Thursday, March 26, 2015

Meal Planning and that Magical Thing Called Pinterest

I've been a meal planner ever since I upped and quit a job I hated back in 2011. Without much thought, preparation or planning, basically just walking away from my annual salary; those 5 months at home became a real test of my ability to be frugal and savvy. Something I had never exercised before. Since necessity is the mother of all invention, I found myself planning our meals, recreating leftovers and stretching the dollars spent at the food store as far as we could. Sunday's roast chicken dinner with mashed potatoes became Chicken Pot Pie and Shepherd's Pie later in the week. Leftover pork tenderloin would become pork tacos on another night. This was also the time when we started making our own pizzas on Friday nights instead of ordering take out.
Truth is, aside from constantly stressing that my selfish decision was going to bankrupt our family, those 5 months were some of the most amazing months of my life. And some of those meals were the best we have ever had. We lived large on that teeny, tiny budget. Mostly because for the first time in my adult life I slowed down, took a breath and spent time savoring the moment.
But I digress.
I've been back to work since 2012, yet I continue to meal plan. At this stage, it's the only way I can get a home cooked meal on the table every night of the week. Truthfully, between our work schedules, my daughter's tutoring and my son working full time, I don't often get the meal on the table until 8pm each night but it's home made. Not from a box, not take out, an honest to goodness (mostly) cooked from scratch meal.
How do I do it?
Sure there are nights where I more feel like cooking dinner than jumping out a window, so that's where the planning comes in. Then there are nights when no one feels like eating the planned meal. Now that's annoying. Fortunately, planning a week's worth of meals and shopping to it does afford us the ability to swap days around for those times when my family is a royal pain in my ass about what they have to eat. Then there are the weeks that the whole plan falls apart and we order out or heat up frozen chicken nuggets and make boxed macaroni and cheese. No one is perfect and neither is this life we live so sometimes we just have to go with the flow.
The hardest part is actually planning meals that sound so good we will still want to eat them 5 days later. It's a bit tricky. Everyone tires of the same old, same old so I am constantly on the hunt for new ideas that can be made quickly enough after a long day of work.
Enter Pinterest.
Pinterest has been a great way for me to find and work new recipes into our weekly meal planning. There are some truly epic fails, but lately there have been some fantastic finds. If you follow me on my favorite source of social media, Instagram, you have already seen some of these meals. For a while now I've been toying around with doing posts on some of these recipes I find. Pinterest Fails and may be boring to all of you but worst case scenario is that I've created a little journal to track the ones we have tried.
There are already a few keepers that I have added to our regular meal rotation and last night I found another: Easy 20 Minute Teriyaki Chicken and Broccoli. My family love, love, loves getting Chinese take out and if I can recreate it at home in 20 minutes, all the better. I doubled this recipe since the original only serves 2 and it still came out perfectly. It was easy and delicious and made it to the table at 5 to 8. In this house, that's what I call #winning.

This recipe is super budget friendly. I used a pound of chicken tenderloins but if you wanted to cut the budget further you could cut up boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead. My daughter thought it was too "saucy" but she's 12 and picky so she doesn't count. I, however, thought it was just the right amount of sauce to coat the rice. I also didn't have rice wine vinegar so I substituted with white wine vinegar diluted. Essentially that means that I only used 3 tbsp of the vinegar (remember, I doubled the recipe) and 1 tbsp of water. Worked perfectly with no need to buy an extra ingredient that will get minimal play in the kitchen. 
Savings like that could eventually add up to a new pair of shoes! Or, if you are me, more dishes. It's a problem but acknowledgement is half the battle, right? ;)
Oh, and if you want to follow me on Pinterest you can click the link in the side bar.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

House Hunters: A Farm In North Carolina

I'm glad I got that last post off my chest. Being in a holding pattern is tough business. You want to be happy and live in the moment, but you also don't want to give up your dreams or the avid chasing of them. And speaking of dreams, that farmhouse I teased you with yesterday is a total dream come true in my opinion.
Located in Carthage, NC this beauty lacks mountain views and a Tennessee zipcode, but might just make up for it with everything else. First off, look at how seriously cute and quaint this home's exterior is. Cape Cod style homes are my absolute favorite and this cottage is a close contender.
This, my friends, is Americana at it's finest.

The view from the front porch is pretty divine.

A pond with a fountain? The fountain isn't a deal maker for me, but it's not a deal breaker either. The pond however, is definitely a perk.

I think this may very well be my favorite part. 
Yes, you heard me right. This barn just might be my very favorite part. If you know anything about me then you've already figured out that this would be the stage for some unbelievable dinner parties. And you're all invited.
You're welcome.

The kitchen has bones I could definitely work with and I don't mind the butcher block counter tops. Double windows over the sink get a thumbs up.

Repainting needed and there's a ceiling fan in the living room that I cropped out. That ceiling fan would become a chandelier or amazing ceiling fixture asap.

That little built in bookcase under the stairs? 

The house was built in 1920 so you know there are wood floors under that rug. Looks like mostly cosmetic upgrades in the bedrooms too.

So here are the facts:
The house sits on just under 8 acres which is an ideal size for us. Aside from the barn, it actually has paddocks that are wired and plumbed, chicken coops, tobacco barns and A TWO STORY COTTAGE ON THE PROPERTY.
And the price isn't crazy believe it or not. It's not dirt cheap pay cash for it, but for all the features and charm I think it's actually pretty reasonable.

The perks:
1. The middle school has a decent rating and the high school is ok for such a rural location.
2. It's just over an hour from my mom and 4 hours from Charlie's parents. It's so close to my mom that I might scoot down for a weekend soon and go check it out.
3. The charm is almost too much too handle. I can see our things in that house. I can make this house a showstopper because I am already decorating it in my mind.
4. The outbuildings are exactly what we would be hoping for already there and in good condition. In fact the listing states that the owners are residing the barn and putting in a new septic system by the end of April. That's huge.
5. A 2 story cottage!!! Guest house or studio...I only wish there was a picture of it online because my mind is imaging all sorts of fabulousness.
6. It's an hour from Raleigh, just over an hour from Greensboro and an hour from Fayetteville. It's rural but pretty centrally located which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

The bummers:
1. It's smack in the middle of NC which means no mountains and no TN
2. There's a decent amount of cosmetic work inside but to be honest that excites me more than scares me. The $$$ to do cosmetics may be the only thing that puts that on the bummer list.
3. Not sure about the town. Doing research on it shows that for a town with just over 2,000 residents many live under the poverty line. We definitely need to learn more about the area before we could make any decisions. 

I mentioned yesterday that this photo of the house reminded me of Anne of Green Gables. Anne was one of my favorite childhood characters and that movie! Megan Follows and the inimitable Colleen Dewhurst as Marilla. I must have watched that movie hundreds of times. I can almost see them together, walking through that picket fence, the kindred spirits that they were. 

"Oh, it's delightful to have ambitions. I'm so glad that I have such a lot. And there never seems to be any end to them ~ that's the best of it. Just as soon as you attain to one ambition you see another one glittering higher up still. It does make life so interesting."
~Anne Shirley
Anne of Green Gables

So what do you think of this one?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Bloom Where You're Planted

Hi there! It's been a while hasn't it?
I've sat down a few times to write, my hands poised mid air over the keyboard and then my mind goes blank. Shuts down. So frustrating. In fact, this post I am about to write has been heavy on my mind for days now but I've been struggling to pound the words out. So here I go (finally). I hope it makes sense.

When my husband sent me the listing for the farmhouse above, my heart swelled to about 3x it's size. I mean, really. Just look at it. Windows glowing warm in the sunset, white picket fence...all I can say is Anne of Green Gables. And if you are a fan of Anne Shirley you know exactly what I mean. This my friends, is what my dreams are made of.
After looking at it my heart was all sorts of heavy and aching. Longing to jump in the car immediately and go see it in person. (Don't worry - I'll share the listing with you guys this weekend) Frustrated because we need to figure out the whole income thing to be able to do anything about making these dreams come true. I've shared before what I envision for our future and being able to buy something that maintains a low overhead could possibly afford us the chance to abandon these corporate jobs as we know them and live on our own terms. In some ways, we are just dreaming the classic American Dream. But where do we start? How do you walk away from substantial careers? Some people just do it, throwing caution to the wind. I admire that. A lot. If I didn't have two kids still at home maybe I could too. But it's not only my life I'm gambling with. There are 4 lives involved in this endeavor.
So here I sit. Longing to make this, or something like this our reality. Frustrated as I try to sort out the how's and when's. Confused and tired of talking about the whole thing, viewing listing after listing, watching some of them disappear off the market, wondering when it will be our turn to see our dreams come true.
The only thing that can calm my frustrations when they surface are two beliefs: 1. I believe that God doesn't put a dream this strong in your heart unless he is going to bring it to pass. 2. His timing is perfect. While waiting for his timing is a struggle for a simple human such as myself, I do believe that when it is right it will supersede our wildest dreams. It will be right.
As I try to remain steadfast in these beliefs this phrase came to mind:
Bloom Where You're Planted
What if it's not in the cards for us to move from here? That thought horrified me at first, then I thought of all the reasons why we want to leave. There's a lot. Then I looked around me at this house that superseded my dreams for this family when I first looked at it 9 1/2 years ago and this is what I saw:

A beautiful place, filled with light and love.
While it's not on multiple acres, there are miles and miles of memories that we have created inside. There are amazing people who cross our threshold regularly that I love and adore. Family, and friends who have become family. My life is richer because of them all.
I'm truly grateful for all I have and needed to remind myself that what I have is more than a cedar shake shell sitting on a suburban lot. I have life and love and need to remember to bloom where I'm planted.
For now, anyway.