Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Where's My Inspiration?

It's a cold and cloudy day here in Maryland and I am low on energy.  I've been pretty productive today - got some laundry done, cleaned the basement, cleaned the living room and bathroom, but I'm done.  The weather makes me achy and I'd much rather go back to bed for a few hours.  Instead I get to straighten up my kitchen, bake bread, and start soup for dinner before taking the girls out for trick-or-treating tonight.  I promise I'm not complaining - a few days ago I thought that I'd be doing all of this without power!  I am so thankful that we came through Hurricane Sandy with a little roof damage and leakage and power on!  Last year after Hurricane Irene paid us a visit we went almost a week without power.  So, as I sit here struggling with a topic, where's my inspiration? 

Some days the words come pouring out of me at a rate that's almost scary.  I might work on a Bible study lesson, a book idea, blog posting, and an article in the same day.  I love those days!  Even though the housework might lag a bit, I feel productive and fulfilled.  Days like today where the menial stuff gets done, but my creative juices are a bit dry bug me.  I feel irritable and annoyed that I can't get the words right.  This is not a day to sit down with my new book idea and play - all my efforts would end up in the garbage. 

What do you do when you lack inspiration?  Do you have a tried-and-true method that pulls you out of the mess and gets your brain working again?  I have to find a way to end the funk when I'm stuck - usually reading some of my Bible reading plan will help, as well as sitting down and forcing the issue.  I can always work on my blog if my book's not cooperating, or start researching for my next Bible study lesson without actually writing the text out yet.  How often do I actually do that?  Unfortunately not as often as I should.  I'm much more likely to let myself get distracted with other things: reading a good book, checking Facebook, playing games on the tablet, and so many other things. 

I think the answer for most of us is finding a good balance.  I can't write 24/7.  It's not practical - I have a very busy, active family that needs my attention a good chunk of the time, and a home that demands attention from me on a regular basis.  I can, however, make the time that I have to write count instead of hemming and hawing and distracting myself with other things.  I also have to remember to sit down and pray about it - how do I expect to share any of God's words if I don't ask Him to help? I always find it funny when I finally remember to pray about it because the words and ideas start coming... most of the time!  There are some days I think His message to me is, "Stop already - it's not the right day for writing!"  I'm just a bit slow on the uptake and don't get it right away. 

I encourage you to keep trying even when the inspiration well is drying up.  Say a quick prayer and see what God has in store for you today!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Dinner for a Few Dimes

I love fall and winter!  I love nothing more than curling up with a good book and a cup of coffee while the snow (or rain) is falling outside.  All the great flavors come out during this time of the year, too: pumpkin, apple, cinnamon, nutmeg, eggnogg, etc.  It's also the time of year for soup, chili, and fresh bread.  Yum!  Is it any wonder we tend to put on a few pounds during cold months?  We have so many carbs and sugary treats to choose from!  It's very easy to get caught up in the fun of the season and lose track of the budget while shopping for all these tasty items.  It got me to thinking about some of my favorite, budget-friendly winter meals.

Put On a Pot 'o Beans
I put a pot of mixed beans on yesterday morning before we left for church.  The plan was to have it for lunch, which didn't happen.  I thought 4 hours on high in the crock pot would have done it (yes, I pre-soaked Saturday night), but they were still little rocks when we got home.  We ended up having them for dinner instead, and they were delicious!  I took a simple bag of mixed beans (the bean soup blend), sliced onions, and ham chunks from the freezer and threw it in the crockpot.  Budget-wise, you don't get much cheaper.  The bag of beans was less than $2, and the ham was left-over from a spiral I bought months ago.  I always save the bone and odd chunks that don't get sliced when we get a ham, and then take out pieces as I need them.  The downside to this meal is you do have to plan ahead a little bit, but it can all be done in a day if you choose the "Quick Soak" method over overnight soaking for the beans.  One bag fed six people - 4 adults and 3 kids - so if you have more people in your family you'll probably need another bag of beans. 

Homemade Soup
Charles LOVES soup.  I think he would be fine if I made soup once a week.  Unfortunately for him, I don't.  But, as fall rolls around I do get to hankering for some tasty soup and I go recipe hunting.  There are tons of resources available these days for finding recipes: websites, friends, mobile apps, or even cookbooks!  My process usually starts with an ingredient - I have chicken and need a soup that works around that and doesn't require a trip to the store.  Budget-wise it's always easier if I can avoid extra trips!  One of the best soup recipes I have found in the last year is for Chicken Tortellini Soup.  I found it on Betty Crocker's website when I was looking for something to do with leftover Turkey.  One thing I should admit to now is I rarely follow a recipe as it is written - I'm a big substituter.  As I was looking at this recipe I figured my leftover turkey would go perfectly in this soup.  I happened to have some tortellini in the freezer, and the rest is history.  It was a family hit - no leftovers for us that night!  I will include it here in case you would like to give it a try with your family:
If you don't have a recipe, or just want to experiment, vegetable beef (or chicken, pork, or turkey) is so easy!  As long as you have canned or frozen veggies and some meat, you have the base for a soup.  Charles' mom and dad will often cook up a roast in lots of broth, then add a ton of veggies and let it cook the whole day.  They will then eat on that same soup the whole week.  I like to bake up a loaf of homemade bread to go with mine, but it's good just with crackers, too! 

Chili 'n Cornbread
Chili is a staple in most homes in the US, I think.  It's different everywhere you go, but everyone has a chili recipe that they love.  Chili is another thing that I like to tweak depending on the ingredients I have available.  I've been known to use ground beef, ground turkey, leftover chicken, or leftover sloppy joe meat to make my chili, as well as a variety of beans.  Some nights we have kidney beans only, others it's black beans or pintos, and others it's a combination of all of them.  Chili is a pretty forgiving medium, too.  If you need more "sauce" add some canned tomatoes, pizza sauce, or salsa if you like spice!  I wish I had a great chili recipe to share with you here, but mine is different every time.  Pop a batch of cornbread in the oven and you have a nice, hot tasty dinner on a cold, rainy night!

Mostly, I just try to have fun with whatever I'm fixing.  When winter hits I don't mind having the oven on in the house and it's time for cooking!  Have fun with it - try new things and don't be afraid to mess stuff up.  We've all made the meals that no one wants to eat.  We just have to learn from our mistakes and keep trying! 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Hurray for Holidays!

As a mother of school-aged children I sometimes get a little tired of the random holidays they give our kids throughout the year.  Some months I don't think they attend a full week of school because of all the extra time off!  However, there are times that these days come right when we need them.  As I write this, three very happy girls are downstairs playing Barbies in the "village" they created yesterday.  They've been at it since before Daddy and I got up this morning, which is even better.  I love it when they get the opportunity to play like this and potentially spend the whole day in their pajamas if the mood strikes. 

As much as I love holidays, they can't be the blueprint for how our family functions on a daily basis.  I find it interesting that the girls need structure.  Anytime we have an extended holiday - Spring Break, Christmas, Summer Break - we have to space our do-nothing days with productive time.  They do better when we have some structure followed by some fun.  For instance, during Summer Break we often take the morning to clean, then spend the afternoon playing.  When they have too many days playing with no chores they become moody, whiny, and short-tempered... and the house gets crazy. 

I, too, need that structure in my life.  Do-nothing days aren't fun for long when you run out of clean laundry and your kitchen is overtaken with dirty dishes.  Life becomes chaotic and things start to fall apart.  My spiritual life works pretty much the same way.  When I don't perform regular "maintenance" - prayer, Bible reading and study, etc. - my spiritual self suffers.  Little bumps in my life's road become huge obstacles and the big things completely do me in.  It's a pretty easy fix: even on my do-nothing days I spend some time with God.  I might do some Bible reading or work on a writing project, or just spend some quiet time talking to him in prayer.  I find that these small things make a huge difference when life picks back up to a normal pace.  Give it a try and see if your life changes! 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Creative Halloween Solutions - Mommy Style!

As Halloween creeps in on us, we are having the usual costume challenges at the Peterson home. Fortunately, the girls are all pretty even keeled, so there haven't been any hysterics or tears, but we've had to make some compromises. You see, unfortunately for my children, we are trying hard to stick to a budget which means homemade costumes. So all these great magazines with fun pictures of Superheroes, Princesses, and Action Figures are really nothing but torture devices for us. This whole situation is forcing me to be much more creative and crafty (making crafts, not being sneaky) than I've been in quite a while.  

I am actually having fun planning these costumes, and I think we may be starting a new tradition. Crazy, right? I like to think it's crazy-creative! My girls will have unique costumes - how many Indian Archer Princesses or Roman Archery Princesses will there be marching around at school? Emily chose to be Katniss from the Hunger Games, so she will probably have company, but she will still have our own unique take on the outfit! They will get the fun of having creative input on their costumes as well as some hands-on experience. I can promise I'm not doing all the beading and fringing on Morgan's costume by myself! 

This will be a great opportunity to teach my girls about being creative with a budget. They need to see that being on a budget doesn't mean you don't have fun - you just do it a little differently! They will also get to learn the enjoyment to be had in making something yourself as opposed to buying it off the shelf.

So, what does it take to create a do-it-yourself costume? 

1.   Try to have a picture of the costume in your head. The evil costume catalog has actually been a big help with this - Abby and Morgan pointed out what they wanted, and I set about figuring out how to make our own. I also got on the internet and did some research. There are several sites with excellent costume ideas and great pictures!
2.   Raid their dress-up bins. You might be surprised at what can be re-purposed. We are re-using an Egyptian "base" dress from a costume used a few years ago for Abby's Roman princess. You can often find accessories to go with costumes, as well. 
3.   Raid your own closet (and your husbands)! Our Indian Princess dress is going to be one of Charles' brown Army t-shirts. It's the perfect size to be a dress on Morgan, and it will cost us nothing to fringe the edges and add some beads. Abby's shoulder drape will be one of my scarves.
4.   Raid your kids' closets. Our kids can often use existing pieces of clothing as parts of their costumes. Emily is going to wear her own boots and black jacket to be Katniss. We will have to buy her a black t-shirt and some cargo pants to round out the costume. These are all things she will wear at other times, so the cost can easily be absorbed into a clothing budget. Last year, Morgan's Plum Pudding costume consisted of leggings and a purple shirt that she still wears today. 
5.   Have fun with it! Don't stress yourself out over it. Halloween is one night out of the year that really doesn't mean much in the scheme of things. The idea is to have fun with some dress-up and collect way too much candy. Don't let it get you down!