Category Archives: Simplicity

Oatmeal

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I have a very distinct memory of my grandpa and his habit of eating hot oatmeal for breakfast.  One morning, he ushered me forward until we both leaned over the hot steam of favorite porridge on the table in front of him.

“There’s only one way to eat oatmeal,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.  “First, you add the butter.  Then, brown sugar and plenty of it.  Wait…while it melts a bit.  And the best part of it all is to add just the right amount of milk…until it swirls. ”

I watched with intense delight as the milk tugged at the pool of sugary cream in the middle of his bowl.  It did look perfect.  My grandpa was perfect, in my young mind.  I tucked that ‘important’ moment away and I ate oatmeal just like that for the next 25 years of my life.

Now here I am in present day, consuming oatmeal void of sugar or fat.  Nuts and fruit are “ideal.”  Because I’m worried about health?  Maybe.  My grandpa died of a sudden heart attack just a few years later.  More so, I know it’s the best power breakfast for the ‘on the move’ mom.  That’s what the experts tell me.  I admit to my own sort of mechanical bandwagon when it comes to eating.  If They tell me, I will generally alter my food intake the same day.  Then, I move onto my kids.  Obsessing about anything they eat outside of my presence has been a passion of mine, but not so much this year.  School lunches have improved.  I don’t stop breathing when my son eats cheesy bread once a month.  I let my sons drink pop every so often.  Why?  Because I happily drank from my grandparent’s stash of glass-bottled grape soda growing up.  I sneak my dark chocolate.  I have been known to claim dessert as my one and only meal item.  I never suffered from cavities until I was 35 (and then only two).  I don’t struggle with my weight, despite my social grumps and groans.

You could say I appreciate the taste and essence of food more than ever.  More often than not, my oatmeal must be served plain.  The nuts and fruit are reserved for my ‘rebellious’ moments.  I often eat a bowl of plain Cheerios when I’m not eating oatmeal.  Water, instead of milk or juice.  Crispy toast and an array of vegetables.  Little snacks all day long.  I do fit the other stuff in – minus the guaranteed pain culprits (spice, acid or fried).  But, I pay…and unfortunately, payment terms are often 10 days to a month.  The experts tell me it’s a nerve disorder.  I think the experts have left me to tread water on my own.  I don’t believe they want to acknowledge that the medicine they told me to take for over a decade was incorrectly prescribed.  They don’t want to admit that the long-term side effects may have permanently impacted me, worsening a less intense condition.  They particularly don’t want to admit that they just don’t know.

I know I sound bitter, but I’m not.  You could say I’m complaining, but I’m not.  I’m just trying to make do with what I have …and I do become a little bit desperate when the nerves go South.  Them’s the facts.  I can only make the best of it.  So, tonight….I decided that oatmeal, Cheerios or toast just wouldn’t do.  I whipped up my version of comfort food:  cornmeal mush.  There’s only one way to eat it.  First, you add the butter.  Then, brown sugar and plenty of it.  Wait…while it melts a bit.  And the best part of it all is to add just the right amount of milk…but that’s really out of the question now.  So I added more sugar.  Rebellious.  Perfect.

Happy birthday, Grandpa.  I miss you.  I hope you have oatmeal where you are.

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Less is more.

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Yesterday, I spent a whopping 4 hours putzing in my kitchen and dining room.  Putzing, then tweaking.  Tweaking, then cleaning.  Cleaning turned into an all out offensive attack on any can, jar, box, appliance, dish or linen that failed to make my heart warm and fuzzy.  My results:  2 boxes full of donations (courtesy of still unused wedding gifts)….one huge garbage bag stuffed with, well, garbage…and much more order in space.  Getting rid of the stuff did make me feel like a cold-hearted B, but the act of keeping only what I use and LOVE felt good.  Really good.  Less was more.

In the process of doing all of this, I wore S.P.A.N.D.E.X yoga pants.  Yup, I did.  Why bring this up, you ask?  My spandex is starting to feel TOO BIG (woot woot!)  I am down 18lbs and a couple of inches on the waist and hips.  Partly from health issues last spring.  Partly from my new life-diet void of dairy and white flour.  Mainly, I exercise.

I’ve lost significant weight 3 times:  all post-baby blubber.  Nice people would always say nice things about my ‘amazing transformation.’  Each time they said it I thought, thanks!  Wait, what the hell?  Was I really THAT fat?

This time, I was in the clear.  No post-baby thing.  Just exercising my free will to take care of myself.  So when my kid’s teacher innocently gasped and then whispered, “you are so much thinner!  Wow, you really lost weight!  Oh, were you working at that?”

I pause.

I smile.

“Well I was sick for a few months.  I’m eating differently now.  And I like to do yoga and stuff.  Thank you for noticing.”

And we go about our business – the teacher none the wiser about my internal woes.  Was I really that heavy before?

Well, heck.  I guess I shouldn’t care.  I feel great.  Less of me DOES feel good.  And because I’m a person who likes feedback on my work, I am even more inspired to kick my butt on the yoga mat.  Less of me feels like more.

Before I leave you, I have to share daughter’s recent art work.  Completely innocent:  the couple is forming a band.  She thought the police officer would like to come and watch.  Good grief.  I hope this never falls into the hands of a child psychiatrist.

Miserly Me

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Jello salad.  It’s what I’d like to have around more often.  My problem is that I buy the jello boxes.  I find the jello recipes.  I just don’t get around to making the darn jello.  Such as it is with our evening meals.  I plan, plan, plan….and then the desire to execute just sort of fizzles.  Don’t get me wrong.  Thanks to my farm roots and my 1989 home economics class, I feel like I can whip up a pretty stellar meal with whatever is around the kitchen.  But when I mix in oldest son’s texture issues and my non-dairy/no soy/tomato/oj/onion/peppers/white flour diet… my creative brain hurts around dinner time.  What’s a girl to do?  I, generally, enjoy a bowl of Cheerios and almond milk.  The fam enjoys the hot, seasoned food.  The oldest son enjoys bread.  It works, but it’s not my vibe.  Nope.

So.  Instead of reading so many frugal cooking advice blogs – many of which suggest the use of ketchup as a major ingredient – I am sticking to this:  Cook the favorites.  Sneak in my healthy ingredients more often.  Plan menus around the front page and the last page of our weekly grocery sales flyers.  That nifty suggestion comes from an inspirational little read by Jonni McCoy, entitled “Miserly Moms:  Living Well on Less in a Tough Economy.”  It caught my eye simply because I like the challenge of getting more for less.  Or ensuring They* make less off of Me**.  Her suggestions, like shopping only the front/back of sales ads (actual deals designed to lure us into the store)….or reminding us of the lost art of bartering….or that Ranch wasn’t invented in a bottle, but in a bowl for just pennies in fresh ingredients…  well, these are easy suggestions.  I will NOT pay $4.25 for a box of whole-grain cereal anymore.  The thought makes me physically ill.  Instead, I plan wisely.  I see the sale (you know, front and back pages).  I grab a coupon.  I do not think everything on sale is a good deal.  I head to the cereal aisle and out.  I pay no more than $1 for a box.  As a family of cereal lovers, this makes a huge dent in the food bill.  Money saved can go toward other things that almost never go on sale (e.g. fresh parmesan cheese…mmmmm).

Yes, I am a homemaker. stay at home mom. domestic goddess.  Yes, my bottom-line contribution is being frugal without depriving my family.  Yes, I need to make the J-E-L-L-O.  Not because I’m trying to be frugal.  Because I shouldn’t dare deprive my family.  😉

*They   a.k.a big·wig/ˈbɪgˌwɪg/noun  plural big·wigs

[count]  informal: a powerful or important person
▪ corporate bigwigs [=big shots]▪ a bigwig in local politics (http://www.merriam-webster.com/)
**Me  a.k.a. commoner
noun \ˈkä-mə-nər\
a: one of the common people b: one who is not of noble rank
2: a student (as at Oxford) who pays for his own board  (http://www.merriam-webster.com/)

Wanted: Fresh Lemon and Sparkle

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The second thing I did after resigning from my full-time, paying career:  clean my home.   The first: figuring out how to do it without going nuts.

Kirstie Alley, while gabbing on Oprah, revealed that she is an avid cleaner (as in paid to clean houses in her past).  She also announced that mops are a big NO NO.  She conveyed this vital information in such a passionate, scrupulous way….I immediately sentenced my own mop to garage time.  Let the spiders enjoy it.  Instead, I bent down on my hands and knees and scrubbed my wood floors by hand.  No fun task, but channeling a little Karate Kid vigor (wax on/wax off!) left me smiling at clean, sparkly floors.  This is how I clean now.  Every time.  After all, Kirstie said this on OPRAH and I do what Oprah says. 😉

My new Dyson came next: the revolutionary cleaning tool that never loses suction!  Well, almost never.  It is the best purchase I’ve made this year.

Last, but certainly not least…I threw out all 30 cleaners adorning my storage closet.  As a busy working mom, these cleaning products helped me feel like I was taking care of my family and home.  It does this?  That sounds great!  Half the time?  BINGO!  I accumulated one expensive, confusing, disgusting (was that wet paper towel hiding under the Windex bottle since ’96?) cleaning stash.

No more.

On a new budget and determined to simplify, I armed myself with just a few major cleaning items:  a lemon, vinegar, bleach, baking soda and Clorox wipes (in every bathroom my boys use.  ahem.)  Cheap and effective.  Simple and not as dangerous as most products.  (see more information on the bleach controversy and why I think it’s safer than we think here).

These have worked so well for me…I can’t believe I didn’t listen to my grandmother sooner.  Why, today’s cleaning challenge to de-maggot, disinfect and de-stink my exterior garbage dumpster would make her smile.  I didn’t.  Not one bit.  But I found that sparkle.