Peaceful mountain repose

What I Learned About Life from my Fathers’ Deaths

I’ve been thinking about death lately, not because I’m morbid or depressed but simply because of my life circumstances.  Recently an 18-year-old from our area died in a car accident on the morning of his last day of high school, a 40 something son of a family friend died from cancer, a concert was bombed in Manchester England, and I outlived my father.  Maybe it’s more accurate to say that I’ve been thinking about life because of those circumstances and, I’m aware that grief is very personal, so I’m not telling anyone how they should grieve.  What I am sharing here is how I deal with grief, and the perspective I’ve developed over the years.  I’ve wanted to write about this subject for a while, and I’ve avoided it for fear of backlash, but here’s the thing; death is a part of life and unless we deal with it, it will absolutely overwhelm us when it happens so here are a few things I’ve learned.

 

My dad with the last two loves of his life
My dad and my oldest sons at my dad’s last birthday party.

Cancer can be a gift

 Before you get offended by this statement, hear me out.  I know people are uncomfortable when I say cancer can be a gift.  I never want anyone to suffer with any disease, especially cancer, but in my case it was a gift.  My dad and I didn’t get along from the time I was twelve until just before he passed.  My dad did the best he could as a dad, but when I was young, his best wasn’t good enough, at least for me.  He and I had different views on everything.  He called me a women’s libber, and it wasn’t a compliment.  I thought he was stubborn and inflexible.  It wasn’t until my oldest son was born that I saw the best my dad could offer.  He loved my son more than I ever imagined he could, and I watched their relationship grow over the three years he and my son were in each other’s’ lives.  He only loved my second son for three weeks, but he packed a lifetime of love into those three weeks.  In both cases, he learned to be present with them and surround them with love in a way I never felt he was present with or loved me because he was too busy trying to provide what he thought we needed rather than what we actually needed.  During his six weeks in hospice, my dad and I talked about how we had drifted apart and forgave each other for slights and insults and bad behavior from sides.  He suffered, a lot, but we also healed, a lot, and when he left this earth, I released him with love and more than a few tears of gratitude for the moments that may never have come without knowing the end was near and taking the time to do something about it.

 

Peaceful mountain repose
My dad at peace on a mountain in Colorado

Celebrating a life is better than mourning a death

 My dad turned 54 years old the month he died.  He didn’t retire and live the life of his dreams.  He feared leaving the safety of his stressful corporate job that I believe contributed to his short life.  He was a database guru who developed a computer tracking database for one of the largest corporations in the US and was grossly underpaid to do it.  He wanted to do more with his life, but he didn’t.  The one thing he did do was travel.  My dad was happiest when he traveled.  Maybe that’s why I love to travel so much.  My dad made it to 49 of the 50 United States, and although he never visited Hawaii, he was so proud of how much of the United States he saw and how much of it he showed his kids.  Every time I go on vacation I think about my dad and some of the things I do that he would enjoy doing with us, and because I am a person of faith, I believe he does from afar.  We try new foods like he encouraged us to do.  We talk to people, locals and other travelers because we learned so much from them as children.  We enjoy the stops on the way as much as the destination because we’re on vacation from the time we leave until the time we return.  These were the best of times for my family when I was growing up, and they are the stories my children tell as well.  And I prefer to focus on that rather than the 60 hour work weeks and stressed out man who worked them just so he could travel a few weeks every year.

 

Dad and his older siblings
My dad and his older siblings who have all outlived him by at least 20 years.

Life is short no matter how long you live

 This one is a biggie for me right now.  This is the one that keeps me blogging and writing and pushing forward to follow my dreams of writing and travel.  You see, my dad thought he had much more time than he did on this planet.  He waited for retirement to enjoy his life, and he never got there.  He was qualified to do much more exciting and better paid work, but he feared leaving the “safety” of a company he worked for all of his 32 working years as a college graduate.  For a while, I worked where he did, and I met several people who knew my dad.  Not one of them ever said he was a great engineer or database programmer, but several of them took college level computer programming courses from him and told me what a great teacher he was.  My dad loved to teach and wanted to be a teacher at one time, but his parents told him there was more money in engineering so that’s what he did, and he spent a lifetime trying to find joy in that.  Teaching after hours helped him do that, and he could have been a great college professor making so much more money and having so much more fun, but he didn’t because he was afraid to make the jump

 Occasionally you know someone who does live life fully and leaves this life with no regrets.  It’s a beautiful thing when you do and my father in law was one of those people.  My father in law passed from cancer the same year as my dad.  He was first diagnosed 5 years earlier and decided to retire as early as he could.  He played golf, traveled a bit, spent time with his family and enjoyed every day as much as he could.  When he was on the verge of passing, he told us that he felt sorry for us because he was going to “win” no matter what happened.  As a man of faith, he truly believed that when he passed he would be in a better place, and if by some miracle he got to stay, he would be with the family who loved him.  On the night he passed, surrounded by family who sat with him until the end, he looked up at the ceiling and said (and I paraphrase here), “You’re all so beautiful.  I can hardly take it all in.”  Within moments, he was gone, and that story began to change how I view death and life.  I realized the best way to come to terms with death is to fully live while you’re alive, and that means different things to different people.  For my father, it took getting cancer and knowing the end was near.  For my father in law, it started much earlier as he lived each day fully and mostly joyfully for all the years I knew him.  Each one taught me so much about life and so much about death, and as we approach Father’s Day, I cannot think of any better way to honor them both than to say, “Thanks Dad!”

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Magic Menu Planning Tips

“Mom, what’s for dinner?” 

Warn, yummy family meal

Nearly every mom I know dreads that question.  I’ve been making family meals for over two decades and occasionally I still dread that question.  When I was a young mom, there were always women who looked like they had everything together.  I felt like there had to be secrets to what they did.  I’ve since found out that no mom has everything together, but there are secrets to being more successful, and one of them is meal planning.  However, I learned some kitchen magic through a wonderful thing called menu planning.  Menu planning saves my wallet, my time and most importantly, my sanity on a regular basis and it’s easier than you think.

It all adds upKnow your focus

What’s most important?  For most people the budget is the most important issue.  Food bills can ruin a budget, especially when eating out is your “go to” meal.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to eat out, but in most cases, you can make food much cheaper than you can buy it already made.  Budget is always my primary focus, but I also account for convenience and the fact that I avoid grain based carbs for health reasons.  If you’re meal planning on a budget, you can decide how much you want to spend per month, per week and even per meal.

Decide where to shop 

This is a big decision.  Some people prefer to shop in one place only to save time.  Some shoppers prefer patronizing local businesses.  Bargain hunters will shop at more than one store to get the best prices.  Those looking to get the most out of the grocery budget shop at several stores to get the best bargains and save the most money.  Knowledgeable shoppers learn how to find the best bargains by learning about the stores in their area.  For example, in my area, Walmart has the best prices on the middle of the grocery store, like paper towels, peanut butter, canned goods and bagels.  Kroger is the closest and most convenient store for me and they have great produce and bulk items like organic nuts and seeds.  Meijer has great prices on both, but it isn’t worth my time anymore to drive 8 miles when other stores are only a mile or so from my house.  Trader Joe’s has some of my favorite specialty items, and Fresh Market has $2.99 Tuesday when their excellent ground chuck and chicken breast are $2.99 per pound.  All of these factors help me meal plan within budget, and I work trips to each store into my weekly plan to streamline my week and use my time well.

Binder for holding coupons and circulars Coupons and circulars

Some people love coupons.  Others hate them.  Some people love looking at the circulars to find bargains.  Some throw them away or recycle them immediately (I’m hoping they recycle).  Although some dinosaurs like me still like to have paper coupons, I am enjoying using electronic coupons more and more.  There are several apps for coupons, but I leave that expertise to others.  I clip coupons from my weekly circulars and the Sunday paper.  I add coupons to my Kroger shopper card on a regular basis, and I read the paper circulars every week to help me make my grocery list because I walk into the store knowing what the special and sales are, and I have a plan to take advantage of them the best I can.  This is where the meat of meal planning takes place for me.  Because of circulars, which you are online if you don’t get them at your home, you know which items are on sale and how to get the best value for your menu planning dollar.  This is where menu planning really happens for me.  I decide which proteins I will buy, which vegetables and which additional items I might need to make the recipes I am thinking of making.

Making the menu plan A written menu plan keeps you acountable

My plan starts every week by asking my family if there is any meal that sounds appealing to them.  If they don’t have any suggestions, I search the circulars.  For example, this week at my local Kroger, roast is on sale.  The temperatures are on the cooler side this week and a roast is an easy meal to prepare.  To make a roast, I use carrots, onions, celery, potatoes, beef broth, garlic and a sprinkle of dried thyme.  I checked my supplies and added the meat, carrots, onions and beef broth to the grocery list because I had the rest of the ingredients.  The best part about a roast is leftovers.  My husband shredded the leftover meat and enjoyed shredded beef barbecue sandwiches for lunch this week too.  I use the leftover vegetables and stock to make soup. 

Do you have a family calendar?  If you do, it is your best resource for meal planning.  If not, get one.  Meal planning around a busy life makes so much sense because it’s when we are the busiest that it helps to feed our family and ourselves the healthiest meals.  Slow cooker meals are a menu planning blessing on days when you know you’ll be home late or your family members will be eating at different times.  Sure, it’s ok to drive through now and then, but you’ll look like a hero when you have a nice hot meal at home too.

Ipad grocery list
Ipads work wonderfully for a digital list

Make a list

Having a list at the grocery is a game changer for those on a budget.  When you have a list, you know exactly what to buy.  Without a list, you wonder as you wander the aisles and pick up whatever catches your attention.  That’s how budgets get busted and you end up with five bottles of soy sauce.  Thank goodness they don’t expire.  Having a list made the biggest difference in my quest to keep my grocery bills in check.  To make things even easier, I have paper on our refrigerator and my family knows to write items we want or need on the list.  Although I have a paper list on the fridge for others to write on, when I go to the grocery I usually use a digital list that I can delete as I go.  This makes it easier to have several lists for the various stores I frequent. 

Keep a running total

Have you ever stood at the checkout and nearly cried when the cashier announced your total, even after coupons and deals?  I certainly have, and that is not a fun moment.  To keep that to a minimum, I now keep a running total of what I spend as I delete items off my digital list, and I rarely experience grocery sticker shock anymore.

 Shopping is done.  Now what?

Here are my best tips and tricks for following through on your menu plan.  First, post your plan where everyone can see it.  For years I bought groceries with a plan in my head that never quite came to fruition.  I would forget to take meat out of the freezer or forget what I planned for the day and before I knew it, I had unidentifiable perishables in my fridge.  Post the menu and it holds you accountable as well as reminds you of what you purchased and what you plan to do with it.  Prepare as much as you can ahead of time.  Cooked pasta will keep for at least a week.  Root vegetables other than potatoes keep for a few days after being cut up for a recipe.  Salad keeps longer if you open the bag and put a paper towel in it.  Celery stays crunchy for several days wrapped in foil rather than plastic.  Canned and frozen vegetables work in recipes that call for fresh, although I suggest using fresh whenever possible.  Get your family involved in the prep as much as you can, and finally, enjoy the menu planning process as much as you can.  It may sound like a lot of work, but I assure you that the time you invest pays huge dividends.  Before you know it, you’ll have more money to spend, more time to enjoy your family and most important, you’ll have an answer to the age old question, “Mom!  What’s for dinner?”

 To learn more

If you are in the Greater Cincinnati area and would like to learn more, join me Saturday May 13th from 2-4pm at the Erlanger branch of the Kenton County library for their “How to Adult” fair.  I’ll be sharing more meal planning tips and giving away a list of Go To meals with recipes.  As always, if you’ve enjoyed reading this, please share it and join in the fun by subscribing to the blog and following us on Facebook and Twitter.  Thanks for being you and have a great day!