Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Thanksgiving Tree

I'm one of those people that really loves Christmas. Every year I get so excited to make it special for our family. We have traditions, make decorations, and bake pies. I decided this year I'm not rushing the wintery stuff- not as much as I usually do anyway. Okay okay we do have a tree up. But it's not what you think- I promise! 

Our Thanksgiving Tree is our newest tradition. The second week in November we put up the tree and decorate it with all things fall. Leaves, pumpkins, and corn stalks. So basically... I get to decorate the tree twice in one year. :)

Today the house smells like cinnamon because we used my recipe for these cinnamon ornaments and made leaf cut outs. In white paint marker we wrote down the things we were thankful for. This year "Caillou," "Princesses," and "My Friends" made the cut. 
Oh yeah, "Mom and Dad" too... but we were more of an afterthought. 

Parenting as a Team

Andrew and I have only been parents for five years now, so needless to say we don't have this parenting thing figured out. What I do know is we've (mostly) successfully parented three toddlers and made it out alive, and still in love. We've been married for six and a half years, so most of what we know as a couple IS being parents together. There really isn't a 'before and after kids' with us. Having Isaiah forced us out of the honeymoon phase and into family life very quickly. That's not a complaint! I don't regret for a second bringing these kids into the world as quickly as we did. I love being a family- but that doesn't mean that it's come without it's challenges and plenty of learning the hard way- I was 23 when I had my first baby! Here are my top four lessons we've gleaned, mostly from doing it wrong:

1.) Know each of your strengths and use them.
I think a lot of couples spend time fighting over what the other person isn't doing rather than appreciating what they are doing. Keeping a positive attitude and thinking the best about someone goes a really long way. Figure out what you are each good at or enjoy doing. If there are things (like diapers) that simply need to be done but aren't anyone's particular 'gift,' share the load. No pun intended. If you write out the things you will do and your partner will do, then you don't have an unreasonable expectation. If we would have known our strengths from Day 1 with Isaiah, things would have been much less stressful. Write yours down! That way there won't be a question at the end of the night who is responsible for what. Of course things are flexible- just use communication if you need more help. Things may need to be adjusted as you go. I just think having things written down prevents one person from resenting the other for not doing their part.

If you're struggling to find balance, here's (very roughly) how we have learned to split things up:
-When I wake up throughout the night to nurse the baby, Andrew gets up first in the morning and lets me sleep.
-When I'm getting the kids dressed for bed- teeth brushed, nails clipped, ears cleaned- Andrew is vacuuming and sweeping up the mess from the day. It's one of his spiritual gifts. Also I hate it. :)
-I cook the food. I'm sure Andrew could learn... but chicken patties aren't a recommended food group. I take care of grocery shopping, preparing meals and his lunches, etc while he's at work. That way we can have family time when he gets home.
-I do the laundry- wash and fold. Sometimes Andrew helps with it especially if I get behind, but mainly I get it done during the day. Andrew's thing is cleaning up the kitchen from dinner so I can relax for a while.
-We give one another time alone. Time with friends. Time to exercise. My goal is to give Andrew one day after work per week to spend by himself. I keep the kids out of the house and leave him alone. He gives me the same amount of time away from home. Tag team parenting- yes!

2. Apologize quickly-- and forgive even quicker.
Things can get really tense around here- especially with a 4, 3, and 2 year old. We have one particular child who is emotionally very taxing for both of us. This can leave your nerves frayed and make you feel like you're at the end of your rope after a mere five minutes. 
I know that in moments of stress I personally have said and done things to both my children and my husband that I regret. For instance, the dinner plate incident. Andrew wasn't home and it was dinnertime. It had been a very long day. Isaiah didn't feel like eating what I made for dinner, even though it was his usual favorite. Now remember I said it had been a really long day. So once I heard "OH, there's no WAY I'm eating THAT!" I calmly walked over to the table without saying anything, grabbed his dinner plate, opened the front door, and threw it out on the front lawn. "Fine! Don't eat." The kids stared at me in disbelief. Yes... not my greatest parenting moment. When Andrew came home he had to ask... "why... is there chicken and vegetables all over the front yard?" There was never a moment where he lectured me about how I shouldn't throw dinner plates out the front door. He knew. I knew. I said I was sorry and he said it was okay. There are dozens and dozens of moments like that along the way. Times when we snapped at each other. Most of the time we remember to say sorry but sometimes one or the other of us might be waiting a long time for that apology. So my best rule is forgive them before they apologize- but try to remember to apologize quickly. We're teammates, not opponents, even though the stresses of life can really make it feel like that sometimes.  
"A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers." -Ruth Bell Graham

3. Pray together.
Ashamedly this is something we implemented probably only eight or so months ago. Yes we prayed together in big moments and for 'important' things, but we neglected the day to day stuff. So now before Andrew leaves for work, he grabs me and says a 20 second prayer for things we're dealing with, my day at home, and for the kids. The importance of this can't be overstated- it's grounding and makes me feel so cared for. It really has given me a whole new respect for him. Make it a priority if you don't pray together now... you won't be sorry and it's never too late to start. 

4. Be best friends and enjoy one another.
So... life can be stressful and difficult. Can I get an amen? I'm embarrassed to say there have been periods of time where I've forgotten that Andrew isn't just my co-worker in parenting or one of my children- he's my husband and my best friend. So laugh at the ridiculous stuff kids say, be graceful towards one another, go on dates, and flirt. Send each other funny texts randomly and be happy to see each other when you walk through the door. Kiss... especially in front of the kids. Spend time catching up on your day after the kids go to sleep. Don't be so critical. Let stuff go. Forgive each other and prioritize one another. Give one another lots of affection. (all of the above are my personal goals, anyway) Remember- when the kids are grown up and gone, it's going to be the two of you. Now go and be a team with this partner you picked! 

plus one realistic family photo for good measure. :)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Party Time! A Simple Menu for 30 People

We throw a lot of parties around here. When we first started having birthdays for the kids things were a little chaotic. With some delegating and a game-plan we've figured out how to get the job done efficiently and (mostly) stress-free. There are always leftovers which will give us a couple of meals for the week, and we can usually send food home with a few guests as well so that nothing goes to waste. I'll share some of my tried and true recipes that I know will feed from 30-40 people easily. If you have a few extra people come no need to worry!

Here's what we ate:
Meatballs in a crock pot (3 bags of Turkey Meatballs, one large jar of sauce)
2 Pounds of Hot Roast Beef in a crock pot (from the deli section, with gravy)
Cheese for the sandwiches/4 dozen small rolls, cut
2 trays of Martha's Mac and Cheese
Pita Chips/Spinach Dip
Fruit Salad
Vegetables and Dip Tray
One Bag of Frozen Chicken Nuggets (for those picky eaters!)
Donut Cake (3 Dozen) & Individual cups of ice cream

Another thing that really helps is my Mom has a great house for parties, so she usually hosts. We get a few bouncies and the kids are occupied the entire time. I go over the day before and help set up and a few hours before we put out all of the food. The macaroni and cheese goes in the oven about one hour before party time however I do make it the night before. It's a trusted recipe that never seems to disappoint! And my kids will eat it. :) The chicken nuggets are the last thing to cook- 15 minutes before party time. Of course you could make any of this home made, for example the meatballs or roast beef. To save my sanity I buy pre-made and no one complains! The most important thing is keeping it simple and celebrating family and another year of blessings.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

How I Save Money, Time, and Calories by Prepping Our Food

Start: 7:30 AM
Finish: 10:24 AM

I just finished prepping our food for the next five days, and it only took me about three hours altogether! I admit I have been doing this for a while and I've learned some short cuts that I hope to share with you in this post.

Before I begin, here's the background on why I take so much time to prepare healthy meals for my family. Andrew and I have been on a journey of health/fitness together for the last six months or so now. We've seen some positive results- for him weight gain (muscle!) and increased energy. He's been able to lift heavier weight and have more intense work outs. Andrew's been working out forever, so this is more of a refining than an overhaul for him. But then... there's me. :) I just started working on my fitness in late March. I was active throughout high school and most of college, always playing sports and keeping busy. Fast forward SIX years with literally no exercise other than chasing my kids. Despite what I claimed for years, chasing kids is not actual exercise. It is, however, infinitely more exhausting than actual exercise. Anyway my first run was AWFUL. After a half-mile around the neighborhood I nearly passed out, hovered over the toilet, thought for sure I was going to throw up. Six months later- because I didn't give up when it hurt- I am running seven miles at a time. Crossfit has been a great intro into gymnastics and weightlifting, and I am now lifting more weight than I ever imagined I could. My view of my body and myself in general is so much more positive, and I can't believe how far I've come in the last six months. The physical changes I've seen are things that I figured wouldn't ever change after having three kids. I used to think things like "what's the point, I will never be muscular or strong because my body isn't really able to bounce back after the kids." Through what feels like minimal, but consistent work, I have proven myself wrong. I have so much more respect for myself because I've committed to taking care of my mind and body, and I've actually kept with it and seen results. No it's not about getting a great body but it is about working towards being a stronger you- physically and emotionally. Fitness is a great way to achieve both of those goals. Three days a week I get up at 4:30 AM (because I really don't have any other time to do it and this is important to me) and the two other days I go for a four mile run when I can fit it in.

While working out is necessary, it's not what I'm writing about today. You always hear people say that 'abs are made in the kitchen' and I wholeheartedly agree with that statement. We follow the 80/20 principal- eat really clean 80% of the time and allow yourself to have what you feel like 20% of the time. We do high protein and very few 'bad carbs' from bread and starchy food. This has been sustainable to us over the last six months and I can see it working in the future. I never feel deprived of food and I am never hungry. The only way I am able to eat clean that 80% of the time is through meal prep. I need to have my best friend Raquel write a blog post on her recipes (Raquel, are you reading this?), because she's the creative cook. I'll share with you the inside of my fridge and how I set my family up for success when it comes to our diet.

Okay. Lets talk about this insane chart. Yes I am well aware I'm a crazy person- but things look way prettier than normal because I was taking a picture to post on the internet. What's inside is the same whether or not I'll be snapping any pics. If I'm not fully stocked, I'm probably making a bad food choice. So I like to keep things ready to go as far as breakfast and lunch are concerned. 

Side note: I think we are all aware I do not work outside of my home right now (other than for Happy Goats), so I'm great with taking the time to have the fridge stocked for my family. Once I start outside the house work full-time again in a few years, we'll have to modify. Or do a family cooking day on the weekend. I'll keep you posted on how we work that out. :)

 For now, I'll start explaining things from the top to bottom of the fridge.

-The box of wine, an obvious staple. I have no explanation, we won't go there.

-Unsweetened tea. I brew this at home and sweeten with a little sugar and lemons. I either drink that or seltzer water throughout the day.

-Meal 1: Turkey Meatballs with Brown Rice and Peas: I used frozen turkey meatballs (didn't bother microwaving them) and cooked brown rice in chicken broth in my rice cooker. I used a bag of frozen peas and heated them up in boiling water, seasoning them to taste. I even made a few extra to pop in the freezer for next week.

-Meal 2: Honey Ginger Chicken with Quinoa and Vegetables: I used chicken tenderloins because they are the easiest for me and there's very little waste. I use some kitchen shears to chop them up into small pieces and saute with a little olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. While they're cooking I season them with salt, pepper, garlic, ginger powder, chili powder, and drizzle honey on at the end. For the quinoa I cook one part rice to two parts chicken broth in my rice cooker. I used bagged Asian-style vegetables to make this really easy.

-Butternut Squash Soup: I usually like to make a big batch of soup at the beginning of the week. I typically have soup and salad for lunch when I'm home. This week I just cooked a butternut squash cut in half face down on a tray for 50 minutes at 350 degrees. I scooped out the inside once it was cool and heated it in a pot with 4 cups of chicken broth and about a cup of milk.  I seasoned it to taste with salt and pepper and added two tablespoons of butter. Then I pureed the soup with an immersion blender, but you can also use a food processor to do this. I store the soup in quart mason jars, and this weeks batch made enough to freeze one of the mason jars for another time. 

-Meal 3: Egg Muffins with Sausage and Peppers: There's actually more than just sausage and peppers in these. This recipe makes 24 muffins. Brown 8 ounces of sausage along with a whole pepper, chopped fine and a handful or two of chopped mushrooms. Once they're cooked, throw in a huge handful of spinach for extra nutrients :) The spinach will reduce quickly. Let this all cool and add in a splash of milk and a dozen eggs to the pan. Mix well. Ladle the mixture into muffin tins sprayed with non stick spray and bake for about 20 minutes at 375 degrees until cooked through. 

-Extra Food: Extra food from the meals I've made is typically used for the kid's lunches. I can easily make tortillas with cheese and chicken for a quick lunch!

-Chopped Fruit: This is easy smart to prepare in advance and I like to put it at face level so I don't forget about it in the crisper drawer. Mid-afternoon snack for the girls and I might be strawberries and pineapples. Or I can throw them in smoothies with a little yogurt and spinach!

-Dairy. Okay so we've got a dairy addiction. I feel slightly shameful whenever I get to the register at Aldi (where I do 90% of my shopping) and buy three cartons of yogurt and three cartons of cottage cheese and cheese sticks and cheddar cheese slices and shredded ched- okay.... You get the point. 
With three kids dairy is big. And we don't have any allergies to it so why not!

-Prepped Vegetables: Ahh. The vegetable drawer. Basically I choose about three types of raw vegetables to have available for the week. This week it's peppers, baby carrots, and cucumbers. I slice them and put half in a huge salad that will last the week and half in baggies for Andrew and Isaiah to take to school. Most of the battle with eating fruit and vegetables- in my opinion- is preparing them. If they're cut and available and you have a healthy dip to eat them with, you'll be far more likely to make the right choice! I speak from experience.

So that's how we do it! I have more high protein and low-carb meal plan ideas here.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Life Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to be Wonderful

I really want to enjoy my life in the midst of the craziness. It's something I have to preach to myself every single day, because if I don't I'll end up falling into the 'comparison trap.' And that, my friends, is a place none of us want to get stuck. In this world of Facebook and Instagram it's all too easy to look at everyone else's highlight reel and think about how great everything must be for them. Truth be told, we've all got "stuff." Imperfections. Issues.... you know what I'm talking about. So we look at all of our Facebook friends and how great everything seems to be in their lives and then we look at ourselves and we start to feel like not enough.
Here's a lifeline for when you get stuck in one of those moments: You aren't the only one who feels like they're falling short. Everyone has things about their lives that aren't ideal. Out of self protection we keep those things hidden so that other people think our world is playing out like the fairy tale we always hoped it would. The biggest secret that everyone is keeping from one another is always the same, across the board: Things aren't perfect here. We don't have it all together.
You'd be surprised at the emails I get when I share about my life through my little blog. It strikes a nerve when I talk about the hard parts of life, because it's all too relate-able. People want to see something real- the imperfect. It makes them free to share their real lives, too. To let someone in. It can be lifesaving to speak your truth to another person.
We all want to hear stories of how people take hard situations and make the best of them. When things go badly, as they do at times, God has been teaching me to be still... to know that he is God and he is safe, no matter what our circumstances look like around us. I have zero control over what others do, but what I can control is how I respond.  People fail us, we lose jobs, and kids misbehave. BUT I know this- I don't have to be shaken by any of it. God has given me the ability to be still... not to panic or to become hysterical... but essentially to be an adult and one of the 7.2 billion people who will experience difficulty- and to come through still loving God and still loving the people around me. I can have joy even when things aren't perfect, because I know He loves me and the plans He has for me are good. In this world I will have trouble, but I know I have the ability to take heart, to stand up and face tomorrow with a smile. I can be still when a storm is going on around me because even the wind and the waves obey Him (Mark 4:41).
I want to be that person who enjoys life in the middle of my messes because if I'm honest I know that waiting until the messes are all cleaned up isn't an option. I want to embrace the now- the imperfect- and when I think about it... my "now" is actually pretty wonderful. I've got a big family, loving husband, healthy kids, good friends, plenty to eat and a place to sleep. Things are going pretty well when I step back and look at the big picture. I'm thankful. I bet there are a lot of reasons for you to be thankful, too. <3

image via

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Very Unhelpful Tips for Visiting Fort Mott State Park

1. Let's start with the most important- Don't be five minutes late to the ferry to Pea Patch Island. (!!!)
2. Two hours is way too long to wait for the next ferry, even with really cool play grounds. 
3. Pack a lunch, or stop for sandwiches and eat them at the shady picnic area!
4. If you do miss said Ferry to Pea Patch Island, return the following week and try again.

Will update soon, and give much more exciting and insightful tips about visiting Fort Mott.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Birthday Party for a New Tooth

Today was a big day. The little man lost his first tooth, proving that he is indeed getting to be a big kid and bringing a tear to my eye. Last week he asked for a WWE wrestling poster for his room. This week it's teeth. I shudder to think what could be coming next...Thankfully he still enjoys doing silly things like throwing birthday parties for new grown-up teeth being born and making crafts and cakes with his Momma. For now. 
We started by making candles. These particular beeswax candles were easy for the kids to roll themselves and were quick to make. Just place a piece of wick along the edge of the beeswax sheet and roll until it creates a tight taper candle. Similar kits can be found on Etsy here with everything you need for under $10. These candles will be great for many birthdays to come! 
(or tooth birthday parties, if the kids want an encore)
To go with the candles, I chose to borrow this recipe for healthier banana cake with greek yogurt and cream cheese icing. I liked it! Make sure you don't over mix the batter. I just made sure the ingredients were barely combined and then stopped mixing. Have I mentioned I'm a chronic over-mixer before? It's a bit of a problem. So just don't treat them like brownies, ok? You'll be fine. The icing was awesome, my only addition was to add some vanilla beans-- basically because I had them on hand. I order mine online here because they aren't always available at my grocery store.
So, for the record, we don't always bake cakes and make candles for occasions like lost teeth. But with a free day ahead of us and school starting soon it was the perfect way to spend a morning together. 

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