The September Challenge

The weekly meal planning event by kaylacasey
Last night, a friend shared her family is taking the “September Challenge” – one month without eating out – at all. We then got to talking about meal planning and how crucial it is for eating well and not spending a ton of money at the grocery store each week. I create a meal plan every single week. Even when we were getting daily meals brought to us, I still created a meal plan so that I knew exactly what I needed to buy when I went to the grocery store (or used Instacart, which happened several times!)

So I’m jumping on the September Challenge bandwagon – no eating out for a month! And to help encourage you to think about doing the same, I’m going to share my weekly meal plan with you – including links to recipes and a grocery list!

A couple of notes about our meal plans:

  • All meal plans will go from Monday-Saturday, so you end up with one free day (for leftovers or your own creative juices). We use that free day to clean out our fridge.
  • Most of my recipes are not original to me – I’ll always post links and credit for the people who come up with them. Make sure you read the recipe closely – some of them make enough for two meals. For those, you can either make it as written and freeze half or just half the recipe. I’ve done both before. The grocery lists will half the recipe.
  • There are several “pantry essentials” that these meal plans assume you have, such as spices, oils, flours, and sweeteners. Pay close attention to the recipes – if you don’t have those essentials in your pantry, you’ll want to make sure to buy them.
  • We get most of our vegetables at the farmer’s market or through a CSA – so most of the time veggies won’t be included in the grocery list. I buy what I think looks good, and I try to challenge myself to try at least one new veggie a week. Then, when I put together our meal plan, I work in the vegetables that I have on hand.
  • I’m working on creating a “printable” version – but for now, you’ll just have to print the blog post.
  • Meal plans will post on Saturday mornings. I know it’s already Tuesday of this week, but I’ve posted a meal plan anyway. You can use it as inspiration for this week or save it for next.

Ready? Let’s kick eating out to the curb!

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The Importance of Church

All For One by jeff_golden
You all know how much I’ve been wrestling with figuring out the importance of church. For so long it seemed like a place full of empty promises. But this new place we call home … it is helping us remember how life-giving church can be.

You know, it’s amazing what a difference it makes in your life when you find a faith community that you truly love. For so long we lounged around on Sunday mornings, staying in our pajamas until 10 or so, making our way to the farmers market, and coming home by noon for lunch and a nap. Those Sunday mornings were great – but we didn’t really feel fulfilled. We didn’t feel a burning need to go to church – but we did feel like something was missing.

But now, after just a few months at this new church we call home, we can’t imagine Sunday morning without it. We stayed home one Sunday just before E was born and I felt lost the rest of the week. I missed it…and I haven’t missed any particular church in a very long time. Even after E was born, when she was just 6-days old, we walked through those doors into worship – because we just couldn’t imagine making it through the week without it. It also helped that A wanted to “take E to church.”

And let’s be totally honest … becoming parents of two is exhausting. Although E sleeps pretty well for a newborn, A is still a terrible sleeper. We find ourselves getting less and less sleep as the days go by. When Sunday morning rolls around, we all pile in the car and head to church – because our sleep-deprived selves need it more than ever. Continue reading

Cook Once, Eat Twice: Bruschetta Chicken

Chicken Bruschetta

A few weeks ago, our neighbor gave us some tomatoes. D immediately said, “Ooh! We could make bruschetta!” While I wasn’t opposed to the idea, I knew the last time we had bruschetta as dinner we were hungry a few house later. So I started thinking creatively about what we could do with bruschetta other than put it on toast. We decided to fire up the grill and grill a few chicken breasts, topping them with the delicious bruschetta we made out of fresh tomatoes and basil from our garden.

We had a lot of bruschetta left over and a little bit of chicken, so I made some pasta and tossed it all together. We got two days’ worth of lunches out of it – so this cook once, eat twice actually turned out to be cook once, eat three times!

Here’s what we did:

Day One: Bruschetta Grilled Chicken
Recipe adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
3 cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
6-8 small tomatoes, chopped
Dash of Balsamic Vinegar
16 whole Basil Leaves (chiffonade)
Salt And Pepper To Taste
3 boneless, skinless Chicken Breasts

Mix first 6 ingredients together in a bowl and set aside to rest. Sprinkle additional salt and pepper on both sides of the chicken breast and grill on medium heat until done. Serve chicken with a spoonful of bruschetta over the top.

Day Two: Bruschetta Chicken Pasta Salad
8 oz rotini or penne pasta
Leftover bruschetta
1 grilled chicken breast

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and run under cold water to cool off. Chop cooked chicken into bite size pieces. Mix everything together and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Naptime Woes

Naptime Woes
Naptime has always been a source of strife for us. As I sit and type these words, I listen to your cries as you fight yet another nap. I don’t know what to do anymore. Maybe it’s my fault we have come to this. I used to wear you until you fell asleep. Almost every single day. I can’t do that any more. Your sister is tiny and demands so much of my attention. I try to sit next to you, but you refuse to close your eyes…tossing and turning and keeping yourself awake.

“Maybe she’s outgrown a nap,” some people say. But one look at your tired eyes shows me that you still need it. Bedtime is not much better. More often than not I simply feel guilty for having a new baby to take care of. You are still a baby yourself, needing my constant comfort and love.

I am almost afraid to be totally honest and transparent, for fear that someone will think I’m a terrible parent. Continue reading

A Letter to My Daughter Before Her Sister Arrives

A Letter to my Daughter Before Her Sister Arrives
Dear my precious one:

In just two days, your sister comes. I am so excited to meet her, and I know you are too. You will be such a great big sister! I will never forget your sweet kisses on my belly. Or the way you already talk about doing things with her – from playing with toys to riding in the buggy at the grocery store. I will always remember the way you hug my tummy and gently say, “come out E … E come out!”

Leaving you to go to the hospital will be the hardest part. In all your life we have never been apart longer than a few hours. I hope it will just be one day, but even one day is too many. I’ll miss eating dinner with you and hearing about your day. I’ll miss you showing me your “baby vitamin” when you get out of the bath. I’ll miss putting you to sleep…even though sometimes it takes much longer than I would like.

Don’t you worry about me though … I’ll be just fine! There are so many great doctors and nurses to take care of me and E.

And you … you will have the time of your life! Gramma & Grandpa will be here to play with you, and Daddy won’t be that far away either. If you need him, or just want him, he can come home in just a minute’s time. It will be one of the best days of your life. And the whole time I am away from you, I’ll be thinking of you. And counting down the minutes until I get to bring your baby sister home and we can start our new life together.
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How to Stock your Freezer – Including Recipes!

How to Stock Your Freezer
One of the best things I did before we had A was prepare tons of meals to put in our freezer. Because A was 2 weeks late, and I was totally over being pregnant, we actually dug into our freezer stash before we even had a baby in the house – but boy was I glad I had the stash to dig into!

Over the last couple of years, I’ve gotten into a good habit of always making sure we have a meal or two in the freezer. Mostly because I loved the convenience of our freezer meals when A was born – but also because let’s face it … life as a parent can be overwhelming, and some times you just don’t want to cook! So even if you’re not preparing for a new baby in the house, you can use the tips and recipes that follow to inspire you in stocking your freezer at any time!

As we have been preparing for our latest arrival, we have a toddler to chase, and haven’t had as much free time to spend in the kitchen. Instead of spending 4-6 hours one day preparing meals for our postpartum period, I learned the beauty of creating our freezer stash over time. One of my favorite tricks is to buy double the groceries for your weekly meal plan. When you make dinner, double your recipe and stick one batch in the freezer. You end up with dinner on the table AND dinner for later! I actually made very few freezer meals this time around that required extra work.

You’ll want to make sure you think about three meals plus snacks. Coming home with a new baby is not only exhausting, but it makes you starving – especially if you’re going to breastfeed. So while it’s important to make sure you’ve got easy dinners to put on the table, you don’t want to forget about breakfast and lunch!

I also took time to create a “Freezer Inventory” so that whoever was preparing food knew what they could find in the freezer at any given time. I can’t take credit for the printable – you can find that here. You can see from the picture above that we have a very well stocked freezer (complete with LOTS of ice cream).
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A Birth Plan for Peaceful Caesarean Birth

Cuddles by Jess Liotta and Colin Liotta
Here we are – 38 weeks and 5 days into our third (and final) pregnancy. Over the last few weeks, we’ve received an incredible amount of support from our friends, family, and doctor. Due to an unfortunate series of events, we ended up having to switch our prenatal care provider between 37 and 38 weeks. While it was a stressful week, we could not be more pleased with how the new practice has handled the transition.

After a lot of thought, conversation and prayer, and a lengthy meeting with the doctor last week, we decided to schedule a family-centered caesarean birth. In the event that I go into labor before our scheduled date, I’ll work with him to determine which direction I’d like to pursue.

I am so thankful for a doctor who helped me think through all of my options, who patiently listened to my desires and my fears, and who gently challenged and questioned me to make sure I was clear about what I wanted. He and I worked together to come up with a shared decision – and when I left his office, I was confident about two things: 1) I had chosen the right birth provider, and 2) Together, we made a fully informed decision that I knew I wouldn’t later regret.

One of the things I did in preparation for this birth was re-visit my birth plan from our first experience. Because my doctor routinely practices a family-centered caesarean experience, I don’t actually need a birth plan – most of what I included is standard procedure. However, I found that putting one together helped me to really focus on what I really wanted out of this birth. My ultimate desire is a peaceful birth experience – and one that won’t end in total separation from my baby for several hours.

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A Daughter’s Dilemma

Country Road Intersection by Nate Shivar I can’t remember the last time I saw him. It had to have been more than 5 years ago because D has never met him. We tried to send a birth announcement when A was born, but I never knew if he received it or not.

He found me on Facebook once upon a time. In a moment of bravery (or maybe stupidity) I called the only phone number I had … and even left a message. I never received a call back. I tried to ask for his address to send a Christmas card, but I never got a response.

Now here we are, 6 months later, and he has found me once again on the good book of face. He sent me a message saying the three of us girls have been on his heart and mind lately and he’d love to get together.

And I find myself at the place I have been so many times before. Asking myself – “what’s the point?” He’s never been present in my life. I have very few memories of him as an active part of my childhood. The memories I do have are not good ones. Then, once he left, he tried to turn things around. He tried to form some sort of relationship with us – but he just didn’t know how. And then, once I would get to a place where I was willing to forgive him for the past and move forward – he would disappear once again.

Drugs. Alcohol. Addiction. They all play a part in the cycle we’ve lived. The asking for forgiveness, the promise to be different, the belief that he “once was lost but now is saved,” and then the disappearance once again. Every time I try to “rise above” – to turn the other cheek – to forgive 70 times 7. But time and time again it just feels like I’m setting myself up for disappointment and hurt once again.

Now there are children involved. It’s not just me I have to think about – but A … and soon E. The last thing I want is for them to experience the same cycle I have lived with all of my life. It’s one thing to open your own heart to someone who has crunched it to pieces – it’s completely different when you subject your own daughters to the same thing.

I believe in forgiveness. I believe in hope. I believe people can change. I believe in second chances, and third ones, and fourth ones too. I believe that ultimately grace prevails.

But I also know how painful it is to put your trust in someone and have that trust abused over and over and over again. I know how important it is to balance self-care with care for others. I know that it’s possible to forgive and yet not continue a relationship with the person you’ve forgiven.

And let’s face it – if he weren’t my dad – I wouldn’t even be writing this. I’d ignore the friend request. I’d ignore the message. I might even block him as spam.

But maybe there’s a tiny hope in my heart that this time is different. That maybe he really has changed. And that maybe, just maybe, if I open the door a tiny crack, that a huge ray of sunshine will beam in.

I don’t have any answers. I know I’m not the only one that has found myself in this place of limbo. This isn’t a dilemma that has a right answer. It’s not a problem that has a solution. It’s a fork in the road. It’s a place of heartbreak. And it’s a time for faith. Not faith in any human – but faith in God. Faith that no matter what decision I make – and no matter how the story ends – that God will be there to celebrate with me or to help me pick up the pieces.

Dear Mila Kunis, Yes, WE Are Pregnant

Mila Kunis on Jimmy Kimmel LiveBy now you’ve probably seen the Mila Kunis video that’s going around. The one where she creams Jimmy Kimmel for saying “My wife and I are pregnant. We are going to have a baby.” She goes on and on about all the reasons pregnancy isn’t a “we” endeavor – but instead is all about the mom. I mean, after all – the mom is the one carrying the child. The one who’s body is changing so quickly she can barely keep up. The one who finds herself limited in what she can eat, drink, and do over the long months of pregnancy.

I get that it was a comedy sketch. That it was supposed to be funny. But in all seriousness – I absolutely could not go through pregnancy alone. I may be in the minority, but hearing men say “we are pregnant” makes my heart go aflutter. To me, that simple pronoun “we” makes all the difference between going it alone and feeling like you’re part of a team.

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To VbAC or not? That is the question…

First BirthWith five weeks to go, we are beginning to feel the crunch of preparing for our newest addition. I haven’t written much during this pregnancy. Some of that is simply due to a lack of time. Life with a toddler is so much more hectic than life without! But if I’m really honest about it, it is mostly because writing about it makes me actually think about it. And I’ve tried really hard not to think about it much this time around.

Because thinking about it terrifies me. Often to the point where I’m a hysterical crying mess. It took me a good 18 months to settle into life with one tiny. We’re finally at a place where I’ve learned to roll with the punches, accept what comes, and seek out friendship and community to help sustain me. I’m terrified that a second one will completely shatter all of that. And that I’ll have another 18 months of feeling lost, lonely, and clueless.

And then there’s the whole birth thing. Since the very early days of this pregnancy, I have felt a tremendous sense of anxiety over whether to have a repeat caesarian section (RCS) or prepare for a vaginal birth (VBAC).

We did everything we could to prepare for a natural childbirth with A. In the midst of our preparations, we learned how to pray through the unexpected curve balls. Although our birth experience was not at all what we had planned for, we always felt at peace with it. We felt in control of the situation. It was, ultimately, our decision to have A born via caesarian. I had arrived at a state of exhaustion – and simply couldn’t go any further.

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On Finding (And Leaving) Church

Eastside Church Doors
Anyone who keeps up with us knows that we’ve struggled with the idea of leaving church for a really long time. I’m not sure when I last felt like I was part of a fulfilling church community. As we look back over our life together, D & I both feel like we’ve been searching for “home” as long as we can remember.

We tried to make House of the Rock “home,” but something just never really clicked. Maybe it was that we were the only family with a small child who regularly attended. Maybe it was the worship time or location. Maybe it was the worship style. I’m not really sure what it was – but as much as we loved some aspects of it, and as hard as we tried to make it our “home” – we just always felt as though there was something missing.

When we made the hard decision to leave HotR, we decided we would stay with the Lutheran church that it is connected to. We knew some people there, Autumn felt comfortable worshiping there, we appreciated the larger ELCA connection, and we knew we agreed with the theology – particularly surrounding Baptism and Holy Communion. But we still felt like we were settling. We found it hard to plugin to ministry in ways that fully used the gifts God had given us. And although we love the people that make up the congregation, it never really felt like “home.” It felt like a safe place to worship, but we still left every Sunday feeling as though something was missing.

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