Favorite Things: February 2018

I don’t know about where you are, but February has flown by in our house!  Between work, school, a family wedding, and SO.MANY.SICK.DAYS we’ve been going non stop since the month started! Here are a few things I’ve loved this month!

*Note:  Amazon affiliate links below.*

Meal Prep/Bento Box Lunch Containers

I bought these initially to cut down on the number of sandwich bags I was sending in my kids’ lunches and to “encourage” me to pack their lunches completely the night before.  I don’t know about you, but I always seem to pack a lunch faster if it’s all in one container instead of 6 different baggies and food containers. It’s probably all psychological manipulation but whatever works, right?  It was working well until my 5 year old decided she didn’t like her sandwich touching ANYTHING else in her lunchbox.

Well, there goes that idea.

Initially, I had thought that I had wasted my money but then I started using it to meal prep for our adult lunches and freeze individual meals.

Now?  They can keep their sandwich bags!  These things are mine! 🙂

They’re easy to open, freeze like a charm and are a great size for the lunch bag I bring to work each day. So far, I haven’t noticed any staining from food and they’re doing great in the dishwasher.  I got the pack of 12 so I had plenty to prep ahead of time.

Fiesta Dishes:

Ten years ago when we got married, we registered for dark green Fiesta dishes from Belk.  Because if you’re from the south, you know that you HAVE to register at Belk or your grandma will either hurt you in person or turn over in her grave.  So, dark green dishes.  Not sure what I was thinking but right after the wedding we exchanged all those dark green dishes for sets of Fiesta dishes in scarlet.

We’ve used them pretty much every single day since then with zero regrets.  I love the red but we have other serving dishes, bowls, and plates in several of their other colors. They’re heavy and big enough for our purposes, they’re my favorite color, and they integrate well with my holiday dishes and my grandmother’s china I use for special occasions.

Love my Fiesta canisters too!

Last week, on a trip to the mountains, we stopped several places with discounted and discontinued Fiesta colors and I was stoked to realize the value these dishes still have.  We will definitely NOT be swapping out our dishes anytime soon!

Paper Mate Flair Pens (But only in Black!)

I love any kind of paper mate flair pen. They’re hands down without a doubt my favorite.  I love using them for both my bullet journal and my new planner but I didn’t always want to use tons of different colors.  Don’t get me wrong- I love using different colors if I’m color coding something.  However, if I’m writing in my planner, I want all the colors the same.  And by the same I mean black.  Yes, I’m weird.  This is no shock to me.

The colored pens always seen to be swiped by little girls who have very important things to write!

Anyway, I loved it when I found this pack of all black Paper Mate Flaire medium tip pens on Amazon last week!

Mrs. Grass soup mix

During the winter, our family eats soup at least 1-2 a week.  Depending on the weather and our schedule, sometimes it’s more.  We used to be able to find these Mrs. Grass brand beef vegetable soup starters in our local grocery store but now I’ve only been able to find them online.  Back in the late fall, we bought this 8 pack of soup mix and enjoyed them throughout the winter!  Add some stew meat with water and the mix to the slow cooker and dinner is served!  Even our girls will eat this soup and that’s saying something!

That’s all for me this month!  What are some of YOUR favorite products right now?

Why I Broke Up with my Bullet Journal

In early January, I wrote about how  I ditched my regular planner after discovering the bullet journal.  From October until a couple of weeks ago, I used my bullet journal faithfully and it worked like a gem.

After the holidays, my school and home schedule started to pick up and I started to notice that my bullet journal wasn’t working quite so well.  I also had noticed some fine motor difficulties from my MS that were making bullet journaling much harder.

Spring semester is always a bear for special education teachers- our paperwork and meetings kick into high gear. School events, rec ball practice for our kids, and other end of the year dates are also seemingly never ending this time of year.

One of the basic elements of the bullet journal is the future log.  Because you’re creating as you go, the future log is where you keep track of events beyond your current month.  As I began to schedule meetings and such several months out, the sheer quantity of what I needed to keep track of just didn’t work for the bullet journal.

Note:   This post is NOT sponsored in any way.  I’m simply passing along information about a product I love!

So I turned to Clever Owl Paper in search of a personalized planner with the elements of the bullet journal I loved with the benefit of a pre-printed planner.  I’ve ordered two other planners from Clever Owl so I knew I was getting a high quality, highly personalized product at a reasonable price.  Their website allowed me to start the planner in March and add three additional months so the planner will keep me through the end of next school year.

Two of my three Clever Owl planners!

I ordered the “My Life Planner” from Clever Owl and added labels for each aspect of my life that I needed to keep track of.  These were each areas that I was previously handwriting in my bullet journal.  I also ordered extra note pages for the end to keep my faculty meeting notes, freezer inventories, and extra lists.

Overall, I took what I loved about my bullet journal and put into a pre-printed personalized planner.  I’m really glad I tried the bullet journal for several months because I think it allowed me to know what worked for me and how to personalize a planner that is the most helpful for me.  Between my fine motor issues and cognitive struggles, having a quality planner is essential for my day to day quality of life.

However, I still LOVE the concept of using a bullet journal.  Your planner/calendar/digital tool should be something that works for you and should help your quality of life  and not make it more difficult.  Creating an organizational tool that does exactly what you need is at the core of bullet journal and I wholeheartedly buy into that.  I’ve simply used an online personalized planner to do for me what all those empty bullet journal pages were previously doing.

One thing I’ve learned is that any tool is only good for the time that it works for you.  Sometimes it’s only a season but knowing when to cut bait and try something new is a skill I’m still learning!

Have  you ever found a great home or organizational tool that only worked for a season?

The MS Chronicles: When Taking It Easy Isn’t an Option

It’s been pretty quiet (well…..actually silent) over here at the blog for the past week or so.   Last Monday, my oldest daughter got the flu and my younger one got some kind of respiratory infection and a REALLY impressive case of pinkeye.  On Tuesday, I got sick.  Bless my sweet husband who babysat all three of us and for some understanding principals and teachers since we were all pretty much home for most of the week.

And then on Saturday…..

MY BABY SISTER GOT MARRIED!

Melissa got engaged back in the fall to a surgical resident at a local hospital who is originally from Cairo, Egypt.  They had a beautiful Coptic Christian Orthodox wedding on Saturday afternoon.  Thankfully, we had all recovered (for the most part) from the flu and our other various ailments.

As I was resting on Sunday (i.e. while I stayed on the couch or bed ALL DAY LONG), I thought about how my multiple sclerosis had dictated so much of my week.

95% of the time I’ll take it easy before participating in a stressful or demanding activity, I’ll figure out a way to change or modify it for me, or I’ll just not participate.

Well, sometimes there are things in life that just aren’t optional. 

My sister’s wedding is a once in a lifetime event.  I was the matron of honor and mother to the two most excited flower girls on the planet.  This was big.

But I also recognized that I’d have to work in time to recover because I knew it’d be a long couple of days.

What I wasn’t counting on was everyone in my house getting sick the week before.

The truth is that sometimes you just need to push through the pain and fatigue.

And this past week has been one of those times.  But now it’s Monday afternoon and with the exception of losing my voice and being a fairly tired, I’m back at work and good to go.

So how did that happen?

1. I had a plan.  

Before everybody got sick, I knew that the wedding weekend would be long and tiring.  I’ve had MS for ten years.  The fatigue and pain after overdoing it rarely comes as a surprise anymore.

Weeks before the wedding, I had found a replacement for my Sunday morning responsibilities at church and had planned on going to a later service.  When everyone got sick and then the wedding events started, I realized I wouldn’t be able to attend church at all and made the necessary arrangements.  Had I not had a plan in place and anticipated what problems I would experience after a busy weekend, I would have been caught by surprise and it would have made everything much worse for not only me but also my husband, kids, and the people who depend on me in church.

2. I made sure I made good use of my primary care doctor.

Within a few hours of taking my kids to the pediatrician, I used my doctor’s office online system to send an email to my nurse practitioner.  I told her the symptoms I was beginning to have as well as letting her know that one of my kids had the flu and the other was also ill.  I am immune suppressed  due to my medication so I knew getting the flu would NOT be a good situation and potentially dangerous.  She started me on a preventative course of Tamiflu and let me know what symptoms to watch out for and when to get back in touch with her.  I also made sure to take my over the counter medication regularly and not get behind on fever or pain medication. And I’ll be 100% honest and say that I am NOT a good medication-taker- the fact that I even took the OTC medicine is a credit to my husband.  Also of note- he makes a really good cup of hot tea with honey. 🙂

3.  I had help. 

My husband is a trooper.  He jumped right in and handled so much of the caretaking tasks on the days I was sick as well as the recovery time.  I had a sweet friend who sent over some food and both of our parents helped us out.  We also ordered a fair amount of takeout and cooked whatever was most convenient.  (Hello Chick Fil A!)

Ya’ll…this flu. It’s not pretty.

4. I knew the fatigue and pain would only be temporary.

After 5 days of having sick kids and being sick myself, I was exhausted.  Wedding events on Friday and Saturday, while fun, were also exhausting.  But I still had an amazing time and enjoyed every minute of my only sibling’s wedding. I had a plan in place to recover so I was able to push through and really enjoy myself instead of worrying about what I was going to do the next day.

Normally, if someone asked me how to avoid the consequences of overdoing it with multiple sclerosis I’d tell them to “just say no”.  Avoid the situation that causes the fatigue, do the minimum, or find ways to modify the activity.

But life doesn’t always work that way.  Sometimes we just have to push through.  Sometimes we jump into the situation that’s going above what we can comfortably do.  In those moments, we realize the consequences and plan for them instead of running away.  Let the laundry and the cooking go and enjoy the things in life that are most important.  Like snuggling a sick kid or celebrating your sister’s wedding.   Those are things you’ll never regret!

The MS Chronicles: A Letter to My Pre-Diagnosis Self

Dear 25 year old Heidi,

Welcome to what will be the greatest and hardest year of your life.  You’ve just lost your grandmother and your dad’s death followed a week later.  I know you’re taking life one step at a time but yet still feeling like you’re barely making it.  On top of that, you’re dating this great guy but not sure how all that’s going to work out if your brand new neurologist doesn’t figure out what’s wrong with your brain.

Hiking at a state park in Georgia. I’m still not sure how I walked all those steps but I did!

I know it all started years ago with trouble walking.  This mysterious set of symptoms have come and gone for years but now they’re coming but not going.  You’ve finally found a neurologist who seems like he’s not going to give up on you and you’re hopeful that maybe this is the one.  The doctor who won’t think you’re crazy but that there’s actually something causing your numbness, pain, and trouble walking.

And he will.  He will figure it out.  He’ll do  MRI’s and spinal taps and he’ll come back with those two words you’ve heard for years- multiple sclerosis.  Your diagnosis will come six weeks after your wedding.  You and the new husband will learn all about auto injectors, disease modifying drugs, and the awful noise that the Rebif injector makes when you use it.  It won’t be easy.  But it won’t be the death sentence you imagined.

You’ll keep walking.  And falling. Even once you’ll fall head first into a clothes hamper.  But you’ll keep getting up.

Eventually, you’ll get through two pregnancies and while you’re busy growing those babies, the FDA will approve the first oral medications to treat multiple sclerosis.  The day you take that first pill instead of an injection, you’ll feel like you’ve won the MS lottery.

My first Walk MS event

Bad days will still come and they’ll be times where you’ll feel like they’re all bad days and no good ones.  You’ll battle fatigue, memory issues, and the intense South Carolina heat in August.

But you’ll keep putting one foot in front of the other.  And remembering that God’s grace is sufficient. Just like it was yesterday, it will be enough for tomorrow.

Wedding photo cred:  Jacob Dean Photography

My freezer challenge is DONE!

*This post contains  affiliate links*

After weeks of eating only from my freezer and pantry, I finally went to the grocery store today!

Back at the beginning of January, my freezer looked like this-

Today it looked more like this-

I still have a little bit of food including several bags of pork tenderloin,  but overall it’s pretty empty! We’ve eaten much better than I originally thought and haven’t had any completely random meals.

I’ll also be making a big batch of apple butter and canning it soon with my bags of frozen apple slices.

The Instant Pot has been helpful for several recipes involving frozen chicken. Two of my favorites were a chicken and noodles recipe and a chicken Parmesan casserole- both were really yummy!

I didn’t save as much as I hoped but still came under well under budget. Most of what I bought this month were breakfast and lunch items- we seem to go through those much quicker than meat and dinner items!

Molasses Cookies for the freezer!
Taco Night
Breakfast for Dinner!

Now that my freezer isn’t empty anymore, I’ll be spending time over the next few weeks filling it with precooked ingredients and whole freezer foods! I’m looking forward to sharing some of the recipes soon!

Happy Grocery Shopping Day!

Food Storage Container Organization

A few months ago, my eight year old (who is possibly more Type A than I am), informed me that my storage container drawers were too messy and that I “really should do something about it”.

Ouch.

Turns out she was completely right- it was a total disaster.  You’ll notice there are no before pictures here.  It was that bad.  I didn’t want to take a before picture.  I just wanted it fixed.

Whether you’re on “Team Rubbermaid”, “Tupperware is King”,  or “Team Glass-is-the-only-way-to-live”, food storage containers seem to always get out of control and disorganized quickly.

My favorite part of my kitchen are the drawers that are in each cabinet.  Most of our cabinets are average size, but I use these two large ones for all my food storage containers.

The top holds small glass and plastic food storage containers and the bottom holds the larger bowls and plastic containers. I’m not a purist when it comes to material- I have a mixture of plastic and glass in various sizes.

So how do we keep our food storage containers organized?  Here are a few ideas:

Store with the lids on.

Left to Right: Glass containers, Bento boxes, small plastic containers, Tupperware, and tiny Rubbermaid containers

I know this may seen ridiculous but I’ve found it much easier to keep mine organized if I store them with their matching lids ON.

Yes, it technically takes up more space.  However, I’m not spending useless minutes search for that one lid that will fit my container of leftovers. The only things I don’t store with the lid on are my bento box lunch containers because I have so many of them that I use on a daily basis.

Which brings me to my next tip….

GET RID OF THE CONTAINERS YOU DON’T USE.

I’m about to shock some of you with this but you don’t have to keep something just because it came as part of a set.  I promise, it’ll be okay.  I bought a set of vintage Tupperware from an estate sale once and figured out very quickly that I was only going to use 5 of the bowls on a regular basis.  So I got rid of the rest and have been using those five bowls ever since.  Don’t keep it if you don’t use it.  (Now if I could apply that same logic to my closet…)

I’ve found a few different types of containers that work for us for leftovers, lunches, and meal prep- here’s a few of our favorites (contains affiliate links)

  • Glass Lock Food Storage Containers:  Our set is similar to this one but we only have square and rectangle ones.  I use these for everything from leftovers to grownup work lunches.
  • Bento Lunch Box Containers:  I use these for individual freezer portions and school lunches.  They’re great to pack right after dinner for lunches the next day.
  • Round Tupperware:  I use these for soups and stew leftovers.  They’re also great in the freezer.  I bought them from an estate sale but here are some similar ones.
  • Small plastic Containers:  These were originally in the pile for the thrift store but we rescued them when we realized we needed containers for mayo, taco sauce, BBQ sauce, etc.
  • Various larger plastic containers:  In our bottom drawer, we have large mixing bowls, large rectangle containers for big leftovers, and our beloved vintage Tupperware pickle container.

Seriously, you could steal just about anything from my house but leave the Velvetta container and the pickle container alone! 🙂