Monday, February 28, 2011

Feeding The Fam

Not a typical breakfast at our house.

This post is in response to a question from my pal Gina who asked:

Let's revisit how you plan, cook and feed your family. I get so tired of it all. I am not creative enough. I am too behind. Do you meal plan in advance and buy for the upcoming meals? What are some of your favorite dinners? You can give recipes, or just general ideas of what you do.

Meal planning, shopping and cooking is certainly not my favorite of my jobs as a homemaker. However, I have found a way to make it easier - and that is by planning. Every two weeks I come up with a list of 14 dinners. I always ask the kids for their ideas, too. In fact, since my gimpy leg keeps me in bed quite a bit, I just recently started putting my oldest 3 kids in charge of a few meals each - they decide what they want to make and we add it to the list. Then I make a grocery list based on my menu and add the usual needed items for breakfasts and lunches (bread, peanut butter, fruit, lunch meat, syrup, cereal, pancake mix. etc.). I go to the store and buy the things on my list with little variation - I will allow myself to buy something that's a great price on sale or even a treat or two for the family.

Before I start planning my meals I like to look at the store ads that come in the mail so that I can plan most of the meals around what kind of meat and vegetables I can find on sale.

The thing I love about this method is that I have everything I need to make meals for two weeks so I am able to avoid doing little shopping trips at the store in the middle of the week. When I stick to this plan I am able to feed my family on $300 every two weeks (this also includes things like diapers, laundry & dish soap, trash bags, etc.).

Here is a sample of a typical two week dinner menu:

stroganoff w/green beans
pizza w/salad
enchiladas w/corn
baked mac & cheese w/bananas & applesauce
mexican chicken and rice w/broccoli
tortellini soup w/rolls
sloppy joes w/salad
italian chicken and rice w/green beans
tuna casserole w/fruit salad
grilled cheese and tomato soup
taco soup
shepherd's pie w/corn
potato soup w/rolls
chicken pasta salad w/carrots

(If you want any of the recipes, let me know in the comments.)

Our typical lunches include things like PB&J, sandwiches with lunchmeat or tuna, bagel sandwiches, quesadillas and leftovers from dinner. Add some fruit or veggies and a glass of milk or water and there you have it.

Breakfasts can include cooked cereal (oatmeal, germade, breakfast rice, corn mush), cold cereal, granola, pancakes, waffles, dutch babies, eggs & toast, breakfast sandwiches, yogurt, oatmeal cake, breakfast burritos, biscuits and gravy, french toast, muffins or pop tarts.

p.s. I was just kidding about the pop tarts. That is NOT a breakfast food.

p.s.2 This breakfast list makes me sound like Martha Stewart but the truth is that we usually have hot or cold cereal. The other stuff happens occasionally (maybe twice a week) but not as much.

p.s.3 I hate it when I make an awesome breakfast and the oldest two girls only eat a fraction of it because they would rather try on 17 outfits and spend 25 minutes on their hair before school. To retaliate I make oatmeal at least 3 days each week because I know that they prefer cold cereal.

I think that about covers it.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday Letters

The 4 of us with Elder McDaniel in front of the house on Gramercy.

My Dear Aunt Bonnie,

I have been feeling nostalgic lately about my life as a child and many of my greatest memories come from the time we lived in your home with your family. I do not recall exactly how many years we lived there with you but it seems like there were so many memories packed into the short time we shared a home. I am not sure what order these memories actually occurred in, but here they are, nonetheless.

The first thing that comes to mind is your address – ever etched into my memory in a rhyming, sing-songy sort of way: 27-32, Gramercy Avenue.

On our flight from Des Moines to LAX I was filled with anticipation. An anxious, giddy, nervous, excitement for what we would find. I was certain that the airport would be filled with celebrities and that movies would be filmed on the street we would live on. Although neither of these were true, I was not disappointed. I remember that the first thing you asked my mom was how she was feeling and when she signed the word for 'tired' you asked if that meant that her bra straps had broken. I laughed right out loud and knew then that I was going to love being around you – you always made us laugh.

I remember that your house was surrounded by other houses with kids. Across the street there was one house with a tire swing and another with a tree house and next door there was a girl my age whose name was common but spelled in a unique way (was it Aimee?) and she had a playhouse in her backyard. We could walk in one direction and get to a grocery store where candy bars were 5 for $1 but I only ever had enough money to buy a pack of Sixlets for a dime. If we walked another way we could browse the Hello Kitty store where I loved to admire the pencil boxes but could only afford erasers and pencils. I loved that there was a park and our school (Torrance Elementary) within walking distance as well.

So many small recollections come to mind. Jami played us her My Turn On Earth record and Chip and I still have every song from that musical memorized. Dana introduced us to Dr. Demento and we still have a good number of those songs committed to memory as well – including the one she helped Chip and I write about our dog, Tiffany, that we left behind in Iowa when we made the move to California. I will never forget when a man, wanted for robbery or some such thing, had escaped into our neighborhood and was found in the shed in your backyard. I was scared to sleep on the couch by the front window after this happened so Dana and Jami let me sleep on the floor in their room. Once, when our families went to Denny’s for dinner, the waitress accidentally spilled a drink (it was either very hot or very cold) on you (or was it my mom?) and we all ate for free because of it.

I have so many crazy memories of Uncle Dick. Chocolate ice cream will put hair on your chest. Don’t swallow watermelon seeds or you’ll grow a whole one in your stomach. I always believed these things he would tell us. It took a good, long time for me to eat watermelon or chocolate ice cream again. I didn’t care for either one until I was well into my twenties – and chocolate ice cream is still a little iffy. I remember how Chip and I made Indian costumes from paper bags one Thanksgiving and Uncle Dick pretended not to recognize us all day long. We loved that.

Torrance Elementary was, by far, my favorite school of my childhood. I remember singing “Choosing” and “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” at the talent show. We went on field trips to Chinatown, Griffith Park Observatory, Olvera Street, the La Brea Tar Pits and the Queen Mary. I will never forget that my first friend at the school was a boy who tried to stump everyone with story riddles which he would share on the playground. No one ever knew the answers and thought he was quite clever until I came along. I quickly recognized these as mysteries from the Encyclopedia Brown series of books and could answer every one. I think he befriended me so I wouldn’t give away his secret.

I remember the day I was at school and thought I was experiencing my first California earthquake but it turned out I was just very, very sick and was sent to the hospital for quite some time. (My mom still doesn’t recall the exact reason why I was hospitalized, only that it had to do with my white blood cell count. So that is what I remember, too.) When I finally returned home my room was completely dust-free – even my stuffed animals had been washed.

My best memory of all was the day that the missionaries came to your house to find our family. (If I remember correctly, Jami had referred them to us while she was in the MTC.) Chip and I were playing out front and saw them coming to the door, signing to each other. They asked if our parents were home and that was the beginning of our family’s conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We took the missionary discussions in your home and started attending the Deaf ward while living there, too. The missionaries taught us to pray and hold Family Home Evening there in your front room. We were eventually baptized and my life was changed from there. I remember realizing right away, as I came out of the water on my baptism day, that I was the same Gerberta yet also somehow completely different.

I remember returning to Gramercy Avenue as a teenager, wanting to show some friends the place where I first lived when we moved to California, and feeling almost empty when I saw that the house was no longer there but had been replaced by condos or townhouses or some such thing. I felt like something had been taken from me without my permission – but eventually I realized that the memories are what we carry with us. The memories are what matter.

At the time, as a child, I did not give much thought to the sacrifice involved when your family opened up your home for our family to come and live there with you. However, now I understand that it could not have been an easy thing to do. I want you to know how much I appreciate what you did for our family then – taking us in when times were difficult, giving dad a job when he could find none in Iowa. Thank you for loving us and welcoming us and making us feel at home.

Your family and your home will forever remain in my mind as a place filled with happiness and love. I will forever be grateful to you and your family for the years that we shared on Gramercy Avenue.

Much love,


Friday, February 25, 2011

Financially Responsible Kids

photo found here

This post is in response to the following questions I was asked last week:

How have you/do you/will you teach your kids to be financially responsible? (Rebecca)
Do your kids have allowance? How do you teach financial responsibility? (Blogful)

First of all, we don't give our kids an allowance. We believe that, as a part of a family, it is each family member's responsibility to help with housework and chores. If the kids stay on top of their responsibilities and contribute when asked then Allen and I are happy to help them out financially when they have a need. If they want money for something that is simply a want we have them earn the money for that on their own - either by doing extra projects around the house or in working for our neighbors by babysitting or doing yard work.

Financial responsibility is something I think about a lot. We want our kids to understand that debt is never a good thing and that saving is important. I think the best method we've used in teaching our kids financial responsibility is living a financially responsible life. In other words, we hope we are teaching them by example.

For instance, when it comes time for back-to-school shopping the first place we go to look for clothes is second-hand stores. The kids have learned that we can find some great, practically new items at these stores for a small fraction of the price we would pay in regular stores. Our kids actually request shopping at thrift stores now - they see it as a sort of treasure hunt and love showing off their bargain finds.

The kids also see how I do my grocery shopping. I always look through the ads we receive and plan our meals around some of the great deals I will find in them. When they come to the grocery store with me I will ask them to help me find the lowest priced items on the shelves.

We also pay cash for everything. If we can't afford to pay for anything up front, we don't buy it.

I think the best way to sum up what we teach our kids about financial responsibility is to wholeheartedly recommend Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover plan. Allen and I were able to participate in Dave's Financial Peace University through Allen's work and it was amazing.

All in all, I think that the key to having financially responsible kids is teaching them by example.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Full Circle

Today we found out that my oldest son was accepted to the university that he has dreamed of attending for as long as we can remember. He called us from school to tell us the good news right after opening his acceptance email. (Email? What happened to acceptance letters? Man, am I old.)

I am so excited and proud and absolutely thrilled for him! In Allen's family there is a history of college graduates. In my family, however, there is not. College was something that my smart friends did. I didn't even consider applying to any big colleges or universities when graduation approached. I wouldn't have even known where to begin at the time.

I have learned since what a difference it makes to have a degree and I knew from the time that my kids were very young that I wanted them to continue their educations beyond high school graduation. Allen has jokingly reminded me of the time when our oldest boy was still in diapers and I broke down in tears when we were working on our budget. "What's wrong?" he asked. "We will never be able to afford to send our kids to college!" I cried in despair. It's a funny story, but that is how long I have been determined to provide this opportunity for each of our children.

And now - well, we did it. We really did it.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

You Choose

This whole week (tomorrow's the last day) you can leave me a comment on this post and you're guaranteed an answer! Some answers will be left in the comments, some will be answered as a post. What are you waiting for? Go ask me a question!

photo found here

This post is in response to some questions from 'anonymous':

Are you really so happy all the time? Do you ever have a bum day? Have you had any experiences that made you the way you are?

Well, Anon, your first question is one that I actually get asked a lot. And yes, I am a pretty happy person. You know why? Because I choose to be. Do I have bad days? Of course. Everyone does. In fact, my foot frustrates me to no end right now. It drives me nuts to sit around all day long and to have to depend on others to do a lot of things for me. I can't drive. I can't run my own errands. I can't do a whole number of things right now. I could easily choose to feel sorry for myself (and yes, sometimes I do) but it makes life a whole lot better if I choose instead to be thankful for the things I CAN do rather than focusing on the ones I can't.

Have you ever heard the saying, "I had no shoes and complained until I met a man with no feet"?

I think life is always better than we think if we are willing to look for the blessings.

Here's a kid who is a great example of this...

As for your last question, Have you had any experiences that made you the way you are? my answer is yes. I think everyone is who they are because of the things they have experienced. I could list a whole number of things that have influenced the person that I am today, but the thing that stands out the most to me is that I was bullied as a child. I would never, ever in any circumstance wish these sort of experiences upon anyone. However, they have shaped me into the person that I am. Again, it is a matter of choice. I could continue to see myself as a victim or learn something from the experience and try to make a difference for others who are enduring similar circumstances.

What it all comes down to is this quote that I love from the movie The Iron Giant:

You are who you choose to be.

I choose to be happy.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Laughter Is The Best Medicine

My friends are funny.

I got this in my email a couple of days ago:

Gerb! I finally figured out how to make my foot look like yours!

Your foot:

My foot:

Love, amy

Thanks, Amy. I'm feeling better already!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Boys Or Girls?

This whole week you can leave me a comment on this post and you're guaranteed an answer! Some answers will be left in the comments, some will be answered as a post. What are you waiting for? Go ask me a question!

This post is in response to Rebecca's (totally loaded!) question:

If you had all 10 boys or all 10 girls, instead of some of both gender, which would you choose?

Because the question comes from my pal whose family looks like this:

photo (shamelessly stolen from Rebecca's blog) taken by Summer Murdock

I was feeling a bit of pressure. I finally came up with the perfect answer and, because it's Wednesday, posted it at Four Perspectives.

Come tell me what you think. What would you have said?

Boys Vs. Girls

This post is in response to my friend Rebecca's question:
If you had all 10 boys or all 10 girls, instead of some of both gender, which would you choose?

Why didn't you just ask which were my favorite, my boys or my girls? I guess you pretty much did. Well, let me put it this way...

My girls share most of my interests, such as thrift store & bargain shopping, baking, sewing, singing and collecting shoes. So I choose girls.

Boys are much easier to shop for because they'll wear their jeans and tennis shoes until they're falling off or won't fasten anymore - plus they'll wear whatever I buy for them without complaint to avoid a shopping trip. So I choose boys.

I can not attend scout camp with my boys who love to get dirty and wear the same clothing (including underwear) all week but I can attend an awesome week of fun mingled with spiritual growth at young women's camp with my girls. So I choose girls.

Boys have short, almost maintenance-free hair. If they give themselves a haircut, no problem. A quick all-over buzz with the clippers and we're back in business. So I choose boys.

Two words: potty training. I choose girls.

Two words: potty humor. (I'm easily entertained in this regard.) I choose boys.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Marvelous Mini Cheesecakes

This whole week you can leave me a comment on this post and you're guaranteed an answer! Some answers will be left in the comments, some will be answered as a post. What are you waiting for? Go ask me a question!

This post is in response to Erica's question from yesterday: What is your most favorite dessert recipe?

Erica, that changes frequently, but lately these little tasties are what I have been craving:

They are quick, easy, versatile and fantastic! In fact, they would make a great treat to share with your Valentines tonight. My favorite way to enjoy them is topped with chocolate and fresh fruit.


Marvelous Mini Cheesecakes

12 vanilla wafers*
2 8-oz. pkgs. cream cheese (softened)
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs

Line a muffin tin with liners. (Paper liners work, but foil ones look fancier & open easier.) Place one vanilla wafer in each liner. Mix cream cheese, vanilla and sugar at medium speed until well blended. (It blends best when the cream cheese is not cold.) Add eggs to cream cheese mixture and blend well. Pour mixture over vanilla wafers, filling each liner about 3/4 full.

Bake for 25 minutes at 325 degrees. Remove from pan when cool then refrigerate.

Top each mini cheesecake with fresh fruit, pie filling, chocolate, nuts, crushed candy bars - whatever floats your boat!

*Another way to make the crusts is to crush 24 vanilla wafers (or 6 whole graham crackers or 9 Oreos) and put a couple of tablespoons of the crushed goodness into the bottom of the liners.

(This recipe only makes 12 cheesecakes so you might want to double it. I'm just sayin'.)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

I've Got Answers

Last Tuesday my camo-cast came off. The doctor told me I was free to walk to my heart's content now, using only one crutch. He said I was to be my own physical therapist by doing deep lunges and writing the alphabet in large, swoopy letters with my ankle. Just wear this little brace thingy and all's swell. I was pretty excited by all of this, actually. No physical therapy appointments? I can walk again? Awesome!

Yeah, in theory: awesome. In real life: not happening. Except for the swell part. There's plenty of that going on.

My foot/ankle/leg continue to be puffy, tender, achy, and swollen when not elevated. Heck, even when it is elevated it looks like aliens abducted my formerly normal right foot and replaced it with someone else's. But I'm dealing with it. I'm making myself put pressure on it and stretch those muscles back to where they used to be and I'm doing my best to find the good in everything.

In fact, today I made myself walk to the kitchen using only one crutch in a sort of half-hobble half-hop kind of gait. I then promptly rewarded myself with a bowl of ice cream and a cookie. I'm not going to get THAT kind of awesome treatment at any physical therapy office!

Anyway, between chillin' with my sweet little chub-o, putting myself through physical torture and trying to get my life back to normal, I've been neglecting my blog. Would you mind helping me with that?

Here's what you do:

This week I will leave the comments open on this post for you to ask me questions. Ask me whatever you want, and I will answer. Most answers I'll give in the comments, but some questions I'll answer as a post. Anything you've always wanted to ask me? Ask away! Have a silly/serious/sarcastic question? Every single question will receive an answer.

It's sort of like the Reader Appreciation Day I did last year. (Actually, it's exactly like that. Except for answering in posts, too.)


Ask away!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Shout Out!

A friend called last week to ask me, "Do you know of any good dentists in the area?" And yes, I most certainly do. I get calls like this occasionally and am always glad to share.

Today someone asked if I had a hair stylist that I like. Oh, yes, yes, yes. Not just like, but love.

So, my friends, today I present you with a list of people/places/services that I would gladly recommend. You know, just in case you were wondering. And for those of you who don't live near me, scroll down to see some places that I love on the www.

For locals:

The BEST dentist's office (even the littlest kids love going for check-ups!) is Christiansen Dental. They do great, quality work and are friendly, personable and caring. Case in point: Dr. C heard about my broken leg incident and called to see how I was doing. What does that have to do with my teeth? Nothing! But he's a genuinely nice guy who cares about his patients - and makes visits to the dentist a stress-free, even pleasant experience.

Need car repairs? Here's a trustworthy auto repair shop: Mitchell's Garage. I can't remember who recommended this place to us but we have been happy with all of the work we've had done on our vehicles there. Finding a repair shop you can trust is a big deal and we have come to trust the guys here at Mitchell's.

Want to get a haircut? Call Raylene at David Douglas Salon. All of the girls in our family go to her and we always leave happy. She makes you feel like a beauty queen or rock star or whatever place in between you're comfortable with. Trust me, you'll love her.

The best place for dessert on a Saturday night is Gloria's Little Italy - hands down! Why Saturday night? Because all of their delectable, authentic Italian desserts (made fresh daily!) are half-priced on Saturday nights since they are closed on Sundays. And if you don't like layers of flaky filo dough, rich Italian cream and hazelnut then I still have one word for you: Gelato.

How long has it been since you've had family pictures taken? You need to call Jason at Backroads Photography. Let's put it this way: I have lots of kids and he can make them all smile. At the same time! Plus, he makes us look really good. Maybe you just need some new decorative photos to adorn your home? He's got those, too. Check him out.

Any questions? Leave me a comment or send me an email (gerbdonna at gmail).

On the internets (coincidentally, all free stuff):

Need to wish someone a happy birthday? Issue a formal apology? Send a note of thanks? Check out the Bureau of Communication. I'm a lover of handwritten notes, but if you've got to send an email, this is the way to go. It's just quirky enough to make it fun.

Have you ever been a bit leery of letting your kids watch a certain movie because you're not sure what exactly to expect? Then Kids in Mind is the place you seek. It's almost humorous how detailed they are in their descriptions of every teeny little thing that could be found offensive or off-color.

As a service to busy kidnappers, offers a ransom note generator. Just type in your text, press enter and you have a lovely ransom note from letters cut out of magazines and newspapers. Brilliant.

Does someone you know own an Easy Bake oven? Then you need this website. Instead of buying all of those expensive mixes at the store, Budget101 has a whole plethora of mini-sized recipes you can make from ingredients in your pantry. And as a bonus: these taste better than the packaged mixes, too. Who knew you could cook such tasty little treats with a light bulb?

*No one asked me to write this post or compensated me in any way. I just really, really love these people/places/services and think they deserve a shout-out.
Plus I've seen these kind of disclaimers on other blogs and I thought it would make me look cool. Holla!