I'll share all of my best tips and recipes, etc.  I've done freezer cooking for about 7 years now, and I use many different methods, and cookbooks.  The important part is to find your groove, and know that it's not an all or nothing deal.  Freezer cooking for you might just mean that you make 2 meatloaves instead of one, and stick one in the freezer for a later date.  That's not too intimidating, is it?

My family is growing to the size that I need to do freezer cooking on a fairly big scale, but it's also to the point where I don't have a day once a month to devote solely to cooking for that month.  I did "Once A Month Cooking" and we found it lacked the variety my family leaves, and it would take me days to recover!  My pace is now "Once a Week Cooking" or if I'm ambitious "Twice a Week Cooking."  I still like cooking food fresh, without the freezer element, but I like having something ready to go for those crazy days.

First, I think I should go over what sort of equipment you'll need to start.

Freezer  This may seem like a no-brainer.  If all you have is the freezer that's attached to your fridge, that's fine.  It's not ideal, but it will work on a smaller scale.  What I don't like about the freezer on my fridge is it doesn't get as cold, and it's opened more often.  (It's where the good ice cream goes!)  Right now our family has a separate chest freezer, and a separate upright freezer.  I love them both because they each have their own strengths.  When looking to get a freezer, consider a few things:

--Chest freezers are the best value as far as it will keep your food good longer than an upright.  You'll get less of the freezer-taste for long term things.  It's more energy efficient.  The con is simply it's really hard to keep organized and it's really easy to loose food in there.  In my chest freezer, I keep all the meat, bags of vegis from the garden, blocks of butter, bags of cheese, chocolate chips, and most goodies.  It also doubles as a great cutting table in my craft room.

--Upright freezers are really nice because you can organize it, and you have shelves.  Shelves are awesome to have in the freezer.  Many times I freeze something on a cookie sheet, and once it's frozen I'll transfer to some container.  It's nice to have a flat surface to put a cookie sheet.  I also freeze my broth and soups flat so they store in the freezer nicely, and this is a great place to do that.  When we got this freezer, we were told that although the anti-frost feature is tempting, it provides more air movement than the freezer that will frost in the inside.  That air movement is going to add to the freezer-taste in your food, so you shouldn't keep it in there as long.  In this freezer, I keep most of my ready-made meals, frozen quick breads (banana bread, pumpkin bread, etc) for snacks, frozen broth, frozen roasted tomato paste, frozen pies, and vegetable overflow from the chest freezer when my garden gets a bumper crop.

Really Big Bowl (Affectionately known in this house as the "RBB.")  One of the best purchases I've ever made was a huge stainless steel bowl.  I can mix 6 meatloaves in that baby.  It was about $25, and worth every penny.

Really Big Pot My pots and pans set came with a stock pot that was an 8qt size.  That was a good size for us for some time.  I can fit most things in there, and I prefer it as a stock pot because it's a good quality and heats really evenly.  However, as I said our family eats more, we invested in a 16qt stock pot.  I think ours was somewhere around $40-60. This thing is huge.  The quality isn't quite the same, but it works.  It should at least be stainless steel with an aluminum or copper core base so it has even heating at least in the bottom.  Do not get non-stick.  You'll be primarily making soups in here, and you'll want some stick to it.  Having an 8qt stock pot on hand is still very handy in addition to the 16qt.  You'll want a really long wooden spoon to go with this tall stockpot too.

2 Sets of Measuring Spoons/Cups  I've found that when I'm doing a big bulk of cooking, it's nice to have one set of measuring things for the dry ingredients, and one set for the wet ingredients.  When I'm scooping out salt and baking powder and sugar, for one recipe, I rarely wash inbetween each of those dry ingredients.  However, if I measure out some oil, you have to wash it before you go back and get some more sugar.  It just makes the process go faster.  For cups, I use flat individual cups for measuring dry ingredients, and large glass measuring cups like Pyrex with several measurements marked for the wet ingredients.

Freezer Bags  The most common sizes I use are 1 gallon and 1 quart.  It is essential you actually buy the ones labeled "Freezer Bag" as they will keep the food fresher months longer.  You'll need a Sharpie marker too. 

9x13 Glass Baking Pans  These are also essential for freezer cooking.  You do not want to freeze any pans with non-stick coating on them because it will ruin your coating and it will flake into your food.  I'm building up my collection of these and just purchased my 7th one.  It really feels like you can never have enough of these with freezer cooking.  Anything in here will have to be thawed before put in the oven, of course.  Never put a glass baking dish from the freezer to the oven.  I just thought I should add in that bit of wisdom.

If you intend to give away some of your freezer dishes to those in need of a meal, I suggest that you buy some disposable 9x13 pans.  Disposable are no good to me personally, because way out here on the farm where disposing of trash is expensive, and we recycle everything.  So if I make a lasagna in a disposable pan, I still have to wash it out well before we recycle it.  I hate washing those things.  It is nice for the fact that you don't have to return them to people.

Large Stainless Steel Jelly Roll Pan  I know these often come in non-stick, but I use my to freeze garden produce like peas separately, or freeze flat bags of broth.  Non-stick and freezers don't work well together.  For those who don't know what a Jelly Roll Pan is, it's a cookie sheet with about a 1" lip around the edge.

A Quality Chopping Knife Cooking days get long when you have a dull, uncomfortable knife.  Make sure you have at least one that you really love and is really sharp.  It makes the day soooo much easier.

Comfortable Shoes  I know this isn't a kitchen item.  However, I want to point out that while I go barefoot most days, if I'm doing some serious cooking I put on my running shoes along with my apron .  You should too.  It will give you the endurance and energy to get lots done.  Every time I forget the shoes, I burn out early.  To me, this is as important as anything.

Looking Ahead:

That's all I can think of as essential tools that may not be in every kitchen.  For those of you who do lots of freezer cooking, comment on anything that I might have missed.  Next week I'll post about what sorts of items and recipes freeze well.  What sorts of things can you buy in bulk when they are on sale for when you have time to do some freezer cooking, and how long you should keep different types of food in the freezer before they "go bad."

Friday, September 14, 2012

Teacher Notes

Yesterday was a much better day.  Thank you for your prayers as we've been transitioning.  Yesterday was very good.

This week at school was not at all like the first.  I was very disappointed in myself about that.  It wasn't a complete failure or anything.  I have a certain expectation, though, and don't like when we don't reach it.

I know it's fine.  I honestly don't like that it's fine, but I know it's fine.  The rational seeps into my brain, that at "regular" school, kids have assembly days.  They have fire alarms.  They have days where nothing gets done.  I mean, most schools spend their whole first week doing get-to-know-you stuff.  We just went straight to the meat and potatoes.  It's not like we're behind.

However, I hate that expression too.  "Behind."  It's as if we were in a race with the public school kids to make sure that we're "on track" (another racing term).  It's not that I hate public schools, because I don't.  It's that I don't think our school is any comparison, so I wish that I, and others, would stop comparing us to them.

It just reinforces the myth that public schools in this country are the standard that we much all reach towards.  That idea rubs me completely the wrong way.  I'll try to explain without going on a tangent that will raise such a online fight that I'm in no mood to have.

I think that as Christians, we should not reach for standards set by our government, we should reach for standards set forth by God.  Whether or not we use the public schools to equip our children does not matter to me.  I do not think I'm better than those moms who send their kids to school, because I believe God calls some families to do that.

However, the public school mentality is that we must all be on the same page.  The super smart kids need to wait around until the slower kids catch up, and we must all move forward at the same pace.  It's one of the reasons we left.  I personally feel that each of my kids are gifted in different ways, and my goal is to educate them to the fullest extent of their ability, and not to the universal standard that is set forth by the state.

So take note, Moms: we do not all need to be the same, do things the same, and be all on the same page.  If you believe that, or struggle with that thought, then you've given into the public school mentality.  I myself do it all the time.  I need to remind myself that yes, we all are different, and different is good.  Different means that we're not all hands in the body, or all elbows.  Some are feet, some are hands and some are knees. The body of Christ implies diversity.  We are called to lean on God for guidance, not the state.  Although God does sometimes provide, or resource guidance through the state. 

So when I have a bad week, and someone (no one has yet, this time) says "O, you're far ahead of the public schools, so don't worry."  I want to wave my hands and say "Yes, but what does how we compare with public schools have to do with anything?  It's irrelevant!"  If I wanted to insure that my kids were on target with public schools, I would have left them in public schools.  I wanted something different, so I need to stop looking over my shoulder to see if we're the same enough.

So now I'll step off the soapbox and tell you about our week.

Monday was good.  We got a lot done.  Tuesday was a joke.  We had a few minutes of school, and then somehow it all unraveled.  I'm not even sure what exactly happened there.  Like I mentioned in previous posts, Solveig has been teething and getting up a lot at night.  So the mornings are a bit hazy for me as Knut leaves for work, with me just standing there with my cup of coffee, bathrobe on, and my eyes peering through my broken glasses.  (Solveig broke my glasses this week.  She was handing them to me, and snapped off one of the parts, which is now connected by electrical tape until I bring it in to be fixed.  It should be an easy fix, but they fit crocked now.)

Wednesday I was determined to do better.  I was going to lay down the law and be strict.  School was going to be the #1 top priority that day.  Well, that backfired because it turned into a day of me yelling at the kids and the kids yelling at each other.  It was awful, as I wrote about yesterday.

Part of the problem was I was trying to get too much done that day, and the kids were feeling neglected.  One story I'll always remember.  After having devotions, the pledge, and our history reading for the day, I left Silje reading her independent reader on the living room couch, and David had a math worksheet that he had to work on at the dining room table.  Solveig and Elias needed a bath very badly, so I was going to be right upstairs in the bathroom with them.

Well, pretty soon, I hear Silje and David fighting and yelling downstairs.  So I peek my head out of the bathroom, and tell them that I gave them no work that required them to talk, therefore NO TALKING!!  So then they were whispering and squealing.  I yelled down the stairs again.  Normally I would go down and see what all the fuss was about, but I didn't want to leave Elias in charge of the bath.

So since I couldn't move, the next time noise came from downstairs, I called David upstairs to talk to me in a normal voice, since I was pretty sure he was the instigator of all this.  Silje came with too, to assure me she was reading nicely, but David kept interrupting her.  I had already figured this, and was annoyed at her joy in telling me of her brother's faults.  She went downstairs with rebuke.

I ask David what the problem was, and he said he lost his math.  I was confused.  Lost his math?  Wasn't he just sitting there doing his math?  How do you loose your math when you are working on it?  He started screaming that he couldn't find it, and Silje wouldn't help him look for it, and he didn't know what to do.

I told him to go downstairs and look everywhere.  Perhaps he was wiggling on his chair and it fell below the table.  I told him to look under his chair.  I said he better find his math and get it done!  He started crying, and ran back downstairs, crying and screaming every minute or so that he couldn't find it.

So finally I got the little 2 dressed, and we came downstairs to help David look.  There it was, on the table, right where I had left him working.  David had a sheepish look, and shrugged his shoulders.  "O!" he said.  "I didn't think to look there!"  I was so angry.  Sometimes I don't understand what goes through his brain.

That anger followed so much of the day.

So Thursday my plan was to have a day of healing and instituting some better habits.  We cuddled and talked more.  I never left the room when they were working.  I pushed aside all other work so I would have no distractions.  We took more breaks, and just talked about life.  We still didn't get to our memory work, so that subject was pretty much not done this week, but we can catch that up easily.  We had some catch up work to do from the day before, and I wanted to make sure we had a lot of Friday's work done too, because we are doing a day trip today and wouldn't be able to do our curriculum work today.  We got most of it done, though not all.  Enough where I feel good about it.

So today we're off to go shopping in the city.  A children's consignment shop is setting out all their winter coats and boots for the first time this season, and my kids need to get suited up.  We spent a decent amount of time this week trying on all our winter gear to see what still fits, what can be passed down, and who needs what.  Here's our shopping list for the day:

Silje needs: new snow boots, at least 1 decent sweatshirt, snow pants, and winter dress shoes.
David needs: mittens, a light fall/spring coat, and new boots.
Elias needs: snow pants, and tennis shoes
Solveig needs: tennis/casual shoes and some more pants.  (I realized that most Silje left behind for her have holes in them.)

So we found more coats in the kids' "big boxes" (the boxes full of clothes that people give us) than I had expected, but since the weather is turning, it's time to make sure that the kids have other shoes than just their sandals, and that when the snow does fly...probably not for another month or 2 at the earliest...we'll be ready.

We'll also get to see the kids' cousins while we are in the city.  It will be fun to see how the unpacking has been going at their house.

I hope you all have a great weekend!  Tune in tomorrow when I'll post the first in my "Freezer Cooking" series.