It’s Family Meals Month!

making-meals-easierYes, apparently September is Family Meals Month. Who knew?

Throughout the month, grocers and the Food Marketing Institute are working to raise awareness about the benefits of family meals. They are challenging families to pledge to share one more meal per week at home using items purchased from the grocery store.

Obviously, some (a lot?) of this is self serving. Grocery stores are certainly going to encourage people to purchase food from them instead of getting take-out. That said, there are definite benefits to cooking and sharing a meal together. There are many statistics that link regular at-home family meals with such things as reduced obesity, better grades and self-esteem in kids, reduced substance abuse, and probably world peace.

Sharing meals is not a magic bullet. It’s far more likely that families that emphasize things like education and strong relationships and fitness are also going to place a high value on sharing meals. (My Research Methods professor would be so proud of me right now.)

But that doesn’t always mean it’s easy.

Full disclosure: I’m a stay at home mom with only two kids left in the house and a very flexible schedule, and even I find it a challenge to get a meal on the table some nights. Add in a job, deadlines, after-school activities, and all those other pieces of modern life, and it’s a wonder the country isn’t living on pizza and peanut butter sandwiches.

For me, the best way to make sure we eat a home-cooked meal each night is by planning. I’ve already written about my rotating menu.  I still use one, though I’ve updated it a number of times over the years. Basically, I generate a list of twenty-five meals we’ll all eat, assign one to each weeknight for five weeks, and then repeat.

I’m not wedded to the menu. I shift meals around, skip some completely, and throw in special requests. That’s okay. This is meant to make life easier. Everything on the menu is quick, tasty, and usually healthy. If I need to switch, swap, or skip to accommodate schedule or taste changes, I can do so knowing that most bases will still be covered.

There are lots of links and resources on the Family Meals Month website, so if you’d like to learn more, have a gander. My advice: carve out half an hour, make a menu plan that works for your life (two nights per week is absolutely FINE), and go from there. Every time you can replace What will I make for dinner? with Oooh, I know what I’m making for dinner, you’ll thank yourself.

Tuesday Tip: rotating menus are a Godsend.

 

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Random Acts of Intentional Kindness

Random actsFirst, don’t get me wrong: I am a huge fan of random acts of kindness. There is something wonderful and affirming about seeing an opportunity to be kind and then acting on it. We all need to do more of it and we all need to be on the receiving end of more of it.

But …

Maybe it’s just me (though in this case, I doubt it), but I’m slow. I don;t always recognize the opportunities until they’ve passed. I say goodbye and walk away and then, twenty minutes later, slap my forehead as I realize what I should have said/done/offered.

There’s not much I can do about those situations, other than try to be more on the ball, but there are things that come up somewhat predictably where I can be prepared to offer kindness. For example, I read about a woman who made little goodie bags with things like some fried fruit, water, chocolate bars, maybe a deck of cards and a pair of mittens, and when she saw a homeless person on a street corner, she would give them one of those bags. That would certainly be easy enough to do. It wouldn’t cost much, and it would solve that whole dilemma about “if I give them money, they’ll just use it for …”

Some other possibilities: I could pick up a couple of $5 gift cards to Target or the grocery store, and keep them in my purse, then give one to a cashier with instructions to use it for someone behind me in line. I could leave my change in a vending machine for someone else to use. I could help my kids paint kindness rocks, and keep some in the car to leave in strategic places.

You see what I mean? I can’t always predict when a moment will arise, but I can certainly prepare myself to share kindness in some fairly predictable circumstances. In other words, instead of simply intending to be kind, I can be intentional about how I’m going to make it happen.

Wish me luck.

My Lips Belong To ….

I know where your mind went with that title. You expect me to name a person, don’t you? Well, I have news for you. My heart belongs to my husband, and my dreams to Han Solo and/or Indiana Jones, but my lips have a hero all their own.

lanolinThat’s right. Lanolin.

Here’s the story. About five years ago, on a gorgeous sunny day in May, I went outside to work. For hours.  I didn’t use an SPF lip balm and ended up burning my lips. They HURT. And no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get them to heal. They cracked and ached and burned, and I was in serious despair. Was I doomed to be in pain with every kiss for the rest of my life?

(Cue the tragic music here.)

In July, while waiting for a bus back to Syracuse from the RWA National conference in NYC, I mentioned my dilemma to my friend Kerrie Strong. She urged me to try lanolin, which had worked wonders for people she knew.

I ordered some from Amazon the very next day. Within days of its arrival, I was no longer in pain.

(I think I fell a little in love with Kerrie that day …)

If you want to know exactly why lanolin is such a friend to your lips, you can read all about it here. Suffice it to say, lanolin comes from the fleece of sheep, it clings to your lips like a teen to her cell phone, and a little bit will last a LONG time.

I managed to do a number (AGAIN) on my lips a week or so ago. They hurt. But a few days of regular lanolin application, and I was smiling happily once again.

Lanolin gets me and the family through chapped lips, burnt lips, and the never-ending joy that is a central New York winter. If it works through all of that, I know it will work for you.

Tuesday Tip: Lanolin can be your lips’ best friend.

Thursday Thoughts: Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!Not only are we still barely into the academic year (at least in my area), but this week, we also celebrated Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. Maybe it’s just me, but I find this a much more seemly time to start a new year than smack dab in the middle of winter. There’s something about back to school, new books, and gearing up after a long summer that puts me in mind of beginnings. Add in our family’s Rosh Hashana celebration, and yep. Let the rest of the world turn in January. I’m diving in now.

 

There’s no confetti or fireworks, but there are still traditions. Our family always has a special meal for Rosh Hashana – round challah, probably a brisket, always an apple pie. We eat apples with honey for a sweet new year. We take turns trying to get sound out of our assortment of shofars (ram’s horns).

Then there are the traditions that aren’t religiously based, but which center around the academic year. The start of programming at my church; the annual stocking up on school supplies; the paperwork. (Okay, not fun, but still a tradition!)

For myself, I always set goals at this time of year. It just feels right. I’ll do some in January as well, but honestly, this is where it all starts for me. This is when I have the longest stretch of time spreading out in front of me. This is when life picks up the pace after the heat and relaxation of summer. This is when my brain starts to function again after the numbness of summer vacation 🙂

This is when – and where – I begin.

 

The Joy of A Day Off

As I mentioned last Thursday, my kids are finally back in school.

Oh, don’t get me wrong – it was a very good summer. We spent a lot of time swimming and playing board games and watching the hummingbirds visit our feeder. We went to Calgary to visit Maestro and the Saint (and hang out in the Rocky Mountains – OMG, the beauty!). We had a family reunion. We caught up on doctor/dentist/optometrist appointments. We ate corn and roasted marshmallows, the girls planned and cooked dinners, and we gave thanks on a regular basis for Willis Carrier and air conditioning.

But now they’ve gone back, and we’re sliding into our school rhythm. My days will fall back into the familiar pattern of writing/volunteering/school activities. I like that rhythm.

However …

For years, I have always dreamed about taking the first day of school for myself. One day to celebrate making it through summer break (which is many wonderful things, but seriously is NOT a vacation for SAHMs). One day to revel in the peace and quiet. One day to chuck the schedule and lists and just relax.

You know. Like my own personal summer vacation.

For one reason or another, I’ve never truly done this before. Either I still had kids at home, or there was a deadline, or – something. This year, though, I vowed it would happen.

And it did.

I sent everyone off and cleaned the kitchen happily, knowing it would stay clean for longer than thirty minutes. I played on my phone. I went for a long walk (should have been a jog, but the heat/humidity hadn’t yet broken). I set goals for this academic year. I putzed around my office, doing a little tidying. And I spent two glorious hours parked on the sofa. just me and an iced latte and a good book.

first day back

(The cats joined me right after I snapped that pic.)

We hear, over and over, that it’s important to celebrate moments and achievements, both large and the steps along the way. That’s a message I have embraced but not enacted. This year, however, I’m making that one of my goals: to notice, commemorate, and celebrate the moments. The occasion doesn’t have to be one the world deems important, as long as I do. The celebration doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive or time consuming, as long as it brings joy.

And reader, believe me – that, it did.

#TuesdayTip: celebrate your moments, your way.

 

It’s That Time Again!

I know, I know. I post this EVERY year. But seriously, this is how it feels after many many many weeks of summer vacation. Honestly, I think even the kids were starting to feel it. The boredom factor went waaaaaay up in the last few days, that’s for sure.

In any case – they’re back! Which means that I’m back! The summer mostly makes me brain dead, but a few bursts of inspiration did sneak through. One of those was a new plan for this blog, one that I hope will be both helpful and entertaining.

What will it look like, you ask?

Tuesdays will be all about tips, tricks, and recommendations. Think of it as a running list of my favorite things that I’d like to share with you. Recipes, products, life hacks – if I tried it and I liked it enough to tell others, you’ll hear about it. Call it #TuesdayTips.

Thursdays will be for chatting, for catching up, for sharing whatever might be on my mind. You know. #ThursdayThoughts.

I’d love to have you visit as often as possible. I’m writing, but have no books scheduled right now, so there won’t be a lot of book talk. If I hear of a great sale or there’s something that’s pertinent, of course I’ll share it. But for right now the shop talk will be loooooow on the priority list 🙂

So welcome back. Thanks for being here. And I hope you enjoy this Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

 

Royal Wedding Bingo!

wedding bouquetAre you going to watch Harry and Meghan tie the knot on Saturday? I’m planning to set my alarm for oh-God-hundred to take it all in. I’m all prepared. I have scones and tea, I made a funky little fascinator to accompany my couture jammies, and I have little Union Jacks to wave while I cheer.

If you’re watching with others, add to the viewing fun by playing Royal Wedding Bingo. This is a little game I pulled together. It’s exactly what it sounds like – Bingo boards with the names of guests who will most likely be in attendance. Be the first to get five in a row and you’re the winner!

I had great fun preparing the game, and now I’d like to share it with you. If you would like to download your own printable copy, just click here (for a Word document)  or here (for a PDF version). You’ll receive four playing boards and a sheet telling you how all these folks are related.

Enjoy, celebrate, and God Save the Queen!