An easy meal-planning hack

29 April 2020

My 2020 goal of streamlining meal planning is ticking along nicely. It’s satisfying to feel like I’m making real progress on something when so much feels out of my control – AND it’s something that’s making my daily life better right now! Progress has taken all different forms, but today I wanted to share one simple hack that’s been so helpful for us with meal planning.

June school photos!!!

Emphasis on simple. We hung a magnetic dry erase board on the side of our fridge and use it to track inventory of our freezer stash. Now, I can easily see what we have on hand without rifling through our cold storage. This is helpful for both deciding on our meals for the week – what’s in the freezer that we can base a meal on? – and for assembling a grocery list – what do we already have that we don’t need to buy?

You could certainly do this with a pad of paper, but the dry erase board is a neat solution. To note: we don’t include EVERYTHING in our freezer on the list – mostly just ingredients that are relevant for meal planning. For example, you won’t see frozen cookie dough on the list above, but rest assured we are always well-stocked :)

That’s it! A simple meal-planning hack that’s helped us plan more efficiently and waste less food.

I’d love to hear: what meal-planning hacks do you swear by? Also, a question: with my recipe binder pretty much complete, I’m curious if a video flip-through would be of interest? I could give you some commentary on my favorite recipes? I’m not really much of a video person, but thought this could be fun. Let me know what you think!

P.S. If our dry erase board is sold out, this one looks very similar! Ours is fine but nothing particularly special, so don’t worry about going with a different one :)

Earth-friendly swaps in our home

22 April 2020

Today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day! How cool! While I don’t think of myself as a traditional environmentalist (it’s just not one of the first labels that springs to mind when I think of myself!), I really, really love the Earth and think often about how I can keep her beautiful. We’ve talked about various efforts our family has made over the years, but today I thought I’d highlight a few in one spot (and I’d love to hear yours, too). If you, too, find a lot of the conversation around sustainability and eco-friendliness to be really discouraging and overwhelming, welcome. The power of little-by-little is alive and well here, and I’m excited to cheer each other on as we swap ideas today!


Using cloth towels and rags instead of paper towels | I wrote about this 5 years ago, and I’m including it first on this list because it was a real aha moment for me: John was initially resistant to this swap, but I eventually realized even if he wasn’t onboard I could still change my own behavior. Half a decade later, we’re still going strong (with the same set of towels, ha!) – this change alone has saved us more than a thousand dollars! We’ve also used 100% cloth napkins for meals for years – our favorites are these from Ikea.

Reducing meat in our meals | Though we do have a few meatless meals in our regular rotation, something I’ve found to be even more doable in our current life stage is reducing meat instead of eliminating it entirely. In almost every recipe we make (aside from something like, you know, meatloaf), I’ll half the meat called for, and double the veggies or beans. This has been extremely successful for us – we still get the flavor and depth of meat, but our consumption has basically dropped by half. And I can still rely on my trusty stash of recipes instead of searching out all-new vegetarian favorites!

Buying secondhand, swapping with friends, and reselling or donating when we’re finished | 90% of our kiddos’ clothes is secondhand or a hand-me-down from a relative or friend. Likewise, most of our toys and kid gear is secondhand, passed down, or borrowed (as far as it’s safe to do so). When we’re finished with something, we aim to pass it on instead of trashing it, either through reselling at a consignment sale or on Facebook Marketplace or through donation!

Keeping things for a loooooong time | John and I both come from a hearty stock of thrifty people, and combined with our love for personal finance and hefty money goals, this is a no-brainer. Whether it’s a sofa or car we’ve had for a decade or a shirt we’ve worn since college, we simply don’t replace our things that often. And when we do, we almost always consider a secondhand option first.

Reusing wrapping items | Though I haven’t graduated to my grandmother’s level of folding and reusing wrapping paper, I use the same satin and grosgrain ribbon to tie things off year after year. I also store and reuse tissue paper, boxes, and gift bags, and wrap more things than not in recycled kraft paper (cheap and you can paint designs on it if you’re feeling crafty – fun with kids, too!).

Reducing packaging on cleaning supplies | After hearing rave reviews from friends, we bought the starter pack from Blueland (cleaning supplies and foaming hand soap you replenish with a tablet!) and can’t wait to get started! You can try it here with my referral link and get a free pack of refills with a new subscription.

Using a Lunette cup | I hesitate to recommend this, because I don’t feel like I’ve completely mastered it, but a few months ago I bought a Lunette cup after years of considering it. The waste from a monthly cycle adds up over the years, so I’ll keep experimenting!

Driving more than flying | Since having kiddos, we’ve done a lot more driving to destinations like Connecticut, Maine, and Michigan than flying. Though I don’t think this is perfect math, and we’ve made this swap firstly for other reasons than eco-friendliness, it’s a happy by-product.

Meal planning, eating leftovers, and using reusable containers | Pretty self explanatory, but all greatly help reduce food waste! We received a set of glass storage containers from our wedding registry (similar to these) and they’re still going strong 7+ years later – we use them to store leftovers and take food to and from work. June and Shep take their lunches to school in these bento boxes, which completely eliminate plastic baggies (we have 4).

Composting | The newest addition to our repertoire! I also come from a long line of composters, and it’s something I’ve wanted to try for several years – but I was intimidated by doing it on my own, and didn’t really want to allocate space for it in our small yard. Earlier this year, I had another aha moment: our neighborhood has a community garden with a compost barrel, and I could easily add our output to the community bin! I bought a countertop container in January and haven’t looked back. I empty it every 5-7 days when I’m already on my way out of the neighborhood, and it works great!

Loving the Earth and teaching our children to do the same | In How to Raise a Wild Child, the author makes the point that the best way to help the earth is to have a personal and deep connection to it – and to raise a next generation who does, too. We make a point to spend time in the beautiful places we love, both close to home and farther afield, to keep them close to our hearts. Many are pictured throughout this post.

Things we’d like to try next: using reusable bags at stores other than the grocery, shopping more at our farmer’s market, buying more of my own clothing secondhand, exploring refillable/reusable packaging for beauty products (like this deodorant), replacing Ziploc freezer bags, and bringing our own takeout containers to restaurants (feels so bold but I’m sure once we do it the first time it will be less scary!).

Friends, I’d love to hear: what Earth-friendly swaps have you successfully tried at home? What’s next on your list? I can’t wait to learn from your successes!

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What’s growing in our garden this year

20 April 2020

It seems like everyone’s growing something this year, doesn’t it? I love it! I’ve been comparing garden notes with friends just as often as I’ve been swapping recipes and kiddo activities lately, and it feels springy and hopeful. So, let’s dish the dirt today, friends! :)

Our primary growing spot is our 4×8 garden bed in our backyard, carefully positioned to take advantage of as much sun as possible. John installed it in this spot the month after we moved in, and a few years ago we replaced our original raised bed kit with one from this Etsy shop, which we LOVE – super high quality, lovely details, and easy to install. The boards are really thick and it feels like it will last a long time.

Though we’ve experimented with a bunch of different vegetables over the years, we’ve settled into a consistent rotation that reflects what we like to eat and prioritizes produce that is expensive and/or tastes noticeably better when grown at home. For us, that mostly means tomatoes and herbs.

This year, we’re growing eight tomato plants: three cherry varieties (Sun Gold, Husky Red, and Super Sweet 100) and two medium varieties (Patio and Better Boy). We’ve found we don’t get enough sun for the bigger guys, so we stick to our sweet spot! We’re also growing basil, rosemary, jalapeno, Lacinato kale (for our beloved chickpea pasta), blueberries, and a few different kinds of lettuces.

Elsewhere in our yard, we have jasmine, coneflowers, lantana, scabiosa, heliopsis, Knockout roses, daisies, azaleas, hydrangeas, gardenias, and our beautiful Golden Celebration garden rose, among a few other things.

If we were to have more room some day, I’d love to grow peas, more berries, more tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, and zucchini – as well as many more flowers (zinnias, cosmos, dahlias, peonies, clematis, sunflowers, more roses, lilacs!).

One tip: though we enjoy watering with the kids almost daily, John installed drip lines last year, and it made a HUGE difference in the productivity of our plants, especially with our summer travels. The lines are not that expensive and take a half hour or so to set up. Totally worth it, in our opinion! We bought this kit, which was plenty for our 4×8 bed, and this hose timer.

Now, friends, I’d love to hear: what are you growing this year? Or, if you haven’t had a chance to get plants in the ground yet, what do you dream of growing in the future?

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Easter Weekend 2020

14 April 2020

As I’m sure so many of you experienced this weekend, to me, the truth of Easter has never felt so immediate, so needed, so poignant, so prominent as it did this year. In the midst of such pain, it’s clear that this world is not as it should be. What a beautiful and welcome message that the worst thing is never the last thing – and that hope is the very surest thing. Stripped of much of the dressing, removed from our church home, and without even the usual space to contemplate (hello, small children!), this weekend didn’t feel as “set apart” as holy occasions often do – but, God still made his truth known.

While this Easter will always be remembered as unlike any other, in many ways, it looked like so many Easters we’ve experienced together, especially living so far from our families. I thought I’d share a little peek, if you’d like to see!

On Saturday morning, I did our usual grocery run, this time with mask in place. Had to document this very surreal, now semi-normal, occurrence.

Then we headed out for a family bike ride – we’ve done one for the last few Saturday mornings, now that the weather is warmer, which has been glorious!

After naps and quiet time, the boys planted a last bush in our back bed (lantana! come on, butterflies!) and the girls painted wooden eggs. Then, we headed to a woodsy path in our neighborhood to cut down a branch for our Easter tree. We ended up cutting down a rather large branch (it was quite a production carrying it back), but it certainly made a splash on our table. Here it is in action on Easter morning, pre-eggs being hung!

After the baskets were unpacked and enjoyed (the watercolor palette was a big hit and June immediately stripped off her pajamas and put on her “twirly dress,” haha!), we sat down to breakfast – cinnamon rolls, fruit salad, bacon, and a carrot orange smoothie.

Knowing we’d want them on Easter morning, I searched for weeks for Pillsbury cinnamon rolls at the grocery store — to no avail. The week before, I broke down and bought Sister Schubert frozen rolls, and they were surprisingly good! John even said he liked them better than the Pillsbury ones :)

P.S. Those gingham placemats are on super sale right now! We LOVE them and they come in a really pretty blue color, too!

After breakfast, we changed into our Easter finery, lit candles, and watched our home church’s live stream. The choir prerecorded the anthem over Zoom, which was a fun touch :)

Then, we headed to our backyard for an egg hunt! Our eggs were stuffed with bunny grahams, frosted animal crackers, and fruit snacks. What worked well for our differing ages: we told June that only Shep could collect the blue eggs, but everything else was fair game (and I hid the blue in easier spots). Seeing the rocks Shep gathered in his basket made me laugh so hard, ha!

We made our best attempt at family photos, Zoomed with both sides of the family, took a walk around our neighborhood, listened to a Triduum playlist John put together on repeat, and ate Easter dinner: deviled eggs to start, then ham, twice-baked potatoes, asparagus, rolls, fancy sparkly drink, and our favorite raspberry pavlova.

Two more sweet moments from the day I want to remember: the first bloom of the year unfurled on Jack’s rose Sunday morning, and on Sunday evening, right before bed, John flipped to this Andrea Bocelli concert, broadcast on Youtube. Something about the soaring music paired with the imagery of vast, beautiful, empty spaces around the world was surprisingly moving to me. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a peaceful way to spend half an hour.

If you celebrated, I hope your Easters were joyful and reflective, friends! I’d love to hear something you’ll always remember from this year’s celebration, or a highlight from your weekend, if you’d like to share.

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