Saturday, September 29, 2018

Sticking with It

Yes, another plant-based post. I realize that this may not be of interest to everyone in the same way that it is for me, and I'm sorry to consume so much air time on the subject. I do hope you will feel comfortable simply to roll your eyes at me and then move on to what will surely be a more interesting blog at another http site! I'm just here because it is my favourite venue to work out my thoughts and it's a way to share with family and friends and interest people what's going on in our little world...or maybe just in my brain.

I've been more than a little surprised that I've been able to stick with this plant-based eating thing for about four months now. That's a third of a year and we're all still alive...and, dare I say, flourishing?

I've rarely stuck with a food plan / diet for as long as this, though I've desperately needed to for many years now! The longest I ever stayed with a diet was my year at Weight Watchers, where I dutifully recorded everything I ate, counted points, attended weekly meetings for 52 weeks...and lost two pounds! Two! What a waste of a year that was; I will never, ever repeat it. I appreciate that many have benefited from Weight Watchers (and/or many other such programs) and are convinced of its merits; but it absolutely did not work for my body and I was very faithful, other than not exercising as much as was recommended at the time. I've tried other things, too, over the years, and finally gave up about 10-12 years ago when I just decided that maybe the simpler thing was to eat as healthily as possible and just accept my body.

I mostly have done this. For over a decade (until a few months ago), we ate pasture-raised, organic meats; organic produce as much as possible; organic milk (mostly because I was trying to delay the onset of my daughter's puberty); and so on. I meal planned healthy meals and served them up pretty dutifully. And gained/lost a few pounds along the way, depending on the year.

And then along came the documentary put out by Netflix: Forks Over Knives. I've explained in a previous post how Geoff and I watched that together while on vacation in early May of this year, and how it changed our outlook on food from that very day onwards.

Since the end of May, I have been eating a plant based diet, mostly whole foods (though junk food plant food is definitely possible and we have certainly fallen into that trap from time to time). And despite ongoing and intense cheese cravings and occasional mouthfuls of that lovely dairy addiction, I have stuck to this plant-eating thing. I have been calm about it, and undeterred in my pursuit of it, in a way that I have never been about any other diet.

The truth is that I don't view plant-based eating as a diet. Not at all. I have cringed even at the necessity of including the words plant-based eating in the same sentence as the word diet, except in that I'm using the word diet in the broadest possible terms to mean the food that we eat as part of our daily routine. The word diet conjures up bad and self-defeating associations for me. Somehow this way way of eating is different for me than any other way I've ever eaten. And maybe as a result of that difference, I feel like maybe it's more sustainable than any other way I've eaten before. It just make sense to me to eat this way, even while it's a challenge to re-learn everything I've lived with for so many decades.

Recently, while Geoff was out of town, he and I were texting about the latest plant-based book that  I'm reading: Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, by Calwell Esselstyn. I got the cookbook to go with it and I'm finding some really good new options to add to my list of meal/snack ideas. Geoff texted  that he was impressed (maybe surprised??) by how I have pursued this new-to-us way of eating. Here's what I wrote back to him:

"In all honesty, it's the first way of eating that has ever truly, immediately, and deeply made sense to me. Deep down I don't believe that we should have to count calories or points, eat weird food, deny ourselves food when we are hungry, kill animals for our satisfaction, substitute fake ingredients for whole, etc. Deep down, I believe that the closer we eat to nature, the better off we'll be, simply because that's how God designed our world. So even thought I've tried (and failed at) many other food plans and diets and theories, this is the one that is most consistent with my internal beliefs and how I view God. I hope I can stay with it long term for this reason and believe it's why I've been able to stay with it so far."

That's exactly how I feel. It doesn't mean that I am imposing what I believe on anyone else; but for me, this is what makes the most sense...and I hope to be able to stick with it for the long term because it's so consistent with what I believe otherwise. And it really seems to benefit me: My insides feel so much better; I've experienced the healing of several skin, and other, issues that have plagued me for a very long time; I'm off of most of my blood pressure medication now (which I've been on for three years); I've lost a little bit of weight; I (oddly) don't need quite as much sleep as I used to; I have a little more energy than I used to (which I notice most in the evenings, when it seems like I still have enough capacity for one or two tasks that I didn't have before); and it feels intuitively like I'm finally headed in the right direction.

There are two more things that I want to change over the coming months, as I continue in this trajectory:

* first, I want to reduce the amount of oils we use. The more I read, the more I begin to believe that they're not necessary; and because I'm overweight, surely I could benefit from this reduction. I've already begun this process. Last week I eliminated oils from the frying pan; when cooking up veggies, as I do many times/week, I use water or a little veggie broth if the pan gets too dry, and this has been working beautifully without any noticeable taste change. My next step will be to eliminate oils from salad dressings - something that may prove a little more challenging. I've begun to look for recipes to experiment with, and know that this might take a little longer. But that's ok; I'm in this for the long haul.

* second, grrr, and I really don't want to write this down...I need to exercise more intentionally. Deep down I believe that if I were to exercise more, I would lose some of the bulk that I'm carrying. I've definitely lost a few just by changing how we eat, but I could kick that portion up a notch by exercising more. I'm contemplating rejoining the nearby Fieldhouse gym again...the one that the kids and I joined for two months earlier this year before my achilles tendon started ripping again (I think it's in better condition now, though). I truly despise all forms of exercise, weight bearing or non-weight bearing. I hate sweating!! And because I now experience the oh-so-lovely (NOT!) hot flashes that signify peri-menopause, I sweat so much at times that to contemplate exercising in order to bring it on intentionally seems more than I can bear at times. But sweat I must if I really want to continue this healthy trajectory. So I must pursue this again, like it or not.

And that's it for now. If anyone had said six months ago that this is what I'd be processing, I would have laughed. Loudly.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Dare I Call Myself Vegan? I'm Not Sure.

You may have noticed that between my first post on the subject of plant-based eating a couple of months ago and my post of a couple of days ago, I've begun to use slightly different language to describe what we're doing. In my first post on the subject, I noted that we are now eating vegan. Now I tend to talk more about plant-based eating. There's a reason for this change in language. As I get more familiar with the culture that is encompassed within the spectrum of veganism, the more I realize that we may not entirely qualify for such a title. Yes, it's a simpler term and I'll likely continue to use it on occasion, because most non-vegan people understand its usage...but I'm intentionally shifting a little away from it.

There really is a whole spectrum of vegan people out there....waaay more diverse than I'd ever considered before jumping on the bandwagon. For many, this way of eating is about way more than a way of eating - it encompasses an entire lifestyle that includes animal activism. For people at this point on the spectrum, eating vegan is very much about animal rights and activism - how one eats falls within that larger purpose. Not that long ago, I read an argument on Facebook about who was entitled to call themselves vegan - and could a person who still carried a leather purse or owned other leather goods call themselves vegan? The jury seemed somewhat out on the answer to that question, but I'd say that more people than not felt that true veganism meant that as leather goods in our homes need replacing, they be replaced with items that are not involved in the harming of animals. And that makes total sense to me. One of the benefits of eating this way is that we aren't the cause of animal suffering or death, and I like that. But it's not the initial reason we made the change to eat this way, and I don't claim to be an activist.

What am I supposed to do about that as someone who might otherwise call herself vegan?

In addition, I had a grandfather who was a hunter - a big-time, big-game hunter who travelled the world. He was born and lived in an era when that was a celebrated pursuit, and something that only the wealthy could do. He loved it; it was a passion of his, and he and my grandmother travelled extensively to fulfill this love. He hunted, gave all of the meat to the natives of the land, and kept the hide. He had the largest trophy room in the entire country of Canada in his day! True story. He died about eleven years ago, in his late 90s, and with him passed an era of hunters - that's just mostly not done these days (or at least, not approved of by much of the world...and certainly not by those who espouse veganism in the fullest sense of the word). Most of my grandfather's trophies have been donated and sold elsewhere now, but I inherited a few of his pieces. For example, I am the owner of two buffalo hides, an elephant foot, a zebra skin, boar tusks, and two deer head trophies. All of them inherited, all beautiful, all beloved by my children.

What am I supposed to do about that as someone who might otherwise call herself vegan?

Also, I have a son who has inherited his great grandfather's love of hunting. He is driven by a love of fishing and hunting. He lives, talks, breathes hunting and fishing, and most of the conversations I have with him in the car, as we go about life, are about hunting and fishing particulars. This is not my interest, never has been, but he has been this way for at least five years and I don't know where he got it from other than through passed-down genes from his great-grandfather. He's careful with his pocket money, and the only thing he spends his money on are things he needs to further these interests. Ironically, he has been the easiest of my children to adopt a plant-based eating habit, and it is not uncommon for him to pack plant-based foods for snacking on while in the fishing boat. He is so very proud to be a hunter and fisher. What do I do about that conundrum? I don't like that he hunts, and it actually turns my stomach. But I support him and his unique interests (that don't need to be the same as mine), and he thrives on these things.

What on earth am I supposed to do about that as someone who might otherwise call herself vegan?

The simple solution, I think, is to describe myself as Whole Food Plant Based living. I'm not sure that I qualify as a vegan in the truest sense of the word.

Thoughts?

Monday, September 24, 2018

Eating Plant Based: The Kids. Protein. Meal Planning.

Well, it's almost two months since my last post, and I may as well pick up where I left off.

Geoff and I are still eating plant based foods. It's been about four months for me now, and it's mostly gone pretty well. Eating this way is still a big adjustment for me from a cooking perspective, and I'm slow to change that which has been my reality for 50+ years! I still struggle with intense cheese cravings, and every once in a while I eat something with cheese in/on it. But I'm going strong, and getting better at this every week.

One of the first questions I always get, when someone learns of our lifestyle change, is about the kids. And that's a great question. Having children who don't necessarily want to pursue the same lifestyle complicates life a little, for sure. But I decided early on that, although the kids' diets would surely change as Geoff's and mine did, I don't need to worry about forcing them to choose this lifestyle. Matthew and Lizzie have actually been fine with this change, although they occasionally eat meat or dairy. Seth has been more resistant and, although he eats everything that I prepare, he still asks daily if what we're eating is vegan (ever hopeful that one day I'll say 'no'). Over time, everything is smoothing itself out and we've allowed for huge adjustments for the kids.

The kids mostly eat what I eat these days and three or four consecutive days can pass by where they have eaten 100% or close to 100% plant based. I've never considered myself to be a short order cook and have never cooked more than one meal for a dinner to accommodate my kids' likes/dislikes; and at least partly as a result of this, my kids have always been good eaters - thankfully, they were already good vegetable, fruit and legume eaters before Geoff and I made a change to becoming plant based. They eat what we eat, just as they always have. So it hasn't, perhaps, been as huge a shift for them as I'd feared it might be. And I don't mind if they choose meat or dairy products at other times - I'm not here to foist my desire for change onto them, and I recognize that they'll have to make their own choices about how they want to eat as they get older and more independent. I figure all I can do now is feed them the best I know how, as I've always done...and hope that they are healthier and a little wiser for it in the long term.

I have definitely noticed that, because the kids tend to follow what Geoff and I do, certain things have definitely changed for them. The most basic thing is that they rarely eat meat any more - and really only when they are eating out of the house (if my parents take us out for dinner, for example, or if they are at a friend's house). During the summer, I would occasionally include a bit of meat at lunch for them; for example, if I was putting out ingredients to make sandwiches, I'd put out a small package of meat for them to add to theirs. But even that began dying a natural death when the kids discovered that they loved the falafels that I was including in my wraps with veggies, etc. I think, too, that as they are more exposed to a plant-based diet, their tastes have even begun to change a little. For example, Geoff and I continued to purchase dairy milk for the kids this summer, because they have always been huge milk consumers (like, four big jugs of milk every 7-9 days!). But as I continued to put out jugs of ice water, and as Geoff and I quietly chose to drink almond/oat/cashew milks, their milk consumption started to rapidly, and naturally, decline. By early August, I was throwing out the last third of the one milk jug I'd bought for the week; and by late August I just stopped buying milk and the kids haven't once asked for it. They drink water and almond milk (and even that has changed from sweetened to unsweetened and I don't think they even noticed). There are sooo many ways to include calcium in our diets, and plants are so rich in so many nutrients, that we really don't need to be drinking cow's milk. I'm glad that the kids are drinking virtually no dairy milk any more, and a lot more water.

The other thing that people keep asking me about it protein - how are we ensuring that we get enough protein in our diets? I had that concern initially, too, until I started reading more about it and understanding that, as a western culture, we are way obsessed with protein and eating far more than our bodies actually need. As one researcher/doctor put it, in the western world he has never once heard of someone having a protein deficiency! I'd also just add that there is plenty of protein to be found in vegetables (especially in the dark green ones), legumes, nuts, and seeds. As long as we eat a varied and balanced diet, I don't have to spend even a second worrying about whether or not we are getting enough protein.

I am definitely continuing to read and research about the nutrients that our bodies need, to ensure that we maintain healthy bodies. So on the one hand, I'm trying as hard as I can to be on top of this in my non-scientific brain. On the other hand, I'm not super worried about getting sufficient nutrients; in so many ways, we're eating more health-fully than we've ever eaten.

It is still a significant challenge for me, to eat plant based. It has been such a huge change, despite having been mostly healthy eaters for years prior to this decision. I struggle with meal ideas at times, for example. I had no idea until this summer how much I had planned every meal around what meat we would consume every week - we would have beef one night, fish another night, chicken on two nights, one vegetarian night, etc etc. Once I had the animal protein figured out (other than for the vegetarian night), I would plan the rest of the meal around that. Sometimes it still feels like I'm preparing all of the side dishes that I used to serve alongside a chunk of meat, only now it's all the side dishes (and with some modifications). Everything used to centre (unconsciously) around the meat and how I'd prepare it. And I was good at it!

To help with this meal planning dilemma, I have begun creating a list of meal and snack ideas so that I can resume menu planning - which has been a lifesaver for me for many years already, and something that I have sorely missed over the last few months. I am poring through my plant based recipes and recipe books to create this list, and I am looking forward to it being done in the next 2-3 weeks, as I have time. I'm hoping that this will be helpful as we continue into our busy winter months ahead.

So there's my progress report for now. I have one or two more thoughts to put to paper, but that'll have to wait for another day! I hope this hasn't been too boring!


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

A Change of Lifestyle...Something I Never Ever Thought About Before!

Something I never, ever, like in a gazillion years, ever thought I'd hear coming out of my mouth are words that I verbalized just a few weeks ago for the first time. I was at a restaurant and a server asked me if I'd like cheese overtop what I'd ordered. My response: "No thanks...I'm vegan."

Yes, it's true. I don't know for how long it will be true, but it is for this period of my life. I am eating vegan. It's still strange to say that out loud. Never in a million years...

The journey started about 10 weeks ago, when the kids and I were on our six week road trip west (something else I need to write about at some point!). Geoff joined the kids and me for a week of our road trip, and the five of us spent that week on Vancouver Island, in the Ucluelet/Tofino area. On our second night there, Geoff said that he'd had a doctor's appointment while we were away, and that the doctor had told him that he had somewhat high cholesterol. About ten or fifteen years ago, Geoff had received the same diagnosis from our family doctor and he'd gone on meds for about 18 months until it was at normal levels. This time, though, rather than jumping onto the medication band wagon, Geoff asked the doctor if he could investigate dietary options first. Because his cholesterol wasn't terribly high, the doctor suggested he try the dietary approach first for a few months.

That night in Ucluelet, Geoff said that he'd heard of a documentary on Netflix that he'd begun to watch already, and he asked if I wanted to watch it with him. We did. And that changed something for us.

The documentary is called Forks Over Knives and it's about a doctor/researcher/scientist who has done extensive research into the impact of a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet on people with long term illnesses or very specific medical issues (such as high cholesterol). They involved people in their studies who had been on medications for many, many years for heart issues, diabetes, and so on. And in their studies, most of those people were able to eliminate their medications after only weeks of being on a plant based diet. There were many other things discussed on the documentary, but those real-life stories had a big impact on us/me.

Geoff began eating vegan immediately after returning home from spending that week with us. I began to do more research during the remaining three weeks that the kids and I were on our road trip, and whenever possible, I began making food choices that were more in line with a plant based lifestyle (a hard thing to do when traveling!). Then, within a few days of the kids and I arriving home on May 22, I decided to give a whole foods, plant-based lifestyle a wholehearted try.

No meat. No dairy. No eggs.

Why? you might ask.
  • Well, there's the obvious answer of Geoff's cholesterol and my wish to support his efforts to reduce those numbers naturally. But it's about more than that. 
  • There's a little diabetes running in my family, and I've always been careful to ask for blood work that shows my blood sugars for that reason; about three or four years ago, the blood work showed that my blood sugar was near the top of normal. I haven't had the same results in the years since then, but I'm always aware of that prospect and would rather avoid any kind of diabetes diagnosis in my future if possible. 
  • Third, I definitely have a family history of high blood pressure - my mom and grandparents, and some cousins all began on high blood pressure meds in their mid forties, and my dad when he was a little older. I also started on blood pressure meds in my late forties...three years ago. There's a lot of research suggesting that eliminating animal products from our diet can positively impact blood pressure. 
  • Fourth, deep down, I'm not convinced that we need to put animal fats and animal proteins into our bodies in order to be healthy - in fact, it may just be the opposite of that. There are so many ways to get protein into our bodies that have nothing to do with animals. And I definitely believe that, in general throughout North America, we consume far too much animal and far too few vegetables and fruit. Can anyone disagree with that one?? 
  • Finally, although I didn't start this journey specifically because of animal-cruelty issues, I very much like the idea that I am currently not contributing to the problem, either from an environmental standpoint or from the standpoint of not killing animals for human consumption. 
So that's the why of it. :)

As I write this, it's the end of July, and I'm still on the same course. It hasn't been a perfect journey, but it's been a good start. In the first days of making the change back in late May, I ate two bites of chicken. In the eight or so weeks since then I twice grated a little parmesan overtop my pasta and I once ate three chocolates with milk-based caramel on the inside; and I suspect that, once or twice, the bread I've eaten has had egg/butter in it. Also, when Matthew catches a fish in the lake and fries it up, I always have a bite or two of that - even though it doesn't particularly interest me to do so at the moment, I support his love of fishing and it's important to him/me that I try it. And I still occasionally drink my tea with a little honey in it (strict vegans don't eat honey because it is sourced from animals), and I'm of the opinion that I'm ok with a bit of honey. And that's been it...otherwise, I think I've been completely vegan for the past nine or ten weeks.

I'm not really one for half-hearted attempts at things; rather than start at a gradual pace, which most vegan gurus seem to recommend, I launched into things immediately...an overnight change. That made things rather difficult at first, because I frankly didn't know what to feed anyone any more. After about a week, I began to feel very gloomy and hopeless, and I basically left Geoff and the kids to forage for food on their own for the next 2-3 weeks. I just wanted to give up on everything. We've been pretty dang healthy eaters for almost fifteen years already (pasture-raised meats, lots of veggies and fruits, organic everything whenever possible), and I'm a pretty good cook. But this felt like a whole new world for me. I just couldn't bring myself to do anything - I just kept eating whole grain toast with guacamole or hummus, and lots of veggies and fruits while I tried to adapt...my mind and heart more than anything. Even though it was 100% my choice to try out this change, I was resentful of it and really, really did not want to be engaging with it.

But I managed to stick to it through the worst of it. My body was clearly adapting and my heart had to catch up a little. I've been coming out of my state of gloom with some new understandings about myself and a new willingness to get back into the kitchen to do what I love: cook...just in a new way.

There was one meal in particular that changed my outlook on things in a good way. I'd been researching recipes online like crazy, and one stew that I prepared for a dinner changed everything - it was so unbelievably good that I said to Geoff that if I could find 30 or more recipes that I loved as much as that meal, I could be vegan for the rest of my life. It was that good - full of veggies (onions, garlic, sweet potato, lots of cauliflower, etc), coconut milk, and peanut butter. We downed the entire pot of it that first time...and most times since then!

I fully expected to crave meat and have been shocked that I haven't had more of an urge to eat a little here and there. But, other than the exceptions noted, I just haven't! Only once did I really struggle big-time with saying no to meat (when my parents served up traditional German meat buns...a favourite treat of my past). I have struggled with the loss of cheese...that's been the hardest thing for sure. And sometimes I just miss scrambling an egg in the mornings. Who knows? I may eventually morph into more of a vegetarian - where I still have a moratorium on meat, but consume cheese and eggs once in a while.

But for now, I'm mostly good with this choice and getting a little better at making the needed changes.

More to come...




Saturday, July 21, 2018

It's Been a While

Truly, it has been a long time since I've blogged...five months or so. That's a long time, and I have missed it.

The challenge has been that my kids are no longer comfortable with me posting extensively about their lives. I have always tried to be sensitive to what they may or may not want me to write about them, and have asked them on many occasions if they were ok with me writing about certain aspects of their lives/personalities. Until recently, the answer to those questions were that is is fine.  But then, on one of my last posts, I posted something about Lizzie that a family friend ended up talking with her about and she was terribly upset about how I had worded a few things and asked me to take the post down...which I did immediately. And since then, I have been unable to bring myself to post. I was embarrassed that I'd embarrassed her, and embarrassed that I didn't know better. So I stopped for a time.

I'm always going to write a little about my family - after all, it's the most all-consuming part of my life on a day-to-day basis. But I need, also, to find new ways of expressing myself. And I hope to do just that in the days ahead.

Maybe everyone's checked out of my blog after such long absences. But if you're still here, I'm glad. I hope you are, too.

Sending out a hug to anyone still here.

Ruth

Monday, February 5, 2018

Farewell to 2017

I've finally managed to complete my usual year-end questions...better late than never!  :)


1.  What did you do in 2017 that you'd never done before?
Geoff and I became cottage owners.


2.  Did you keep your new years' resolutions and will you make more for next year?
I didn't make any new resolutions for 2017, though I did decide early in the year that I wanted to continue with my 2016 habit of tracking our finances for the year. I didn't entirely meet this goal, as I tracked our monthly cash flow only through to the end of August. I plan to resume now in January for 2018, because it really, really made a difference to our bottom line in 2016 and I wish I'd continued it through to the end of 2017.

I have made no resolutions for 2018.


3.  Did anyone close to you die?
Yes, sadly, we lost my beautiful sister-in-law, Cathy, on October 16.  It's hard to write that...I can still hardly believe it sometimes, and the hugeness of it snatches my breath unexpectedly at times.


4.  Did you travel?  Did you visit other countries?  Where did you go?
Just two short trips to Vancouver this year...the first to say good-bye to Cathy in August...the second to be at her Celebration of Life in October. 

The cottage consumed the rest of our vacation time, and all of our budget.


5.  What would you like to have in the coming year that you lacked in the year past?
* More one-on-one time with each of the kids.
* More time with Geoff...on date nights, etc.


6.  What date(s) from 2017 will remain etched upon your memory and why?
June 13: hearing that my BIL, Andrew, had been in a terrible accident and was in hospital with burns to much of his body. 

October 16: hearing that my sister-in-law, Cathy, had passed away. When we celebrated her life twelve days later, it was the most beautiful service I've ever been to...it was like she was there. We talked, laughed, shared memories and other deep thoughts, and it was as beautiful a time as I've ever experienced.


7.  What was your biggest achievement of the year and why? or What things are you proud of?
Pulling out some of my dusty conflict resolution skills to help out a friend and some of the people she worked with. I had a strong sense that I was responding to something God asked me to do, and I felt totally at peace and confident throughout these months. I also really loved using some of my old professional skills and I think that the grey hairs I've accumulated in the last 5-6 years actually lent some wisdom and experience to my work. It was nice to know, too, that my contribution made a difference to others.


8.  What was your biggest failure of the year and why?
I think I suck at building family traditions. I tend to defer to spontaneity rather than sticking to tradition, and I regret this. I want my kids to grow up and know as adults that at Christmas time we..., and that for birthdays or easter, we..., and so on.

Another thing is that I barely scratched the surface of all of my year's intended organizational projects. There are seriously so many things that need doing around here.




9.  Did you suffer illness or injury?
The only illness I suffered was just a week or two ago, right before Christmas, when I had the flu for three days.

At the very beginning of the year, January 01, 2017, Matthew careened off of a tobogganing hill and broke his arm in two places.

My Mom was in the hospital for the first six months of the year; my brother-in-law was in hospital for ten days after being involved in a terrible explosion...we're so thankful we didn't lose him; and of course, my SIL Cathy suffered so much before finally leaving us for a far better place.


10.  What was the best/biggest/most novel thing you bought?
Definitely our cottage...it cost a pretty penny and we're back into having a mortgage! But it's been well worth it so far...we had a blast there this spring/summer/fall!


11.  Whose behaviour merited celebration/recognition?
My brother, David. How he acted in the months leading up to my SIL's passing was remarkable. His commitment and loyalty to her was incredible to witness.


12.  Whose behaviour made you appalled and/or depressed?
One word here: Trump...again.  Sometimes Justin Trudeau, too.



13.  Where did most of your money go?
Easy. Cottage.


14.  What did you get really, really excited about?
A little sadly, I can't remember anything that I got really, really excited about in 2017. I feel a little flat in some ways...not enough to be concerned, but enough that I realize that I'd like to feel excited about something again in the coming year.



15.  What song(s) did you enjoy this year?
Music moves me like little else does...I can get so lost in it. I could probably name 100+ individual songs I've loved this year, but the ones that some first to mind for this year are:

* Two Cellos (if you've never heard/seen them, go check them out on Youtube...amazing)
* Peter Bence...particularly playing Sia's Cheap Thrills and Michael Jackson's Black or White.
* 21 Pilots...lots of their stuff...some fav songs that come to mind are Screen, Ode to Sleep, Car Radio, etc
* Elevation Worship's O Come to the Altar
* Christina Perri - the stuff of hers that I love isn't new, but still...A Thousand Years...
* Rachel Platten's Fight Song
* Havana, by Camila Cabello
* Fink's Looking Too Closely
* Pink's What About Us? (her voice...)
* anything Matt Redman
* maybe even a little Meagan Trainor's Better When I'm Dancing



16.  Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder? Well, I've certainly struggled with sadness this year as my sister-in-law battled for her life...it's no surprise that it's difficult when someone we love suffers and passes away. And yet, I've had some very happy and fulfilled moments this year, too, mostly during the months I was using my conflict res skills again. And I've also felt more peaceful and relaxed this year during our months at the cottage, when it was so good to just rest a little more, and relax. Finally, I've also felt more comfortable in my skin this year...to be more ok to be myself.

ii. thinner or fatter?  Not much change on that front, I'm afraid. 

iii. richer or poorer? Definitely poorer! Between the purchase of the cottage and the purchases we made towards it this summer, definitely poorer!


17.  What do you wish you'd done more of?
* more time listening to music.
* more time reading out loud to the kids. They're so into audio books over the past number of months and often seem to prefer that to being read aloud to by me. But I've missed our regular tea-and-reading-out-loud times, and want to resume this a little more often.
* I wish I'd played more games with the kids.
* more time going for walks with the kids and the dogs.
* reading my bible.



18.  What do you wish you'd done less of?
Deviating from the school/weekday schedule that I thoughtfully created for our fall/winter.


19.  How did you spend Christmas Day?
For the first time in quite a long time, the five of us were alone together on Christmas morning. For many years we've spent it with family, either on a family trip or having my folks over for Christmas brunch. But this year we were on our own until early/mid afternoon, when we made our way to my parents' house for time and a meal together. It was a lovely day.

Geoff and I decided not to do gifts with the kids this year, other than a book and some PJs. It ended up being so ok to do this. The kids still got a gift or two from my folks, but it was just fine the way it was. In lieu of gifts, we are putting a little money aside for a road trip that the kids and I hope to make in spring. 



20.  What was your favourite tv program(s) in 2017?
In no particular order:
* Velvet
* Timeless
* Offspring


21.  What's the best book you read this year?
That's a hard one, but maybe I'd say Beartown, by Fredrik Backman. The Christmas book I received from Geoff may well be one of my favs of 2018, because Gregory David Robert's Mountain Shadow  (sequel to one of my favourite books of all times, Shantaram) has started out to be that good; but we'll have to see what else I finish in 2018.

The kids and I also really liked reading the popular book Wonder, too, and we loved the movie.


22.  What did you want and get?
Hammocks for the cottage...heaven!


23.  What did you want and not get?
I have enough of everything.  More than enough. 


24.  What was your favourite film?
I saw almost no movies in theatres this year...unusual for me, because I love the cinema experience. But I continue to watch a few movies year after year and they continue to be amongst my favourites:  Anne of Green Gables (the Meagan Follows version); North and South (with Richard Armitage...sigh); Twilight (yes, really, still); and Pride & Prejudice (I love all versions, but my fave is still the Matthew McFadden one). Oh, and Far From the Madding Crowd.


25.  What did you do on your birthday and how old were you?
I turned 51 in 2017. I spent the day at the cottage with my family...it was relaxed and great.



26.  What one thing would have made your year immeasurably satisfying?
Sigh...a little weight loss...a little more physical activity.



27.  How would you describe your personal fashion concept this year?
Maybe a little better than in the past?  I tried, regularly, to layer a shirt/jacket over a shirt - this is generally a pretty good look for me.  I generally suck at clothing, though. 



28.  What kept you sane?
For a significant number of years, I have struggled with feeling incompetent in almost every area of my life. As a parent, as an adoptive parent, as a homeschooler, as a friend, as a daughter/sister/wife. I almost never feel competent or enough.

This year, however, I had a few flashes of something different. I did some volunteer work for a school that two of my kids attend on Thursdays, and the type of work that I did was something I'm good at and hadn't practiced in a number of years. I had a glimpse into another aspect of the woman God created me to be, and it added a whole level of confidence to my very being that I haven't felt in a very long time.



29.  Which celebrity/public figure did you admire/fancy the most?
I'm not sure on this front. I think I'll defer this question until next year...I'm not a huge celebrity follower.



30.  Who was the best new person you met?  Who did you meet for the first time?
This year that credit goes to Francine.  Technically, I met her in August of 2016, but that was just a meeting up. It's this year that our paths have become intertwined and I am glad now to count her amongst my friends.

In the past few months of the year, I also met and began to get to know the two new women who, with their children, joined our homeschool Learning Centre on Tuesdays.  Julie and Susan are, frankly, pretty amazing women and I am blessed to be getting to know them.  

When we changed churches in fall'17, I also had opportunity to meet two women I'd been hearing lovely things about for several years. Kellie and Christie have been delightful to meet and start to get to know, and our paths seem to be crossing on at least a few fronts...and I'm loving it. Two of Kellie's boys have become friends with my Matthew now, and I'm really enjoying these connections.

Finally (and I know this list is going on for too long, especially given that the list was to mention one person!), I met a young man named Jordan in September, who is the Student Ministries Director at our new church. He blew me away with his passion for the kids attending the youth program, and it directly impacted my boys...especially Matthew. For a long time, we've been needing more church connections for our kids, and Jordan was for me, a beacon of hope in this journey.  



31.  Who did you miss?
Oh, I miss Cathy. That's an easy one, and the one that fills my heart and eyes immediately. It's only been a few months since we lost her, and I miss her smile and her laugh every day.


32.  Any other highlights / lowlights of the year not already discussed?
Definitely the cottage was a highlight this year. I would never have guessed how much, and how quickly, I would come to love being there.


33.  What valuable lesson(s) did you learn in 2017?
It's not a new lesson, to be sure, but the need to be in the moment is so pressing...we never know how long we have on this earth, and I was reminded of that so many times throughout 2017.



Sunday, February 4, 2018

Giving Up on Dreams for our Kids

Last week, I made a difficult decision. I decided to pull all three of my kids out of piano lessons.  Now, this might not seem like a big deal, but it was to me. Music is important to me...has been throughout my life. I played piano as a child/teen/young adult, played for choirs, played other instruments in bands and orchestras, etc etc..  These days, I don't have much opportunity to play for myself, but when I do, it's a balm for my soul. Music always is for me. It's been a big deal in my life, and I worked really hard as a teen to do well with it.

I always imagined that this is something I'd pass on to my kids...not only for the sheer beauty of being able to create music, but also because I am a firm believer that a musical education enhances a child's neurological connections and abilities. There's a lot of research about that...I needn't bother getting into that here. When one has two kids rooted in a trauma past, there is something very appealing about employing a method that will create new and significant neuro connections to help them deal with their stuff. And for any child, learning music is such a worthwhile pursuit.

The kids have been in piano lessons for the past 3-5 years (depending on the child). We've had a wonderful piano teacher, and for the most part it has gone well. The kids have always complained a little about not wanting to practice, but overall, it's gone pretty well.

Until sometime last year.

I'm not sure what happened, but they began to fuss more and more about practicing, beginning sometime last spring. The boys, in particular, were not happy. Then, in summer and fall, as Seth began to seriously learn how to read, we noticed in him what has happened every time he's been learning something new: As his reading skills began to emerge, other areas of knowledge tanked. It's almost uncanny how regularly this has happened over the years. He was learning to read and print, and correspondingly, his ability to remember other things (such as musical knowledge, note names, etc) dwindled. This child who had previously known all of his treble and bass clef notes, could suddenly remember none of them. And I do mean none. Nothing. Nada. Zip. It was as if he'd never seen a page of notes before. I would have been super concerned by the severe memory glitches if we hadn't seen this happen over and over again over the past 6.5 years. The knowledge always comes back at some point, but how long it takes depends on the 'bigness' of the other things being learned. And learning how to read and print are huge areas of learning; I figured it was going to take months (maybe more) before his musical knowledge returned. Our piano teacher was great at working with this new thing over several months, in order to take the pressure off of remembering notes - Stephen had Seth creating his own music, by ear, and helped him record and amplify his simple compositions; he created games for Seth to keep him engaged; and so on.

But it's just proven too difficult.  Not just for Seth, but for the other two kids. They were all beginning to hate piano, to resist practicing so much that it became the number one thing that I dreaded every weekday. I was getting pretty frazzled and discouraged over the past several months and, sometime before Christmas, I began to wonder if I needed to pull the plug on lessons. It was increasingly difficult for me to manage practices and to contemplate pouring more money into ongoing lessons.

Finally, this past week, after six or eight weeks of contemplation, I advised our teacher that we were out, at least until fall, at which point I will re-evaluate.

It was a grief process for me to get to this point. I always assumed that my kids would grow up with music, would grow up to know how to read music, how to sing, how to play piano (and maybe an additional instrument, too). I just thought this would be the way it would be.

But at some point, we parents all know that our dreams for our kids need to be loosened in order that they can follow their own path. We can only place opportunity in front of them, not make them take advantage of it. It's hard for all of us at times, to let go of the things that we so hope our kids will take on and love to do. Hard, but necessary.

And so Monday will arrive tomorrow, as usual; but instead of heading out the door shortly past 11:00 to get to our lessons, we'll be at home for an extra two hours - likely doing some other form of school work. I know already that I'll love the extra time at home; we need more time at home to accomplish the school work that we are getting through.

But for now, maybe for the next few weeks, maybe in perpetuity, I'll just be a little sad on Mondays. While the kids will surely whoop and holler in their excitement about being free of practice time, I'll mourn the loss that they won't appreciate until years from now...if ever. Sometimes we just have to let go of some of the things that really matter and deal with the reality of what is. And that can be ok, too. I hope.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

In Memory of Cathy

Life changes so quickly, doesn't it?

My sister-in-law died just over two weeks ago, and it feels like the trajectory of life has shifted a little now that she's no longer in my present or future.  I came home last night from a weekend celebrating her life, and it was an awesome weekend - it's strange how, at such a hard and sad time, one can also feel pleasure in being with other people who loved her, and joy in remembering the one we all had in common.  It was the most beautiful celebration of life I've ever been to, filled with white flowers and white candles, and it felt like Cathy was still with us throughout the service and the gatherings afterwards.

I knew Cathy for just over eight years and she entered our family during a difficult time. I wasn't really prepared to like her; in fact, I was resistant to liking her.  But when I met her, she completely disarmed me by ignoring my outstretched hand and going in for the big hug.  A warm, genuine hug that told me she was so glad to meet David's little sister.  Her huge smile and laugh of pleasure softened my heart in just a moment.  That first night, when I met her over a glass of wine on the beach in White Rock, BC, I knew she was going breathe fresh air into our family.  I could see it, feel it...I knew why my brother loved her, and why I would, too.  Very uncharacteristically, and almost against my will, I told her at the end of that first evening that I was going to love her.

Who does that?

But I did.  And I did love her.  I still do.

Cathy was pretty awesome.  She had her faults, as we all do, but she was pretty dang awesome.  Fun-loving, warm, and without artifice, she drew people to her.  She had a way of making people love her, with seemingly no effort on her part.  It was her gift.  She was good for our stodgy old family, and she was even better for my brother, who adored her from beginning to end.  It's fascinating to watch two people bring out the very best in each other; and she certainly did that for my brother.  He became a warmer, gentler, more in-tune person with her.  It was obvious to anyone who watched them together; he glowed when she entered the room and sat up a little straighter as her eyes looked for his.  And he stayed with her and cared for her through the worst time in their lives, with a stamina that I don't know if I'd have, and with a commitment to honouring her that I envy just a little.

Many visits, many meals, many heart-to-heart conversations have been shared in the days since that first meeting.  And my first impression of her never changed. 

Then, all too soon, I flew out to Vancouver in August, to say good-bye to Cathy.  She had been sick for quite a while already, and we all knew the end was coming.  I had a chance to tell her how much she meant to me, and I was able to thank her for loving my brother and our family and for making us all better people for knowing her.  It's a hard thing to say good-bye when someone is still living; but such a gift.

While I was still there, she rebounded a little and ended up making it home for another eight weeks.  She was so grateful for that extra time; it meant she could say good-bye to almost everyone important in her life and tell them that she loved them, and why.  She was able to share meals with people, deepen relationships, and do what she needed to do to prepare.  That extra time was the one blessing during a very difficult time.

I want to learn from that.  Life is so short and we don't know when it will end...we need to prepare.  I want to be grateful for every day I have and to make the most of it.  I want the people I love to know it, and I want to do the things that matter the most.  I'm grateful to Cathy for teaching me that.

I noted earlier that Cathy is no longer in my future.  But that's not true.  I know exactly where she is now, and it's the same place that I'm going when I'm no longer in this world.  Thank God!

Until we meet again, Cathy.    

Two Hearts on Apple

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Raw Food Diets...Finn...and the Ridiculous Reaction of A Vet.

I'm not sure if I've mentioned before or not that our dogs are on a raw food diet. They eat a combination of raw meats/organs/bones/tissues, along with fresh fruits and veggies, and other supplementary foods to boost the nutrients that their bodies need. We've done it from the beginning, and we really like it. Finn has a lot of allergies (some food, some environmental), and our choice of their diet has helped her, too.

Before we brought the dogs into our family, I researched the city's vets and landed on a vet that practices more holistic medicine for family pets. She is not only very supportive of raw food diets, but encourages it, along with practicing a reduced vaccination schedule (and using titre testing to determine if a vaccine is even needed). Whenever we have one of the dogs at the vet's office, we go through their whole food routine, and she is awesome about ensuring that we're providing the most balanced diet possible (which needs to be intentional when putting a raw food diet in place). When we wanted Finn spayed earlier this year, we again went back to this vet because they were willing to do a surgical procedure that not many vets will do...we had only her ovaries taken out, rather than having a full hysterectomy completed.

Anyway, we've been very happy with our vet.

About a month ago, we needed to take Finn in to a vet because of a small lump that was growing near the corner of her inner eye. I called our vet's office and was told that she was swamped for the next 48 hours...and we were on our way out of town later that afternoon to get to the cottage. So I phoned a different vet's office...one who practices more traditional veterinary medicine. It was a newly opened office, so I figured they'd have appointments still available. They did.

We took Finn into the office, where a vet assistant ushered us into a room and asked about Finn's diet and activities, etc. I remember being a little surprised that the young assistant didn't go anywhere near Finn; in fact, she rather backed towards the wall of the room. I thought that was a little unusual, especially because Finn (and Charlie, who was up on the table keeping Finn company) was desperate to have the woman's attention. Finn is the dog who falls asleep on her back (with limbs spread eagle) when our usual vet is examining her, and who falls asleep when the groomers are trying to groom her; she is the most laid back, attention-loving, type-B personality dog. She audibly groans with pleasure when people are stroking her. And here this woman at the vet's office appeared almost scared of little Finn! I couldn't quite figure it out, but answered all of her questions.

A minute or two after she left the room, our vet of the day came in to examine Finn. As he entered the room, he was pulling on rubber gloves and he then pulled a face mask over his nose and mouth. I had never seen that before in any vet's office, and so I asked him why he was wearing them. I imagined the worst: That Finn had some incurable and communicable disease that the assistant had been able to diagnose from her lofty position some feet away. I was rather anxious to hear the vet's answer.

"I understand that you feed your dogs a raw food diet," the vet said.

"Yes, that's right," I answered, puzzled about what that had to do with anything - unless it had a link to whatever was going on with her eye.

"I'm not sure you understand the significance of this choice for yourself or for your children," he continued.

I had no idea what he was talking about. Zero.

"It's not us eating the raw food," I assured him, completely puzzled. "It's for the dogs."

Well, the long and the short of it is that that vet was thoroughly and adamantly horrified by our choice to feed the dogs a raw food diet! Seriously. I mean, I learned when I was doing research into it before the dogs came home that some people still find a raw food diet controversial...because people might still think that it's better to feed their dogs grains and highly processed kibble instead instead of what dogs would eat naturally. And I get that - the raw food diet isn't for everyone or everyone's dogs. It doesn't bother me if people choose to feed their dogs a more traditional diet.

But I'd never heard someone speaking so passionately and frighteningly about it! The vet went on (and on and on) about the dangers of the raw food diet, the mistake that it was, how we needed to be fearful of what was on our dogs' tongues because the bacteria might end up on us (hence his gloves and face mask, I guess), how we needed to purchase his particular form of kibble, offered right there in his office. On and on and on he went. He expressed "horror" that we'd been led to believe this was in our dogs' best interest. Despite my pointing out how shiny and soft their coats are, how much better Finn's allergies are on a raw food diet, how full of life they are, he couldn't hear it. He said that I should have informed the front desk immediately upon entering the office that the dogs were on a raw food diet so that they could all don appropriate hand and face gear! He told me that it was not a responsible decision to do this when I also had children to consider - apparently because I need to worry that my children will either eat out of the dogs' bowls, or because they plan to put their mouths inside the dogs' mouths. At one point, I let a small giggle out by accident - I was just so amused and I can't believe this about his die-hard belief in traditional veterinary practice. To not even consider an alternate opinion that is in the best interest of the dog was mind-boggling to me. And in the meantime, he terrified my kids, who were standing right there alongside their beloved dogs, suddenly looking at the dogs as if they might be monsters. In fact, it was because of a glance at the kids' faces that I finally and abruptly shut the vet down and indicated that we were perfectly fine with our choices and that we normally worked with a holistic vet who provided support for our choice. He shook his head, gingerly touched the sides of Finn's wiggly-happy head to take a brief glimpse at her eye, pronounced that she had (basically) an ingrown hair follicle there and said that he'd provide a little cream to help it out, failing which if it weren't better in a week he would anaesthetize her and surgically remove it.  SURGICALLY REMOVE IT!

I was done! I paid my bill, took the expensive little tube of ointment (which I applied only once before thinking that, now knowing what it was, I could help move along just by rubbing a little shea butter on it and massaging it a few times throughout the day) and we family and dogs left the office. Two days later, the bump near Finn's eye was almost non-existent...and four days later, it was gone.

I totally get why some people may not choose a raw food diet for their dogs. It's more expensive, for one thing; and it's a little more work than dumping kibble into a bowl (though we also have balanced dehydrated raw food for dumping purposes!). But to assume that it's a dangerous option, when you're a trained and experienced vet, is shocking to me. Ridiculous. I will not be entering that building again...after all, I'd hate to contaminate the people there!


Monday, October 9, 2017

Whew! The Winter's Menu Plans Are Done!

At the cottage this summer, as I was thinking through the coming school year, I was reminded how (often overwhelmingly) busy last winter was. I knew that I needed to do some things differently this year in order to feel like I was preserving my sanity.

I came up with a few good ideas:
* We said 'no' to some of the activities that the kids wanted to do. Although we could technically fit more activities into our days/weeks than we currently are, the kids are needing more time on academics now than they have needed in the past...and it's hard to fit it all in when we're constantly out and about. So we said no to a few things...and, to my surprise, none of the kids seemed to mind.

* Geoff will be doing all Math homework with the kids this year. The kids each have 60-90 private minutes with a math tutor each week, and Geoff offered to complete homework with them during the week between tutoring sessions. That felt like a significant load off of my shoulders. :)

* On Thursdays, Seth and Lizzie will be spending the days as they did last year - at a small Christian school for children new to Canada. The school offers a day for homeschoolers on Thursdays and my younger two love those days! Unlike last year, Geoff will be the one picking the two kids up at the end of their Thursdays, and taking them both to Lizzie's evening dance class; he'll wait there for an hour, then bring the kids home. Because Matthew does not attend this day program, he and I will have most of a day, and part of an evening at home together! We are making it a combination kind of day: We do school work for part of the day; watch something on Netflix together; cook something together; read out loud; and kinda hang out together. So far these have been restful and relaxed days that we've both loved.

Then I got to thinking about something else that makes life more complex/full every week: Meal Planning!

I hate meal planning and grocery list preparation! Really hate it. But it's a necessary evil for a lot of moms with young children at home. And what I hate even more than meal planning is the 4:00pm panic about what to make for supper that night and wondering what I have in the pantry that's fast and easy and relatively healthy. I imagine many of you can relate! 😏 For years, I've been in the habit of weekly meal planning, but it's still quite a chore to do every week - I easily spend an hour or two every week just sorting through my pantry and freezer, and coming up with a plan for the week and the accompanying grocery list.

I decided to do something about it, and what I landed on was making a six-week rotating meal plan for the course of the winter. And this is what I did over the course of several evenings at the cottage in August. I also ended up preparing grocery lists for each of the six weeks, to remove another obstacle from life's craziness...I even included a list (on the grocery lists) of the spices I need for the coming week, so that I can quickly go through my spice drawers and see what I've got and what I need.

It was a surprising amount of work to complete the menu plans and grocery lists:
* I tried to include lots of variety in my plans.
* I planned right down to the snacks.
* I included recipes for each item in the file folder I developed for each week.
* I tried to ensure that if I needed 3 cups of spinach for a recipe, I would then incorporate another recipe later that week to use up the remaining 3 cups of spinach in the container - so as to minimize waste.
* I also tried to plan based on the amount of time I would have on a given day to prepare meals.

In the end, Sunday evenings generally became beef nights; Mondays are usually fish night; Tuesdays are mostly slow cooker days; and Wednesdays are usually some sort of chicken. The remaining dinners are mostly leftovers, with a back-up plan or two in place in case we don't have enough leftovers.

It was well worth the effort. I am now five weeks into my menu plans and, although some adjustments still need to be made to a couple of them, they've generally worked extremely well. And my favourite part has been the already-complete grocery list that comes with each week's menu plan. I included on my grocery list every item that my week's plan calls for (for example, all recipe ingredients, even if I generally carry them in my pantry/freezer). Thus, the only food-planning task of my week is to take that complete grocery list and cross off the items I already have in my pantry/freezer!! It's awesome!!

It's been helpful in another way:  We are part of an organic food co-op, and we order food through our co-op every second Thursday. With grocery lists in hand for the coming weeks, I can easily order food through my co-op online, and then supplement as needed with Costco and supermarket lists...and, of course, the Costco and supermarket lists are already ready to go so if I order something through the co-op, I just cross it off the other grocery lists!

I've already been asked by several friends for copies of my files/plans. I'm happy to do that, but it's harder than it looks. Each person will likely change one, two, or many things on the menu plan to cater towards their family's likes/dislikes, budgets, and so on. The challenge is that any change to the menu plan means that the accompanying grocery list also needs changing - removing any items (and recipe ingredients) that need to be removed; and then adding any items that need to be added to reflect the changed menu plan. Really, it's likely better/easier just to customize one's own.

Thus, unfortunately, the menu plans and grocery lists are naturally proprietary/custom things:
* For example, on Monday afternoons, I usually put together a nicer/bigger/funner snack for the kids and me, because they've just come home from swimming lessons (which means they're extra hungry) and because that is one of the time frames of the week when I do a fair bit of out loud reading...so we nibble at things while I read and we generally have a great time with this on Monday afternoons.  Also, our dinner is usually a little later on Monday evenings, so I'm using a bigger/funner snack to stretch out the time a little before the kids eat dinner.

* Another example is Tuesday afternoons, when the kids and I are with our homeschool Learning Centre; we share a potluck snack with the other seven families on those afternoons...for about 25 people. I often prepare a larger snack for this purpose.

* Yet another example is Friday mornings. We usually have a little more time in our schedule on Friday mornings, which allows us time to make a nicer breakfast. Often those are the mornings I'll make waffles or pancakes or french toast. I always make extras of these meals, because everyone prepares their own breakfasts on weekends, and I like to have options available to any of us who would like to use Friday morning leftovers.

Just these three examples might demonstrate why my menu plans will not work for most other families. What may work, however, is to use my menu plans as the basis for ideas for your own. And to this end, I've let a number of people take a look through my files, for ideas or recipes that they like. After all, we moms need to band together as much as possible to help each other out!

I find that if I can carve out two hours' time on Saturdays, I can get a lot of food prep done for the week, and it makes my week so much easier. This past Saturday, for example, I:  Made a pot of salmon chowder; made a pot of beef goulash; chopped veggies for the week's other meals; made a pan of granola bars for the freezer; cooked up some bacon for the week (homemade meat lovers' pizza on Tuesday, to go along with a movie night; and BLT sandwiches for a lunch); etc. I will not be spending a lot of time on food prep this week, despite having a delicious menu plan ready to go!

Anyway, I felt rather proud of myself for getting this job done, and I've had a month already to enjoy the fruits of that labour. Meals never looked so easy to me!

Here are a few pictures that might help understand what I've done:

(below)
Each week has its own file folder.

(below)
Each file folder has its own week's complete menu plan...below are three random examples. Now that the plans are pretty solid, I plan to laminate each menu plan; that way I can use a dry erase marker at the beginning of the week to make any changes to the plan that I need to. For example, it being thanksgiving this weekend, I needed to modify the plan a bit to incorporate the two turkey dinners we partook of. :)



(below)
In each file folder, behind the menu plan, is the grocery list of the week. I order first what I can from our organic food co-op, and cross off whatever I can from the lists below - which are the Costco and Supermarket lists. Then I quickly go through my pantry/freezer to see which items I already have at home; and I cross them off of these lists. Usually these lists are pared down by at least a third, given what I already have at home. This process usually takes me 10-12 minutes and I'm ready to walk out the door with my complete grocery list!!

(below)
In each week's file folder, I have all of the recipes that I need for that week. This was an awesome inclusion to my plan, because I never (like, never) have to scrounge around any more for the recipe I'm looking for...they're all right there in the file, in order...and I know that I have every ingredient I need!