Als ich wisse das Morgen der Erde enden wuerde, immernoch wurd ich mein Apfelbaum pflanzen.

Even if I knew the world would perish tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree. - Martin Luther

"Factory work's easier on the back, and I don't mind it, understand, but a man becomes what he does. Got to watch that. That's why I keep at farmin' although the crops haven't ever throve. It's the doin' that's important." Madison Wheeler in Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon

Monday, August 24, 2015

Getting Ready for the New Year

If you work in education, or if you have school age kids, then you know that the new year doesn't start on January 1st.  The true first day of the year is the first day of school.  For us it's also the first day of after school activities.  Let the games begin!

Goodbye relaxed easy days of summer when time wasn't at a premium, and the day planned itself.  So long to not caring if the To-Do list was finished because you could finish it tomorrow.  Sayonara to saying yes to one more episode, one more game or one more chapter - sorry kids - the alarm will go off when it's still dark.  Au Revoir to afternoon naps... welcome to afternoon coffee instead.

But still, it's fall, and as much as I hate for summer to end I'll welcome the change in the weather, the lessening of garden and food prep chores, and being the first born, Type A that I am, I'll even welcome the return to routine.

There are a few things on my before school starts check list that make our year run much more smoothly.

1)  Food Prep:  When I'm making something that will freeze I always double the recipe, but I also dedicate one day over the summer to preparing an abundance of freezer meals and lunch box muffins.

Pizza Biscuits:  In a muffin liner - biscuit round, pizza sauce, pepperoni slice, shredded mozzarella.
Bake at 400 for 15 min.
In picture below - Dogs in a blanket:  Biscuit dough wrapped around a hot dog, bake at 400 for 15 min.  Send with ketchup.

Mexi Muffins:  In a muffin liner - corn bread mix, salsa, black beans, shredded cheddar.  Bake at 350 for 20 min.
Not show - corn dog muffins:  In a muffin liner corn bread mix, half of a hot dog cut up, corn bread mix.
Bake at 350 for 20 min. Send with ketchup.

Twenty Three Freezer Meals (took about 5 hours total to make - including clean up time).  From back:  Burrito Bake, Oven Enchillada, Burgers and Fries Casserole, Mommy's Recipe, Pizza Casserole, Mac and Cheese, Chicken and Biscuit, lunches packed and ready.  Not shown:  Vegi Lasagna, Tuna Rice Casserole
Most of these at this point are really no recipe recipes.  They all pretty much bake at 350 for 20-30 min.  I try to freeze them in throw away pans, but I usually wash and reuse the pans if I can.  I label them all on the outside with the oven temp and the time so other people in the family can start dinner.  I pull out what we'll eat the night before and let it thaw in the fridge, but if it's still frozen when I go to start dinner then I cover it with foil, crank the oven to 425 and bake it at high heat for about 15 min. before proceeding to the regular time and temperature.

Burrito Bake - adapted from Simply in Season:  Cook some brown rice with some tumeric and salt.  Put it in a casserole dish, cover with taco seasoned black or kidney beans, cover that with sauteed swiss chard and garlic, cover that with cheese.  Freeze with flour tortillas so they'll be there when you need them.

Burgers and Fries - adapted from Taste of Home:  Saute about a pound of hamburger, turkey burger or vegi burger with some onions and garlic.  I also add TVP to make it a bit healthier and to stretch my budget.  Drain the meat mixture.  Add in a can of golden mushroom soup, and a can of cheese soup or a cup of shredded cheese.  Put the meat mixture in the bottom of a casserole dish, cover with frozen fries.

Mommy's Recipe:  Make your basic chili, but don't make it as soupy.  Make your basic corn bread.  Fill the casserole dish about half full with chili.  Top with corn bread mix and cheese.

Pizza Casserole:  Cook some noodles.  Toss with Spaghetti sauce.  Add in some cooked ground sausage and pepperoni.  Cover with more pepperoni and shredded mozerella cheese.

Mac and Cheese:  Cook some macaroni.  Toss with a cup of shredded cheese and a cup of cottage cheese, add a T of dried onion and a t. of dry mustard.  Add salt or soy sauce if needed for flavor.  If you have an egg add that too to help it all hold together.

2)  Processing and Garden:  I try to get as much of my big processing chores out of the way before school starts.  Our after Labor Day start is a big help, so I usually have everything except Spaghetti Sauce done before students start.  I'll keep chipping away at my processing tasks, and doing garden maintenance during the teacher work days, but once school starts I won't make it into the garden or do any processing until the weekend.  I take a Laissez-Faire approach to the garden at this point in the year.  I figure that any plant that has made it to this point in the summer will probably make it to the frost, and if it doesn't then we like supporting our local farmers.  At this point, if the zucchini dies I think I'll be OK.

The August kitchen....

Salsa party!  The girl chopped the peppers.

Onion goggles make chopping onions much easier.  Kids with good knife skills make this job much faster.

3)  Decluttering and Organizing:  Life is easier if you don't have as much junk.  We did a huge purge this summer, five truck loads, and multiple other smaller loads to the thrift shop and the dump, so the house is much easier to maintain and organize.  I'll also continue to hold everyone accountable for putting their things away every day.  If everything has a place, and it gets returned where it belongs, then there is no early morning scramble for soccer cleats, or science homework.  Of course, my kids are... well kids, so this doesn't save us from all headaches of missing things.  Why, oh why, is it so hard for the boy to keep track of his shoes?  Must he always take them off in the car and then leave them there?  However, being organized goes a long way to keeping us all sane.  Backpacks are packed with school supplies and hung on hooks; the dance bag, gymnastics bag and soccer bag are all packed and ready to go; closets and dressers are organized, clothes that don't fit have been passed on to younger friends, and new clothes have been bought and put away.  If I can make it to December without the boy wanting to wear the same pair of pants three days in a row because "He has no pants"  translation- he has no pants he likes - then I'll be really happy.  The pantry is stocked with fast meals for those days when life throws me a curve ball and there's no time to turn on the oven for a freezer meal.  The snack box is filled and ready for lunches and before practice snacks. 

If you need to buy a backpack I highly recommend L. L. Bean.  The red one is mine - bought 22 years ago and still in great shape.  The purple one is the girl's - new this year - but I won't need to buy her another one ever again.  The black on is the boy's - bought 6 years ago.  He'll grow out of it before it wears out.
4)  Routine:  I'm back to getting up super early in the morning and I'm working my way back to an earlier bed time.  It's time to reset my clock.  We'll do the same thing with the kids after they finish their last grandparent adventure.  We'll relearn how to set our alarms.  We'll remember the sweet spot to leave to avoid the bus and school traffic and still make it to our classrooms on time.   We'll make it.  It won't always be fun, and it won't always be simple, but at least we'll start the year off as well as we can.

 May your coffee be strong, and may you never spill it on your white shirt on the way out the door.  May you remember to turn the burner off, and let the cat out every day.  May you see your house in the daylight, at least for a little while, and may you find some peace in your day.

God Bless and Good Luck!  Happy New Year everyone!  I hope 15-16 is a good one.


  1. I always enjoy your posts and feel like we are such kindred spirits. Lucky kids to have you for a teacher and a mom.