Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Our family is expanding!

No, I am NOT pregnant.  And yes, I knew that title would get you thinking...  :) 

First of all, I wanted to thank you all for your kind words regarding the loss of our sweet Haley.  Although it was rough there for a week or so, things eventually evened out and we went along right as rain.  But as any of you who have ever shared your home with a cat know, once you've been owned by a cat, the house seems empty without one.  I should have known it wouldn't be long before we'd be looking for our new feline friends...and it wasn't.

Kendall and Noah started begging for kittens quite a while back, and we always said no, because we were sure Haley wouldn't have taken to kindly to us introducing some rambunctious kitties to her kingdom.  But now that she was gone and our house seemed so...empty...could that be the right word?  I mean, seriously...there are four of us, my brother, and Scout.  This house is hardly empty!  But it still felt that way.  There was a hole, and it couldn't be denied.  Every day, Kendall would ask when we could get kittens.  And every day, I would say to Barry, "You know we can't hold out much longer.  We're soft.  We're gonna cave sooner or later."   And he would just smile and say, "Yep. It's gonna be soon."

So I think it's safe to say, we were all jonesin' for some of that boundless kitten energy...something to take our minds off of Haley.  So I started looking at all of the nearest cat rescues on Petfinder.  Oh my, there are so many cats out there that need a good home!  It's so hard to choose, and to only take two!  But we set some parameters from the get-go...we wanted a pair.  In our experience, a pair always does better than one.  Plus, they were going to need each other in their battle against the Dark Knight (Scout)!  Lol!  Also, we wanted very young kittens, so we could socialize them with Scout immediately and not have constant cat/dog issues.  Other than that, we were pretty open.  We found our kittens at Colony Cats Rescue here in Columbus, and they were wonderful to work with.  They have a cageless adoption center, where all of the cats roam free and you can visit and play with them.   This is where we met Josie.  She was a single kitten, but so stinkin' cute that we could not resist her....wouldn't you agree?
She fancies herself as the princess of the house, that much is clear.  She sits herself on a pillow and hisses and spits at Scout every time he gets near her. She spends long amounts of time grooming her beautiful long hair and lounges around at her will.  But she is cuddly and cute, and loves to play too.

Fletcher was being fostered off-site with his 3 sisters by a woman named Marilyn.  Marilyn obviously has a sincere love for animals, as her house was absolutely FULL of cats and dogs, many of them with disabilities.  The kids were in heaven.  Fletcher had our hearts from the start because this cat has personality PLUS!  He is so precocious and curious and funny.  He always wants to see what you're doing and be right up next to you.  But my most favorite thing about him is that he chirps like a little bird.  It is so sweet.  Makes me want to go back and adopt his three sisters too...(don't tell Barry!)
The house is definitely full now!  And Scout just wants to love those itty bitty kitties to pieces, but he really needs to work on his approach.  Charging them and giving them a tongue bath when he has them cornered is really not the way to endear himself, I'm afraid!   We'll get there in time...he just needs to calm the heck down.

Well, Kendall is home today with a fever of 102, and it's been a long night and day to tell you the truth.  I think I'm going to go join Josie for a nap...I'm sleepy. 
 Have a good week, folks!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Prepping for Spring

"The new phone book's here!  The new phone book's here!"  

(Name that's one of my favorites!)

Ok, so maybe it's not as exciting as the phone book, but guess what? The new seed catalogs are here!!  Time to start planning my garden...oh, the possibilities!

There are a few new additions planned for this year...

- 2 more raised beds

- add blueberry bushes

- find that special bush or tree for Haley's grave

- build a trellis for peas

- turnips, sweet corn, potatoes, blackberries

In addition to the favorites we normally plant...peas, cukes, spaghetti squash, green beans, tomatoes, onions, zucchini, carrots, buttercrunch lettuce, ruby chard, cabbage, eggplant, peppers, cilantro, basil, watermelon, and strawberries.

Once we get my garden planted, I hope to have time to get my new gardening shed set up and organized.  Since Barry is building a new pole barn here in a month or so, I am inheriting our shed as my new gardening shed.  Barry will put a few windows in it and some shelves, as well as a worktable. How very exciting for me! I can hardly wait!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Starting on the Right Foot!

"Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right. "
~Oprah Winfrey

The start of a new year holds so many possibilities...and to that end, I try not to make resolutions in the first few weeks of the year.  See, I need those first couple of weeks to get recuperated from the holiday chaos, get some things in order around the house, and make a plan.  Who has time to think of all that during the holidays?  NOT ME.

So now that my house is back in order (mostly), and I do feel like I'm pretty well rested (because I didn't leave the house for a week and ruled the roost wearing super-soft black yoga pants and a fleece pullover every day), it was time this weekend to get some things in order and make a plan.

Yesterday, I cleaned out my fridge and washed it all out.  Holy crackamoly, I cannot express to you how badly THAT needed done!  Then I got a little crazy and took every. single. thing. out of my pantry and washed down all the walls and shelves and cleaned and organized it as well!  It's truly amazing how much more 'on top of things' that can make you feel!  After those little tasks were done, I was ready to move on to the next step...the meal plan.

I typically plan out a week's worth of meals at a time.  I have found that in the chaos that can ensue around here at any given moment, the written out menu on the fridge helps keep me focused and less stressed about keeping us eating healthy and balanced meals.  See, if you have the menu planned out, you know exactly what you need from the store...I make the meal plan first, then go to the grocery for the week.  Stick to the meal plan and you will be surprised how little 'impulse buying' you will do...because you only buy what you need!  Of course, you will also be buying things that aren't on your meal plan, such as lunch box staples, if you pack for your kiddos.  But overall, it helps keep the impulse buys down...and keeps you from buying pre-packaged and processed foods, which we could all use less of!

Another great thing about the meal plan is the fact that you never have to worry about not having your meat thawed.  I look at my menu for the week and pull all of the meat out 1-2 days ahead of time and put it in the fridge to thaw.  That way when I'm ready to start dinner for that evening, I open up the fridge and there it is, ready to go.  Seems pretty simple, doesn't it?  Well, I can't tell you how many times I've forgotten to set something out because I had no meal plan and no idea what I was going to make for dinner...I'd get home at 3:30-4:00 and guess what?  It would end up being pizza night because there was NO WAY I was pulling together something that fast.  This takes all the thinking out of dinnertime and keeps you from eating PB&J and cereal for dinner three nights a week.

So here's what my menu looks like for the next two weeks:

Monday:  PW's Beef and Snow Peas, Rice
Tuesday:  Italian Pot Roast, steamed broccoli, biscuits
Wednesday:  Rocco DiSprito's Healthy Chicken Parmigiana, spinach salad, herbed angel hair pasta
Thursday:  Pasta e Fagioli soup, Italian subs
Friday:  Leftovers RULE!!
Saturday:  Thai Grilled Pork Tenderloin, pan seared green beans, cheesy orzo
Sunday:  PW's Chicken 'n Dumplings, salad

Monday:  Leftovers RULE!
Tuesday:  Beef and Noodles, steamed peas
Wednesday:  Roasted Veggie Quesadillas, cilantro rice, refried beans
Thursday:  Wild Rice Soup, crusty bread
Friday:  Kendall's birthday...probably eating out!
Saturday:  Kendall's birthday party...I'll be cooking for a crowd, and haven't decided what yet!
Sunday:  Baked Turkey Sausage and Swiss Chard pasta, salad

Now, I know it can look daunting.  I get it.  But let me tell you that it really isn't!  Because you KNOW what's coming up and you have taken the hardest part of it - the thinking about it - out of the equation.  I don't plan for lunches, because I almost always have leftovers, and I always leave 1-2 days to eat leftovers for dinner, as they can stack up pretty quick. Plus, my hubby packs his lunch most days, and let me just tell you that he really appreciates having a good meal to take to work, especially in the winter.  Sandwiches get old quick!

My Beef 'n Noodles recipe makes a ton, so I will take half of that and freeze it for another day.  That, peeps, is what we call a BONUS MEAL!  Love to find those hiding out in the freezer when you're looking for something quick and easy!

One other thing to keep in mind is that if you end up not being home that night for dinner, or you want something else, or heck, you just don't feel like cooking and you want pizza... it's NO BIG DEAL.  Just bump that meal back to later in the week or even to the next week.  Your meal plan can be totally flexible, because you've planned for it and you have all the ingredients in the house.  Go ahead and push it off to another night.  The key to sticking with any new routine is to not be so rigid.  No one likes rigidity, so we automatically buck the system.  Make your meal plan easy, don't be too hard on yourself, and HAVE FUN!  This is the perfect way to work new recipes into your favorites.  I really do like sitting down to do mine...I have all kinds of recipes I've torn out of magazines throughout the years, various cookbooks, emailed recipes...all waiting for me to work my way through them.  You'll never try those new recipes it you don't plan for'll just keep waiting for 'the perfect day'...and it will never feel like it, because you haven't thought about dinner until 2 hours before and you're scrambling to throw something together.  Put it in your rotation and find some new favorites!

Meal planning...give it a try!  Start your year off on the right foot!  As for me, a few of the meals on my 2-week plan are new for me, so I'm hoping to get back to regular posting on Party in the Pantry!

Monday, January 10, 2011

One Moment of Sadness

I love the holidays.

I really do!

I love all the hustle and bustle, the Christmas cooking and baking...heck, even the shopping!  I love the lights, the sparkle, the Christmas music, even the Salvation Army bell ringers.  I love the wrapping paper and bows, the people who put antlers and a big Rudolph nose on their minivans, and the candy cane Joe-Joes.  I love the Elf on the Shelf, the kids Christmas specials on TV, the fun (and sometimes, the stress) of being around so much family.  And let me tell you, this year was the top of the top.  Everything went smoothly from Thanksgiving to New Years, there was no family drama at any of the gatherings, everyone loved their gifts, and there was plenty of downtime to enjoy each other's company for the rest of the Christmas break.

There was only one thing that kept our holidays this year from being absolutely perfect...

Haley, our sweet cat of 17 1/2 years, had to be put to sleep two days before Christmas.  We knew she had been struggling for the past 6-8 months, as she had dropped down to 5.5 lbs and had quit eating this past spring.  I had taken her to the vet then, expecting the worst.  But he was happy to tell me that she was actually very healthy for her age, albeit in the very beginning stages of renal failure...we just needed her to gain some weight.  So we put her on a special type of food, hoping she would bulk up a bit and feel better.  She did, for a while...and then we started to notice in November that she was all skin and bones again.  We decided to baby her, entice her to eat, and try to make it through the holidays before making any decisions.

Well, two days before Christmas, I was in the kitchen doing some baking, and I heard this thump behind me on the floor.  I turned around and there was Haley, trying to stand up.  She had just been sitting there a few moments before, and had just fallen over.  I panicked and ran over to her, but it was obvious that she couldn't get I helped her.  As I watched her, I realized she was swaying from side to side and not putting any weight on her right hind leg.  This was not a good sign, and I knew it deep in the pit of my stomach.  She had barely eaten at all that week...and I knew all of these things together did not bode well.

Barry called the vet immediately, and they scheduled for her to come in in just an hour and a half.  We sat the kids down and gently brought them up to speed on the situation, explaining how Haley was definitely in pain and how she had had such a good, long life with us.  They were both extremely upset, but most especially Kendall.  She spent the next 60 minutes holding her sweet kitty...snuggling her, giving her treats, and telling her she loved her.

And then she insisted on going to the vet with Barry.  I have to be honest with you...I did NOT think that was a good idea at all, given how sensitive and dramatic and emotional Kendall is.  But she insisted, and Barry sided with her, so I agreed.  We packed a wicker laundry basket with a soft towel and placed Haley delicately inside...and they were off.  I sat here with Noah and worried.  And worried some more.

Of course, as you know by now, the news was not good.  She was in full renal failure, and there was little that could be done except to keep her comfortable.  Barry and I had already decided that if the news was bad, we would not let her suffer, so the decision was made.  Barry took Kendall for hot cocoa afterward and they had a long chat...and I must say that she was doing really well when they got home.  We buried Haley out by our garden, where we are planning to plant a special tree or bush in her memory.  Kendall is sure that whatever grows there will be beautiful...and I tend to agree.

    Rest in peace, were our very first baby, and we were so very blessed to have had you in our lives for so long...

Saturday, January 08, 2011

A New Year!

Well, the New Year has started and would you believe that I've actually started at least 3 posts between now and then, but haven't finished even ONE of them?  Well, folks, that ends TODAY.

However, I am not going to force myself to finish those posts today, because well, I just don't want to.

So what I'm going to do instead is just tell you all what I've been up to.  Riveting, I know.  :)

This first week of the new year has been a long one for us, trying to get back into the swing of our very hectic schedule after a blissful 10 days of taekwondo, no swimming, no school, no piano, NO DRIVING ANYWHERE.  Bliss, I tell you....pure and unadulterated bliss.  I was more than happy to not leave the house at all and just live in my yoga pants and pajamas.  And the munchkins were happy to play Wii, and Legos, and everything else they could come up with. 

Of course, I cooked myself into a wonderful little frenzy over the holidays to be sure.  Cookies, candies, an absolutely beautiful and tasty turkey complete with a festive salad and creamy mashed potatoes on Christmas Eve, cinnamon rolls and breakfast casserole on Christmas morning, turkey & noodles with mashed potatoes on Christmas Day...and then I was done.  I barely stepped foot in the kitchen the rest of the week!  And though you all know how much I love to cook and just be in my kitchen in general, I enjoyed the respite. And truth be told, we just didn't have any more room in the fridge, the pantry, or our bellies.

But of course, now we are trying to get back into the swing of things...back to reality!  And like I said, it's been a looooong week.  So this morning when Noah requested that we skip taekwondo, I graciously complied.  He and Kendall got themselves up, bathed, dressed, and quickly commenced playing Lego Star Wars.  Fine with me...I've had Julie & Julia sitting here for weeks, and I've been dying to watch it.  So watch it I am...while I'm blogging.  YAY!

Later today, the kids are headed to Aunt Jessie's for a sleepover and Harry Potter movie marathon.  And I...I am going to have an awesome girls night out with my BFF.  I can hardly wait!  Barry is out hunting, so I can do whatever I desire...within reason, LOL!  Hope you all are gearing up for a fun weekend as well!

Hope to see you back here real soon...I miss blogging so much!
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