Tuesday, May 12, 2015

How to be a stay at home parent and NOT go crazy.

If you just had a baby, you're thinking about having a baby, or you're currently working but are thinking about staying home with your babies- this post is for you. Maybe you're terrified that you'll be bored out of your mind or drained or chained to your house- this will possibly give you hope that there's no reason being a stay at home parent has to be like that at all.

First off, let me say I recognize the gift that it is to be home with my children for the time being. Yes I'm the super-entrepreneur type and YES believe me when I say I have dreams and goals for the future- but I also recognize how precious this time is that I get with our kids at home. Since we spaced our babies so close together, everything is sort of going to happen at once. As soon as one kid reaches a milestone- forget it!- the next one is right behind. In a way its like triplets (cue the Moms of triplets who would vehemently disagree with that statement). For now there's just LOTS to do at home, daycare would be LOTS of money, and the result is that it's the smartest, wisest and best thing for our family if I'm at home right now. After Isaiah was born I got stuck in a rut and felt so trapped. It was a huge adjustment. Over time I've figured out not just how to survive- but to thrive as a stay at home parent. Oh and despite my fears- I love being here. My days are full, very rarely boring, and usually productive. Here's how I make sure things go that way:

1. Start the day with a positive attitude.
When I wake up I try to kick start my day with a large amount of coffee and the things I want to do the least- change everyone's diaper, make breakfast, put the kids clothes on, throw in a load of laundry, and unload the dishwasher. Once I get all of the mundane (daily chores are not my strong suit) out of the way, I spend some time centering my heart and mind on truth. I have a list of truths that I read daily to get my mind on track. Here are a few on my list:

You are the wife and mother your family needs; no other woman would do better than you can for your family. 
You are beautiful. You are strong. You are capable.

You are loving. 
You are life-giving. 
You are loved.
 (from Lysa TerKeurst)

I can't afford to have a single thought in my head that God doesn't think about me. (Bill Johnson) 
What is inside of you will be what is displayed for those who are watching your life to see. 
(think your kids, your spouse, friends, strangers...)

Maybe this is the true secret to being fulfilled and content - living in the moment with God, defined by His truth, with no unrealistic expectations for others or things to fill me up. Not reaching back for what was lost in my yesterdays. And not reaching for what I hope will be in my tomorrow. But living fully with what is right in front of me. And truly seeing the gift of this moment. -Lysa TerKeurst

2. Get dressed.
This is a big one and yes there are days where I don't pull myself together until three pm, but to be very honest those days are rarely productive. I'm not saying this is essential, but it's essential for me.  I've gone through times since becoming a Mom where I'm not as good about getting myself ready in the morning, then other times where I'm really on top of it. Generally I have noticed the pattern that I'm happier and my family is taken care of better when I take care of myself, inside and out. You're worth spending $20 on your monthly manicure. 

3. Make sure you have friends. 
I know this seems obvious, but I really believe its one of the most neglected aspects of motherhood. People are surprised to hear how much I leave the house by myself. Even some of my friends wonder "...How?!" For me getting away and spending time with friends is essential if I don't to be depressed and lonely- that's the honest truth! I know that about myself.  If you suspect it might be the same for you, then get that once a week (at least) get some social time in. It can be hard but if you make habits early on in your life as a parent I think it's easier. 
Andrew and I know that each of us need individual time away. He needs alone time to play his guitar, read, or even just sit and watch sports. I need social time with my friends because I'm the "extrovert" out of the two of us. I spend time keeping in touch with my 'people' DAILY, talking on the phone, text messaging, emailing, and having visits. I know that the investment I have made in other women has created a network of mutual support for the kids and I throughout our days. So maybe say YES to that next invitation to go out for coffee or drinks one evening! It will probably refresh you and give you some much needed perspective.

4. Don't stay home all the time- At least one outing per day!
I've written on this topic before (click here) but want to mention it again because it is a huge part of my life. Getting out of the house can be really hard with small kids, but its something I've learned I just need to do. Like exercise- the motivation isn't always there but if its just 'what you do,' it makes it easier. I try to leave the house at least once each day. Yes you might have to move more slowly, but you can do pretty much anything with kids in tow. I grocery shop, take them to the library story time, go to the zoo, the beach, the city, etc. 
I can remember when I first had Isaiah I was so paranoid of germs, driving him in the car, or even walking around Target in case he got fussy. By the time my third baby was born I had all three out walking through Philadelphia on a rainy day with a newborn strapped to my chest in her sling. When she got hungry I stood in a public bathroom and nursed her while the kids huddled around and played in the sink. We all survived and had a great time! With that being said, adventures are waiting! Being spontaneous keeps me from thinking every day will be the same. Maybe it will for you, too.

5. Don't forget who YOU are.
This one is huge. Yes, right now you ARE a parent. But lets not forget- that's not all of WHO we are, even though it can feel all-consuming at times. Remember your dreams, goals, and other relationships. If you're married- you're a husband or wife. You're a friend to someone. A son or daughter. An artist. A chef. Amazing at math. A writer. A musician. There are lots of aspects to your life besides parenthood! Lay out (tentative) plans for your future. Get a hobby, or rekindle an old one. Spend time on dates with your partner, enjoying each other and doing things together. 

So what keeps you going? Is there anything you need to modify to be happy right where you are as a stay at home parent?

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Mother's Day and Miscarriage

To the woman who lost a baby this year, I acknowledge you. Today you will probably be surrounded by mothers who might not be aware of just what a gift it is that they've received. It's hard to hear pregnant women with minor aches complain, when you wish nothing more than to have a sore back instead of a breaking heart. To that suffering Mom (you are a Mom, you know...) I say: you can do this. You aren't alone- there are countless other women sitting silently at Mother's Day brunch and trying to be brave. In the middle of great sorrow, there is hope. Here's my story:

I'd never really experienced anything that shattered my world as much as losing our first child. We found out about our honeymoon baby only about a month and a half after we'd gotten married, and couldn't have been more excited to be expecting. We shared the news with friends and family, and they were thrilled for us as well. About a month later when I went to get an ultrasound, we never expected for there to be no heartbeat on the screen. It was devastating, confusing, and the hardest thing I'd ever had to walk through. I remember Andrew playing his guitar in the living room, both of us just crying but in the middle of it all still worshiping God. We weren't sure of any response other than that. Deep sadness- but still leaning on him and trusting when everything felt so hopeless. Miscarriage affects different people very differently, but I'd wanted to be a Mom so badly. It was so difficult. All of my close friends were either mothers or were pregnant so I felt completely alone.

I know there are plenty of women who have lost children- but very few people in my circle ever acknowledged understanding my pain or shared their own story of loss with me. That's always really bothered me. I don't ever want to go through anything in my life and not let it move me towards God and move me towards connection with other people. I never want to waste my trials by turning inward and making a situation all about me. If you're that Mom who needs someone to talk to today, please reach out to me or someone else that you trust. If you know of a Mom who could use encouragement today, please share this with them.

I want to end by sharing some hope with you, because the paragraph above isn't the end of our story. Regardless of your beliefs, I know this to be true about God: He loves to take a sad story and give it a happy ending. That's one of the things I love most about Him. There is a light shining through in even the darkest of nights. One day He will fix the world we live in and restore Creation back to the way He intended for it to be. No sickness, no death, no tears. My dark night seemed VERY dark, and I was tempted to not even try to have another baby because of the fear that I would find myself disappointed again. I decided then that I wasn't going to let fear control me. I was going to give this another shot. A year exactly to the day I miscarried my first child, we celebrated my baby shower and the life of our son Isaiah. I can't tell you how meaningful it was to have those days coincide. God was reminding me that even when things seem the most hopeless, still there is hope!!! If you are in the dark night right now, suffering with no end in sight, just know that where you are is not the end of your story. We've been blessed with three children, and I am only five years past that difficult experience of losing our first baby. I never could have imagined the story God would-and still is!- writing with our lives.

When I walk through difficult things I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am not alone. Plot twists will always be a part of life, but I plan to keep my eyes on God and allow him to fight my every battle.

Encouraging Verses for Difficult Times:

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33

For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

"He says, "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." Psalm 46:10

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A week of easy to assemble & low carb/high protein lunches

Ever since my husband turned 32 he's been all about changing the way he eats. This is extremely welcome news to me since I've been hoping he would kick his white-bread and pre-packaged 'cheese' habit for six years now! I thought maybe it was a fad- wouldn't last- but No! He's been sticking to it and actually really enjoying it. Our diet is far from perfect, but there are a few changes that we've made to start feeling better. I've had to get a little creative and Andrew's had to have an open mind as we navigate exactly how you're supposed to survive when over 50% of the foods you were eating on a regular basis are no longer on the menu. I'm not a nutritionist by any means but here are the small changes we've made:

1. Cut out the bread. Or at least cut it down dramatically. If we do have bread we try to make sure it's whole grain and in tortilla form. Of course who can pass up a pulled pork sandwich on a fresh baked roll from the Amish Market? Totally acceptable once in a while.

2. Increase fruits and vegetables. I looked at what I was spending on snack food. We were never terrible, but I would buy Andrew Tasty Cakes and the like quite often. I was spending a lot of money on sugary filler foods! So that got cut dramatically. I used to be afraid to spend $2.75 on a half pint of raspberries, but I decided to put the money I would have spent on junk food towards our fresh fruit and vegetable budget. A little difficult at first but well worth it. I typically make a huge fruit salad at the beginning of the week. I buy as much as $20 worth of fruits to put in. Right now our fruit salad for this week consists of pineapple, cantaloupe, strawberries, raspberries, a few oranges, apples and blueberries. Make sure it tastes really good and then you'll actually eat it! I throw a handful on the kids plates for almost every meal.

3. Increase the Protein. We aren't dairy free, so we get tons of protein from cheese, milk, and Greek yogurt. Obviously I do a lot of chicken, beef, and fish as well as beans and quinoa hidden in... everything. Whole chickens are perfect in the crock-pot on high for about 7 hours because we have the meat for dinner that night and then I can use the leftovers in the next night's meal. Really economical and extra easy.

4. Prep ahead for success. If I don't have healthy options available immediately/right in front of my face in a moment of weakness, I'm probably going to make a bad food choice. I'm one of those people that gets extremely grumpy when hungry, so I'll do whatever it takes to not feel gross and irritable around my family. That reason alone is enough to prep food ahead of time. You can prep 2-3 days of lunches at once and put them in a brown bag in the fridge so you don't have to think about what to make over and over throughout the course of the week.

The following super simple 'recipes' (no recipe needed, really) are ones that have become staples for energy sustaining lunches, breakfasts, and snacks in our house.

Ham and Egg and Cheese Bites

I'll start with these because they are perfect breakfast, lunch, or snack time food. High in protein, they give you the energy you need for your day. I preheat the oven to 375 degrees, place a slice of ham in each slot in a muffin tin, drop a little shredded cheese into the cup on top  of the ham, and fill 2/3 full with some whisked egg/milk. Bake for 15 minutes or until set. Just 3 of these fill me up in the morning, and I often put them in Andrew's lunch for a mid morning snack.

Wraps with Lettuce, Tuna, and Hummus

These are so good for you. Use whole wheat tortillas of rice paper wraps spread with hummus, then top with salad and tuna. Roll them up and wrap them tightly for a lunch time energy booster! I make enough of these for 2-3 days of lunches.

Peanut Butter Banana Smoothies

Yes! You can prep these in advance! I make three days worth of smoothies in mason jars and set them in the fridge to grab when I need them. Admittedly, there are about twenty five mason jars filled with food in my fridge at any given time. Mostly it's because I have them on hand since I love to can my fruits/vegetables in the summer, but they also save space compared to their plastic Tupperware counterparts. Almost makes me want to gag (seriously, ugh) at how Pinterest-y it is. 
For each smoothie you want one banana, a spoonful of peanut butter, two large spoonfuls of Greek yogurt, and enough milk as you need to make the mixture the correct consistency. I used to add some wheat germ, but Andrew though it was gross tasting so I figured I better leave well enough alone. :) Also feel free to sneak spinach in there! You really can't taste it.

The Quickest Chicken/Rice/Veggie Lunch EVER!

I cheat big time on this one. If I had time I'd prep my organic vegetables and cook my own rice, everyone. But you can't win them all and this is better than nothing. I prepare one frozen bag of chopped broccoli, one frozen bag of brown rice, and three frozen chicken breasts. All courtesy of Shop Rite or whatever your major grocery store chain is. Once all the ingredients are cooked, I layer them divided between three pint sized mason jars and drop a little teriyaki sauce on top. Not perfect, but it beats a lunch meat sandwich.

So those are my ideas... Most people might choose one or two of these to pack for work. Andrew takes all of them, plus a little cottage cheese and trail mix since he has a long day. It doesn't always happen over here (drive through McDonalds run JUST last week..."Here kids, who wants another chicken nugget?! Okay, Mommy's gonna throw it back to you, catch it, ok??? *kid drops it on the floor* Oh come on! You have to catch it! Okay the floor isn't dirty, pick it up...!") but eating well is definitely possible with a little prep work.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Why I let my kids get dirty

That's right, sometimes I allow my kids to get dirty. Super dirty. 
And guess what? They LOVE it.
Here's why:

Because its fun.

Because they're kids.

Because brown really is her color.

Because getting muddy means he's outside, not on the couch in front of a screen.

Because we have a bath tub!

...and when they're thirty years old working full time jobs with bills and babies, 
they'll be able to look back and remember when it was perfectly wonderful to play in a puddle full of mud.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Making Orange Juice

This morning we were inspired by our cartoon on the Disney Channel. See- some good CAN come out of screen time! Some of the characters were making orange juice and instead of my kids sitting there watching an animated show about it, I thought "We can do that!" So I let them finish the episode and pulled everything we would need out of the kitchen.
I felt a little nostalgic, even, because we used my Grandmother's old-fashioned glass juicer that I've been holding onto. How cool to bring new life to something that may have been tossed away otherwise.
Let me say, the kids LOVED making the orange juice. It was the perfect project for them because they got to practice cutting, squeezing the juice, and pouring it into the pitcher as we went along. And at the end their faces said it all- they were unbelievably proud that they had done it all on their own. Of course now fresh squeezed orange juice is going to need to be a weekly tradition. They'll be sure of that. Another thing to add to my ever growing grocery list. :)

Monday, March 16, 2015

How to Make Candied Ginger

We've been getting a produce box from our co-op regularly and naturally there are some items I've never cooked with before... one of those is ginger. Only recently have I started warming up to it's taste in my food, and since I have I've noticed that it really seems to help with my digestion. These candied ginger bits have some serious bite! This is a money saving/preservative free recipe you can make at home for those bouts of indigestion.

Candied Ginger (and Ginger Simple Syrup)

3-4 Ginger Roots
1 cup of water
1 1/4 cups of sugar (plus extra)

1. Peel the ginger using a spoon to scrape off it's skin (much easier than a peeler or a knife)
2. Rinse the ginger, then slice into thin strips. They will mostly remain the same size at the end, so make them as large as you want the finished product to be.
3. Boil the water/sugar mixture, then add the ginger strips and reduce heat. Simmer for 25 minutes.
4. Remove the cooked ginger with a slotted spoon and place it on a rack or cookie sheet to dry (this could take overnight, it did for me) then roll them in extra sugar, if you desire.
5. Pour the syrup into a jar and save it in the fridge for mixing with seltzer to make ginger ale!

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