Michele Minehart

words & yoga

Month: January 2013 (page 1 of 2)

This Is My First Blog Post

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Fridge Wars

When JJ and I first discussed my exit from formal employment, I took a look at our books and knew I had to get the grocery bill under control. We’d just come off a season of “laking” – which meant multiple trips to the store: one before the the trip and one after when you didn’t bring anything home. And we eat well at the lake, often feeding many, so the bills were high anyway. So I set out to build in a few routines and practices that have dramatically lowered our bills. We spend no more than $200 each week on food, often with weeks interspersed that only come to about $100. (A huge variable is buying paper products, so the switch to cloth diapers more full-time made a big BIG impact on the bills. I can’t wait until Miss M can go the night without such protection.) 

1. We stick to one store and utilize loyalty. In our case, it’s Meijer (I totally justify the big box nature in that it’s a regional chain, limited to parts of Ohio, Michigan and Indiana. Maybe Kentucky, I’m not sure. But it’s not nationwide). We do mPerks, which is sort of online couponing, but I’m no coupon-er. I just clip what I know we need or will need in the near (next month) future. By doing this, we get a reward every few months that drops 20% off the total bill on a visit. We also get gas perks through mPerks, which saves $0.10/gal. I should disclose that the Meijer is practically next to my house, so filling up and going to the store is convenient as well. Tears of pity for those who don’t live in such luxury. I’ve been there. 
2. I menu plan. By this, I mean I come up with 3-4 dinners and 2 lunches each week that I’ll prepare. I always try to cook for leftovers and give myself flexibility with when each meal is made – if I don’t feel like fajitas on Monday, they show up Wednesday. No need to call in the law. 
3. When I menu plan, I use flyers. Since I’m not going to 8 different stores, I browse the Mejier weekly to see what’s on sale. Usually I allow the staples to direct my planning. If peppers are on sale, fajitas show up. If pork is discounted, we get BBQ. It also helps to add variety and challenges me to be creative. How can I use a split chicken breast? To the Pint, we go. 
4. I try not to buy anything without knowing its intended use. I broke this rule this week when I bought 2 heads of broccoli. I have no idea what I’ll make with broccoli this week. But I felt like our cart was light on veggies, so I bought it (and one head is never enough). JJ did something similar with a head of cabbage last week when he had store duty, probably because he’s in love with this fried cabbage with carmalized onions and bacon we’ve done a few times. But now, I’ve got to concoct a broccoli cabbage stew. Sounds delightful, no? 
5. I don’t keep a full fridge. Even though there are 5 very active eaters in this house, we simply don’t eat a fridge full of food every week. The amount of waste is disturbing. Instead, I like to see empty shelves. Some people might not like the limiting feel to this, but I find I rise to the challenge. It gives direction where I normally fall to routine. When we need dinner on a given Friday and all I have is ground beef and 2 heads of broccoli, I head to the Pint. Ah, chinese-inspired Beef Broccoli? Sure! We’ve done this long enough – and have tried to keep a good enough variety of flavor – that most staples are in our pantry, even seseme oil and fish sauce. So this approach rarely scares me. And if I don’t have an ingredient? I do without or google a viable substitute. We live – nearly every time. 
6. I force my kids to actually eat meals. I know, I know. Mean mom. But I refuse to prepare good food and let them toss it in the trash so they can beg for raisins 2 hours later. I’ve very careful not to make foods they strongly dislike (in fact, I’ve got a good bunch of eaters and I can’t name anything that any of them hate. Well, H Boy dislikes mushrooms. And C refused the cantelope the other day. Neither of those make me do somersaults, so my feelings weren’t hurt). If there’s an ingredient they don’t enjoy, they’re allowed to pick around. And they don’t have to “clean plate” – just eat enough that they’re satiated. If they opt not to ingest, it waits on the kitchen table (or in the fridge if I’m on top of my game) until after their nap and it becomes their snack. I ask and try to make their favorites while offering a good rotation of variety. 
This comes across quite harsh, and maybe it is. I hope I don’t give my kids food complexes about having to lick their plates clean, but the fact of the matter is: food is too expensive for us to waste. And I feel that choice and pickiness is a 1st world luxury, not a right. So I just choose not to feed into that. If they opt not to eat a meal, and forgo snack, that’s fine. They’ll still get the next meal. They know that they’re choosing between dinner or hunger, but they never go hungry for long. They’re all a nice healthy weight. (Watch, God will give me one with “issues” this next round and my theories will go to the wayside….) 
 7. We spend our money on whole foods, not fillers. We do spend a lot of money on our staples: meat, fresh & frozen veggies, fruit, oatmeal, eggs (oh! the eggs… so many)… but we buy very few packaged goods. We keep stock of raisins, nuts, trailmix, JJ’s crackers (it’s a compromise), peanut butter, tortilla chips (Xochil, the best chips EVER) and some sort of fall back, be it gluten free pretzels, a chex cereal, or some other carby-like substance. But we ration that last category like crazy. So the money we could have spent on boxes of cereal (and that stuff is expensive!) and snacks in a box goes toward our staples. It balances out. We drink mostly water – kids get OJ on the weekend when we eat breakfast as a family – and a glass of komboucha tea each day. Well, yes, we also have some adult beverages available as well, though we try to ration that as it’s more expensive than cereal. 
8. Only one trip to the store each week. Period. Running to the store for a block of cream cheese will cost us $50 and it’s nothing else we can’t live without until the next trip. It’s the end-cap and incremental purchasing that will do us all in. By implementing the one-trip rule, it mandates that we get creative. No cream cheese? Sub sour cream (I promise, it works). Or mayo. Or ranch. Surely something works. Or go with a recipe that you have all the necessary ingredients. We keep far too much food in our house to really be “out” – I found that more often, I wasn’t out of food, I was out of ideas. Just admitting it was really the hardest part. 
I realize that some of what I do to try to keep bills low comes only with the luxury of time at home. The home at 5:30, trying to make dinner by 6 scramble is no fun and there’s no easy way to cut out conveniences, save the slow cooker. So, no shame to survival. We wise women must pick our battles. Now that I’m home, it’s time to put that brain to use in other ways, and for us it came out in the grocery bills. 
I’d be interested to hear what ways others have trimmed their bills…. 
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That’s gonna leave a mark…

Every so often Dish Network gives us a free weekend of movie channels, which JJ greets with glee and a ready DVR controller to stockpile the movie bank. Last night while surfing through, he landed on Hall Pass, a movie that, in its raunchyness, I still enjoy. Something about the characters processing regret and “could’ves” while still valuing the boring lives they lead makes for a good storyline. 

It led me to consider regret, or the lack thereof. I’ve lived a pretty safe life (classic oldest child, if you’re a birth order follower) and toed the straight line that keeps out the danger. Not a bone in my body desires to live on that edge that welcomes skydiving or stunt driving or riding bicycles without proper safety attire. In fact, I’m most comfortable safe on the ground without moving parts. I tried rollerblading a few times but decided to take my falls about 4 inches closer to the ground without wheels underfoot. 
As I processed through my own quarter-life, I decided my biggest regret is my lack of regret. In my efforts to do things right, my story doesn’t get very exciting with all my wrongs. You see, while strong effort has been made to put up a facade of perfection, everyone knows it’s not true. If you’ve known me for more than 5 minutes you realize I strive to do things right, to make things good, but I miss. And my misses just aren’t exciting. Rarely do they put me in a place of learning a deep and true lesson to guide me through the next storm. Instead, I just learn techniques to wallpaper over it. 
I once jumped on to our jetski amid a hefty storm because it had floated out of the dock. I kept it from ramming into the boat prop, and in so doing, got a nice slice on the leg. It was a fun story to tell for a time. Granted, I wasn’t in real danger – Indian Lake keeps about 3 feet of water and I was a good swimmer. Plenty of others were nearby to “save” me. But it was a fun mark to share with others. 
Scars, dents, imperfections… these tell the stories of our lives. They’re badges of our risks and possibly even regrets. Sometimes they’re the trophies of our victories. Marks to remind us who we are, where we’ve come from and can inform where we’re going. 
My cousin, A, came of age in the era of the chinese symbol tattoo. He and his friend, with whom he often found himself in sticky or troublesome situations, were set to go get tattoos together once they were legal. However, life took a turn and his friend died. Cousin A went ahead and got the tattoo: the symbol for “trouble” right over his heart. I don’t believe that A regrets any of the trouble he found with his friend. 
Currently I bear a patch of purple lines around my midsection, complete with disfigured belly button. In my most vain moments, specifically during the summer, I wish them away. However, they’re the result of 5 years filled with growing 4 children. They tell the story of each baby’s entrance into the world and the role my body played in bringing them here. I don’t think I’d trade that role, those stories, for a lower-cut bikini. 
In fact, I wish I was doing more make marks with my life. I wish I had more bumps and bruises;   perhaps a rugburn or two from living well. And maybe from living not-well. As I think about it, I think I’d welcome a few marks of mistakes, places commemorating my screw-ups and the lessons I’d learned, the person it had helped me become. I would take the stories of risking much over the mundane process of preserving little
My MIL keeps a magnent on the fridge that reads “Clean houses are a sign of boring people.” I tend to be of the clean-house variety, but I welcome the sentiment. The work of keeping things tidy isn’t nearly as exciting as the efforts of creating something that could likely end up in a mess, but possesses the opportunity to be a really great story. 
I believe our lives, our homes, our bodies are valuable. I believe we should live in a way that cares for them, for they are the shelter of our stories. But caring for them doesn’t mean you don’t frequently take them for a spin and put them to work. If you don’t, you don’t have a story,  you just have a pretty backdrop. Nobody reads or listens to a backdrop. Wallpaper makes for boring conversation. What makes for a good story is hearing how that huge mark in the wall came to be.
It’s time to make more marks. Scuff up the floor a little. Tell a good story. 
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