Seemingly Random Yet Connected

What follows will seem random and disconnected but if you can hang in until the end, I believe I’ll get it all tied up.  I recently became an empty nester.  After 26 years, I no longer have events to attend simply because I have a kiddo involved.  I can choose where my leisure time is spent.  A good portion of my work life aligns with my passion and automatically includes being at certain events since it’s a party of my work!  But other events – such as concert, plays, and sporting events – are left up to choice.

I have a friend that always has a “word of the year”.  For the first time ever, I tried it out for myself this year.  My word for 2017 is “alignment”.  Strangely enough, I didn’t necessarily go looking for the word.  Near the end of 2016, that word (or the concept behind it) kept showing up in books I read, public speakers I listened to, etc.  So I decided to take the hint and make it my focus word for 2017!  As opportunities have come my way, I ask one simple question – Does this align with those things I am most passionate about?  Once I have the answer to that question, the choice between “yes” and “no” becomes much clearer.

With all the kiddos moved out and doing the “adulting” thing, I had two empty bedrooms in my house.  Hubby and I decided that I would get to take over one of the rooms and make it my office/crafting space.  The room is painted and the carpet removed.  It’s finished enough to be functional but still needs window treatments, some shelves, and some decorative items to hang on the wall.   But the room is all mine.  During the move in process, I was able to purge quite a bit of stuff and keep only what would truly be useful.  I organized my work and crafting space as I chose and stored the items in the way that made sense to me.  No one else has gotten to say word one about how the room is set up or what things I will store in this room as opposed to other rooms in the house.

So what do these three seemingly disconnected thoughts have to do with each other?  It all comes back to my word for the year – during the 26 years I had kiddos living in my home, they were my priority (second only to my husband!) and my desires regarding room layout, room usage, storage strategies, etc. were often set aside in favor of finding a solution that would work for multiple people.  When the kids were little, they needed play space.  As they got older, they needed space to hang out with their friends, access to DVD players for movie watching get-togethers, etc.  Once again, I focused on what would make them comfy and relaxed in the home we shared.

With the kids gone from the home and the space that I get to manage/create/organize, the question of alignment has come up often.  As I move things from one space in the house to my room, I often ask “Does having this thing help me to be more productive in my work life, does it bring joy as a decorative item, or is it something I will find useful before the end of the year as a creative tool?”  It’s a longer version of the alignment question, but it’s basically the same thing – Does owning this thing align with my purposes and goals?

It’s been surprisingly easy to purge my “stuff” while settling into my room thanks to the alignment question.  And doing all of this as an empty nester has allowed me to tweak exactly what my purpose is now that I am able to focus more on myself and how I spend my time.

Laboring on Labor Day!

The house is nearly silent.  Well, it was till my youngest daughter walked in the door and the dog felt the need to run and see who was in “her” home.

I realized earlier today that I was having a great day and that was surprising.  Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting to have a bad day.  But I had a massive list of things to do around the house that I needed to make a good-sized dent in and I wasn’t sure how successful I’d be!  That kind of day usually ends with me being disappointed in how little I got done, how easily I got distracted and feeling just generally wiped out.

I finished up a couple more freezer meals (one yet to put together), did some cleaning, did some purging of “stuff” (more on this later), took care of some organizational things, chatted about an “upcycling” idea with hubby that I’m pretty stoked about.  In general, I got ALOT done today.  Started the day with a to do list that I knew was too long for one day but I’m pleased at how much has been crossed off!

Hubby stepped in and helped with some of the tasks, daughter number 2 stepped in and offered to help with dinner prep (fresh veggies to be peeled and cut) and I didn’t ever battle “foggy brain” which always happens on these days when I have lots to get done!  What is foggy brain?  Well, it’s this weird issue I have with staying on track during those days when I want to get lots done in the house.  I start off well, but then I get a room cleaned or a major project done and my brain can’t quite figure out where to go next.  I usually end up doing random jobs here and there that don’t really allow me to make any progress in any room.  That didn’t happen today!

I have to give hubby some of the credit because his willingness to step in and work right along side me was definitely motivation to keep going!  And kids who were quick to respond when I asked for help – or who even volunteered to help! – was an extra push.

I said I purged some stuff today.  The nice thing is, I’m not done yet!

For as long as I can remember, Fall has felt like a time to “start over”.  The kind of cleaning most people do in the Spring?  I start tackling late summer and into the fall.  And this time around I have been consumed with a desire to clean out stuff!  Just a couple of weeks ago I filled several trash bags with clothes to donate.  Today it was cookbooks.  I had more than any one person – who is not a professional chef! – should need.  The sad thing was, I was holding on to some of them for one or two recipes. So I pulled the entire collection out of my cupboard.  There are one or two I’m keeping for sentimental reasons.  My youngest daughter and her classmates compiled a book of favorite recipes in 2nd grade.  That one stays.  I inherited a cookbook with popular recipes from the camp I grew up going to.  Not giving that up!

Several years ago, I put together a “Heritage Cookbook” as a Christmas gift for my sisters and mom. A few years later, my baby sister updated the book with some new recipes and a few brand new categories of recipes.  Many of the recipes from my cookbooks have made the jump to the heritage cookbook which made it easy to make the decision to get rid of some.  Others were in magazine form (I love Taste of Home!) so it was easy to tear pages out.

But what do I do with the loose sheets that I have containing recipes?!  How do I keep track of what I’ve done/haven’t done/want to do for a special occasion?!  Slowly but surely, I”m starting to type them all into my online recipe box on Cozi.  (BTW – for my Pinterest friends, I discovered that I can simply copy the link to a recipe website and put that in the virtual recipe box! Hmmm.  Maybe I can purge some of Pinterest boards?  Am I getting too carried away?) I have also set up a spreadsheet that lists the recipe, if it’s online, a loose sheet of paper, or in the heritage cookbook  and whether or not I’ve ever made it.  I have different tabs for different “food categories” (entrees, side dishes, etc.).

I’ve also started making notes (on that same spread sheet) for recipes I intend to try during the upcoming Holiday season.  Not only do I have to consider Thanksgiving and Christmas – especially since we don’t know if we’re travelling for either of them yet! – I also need to plan food for the Open House that hubby and I throw for the church each December.  I haven’t even gotten close to finishing the project yet but I already feel like the system makes sense and will make my life as a menu planner and grocery list maker so much easier!  Here’s hoping!

Keeping it Together

I had a friend ask me recently how I’m “keeping it together” with three part-time jobs, three kids still living at home who have commitments of their own to keep me running so I thought I would take a moment to post some of the same information I gave her.


I use two different calendars to keep my life together – both of them send notifications to my smart phone so I don’t forget any voice lesson, meeting, marching band event, etc. creates a calendar for the entire family and lets you assign each family member a color so that you can tell at a glance whether the event is for the whole family, just a few people or only one.  Each family member can use their own login name and a family-wide password to add items to the calendar.  On Cozi, you can also create a to-do list for each family member.  I especially love that feature because I can then send each list to the cell phone of the family member I made the list for!  With the smart phone app, my twice-monthly grocery list can be carried around on my phone and each item “checked off” as it is added to the cart. Just click on the link above to visit!

Google calendar will also send notifications to your phone if you choose that option.  Hubby and I each have a Google calendar that we have shared with each other so his information shows up on my calendar (color-coded again for easy visual discrimination).  The reason I maintain both calendars is due to the fact that the choral department at the local high school uses Google calendar as well and the director will share his calendars with parents as well so the entire choir schedule is there at a glance!  I run a summer youth theater and maintain a separate calendar for that which I have shared with my hubby and my personal calendar.  Just go to Google and click on the Calendar tab on the top bar.


I have learned the joys of freezer cooking!  Hubby gets paid on the 15th and at the end of the month and I am able to spend a few hours on two different days putting up at least two weeks worth of meals.  Don’t know how to freezer cook? Just do a Google search.  Or, if you are a “pinner”, you can find LOADS of great ideas on Pinterest!  I’ve even taken some recipes I’ve inherited from my mother and turned them into freezer recipes (best example – I make the sloppy joe recipe that my mother concocted and then simply freeze it in a freezer bag until I need it for a meal).


This may sound a little silly, but I make sure to do fun things on a regular basis – usually every day.  Reading a book (I keep a running list of books I want to read and make use of my local library or head to Books Should be Free to download the classics for free – just click on the link to visit.), cross-stitch, a favorite game of solitaire, etc.  It may be something as simple as painting my nails or going out for Starbucks, but I take moment for myself just to make sure I don’t completely lose my mind!

The other thing I do is ask for help!  I have three able-bodied children and a husband.  They can load a dishwasher, get a freezer meal out to defrost and get it going in the crockpot and all of my kids can do their own laundry (and are expected to do so!)

Okay, so this isn’t all that profound.  But I’m fairly certain that I would already be losing my mind if I hadn’t stumbled on these tips and ideas (and it’s only one week into the school year!).  Happy cooking . . . organizing . . . staying sane!

The Joy of Freezer Cooking!

I have fallen in love with freezer cooking!  Whether it’s a quick recipe that means mixing together a sauce and freezing it in a bag with a particular cut/type of meat or a more complex recipe that has me chopping veggies, boiling sauce, browning ground beef, etc. it’s all worth it.  I spend one really busy day and have numerous entrees to show for it!

I started today with 4 entrees in my freezer (I have a “standing” freezer so I can afford to freeze quite a few entrees!) and added 11 more entrees today.  I also put together another recipe that was supposed to be a freezer meal but we plan on making it for Sunday dinner after church tomorrow so it’s currently marinating in the fridge. I also put up two meals worth of twice baked potatoes – they were baked once, the insides scooped out to make the filling, the filling put back in and the tatoes frozen, waiting their second baking.

The link below contains most of the meals I cooked today – I used recipes from a couple of other sources as well.  The ONLY one I didn’t use from the blog was the BBQ.  The chicken pot pie recipe is time-consuming but so worth it – I have three full-sized homemade chicken pot pies in my freezer!

Let’s face it – anything that makes life easier is worth investing our time in.  I put in a total of six hours today and got 11 entrees plus two side dishes put up.  From here, it’s a simple matter of taking something out of the freezer in the evening and either getting in the crockpot the next day, grilling it, or baking it.  In other words, I have dinner already started for the next two weeks!  Believe me, life just got a whole lot easier!

The Test Kitchen of Melissa Fallis: Freezer Cooking #2.

Too busy?

“I’m just too busy.”

I’m a little ashamed to admit how often I use this excuse for times when busy-ness is not really the issue.  I’m so good at using that phrase that I’ve even used variations on the “too busy” excuse.

“I know I should exercise but I just don’t know when I would find the time.” (In reality, I just didn’t want to make the time.)

“I wish I had the time to volunteer with . . . ” (But I always manage to find the time for that book I want to read, the e-mail I want to send, those Pins I want to check out.)

“Lunch?  I’d love to, but I’m really busy for the next couple of weeks so I don’t really have the time.”  (This one just means I’m being a selfish friend!)

Disclaimer – there are times that we can over commit ourselves if we don’t keep a careful eye on our schedules.  But I would bet I’m not the only person who has been guilty of using the “too busy” excuse to get away with laziness or selfishness or just not wanting to think creatively.  Some people – we call them “frustrated perfectionists” in our family – will use the “too busy” excuse to avoid the possibility that something they do will not be perfect.

If I need to exercise I can certainly get my sneakers on and walk around the block.  No, I won’t be ready for a marathon next week, but it’s more than I was doing and a step in the right direction.  Who knows?  I may feel so good after exercising that it becomes something I actually WANT to do?

If I am truly passionate and committed to a volunteer cause, I can contact someone about giving time just once in the next month.  I don’t have to jump in to a “three-times-a-week” kind of commitment if it’s unrealistic.

If a friend wants to go out to a meal and it legitimately does not work in my schedule, I can offer a coffee get-together instead.  Most of my friends would be content to meet at McDonald’s and grab sodas if the issue is budgetary!

Truth be told, I do suffer from that “frustrated perfectionist” attitude every so often.  It almost kept me from checking out a Zumba class in the area on Wednesday morning.  I didn’t want to look foolish doing a dance-based exercise program especially since I know the instructor!  But I went – thanks to the encouragement of my 17 year old daughter – and I’m so glad I did!  Not only is the first class you attend free, it was a great way to start my day and I don’t remember the last time I felt so energized!

So with a careful eye on my calendar, I will try to save the phrase “I’m too busy” for those times when that is indeed the case.