Learning (again!) to plan my day

Learning (again!) to plan my day

We used to live in a rural setting on the outside of town.  I had to plan 20 minutes to drive anywhere.  A thirty minute shopping trip put me away from the house for an hour and a half. Needless to say, I didn’t run to the store in the middle of the afternoon to buy a can of beans for a recipe!  I made due.

Every trip was well-planned and organized not wanting to waste a single trip to town.  When I had to drive in for a doctor’s appointment or homeschool class, I combined other errands in the day.  I had the system down to a fine science; I knew how to make the most of every trip. It was my habit on shopping day to buy enough groceries for two full weeks.

Now I live in the center of town.  I am two minutes from a Neighborhood Market and two minutes the other direction from a Wal-mart.  Most other errands I have to run are typically 5-10 minutes away.  Formerly it would to take me 20 minutes just to drive to town; now I can run to the store, pick up a handful items, and be back home in 20 minutes.

I have come to learn that this is a mixed blessing.  Yes, it’s nice to be able to get whatever I need, whenever I need it.  I enjoy the flexibility of being close to everything.  But it’s made me lazy.  I don’t have to write an extensive menu with a shopping list to match in preparation for shopping day because I can easily go again.  I don’t have to create a route taking me from Point A to B then C in the best way possible.  And I don’t. I don’t plan anymore. I just go. And I’m finding myself going to the store for just one little thing more and more often.

But what if I don’t want to go again?!?  I’m tired of running to the store and swiping my card every other day. It’s a time waster and a money waster.

I’ve been overwhelmed of late with the extensive list of things I have to accomplish and the limited time in which to do those things. Part of the reason for my stress is that I seem to always have to go somewhere, meaning I’m not home where many of my primary responsibilities dwell. Some of these outside appointments are necessary, some are self-made. By not planning my shopping trips more carefully, by saying to myself, “It’s ok if you don’t get it all now, you can go back,” I’m actually adding more unnecessary trips to my day and thus more stress to my life.

Additionally, when I go to the store more, I spend more. This is a concept I figured out a long time ago and practiced.  I would go to the store (except for milk) no more often than every two weeks. When I shop more, I buy more. But if I’m not planning to go to the store, I make due. If I’m out of certain things then I don’t make the recipe that requires the items I’m lacking. It’s really that simple.

I’ve been looking for ways to simplify my life; to ensure I have more time in my day to do the things that matter. Planning my day, my outings, and my shopping trips and menu is one simple things I can do to redeem some of my wasted time.

Reflections at the close of yet another year

Reflections at the close of yet another year

Typically, as one year ends and gives birth to a new one, many of us tend to reflect upon the events and achievements (or failures) of the past year.  This past month has been a time of reflection for me as I have met a couple milestones in my life.

  • I turned 40 last month

 This was the day I had been dreading since I turned 36 and was suddenly on the downhill side of my 30’s.  It was inevitable, and, try as I may, I couldn’t stop it from happening.  I don’t know what I thought would happen as I moved from my youthful 30’s to the dreaded 40’s, but, whatever it was didn’t happen.  The move to a new decade came in without any kind of issue.  As a matter of fact, I’ve gotten used to calling myself 40 and I’ve decided I’m ok with it (as if it mattered!)

My family threw us a 40/20 party!

My family threw us a 40th birthday/20th anniversary party.

  • I have officially been married for as long as I was single

Yep!  We celebrated 20 years of marriage a couple weeks ago, just days before my husband also turned 40. We were young. Young and naïve.  There was so much we didn’t know, so much we had to learn. And we learned it together — the good and the bad.  We grew up in so many ways those first few years.

 Being students still, we literally lived off love (and the giving of plasma) for a time. We didn’t know what we were doing, we just knew we loved each other.  Times were challenging, but we went through them together. We took the song, “No ship coming in,” as our theme song.

As we traversed the challenges of life together, our faith and trust in Christ grew as did our bond with each other. We learned to depend more and more on God to sustain us through the hard times. He provided in countless ways. Blessing upon blessing He poured upon us, one of the most notable being the birth of our firstborn son after three years of marriage.   Some of the blessings, however, were the hard times! They taught us, shaped us, and molded us into the people we are today.

Twenty years and six kids later, I look back in amazement at the things God has done in our lives. Dreams have been met, hurdles crossed, and blessings I didn’t even know I wanted have been poured out.  God has been good to us and will continue to be regardless of what lies ahead.

Collins kids Summer 2016

  • My oldest child is a senior in high school

When Nic was born, the idea of this scrawny little boy who took all my energy one day graduating high school never once entered my mind.  As we added more children, I did the best I could to educate them well.  But I still didn’t foresee the day when the goal of high school graduation would actually be reached.  It is fairly surreal.  I am in the middle of filling out FASFA forms, getting his transcript put together, getting ACT issues worked out, and figuring out colleges.  It is a crazy time.  And when it comes down to it, in May when he walks to get his diploma during the homeschool graduation ceremony, I will be graduating as much as he will.  His schooling was a joint effort, a joint struggle, as he learned to direct his focus and I learned how to teach him.

My husband and oldest son looking the same. Summer 2016

My husband and oldest son looking the same. Summer 2016

Nicodemus at Hawksbill Crag Fall 2016

When I am overwhelmed, I clean my kitchen!

When I am overwhelmed, I clean my kitchen!

That’s the absolute truth! When I am so busy, or so overwhelmed with the current gargantuan task ahead of me that I don’t know which end is up, I escape to the routine. The task that has consistently been there for me these past 20 years and hasn’t failed to give me an escape excuse yet. Because we all know that the dishes are never done, and, if by some miracle they are, there’s always another meal to prepare, thus creating more dishes!

I feel like I’ve been “escaping” to the kitchen more often this past month or two. Homeschooling six kids is a big enough chore on its own but add to it the dozen or so other hats I wear and sometimes I want to go screaming into the night. Life is complicated; life is hard; life can be scary. I’ve come to the realization that, while the dishes do need to be done and meals do need to be prepared, I’ve been escaping too much; doing what comes easy and natural rather than doing the hard things that will turn my dreams into reality.

As I was thinking of this fact, I was trying to come up with a solution.  A “fix” to get myself out of this rut and onto better things. My first inclination was an organization chart. A schedule. A plan of action.

Yeah! That’ll work! Groan!  Because I haven’t made a hundred of those in the past only to follow them for a month before I get tired of it!  Besides, I actually have a good schedule, I just need to do it!

There had to be something else, some other missing link to connect the dots and allow everything to run smoothly.  Well, it just so happens that, as I was pondering this, the speaker at church that night was talking on the power of prayer. Towards the end of the talk on Matthew 6:7-13, he gave a list that caught my attention:

  • If you rely on organization, you get what organization can do;

  • If you rely on prayer, you get what God can do!

Wow! That struck a chord! What I need is not the next greatest organizational tool, or yet another app to keep my menus in. No, I need to give my life, my schedule, and my needs to God and rely on His grace to get me through.

“Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.”  Psalms‬ ‭37:3-5‬ ‭

Do I need a schedule? Yes. Do I need to plan out my day? Yes. Do I need to be more disciplined? Yes. Are those things gonna save me? No.

I can make it an idol out of organization though, for sure. I can easily worship the schedule thinking that’s the only way I can accomplish all that needs to be done. But if I rely on organization I only get what organization can accomplish, further, I only get the amount of organization I am able to stick to.

However, if I rely on God and prayer, I get the power of God working through me to accomplish all that He wants me to.


“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”    2 Corinthians‬ ‭12:9‬ ‭


My weakness is that I can’t stick to a schedule; I get lazy and don’t make a menu; I get overwhelmed and fearful and decide to clean my kitchen instead of doing the work God has called me to. Oh that I might be able to give it all to God and rely wholly on Him so that His power might be made perfect in my weaknesses.


Italian Casserole: a.k.a. Lazy Lasagna

Italian Casserole: a.k.a. Lazy Lasagna


Who doesn’t love lasagna?  The layers of pasta, ooey-gooey cheese and bright, meaty marinara, covered in more cheese and baked to perfection.  My children love when their grandmother or I make it.  My daughter always requests it for her birthday and it has become a tradition for me to make it for my family on Valentine’s Day.

On the other hand, who has time on a regular basis to make a traditional lasagna?  To assemble it correctly is rather time intensive — boiling the noodles, cooking the meat sauce,  preparing the cheese mixture and then layering everything in a dish and baking for an hour.  My family could eat this every month and never grow tired of it, however, I do not posses the time or desire to make it every month.

So I began making this Italian Casserole for them.  It’s a dish I created in my early married days when time and money were tight.  I hadn’t made it in years, but, in an attempt to bring something new to the table, I brought it back.  The meal was received with high praise and whenever my kids see that I am making it there are shouts of joy (with exception of my 8 year old, who isn’t fond of anything cheesy).  Better than that, the meal takes little more than 30 minutes to put together and 30 minutes to bake.  You can’t get much better than that!  Keep in mind that the ingredient amounts that I list will feed my crowd of eight plus some!  You might want to adjust accordingly if you are feeding less than six people and/or don’t want a lot of leftovers.

  1. Start with two pounds of ground beef.  (You could substitute one pound ground sausage for the beef for a more exciting flavor profile).  Brown it and drain.
  2. Add 8 cups of your favorite spaghetti or marinara sauce.  I have begun making my own, I will add the recipe for that soon. Browned ground beef and sauce
  3. While you are browning the ground beef, boil 20 ounces of your favorite pasta until just tender, then drain.  My favorite pasta for this recipe is penne, but you could easily use bowtie or rotini just the same.Boil pasta then drain.
  4. Now its time to gather your remaining ingredients.  You will need: 6-8 cups of mozzerella and parmesean cheese, and 16 ounces of cottage cheese.  You will mix these ingredients together with the pasta and meat sauce in a large bowl.Ingredients for italian casserole aka lazy lasagnaPasta in bowlCasserole mixtureItalian casserole mixture
  5. Now that it’s mixed, all that’s left is to pour the mixture in a casserole dish, sprinkle some mozzerella cheese and parsely on top, and bake at 350 degrees for around 30 minutes or until bubbly.  This recipe fit into an extra large 10×15 pan with some overflow into a 7×11 pan.  After baking, I put the 7×11 in the refrigerator for an easy lunch the next day.pouring casserole2 casseroles with cheeseUnbaked casserole with cheese and parsely




How I learned to like discipline and set myself a schedule

How I learned to like discipline and set myself a schedule

One of my goals this new year is to get myself and my children on a schedule so as to make my days more productive.  I wrote this in my journal entry back in November at the height of  frustration with my self and my inability to get anything done.

Discipline is my estranged friend who I pretend to not like. As a matter of fact, discipline has never been my friend. Oh yes, she’s always there, mocking me, telling me life will be much better if I just include her in my day.  But I don’t want her. I want to live free.  Or maybe it’s because it’s work to bring her along and I’m lazy.  I have a love/hate relationship with discipline.
I go through periods of time where I am very disciplined: journaling after my Bible studies, planning every moment, etc.  Then the unexpected happens and my life goes into survival mode.  All the plans, all the journaling, everything goes by the wayside and I live life moment to moment.  Stressed and wearied.  Those are the times I need discipline more than anything else but those are also the times I discard it.                        I had so many things to do today… Now it’s noon and I’m sitting at speech therapy with my son, I should’ve at least worked on all these things, if not completed them.  Not only did none of those things happen, but I didn’t do two of the school subjects I intended to do.  What did I do?  I studied my bible, got distracted with the chicken, conversed with my kids, laundry, and wandered around wondering where to start.  If I had had a schedule then I would’ve known.

I feel certain in saying that I am not the only one who has had days like this; days where nothing goes as planned and you come to the end and wonder what you have to show for yourself.  I had way too many of these days last fall.  We had just moved into our new house at the beginning of the new school year, so all my energy went into quickly unpacking and then figuring out what our routine would be in the new place so that we could begin and not be too far behind.  When we finally began in mid-September I was a harried mess.  I didn’t have a chore system or a school schedule in place.  I didn’t have a system for how the day-to-day tasks were going to occur — we just did things as needed.  This meant that every moment of my day was spent running from one “fire” to the next.  I was exhausted and felt like I was spinning out of control.  It’s no wonder I didn’t write a single blog post in the last few months; I just couldn’t make the time.

Soon after this journal entry, I decided that enough was enough.  It was time to take action!  I decided that I needed to get through the year and the week after Christmas would be my planning week.  We would still be on school break which meant that I could dedicate all my time to planning and making sure that this semester ran smoothly.  I blocked the time out in my calendar and made sure nothing was able to sneak in and rob my time.

Delegate Household Chores

My first step was to delegate all the jobs that need to be done so that our house will run smoothly, i.e. assign chores.  I have done several different kinds of “chore charts” over the years, differing as our needs and the ages of my children demanded.  I made a new kind of chore chart.  One whose goal was to serve me, this house and the needs of our family right now.  My children are old enough and responsible enough to do several necessary household chores on their own; they simply need to be told to do it.  The chore chart does that for me.  I made a list of all the chores that they can do, and put them on laminated, assignable cards which told the owner what to do and when to do it.   Allowing me time to work on other matters without having to think about what they need to be doing at any given moment — they know what they should be doing.

chore chart CollageAn individual chore chart

Plan our School Day

Next, it was time to make my “chore chart.”  The lesson planner that I had purchased in August had boasted of space to write my daily to-do’s as well as my children’s lesson plans.  And, while it is a good planner, and does provide space for menu, shopping list and financial planning, it didn’t have adequate space for my daily to-do’.  I considered purchasing a separate planner dedicated to my schedule, but, as I read some blogs on schedule make-overs, a lot of them discussed using Google calendar.  I already had discovered the benefits of Google calendar as I use it to manage our family schedule, but hadn’t thought of using it for my personal, day-to-day schedule.  I didn’t want my daily, recurring schedule crowding our family schedule so I made a homeschool/blogging calendar on my personal email account instead of on our family email.

Screenshot of my Google calendar

I dedicated time to spend one on one with my youngest students — something I hadn’t succeeded at doing everyday and they have been suffering because of it.  I also dedicated time for a few subjects that we do together.  When there is no scheduled time, then those subjects are the first things to be set aside for tomorrow.  Much like Scarlett O’Hara I would say, “After all, tomorrow is another day!”  But, alas, tomorrow never comes!

Plan Time to Focus on My Interests

Lastly, and most importantly, I set aside time to work on things for my self.  Personal ventures.  Writing on this blog and learning all the ins and outs of the blog world (a subject that makes my head spin!). After all, school will get done without a schedule, my husband makes sure of that, it just happens better with a schedule.  But bettering myself and following my goals and dreams, that doesn’t happen without me pursuing it.  And having six children that I homeschool means that I have to make the time for it or it doesn’t get done.

We are a week into this new schedule, and so far it is flowing pretty smoothly.  Prayerfully, and with much self-discipline, I can break my pattern of poor follow-thru and keep it going throughout the year.  Only time will tell.  Do you have goals to stick to a better schedule this year?

discipline cover

Parmesan Crusted Chicken

Parmesan Crusted Chicken

You know those days: you have been busy all day, dinner time is looming, and you have no idea what to make.  You defrosted some chicken breasts to do something with but failed to figure out what to do with them.  It is on those days that one of my go-to dishes is Parmesan Crusted Chicken.  It is a dish that I made up one day with on-hand ingredients, it’s fairly easy and everyone loves it.

First, I make the breading.  There are two methods: the completely from scratch method or the one-step method.

The From Scratch method uses:

  • 4-6 slices sandwich bread (I use whole wheat)
  • 1/2 cup Grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbsp Parsley
  • 1 tsp Garlic powder
  • 1 tsp Onion powder — approx 1/2 – 1 tsp of each
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 tsp Pepper

Basically, I take the sandwich bread and tear it into manageable pieces and put it in a food processor.  Then I add the other ingredients and pulse until I have a fine crumb mixture.  Pour the breading into a dipping bowl.  This method only takes about 5 minutes and is great if I have a bunch of heels or smushed bread that I would just throw away otherwise.


The One-Step method uses the same ingredients, but substitutes Panko bread crumbs for the sandwich bread.  I just throw all the ingredients straight into the dipping bowl and stir to combine.  I get to skip the food processor step altogether, which works great if I’m completely out of time.  Sometimes, however, I just really like to make my own breadcrumbs.

In another dish I will crack 2-3  eggs and beat lightly, then place both dishes side by side near the stove to make the process smoother and less messy.


I buy chicken tenderloins because they are a perfect, manageable size — and by this I mean no cutting — a characteristic I completely adore!  For this recipe I am using 3 lbs of tenderloins which will feed my family of eight perfectly.  Dip the chicken pieces into the egg, then roll in the bread crumb/parmesan mixture.  Set aside in the bowl until I have about 6-8 pieces then the cooking can begin.

parm chk collage

I typically pan fry it in about a half-inch of oil for a nice, crispy crust.  Heat the oil in a 10 inch skillet until it is shimmering.  There will only be enough room in the skillet for approximately 6 tenderloins at a time so it will have to be cooked in batches.  After lining the skillet with the chicken, cook until bottom of the chicken is golden brown and the sides are white, then flip.  When the new bottom side is golden as well it is done, but you may temp it to 160 with a meat thermometer if you are unsure.  Meanwhile, I will continue to bread chicken while the first batch is cooking.

parm chk collage2

This last time, however, I tried baking it to make it a bit healthier.   I poured a thin layer of olive oil in the bottom of the dish then placed the chicken in the oil, turning it once, so that both sides have a thin coating allowing it to crisp up.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for approximately 30 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted in the center of the chicken reads 160 degrees.  This method was good and less time-consumming as I could simply put all the chicken in the oven and walk away instead of standing over a hot stove.  My teenage sons ate it up!  My husband, however, stated that while it was good, it did not compare to the stove top version.  “It just didn’t crisp up the same.”


Serve with some rice and broccoli or a salad and you have a delicious meal in under an hour from start to finish.

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