Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Power Play

As parents it's obvious we are in charge of our children. Of course right? Yet if you examine the parent child relationship closely, or if you've ever try to quiet a talkative toddler in church, you understand in reality our position of authority is in theory only.

Sure, we establish ground rules, bed times, and provide homework supervision but have you ever noticed that while you're the one making the rules it is your child who is choosing whether or not to keep them?

For example in our home, I am in charge of buying and preparing the food and (for the most part) I choose healthy meals. I have also established a dinnertime for my family and I gather them around the table daily for a nutritious meal. But in all reality, I cannot make my children eat. I cannot open their mouth, put the spoon in, chew it up and make them swallow. I can't. When it comes down to healthy eating I can control what we eat but my children choose how much of it they intake.

It can be very frustrating. All those lengths I go to to buy, plan and prepare food to help them grow strong and yet ultimately it is my children, not me, who is in charge of eating healthy.

This is the same with almost everything in the parenthood. We can't make a kid eat, read, fall asleep or 'go' on the potty. You can't make them try harder, do better or move faster. You can't. Don't believe me? Remember the last time you put a fussy baby to sleep? You can rock them, sing to them, feed them or take them for a long drive in a warm car but they and only they choose when to fall asleep.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Why I'm too Sexy for my Van

In August 2007 I bought a 15 passenger van.
That's because in August 2004 the twins were born.
The Sikorski's went from 3 kids (just slightly over the national average) to 5.
We needed a bigger vehicle and it only took us 3 years scouring every used car lot in a 200 mile radius to find a suitable one.
It wasn't fancy.
It was white.
It didn't have any of the bells & whistles.
Just 4 benches.
It wasn't even a cool color.
Did I mention it was white?
But it was clean. It wasn't ancient. And I could afford it.
I signed all the papers and transfered all our toys, blankets, diaper bags, trash and car seats from the
old mini van to the new passenger van.
I thought the kids would be excited!
Now they could bring a friend along.
Now we had extra seat belts.
Everyone would be thrilled but me. I still wasn't sure how I felt about the up size.
I mean I actually felt demoted on so many levels.
I went from soccer-mom-in-a-mini-van (that CAN be cool, right)
bus driver.
The van is just so ... white.
And big.
And plain.
It looks so ... so ...
Well lemme try and give you an idea:
We rolled into town in our new purchase.
Fresh wax job. Shiny tires.
And our friends noticed our new ride.
Some asked,
"I didn't know your church got a new van until I saw you driving this!"
"Gosh, is that thing longer that an ambulance?"
"I saw your van at the grocery store. Now I can always tell where the Sikorski's are!"
"Halee, either the assisted living van is here or it's your mom out front!".
Slightly humiliating, I'd say.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Menu Monday

It's Menu Monday here at To Write a Better Story. And I'm happy to share with you what I call Leftover Recipes. That is the meals I create from a previous version of a dish I've already made. These second time around meals are important to me for 2 reasons. 1. We're on a super tight budget so I never, ever throw food away. and 2. As a ridiculously overworked mother of 5 why wouldn't I take every chance I have to cut my kitchen prep time down?

Think ahead! Can you cook twice as much ground beef, chicken or potatoes as you need now and save what your family didn't eat for a quick meal later? For example:

Roasted or Pan Fried Potatoes = a quick skillet breakfast - add fried egg
Left over chicken = Campbells Chicken Enchiladas
Ground Beef = taco meat - add shells and cheese
Ground sausage = Italian Veggie & Pasta soup (good as Olive Garden's) - add bread sticks
Left over Pork Chops = Chinese Stir Fry - add veggies & your favorite sauce w rice
Ground Sausage = Sausage and Cheese Omelet
Biscuits = Ham, Egg & Cheese Breakfast Sandwiches
Chicken = Chicken Tacos - add taco seasoning and shells and cheese
Mashed Potatoes = Twice Baked Potatoes
Roast = Stroganoff - add cream of celery & onion soup & sour cream & cooked egg noodles
Roast = Beef Sandwiches - add dry Italian seasoning and broth
Taco Meat = Taco Pizza or Taco Salad
Meatballs = Meatball Subs - use a hot dog bun for easy handling
Roast = BBQ Sandwiches - add your favorite sauce
Chicken = Quesadillas

The point is to think in ways that cut your cooking time by preparing ahead. It seems easier for me to cook five pounds of ground beef at one time than cook ground beef three times in one week. Maybe it's just me?

What are your tips to cutting kitchen time in half?

If you love collecting recipes online you've gotta check out this site!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Pizza, Eye Doctors & Ear Muffs - Finance Friday

In the last few weeks it's become evident that my attitude has certainly turned a corner
and I gotta tell ya;
perspective makes all the difference in the world.
(Can I get an Amen?)

Oh, don't get me wrong - you still hafta walk the looooooong road to get where you're going.

I'd like to think we can magically get over our hurts/pain/frustrations/hurdles
but we can't.

What we should do is learn to be more appreciative of the process.
Process. What an ugly, little, necessary word.

It's Finance Friday on To Write a Better Story. The day I dedicate my blog to our journey into the depths of poverty, how we cope, how I've come to grips with my situation and what we're doing to get out of it.

Here's 3 quick stories from our Tribe:

1. I never take my kids shopping. They don't know what it's like to step into a dressing room, try on sizes, pick out colors and shop. If my kids need something, they usually let me know and I will pick it up for them when I can (unless Grandma is nearby - what a life$aver). This is because a.) I have 5 kids and b.) I have no shopping money. That being said, my little twins have been asking me for well over 3 months for earmuffs. I, watching the clearance rack at my part-time retail job, finally scored the last 2 pair in the store. They were $2.30 each - my 15% employee discount. That = a deal I couldn't pass up! That was over a week ago and my twins literally cannot stop wearing the earmuffs.; outside, inside, at school, while watching T.V. and (as you can see) while reading at the kitchen table. Never, in my life have a spent a better $4 bucks. They love the earmuffs. And that warms my heart.

2. It was time for my big son's annual eye check up. As a 6'3" 13 year old it looked kinda strange that I would accompany such a strapping fella into the exam but truth is (don't tell him) he still needs his mommy. Sure enough he needed new glasses and together we picked out a pair from the 6 he gets to choose from as a State of IL KidCare recipient. Behind us all the sparkly, shiny, fancy glasses were arranged but those we're not options for us. Thankfully he's never asked me why. However, today I needed to do some investigating into the cost of getting him a pair of prescription sports glasses. He survived basketball with his regular glasses but with baseball season on the horizon I knew it was time to check into a safer option for him. With the help of the optometrist E tried on a variety of glasses. I watched him become attached to the 'cool' glasses and felt a little twinge of dread develop in the pit of my stomach. I reminded him we were just here to look. I left with an estimate in my hand and a prayer on my heart. $175 for frames + $102 for clear poly lens or + $186 poly transitional lens (for outside sports) = a lot of money. The optometrist said they have payment plans. I thanked her and promptly exited the store.

3. Our schedule in this season of our life is ridiculously hectic and family meals are practically extinct. Take Wednesday, for example. The twins were off to their lil church program (with a complimentary dinner). Darling hubby had an away basketball game (coaching) and I was happy to settle for leftovers for my dinner but the 3 big kids were facing a meal of cereal or mac n cheese (as they have an overzealous hostility for rewarmed food). Usually quick dinners don't bother me but on this day I felt one more moment of disconnectedness was too much for the dynamics of our relationships. I anticipated everyone would make their own food, disappear to their own corners with their own screens and never would a meaningful exchange take place. And I wasn't about to cook. Heck, the kitchen was still dirty from last nights dinner's explosion ... So, I did what I never do. I took 'em out for pizza. I even let them order pop (overpriced highway robbery fountain machines, blast you!). Yet I bought more than their food that night. I bought time. Time for us to be in the same space, not be interrupted by the loud, little kids or homework or television or ... It cost me $38 dollars (do you know how much food I could buy for our pantry for $38 dollars!?!?!?) but I choose to let the bill go and I choose them. And never, I mean never, have you seen more appreciative kids. I was hugged and thanked as if I'd just given them a trip to Disney.

the 3 big kids after Pizza - think they bonded?!?

I'm not kidding.
Which leads me to believe that the old saying is true:
You really can't appreciate something until you don't have it anymore.

Ear Muffs.
Eye Doctors
and Pizza.

It's Finance Friday, friends. Thanks for reading my blog!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Re-Occurring Characters

My motto is that my life is a story. And it's my desire that it be a good one. However and unfortunately that means it must have drama. I mean nobody loves a book/movie or story about a woman who lives happily ever after. She must overcome evil or triumph over her past or mend a shattered heart with a new lover.
settings, plots, themes and conflicts
are the elements of a good story.

And certainly my story has had
and joy
and laughter
and betrayal
and highs
and lows
and twists
and turns.

Who's doesn't right?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Presence and Pink Dinosaurs

Sometimes I really hate it when I get a good idea. Why? Because having an idea or solution is much different from implementing one. Like I need one more thing to do on my plate!

I was inspired by a tweet this week I saw from a mother who was going to try to be absolutely mentally present for her children for the day. As I am a mother to five children this touched my heart as I am well aware that I often give some of my attention to some of my kids but never all of my attention to all of my kids. I mean how could I? It's not only impossible it's unsustainable. But for one day I was going to try.
For me, this meant I would determine to look into my children's faces when they talked to me, listen to all that they had to say without rushing them and answer any questions or requests immediately as opposed to promising I'd get back to them later.

And while I'd like to astound you with the details of how amazing it was, that would be a lie. It wasn't totally amazing. It was mostly exhausting.

But, it was completely worth it.

First, I know beyond any doubt that I connected with my kids. We didn't orbit around each other in our home. We connected. We engaged. We lived with each other instead of near each other. This experiment didn't require me to go to any special feats, I didn't plan a special meal or call a family meeting. I simply decided to engage myself into every little interaction and it was surprisingly effective. The windows of conversation had been opened! It is as if recognizing an opportunity encouraged my children to share.
And share they did. Some might even call it over-sharing but I didn't mind. I learned about every detail of every subject they were studying. I was impressed with the random facts they (and I) learned and we had an impressively in depth conversation about the color of dinosaurs. You see, my second grader is convinced that while scientists can surmise the size of the extinct creatures from fossils she argues that without proof of their exteriors we can't be sure dinosaurs weren't purple and pink. 

Never in a normal day would I have taken the time to entertain such a random thought! But since deciding to be present in her moment I was in awe with her ability to articulate her logical thinking. I fear I would have missed this moment under normal circumstances as I usually half listen while shooting off an email, cooking dinner or making tomorrows to do list. Instead I sat down. Looked into her eyes and listened. What a moment we shared! My heart was brimming as I watched her expressions. It was brilliant! She's brilliant! I swear I re-fell in love with her in that very moment.

But don't hand over that Mother-of-the-Year Award yet!

Recently (and certainly adversely) my oldest son was on his way out the door. I called to him, "Where are you going?" He answered and expressed frustration that I had stopped him to inquire. Not to take attitude from a teenager, I became angry too and did not allow him to leave. He was very upset with me and the situation escalated quickly. As he argued he insisted I had already given him permission to go but I didn't remember him asking.

I got a sinking feeling in my stomach that he was telling me the truth. I hadn't listened to him when he asked. I was so preoccupied or un-present when he approached me that I don't even remember exchanging words with him.
What kind of mother am I?

Parenting is hands down one of the most demanding jobs on the planet. Little people growing up into big people needing us, wanting us, requiring us to shape them and send them off. Quite honestly it's exhausting. I often feel like the day is successful if all the kids are fed, home and tucked in bed at the end of the day. But how many blessed moments am I missing when I live each day in survival mode? Sure every moment of every day can't be intense. The demands of life require us to do the best we can with what we have, but I will not let the habit of cruising through life steal one more moment from me.  I may have fell into bed the night of my ‘being present’ experience utterly exhausted, but I was also grinning from ear to ear. Because I can do better. We all can. And because maybe dinosaurs were pink. Why? Because I'm the mom and I said so! That's why!

(This article appears as a part of my weekly Practical Parenting series for The Monmouth Daily Review Atlas)

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Menu Monday

Felt good to get at the stove again
and cut stuff
and dice stuff
and broil meat.

Ah! When I have time to cook it's like my outlet for creativity.
I love it when I collect a recipe (Pinterest!! follow me!!), cook food and plate it up only to have my family be nourished and happy.
Ah, nurturing. I can't get away from it.
Anyway ... this is what was on our menu this week!

Jumbo Shells n Cheese w Best Ever Garlic Bread
(slice sweet bread and smoother with equal parts butter & mayo, sprinkle with garlic powder & italian seasoning and broil!)

Perfect Restaraunt Steak with Baked Potato and Spinach Salad
(FYI it was NOT the perfect steak. I'll stick to my Foreman Grill next time!)

YoYo your on your own

Chicken Patty Cordon Blue Sandwiches with Macaroni and Cheese

Chili and Hot Dogs, Corn Bread & Chips
(Thank you KG as Brooks Beans DO make all the difference in the world!)

Chicken Supreme, Mashed Potatoes, Green Bean Casserole and Butter Corn
(my version: boneless chicken in pan, slap on a slice of swiss cheese, cover with cream of mushroom soup and top with 1 stick of butter melted and mixed with 1 box of Stove Top, bake 350 for 40 minutes)

gluttony in a pan right here folks!

Also! After searching high and low I found and made the most addicting snack ev-ah! Frito Nachos! (I added chocolate chips, DUH!)

*If you love to collect recipes and are tired of the same old boring stuff go visit! I love all the link ups!

If you enjoy my blog would you please

 the love? Please and Thank You!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Oh Happy Day

Friends make the world a better place
Friends who think your blog is worth sharing with their friends are like gold!

Today I:
* Met a lovely psychology professor from Monmouth College who complimented my Practical Parenting article on failure and learning. She said she cut it out for her students!!!

**Had a friend share my shuttle van blog entry on her Facebook page!!!

***My Practical Parenting blog was picked up by SmartBeginnings and published in their little virtual paper!!

**Got 3 brand new commenters on my blog!!

**My friend in the UK read my blog for the first time and share it on her Facebook page!!!

And all of it means over 107 views on my blog today alone!
An all time high!

Today I set up AdSense (could I really make money at this??)
And splurged! I bought this BlogPost app (I've never paid for an app) so I can blog effectively from my iPad!

What do ya think?
Good day?

If you've shared my blog, supported me, offered me a compliment, hit forward or tweeted To Write A Better Story I thank you!

So much!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Can I get a Ride?

This is me

This is The Tribe

And this is our Van

which is better than this

(this is a real van in my really small town that really often parks next to me at the really cheap grocery store)
Everyday I load it up and do the morning run!
The morning run consists putting my 3 littlest kids in the van,
picking up the neighbor girls
and driving around town until I've dropped every last one of 'em off.
This is my route.

I. Go. The. Same. Way. Every. Day....
Coffee in hand
backpacks, lunch boxes and children in tow.
Yesterday, however, my mundane morning was rudely interrupted.
A taxi cab followed me to drop off location number 1
But no children got out.
Hmmm, interesting.
The taxi cab followed me to drop off location number 2.
And again, he had no children with him.
Finally, and quite concernedly, the taxi followed me to
our final destination aka drop off location number 3
and he parked next to me in the back of the building.
Somewhat alarmed and completely hesitant
I acted like I didn't see him.
But he was having none of that.
He got out of his cab and rapped on my passenger side window.
I cracked the window and asked "Can I help you?"
What follows is the actual conversation that ensued.
Cab Guy: Yeah, I was wonderin' how'd you get that job?
Me: Excuse me? What job?
Cab Guy: This job! I want the school district to contract me to drop kids off at school.
Me: Buddy, these are my kids!
Cab: But you go to every school!
Me: Yep, I take my kids to school.
Cab: Well I'm looking for some work.
Me: I can't help you fella. These are my kids.
Cab: But I noticed another blue van drops off at every school too.
Me: I don't know about that! Like I said, these are my kids!
Cab: Whodoya think I should call?
Me: Listen up. Nobody pays me. This isn't a shuttle van. It's my van. These are my kids.
Cab: (extended silence) Huh?
This is my life folks. I ain't makin' this stuff up.

**addendum, upon telling this story to the lovely secretaries at my school I was asked in complete sincerity if I'd ever consider adding her kids to my route. sure K! why not?!? :)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Learning to Fail

I send my kids to school for two main reasons. Primarily it gets them out of my hair. Their formal education has been the salvation to my sanity. Sending my kids to school is (I'm slightly embarrassed to admit) a respite for myself and a gazillion other moms. Also, it's where they learn. And learning is good. 
But unfortunately learning doesn't happen by osmosis. I've spent more than the average American mother giving birth and raising babies but that doesn't make me an obstritrician or pediatrician. Likewise, sending my kids into a school building everyday isn't going to make them smart either. Work must be done. Teaching must take place and encouragement must ensue because education isn't magic. 

20 years of Love

Happy Valentine's Day!

Today's blog is dedicated to my husband of (almost) 20 years.

And while you might expect a blog dedicated to him today because of the Love Holiday, I write today as my gift to him.

I share my words so freely on my blog
and in the paper
for whoever will read it but rarely
have I ever
saved, written and dedicated every one of my words to
the man of my dreams.

And while you might expect I would call my husband the man of my dreams because this blog is dedicated to him

I really mean that.
I mean, I really mean it.

Aaron is the man of my dreams. He has and continues to love me very well.
He adores me
likes me
is friends me
makes my coffee the way I like it
knows how to wake me up in the morning
and says he can't sleep in our bed without me.

He keeps me in consideration in all he does.
He includes me because he wants me near.

He's brave and tough and so smart.
He's a dreamer with the gumption to pursue his hearts desire.

He is a gentle and loving father
and every time he kisses our girls on the head my heart swells with joy.

He makes me believe that my success is a source of his joy. (see last years Valentine's gift)

It's easy to love Aaron.
I'm quite smitten actually.

On this Valentine's Day it's not about the flowers, dinners out or weekend excursions. On this day we celebrate love. 20 years of it. On this Valentine's Day and for every one we've yet to have together my darling, I celebrate you.

Aaron, will you be my Valentine?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Menu Monday

Are you cooking this week?
Why not?
There are so many easy to throw together recipes that you're family will love (well, will probably love). You can nourish your family, bring the kids round the table, have some actual real life no texting required conversations and it doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg or an entire night cooking in the kitchen!

How do I know?
Cuz I do it.
And it's not like I'm home all day. I'm totally not.
Trust me, it can be done.
You can fill your crock pot, oven and pantry with items that come together in a snap!
Don't have the time?
Steal my menu.
I'm serious! Do it! You can take all my hard work and totally glean from it! All you gotta do is go get the ingredients. Everything is planned for you right here! It's Menu Monday folks! Get cookin'!

Friday, February 10, 2012

The (Former) Un-Happy Non-Consumer, Finance Friday

There is a HUGE nonconsumer movement happening.
Some call it minimalism,
others green living

but no matter what label you give it, there is an army of people making decisions to spend their money less and enjoying life more.
Take @thenonconsumer - a very thrifty gal I follow in Twitter.

Her blog is an awesome compilation of savings tips and thrifty inspiration. Her motto:
Use it up. Wear it out. Make Do. Or do without.
I like it. Has a nice ring, yeah? She's totally making having little look cool.

I, too, am living a nonconsumer lifestyle.
But I've not been one to brag about it or embrace it!
Because thrifty living was thrust upon me - I didn't choose it, it choose me.

And for anybody who knows me well knows I'm a bit of a contrarian (meaning my very core baulks whenever I am forced or expected to do/feel/or say something).

I want to be free to speak my mind. (I lost my voice for a few years)
I want to be free to do what I want (mothering 5 kids was an adjustment for me)
I like feeling free to make my own choices (what do you mean this town only has one grocery store!?!)
I want to feel like I am conducting my life, not the other way around.

So when life didn't go the way I had planned (can we say way off course?) I lived in the land of tears and frustration.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

In Case Pinterest Frustrates You ...

If you, like me are crafty but skill-less when it comes to crafts
Pinterest is a LOVE/HATE relationship.

I LOVE to look and dream of crafting
I never will.

Maybe because I got 5 kids
4 part time jobs
meals to cook
blogs to write
& laundry to do
or maybe it's because the nearest craft store is over 18 miles away.

Either way I would craft if I could

but I don't.

Instead for me, looking at Pinterest -with a holiday like Valentines Day- approaching is

I mean, it's torture to dream about making such cute things
when you know full well you'll never make it.

So this is what I did.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My Sideline Commentary

I'm a little shy to admit this and I hope you take me at my word, but I've developed quite a severe case of bleacher butt. You see, I've sat on more than my fair share of the cold, flat, uncomfortable bleachers as my kids get first downs, shoot hoops, swing away and spike the ball. But it's my own fault as I've always encouraged my kids to play sports. I think it's good for them to be a part of a team, try their hand at a new skill and make new friends. But it's not all fun and games unfortunately. Just as I've seen the benefits of playing sports there is also a downside. Every coin has two sides doesn't it?

Sadly, the good ol' days of friendly neighborhood pick up games are gone and the only opportunity my child has to play in a game is on a structured and organized team. That means league play, competition and conference match ups. And whenever you have competition you have fans, fans who cheer and unfortunately jeer. Nothing ruins the fun like a foul mouthed, over demanding parent with unrealistic expectations on their child, the ref or the coaches.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Menu Monday

I love food. I love food so much. I love good food. I love when I cook good food. I love good food at breakfast! Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I could eat biscuits and gravy, pancakes and omelets, cinnamon rolls and quiches E.V.E.R.Y.D.A.Y.

So not kidding.
So menu planning for me....well (dork alert!) ... I sorta enjoy it. I just simply don't want to eat bad food. I don't want to cook something for the sake of cooking something. I'd rather not eat than eat bad food. Gosh, I sound like a food snob don't I? Well, I probably am.

So some of you ask me "How do you do a menu so faithfully?" Well, I do it so I can eat good food. AND I do it because I hate the grocery store. I only want to go there one day a week, get everything I need and be done with it.

This week to save time I cooked taco soup, casserole and the chicken dinner on Sunday afternoon. It took a good hour but it was worth it because turns out our family schedule was INSANE this week. Maybe you'll be inspired to cook good food too! It's not hard! It just takes some good recipes, fresh ingredients and practice! Go on! Make something in your kitchen!

Here's my Menu:

Crock pot taco soup

Italian Hamburger Casserole (thanks L.R.)

Sage Chicken & Sausage, Roasted Red Potatoes, Corn & Grands Biscuits
(Red Potatoes- washed, diced tossed with 1 or 2 TableSp olive oil. Sprinkle generously with your favorite seasoning. Baked on greased pan till fork tender.)

Leftovers (man did we have a lot! The first 3 recipes made a TON! Yeah!)

Ham & Cheesy Potatoes with Biscuits

Campbell's Chicken Enchiladas with Rice and Beans
(I bought a Rotisserie Chicken deboned it and froze the meat for snap preparation!)

Ribeye Steaks, Baked Potatoes and Steamed Broccoli

I also made:
Crecent Rolls Breakfast Casserole
Sorta Monkey Bread
Oatmeal Scotchie Cookies
Frozen Hot Chocolate

Friday, February 3, 2012

Lessons in Greater Than & Equals Finance Friday

I was working one night at the store when my boss asked me a little more about my story.
"Your husband is a student?"
"Yes, full time"
"He doesn't work?"
"No he does has found some great side jobs as ..."
"Oh, that's right! A coach."
"And you have five kids?"
She: stares at me with a tilty head as if computing my hourly wage versus your standard cost of living expenses.
Me: smiles and continues working my mad customer service skills.

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