Refocus: The Daily Examen

Cocoa and journaling... that's my examen!

Cocoa and journaling… that’s my examen!

So, in an earlier post I mentioned that my word of the year is “intentional.” And then later, I mentioned that I planned to give up my I-Phone (in some capacity) for Lent.

Yeah, that’s so not happening.

Strangely, I’m not very upset about my lack of commitment. I just asked myself why I’m not making any headway and came to the realization that I’m dealing with a symptom instead of a root problem. Also, I was setting up a self-help book  style Lenten fast, which never works for me.

So I’ve decided to redirect. I want to be intentional this year… so I’m going to try to complete my examen every night. This is a spiritual reflection technique I discovered while reading The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. The examen is both awesome and adaptable–an Ignatian prayer in its original form, though easily adaptable to any faith tradition and/or secular viewpoint.

To be quite honest, the examen reminds me a ton of the lesson reflections I had to complete in graduate school. As my professors used to urge–and I still staunchly believe–we can’t improve unless we think about where we’ve been and make plans regarding how we wish to move forward.

Now, because I’m an epic school nerd I never really feel like I’ve completed my examen thoughtfully unless I write it down. Yes, I even turn prayer into an assignment. (And yes, you should feel very sorry for my former students.) That’s not the only way to do it, of course. But it’s what I need in order to focus my reflection. Otherwise, I’m apt to fall asleep in the midst of my pondering.

Unfortunate side effect: the prospect of setting up my journal always pre-fatigues me. In fact, I often forego the examen completely in favor of, say, watching She’s All That on Netflix Streaming. Not cool.

Here are the steps for my examen (I believe everyone modifies this slightly to fit their own reflection regimen). If you want to see it laid out, click here.

  1. Take a moment to center yourself and focus. If you believe in a higher power, this is a great time to ask Him/Her/It to be with you as you reflect.
  2. Mentally review your day. I break mine into nine routine chunks (waking up, mid-morning, lunch-time, etc.) In one column of my journal, I describe in shorthand what characterized that section of today.
  3. Note your blessings. Why do you have cause to be grateful? This is the second column in my journal.
  4. Consider your mistakes. Do you have to make amends for anything? Are there problem behaviors and/or times of day you hope to address differently tomorrow?
  5. Now consider your day as a whole. Any patterns or important realizations emerging?
  6. Close your examen. If you are religious or spiritual, this is a great time to wrap up your prayer. (I like to close with petitions on behalf of loved ones and the Prayer of Saint Francis.)

February 2015 Meal Plan #4: Better Late than Never

big tom

Local readers, I bet you love Big Tom’s!

My good intentions to upload this meal plan on Sunday got swept away in a torrent of toddler snot. Ugh. The creeping crud has certainly overstayed its welcome in our home. We’ve all taken a turn with it and are now simultaneously suffering. Little Man is almost never sick, which is a good thing… because I’ve discovered that baby man cold is my least favorite illness ever. Plus, it’s the end of the month (and therefore end of the grocery budget).

Needless to say, I haven’t been inspired to heights of culinary greatness. Last night we were all so exhausted that I nearly wept with relief when Smartner suggested a run to Big Tom’s. Faster than you can say “Goop, shake, fries, please!” we had dinner. (It’s times like these my man puts the “smart” in “smartner.”)

But generally this week, we are eating odds ‘n ends. These include copious leftovers, plus meals I didn’t get around to making last week.

* * * * *

Jerusalem Love – pretzel-mustard pork chops, sliced apples, and roasted potatoes with caramel and prunes. (I’ll be making my potatoes with duck fat, rather than goose. And yes, I realize the recipe link is for pretzel-mustard chicken, not pork chops. I like to mix up the  mustard sauce and crush the pretzels in advance. Then this becomes a super quick meal because I just “batter” some thin pork chops and fry them briefly.)

Vegetarian #1 –  lentil soup with homemade crusty round bread

Vegetarian #2 – orzo salad based on this recipe, but with no fresh basil… and maybe balsamic vinegar? Must see what I have in the pantry. And I will probably wrap it in a tortilla for heft because, let’s face it, everything tastes better in a tortilla. Finally, I’ll put orange slices on the side to class things up a bit.

Friday Pizza Night: this crust, topped with pesto and tilapia from the freezer, plus some roasted red peppers from a jar

Breakfast for Dinner: Yukon Gold Cinnamon Rolls (so incredibly good) with a side of scrambled eggs

February 2015 Meal Plan #3: Pantry Challenge

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

Looking back over last week’s menu, I realize we had a theme: heat. Put in a less savory way, it was a week of “Eat these Saltines, kids, while Mommy and Daddy enjoy this spicy nutritious meal. Sorry, once again I failed to cook something your sensitive little taste buds could handle.” Oops.

So I’m trying to do better this week with being kid-friendly. I’m also trying to use up what we have in our pantry and freezer.

And I may try to do something simple for Ash Wednesday (lentil soup, I’m looking at you) or we may just dine on leftovers. Not sure yet.

* * * * *

Decadent Picnic – Tonight, Smartner scored some pig liver from a friend with farming family members, so he made pate. We ate it with margarine on homemade crusty round bread. There were also salted cucumber slices, strawberries, crackers, salami, and Laughing Cow cheese. So, so, good.

Vegetarian – macaroni and cheese with steamed broccoli (I promise to post my mac recipe later this week).

Pantry Challenge – London Broil with parsley and barley salad 

Leftovers – London Broil with steamed broccoli and apple slices.

Slow Cooker/Freezer mealslow cooker coconut ginger chicken 

Screen Limits for Lent

image from

image from

I must confess that my family has adopted some deplorable habits regarding screen time. Somehow, my previous draconian ban (which didn’t work) has slowly given way to gobs of passive entertainment.

The minute Little Man falls asleep, Sweet Pea begs for a Super Why marathon. (One episode is never enough.)

And the other day, I caught myself wanting to snidely rebuke Smartner (always an effective and loving communication technique). Why was he glued to his phone? He should be playing with the kids so I could mindlessly surf Pinterest and Facebook!

Oh, hypocrisy. Thy name is Kate.

Having recently revisited the novel concept that I can only control myself, I’ve decided to shine a light on my own screen time. And here comes the truly relevant confession:

I-Phone, I love you. Maybe a bit too much. Which is why I need to put some boundaries on our relationship.

Let’s not get too crazy. I still need you for Mapquest. And I’d like to be able to communicate with others (i.e., use the phone functions on my phone). But I want to stop sending the message that you, O Sweet Portal to the World Wide Web, are more important than my flesh-and-blood family.

Challenging, given that I use you to take care of said family (cooking, craft ideas, freelance writing work, etc.)

For each 10-day chunk of Lent, I’ll be trying a different strategy to gain control over my I-Phone habits. (If you want to read more about my thoughts on Lent, check here.)

In preparation for Lent, I’m addressing my “gateway issues.” I often use my phone as a camera or a clock… and then I get sucked in to web surfing. So this week I will replace the battery in my watch. I’ll also finally order the camera Smartner and I planned to purchase back in November.

Any advice on how I should proceed with I-Phone limitations? I am open to suggestions!

February 2015 Meal Plan #2: Forager Foodies

Clam diggers: grandpa, daddy, and daughter

Clam diggers: grandpa, daddy, and daughter

So… those of you following will notice a repeat of last week’s recipes. That’s because I was WAY over-enthusiastic in my planning and didn’t account for the bounty of leftovers. I updated last week’s meal plan to reflect what we actually made.

And this week, I am resolved to restrain myself… but not too much. I will plan for the leftovers our first two dishes will yield. But a grey, drizzly tail-end of winter needs brightened by a bit of dinner decadence. And since Smartner and I are seafood lovers, that means a double helping of fruits de mer.

We’ve been planning on Valentine’s Day crab cakes. Then I thought a little taste of summer would be lovely right about now, so I went to the big freezer to get out some blackberries for pie. That’s when I found more razor clams that we dug last spring. Smartner and I love picking, catching, and processing our own food–we’re trying to indoctrinate our kids into the fun and hope to do even more freezing and canning this year.

Last spring, we had some great razor clam tides out here in the Pacific Northwest. We’ve been enjoying all the classic clam comfort foods (chowder, fritters, and po’ boys), so I wanted to try a little something different with this batch. It’s a Langdon Cook recipe, so I’m sure it will be fabulous!

Without further ado, the meals:

* * * * *

The Big Easy: slow cooker red beans and rice; collard greens

Vegetarian:  Sweet Potato, Squash, and Black Bean Enchiladas (Thug Kitchen, pg. 155)

Pantry Challenge: Chinese Stir-Fried Razor clams with rice, steamed edamame, and broccoli.

Friday Pizza Night: Classic Pizza (this crust, topped with the store-bought red sauce I’d like to use up and whatever else I have on hand. Probably matchstick-sliced salami, cheese, and leftover veggies.)

Valentine’s Day: heart-shaped crab cakes, courtesy of our local seafood supplier; baby spinach salad with dates and almonds (because you didn’t think I’d go a week without using Jerusalem, did you?) Maybe some apple slices. We will also have champagne and blackberry pie. (For the pie, I’ll use my favorite crust.)

Cleaning Calendar 3.0

The monthly calendar created by Clean Mama is both pretty and practical.

The monthly calendar created by Clean Mama is both pretty and practical.

Looking at my “home care” Pinterest board always makes me feel so virtuous. All those glorious ideas for more efficient cleaning! All those schedules and lists, illustrated with beautifully composed graphics! Just looking at the board makes me feel accomplished.

Too bad my dishes still aren’t done!

Ruth Soukup at Living Well, Spending Less articulated what it (sadly) took me awhile to admit: you have to find a system that works for your home and work style. She offers multiple cute printables as well as a master task list.

To Soukup’s suggestions, I would add some nerdy English teacher advice for anyone consulting a print-out. You have to find a printable layout that speaks to your brain! The lists I kept seeing were so pretty, but they just didn’t work for me. Then I discovered Clean Mama’s free monthly calendars. Heaven!

Now, her calendars are fabulous and got me off to a good start. I love the layout and really enjoy the daily tasks. But now I’m feeling ready to create my own version. It’s not as cute, but it takes into account specific needs for our home. (In addition to cleaning, I’m also trying to (a) keep our budget up-to-date and (b) keep our house plants alive.)

Click here to download my calendar as a Word document. I’d be interested to hear how you modify it!  

2015: The Intentional Year (I hope)

homemaker imageIn The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin confesses, “I had everything I could possibly want–yet I was failing to appreciate it. Bogged down in petty complaints and passing crises, weary of struggling with my own nature, I too often failed to comprehend the splendor of what I had. I didn’t want to keep taking these days for granted.”

I can’t even begin to tell you how much I identify with Rubin’s words. It’s therefore no surprise that she has inspired me to embark on my own version of a happiness project–that is, identifying what brings me joy and then pursuing joy through concrete action.

Though perhaps “joy” is a misnomer. The word that actually keeps coming to mind is “intention.” I want to do things on purpose, as opposed to just alternating between my reactions of frantic energy and slothful inertia.

Since my husband and children are my top priority, I’m naturally going to begin with an intentional focus on… home-making. Here’s why:

  • Neither Smartner nor I can relax unless the (tiny) house is a certain level of clean and clutter-free.
  • Similarly, I can’t enjoy time with the kids if I’m staring at evidence of my looming to-do list (a mountain of unfolded laundry, etc.)…
  • … and I hate feeling like I’m always ignoring them to clean a house that never actually gets clean!
  • We want to be able to comfortably host spontaneous gatherings, and a home is more welcoming when it’s tidy.
  • We are also hoping to move sometime in 2015. Call me crazy, but potential buyers may be more enthused if I finally wash  that ancient spaghetti sauce from the dining room wall.

I’m sure you’re seeing the connection here. I’m (perhaps optimistically) thinking that She Who Vacuums The Living Room can also tidy up the family’s overall emotional atmosphere. We will see.

Clutter-busting, cleaning, and a bit of home decor: I like this as a starting point! Details to follow soon. In the mean time: any tips or tricks for how you manage your house-keeping?

February 2015 Meal Plan #1: Yotam Ottolenghi Love

photo from NY Times online

photo from NY Times online

Move over, Mark Bittman. I have a new culinary boyfriend, and his name is Yotam Ottolenghi. Not a shocker that I love this dude’s recipes: if I had to restrict myself to one regional cuisine, it would probably be Mediterranean. Plus, tasty vegetarian recipes that don’t rely on buckets of cheese? Win!

FYI, I planned my week around (a) trying to use up the fresh herbs and (b) Smartner’s dinner requests. (Smartner = smart + partner, my new blog name for the hubby. Yeah, I only wish I could claim credit for coming up with that!)

***NOTE: Post updated to reflect what we actually had time to cook and eat. 

Vegetarian: Chermoula eggplant with bulgur and yogurt (Jerusalem: A Cookbook, pg. 59)

Friday Pizza Night: Baked Potato Pizza (this crust, topped with Amy’s Black Bean Chili, mashed potatoes, broccoli, bacon bits, diced green onions, and cheddar cheese)

Old Favorite: turkey and zucchini burgers with green onion and cumin; sliced mangoes; green salad  (Jerusalem: A Cookbook, pg. 200)

Jerusalem love: Chicken sofrito (pg. 190); basmati and wild rice with chickpeas, currants, and herbs (pg. 106)

Pantry Challenge: chicken noodle soup (I boiled down my chicken carcass to make stock, then added all the leftovers from the chicken sofrito–meat, potatoes, gravy, etc. Dumped in some chopped celery and homemade noodles. That was it. And it was heaven.)

Late to the Party

happiness project

Hey, Internet. I realize it’s been… oh, about a year. Sorry. I’ve been busy figuring out my life. Short recap: I’ve put a temporary halt to teaching so that I can focus on our two small children. Lots of co-op preschool and poopy diapers around here!

Moving on.

The hiatus from grading means I have more time for pleasure reading. And not just reading… but thinking about what I read. Such a luxury!

I am grateful that a dear friend of mine recently recommended both The Happiness Project (Gretchen Rubin) and The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life (James Martin, SJ). Both books have made me consider how I actually spend my time versus how I want to spend my time. And right now I have the energy and focus to make some changes. Hurray!

Now, I realize I’m pretty late to the party here… you all were probably among the original readers who put both titles on the New York Times bestseller list. But if not? I highly recommend them. Bonus: reading them at the same time, I made all kinds of connections between the two. I bet you will, too.

And speaking of being late to the party, I’ve been inspired by both books to make some resolutions for 2015.  My inner Type-A Task Mistress is appalled that I’m just now getting around to this. Kate 2.0 (I like to think of her as Patient, Evolved Me) is rather pleased that I’m actually following my own personal timeline… and giving myself time to reflect before committing to a course of action.

I’ve got a resolution focus for February and a brand-new meal plan I’ll be posting ASAP. In the mean time, blogosphere, I’ve missed you! What’s new in your world? Anyone else have a New Year’s resolution to share?