Glancing back and looking ahead

Funny way to put it, but with another new year upon us, I thought I’d better take a peek back at my goals for 2011 and see how I did.  While I’m at it, I want to also give a little thought to the upcoming year.  So there you have it.

Last year, I proclaimed the following goals for 2011:

GOAL:  Finish The Chronicles of Narnia series with my family.  We have just started the second book, and we are all enjoying it so much!

STATUS: Completed!  We read the entire series together and loved it!

GOAL:  Travel!  My husband and I both got passports for the first time (shocking, I know), and I would love to use them!

STATUS: Completed!  My husband and I both got our first stamps in the new passports when we visited Costa Rica in March.  We have not used our children’s passports yet, but they still had a travel opportunity within the U.S. when we all visited Virginia in August.  They were both great trips!

GOAL:  Continue trying out new recipes with an emphasis on healthful foods.

STATUS:  Yes, indeed.  I’m not perfect in this area (or any other, for that matter), but I continue to experiment in the kitchen, particularly with our CSA foods.

GOAL:  Go on lots of bicycle rides with my children this summer.  Last summer marked the end of training wheels at our house, and it makes such a difference.  We can really move now!

STATUS:  We did some biking together, but not as much as I would have liked.  My bike had some issues, and I didn’t get it fixed right away.  We did more “mom walks or jogs while the kids bike way ahead” trips to the park, which worked out pretty well until my bike was in good working order.

GOAL:  Plant an herb garden and make good use of it!!

STATUS:  Done.
GOAL:  Consistently get enough sleep.  This means making sure I go to bed at a decent time!

STATUS:  This is a total work in progress.  It’s still an area of struggle for me.

Some things I have in mind for 2012:

*  Train for and run my first marathon!  I am excited and slightly terrified by the prospect.  My goal is to train well and finish.  Seriously hoping for no injuries to get in the way.

* Continuing to enjoy being active with my kids.  This includes things like sledding in the winter (if we ever get more snow), and biking and swimming in the summer.

* Explore trails around the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.  I got my husband a book called Best Hikes of the Twin Cities for Christmas, and I look forward to checking out some of these recommended hikes.  Before we had kids, we did a lot more hiking and camping together and both enjoyed it.  I’d like to get back to it a little more.

* Be more deliberate in my prayer life.  I am not sure exactly what this is going to look like, and I probably won’t have it figured out by January 1st, but I’m looking into some books that might help me find the structure that I’m looking for.  Prayer is already part of my life, but I want to give it more priority and more thought in my everyday life.

* Plant and use an herb and vegetable garden.

* Continue avoiding caffeine.  I still have a little whenever I eat chocolate, but I no longer drink soda.  I want to keep this up, because I think it has been good for me.  It’s been nine months now!

* Keep cooking!  Cooking at home most of the time is good for our budget and our health.

* Keep reading!  We haven’t decided on the next great series to tackle as a family, but we have enjoyed many books together.  I want to continue reading both with my kids and for myself.  There is so much to be gained from a good book!

* Keep learning!  As a homeschooling mom, learning is naturally a high priority for me.  A very important goal of mine is to give my children the time and attention to help them learn, as well as the books, materials,  and activities that will enhance their opportunities to learn and grow.  I also hope to be a role model for lifelong learning.  As I’ve said before, I am not perfect in this (or any other) area, but it is very important to me, and I will do my best!

As I write, I can see that I don’t have much that’s brand-new for me.  I see mainly “continue this” and “keep on doing that,” but you know, maintenance can take as much effort as a new achievement.  I won’t beat myself up about it.  My main focus at this point in my life is on caring for my family and looking out for our health, and I think these goals reflect that.

What are your goals for 2012?

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

Christmas 2011

(photo of the nativity set my daughter made this year)

I hope everyone out there has enjoyed their holiday celebrations!  We had a nice Christmas at home this year.  We started early, I suppose, by watching The Polar Express with the kiddos on Friday evening.  It’s sort of magical.   After the kids were in bed, my husband I watched Rocky.  Maybe not the most Christmasy movie, but so good.  It took him years to talk me into watching it, but once I did, I just loved it.  I fantasize about going to Philadelphia someday to run up the stairs like Rocky.  😉

On Saturday morning, I went out for a lovely 7 mile run.  I normally take it indoors in the winter.  I run at an indoor track, mainly because I worry about slipping on ice and snow.  Oddly enough, that is not an issue right now.  White Christmases are pretty standard here in Minnesota, but we did not get one this year.  Clear trails meant that I could run outside without worrying about slipping.  I really enjoyed myself!  I’ve already grown accustomed to the artificial always-flat-always-55-degrees conditions of the track, so the real-world conditions of hills, wind and cold were a bit challenging.  I loved it!

On Saturday afternoon, the whole family headed outside to set up our luminaries, so they would be all ready to light when dusk arrived (my hubby went to light them when the time came), and I headed in to start cooking our Christmas Eve dinner.  Roast chicken, mashed potatoes, stuffing and carrots.  We had an early dinner to allow time to get ready and head to church.  My husband’s parents met us at the Christmas Eve candlelight service.  I didn’t grow up going to church very often, so this is a relatively new tradition for me (11 years, I believe).  I just love it.  Singing “Silent Night” by candlelight nearly gives me chills.

We all headed back to our house after church, and everyone opened one gift.  We stayed up to play together, perhaps a little too long, but it was nice.  On Christmas morning, my daughter and son were ready to open their remaining gifts and peek in their stockings.  As I’ve mentioned, one of our traditions is to give our children three gifts for Christmas, which reminds of of the three gifts that the Wise Men brought to baby Jesus.  We headed out to church again for our Christmas morning service.

When we got home, we immediately began cooking.  My daughter wanted to make Shepherd’s Pie with a recipe from her cooking class.  She especially wanted to make it while Grandma & Grandpa were visiting.  We ended up with four of us working in the kitchen.  There were many jobs to do, and many hands made the work lighter.  My mother-in-law and father-in-law both got in on the Shepherd’s Pie action, helping with peeling and chopping, melting and mixing.  Little M. was head chef, and the three of us carried out our various tasks to help her put it all together.  I also threw together a salad, a relish tray, and a new batch of Cranberry Avocado Salsa.  It was an eclectic meal, you might say, but the Shepherd’s Pie was great, and it was nice having some lighter foods on the side to go with such a filling main dish.

As I told my father-in-law, part of me wanted to tell them they shouldn’t have to be doing all that work in the kitchen.  They should go relax.  But the part of me that won out saw that this was a memory in the making.  I think my daughter will always remember the year that she cooked Christmas dinner with the help of not only her mom, but also Grandma and Grandpa.  What a special memory that is!

Meanwhile, my son was also enjoying himself, having daddy all to himself.  They played while all the meal preparations took place, while occasionally wandering over to check the progress.  Once Christmas dinner was eaten and cleaned up, we spent the afternoon watching a movie and playing games.  Oh, and enjoying some cookies and pumpkin pie, which my mother-in-law and father-in-law had brought.  Supper consisted of a batch of Chicken and Rice Soup, along with veggie leftovers from earlier in the day.  The soup came from my son’s recipe and some of last night’s roast chicken.

It was a nice Christmas.  Oh, and if you’re wondering, I did get my Christmas wish.  I don’t think I will have time to try it out today (I’ve got running on the docket today), but I do look forward to trying my new Bob Harper workout.  🙂
I hope you had a nice weekend!

(Can you believe that another year is nearly gone?  Where does the time go??)

My Martha Moment

Okay, so I like to cook.  I like to craft.  And I have a confession to make.  I don’t get into Martha Stewart.  It’s not that I actively dislike her.  I don’t dislike her at all, really.  I just don’t watch her shows or read her magazines.  I could probably learn a lot from Martha.  As I understand it, she has perfected the things that I like to dabble in.  For whatever reason, though, she just hasn’t appealed to me.  I think she just strikes me as a little more formal than I tend to be, or wish to be.

And then…

Thanks to my CSA newsletter, I have gotten a little taste of Martha’s expertise.  The woman knows what she is doing.  At least when it comes to her most unusual and fabulous salsa recipe that I tried.  I simply must pass this on.  It’s too good to keep to myself!

Cranberry-Avocado Salsa

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 minced jalapeno
  • 1/4 cup red onion, chopped
  • 2 ripe avocados, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup halved cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • Pita crisps or tortilla chips

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, 2 tablespoons honey, 1 minced jalapeno (seeds removed for less heat, if desired), and 1/4 cup chopped red onion.
  2. Add 2 ripe avocados, cut into 1/4-inch pieces, 3/4 cup halved cranberries, drained well on paper towels, and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro. Season with coarse salt and ground pepper; toss gently to combine. Serve with Pita Crisps or tortilla chips, as desired.

I thought it sounded strange, but worth a try.  After all, I had two pints of cranberries and about six avocados in my refrigerator, thanks again to my CSA.  We loved it!  I will be making this again, perhaps this weekend.  While salsa isn’t exactly standard fare for Christmas, this particular salsa has a holiday flair both in appearance and taste.

Try it!  You’ll be glad you did!

My Wellness Wish

I am participating in Bliss Community’s  6 Weeks of Bliss Challenge, and this week’s challenge is to share about health or wellness items on my Christmas wish list.

I do happen to have something on my wish list that fits the bill.  It’s Bob Harper’s Totally Ripped Core workout DVD.

I am very fortunate in that I have everything I need.  I have a warm home, reliable transportation, clothing to wear, and food on the table. Beyond needs, I also have some plenty of my wants, such as my Garmin running watch, which has been a fantastic tool for one of my favorite hobbies.  Blessed as I am, I hesitate to make a wish list.  But… Bliss asked, and I answered.

Why the Totally Ripped Core, you may ask?  Am I striving for a six pack?  Well, I wouldn’t mind that, but my reason is much more practical.  I have had trouble with my back, and I know that a strong core is my best defense against future problems.  Running is my favorite form of exercise, followed by biking.  If I just followed my natural inclinations, I would never do anything to improve my core strength.

I think building or maintaining a strong core is important for everyone, but absolutely essential for me!  I want to be able to keep doing the things that I need to do, like carry bags of groceries, haul laundry up and down from the basement, vacuum the house, etc.  During the worst of my back pain, running the vacuum was beyond my capabilities for over six weeks.  Sad and unacceptable.  I’m sure my floors felt extremely neglected.  I also want to be able to continue participating in activities that I enjoy, like running, hiking, biking and camping.  It is difficult to keep up an active lifestyle when one can barely get out of bed and move across the room.  I’ll say it again.  Sad and unacceptable.

Working on this important aspect of my health and wellness doesn’ t come naturally.  I can, and do, core strengthening moves on my own, but I find it pretty boring.  I could use some inspiration.  Enter Bob.  I think a new workout DVD especially devoted to core strength is just what the doctor ordered.

I couldn’t write a post about my wellness wishes without pointing out one very important fact.  My biggest wellness wish, which is typically granted me, is the support of my husband to pursue my interest in running.  He has supported me by holding down the home fort while I go out to run, coming out with our kids to cheer when I run a race, and even buying me the aforementioned Garmin watch.  He rocks!  (Thanks, honey!)

So that’s my wellness wish.  What about you?

Vacation Memories

As part of the 6 Weeks of Bliss Challenge, I’ve been thinking back over favorite vacations.  It’s been fun going down memory lane.

Growing up, we really didn’t go on vacations, with the exception of driving out to visit my brother once in North Dakota ~ we lived in Minnesota (as I still do).  At the time, that was a great adventure for me.  I didn’t wander very far from home until I had grown up and moved out.  My first “big trip” was a service trip to New York City during college.  We volunteered in a soup kitchen, cleaned up the courtyard of an apartment building in Harlem, and other similar activities.  We also fit in a little sight-seeing, including the Empire State Building, Central Park and Times Square.  I didn’t have much in the way of money, so sight-seeing was pretty limited.  I hope I’ll make it back someday to take in a Broadway show.  I simply did not have the money for it at the time.

I am still not what most would consider well-traveled, but I have enjoyed trips to several areas of the United States, as well as Jamaica and Costa Rica.  It has been hard for me to choose a favorite vacation.  I am torn between two.  Ironically, one of them was a trip to South Dakota.  Not really any farther from home than that first trip I took with my parents.  In my teens I really yearned to go somewhere “exciting” and ideally much farther away.  The longer I live, the more I realize that there are plenty of beautiful places to see closer to home.  I still dream of visiting many faraway places, but even if I never do, I will enjoy myself right here in the Midwest.  As evidenced by my South Dakota trip ranking right up there as one of my two favorites!  🙂

What made a trip to South Dakota so special?  It was the first family vacation we took when everyone was old enough to really get something out of it.  My children were four and two, and we had so much fun!  We stayed at a waterpark hotel for the first time, and the kids just loved it!  We visited some interesting historical sites, like Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse.

We also went to some family attractions, such as Bear Country USA and the Reptile Gardens.

We visited the Mammoth Site where we could see the ongoing excavation of mammoth bones.  We took a day trip to Wyoming to see Devil’s Tower.

We saw all kinds of wild animals including mountain goats, buffalo, deer and donkeys.

We spent a day just playing at the waterpark.

We have since done the whole Florida thing – Disney, Busch Gardens, etc.  If you asked my kids what their favorite vacation was, they would probably say Florida.  I stand by South Dakota.  Everyone had so much fun, and it just seemed purer somehow.  Not the result of marketing.  Not terribly expensive.  Just a place where we could appreciate a lot of natural beauty and enjoy each other’s company.
I mentioned that I felt torn when trying to choose one favorite vacation.  The other trip in the running was Costa Rica, which my husband and I visited last spring.  We had a rental car reserved and the first two nights’ hotel reservation.  We had to wing it from there.  I was a little apprehensive about finding our way around a Spanish-speaking country (I don’t speak Spanish) with most of the trip not planned out.  In the end, despite the severe lack of road signs, we did find our way.  We always managed to find a place to stay.  We visited the Pacific Coast, enjoying a bit of a beach vacation.  The coast was a lot more rocky than I had realized.  We did as much hiking at the beach as swimming.

We hiked up to a volcano (at least as close as we were allowed to get).

We climbed into the clouds in the Monteverde Cloud Forest.  We visited a few towns.  The people we encountered were so nice.  Even when the language barrier presented itself, we managed to communicate somehow.  It certainly pushed me outside of my comfort zone to “wing it” in a foreign country like we did.  Fortunately the experience was overwhelmingly positive.  I hope to go back someday, and I’d love to make it a family vacation next time!

I hope you will forgive me for sticking with two favorites!  I just couldn’t choose between these two.  Like I said, I enjoyed my trip down memory lane.  What was your favorite vacation?

Tips to Make Gift-Giving Meaningful this Christmas

We’ve all heard complaints about the commercialism that has largely overtaken the Christmas season. With people getting maced at Black Friday sales, who can argue? On the other hand, it is so fun to give gifts to the people closest to us (and sometimes well beyond). How can we strike a balance? How can we make gift-giving a part of our holiday celebrations without going overboard or losing sight of the meaning of Christmas?

Well, first of all, I must say that the appropriate level of gift-giving is something we all need to decide for ourselves. We all have different traditions, different budgets, and so on. These are some ideas to make gift-giving meaningful based on my own experiences. If you find an idea that will help you, hurray! That’s why I am sharing! If you have other ideas to share, please do so in the comments. I would love to hear them! Now let’s get started.

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

We give our children each three gifts for Christmas, in remembrance of the gifts that the Wise Men brought to baby Jesus. The gifts themselves have nothing to do with gold, frankincense and myrrh, but it’s just the idea that, “We get three presents just like baby Jesus!” For us, Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, and we try to reflect that even in our gift-giving.

Want, Need, Wear, Read

Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. This is an idea I’ve heard from other moms that is intended to keep the gift-giving to a reasonable level. Parents out there, isn’t it oh-so-easy to buy things for our children? I know I am more likely to splurge on something for my kids than myself. This gift-giving plan is another way to curb the temptation to buy every cute outfit, every enriching toy, and every fantastic book we see. I really like this idea. It encourages a bit of practicality and a bit of splurge. Sounds like a good balance to me! 🙂

Drawing Names

Drawing names among family members or friends is a great way to include everyone while reducing the shopping frenzy and expense involved with buying something for everyone. If you have fewer people to shop for, you might also be able to put more thought into your purchase to make it a more special gift for the recipient. In an ideal world, we could find personally meaningful gifts for everyone on our list, but the reality is that takes a lot of time and thought, and it can be hard to accomplish that level of meaning many times over. It is also a way to include children, whose funds are usually pretty limited, giving them the opportunity to choose one thoughtful gift for someone they love.

Hand-Made Gifts

This is another way to include everyone in gift-giving without breaking the bank.

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Here are some ideas of things to do instead of or in addition to gifts within your family:

Heifer International

Donate in a loved one’s name for the purchase of a sheep, goat, chickens, or a variety of other items in an effort to end world hunger.

Samaritan’s Purse

Similar to Heifer International, Samaritan’s Purse allows you to donate in a loved one’s name to feed a hungry baby for a week, support an orphanage, contribute to building a school and so many more possibilities.

Operation Christmas Child

Pack up a shoebox of gifts that will be sent to a needy child overseas.  This is one that we like to do, and my children enjoy choosing items to give to a girl or boy their own age.

World Vision

Again, similar to Heifer International and Samaritan’s Purse, this is another opportunity to donate in a loved one’s name to contribute to a community in need.  Some examples are a share in a well, goats, chickens, and business loans for women.

Toys for Tots

Help the Marines provide toys to children in need.

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There are many more possibilities, from adopting a local family to volunteering at a soup kitchen to sending care packages to troops overseas.  There are so many ways to brighten someone’s holiday season, and it really makes the season more special when we look beyond our own four walls.

Wishing you peace and joy this holiday season!

Why I Started Blogging

My husband kept telling me I should start a blog. He must have had a hunch I would enjoy it. For quite a while, I shrugged the idea off. Some of my thoughts on the matter:

~ Who am I to write a blog?
~ I’m busy enough the way it is.
~ I would be too nervous to put my personal thoughts ‘out there’ for anyone and everyone to see.

Over a matter of months, though, the idea kept creeping back to mind. It did seem like something I would enjoy doing (as long as I could get over the fact that people might actually read it – yes, I am pretty shy). Eventually, I decided to take the plunge and give it a try.

I started Be Not Simply Good just over a year ago. It has served as an online journal of sorts, a place to share, a place to put goals in writing. As the title suggests, I am trying to “be good for something” in this life by making good choices in the little things. This blog serves as a tool for being more mindful of my choices. Not only does writing about my life lead me to put more thought into things, the very fact that I am sharing my goals gives me a greater sense of accountability. Knowing that someone else may benefit from some of my experiences makes it all the better!

Over the past year, as I have been sharing here and reading other blogs, I have found that connections with others are a fun aspect of blogging. I’ve “met” people through blogging that I would never have met otherwise.

I find inspiration all around me. I believe that we can all learn so much from each other. My Grandma inspired me to see the positive in all circumstances and to work hard. My parents inspired me to live within my means and avoid debt. My husband inspires me to never stop learning. My in-laws have inspired me to get off the couch and be more active. My children inspire me to see all the wonder in the world and to interact with the world around me. “My” CSA farmer (yes, I claim him as my very own) has inspired me to give more consideration to what I put in my body. Fellow bloggers inspire me to try new recipes, new workouts, and to be more open. Honestly, my family and friends inspire me in more ways than I could list in a brief blog post.

Blogging has been such a positive experience. I hope to keep connecting, keep learning, and keep sharing. Blessings on your day!