Eat from the Freezer Challenge Update #1

*This post contains affiliate links*

The other day, I posted about all the food I found in my freezer and how many meals I could make from it.  And that night I stuck with the plan and made a really yummy beef vegetable soup using this soup mix (which we LOVE!).

And THEN we ate out for two nights in a row. #fail

At the dentist office after school. While our trip to the dentist was fine, her attitude was shared by us all. Hence, going to Chick Fil A. Because it’s our happy place.

Obviously, I can’t seem to commit to this whole “eat from the freezer” thing for more than 24 hours.  Maybe it’s just because it’s January and I’m still trying to find my post-Christmas break teacher mojo or maybe it’s because our school schedule was all wonky this week, or maybe I’m just lazy.  Truthfully, it’s probably a combination of all three.

So, I’m on a quest for some accountability.  Like I mentioned before, I don’t assign meals to certain days of the week during the off season.  Football season meal planning is a whole different beast for another day.  Right now in my bullet journal, I have 8 different meals that I can easily make this week from what’s in my freezer.  I pick one either the night before or that morning and thaw any needed ingredients.

Obviously, we eat very simple “meat and potatoes” meals and they can all be prepared quickly after I get home from work.

Tonight’s “eat from the freezer” meal was supposed to be a baked chicken alfredo, salad, and French bread. We ending up eating out tonight because we ran later than expected after visiting with my sweet grandpa after school so my husband offered to meet us at one of our favorite pizza places (major husband points!)

Instead of making it for dinner tonight, I decided to go ahead and make the chicken Alfredo (since the chicken was already thawed) and portion into lunch sized containers for the rest of the week.

My recipe for the chicken alfredo is basically the same as this link, but I didn’t make my own alfredo sauce.

*Note: I cook large amounts of chicken, shred it, and put into two cup freezer portions.*

This recipe is also very freezer friendly.  I didn’t freeze any today because I don’t like to cook, thaw, and then refreeze meat. However, if I did freeze this, I’d put it in a foil pan like this one, cover in several layers of foil, label with the food and date, and throw that thing in the deep freezer!

My goal for the next few weeks is to post every few days about what we’re eating from the pantry and freezer and how well I’m staying on track.  Hopefully, this will also encourage you to meal plan and maybe even have a freezer/pantry challenge of your own!

(And hopefully keep me out of Chick FilA!)

Morning Routines for Working Moms (and that’s all of us)

I hate mornings.  I am not exaggerating- I absolutely despise the early hours of the day.  I’d like to say that my MS is the root cause of that but truth is that I’ve been this way my whole life.  Ask my mom.

I read all these blogs online that tell me that the only way to have a stress free morning with kids is to get up before them and be ready for your day earlier so you can focus on them.  Well, I think that’s just ridiculous.  And for some of us it’s just not feasible or wise.  And while most of what I’m about to say is specifically targeted to working moms, I think there are nuggets of truth in it for any mom.  Because when it gets down to it, we’re all working moms.

So here’s what I really think.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO GET UP INSANELY EARLY TO BE A GOOD MOM.

There. I said it.

I don’t get up more than 15 minutes before my kids.  At 5 and 7, they’re independent enough with clear enough routines that I don’t feel like it’s necessary at this season in our lives.  Of course, when they were younger I had no other option but getting up earlier.  As they got older, I kept trying to force myself to become a super early riser, and it took my husband’s reminder to give myself grace and use my time in the best way for me.  Not just doing what I think I SHOULD be doing as a mom. The key is the routine, not the wake up time.

NOTE:  If getting up early is your thing, then please do your thing.  I wish I was an early morning person.  Unfortunately, I’m a more middle of the afternoon person. 🙂 This routine works for us in part because my husband is able to do school drop off most days and I work less than 1/2 mile from my job.  I have pockets of time at other times during my day instead of just in the morning.

So why do routines matter for a working mom?  Because the less decisions you have to make, the more mental effort you can use to be present with your kids.  Time at home with your kids is a precious commodity for all moms, but especially those of us who work outside of the home.  In my experience, the key for a less stressful morning is to have a plan for what to eat and what to wear.

What to Eat

One thing you need to understand about our family is that we eat a variety of types of foods.  We don’t have any dietary restrictions and we eat a mixture of processed and from scratch foods.  If I focused on making everything from scratch I’d either blow my food budget, eat out all the time, or just go crazy.  Or maybe all three.  Again, I give major props to you moms who get up early AND make all your food from scratch.

I’d also like to be that mom that makes a hot breakfast every morning.  But I’m not.  My solution for that is to provide a variety of  premade breakfast options that can be prepared quickly and will stick with my kids and husband until lunch.  Enter the freezer.  I usually make and freeze things like breakfast casserole muffins, waffles/pancakes, breakfast burrito pouches, and sausage muffins.  Other non freezer options may include oatmeal, cereal, or toast and fruit.  When I wake my girls up, they pick what they’d like for breakfast or I may give them a choice of two depending on what’s in the freezer and pantry.  They get dressed while I make their breakfast.  Multiple premade breakfast options=less decisions for me to make in the morning.  Which is good for all parties involved.

What to Wear

I like to prepare as much as I can for the week on the Saturday and Sunday before.  Even if nothing else gets completed,  my kids will at least pick out their clothes  and I’ll have at least a bare bones meal plan.  For the entire week.  

I used to care if their clothes matched perfectly.  Now?  Not so much.

Are you clothed?

Yes?

Great.  #theend

No, I don’t allow my kids to wear a Darth Vader mask to school. But they’re totally wearing their Alabama gear.

As long as they start on Monday morning with 5 outfit options in their closet, I’m happy.   As long as it’s weather appropriate and it fits, I’m good to go.  Again, the key is not having to make a decision.  They have five different options to pick from so there’s no decision making on my part.

Why routine makes a difference

My children couldn’t be more different in their morning habits.  One is a morning person who operates at normal speeds when completing tasks and the other moves at turtle speed. All.the.time.

How she rolls.

There was a time where I actually took milk in a spill proof cup and handed it to my youngest daughter before I even got her out of bed.  Order matters to her.  The term “hangry”?  That’s ALL her.  She needs food before she can do much of anything.  Fortunately,  she’s much better at that but just simply having a routine wasn’t enough for her.  That routine needs to be in the right order.  That meant that for awhile breakfast was before getting dressed.  Now she’s able to get dressed and then come out for breakfast.  They eat and we talk while I pack lunches or empty the dishwasher. While we don’t have a sit down breakfast of bacon and eggs everyday, we do spend time together each morning in the way that works best for us- and that’s what matters. You may also need change up the routine- seasons change and we need to be willing to change with it.

Moms, don’t feel guilty for doing what works for you and your people.  Are they fed? Clothed? Loved? Are we being the best stewards of the time we have with our kids?  If yes, then way to go.

What are YOUR morning routines- I’d love to hear what works for you!

How to Travel with Your Kids and Not Lose Your Mind

We took our first road trip with our kids when our oldest child was three months old.  We were first time parents so we packed everything we owned to make the drive from South Carolina to Sanibel Island, Florida. We enjoyed that trip and two weeks later drove with that same tiny baby 800 miles to Missouri. Two years later, our second daughter made her first road trip to Missouri at barely four months old and we’ve been been road tripping it ever since!  I counted it up the other day and our seven year old has made over 15 trips that were 800+ miles one way.

The John Deere Pavilion in Moline, Illinois

Now don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t always been easy or pleasant.  There have been moments were we wished we hadn’t even left home.  When our oldest was about 9 months old we drove to Missouri during Christmas vacation we ended up singing Christmas carols to her for the last 45 minutes because it was the ONLY thing that would keep her screaming to a minimum.  We’ve definitely had our fair share of screaming, crying, and the occasional carsick child.

That moment at Disney where I knew the stroller rental was quite possibly the best idea I’ve ever had!

While it does have its moments, traveling with our kids by car is something we’ve committed to continue.  My husband and I want our daughters to see as many states as we can before they leave our home.  Let me issue this disclaimer though- it’s not for everybody.  I have friends who travel by plane consistently with their kids and truthfully that sounds absolutely painful to me.  Different strokes for different folks, friends.  My hat is off to you plane traveling people.  Call me, I’ll pick you up at the airport anytime.  In.My.Car.

But if you are traveling by car for long distances with your kids, there are some things you can do to maintain your sanity and have fun along the way.

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links that, at no cost to you, I may earn a small commission from.

Pack the right stuff

What I pack and how I pack it makes a huge difference in the success of our trip.  For most of our trips we stop for the night after driving 500-600 miles so I need luggage to be organized and be able to get my wild kiddos in a hotel as soon as possible (especially if the hotel has a pool!)  For me, that means I pack a “hotel bag” so I don’t lug every piece of luggage in for one night in a hotel.

We’re also big fans of Drury hotels when we travel.  Their rates are competitive and they have evening food along with a great breakfast so it’s a frugal way for us to stop for a night.  The food that’s included saves us at least $40-50 dollars/night.  It’s also nice to get the hotel and not have to leave for dinner.  (I promise this isn’t a sponsored post- I just really love Drury that much!)

Drury food- free and kid friendly!

What we take inside the car is just as important.  I see all these cute DIY road trip games and frankly, I tried some of those once.  And they ended up doing nothing but taking up valuable real estate in the car.

I opt to pack your typical coloring books, books to read, colored pencils, small dolls, and the DVD player.  Now that our girls are old enough, they each pack a small backpack with any small toys and books they want to keep in the car.  I also discovered the Boogie Board on our last trip to Missouri.  And y’all…they’re AH-MAZING! Theyre an e-writer with an LCD screen that kids can write or doodle on and then erase with a touch of a button. Saves me so much paper! And if you lose the stylus- just use your finger! They’re small enough to stick in my purse if we have a long wait at a restaurant  or anywhere else they may need to be still for more than a few minutes.

Like I mentioned above, we do use a DVD player for the girls to watch movies but I try to rotate movies with another non-digital activity.  Most of the time.  And then sometimes we get a few hours from home and just watch Moana and Frozen over and over. 🙂 #reallife

Be willing to stop

When the girls were babies, we stopped every 2-3 hours to feed them.  While that certainly slowed us down, we started realizing that it was actually kind of nice to stop every few hours and stretch our legs.  7 years later, we can drive more than just 2 hours without stopping but we still are always looking for a fun exit off the interstate.

Fort Defiance near Cairo, Illinois where the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers meet.

Two years ago, we traveled through South Dakota and my husband wanted to stop at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD.  I didn’t have any desire to see it, but everything there was free and the kids wanted to see it too, so we went to the Corn Palace.  You know what?  We had a great time and spent several hours there.  It was a random stop off the highway but was so worth it.

Use it as a chance to learn something

First of all, you need to realize that my children have two teachers for parents and one of them is a history teacher and one is a former elementary school teacher.  They pretty much HAVE to experience a decent amount of nerdiness on their vacations.  As parents, we believe that there are lessons our kids can learn from traveling.  We also really enjoy national parks and the occasional historical road marker along with the tourist traps and amusement parks. (Don’t judge 🙂 )

Before our trip to South Dakota, a friend told me about the national park passports. (Thanks Meghan!) Each national park site has a free stamp that can you add to a small passport booklet and collect as a reminder of where you’ve visited.  We bought the girls their passports at our first stop and have had tons of fun with it.  It’s even given us a reason to visit more local sites that we might not have visited otherwise.  The junior ranger programs are also age appropriate ways for them to see the parks.

LA making sure she gets her stamp for Big Springs, MO.
Badlands National Park
Gateway Arch in St. Louis

Beyond the random history knowledge they’ve picked up and my 7 year’s ability to read a road atlas (because my husband doesn’t trust the GPS) 🙂 , our kids also have plenty of opportunities of learn things like patience and responsibility when we travel.  Because it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’re going to have to wait somewhere you don’t want to, get along with your sister who’s driving you bananas, and lug your own stuff into a hotel.  And none of those are bad things.

Keep trying even when it’s miserable

It’s not always going to be fun.  Kids are going to be whiny, you’re going to be grumpy, and somebody’s going to get carsick at some point.  But no matter how hard it might be for a few miles or how grumpy I’m going to be on Interstate 40 in a Tennessee traffic jam, I’m still going to look back in 20 years and appreciate the times we traveled together.  It’s broadened their horizons, they already have great stories and memories, and most of all, it gives us a chance to connect as a family.

What are you favorite travel “hacks” for road trips?

January Freezer Inventory

Last Valentine’s Day, my husband and I gifted each other with a new deep freezer.  Okay, let’s be truthful.  I got a new deep freezer for Valentine’s Day/our 9th anniversary.  For about 8 years, we had a small chest freezer that could hold a few things but was hard to organize and locate food in a hurry.

So after waiting on them to go on sale for what seemed like FOREVER, we bought a BEAUTIFUL frost freeze upright freezer.  Seriously, I cannot accurately explain to you the level of excitement I had over getting this new freezer.  #adultingisweird

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I absolutely adore meal planning, freezer cooking, and planning ahead.  During football season, I am usually much more organized with my pantry and freezer stash along with having a meal plan.  My husband’s work hours are much more intense and our lives just work better if food isn’t at the top of my “things to worry about” list.  As a working mom with a spouse who works long hours, the fewer decisions I have to make at 5:00 pm, the better.

*Disclosure:  Some of the links below are affiliate links, mean, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase* 

During the off season, especially during the holidays, I usually fall off the meal prep bandwagon. Around this time every year, I have to do an inventory of what I’ve got and eat from the freezer/pantry prior to a big January shopping trip.  During the fall and early winter, I typically do a freezer inventory sheet for each month (or every several months).  With my previous planners, I used the blank pages at the end but it’s become even easier with my bullet journal.

And that’s where I find myself currently.  I have no clue what’s in my freezer and what’s for dinner next week.  It’s been months since I did a big clean out of my freezer and meal planned around what we had on hand.  It’s also been several months since I made an effort to stock my freezer with meals and precooked ingredients.

So, I ventured out into my freezing cold garage this morning and assessed this mess…

Here were a few questions I immediately asked myself when I looked inside the freezer:

1. Why in the world did I buy a Stouffer’s lasagna that big?

2. FOUR bags of hashbrowns?  Really?

Update on #2:  After reading this post, my husband informed me that the reason we have 4 bags of hashbrowns is because two were bought accidentally and have peppers and onions in them and I won’t let him throw them away even though none of us like that kind.  All of which is true. Whoops…

3. The popsicles in the door are left over from summer and literally the only ones left are the flavors no one likes.  And yet I keep them thinking my children’s taste will suddenly change.

4.  Three gallons of sliced frozen apples.  I really need to come up with a plan for that…

Anyway…I digress….back to my freezer inventory…

You might think that taking a written inventory of your freezer is ridiculous.  And it may be ridiculous in your current season of life with the routines you have in place.  Personally, I like knowing what I have in the freezer so I don’t waste food or resort to eating out when I have a perfectly good casserole hiding out in the back of my deep freeze two days before payday. 🙂  Also, my garage is cold and I don’t want to make more trips to the freezer than necessary.

There are also times where I’m using the freezer almost exclusively (i.e:  FOOTBALL SEASON!) and there’s no need to keep an inventory because I’m using it enough to keep track.  (And the garage is warmer then!)

Today my task is to inventory my deep freezer see how many meals I can plan out of what I’ve got.  Here’s what I started with:

This page is just the next empty page in my bullet journal so it’s right in the thick of my January weekly spreads and other notes and lists from this month.  I divide up my inventory around the type of food because it makes it easier to add later on.  I may do another inventory in a couple of weeks or maybe a few months.  Whatever works!

I simply write the item and draw an empty circle next to the food.  Two circles next to “mozzarella cheese” lets me know I have two bags of mozzarella cheese.  As I use them, I put an “x” in the circle.

There are some freezer foods that I don’t include on my inventory page.  Breakfast items and school lunch foods I keep in the small freezer above my refrigerator and access on a daily basis. I really only keep track of long term foods that I may not need to use as frequently

I also did a quick pantry clean out last night to make sure I was using up any food before it expired. When both were finished, I created a list of any meals that I could make completely out of what I have on hand. Then I went on to make a second list of meals I could make but may need to buy 1-2 ingredients.

The whole process took about 20-30 minutes this morning but saved me tons of stress and money over the next few weeks. Our meals for at least the next week will consist of what can come completely from our pantry and freezer stash.  (Note:  after making this meal list on the right, I actually went back and was able to add at least 4-5 new meals)

This time of year I keep very few full meals and frozen casseroles. During the winter and spring, uncooked meats and precooked ingredients such as browned ground beef and cooked shredded chicken are more useful.

I don’t know about any of you, but I am past exhausted when I get home in the afternoons.  Along with all the other things that have to get done in the evenings, it’s so nice to not have to worry about dinner.  I don’t mind cooking- I just want it to be done as simply as possible!

What are your favorite freezer recipes?  Or suggestions with what to do with 4 bags of hashbrowns and three gallons of apples?

A new year….but no new planner?

Y’all….I love planners.  All kinds.  I love the feeling of the empty pages and the new gel pens I always get to go along with them.  I’ve tried all the kinds.  The ones from Walmart that cost a couple of bucks?  Tried ’em and hated ’em.  The personalized ones you order online?  Those were always my fave.  Notice I said were.  Because I have discovered…

…THE BULLET JOURNAL.

Now don’t get me wrong- the last few planners I’d customized online were great.  But there always seemed to be some element of it that just didn’t fit with my life. On top of that, there always seemed to be something missing.  I teach special education so I do LOTS and LOTS of paperwork.  I’m also driven by to do lists both at school and at home.  So when I discovered the bullet journal, it sort of changed my life.  No more am I limited to pre-printed pages telling me what’s important and what I need to prioritize.  Instead these beautiful empty dotted pages allow me to create a planner and organizer for what I need at that particular moment in time.

It’s a planner.  But with SOUL.

I’m currently about 3 months into my first bullet journal but so far have no regrets.  I’ve found so many weekly layout ideas on Pinterest and am tweaking it to be exactly what I need.  Currently, this is the layout I’ve found to be most useful.  I also include a simply monthly layout and a future log in the front. (And it helps my teacher brain keep track of A days and B days which is also super helpful!)

*Disclosure:  Some of the links below are affiliate links, mean, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase*

I use this bullet journal from Amazon.  So far it’s been great and I have no plans to change it anytime soon.  But with any organizational tool, I’ll use this until it stops working for this season in my life.

As I’ve mentioned before, my multiple sclerosis causes difficulty in most areas of my life.  As a result of my MS, my cognitive skills aren’t always on their A-game.  My bullet journal helps me remember, organize, and be as productive as I can be.  It’s not a pretty bullet journal like so many I see online.  There’s no fancy washi tape or handlettering.  I decided I was going to do what worked for me and not worry about anything beyond that.

Each day, I write a to-do list for both school and home as well as my overall goals for the week and a list of 5-7 meals that I can make that week.  I don’t worry about making mistakes or scratching things out when they don’t work.  As with most things, do what works for you!

Here’s a few of my bullet journal supplies that are working for me right now-

  1.  I use this journal and this pen holder.
  2. These are my FAVORITE pens.  While I might not care about fancy designs or decorations, I’m a bit of a pen snob.

 

Any other bullet journal users out there?  What are you favorite planners?

 

 

The MS Chronicles: Living Well with a Chronic Illness

I’m writing this as I sit in the waiting room at my neurologist’s office. It’s a familiar place even though it’s far from the first neurologist I’ve seen. Sitting around me are the usual suspects- the elderly stroke victim being cared for by her adult child, the Parkinson’s patient, or the new patient with chronic pain or migraines who is in obvious misery while filling out mountains of paperwork.

I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis ten years ago. It was a long and drawn out process of MRIs and so.many.doctors. It’s a story I may write someday but I feel that so many things have changed from those first weeks and years of battling this invisible illness that in many ways it’s hardly the same disease.

As someone who thrives on predictable routines and structure, multiple sclerosis has been quite the curve ball. In other ways, my type A personality has been a huge benefit in my battle against MS. The longer I travel down this road of chronic illness, the more I realize there are some strategies that you can use to maintain your sanity and keep your life together even when you health is struggling.

1. Ask and accept help

I have control issues.  There.  I said it.  Serious control issues.

It’s not that I mind if someone helps me with my laundry or loads the dishwasher for me.  I’m fine with it as long as they do it the right way.  (Which is course is my way).  Obviously, I realize this is a problem for me and it’s one that still requires that I make very conscious efforts to ask for help.  Life was not meant to be lived alone.  We’re created to live and do life together in a community.  So whether it’s a spouse, your church small group, or your extended family, ask and accept their help graciously.  99% of the time when someone offers help, they’re being genuine and are more than willing to provide what you need.

2. Determine your bare minimum.

I have this bad habit of jumping in over my head when it comes to household tasks.  Of thinking that I absolutely HAVE to do ALL THE THINGS right at that very minute.  The result of that is always the same for me- fatigue, pain, and all those other fun things that MS throws at me when I over do it.

The solution to this for me has been to determine my “bare minimum”- or identifying the least amount of a certain task that needs to be completed.  For example, we just got back from vacation and my laundry piles are insane.  I’m usually a weekend laundry person but this week I’m doing the bare minimum amount of laundry each day to get through.  Trying to tackle all this laundry at one time and start back teaching after break would have been a recipe for disaster.  So far, no one has had to go without clothes and I’ll get them all washed eventually.  Next week I’ll be back to my regular routine but for right now I’m choosing the bare minimum with my laundry.

3. Use routines and schedules to keep things together- even when you’re not.

My girls are 5 and 7 and I’m always amazed at what they’re actually capable of doing.  I wholeheartedly believe that routines and schedules are good for kids anyway but they’re also a huge weight off my shoulder when it comes to the physical demands of running our home.  Routines for getting ready in the morning, cleaning up after mealtime, etc are integral to my sanity and allowing things to keep chugging along even when I don’t feel like it.  And for heaven’t sake, USE YOUR FREEZER!  Even my 7 year old could read the freezer instructions on a casserole if I needed her to.

Don’t get me wrong- these are all parts of my life that are a constant struggle for me.  No one I know would describe me as laid back and easy going.  But sometimes, just sometimes, my Type A personality comes through for me.  And whether you battle multiple sclerosis or just the day to day fatigue of parenting, hopefully these strategies are helpful.

Comment below with your ideas and strategies for keeping it together during tough times!

Isaiah 43:19

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.  Isaiah 43:19

I’ve seen this verse all over social media the last few days.  Everybody wants to find that “new thing” to start the new year.  For some of us it might be a newfound commitment to hit the gym, read with our kids, or eat out less.  One year, I foolishly decided that my New Year’s resolution was going to be that I’d only say nice things to people for 365 days.  Yeah, that lasted all of a day…

As a teacher, January 1st haven’t ever really struck me because it doesn’t feel like a fresh start.  Now, August 1st?  That’s when I feel like I’m starting over.

This January seems different.  When I came across this verse the other day, it hit my heart in an unusual way.  Because I truly have an overwhelming sense that God is truly doing a new thing in my life and those around me.  So, for the next few weeks, I’ve committed to pray and seek His will.  To find that way in the wilderness or the stream in the wasteland.  Maybe even the one I didn’t know I was looking for.  Will you join me in praying that this new year will be filled with His will and not our own?

Welcome!

Welcome to heidiravenscraft.com!  I’m Heidi- a full time special education teacher, wife to a high school social studies teacher/football coach, and mom to two daughters!  Within my circle of friends, I’m known as the one who always has a plan (to a fault sometimes), loves to pack her freezer full of food, and loves enjoying Friday night football with the family.  Welcome to my new little corner of the internet!

Christmas Break Recap

As a two teacher/parent household, we’re incredibly lucky to have two weeks off together with our kiddos. It’s a privilege we don’t take lightly and we travel together as often as time and finances allow.  We spent the first part of the holidays celebrating Christmas at home in South Carolina and then spent our last week in Missouri with my husband’s family.

So many Christmas cookies!

Our girls are always thrilled to head to “the farm” and all the fun that it entails. Missouri was COLD this trip and most days it didn’t get above 20 degrees.  That’s pretty stinkin’ cold for us folks from the south!

This year, my oldest decided to complete her science fair project on the farm using her great-uncle’s horse “Chubby”.  We (i.e.- everyone but her) were all a bit doubtful whether he would be cooperative but apparently the cold made him MUCH more willing to have his memory tested by a 7 year old.  In case you’re wondering, horses CAN identify pictures- who knew?

Any of you have any good Christmas stories….or hints on making science fair boards?