Friday Check-In

Boy watching caterpillar

This week was the second week of school. It’s the week where we start to settle into the routine, start to see where we might have some problems and try to think of solutions. It’s also a week in which the weather finally turned and the sun has been shining. It feels absolutely glorious after the rainy cold end of August. Now, on to some questions!


1. How are you moving forward at work?

Without a doubt, the single most exciting thing that happened to me this week was seeing my Kokka Messenger Bag on the U-Handbook Facebook page. I was dancing around the house with glee. The lady who designed the pattern liked the bag I made from it! It’s like being back in school and having the teacher like your creative writing assignment (which never happened to me, by the way). Total satisfaction. The bonus was a lot of new website traffic (hi, all, hope you’re sticking around!) and I discovered some neat folks by checking who was commenting!


2. How did you improve your home?

This week I managed to keep the house neat. It was an improvement over last week when we were in “a bomb exploded in here” mode for most of the week. I also put together a slightly wonky tent-like drapery for over the kid’s new kitchen playing area. It’s starting to look really cozy.


3. How did you take care of yourself?

Just this afternoon, I took myself off to Arnhem for a visit to the Dutch quilting guild’s annual show. It was wonderful to take a break and to soak up some inspiration. I’m trying to take more, smaller, meaningful breaks for myself. This outing was a winner. I came home feeling refreshed and energized.


4. How are things going with the daily writing project?

This week was the first time I nearly forgot to write a couple times. The days got away from me and somehow, after writing about it for the first time last week, part of my brain must have been satisfied with how far we’d gotten. But the point is to keep on writing every day. It wasn’t always so easy this week, but then on the train this afternoon I found myself bursting with ideas again. I’ve got seventeen dots now. That’s only fourteen away from my first full month. I can do it!

5. Talk about the picture.

Last night after dinner, I checked on my kale and sprouting broccoli plants. The white moths have been busy laying eggs this week and the larvae are not invited to the garden buffet! During my search, I found a caterpillar. The kids spent a good long time watching him crawl on the table and up and along this stick. We even watched the caterpillar poop. Seriously, who ever gets to see a caterpillar poop?! It was neat to see Peanut especially so engaged in watching this little creature.

As I’ve gotten more serious about my writing and my work, I feel a need to be more accountable for maintaining balance in my life and for working on long-term projects. In order to do that, I’ve decided to transform my Friday Moment into a Friday Check-in. Here’s the plan. Every Friday, I’ll post a picture and answer five questions. They will be about my work, my home, myself, my project or goal, and the picture. We’ll try it for a season and see how things go!

In My Kitchen: Meal Planning

Greens from the Garden

Purple and Green Basil Delight!

Polenta before

Plenta (joy!)

Summer Veg

Sandkuchen


I’m playing along with Heather over at Beauty that Moves. Here’s a look at what’s going on in my kitchen!

So excited that Heather’s back this week! I got all excited about joining in after a long summer ended up writing a rather emotional little post last week. But I also realized that I’ve come to rely on this weekly sharing for some good inspiration for my own kitchen. Cooking every day is a job that requires serious creativity. The ladies who share give me ideas about using ingredients, different combinations, and even meal plans. Most importantly, they remind me what’s in season here and elsewhere and just how beautiful the obligatory time we spend in our kitchens can be – if we let it!

Around here, school is starting here. One of our big shifts from summer into fall is that the after-work schedule picks up and I’m on my own with the kids a couple nights a week. As with all things in my life, this kind of situation requires some kind of strategy and hopefully a list or seven. Over the past few years, I’ve tried different approaches to meal planning and learned a few lessons along the way. My introduction to meal planning was a decision when we lived in Chicago to make pizza on Fridays. It had more to do with a new mixer and an obsession with learning to make a good yeast dough than simplifying our eating. Meal planning has evolved since then. I thought I’d share my current plan and maybe get to hear back what others are doing!

Working with themes or categories has turned out to be my favorite system. It limits my choices when planning a particular day and encourages me to look for meals that fit within the categories and make the family happy. I try to keep an updated list of favorites by category and that can help if I’m not feeling inspired. I plan a week or two weeks in advance, often just before grocery shopping. Sometimes I get to spend some quality time with a favorite cookbook and will fill in days with meals that fit the category. Here’s the game plan for this season with a current favorite for each category!

  • Monday: Soup (beef barley soup)
  • Tuesday: Pantry (polenta)
  • Wednesday: Fish (salmon steaks)
  • Thursday: Pasta (pasta salad)
  • Friday: Pizza (four-cheese pizza)
  • Weekend: one big meal, one easy meal
  • The schedule is flexible. This week, for example, it was just me and the kids on Wednesday but we’ll all be home on Thursday, so we are swapping fish and pasta. The actual plan lives in my agenda/weekly planner. I make a little colored box on each day right over the dinner hours and write the meal plan in there. It works well because any notes about going out to eat are right there. Notes about anyone eating elsewhere are there as well.

    As for this week’s pictures, the garden hasn’t been the massive bonanza I hoped for this year, but look at those beautiful greens! They were delicious, although my attempt at spelttoto (River Cottage Veg strikes again) wasn’t so nice. It may have something to do with using the wrong spelt. Ahem. As for the basil, I feel like I cracked the code this year! We have four happy, healthy basil pots on the window sill and enjoy eating from them once or twice a week. No pesto volumes yet, but this is fantastic!

    We have (or maybe I have) fallen hard for the River Cottage Veg polenta recipe. It is incredibly delicious, rich, and cheesy with so little work! It was divine with the veggies. It’s something about the buttery zucchini and sweet tomato sauce and cheesy polenta… I must stop or find myself in the kitchen making more! I ended up adding quite a bit more milk both times I made it, but that could be due to the type of polenta I’m using. I’d be curious about other peoples’ experiences.

    The cake is Sandkuchen that we decided to make when all other afternoon plans fell through due to first-week-of-first-grade exhaustion. I’ve got a thing for the Dr. Oetker recipes that’s related to a couple childhood years in Germany. The surprise ingredient in Sandkuchen is corn starch, as much corn starch as flour. It gives the cake a nice dense texture. Delicious!

    Let me know how things are going in your kitchen, then click that link and go see more kitchens at Beauty that Moves.

    Summer Camping: France

    The beach in Brittany

    Happy dancer

    House and fence

    Haystack

    Bench for little girls

    Crafting at the campground

    We had six weeks of summer vacation this year, meaning no school for six weeks. It’s a bit shorter here than in the States. Instead of getting ten weeks in the summer, we get six weeks and the extra vacation time comes during the school year. It makes for a more relaxed year. We like being able to plan a few smaller trips throughout the year.

    Our big trip was two weeks of camping in France. I think of it as my last right of passage for living in the Netherlands. The summer camping trip in France is a typical Dutch family vacation. It goes so far that the ANWB (the Dutch Triple-A) and the newspapers publish traffic alarms for when the roads in France will be especially busy with mainly Dutch vacation traffic. School is out on Friday and on Saturday, everyone from that region of the Netherlands (there are three) hits the road for France. They broke a record this year with over 800km of traffic jams on one Saturday. It’s a shocking phenomenon.

    We went to Brittany. It’s the part that sticks out way into the Atlantic and it’s farther away than you’d think! The first week was in a pretty little town called in Locronan close to the coast. We were with three other families and had a wonderful time. The kids were out of the tent and off to play with friends as soon as they were up. We went to the pool, we went to the beach, we went to a fantastic Celtic music festival in Quimper. Those kids danced so hard and so long and so joyfully, it was beautiful. I can’t remember seeing them look so happy and free. Loved it.

    The next week we went inland towards an area called the Perche. It was quiet. We got hopelessly lost on a little walk behind the campground and spent 45 minutes fighting our way through big stands of blackberries and stinging nettle. The way out involved sending Papa out to scout a route, climbing up onto big old hay bales, jumping down, and then getting through the stinging nettle before finding the road again. What did the kids say after that little adventure? “That was the best! I want to do it again!”

    I really enjoyed the quiet of this vacation. There weren’t a lot of touristy things to do or check off a list. We went by Carnac to see the Asterix and Obelix monoliths, a must for any boy who has access to the box set, right? We spent an afternoon in Chartres eating pizza for lunch and checking out the cathedral. Other than that, there wasn’t much to do. We hung out at the campsite. We made good use of the drawing and crafting time. The kids wanted to draw together and I (re)discovered how relaxing I find time with paper and pencil. It’s not that I can draw at all, it was just nice to lose myself in something that wasn’t an obligation.

    Now we’re back to school, back to work, back to routines and schedules. There’s goodness there, too, but it was really a break to have those days of nothingness and sitting outside. I just might be converted to a camping vacation after all!

    New Bibs New Plans

    Little Bird Bib

    Little Bird Bib

    Little Bird Bib

    Last week I took some time to put together a production schedule through the end of 2014. It’s organized by week and on basically has three categories; make, develop, and extra. Make is for the product I’m going to batch make, including fabric notes. Develop is for products I’m developing or improving. Extra is all the other stuff I need to do to keep my little shop running, packaging and banners for example. The idea of a production plan is ridiculously simple and basic, but this is the first time I’ve done it. I couldn’t be happier with the way it’s changed not only how I work, but how I feel about my work.

    For the past year, I’ve been making it up as I go. That meant making a lot of choices and usually making them based on intuition rather than information. Selecting fabric by intuition works. Making production decisions by intuition is not fun. The worst part of it was that it was impossible to know when I’d done enough. Every time I crossed one thing of the list, something else filled the spot almost immediately. My non-system left me feeling nervous and frustrated. A market date sent me into a making frenzy, but I also spent a good bit of my sewing time looking around my workroom wondering where to start.

    When it came to putting together my production plan, I set manageable goals. In my weekly schedule, there are only three to four hours of guaranteed daytime sewing time. The rest is full of kids, household, and the other shop work that needs to be done. I can sew in the evenings and on the weekends, but the first nine months of this endeavor taught me that working like that was bad for me, bad for my family, and not too much fun. I’m being realistic and with some luck, that will keep me happier and ultimately more productive.

    The unexpected magic came when I realized that a production plan was a great tool for organizing a lot of aspects of my business that I’ve been struggling with. Knowing what’s going to be new in my workroom and Etsy shop every week means it’s easier to plan blog and Facebook posts to support those additions. Make this week, blog about next week. Make now to prepare for the Lindenmarket on November 30. I also have some idea of how my inventory will build over the next few weeks, which means I also have a better idea of what supplies I need to have. Planning down to the fabrics I’ll use means fewer last minute panics about KAM snap colors (ahem). One week in, I’m pretty excited about how useful my production plan is going to be.

    All of this brings me to my latest batch of bibs! The fabric choice was inspired by friends who’ve just had a baby and gave him a lovely bird name. I got a bit emotional about it and decided to make a series of bibs in his honor. If you’re following me on Facebook, you know they are already in my shop here. They are a bright teal with dark purple birdies. Figuring out which fabric would best coordinate for the neutral was tough. Once I gave up on anything matchy-matchy, I found this lovely dark gray tan in my stash that lets those bright colors just pop! I’m very pleased with the results and hope you are, too!