Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bad Days

Sometimes I feel like a bad mom. Sometimes I can't be around them anymore. Sometimes by the end of the day, I am so utterly exhausted and I really, desperately need a break.

This is what my kitchen regularly looks like. Dishes to be washed. Food to be put away. Toys to be put away. Mail to be sorted. Broken toys. Toys that need batteries. The wine in the back is sounding pretty good :)
Did my mom have days like this? If she did, I sure don't remember. I just remember homemade cookies, pot roast and how she was such a fun Girl Scout leader. Maybe my kids won't remember my bad days either.

From this side you can see the open Diet Coke can and the kitchen table that is covered with two different art projects that still need to be cleaned up.
The past few weeks have been especially difficult; I have two large events for two different ministries that I volunteer for (and love) in the next three weeks. Furthermore, Veronica has been sick a lot, making her especially cranky and confusing. She has perfected a high pitch, screechy, pissed off yell that gets under my skin. I don't always respond lovingly or maturely.

When a day like this comes along, it can be difficult to tell if I am just really tired or if I'm getting sick. Thankfully, Jason has a very receptive radar for when I have a particularly rough day. When a day like this comes along, I retreat from our usual family dinner and eat alone on the couch in front of the TV. Not my best mom moment, but sometimes it seems necessary.

Right now there are two loads of laundry that need to be folded, dishes that need to be washed and children that need to be bathed. I could probably use a shower too, because that hasn't happened today either.

Do you have days like this? How do you handle them? How do you avoid them?

Here I am at the end of a tiring day, without makeup or a shower. I have retreated to the couch for the evening, writing on my blog, grasping with both hands for a little sanctuary.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

So Tired of Canceling!

Yesterday I had to cancel taking Joshua to cub scouts and our plans in the evening to go to the parish mission that St. Luke is having over the next few days.

This has been happening far too often! I feel like my posts have had a major theme over the past few weeks - being sick! Both Veronica and Noah are sick again or maybe they're still sick - who knows? Veronica has a very runny nose, weepy eyes, diarrhea and is seriously cranky. Noah has a bad cough and a nose faucet which is leaking green, slimy stuff.
Veronica in PJ's on Saturday morning, fascinated with the falling snow

Enough already! I was really looking forward to the parish mission and am sad to miss it, just like many other events that I have had to cancel over the past several weeks.

Why do we keep getting sick? I realize that it is largely due to the many children we are around at Edmonds Heights (our homeschooling resource center), Church and the Y. But I feel like we are getting sick more often than other families.

The oddest part is that I feel guilty about it, as if I can prevent this. We eat healthy. We wash hands before meals. We get enough sleep. We take our vitamins. But I still feel responsible somehow. I also feel like I'm being a big baby or something, like I should just try and cope better with illness in our family and take my children out despite snotty noses. But that's not right, is it? I should be keeping them home so that we don't get others sick and so they can get adequate rest with naps and regular bedtimes.

What can we do? How do you try and keep you and your family healthy? And at what point do you keep your children home because of illness?

She still had a smile for me in the morning, despite being sick. But the day continued with much crankiness.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Mamma Can't Live Without ...

Winco Foods
Is there a Winco near you? (Photo credit: Hikaru Kazushime)

Let's talk about grocery shopping on a budget. In our house, that's the only way we can do it. We are working very hard to finish paying off our credit card debt, which should finally be done in about a year and a half. Woo-hoo!

In the mean time, we have $700 a month for groceries for our family of five. Last year we budgeted $600 a month, but this year we were able to raise that to $700. This gives me a little more breathing room, which is really nice and I am grateful for.

This amount includes all household items, such as toilet paper and paper towels, as well as personal items such as toothpaste and mascara. It also includes feeding my stepdaughter, Adrienne, who visits us during any lengthy school break she has and for about half the summer. And lastly, it includes making nice meals for those we invite into our home, which happens pretty regularly. One thing this amount does not include is disposable diapers, which we have a different $50 per month budgeted for.

For us, it has taken a long time to learn how to make a realistic grocery budget and then stick with it. When I say that $700 is our grocery budget, I mean it. We don't spend more than that.
budget (Photo credit: 401K)

We do not have any money budgeted monthly for going out to eat. Occasionally, for a special occasion such as our anniversary, we will budget additional money for going to a restaurant. If we decide to get a Papa Murphy's pizza or a Starbuck's coffee with a friend, it gets subtracted out of our grocery money for the month.

For a long time, I worked very hard at clipping coupons and shopping at several different stores in order to make our monthly budget. This took so much time and was a royal pain in my keester. But no more.

Now I just shop at Winco!

I first learned about Winco from my brother, Jeremy.  Jeremy was a early-twenties male college student at the time, and I pretty much blew him off in my head. What on earth could he possibly know about good grocery prices? (Sorry Jeremy! Turns out you were right!)

Next I heard about Winco from my friend Erin, a mother of five. Hmmm. Now this was advice to listen to, and now I rarely go anywhere else.

Gas prices in late May 2008.
Image via Wikipedia

Many people ask me if the trip up there is really worth the money in gas, because Winco is in
Everett and we live in Mountlake Terrace. It is is a 20.8 mile round trip. Our Honda Pilot gets about 17 miles per gallon, probably even better for this trip because the majority of it is on I-5. This mean we use about 1.22 gallons of gas for this trip. Gas costs about $3.69 per gallon right now. This means that my trip to Winco in gas costs me about $4.50 each time. I go shopping never more than once a week and sometimes am able to stretch that to once every two weeks.

So, the question is . . . Do we save enough money at Winco to justify the $4.50 cost of gas for each trip?

The answer is a resounding yes! As my friend Erin put it, we save that much on oatmeal!

First of all, I would spend the $4.50 for the time I save. I have become very savvy about good prices for the items we buy regularly. And the prices at Winco are comparable to the SALE prices that I would see at other grocery stores, if not better. Not only can I stick to our $700 grocery budget, but I can buy a lot more for that money.

  • Store Size - It is a big store and it takes me quite a while to get through there with the three kiddos. 
  • Produce - It's possible that the produce isn't as fresh. I haven't noticed this,
    Fruit and berries in a grocery store, Paris, F...
    Image via Wikipedia
    but my friend Erin has. I buy all of my produce there.
  • No Weekly Ad - There is no weekly ad, so I do some of my meal planning there at the store depending on what has the best price. For instance, I have seen chicken breasts for a great price one week and then for just a so-so price on another week. The so-so price still definitely competes with other grocery store prices. The magic is knowing the difference between the awesome price and the so-so price, looking for the awesome price each week and then buying a lot of chicken breasts that week.
  • Length of drive -  There is the cost of gas as well as the time spent driving.
  • Bagging Your Own - Yep, you gotta bag your own groceries, but it's well worth the money saved.
  • Doing Without - Now this could be seen as a downfall or an advantage, depending on your perspective. As I am shopping, I add up how much I am spending, which means that I weigh my produce and my bulk items. I know this seems like a lot of work and I guess it is, but I've grown used to it. 

Example of an American grocery store aisle.
Image via Wikipedia
I know there are people who snub this way of shopping and perhaps even think they are above it. I really hope they understand that this is the way millions of people in our country spend their money, not because they choose to but because they have to. That's their reality. That's my reality. I sincerely hope that those who are able to grocery shop without adding up how much they are spending realize that this is a luxury, and it is a luxury that many, many others cannot afford.

Česky: Toaletní papír English: Toilet paper Es...
Image via Wikipedia
If I didn't keep track of my spending this way, then there would be no more money for groceries at the end of the month or we would overwithdraw. I always leave the store without a few of the items that I was thinking about purchasing. This is how I stay on budget; by prioritizing needs and wants. Do I need toilet paper? Why yes I do! Do I need ice cream novelties? Not necessarily.

My hard work in this area is helping us to reach our financial goals. It is SO worth it. We are beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel and enjoy talking about what we will be able to do when our debt is paid off. Maybe a trip to Disneyland. Possibly refinance to a 15 year mortgage. We shall see. But most likely, I'll continue to shop at Winco :)
The yummy bacon waffles we had this past weekend, made by my darlin' Jason :)

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Sunday, February 26, 2012


(Below are parts of the definitions as given on


     7. Any place of refuge; asylum.


     1. Shelter or protection from danger, trouble, etc.: to take refuge from a storm.
     2. A place of shelter, protection, or safety.
     3. Anything to which one has recourse for aid, relief, or escape.

For a long time, my best friend Jenny and I have used the word "sanctuary" as a reminder for one another. It is such a strong, foundational part of our friendship that when Veronica was born, Jenny had this sign made for me as a gift.

This sign hangs on my kitchen wall, where I can see it everyday.
We need sanctuary whenever our lives are overwhelming, when we are stressed, when we are bone tired, when our children are driving us crazy, when there is change and thus chaos in our lives, when we are hormonal, when we feel down or depressed, when someone has hurt our feelings or made us angry or when we are trying to make a difficult decision. So, basically this means that we need sanctuary all the time. It has to be a regular part of our lives.

So, what is sanctuary? Sanctuary can mean many different things. Most often for Jenny and I, a really long chat on the phone with one another is our form of refuge. If we are experiencing a particularly challenging day, we may both savor a glass of wine during that conversation. Even better is a day spent together while our children play and we can talk for hours on end in one of our homes. Lunch often includes a glass (or two) of wine on these days as well. In the summer time, we try to schedule these days weekly and if the weather cooperates, they often take place at a beach on Lake Washington with a picnic lunch.

The Biblical word for this is "Sabbath."
Thus says the Lord: Take care for the sake of your lives, and do not bear a burden on the Sabbath day or do any work, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your fathers. Jeremiah 17: 21-22
Our American culture is terrible at this. Our society says that our value is found in how much work we get done and how much money we make. Who cares how well you know how to rest?

But God knows otherwise - even He took the seventh day to rest! Think about that. God didn't need to rest; He is all powerful. But rest is so worthwhile and so important that even God made time for it.

So should you!

I realize I'm stating the obvious, but we are not God. We actually do need rest. Furthermore, our efforts in our work will be much more productive if we take the time to rest.

But even as I write this, that idea bothers me. We shouldn't seek out time for rest simply so we can be better workers. I can just see that--Hurry up and rest so you can get back to work! Ha! That's completely missing the point. Rather, we should seek out rest simply for the sake of resting.

This resting, or sanctuary as Jenny and I call it, is an imperative part of a fulfilling, purposeful, daily life.

How can you create more sanctuary in your life? Do you know someone who is overwhelmed right now? What could you do to help them create some sanctuary?
Jenny and I having some "Sanctuary" last summer with our babes in tow.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Unreasonable Expectations

English: A small box of Kleenex.
Image via Wikipedia
Recently Jason told me that I had unreasonable expectations. What's even more annoying is that he was right. I hate it when that happens!

When I get sick, I want my mother. And poor Jason just isn't one, which obviously isn't his fault. Nothing he can do about that! When mothers in a family get sick, I feel like it especially stinks. I mean, who is supposed to take care of us? I really should not complain because it's not like I've ever been seriously ill.

When I was sick over President's Day, Jason was home and that truly was a blessing. He fed the children, changed the diapers and washed the dishes. But I wanted more. I wanted him to be able to get everything done around the house that I would get done in a day. I wanted him to be able to get the homeschooling done that I had planned for the day. And I wanted him to be cheerful and energetic for the entire day, despite the fact that he had slept very poorly the night before due to me tossing and turning with a fever.
English: Made from Bamboo Rattan Vietnam
Image via Wikipedia

Basically, when I'm sick I want everything to go on as normal. And the kids better not be loud or bother me. And the laundry needs to be washed, dried, folded and put away. And could the trim on the house get painted too? :)

Maybe I should reevaluate my expectations. I hate it when he's right.
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Friday, February 24, 2012

Basil's Cry for Help

This entry is a cry for help. There is something wrong with me. I cannot, for the life of me, keep a house plant alive. Is there a secret trick that I am unaware of?

This plant needs your help. This is the second small, live basil plant that I have purchased in the past few weeks. The first is deceased. My assumption is since these are available in the store, it is possible to keep this plant alive indoors in Seattle. Is this true?

I have put this plant in an old cup with soil from a planter of mine. I added plant food to the soil. I have been watering it.

Do you have any suggestions? Is it just not warm enough weather for basil to thrive, even indoors? How often do you water indoor plants? (Maybe I've drowned them!) What about the rocks that some people put into the bottom of potted plants? Is that what I'm missing?

If you have any books to recommend for novice plant owners such as myself, I would be very appreciative. I would also be very interested in any recommendations of books for novice gardeners in the Pacific Northwest, most specifically for growing vegetables.

Please, help me save this plant!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Taking Our Own Advice

When another mom I know gets sick or is feeling run-down, I always encourage her to rest, rest, rest. Everything else can be put on hold so that she can get better. She needs to take care of herself. She can't take care of others if she doesn't take care of herself first.

blah, blah, blah, blah, blah

Why do I mock my own words? Because it seems that I am incapable of following my own advice!

Playing with Veronica on the couch on my sick day
When I get sick, I rest a little and then I get restless. I get bored. I get tired of watching TV. I want to move. I want to get up. I want to be productive.

Furthermore, I feel guilty. I begin pressuring myself to feel better quickly. You know how people say, "If mamma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy?" Well, when I'm sick, it feels like everyone suffers. The whole household waits in anticipation for life to get back to normal, for meals to be made, laundry to be done, lessons to be taught and for my patience and good mood to return. Everyone else gets a little restless and a little grumpy too.

I know I need to rest. I know that my health and well-being are more important than the laundry getting folded. And yet I struggle with this every single time I get sick.

One idea that had occurred to me is to make a "sick day" box. This would be similar to the "rainy day" boxes that some moms (who are much more organized than I) make for their kids. Items for my box could include a light, fluffy novel that I've been looking forward to reading, a fun magazine, an old movie that I love, printed photos to put into our albums and stationary for writing letters.

What about you? Do you have any advice that you regularly give out but have trouble following yourself?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I'm giving up . . .

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. We will be going to Mass this morning bright and early at 8 am, even earlier than our Sunday 9am Mass that we usually go to. Wish us luck!
English: Ashes imposed on the forehead of a Ch...
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When it comes to Lent, I have not been a very good Catholic (probably like a lot of people!). I don't think I have EVER given up something for Lent and really done it. It is not a tradition in our faith that I really relate to, or maybe more likely I've just never been disciplined enough.

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 09:  A worshiper receives...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife
It seems when giving something up, most often we think of chocolates or desserts. As I really don't have a sweet tooth, for me this idea feels meaningless. Maybe I should give up salt! That would definitely be difficult for me. But even still, my mind asks why? How will this bring me closer to God? Perhaps the answer is simply that by making a small sacrifice in our daily life, we will be reminded of the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made for us.

I have never been good at sacrificing something just for the sake of giving it up. I want to grow. I want to learn. This is the first year that I have truly reflected on this and come up with a satisfying answer that makes sense to me. In fact, my almost seven-year-old son and I are going to try giving up the same thing. Doesn't that show just how mature I am?

Joshua and I will both be giving up . . . (wait for it) . . . yelling. This is a very difficult task for both of us. He is a strong-willed child and while he does not yell as much as he used to, he still does on occasion. I actually pulled the car over and gave him a timeout on the side of the road for yelling at me a few weeks ago.

Wonder where he gets it. Yep, I am a yeller. Like Joshua, I have gotten better over the years. My patience has grown and so have the tools that I draw from when dealing with my children. But I still yell. This is partially because I feel justified in yelling. As a parent, I feel there are appropriate times for yelling. But it is a slippery slope and yelling can become a habit, an instinctual reaction. When this happens, you know you are yelling too much and most likely your children have stopped listening.

While I have worked on yelling less, I have never just given it up. This will be difficult. I will struggle. I sill definitely need God's help, which is why it is perfect for Lent.

Are you a yeller? Do you have any advice to help me with my goal this Lent?

English: Ash Wednesday, watercolor, 78 x 113 c...
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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cooking With the Boys

Last year, Joshua received this cookbook for his birthday. It has been a huge hit and we've made lots of recipes.

It's been great for the boys and for me too. There's a reason that this blog is titled "Mamma Vintage," with the Italian word for mother. Although I'm not Italian, the culture and food of Italy have a special place in my heart. Pretty soon I'll have my sons rolling out the pasta and whipping me up some cannelloni! :)

The boys now even prefer their popcorn to be Italian - with olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano and parmesan cheese. Yum!

This past week, we made "Best-o Chicken Pest-o." It was a simple recipe and the boys were able to help a lot. We improvised some with the ingredients we had on hand. Joshua was not a fan of pushing the pesto underneath the skin of the chicken thigh; he let me do that part :)

Both boys are learning to peel garlic for me. What a huge help that will be! I've probably spent an entire year of my life peeling garlic!

Veronica was showing strong interest in what the boys were doing (like usual) and was very hurt when she was made to leave the room. Can't wait till she's helping out too!
What are you guys doing? Can I help???
As a homeschooling mom, these moments are priceless. I've been making a stronger effort to create  times like these, and it's definitely been worth the effort.

How do your kids "help" around the house?

Monday, February 20, 2012

No Recipe Cookin' - Mamma's Phad Thai!

Let me just start right off and tell you that in my kitchen, when cooking an ethnic dish, authenticity is rarely a big priority. I have other concerns that are more important to me personally - the cost of ingredients, the time spent making the dish and the preference of taste for my family, including the three children.

For instance, I love both Thai food and Indian food, but couldn't really tell you the difference between the two different types of curry. I think maybe it's that Indian curries are thicker and use more cream. My curry dishes are probably a blend of the two. Then again, maybe I'm completely wrong! But for me, they make a decent, less expensive and healthier version of what we get for take-out.

So today, as promised in my Introduction to Mamma's No-Recipe Cookin', I will take you through Mamma's No-Recipe Phad Thai . . .

Right off the bat, I know I'm probably going to offend some authentic Thai chefs, because I know there are so many of them reading my blog :) I do not soak my rice noodles. I know that's what you're supposed to do. I know that's what the instructions say. But I just don't have the time or forethought for that kind of thing. I did actually soak them the first time. But then one day I forgot to. So it was either wait an additional 30-40 minutes for dinner or try boiling them. I chose boiling, it worked and I've been doing it ever since.

For no-recipe meals, I have a list of  essential ingredients and a list of would-be-nice ingredients. For phad thai, my essentials are the rice sticks, garlic, eggs, peanuts, soy sauce, salt and some type of oil. I have a lot of would-be-nice ingredients. This night, I had fresh basil, rice vinegar, ketchup, sugar, lime juice, frozen peas, chopped bell pepper, shredded carrot and green onions. None of these are necessary, but each adds a lot to the dish. Other possible would-be-nice ingredients include Italian flat-leaf parsley, fresh cilantro, fresh ginger, chopped spinach, bean sprouts, sesame oil, tofu, fish, prawns, pork, edamame (I would only add eggs, peanuts and one other protein) and any other assortment of Asian type vegetables that you would like to add.

So, heat a big pot of water to boil for your rice sticks. Where do you get rice sticks? Well, I can find them in the Asian section of most grocery stores.

While the water is heating, make your sauce. Put some water in a bowl. How much? I don't know! I don't measure things! I guess probably about 1 1/2 to 2 cups.

To that water, add a few squirts of ketchup, a couple splashes of rice vinegar, a couple of large, minced garlic cloves, a bunch of paprika, several splashes of soy sauce, a couple of spoons of sugar, a drizzle of oil (I used olive oil), the juice of a lime and some salt. Don't have one or two of these things? Then don't add it! Don't like one of these things? Then don't add it! Allergic to one of these things? Then don't add it! Love one of these things? Then add lots!!! :) Whisk all of this together. Taste your sauce. Always, always, always taste all of the cooked components of a dish to see if they need more of anything. They probably do. I believe that one of the largest, most common mistakes of at-home cooks is not enough seasoning. So, what does your sauce need? Add it!

Beat your eggs and scramble them in a large skillet. When the eggs are just about done, add the cooked, chopped chicken (or the third protein of your choice) to warm in the pan with the eggs. This night, I chopped up two chicken thighs that I had left over from the night before. Leftover chicken is perfect for this dish and a little goes a long way.

Chop or food process your peanuts into small pieces. 

When the water is boiling, add the rice sticks. Rice sticks are a delicate noodle, so they don't take very long to cook. Cook them about three minutes. Add any raw vegetable you would like cooked to the pot with the noodles. Cook about three minutes more. Fish out a noodle and taste it. Is it crunchy? Cook another minute or two. Is it mushy? Oops! Too long. If you overcook your noodles, strain them immediately and rinse them with cold water to stop the cooking process. Then reheat them in the pan with the chicken and eggs. Hopefully, you'll find the perfect cooking time somewhere around sixish minutes.

Add the rice sticks and the cooked vegetables to the skillet with the chicken and eggs. Mix it all up. Add the sauce. Mix it up more. Add the chopped peanuts. Mix it up some more!

Now, taste it! Seriously, if I didn't taste all my food, I'd be about ten pounds thinner, but my food would suck. I choose yummy food.

Most likely, your phad thai needs more salt. Let's talk about salt. Let me preface this conversation by saying that both Jason and I visit our doctors annually, have our blood pressure checked and we both have healthy, low blood pressure. When and if our blood pressure begins to rise, we will adjust our eating habits. But for now, we use a lot of salt.  Guess what? So do professional chefs in restaurants. Have you ever seen the sodium levels of restaurant dishes? Very, very high. Salt brings out all of the other flavors in your food. Get familiar with salt and add it. If you've over-salted, you'll know it. If you have high blood pressure or are avoiding sodium for other reasons, you can add more citrus juice, vinegar, garlic or other seasonings to boost the flavor. This is what we'll do later on if we need to. But for now, we use salt because it works the best.

So taste your food and season it. Dish yourself up a bowl and garnish it. Garnishes make your food look prettier and add another pop of flavor. I used green onions and basil chiffonade, which is just a fancy way of saying basil leaves rolled up and delicately sliced into thin ribbons.

Lastly, if you like some heat, I highly recommend adding a few drops (or ten) of Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce.

Bon appetit!