Monday, December 28, 2015

Meal Plan • 12/28/15

The wheels came off over the past few weeks, as they do this time of year.  With everything on our schedule during the month of December, even bothering with a meal plan seemed overly ambitious, and so on the few nights each week in which we found ourselves all at home for dinner, I went for the quick and easy.  The kind of meals that can be made from pantry ingredients or that can be thrown together with whatever happens to be in the vegetable crisper.  It was exhausting and not as nutritious as I might have liked, but the meal plan just wasn't the mountaintop I was willing to die on.

Now though, it is Magic Week, those lovely days between Christmas and New Year's when work is easy, obligations are few, and time seems to be irrelevant.  Most of my clients are out of town or have gone quiet, I have suspended the kids' homeschool lessons for a few weeks, and my car is in the shop (again) so we are mostly tied down to the homestead for a little bit anyway.

Plus, I could use a little time to regroup.  I'm not much for New Year's Resolutions, but I do like to take the time every four months or so to tweak and adjust our schedules and our commitments, and to do a little planning.  New Year's is a natural time for this sort of reflection, but since I operate on more of a school-year kind of calendar (can't help it - I live in a college town) than a traditional calendar, I look at this particular time as a mid-year chance to pull in the reins and idle for a bit to evaluate what's working and what isn't.

One of the first things that jumped out at me that is working is the meal plan.  January is the beginning of my busiest season of work of the year, and that means I need to idiot-proof as many things as possible in order to avoid meltdowns (because sometimes, the center does not hold).  Re-instituting the plan now that Christmas is behind us was already on my radar, but it is nice to recognize the absolute importance of such a seemingly trivial activity in our lives.

Interestingly though, one of the things that isn't working is my list of reliable recipes.  Many have become boring to me, and boredom in any aspect of my life generally spills over negatively into other aspects, so clearly it's time to restore a little adventurousness in the kitchen.  Obviously, busy nights are not always terribly conducive to trying new recipes, but sometimes, changing my focus from numbers and reports to some time spent piddling in the kitchen with new flavors and techniques is just what I need to decompress from work.  As well, exercising a little creativity helps to remove blocks when I am struggling with a troubling desk project.

With those things in mind, and with the free time stretching so luminously ahead of me this week, I happily spent the better part of the day yesterday seeking new recipes.  Thus, five of the evenings this week have been filled with recipes I am excited to try, and it looks like we might actually be home together every night to enjoy some unhurried time at the table.

Magic Week is bliss. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Quick Lit • December 2015

(from Book Character Day at their homeschool academy)

This time of year, the evenings and weekends always seem so busy with holiday parties, the kids' performances, Christmas family gatherings, and (in my case) end-of-year accounting duties.

These activities, while (mostly) fun, seriously cut into my prime reading hours.

I was a little chagrined when I realized I only read three books in the past four weeks (a clear sign that my priorities are out of whack), but we are carefully setting aside some staycation time between Christmas and New Year's, and I am actively putting together a stack of books along with some good teas and snacks.

Today I am linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy to share short, snippet-like reviews of the books I have read over the past month.

Big Magic is a joyous celebration of creative living.  While it isn't exactly a roadmap for becoming creative, it is an informal invitation to jump headfirst into a life that is more open to artistic expression.  Through delightful anecdotes and an irreverent view of Important Art, Gilbert essentially invokes the reader to just get to it.  The book is entertaining and imminently readable, and ultimately inspiring.  My favorite takeaways from the whole thing are the ideas that we should take our creativity less seriously, work more diligently, and simply follow our curiosity.  Because it is presented in one-to-three page vignettes, I think Big Magic would make for delicious daily devotional reading.

Black Chalk was very nearly un-put-down-able.  The novel is described as a psychological thriller, but it isn't of the heart-racing variety one might expect by the use of the word 'thriller.' The author is a puzzle editor, and that shines through so well in both the expert pacing of the action and the slow and steady way in which secrets are revealed.  It takes place on campus at Oxford, and the tightly-drawn characters are both highly intelligent and a little dark-humored (think The Secret History, but not in a derivative sense).  Excellent debut novel.

What a luminous, phenomenal, rich work of narrative art.  Rare is the contemporary novel that reads like an epic tale, but this one seems destined to become a beloved classic.  Peace Like a River is narrated by an eleven year old sickly child who travels with his highly-literate little sister and his God-fearing gloriously-drawn father to the Badlands of North Dakota in search of his fugitive teenaged brother.  The story is laid out with such restraint that the reader scarcely notices the suspense and the slowly-building tension.  It reads almost like a literary Western, though that description does it little justice, and ends with some of the best-crafted sentences I have had the pleasure of reading.  Highly recommend.

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