Embracing a Plan

In my last post I alluded to a new system I’ve been working with that has been helping my organization and general well being. It’s not super complicated and didn’t cost a bunch of money. A simple planner has completely (maybe not completely completely, but a whole lot) changed the way I am operating.

This decision to embrace a planner was not random. Upon reflection I can see God guiding me toward one for a while. I’ve actually tried to use planners before with limited success. I would forget to bring them with me or leave them in my purse for days. I wouldn’t have a pen or some other excuse. This time is different.

The first step toward the new planner-me was re-discovering the Fly Lady and her methods for keeping your house clean. This new method inspired my whole series of Advent posts. I’ve been tweaking the Fly Lady’s ideas to fit my needs and family’s needs fairly successfully since November. I am a whole new cleaner.

The second step was reading a blog post (I wish I remember whose so I could give credit! Thank you whoever you are) that was about a blogger’s Christmas gift, a new planner. At first I thought, well whatever floats your boat. She had some pictures of the planner and I admit it was very pretty. I decided to click on the link to check it out more since this blogger was so passionate about how wonderful this planner was and how she utilized it in a number of ways – daily tasks, appointments, homeschooling, blogging, cleaning, meal planning – basically all the things I have been trying to keep straight in my head. (I’ll give you a hint – my head isn’t big enough)

Oh how I wanted this planner! It looked beautiful and seemed to be the answer to so many problems. I was so eager as I went through the website, choosing all the extras I thought I would want. Then I saw the prices. Yikes! Beautiful as it was, I knew I had failed with planners before. Until I knew this was something I could stick with, I couldn’t justify spending so much just because it looked nice.

However, my overly positive reaction to using a planner was surprising to me, so I decided to try it out on more of a DIY scale. $10 planner from Target, some washi tape and colorful pens was a much better route. I took some time and invested in “beautifying” my simple planner with the tape and pens. I also made some inserts to hold post-its and a meal planning pad of paper – thank you Pintrest.

Embracing a Plan by Kate Taliaferro at DailyGraces.net
My planner with Pintrest additions. I love having these tabs handy!
Embracing a Plan by Kate Taliaferro at DailyGraces.net
I love the owl tape! And now I will remember when Daylight Savings is thanks to some scraps of the blue-green tape.

I’ve been using this planner since mid-January. It’s only been a month but it has made a huge difference in my life pre and post-Eliza. Here are just some of the ways:

  • I am keeping a cleaning schedule – and actually accomplishing all the cleaning tasks I set out for the day (and if I don’t I am rolling the task over to the next day). Thanks to the Fly Lady these tasks are realistic, evenly distributed through the house and I try not to put more than 4 a day so I don’t get overwhelmed
  • I am meal planning in advance, which means I have much more complete grocery lists, which means less trips to the grocery store
  • I am remembering to write thank-you notes because I have a post-it for that
  • I am remembering all the things we need to accomplish in these last few weeks before we move because I have a post-it for that too
  • I will *hopefully* get most of the birthday cards out on time this year because I took the time to write down 2 weeks before each person’s birthday a reminder to buy a card and a few days before their birthday to mail it
  • Using the planner has also introduced me to bullet journalling which I’m also giving a go. It’s only been a little over two weeks with that though so the jury is still out. So far though I’m loving it

I never, ever thought that a simple planner could hold so much grace for my family. I am more calm, collected and less stressed. Plus, our home is cleaner than it has ever been. I look around (most of the time) with joy at how much more smoothly our family is operating because I am operating more smoothly. So much of our family dynamic is influenced by how well Ben and I are coping with whatever our current life situation is. As we continue in our transitions – moving again plus a new baby while Ben is in training – having one place for me to put basically everything has been game changing.

I wish I had done this sooner. I wish I had dedicated more time in my previous attempts at planners so that it wouldn’t have taken me this long to see how much I needed one. But I am so thankful that I finally got the message and am able to receive all the graces God has waiting for me in its pages.

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com

Worth the Making

For me, holiday season means baking season. I know we aren’t quite there yet but this weekend I made a big batch of sugar cookies for Halloween. I didn’t decorate them like I normally would have which makes me a little sad, but we truthfully don’t have the counter space or storage space for such an endeavor. Just making the cookies themselves took me 3 days. The kids helped make the dough on Friday and then I spent 2 days baking them.

Normally, it doesn’t take 2 days, just a few hours. But when you are living in a space that isn’t your own and you don’t have your regular tools and pans, things can get a little tricky. Like in this example, where the largest “cookie sheet” I have isn’t actually a cookie sheet but a 9X13-ish cake pan. The most cookies I got on that thing was 9 at a time and that was pretty squished. This recipe made nearly 60 cookies (I know, I should have halved the recipe, I usually do. I blame pregnancy on that particular decision-making moment).

As I was going through this baking marathon, before I had decided not to decorate them, I found myself wondering if it was all worth it. I mean yes, these cookies are good, but they aren’t the best cookies I’ve ever eaten. Yes, they can look super cute when they are decorated well, but to truly decorate them well would have taken at least another 2-3 days depending on how long naptime was. To really go all out with these cookies is a multi-day extravaganza that usually leaves me with cramped hands, sore feet and no tupperware left.

For what? Someone to walk in and eat 2 cookies in under 2 minutes. Days of work for a brief moment of enjoyment. Surely it would be easier to go to H.E.B. (Texas’ version of Kroger/Jewel/Raley’s) and buy a box of cookies. Why pour my soul into something so fleeting?

I believe that we do these kinds of things because of the way we were created. God didn’t make us up or imagine us, He gave us life as a reflection of His very self. God poured His breath into Adam while fully knowing that this firstborn of creation would choose disobedience over obedience. God creates us still knowing that now, because of original sin, our lives on earth are but sparks in the night, there for a moment and then extinguished.

We are capable of reflecting God in all things, even in our creativity. Think of someone who is passionate about gardening. They work their soil, preparing it for seeds year after year, constantly trying to improve its nutrients and suitableness. They weed, they prune, they cultivate. They marvel at each flower and enjoy the fruits of their labor. They do all this, knowing full well that these plants that they have loved into existence will die come winter.

Or consider the people who have booths at your local craft fair or fall festival. These people have worked all summer, some all year, long to bring you their merchandise. The hours spent deciding on paint color, harvesting the right kind of wood, repeating the same pattern over and over, was done out of love for their craft. Of course, the financial compensation is also a motivating factor, but for many items these crafters are making pennies on the dollar when you consider an hourly wage and the cost of the materials. Their passion is both a testament to their creativity but also a reflection of the creative God who made them.

Naked pumpkin sugar cookies from the post "Worth the Making" on Daily Graces at dailygraces.net
Naked pumpkin sugar cookies. Copyright Kate Taliaferro 2016

So yes, the cookies are worth it. Even if this time they are naked =)Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com

The Missing Ingredient

Sometimes I have really good ideas. I mean really, really good ideas. Like what to do with the leftover spaghetti sauce (make stuffed shells – amazing!). Or, after promising macaroni and cheese for lunch only to find my pantry had failed me (no boxes for a quick lunch), I realized I had not only the perfect amount of time, but the ingredients as well to make it from scratch. It was delicious and lasted for 3 lunches instead of only 1.

But, sometimes I don’t always have the greatest ideas. Like the one time when Ben and I were first married and I made some kind of red wine pork tenderloin thing – I was trying to impress him. I don’t know what I did wrong but I served my poor husband a purple piece of meat. And I mean purple! He was a good sport about it but we have not revisited that particular recipe nor do we plan to. At least I haven’t poisoned him or anyone else that I know of, so that’s good. I did know one spouse who tried to make chicken pot pie for her husband but didn’t know she was supposed to cook the chicken first – from his telling he hasn’t had pot pie in years because his insides are still reeling from that meal. Yikes!

I think that it’s a natural thing to want to impress one another. We want to look good, we want to be perceived of in a positive way, we want to appear competent and capable. Part of successfully doing this is knowing the basics of whatever you are trying to accomplish. All the good ideas in the world will crumble if they are not based in some kind of foundation of solid facts and basic principles. I might have a great idea for mounting the television on the wall, but unless I have even a basic understanding of weight ratios, mounting screws and brackets, I will probably fail in my attempts, resulting in holes in the wall and a broken TV (no, I haven’t personally done this. However, there are a number of extra holes and misaligned curtain rods from my attempts at hanging curtains by myself during one of Ben’s deployments. I really have no foundation for drilling or drywall. That’s another story)

A few days ago I got to experience this lesson up close and personal. My aunt makes a delicious cherry cake which she has given me the recipe for. When I was young, I would spend a few weeks in the summer up on her farm and would help pick the cherries we put into the cakes. I have a lot of fond memories wrapped up in this cake. We would always top it with powdered sugar and if we were feeling especially indulgent, whipped cream – homemade whipped cream. It doesn’t get much better than that. As you can probably guess, I recently made the cherry cake. Perfection. We also had some leftover whipping cream from another recipe. Score 1 for the ultimate dessert experience, to the mixer!

The Missing Ingredient - do you have a solid foundation? Daily Graces kktaliaferro.wordpress.com

Then I stopped myself. You know, I said to myself, I can probably take this to a whole other level with lemon flavored whipped cream. The little touch of acid would go perfectly with the sweet, tart cherry cake. I was so confident I didn’t back up my lightbulb moment by verifying via my trusty friend Google on how one makes lemon flavored whipped cream. I’ve made whipped cream a bunch of times, how hard could it be? I’ll just throw in a touch of lemon extract, taste as I go, and it will be great.

Wrong. Very wrong.

The first night it was good, but a little weird. Something wasn’t quite right with the whipped cream. The lemon came through, but it didn’t rise to the heights I expected. Oh well, I thought, I guess I didn’t quite get it right this time. File it away and move on, there’s more cake to eat and plenty of whipped cream to go with it.

The second night was bad. The lemon extract was starting to turn the whipped cream. When you tasted it by itself you knew instantly you were eating sour whipped cream. Gross, gah, no!!!!! What went wrong???

First and foremost – my foundation was incomplete. Some post-traumatic whipped cream Googling showed me that even when I was just flavoring with vanilla extract, which is what I usually do, I was supposed to add a little sugar. I don’t think I’ve done that for the past year, since I’ve just been going off my memory. So the whipped cream I have been making is good, but not as sweet as it’s supposed to be. No wonder this version with lemon in it tasted sour.

Also, all the lemon flavored whipped cream recipes call for lemon zest or fresh juice, not extract. I can only assume that the extract made the issue worse, since it is concentrated lemon flavor.

What’s the moral of my sour tale? Be sure of your foundation! Consider the things that you know how to do really well. Do you know how to do them because you have a lifetime (or a long time) of training and practice (like writing, walking, talking, cooking, woodworking, driving a car, playing a sport, handling finances, etc.) or because you watched a few YouTube videos? Consider the the things you wished you could do really well – for me it’s knitting, exercising, cake decorating, and the discipline necessary for writing a book. Developing these activities or habits will not happen overnight, nor will they happen by a poof of pixie dust. You have to build a solid foundation of knowledge, practice, repetition and strength of will. Only then can you begin to construct or practice the finer points of your chosen craft or field.

This is also why I love the Catholic Church. The Church stretches back to the original disciples, to Jesus Himself. It has a firm, solid foundation that can literally be traced, tracked and followed through history. Consider the various heresies the early Church had to sort through, following the guidance of the Holy Spirit to find Truth and unity. They had to tackle huge questions, questions that are arguably much bigger than we are facing today  – Who is Jesus? Was Jesus both human and divine or only one? What is the Trinity? What is Mary’s role and how does defining her role guard and explain who Jesus is? What, definitively in the form of a creed or statement, do we believe? Keep in mind they did this without the internet, without instant access to one another and without very safe means of travel to discuss matters with one another. It’s incredible!

I wish you well in your ideas, brainstorms, aha moments, trials and hopefully only minor errors. I hope that you continue to build and maintain firm foundations so that your ideas will be grounded in success and the wisdom of your efforts and those who came before you. The next time I have a brilliant idea in the kitchen, I’ll probably be verifying it before I go for it. Lesson learned =)

God bless and thanks for reading!